Operation Halloween

by Barb Marx

Josiah watched as his brothers argued back and forth about what Standish was up to. The speculation ranged from Buck's idea of a hot date, to JD's notion of a meeting with his banker, to Nathan's suggestion that he was just staying at home and sleeping.

The profiler just sat back and grinned. He had an idea about what the undercover man was doing tonight but he wasn't about to divulge that information, at least not voluntarily. Of course, if his teammates figured it out that was another story. Josiah looked up to order another drink and inadvertently caught Vin's eye. The former bounty hunter smirked, letting the preacher know that he too was in the loop, so to speak.

Vin watched as well. He was amused by the speculation that was going on around him. Ezra was an intensely private man and the only reason he knew what was going on was that he had helped the southerner formulate his plans for the evening. He looked up at the same time as Josiah did and smirked at the big man when he caught his eye. Understanding flowed between the two men and they silently saluted each other.

Vin had understood Standish's desire to have his evening's activity remain private but he had hoped that the southerner would have told his friends. He knew that they would have supported him and even joined in on the fun. Tanner was counting on Ezra to tell him tomorrow how his evening had gone before they all went to the Travis' party.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was enjoying himself. He had never let himself get involved with the hoopla that came with Halloween before. When he was a child, Maude had seen the spooky day as ludicrous and as a day that held no profit for her. He had never dressed up and never went 'trick or treating'. The various boarding schools the southerner had attended while growing up, all had some form of Halloween celebration, though by then, Ezra had been too jaded to join in on all the fun.

Since joining the FBI and then the ATF, the agent had always been, by some quirk of fate, on an undercover assignment of one form or the other, each and every Halloween.

This year had promised to be different. While visiting the children's ward at the hospital earlier in the month, the green-eyed man quickly became infected by the children's enthusiasm for the holiday. He had helped them create costumes and had promised to come to their small All Hallows Eve party and perform magic tricks. The party had gone down without a hitch and everyone had a great time, Ezra included.

Now home, Standish had gotten ready for the next stage of 'Operation Halloween' as he was secretly calling it. Looking at himself in his bedroom mirror, he couldn't help but grin. "Well, Ezra, old boy, what would your associates say if they could see you now?"

Chuckling, he left the bedroom and glanced around his condo. It still looked as it always did, with the exception of a few things. In the window that faced the street, was a large pumpkin. He smiled fondly remembering the 'field trip' that he had gone on last weekend. He had arranged with Vin to take some of the children from the sharpshooter's neighborhood out to the country to visit the pumpkin patch. There, the children were allowed to pick out the orange squash of their choice to take home and decorate. While there, Ezra had told the kids the legend of Halloween and the story of how the Jack 'o' Lantern came to be. The small ones loved the stories and were quickly enamored by the green-eyed man.

He was shocked when the children begged and cajoled the southerner until he complied, and once they had his consent; they dragged the ex bounty hunter off to scour the patch until they found the biggest, roundest, and most perfect pumpkin that Ezra had ever seen. Facing their pleading visages, the southerner had no choice but to take it home.

Later, when the children were safely delivered home, Ezra had confessed to Vin that he had no idea what to do with the pumpkin. Tanner could only stare at Standish and wonder whether the green-eyed man was playing him. Seeing only the truth reflected in the verdant gaze, the Texan quickly agreed to show him how to properly create a Jack 'o' Lantern.

Ezra smiled as he checked the giant orange vegetable. Last night, Vin had shown the southerner how to cut the top off the hapless pumpkin and scoop the 'guts' out. He would never admit it but he had enjoyed emptying the squash. The feel of its innards felt a bit weird but for some reason, it also felt good oozing between his fingers. He now understood the children's enthusiasm when they described squishing 'punkin guts'. Once done emptying 'ole Jack' out, Vin taught him how to clean the seeds and roast them. "They make fine eatin' and they're good for you, too," he remembered the Texan telling him while popping a few fresh roasted seeds in his mouth.

