ATF Alternate Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine. I just like to play with them. Have them play with each other. Whatever.
Warnings: I didn't know if this was too long, so I broke it up into two parts. I've never tried to write a funny slash story before. Angst kept wanting to creep in. I can't imagine why. <g> Please let me know how I did. Because I was thinking about writing a Buck and Ezra one... I'd like to thank Judy, Kim and Nancy for always answering any weird questions I might have about cults or dates or whatever. Have I asked you guys the one about insane asylums yet? <g> Anyway, they came up with lots of ideas about things for this story. Thanks also to Mog for creating the ATF universe where we can play.
Oh God. This was bad. This was real bad. In fact, it was quite possibly the worst thing that had ever happened to him. He closed his eyes, willing the image in the mirror to change. No such luck. He groaned aloud as he opened his eyes again. According to the mirror, he still had the goofiest lookin' haircut this side of the Mississippi. And less than one hour until Chris Larabee arrived at his doorstep.
At the thought of the tall, blonde ATF agent, Vin felt his stomach give a queasy roll. He swallowed hard. Felt like a whole gaggle or swarm, or whatever, of butterflies had taken up residence in his gut. He wondered if Chris felt as nervous as he did. The sharpshooter seriously doubted it. For one thing, he would bet his antique Winchester mare's leg that their cool, confident team leader hadn't rushed out like a damn fool and got his hair styled like some fancy pants'...words failed him as he stared at his image. He'd told the guy not to cut off more than an inch. And the guy hadn't. He'd'...he'd'...God. He'd made Vin look like'...like'...words again failed him as he stared morosely at his hair.
/Aint got time for this Tanner/, he berated himself as he glanced at his watch. Forty-five minutes and counting. Grimly he picked up the brush laying on the bathroom counter and began trying to undo at least some of the damage.
Fifteen minutes later the rangy, blue eyed young agent was hopping up and down on one foot, cursing and glaring alternately down at his other foot, which hurt like hell where he'd dropped the iron on it, and then back up where his one and only suit jacket lay on the ironing board, still smoking slightly from the scorch mark emblazoned across the front of it.
Limping slightly, Vin walked over to his closet and began frantically searching through his sparse wardrobe. Shit. Shit. Shit. The word became a litany of despair as he reached the end of his closet. The snooty restaurant Ezra had recommended wouldn't let him through the door without a proper jacket. And there was no way Vin was gonna accept no humiliatin' castoff from some maitre'd with his nose stuck so high in the air he'd drown in a rainstorm. He was about to turn away, wondering desperately what in the hell he was gonna do now, when a flash of blue caught his eye. On the floor of his closet, in the bag meant for Goodwill. It was a jacket! Actually, it was more of a blazer really. But it would do. He grabbed a pair of white linen pants off a hanger and began sliding his legs into them. Less than twenty minutes remained.
Vin was uncomfortably reminded of Don Johnson and Miami Vice as he slid his feet into his shoes and headed into the bathroom to brush his teeth. For the third time. It was probably just his imagination though. God, he hoped so anyway. Holding his toothbrush in one hand, he dialed the number to Ezra Standish's cell phone with the other. He waited impatiently for the other man to answer. After three interminable rings, he finally heard the cultured drawl of his friend.
"Ezra Standish at your serv'..."
"Where the hell are ya?" Vin demanded, cutting Ezra off midword.
"A bit nervous are we, Mr. Tanner?" The southerner's voice was just chock full of amusement. At Vin's expense.
"Shut up, Ezra." Vin growled. He was nervous. So what? Chris Larabee was enough to make anyone nervous.
"Now Now, Mr. Tanner. Is that any way to talk to someone who is doing you the favor of a lifetime?"
Vin snorted. "I had to practically indenture myself to ya for the next six months just to borrow your Jag for one measly night."
"And don't forget the extra insurance. I trust you have the proof of that ready for my perusal?" The smooth drawl cracked a bit. /Extra insurance./ Vin made a sound of disgust. He'd have to leave the country if anything happened to the Jag.
