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Boots, lies and sacrifices

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"They're not very practical, you know."

Vin couldn't help but comment on the dark brown leather cowboy boots that Ezra insisted on wearing. They were scuffed on the toe and heel, the deep chocolate colour faded into a pale cream in places, a stark contrast to the rest of Ezra's outfit. Even now, in the middle of a fight for their lives against aliens from outer space (which still seemed a crazy thing to say out loud), Ezra kept his few items of clothing in immaculate condition. His jeans, $300 designer denims, looked as good as they day they were bought, with the exception of a small tear on the right knee which Ezra had received when he scrambled under an overturned Jeep to escape from a Mech. His plain black tee, now a little baggier thanks to the lack of edible food, didn't have a single crease in it.

But the boots looked as though they'd been through their own war.

Ezra stretched his legs out, crossing his ankles, and looked down at the boots. A smile lit up his face, allowing Vin a glimpse of the gold tooth that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else, but suited him completely. It was, Vin knew, a sign that the smile was real. The rest of the time, Ezra's smiles were more subdued, as though they didn't quite reach his heart. Vin liked to think he was one of the few people who ever got to see one of Ezra's real smiles.

"They were a gift," Ezra said, lifting his head to look at Vin. "From my grandfather."

None of them spoke much about family. There always seemed to be more important things to discuss, namely attack plans, casualty reports and food rationing, so any mention of life before the attack was kept to a minimum.

"He used to work on a small cattle ranch out west. Worked every day of his life until he was 84. Showed me the true value of working hard and having commitment."

Vin looked carefully at Ezra. While there was nothing to indicate that the words he was speaking were lies, there was something that didn't sit right with what he said. Ezra sat with his back against the tree trunk, rifle held in his arms as affectionately as a mother holding a baby, his eyes hidden behind the dark sunglasses he wore against the bright sunlight.

"You told me a while back that you never knew your grandparents," Vin recalled, expecting some embarrassment from Ezra at being caught in a lie. "I remember feeling sorry for you."

Ezra smiled again, a less honest one this time, and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm afraid you have seen through my deception." He didn't show any sign of guilt at all.

"So where did you get the boots?" Vin couldn't help asking. He doubted he'd ever get an honest answer, and wondered if anything Ezra had ever told him had been the truth.

"I would dearly love to regale you with the tale," Ezra said, folding his legs up under him so he could stand up. He swung his rifle around and pointed with the barrel towards a point in the distance. "And I fully intend to continue this conversation at a later date, but it seems that we are about to gain some company."

Vin looked in the direction that Ezra was indicating and saw the unmistakeable outline of a mech ship flying towards them.

"Shit," he said, dragging up the motorbike that lay on the ground next to him. There was no way they could out-fly the ship, not with both of them on one bike, but if they were lucky – and so far they had been – they might be able to avoid detection long enough to get to the clocktower and raise the alarm.

Ezra shook his head. "Go. You'll be faster by yourself."

Vin wanted to argue, but this time Ezra was telling the truth. "I still want to finish that conversation," he said over his shoulder as he started the engine.

He barely heard Ezra's response over the sound of the bike, but he glanced back and saw Ezra touch his fingers to an invisible hat in a salute.