The next task was to carve a suitable visage on the pumpkin. After a lively discussion, both men agreed on the traditional triangular features and set to work. Looking at the pumpkin's softly glowing reflection in his window, he couldn't help the feeling of pride that it evoked.

All was ready, now all he had to do was wait. His stomach fluttered at that thought. He still had his doubts that anyone would come. He sat by the door, too nervous to sit in the living room and try to watch television or even read a book. This was ridiculous he thought, 'I'm a trained government agent and perhaps one of the best undercover men in the country, and I'm nervous about whether or not I get visitors to my door'. Just as he was about to blow out the candle in his Jack 'o' Lantern, the doorbell rang. Swallowing his nerves and clamping down on his excitement, he adjusted his outfit and opened the door to hear the happy sounds of "trick or treat!"

+ + + + + + +

Vin thought back to last night and hoped that everything was going well. He had tried to get Ezra to allow him to tell the fellas what he was doing tonight but Standish was adamant that no one knew what he was doing. "It would be unbearable to be the butt of their jokes should no one grace my door on All Hallows Eve," the southerner had commented. Tanner had reassured the green-eyed man that as long as he had a lit Jack 'o' Lantern in his window and the path to his condo well lit, then they would come. What he hadn't told Ezra was that he knew that there were two schools close to the condo and that there would be lots of kids out tonight.

Vin came out of his musing when he heard Buck start to rant.

"Damn it! I can't take it any more!" Wilmington exploded. He threw some money on the table and standing, grabbed his jacket.

"Where the hell are you going?" Chris asked. He had been amused with his men's antics. The team leader was just as curious as the rest of them as to what his undercover man was up to tonight but hadn't participated in the discussion. He had preferred to keep his musing to himself and let his friends drive themselves crazy wondering.

"I'm going over to Ez's to see what's he's doing," Buck said as if it should have been obvious.

"I don't think that's a good idea, brother," Josiah replied. He was becoming concerned that this could damage their relationship with the reticent southerner. The six men were slowly breaking down Ezra's walls and the last thing he wanted to do was send the cautious man building a thicker one to hide behind.

"Come on, Josiah, Ezra's probably not even home. What's the harm in going over to his house to check it out?" Nathan nudged the preacher's shoulder, stood up and then made his way to where Buck was standing.

Looking at the rest of the men, Josiah stopped when he reached Vin. The sharpshooter's eyes were half hooded but he could plainly see the concern hidden in their depths. "Vin?"

Tanner shook his head but couldn't come up with a single thing to say in order to prevent his friends from barging over to Ezra's. "If he's home, we leave him alone. No one barging in to disturb him… Agreed?" He gave a pointed look at Buck and JD who were already plotting over what they could find at Ezra's. "Agreed!" Vin snapped again.

This caught Buck's attention and he nodded, "Yeah, no worries, Vin. If ole Ez is entertaining we won't bother him none."

JD and Nathan nodded in agreement while Chris and Josiah looked resigned. Vin sighed and followed his friends as they headed to their vehicles. It didn't take them long to arrive at Standish's condo, though they had to be careful driving because of all the families out trick or treating.

They parked down the street from Ezra's and walked the rest of the way, thus hoping that they wouldn't be found out.

The six men smiled watching all the little ghouls and goblins, princesses and fairies wandering around under the careful observation of their parents. Finally arriving at Ezra's, they were astounded by the steady stream of little people running up and down his walkway.

"Hey look, he has a Jack 'o' Lantern in his window," the young computer expert pointed out, drawing the men's attention away from the kids.

"Wow! That's some punkin!" Buck whistled in appreciation, chuckling at the face that was carved on it. He always liked the traditional big-toothed grin. "Where the hell did he get that monster and why does he have one in his window?"

Vin sighed. He thought he had better explain before his friends did something stupid. "Ez and me went to the punkin patch with the kids from Purgatorio. They picked it out for 'im."

Chris smiled at Tanner. He knew how kids affected Standish and knew that the kind-hearted man wouldn't be able to say no to the kids. But that didn't explain why the pumpkin was carved and lit in the window. He was just about to ask when the Sharpshooter spoke again.