"Just get here." Vin hung up the phone and stomped out into the living room. The next six months were going to be hell. Pure hell. Ezra would make damn sure of that. But what else could he have done? Aint no way Chris would ride in the jeep. He'd made his feelings perfectly clear on that subject a long time ago. The Ram was in the shop. Vin didn't even know how Chris was gettin' to his place. /In fifteen minutes. Oh God./ JD's bike and Buck's truck were no good, for obvious reasons. And Nathan and Josiah were both out of town. So he'd been reduced to begging and pleading and threatening til Ezra had given in and agreed to loan him the Jag for the evening. Bastard had enjoyed every second of it too.
But the sharpshooter had planned this evening for months. Everything had to be perfect. The best steakhouse in Denver. Tickets to the play that had everyone talking. The one Chris had mentioned he wouldn't mind seein'. The one that had cost Vin half his paycheck and a whole lot of favors to acquire tickets for. Even now, Vin couldn't believe that Chris would actually be going out on a date with him. Tonight. He'd been so afraid to ask. Afraid that he might ruin the most important friendship he'd ever had. Afraid Chris would look at him in disgust. But he'd forced himself to take the risk. Because not knowing made him even more afraid. And the constant "what if" was driving him slowly crazy. But all his worryin' and that sick feelin' in his gut had been for nothing. Chris had shrugged, smiled and said "Sounds good, cowboy. What time do you want me to be at your place?"
A knock on the door made him jump slightly, his heart leaping into his throat. /Geez, Tanner. Facin' down a bunch of drug dealers armed with Uzis while you had nothin' but a pocket knife didn't make ya this skittish/ He walked over to the door and opened it slowly, giving himself extra time to school his expression. Ezra Standish stepped over the threshhold.
"You will be certain to remember all my instructions and follow them to the letter'..." Ezra trailed off and stood, mouth slightly agape, as he caught sight of the sharpshooter.
"What?" Vin demanded a trifle defensively, one hand going instinctively to his hair.
"What on earth? Did you? I have never seen'..." The normally urbane, smooth talking agent appeared to be at a loss for words.
"What's the matter Ez? Cuervo got your tongue?" Vin inquired menacingly.
"Uh no. You look very Miami Vice. I mean you look very nice." The gambler's green eyes were aglow with some suppressed emotion. Laughter? Horror? Pity? Vin couldn't tell and wasn't sure he wanted to know. He didn't look that bad. Did he? He did. Oh God. Where was the phone? Maybe it wasn't too late and he could call the whole thing off. Chris would understand. He'd say he got sick all of a sudden. One of those twenty four hour things that hit ya like a ton of bricks. It wasn't that far from the truth. His mouth was dry. He felt shaky and sick to his stomach. Rapid pulse. Flushed face. The works.
"Mr. Tanner?" Ezra questioned, sounding a bit concerned as he watched Vin begin dashing around the apartment muttering something about phones and the flu.
Both men turned at the sound of the knock. It was Chris. It was too late. Time to face the music lookin' like some refugee from the eighties. With really bad hair. Maybe Chris wouldn't notice. Yeah right.
Ezra went and opened the door, since Vin seemed incapable of movement.
"Good evening, Mr. Larabee. I must say you look splendid." The note of admiration in the southerner's voice was genuine.
"Thanks Ezra. You coming with us tonight?" Chris' voice was friendly and relaxed.
"No. I'm afraid I have other plans this evening." Ezra cast a surreptitious glance in Vin's direction. Was Chris aware that this was a date?
Vin met Ezra's glance, his own thoughts running along the same lines. This was worse than he'd imagined. Chris didn't know they were on a date? That was why he'd acted so casual about the whole thing. It was casual. To him. Just another night out on the town with a friend. How the fuck was Vin supposed to fix this?
Vin must have had some sort of unconscious appeal on his face because Ezra shrugged his shoulders helplessly and then tipped his fingers in a salute before bidding Chris goodbye and closing the door gently behind him as he left. Leaving Vin alone. With Chris. And'...Vin's thoughts came to a crashing halt as he got a good look at the other man still standing just inside the doorway.
