My Friend Is Better Than Your Friend
(ATF)

by Derry

Disclaimer: I don't own Ezra or Vin. I do own Angie and Tony but others can borrow them, just as long as they treat them nicely (they're only kids). This is a non-profit venture.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dina, Cat and Kim for checking this out for me and offering helpful advice. And thanks to the creator of the ATF AU, Mog, for the wonderful gift to M7 fic.


Sometimes she really was a most exasperating child.

But having once promised himself that heíd never use the line, "Because I said so," with her, he often found himself traversing various verbal minefields when he tried to correct some of her more inappropriate behaviour. Such as participating in an all out brawl with one of the children from Vinís neighbourhood.

They had been driving back from one of Angieís Saturday morning soccer games and Ezra had actually been contemplating rewarding the gameís only goal scorer with a chocolate ice cream, when heíd remembered that he had also promised to drop off some the reports heíd agreed to help Vin with. A small detour to Purgatorio hadnít seemed like a major inconvenience at the time. After all, he and Angie could then have the rest of the day to themselves.

But, not for the first time, sheíd wandered off while his back was turned and, by the time he and Vin had tracked her down, she was fighting tooth and nail with a boy who lived in the next apartment block.

The two ATF agents had instantly intervened to break up the melee. Vin had retrieved Antonio Garcia and Ezra had collared Angelica Velasquez. Some spectators had cursorily answered some questions before disappearing.

Angie, as usual when she was facing censure, looked at him defiantly. And as usual, he stared her down.

"Well, young lady, would you care to explain to me why you were picking on young Tony Garcia?"

"Picking on him? Heís bigger than me!"

Well, strictly speaking, that was true, but it was it was only the matter of an inch or so. "Nonetheless, several witnesses say that you threw the first punch."

"Well, he was saying really nasty things about you."

"Oh, really?" Ezra was rather surprised. He couldnít remember doing anything that might have incurred the enmity of Tony Garcia. "Such as?"

"He called you Ďan ass-kissing, scum-sucking faggotí!"

Ezra blinked. "Well... er, it is a rather vicious diatribe from one so young. And I expect to never hear you repeat that phrase again." But he was truly puzzled by the vehemence. "Did he offer this opinion spontaneously?"

"Well, no. I was just looking around and he came up and asked me what I was doing here. I told him that I came with you and then he asked what you were doing here. So I told him that you were helping Vin with his work and he said that Vin wouldnít ever need your help because Vin was a much better agent than you are. And I said he wasnít. And he said that he was, that Vin was the best ATF agent of all and everybody knew that. So I told him that didnít prove anything. You canít just say everybody knows something. I mean that wouldnít stand up in court or anything, would it?"

"No, it wouldnít," Ezra agreed, beginning to wonder if Angie hadnít been spending too much time around law enforcement agents. "And what did he say to that?"

"He said that Vin was a better shot than you were. And I said that maybe he was but that didnít mean he was a better ATF agent. I mean ATF agents donít just shoot people, do they?"

"One would hope not."

"So, I told him that you could shoot people too and besides, you are much better at finding out what the bad guys are up to. Yíknow, with all the undercover stuff. So then he said that Vin was braver than you were and I told him that he couldnít prove that. I told him that you jumped in front of a bullet to protect Mama and me (even though Mama got shot later) and that you were the one who had to get really close to the bad guys, sometimes all by yourself with no one to help. Vin only does that sometimes."

"I think you underestimate Mr Tannerís capabilities in that area. But tell me what happened next."

"Tony said you dressed like a fag!"

Ezra really didnít want Angie to make a habit of using such terminology. "Do you even know what that word means?"

"Sortíve. I think so. Itís a man who wants to marry another man instead of a woman, isnít it?"

"More or less. But if you wish to refer to such a man in the future, I would prefer you use a term such as Ďgayí or Ďhomosexualí."

"Tony said it, not me! I was just telling you what he said!"

"Alright, but what did you say?"

"I said that Vin had hair like a girl! Well, he does! Itís almost as long as mine!"

"Angie, you know very well that it is currently acceptable fashion for both males and females to wear their hair at a length similar to Vinís."

"I know, but," she lowered her voice conspiratorially, "Tonyís hair is just a little bit long and I think heís trying to copy Vinís hair. So I knew that saying that would really annoy him. And I told him that I knew lots of people who thought Vin WAS a girl."

"That was a blatant lie!"

"Well, I know lots of people whoíve never met Vin and Iíve still got that purple dress in a box in my cupboard. If we put him in that and did his hair up really nice, then they might think he was a girl."

Ezra preferred to forget about the purple dress altogether. It was part of a long and embarrassing saga which he had no inclination to revisit. It would probably be best just to get away from the topic entirely.