"Look, you can't give him a hard time about this, okay? You do and I'll make you all pay," Vin looked each man in the eye and let them know he was serious.

The men quickly agreed, knowing full well that Tanner would pull the most outrageous practical jokes until each man had 'paid' for their sins.

"Ezra never had a Halloween before. He never went out trick or treating and he never handed out candy," the Texan confessed.

Josiah nodded. He had suspected as much and was inordinately pleased that 'his boy' was getting the chance to do so now. "Don't worry, Vin. We won't do anything to ruin this night for Ezra."

With that, they slowly approached the southerner's condo.

"Sure looks like his place is popular with the little ones," Nathan grinned. They may have their differences but the medic liked Ezra and was pleased that his first Halloween seemed to be a success.

Team 7 stood back as a group of children ran up the walkway and almost stampeded them. Amazement in their eyes, the men heard one of the youngsters speak.

"Let's go to Mr. Ezra's place. Charlie said he was giving out neat stuff and he was dressed real good too," a little tow-headed girl laughed.

The little group made it to Standish's door and rang the bell, whispering to themselves as they waited for it to open.

As the door opened, they yelled loudly, "Trick or Treat!" and held out their bags and pumpkin containers to be filled.

Six mouths dropped open and six pairs of eyes widened in disbelief. There before them, carrying a large bowl of candy was… a giant chipmunk with a distinctly southern accent.

Stunned, they watched as the chipmunk spoke to the children while doling out candy and then, instead of receiving the usual 'thank yous' the chipmunk was group hugged.

The parents of the children who stood behind the team, started chuckling. "Mr. Standish certainly went all out," one of them commented.

"Yes he did, but you can't be surprised? He's always very active around the community. I remember the safety talk he participated in with the police and fire department last year," another mother replied.

"I remember that. It's nice to know that there is a law enforcement officer in the neighborhood, even if he's a fed," another parent agreed laughing.

Shamelessly eavesdropping, the team couldn't help the surge of pride they felt for their brother.

Nathan whispered, "Did you know he did that?" He directed his question to Chris.

Larabee nodded, "yes, he asked me permission to have the day off so that he could help speak to one of the schools in his neighborhood." The blond man grinned at the expressions on his friend's faces.

There was a momentary lull in activity at the southerner's door, which had been left open. "Are ya all going to come in?" The question was slightly muffled due to the chipmunk head Ezra was wearing.

Grinning, the men entered Standish's place but couldn't find the man in question.

"What are you all drinking?" floated in the air from the direction of the kitchen. Ezra came out with a bottle of water in one hand and the chipmunk head under his arm. His face was red and his usually immaculate hair was mused.

"You're a chipmunk, Ezra," Buck chuckled at the disheveled man in front of him.

"Mr. Chip, I believe his name is, Mr. Wilmington. Unfortunately, Mr. Dale could not accompany me tonight," was the snappy reply, Ezra's dimples making an appearance.

Chuckling, the men couldn't help but notice the twinkle in his green eyes and how Standish was trying really hard not to grin from ear to ear.

"Havin' fun, Ez?" Vin asked, already knowing the answer.

"I do believe that this evening is a great success," came the vague answer from the undercover man.

"That's not what he asked, Ezra," Nathan smiled gently at his reticent friend.

Looking at the faces before him, Ezra smiled, "Yes, I'm having a wonderful time." This was as close as he would come to saying that he was having 'fun'.

"Do you mind if we stay for a bit and help?" Chris asked, surprising everyone. For some reason this year didn't hurt as much and the blond was ready to participate in a holiday that he had always enjoyed.

"Of course, gentleman," the southerner replied as the doorbell rang. Placing the chipmunk head back on, he made his way to the door. "Excuse me, I believe they're expecting me."

Smiling, the six men lounged around the living room, glad that they had an unencumbered view of the front door. Each man silently agreed that this was a Halloween to remember.