The sharpshooter stared. And stared. And then feasted his eyes some more. He'd always thought Chris was hot. It wasn't just his character that had Vin moaning and panting in his dreams. Nope. It was the hard body. And the chiseled lips. And the smooth, pale hair. The clear green eyes. The sharp cheekbones. Those incredibly tight pants. But even three years of seein' those things hadn't prepared him for this. Dressed in a black suit that could have rivaled one of Ezra's. Lips quirked in a smile, bringing seldom seen dimples into play. Hair shining a pale gold color. The older man was the epitome of grace and elegance. Everything that Vin wasn't. Hell, Chris looked like he should be goin' out with Ezra. Or someone like him. Not with some barely literate, frizzy haired ex bounty hunter who couldn't even manage to put together a simple suit to wear.
"Vin?" Dimly, he heard his name being called. He came back to reality with a bump. Ouch. That hurt.
"You look nice. Like Ezra said." Way to go. Win him over with your complete lack of creativity, Tanner.
"Thanks. You look'..." Chris paused, frowning, as he surveyed the sharpshooter from head to toe.
"Are you sick or something, Vin?" Chris face showed a touch of concern.
"No. I aint sick. Ya ready to go?" Great. First ya give him some inane compliment and now you're showin' all the charm of a badger with a bad case of indigestion.
"Sure." Chris replied easily. The two men quickly exited the door and began walking down the stairs leading to the street.
"We can take my car. I have a rental'..." Chris began to say.
"No need. I borrowed Ez's Jag." Vin regained a bit of his good humor at the slightly stunned expression on his companion's face.
"Did he extract his pound of flesh for it?" Chris' grin caused a warm tingly feeling to start spreading through the sharpshooter's body. Ruthlessly he quashed it. Not now. At the rate things were going, maybe never. Vin didn't know if he'd be able to muster up the courage to ask Chris out again.
"Naw. Just six months outta my life." Vin's answering grin and their ensuing laughter almost made it feel like any other night. Except it wasn't. Or at least it wasn't supposed to be. Vin stopped laughing abruptly and Chris looked closely at him.
"You didn't have to, Vin." The sharpshooter didn't want to hear any lectures on ought to's or shouldn't have's. Not when he was already feelin' like Cinderella after the ball.
"Ya hate the jeep and I wasn't sure ya had wheels with your truck bein' in the shop." Vin interrupted Chris, a slight edge to his tone.
"Ok. It's your life." Chris smiled to take the sting out of the words as he waited for Vin to unlock the passenger door so he could get in.
"I know." Vin muttered rather sourly in reply. He felt his spirits lift as he slid behind the wheel of the Jag though. It was impossible to be entirely unhappy in this position. He could at least enjoy the rest of the evening. And figure out the rest of it tomorrow. Hell, maybe if he showed Chris a good enough time tonight, the older man would ask him out.
An hour later Vin was no longer hoping Chris would ask him out. He knew he wouldn't. And why should he? This had to qualify as the worst nondate in the history of the world. When they'd finally arrived at the restaurant, it had been so crowded that Vin had to circle the parking lot half a dozen times before finally finding a place half hidden in the back. No way was he gonna let the valet boys get their hands on this car. Then when they finally made their way inside and up to the front desk, the maitre'd, who was even worse than Vin had imagined, had taken one look at his blue jacket and his white pants and his godawful hair and had promptly turned his back on Vin.
"Let me talk to him." The icy tone in Chris' voice was enough to frighten the maitre'd into turning back around. But not quite enough to offer them a table.
"I can handle it." Vin had snapped. So Chris had shrugged his shoulders and stepped back.
Vin had argued with the man for thirty minutes before finally garnering them a table. In the back. Near the kitchen. That no good, lyin', lower than a snake's belly sack of'...He'd denied Vin ever had a reservation. And when the sharpshooter had demanded he be shown the reservation book, the man had conveniently spilled somebody's drink all over the page. Vin had finally pulled the smug bastard close and threatened to shoot him full of holes if he didn't get them a table NOW. The man had narrowed his eyes and stared at Vin, gauging his sincerity. Vin had been pretty damn sincere at that point, so the man had finally sniffed and agreed to find them "something".
"Don't say a word." He'd hissed at Chris, jostling past him as they followed the stiff, reluctant figure of the maitre'd as he led them to their table.
Chris' reply had contained a hint of anger, as well.
"Didn't need to. You handled things, didn't you?"