"No more suggestions that the length of Vinís hair makes him look effeminate," he instructed, as sternly as he could.

"Okay, but I do think Vin would look nicer, if his hair was short like yours."

"Vinís hair has been that length, for as long as Iíve known him. I donít think your opinion will induce him to alter it."

"Well, we could alter it for him."

"No!"

"No, really! I could cut it. Gloriaís got some really sharp scissors which are good for cutting hair. Youíd just have to keep him still, so I didnít cut his ear or anything."

"I said Ďnoí. You are not going to make any such attempt. Is that clear?"

Ezra distinctly remembered an occasion when Buck had suggested cutting the hair of a somnolent Vin Tanner, as retribution for some practical joke Vin had instigated against him. Chris had vetoed the idea and, although Ezra had joined in the chorus labelling Chris a spoilsport, the undercover agent privately acknowledged the merit of the decision.

Certain limits needed to be set about these office prankster activities. Otherwise people were liable to start losing eyebrows while they slept, maybe one eyebrow at a time. And as a frequent late riser, Ezra knew that he might be particularly susceptible.

He stared at Angie steadily until he was sure that his Ďno hair cuttingí instruction had been properly acknowledged. Finally, she gave a slight nod and he continued his inquiry into the altercation.

"So after you had successfully aggravated Tonyís ire by criticizing Vinís hair, what did he do?"

"He said that you were useless, that you couldnít even fix a broken tap."

"Well, I must admit that itís an activity which I am not particularly adept in."

"So then I told him that Vin couldnít even read."

"You told him what?"

"Well, he canít!"

"And how do you know that?"

"Well, I once asked him to read me a story and he said no and made some funny excuse. So I asked him again and he made another different excuse. So every so often I keep asking him, yíknow sortíve testing, and he keeps making excuses and theyíre getting really, really lame. So I think that he canít read and thatís why heís making excuses."

Ezra was shocked. Heíd had no idea that Angie was torturing Vin in this way. But he certainly needed to put an immediate stop to it.

Vin wasnít completely illiterate, but he did have a certain lack of confidence when it came to his reading and writing abilities. And someone like Angie badgering him about it would probably inhibit the development of any significant confidence in the area.

"Did you ever stop to consider that Mr Tanner knows how much reading to you means to me? And that maybe he thinks that itís a special activity for the two of us to share and doesnít was to encroach on my territory?"

"Buck reads to me."

"Itís a well known fact that Buck has a completely different sense of propriety to Vin."

"Buck and Vin do things differently?"

"Precisely. Vin is a much more reserved individual."

"You mean heís shy? But itís just reading a book to one person. Itís not like he has to do it for a whole bunch of people."

"Is it vaguely possible that you might just accept that itís something that he doesnít like to do and drop it? Itís very bad manners to demand that someone perform they a task they dislike, just to satisfy oneís own wishes."

"You read to me when I ask you."

"Yes, but I like to read to you. If you asked me to dance the tango in a tutu, Iíd say Ďnoí."

"What about a purple dress?"

"Donít start!"

Ezraís resolve to defend his colleague momentarily wavered. The whole purple dress incident, as well as Angieís knowledge of it, could be directly attributed to Vin. Maybe he deserved some payback for it.

For a moment, an image of Vin with his head well shorn and the scissors in Angieís hands came to mind, immediately followed by another of him in that purple dress with his hair elegantly styled. Both were highly amusing but he knew that he couldnít let either become reality.

And no one deserved to face an Angie onslaught, undefended.

"So what happened when you perpetuated this unsubstantiated rumour that Vin was incapable of readiní?"

"Tony said he could too. And I said that he couldnít and that Tony couldnít prove that he could because I knew that he couldnít."

"And then?"

"Then Tony said Vin was still better than you. And I said that he wasnít and that he was an ignorant, unwashed, degenerate Neanderthal. And thatís when Tony called you Ďan ass-kissing, scum-sucking faggotí and so I punched him."

"You felt that you had to retaliate with physical violence?"

"He asked for it!"

Ezra privately admitted to himself that if anyone had said anything half so offensive about Angie, he too might have been tempted to throw a punch. But then, she also had made a rather fulminantly abusive verbal attack on Vin.

"Well, I might point out that he restrained himself, despite your highly disparaging description of his hero. Who, I might add, has done absolutely nothing to deserve such scorn and abuse. Mr Tanner has always been extremely courteous to you and conducted himself like a gentleman in your presence. And what about the time he climbed that oak tree to assist you in getting down when you failed to do so by your own devices?"

"I wouldíve got down eventually. He just didnít give me enough time. I wasnít scared."

