“Why do we have to dress like this?” Emery groused, fussing with the bow tie he was wearing. He sent Morrissey a fierce glare.

The older man sighed deeply and walked over to his young colleague. Batting the other’s hand away, he straightened the tie, saying, “The Governor wants to show you off to of his supporters. You and your brother are the youngest people to ever be accepted as deputy investigators and it’s something to be proud of.”

“Something we should be proud of,” Miles pointed out, taking off his glasses and slipping them into his pocket. “I don’t remember the Governor standing beside us and holding our hands while we took our exams. I don’t remember him helping us study for them or helping us keep up with our class work.”

“Yeah,” Emery agreed. “We did all the work and he’s getting the credit?” He shook his head and growled, “It’s the same with everything else we do.”

Morrissey rolled his eyes. There was very little he could say in reply, since they were right. Their achievements were amazing and that the governor was basically putting them on display implied that he was somehow responsible for that. He was trying to show that his policies on the education of mages were working. However, both Emery and Miles had worked hard to get where they were and that had very little to do with being forced to attend the Academy.

The investigator chuckled softly, wondering how the governor’s constituents would react if they were to learn that the boys had actually been largely home-schooled in their gifts. He shook the thought away and glanced over at Miles.

The younger of the brothers was shrugging into the long hooded coat that he wore almost habitually. “Hat,” Morrissey reminded him as he noticed that the accessory was still sitting on the table.

Miles sent him a dark glare and Morrissey smiled in response. Emery hated ties, claiming that he felt like he was being choked when he wore them. Morrissey couldn’t help but wonder what Miles had against hats. No matter what propriety dictated with regards to a situation, the boy refused to wear them unless someone forced the issue.

The two men stared at each other for several minutes before Emery sighed explosively. “Dammit Miles,” he snapped. “Just wear the damn hat! It’s not that big of a deal!” He slapped the tweed cap down onto his brother’s head and whirled on his heel to stalk out the door.

Miles glared, removed the hat and straightened his hair. Muttering under his breath, he replaced the accessory and trailed along after his older brother. Morrissey tried not to laugh as he followed them out to the waiting vehicle.

Stevie was waiting in the car and winked at the three of them as they slid into the seats. Both Ballard’s gave him incredulous looks and Emery mumbled, “What the hell?”

Morrissey chuckled softly. “You look very pretty, Stevie,” he said, gently kissing the boy on his cheek.

Stevie’s pale blond hair was caught up in a fanciful coif, with ribbons trailing down from it. He was wearing a floor length gown that had a frill of lace at the collar. His long slender arms were bared, except for a shawl that was wrapped around his shoulders. “Thanks,” the boy said, smiling warmly. Anyone looking at him would be hard-pressed to realize that he was not a pretty young girl.

“Why do you dress like that?” Emery hissed, leaning closer to the other.

The courier shrugged slightly. “Only way for me to go to this thing on Morrissey’s arm,” he said in a whisper. “Besides, everyone thinks I’m a girl, right?”

“Only people who don’t really pay any attention to you,” Emery grumbled, flopping back against the seat.

As the driver pulled away from the curb, Miles turned a quizzical eye on the young man. “How do you…” he began uncertainly, but trailed off without finishing the thought. Instead, he waved a hand at the other ambiguously.

Stevie chuckled, understanding instantly that Miles was trying to ask how he could wear the gown and appear feminine. Setting a hand against the bodice, he whispered, “It’s padded.”

Morrissey sighed lightly and wrapped an arm around Stevie’s delicate shoulders. “I wish we didn’t have to hide it,” he murmured gently.

Emery nodded slightly and Stevie shrugged. “It’s accepted for the most part, but not if you work for the government,” he said quietly. Smiling at Morrissey, he whispered, “What you do is too important to jeopardize and I know how you feel. That’s all that matters to me.”

“Okay,” Emery sighed. “You two are adorable and all, but this is getting a little too saccharine for my tastes,” he grumbled. Glancing between the couple, he said, “What’s this thing going to be like, anyway?”

“It’s a ball, Emery,” Morrissey stated matter-of-factly. “They’ll have food and music and there’ll be dancing. You two will get introduced around and girls will want to dance with you.”

“I like dancing,” Miles said, taking off his hat and setting it on his knee. At a quirk of Morrissey’s eyebrow, he grumbled, “What? I’m hot!” He rolled his eyes and muttered, “I’ll put it back on when we get there.”

“Alright,” Morrissey agreed, smiling faintly. It was a reasonable compromise.

“I don’t see the point,” Miles grumbled. “I have to wear a hat to go from the house to the car and the car to mansion. It’s less than five minutes total. Why bother?”

“Because it’s proper and you’re supposed to be proper young gentlemen,” Morrissey explained patiently.

“We aren’t gentlemen,” Emery countered, grinning mischievously. Sending his brother a sidelong glance, he asked, “Are we?” Miles’ only reply was a soft chuckle.