They sat at the table in silence. Vin played with his silverware and gulped down the glass of wine he'd ordered. He hated wine. It always gave him a headache. He should've done what Chris did and ordered himself an imported beer. Would've tasted a damn sight better than this and probably impressed Chris a whole helluva lot more. Might as well face it. Couldn't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It wasn't Chris' fault that Vin had entertained such high hopes for tonight. Wasn't his fault that Vin was crazy in love. Lust. Both. Shit.
"I'm sorry, Chris. The guy just pushed my buttons, ya know." Vin apologized.
Chris looked up from where he'd been tracing designs in the fancy tablecloth with one finger. "Forget it. Let's not let a stuffy, tight assed, glorified waiter ruin our evening."
Vin took a gulp of wine, trying to ignore the images conjured up by the words Chris had just spoken. Tight. Ass. Which Chris most definitely had. In the good kind of way. The way Vin should definitely not be thinking about right now. Not when Chris was looking at him expectantly. Waiting for some sort of response. Something besides the physical one that made Vin very glad he was sitting down. On the opposite side of the table. Where Chris couldn't see.
"Uh'...so what's this play about?" Vin asked and then could have kicked himself when Chris raised an eyebrow.
"Don't you know?" The older man looked bemused.
"No. Just figured since ya'll wanted to see it, that it might be worth checkin' out." Vin could feel the heat creep up his face. He stared down at the table, half wishing he could die on the spot, thus relieving him of any further embarrassment. Because he just knew there was more to come. And he was right.
"Vin Tanner!" A feminine voice shrieked. Oh Lord. It was that crazy girl. Charlotte. The one he'd dated a few times. The one he'd never told anyone about because it was just too damn humiliatin'.
"Excuse me." He muttered to Chris, jumping up and hurrying towards the restrooms. If he stayed in there long enough, she was bound to go away. Wasn't she?
Nope. There she was. Sittin' at the table. His table. Telling Chris something he definitely didn't want to hear from the look on his face. Like a volcano ready to explode. Shit. Vin could feel the pounding begin in his temples.
"Charlotte. I'm kinda busy right now." Vin said in a conciliatory tone as he approached the table. He gave her a tentative smile. He didn't want another scene. And lord knows, she was more than capable of making one.
"Busy? I thought you were never too busy for your little sugarplum. That's what you told me when we'...when we'..." She burst into tears. And Chris lost his temper. Things got ugly.
Then the damn smarmy, pretentious maitre'd came rushing over at the sound of the ruckus. Vin was almost glad to see him. Til he opened his mouth and informed them that he and Chris were being kicked out and they would be lucky if Madame didn't press charges. The man sounded like someone had given him an early Christmas, he was so damn happy.
Without a word, Chris began walking out. Vin hurriedly began to follow and as he caught up with Chris at the door, the older man turned to him.
"Your fly is open." Chris pushed open the door and walked outside without waiting for a reply.
The sharpshooter was crimson with mortification. He felt like the complete uncouth, uneducated lout that Ezra was always accusin' him of being. And now Chris knew it too. He couldn't recall ever feeling quite this low. He trudged out the door behind Chris and then had to practically run in order to catch up with him.
"Chris. About that girl'..." Vin tugged at Chris' arm in an effort to get him to stop. Chris shrugged his arm off, but he did slow his pace.
"Aint my business. Or at least, it wasn't til she started describing everything in technicolor." A strange current ran through the ATF leader's tone.
"She was just. I was just'..." Vin didn't know how to describe the need that had driven him into Charlotte's arms. The need for Chris. And since he couldn't have Chris, would never have him, the need for somebody. Anybody.
"That's a great explanation, Vin. Now I understand." Chris was beyond sarcastic.
"Aint nothin' to understand." Vin said sullenly. The parking lot seemed a hundred miles long. They weren't even halfway to the car yet.
"Oh, that's even better. So you just go around sleeping with crazy females all the time. For no reason." Chris glared at him.
"Well, what was I supposed to do?" Vin demanded angrily. "It aint like I could'..."
"Could what?" Chris stopped suddenly and grabbed Vin's arm.
"Could what?" he asked again.
"Nothin'" Vin jerked his arm free and resumed walking.