"Well, you certainly looked and sounded scared."

"I wasnít scared!" she maintained defiantly, but then conceded, "but yes, that was very nice of him."

"And donít you think Mr Tanner might be entitled to feel slightly offended that you have been denigrating his good name when heís always been nothing but kind and generous in his dealings with you?"

That evidently got through to her. Angie went very quiet before venturing, "If he doesnít find out, it wonít hurt him."

"Well, I have absolutely no desire to inform him of your ungracious behaviour. But that does not excuse what you have said, even if he never hears about it. And anyway, donít you think Tony Garcia might tell him."

"If he does then heís a low-life snitch!"

Ezra sighed. Now he was certain that Angie had been spending far too much time with members of the law enforcement community.

"And yet, you saw fit to inform me of everything Tony said about me, however unflattering."

"Thatís different!"

"I donít see how."

Angie went quiet again. She knew that she was well and truly cornered and that Ezra expected her to do the right thing.

"What if I say Iím sorry?"

"That sounds like an excellent idea. And you might also give Mr Tanner some indication that you appreciate his kind efforts on your behalf."

She nodded and strode purposefully over to where Vin Tanner was talking to Tony Garcia.

"Tony, Iím sorry. Mr Tanner, I think youíre wonderful," she announced in a voice obviously intended to carry to Ezra. Then she abruptly turned on her heel and walked back to him.

Ezra frowned again. "Do you think that you could have been any more perfunctory about it?"

"Perfunctory?"

"Vin might be forgiven for thinking that your comment to him was merely an afterthought."

"Actually, I think he thinks it was rather funny."

Ezra glanced over to see that Vin Tanner was indeed chuckling quietly, while Tony Garcia looked rather confused. Then Vin caught Ezraís gaze and began to wander over, bringing Tony with him.

"How goes the war, Ez?"

"This is not a true conflict, Mr Tanner," Ezra advised him, a tone of reproof in his voice, "We are merely trying to come to a mutual understanding."

"He thinks Iím being rude, Mr Tanner," Angie explained.

Vin chuckled again. "Well, I wouldnít worry too much, Angie. He often thinks Iím rude."

Angie looked at him with wide-eyed surprise. "You mean he denigrates your good name too?"

"What!?!" Ezra spluttered, "I never... I wouldnít...."

"All the time, Angie, all the time," Vin answered, clapping his hand on Ezraís shoulder and grinning as he did so.

Ezra gave both of them the death glare. Traitors, the pair of them!

"Thing is, Angie," Vin continued, "me aní Ez are friends. So we both know he donít mean nuthiní by it. I hope you and me are friends too."

"Of course, Mr Tanner." She beamed and extended a hand for him to shake on it. "And I hope you know that I donít mean anything bad I say about you."

"Iíll try aní remember that." He laughed, as he shook her hand heartily. "Now how about we all go get some ice cream? Ezraís payiní."

Ezra had been muttering to himself, "I do all the groundwork, then other people just sail in and reap the rewards..." Then he became aware of Vinís comment. "What am I payiní for?"

"Ice cream for the kids, Ezra. How Ďbout we get it from the milk bar on the corner?" He turned to Tony, "Race you there!" and jogged after the boy, who instantly scampered away.

Angie made no attempt to chase them and Ezra extended a hand to her. "Shall we follow, at a more civilised pace?"

She nodded, taking his hand, and they walked several feet before she ventured, "Ezra, why didnít you climb up the oak tree to get me that time?"

He shrugged. "Maybe Iím scared of heights."

"I donít believe that."

"Maybe I didnít want to rip the clothes I was weariní."

"I donít believe that either."

Ezra came to a halt, almost without realising it. He actually didnít remember what his thinking had been at the time, but now he appeared to be committed to finding an answer which she found plausible.

He tried for something a little less self-deprecating. "Maybe, Vin was closer, so when I saw him climbing, I thought Iíd better stay on the ground to catch you if you fell."

"That I can believe."

He looked down to find her grinning at him. They were the very best of friends again. Well, to be honest, he knew that they always had been.

He smiled, but also shook his head slightly, as they resumed their course to join Vin and Tony, at the milk bar.

It seemed that negotiation only got you so far. In the end, children believed what they wanted to believe. And now that he thought about it, if there was one person in the world who would continue to steadfastly believe that he could virtually walk on water... well, maybe he could live with that. After all, everyone needed their heroes. Who was he to deny Angie her first choice in that area?

He started whistling softly to himself and felt Angie squeeze his hand briefly. He smiled again and squeezed back, only just resisting the urge to pick her up and carry her.

It was only then that he realised what tune he was whistling. It was the Beatlesí "I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends".

THE END

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