"It had to be something or you wouldn't have said it." Chris persisted.
"Nothin'." Vin repeated stubbornly. "Why do you care anyway? It aint like we're goin' out or anything. We're just friends. Right?" The words were like pouring salt in a wound as he said them. How much more of a masochist could he be? Settin' himself up to hear Chris' rejection first hand. Like he couldn't have figured it out on his own and it needed to be said.
Chris opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, Vin's exclamation of dismay brought him up short.
"No. No. No. This aint happening. It aint. It aint. It aint."
"What the hell are you moaning about?" Chris was clearly still angry about the scene in the restaurant.
"Look around Chris. What's missing?" Vin watched as the horrified understanding dawned on Chris' face.
"Ezra aint going to be too happy about this." Chris finally said, indicating the empty spot where the Jag had been parked. Understatement of the year.
"Really, Sherlock? You think ya could put those detective skills to work here and help me find out what happened?" Vin was nearing a state of blind panic.
In answer, Chris pointed to the sign, half hidden by an overhanging bush. No Parking. Tow Away Zone. Just great. But at least there was a number there to call. Right now he'd take all the consolation he could get.
+ + + + + + +
Three hours and two taxi rides later, they were standing outside Vin's building in Purgatorio. Ezra's jag had been safely delivered back into his hands, with him none the wiser about its close call. Vin would take that secret to the grave.
"Uh.. thanks. For loanin' me the money and everything. I'll pay ya back tomorrow." Vin shuffled his feet as he avoided the older man's gaze. Just another spoke in the wheel of tonight's complete and total disaster. He and Chris hadn't said two words in the last three hours to each other. Except when he'd been forced to ask Chris if he could borrow some money to get the jag out of impound. Vin had left his wallet at home. Along with his dignity and his good sense. And his good luck, it seemed.
"Don't worry about it." Chris hesitated a moment, then added, "I guess it's a good thing we got kicked of that restaurant, huh? Not sure I could've afforded that."
The sharpshooter was too sunk in misery to notice the other man's attempt at humor.
"I'm sorry ya missed the play. Should've just gone without me, like I told ya to." Vin continued to stare at the ground. He couldn't bear to look at Chris' face. To see the death of all his hopes and dreams.
"Wouldn't be much of a friend if I did that." Chris replied.
Friend. Yeah. Better than nothing. But that was no comfort right now.
"Well, good night." The sharpshooter said, not wishing to prolong the agony any further.
"Vin. Don't I even get a kiss goodnight?" Chris' voice was soft and uncharacteristically hesitant.
"What?" Vin shook his head, not sure if he'd heard right.
"A kiss. Isn't that what you're supposed to do at the end of a date?" Chris said patiently.
"You knew this was a date?"
"Of course I did. What kind of question is that?" Chris had the beginnings of exasperation in his tone.
"Well, you never said'...you asked Ezra if'...awww hell." Vin closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
He felt cool fingers caress his cheek. He opened his eyes to find Chris' face just a few inches from his own.
"Would ya like to come upstairs? Have a beer? Uh'..." Vin blushed as Chris shot him a knowing grin.
"A'...beer sounds'...good." The meaningful pauses and the suggestive tone indicated that Chris was well aware of what Vin really wanted him to come upstairs for. And that he was more than willing to accommodate the sharpshooter. There was a God. Vin had passed the trials of the evening and now he was about to get his reward. He'd have to remember to tell Josiah.
"Just don't trip or nothin' on the way up the stairs." He told Chris only half jokingly. "We don't need no more bad luck."
"Yeah. Have to save some for next time." Chris agreed, smiling.
Next time? Vin felt his heart lurch in his chest. He liked the sound of those words. Right alongside forever.
"Right. I think we've filled our quota for the evening." Vin, rather shyly, put his arm around Chris' waist. Chris pulled him closer in response and the two of them began walking up the stairs. Together.
+ + + + + + +
Twenty minutes later they were on the floor of the living room. Vin was moaning and thrashing as Chris trailed his lips over every square inch of his skin. He felt like he was on fire. He could feel the sweat slick against his body. Could smell the smoke. Wait a minute. Vin opened his eyes just as Chris raised his head, frowning.
"Vin, do you smell smoke?"
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