Summary: An approaching birthday produces disturbing thoughts, kicking off a chain of events to ease a troubled soul.
JD cast a sideways glance at the Montecito's Head Valet as they waited on the rest of the team to join them, post shift, in Mystique. Team Seven had worked the nightshift, deciding to enjoy one of Inez's breakfast burritos before heading home.
"You okay, Josiah?"
"You seemed kinda. . .distracted. "
The big man attempted a smile. Watching his friend take a drink, he spoke. "I was just thinking how life is like a roll of toilet paper. . .the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes."
Snorting his Seven Up, the young tech wasn't sure whether to laugh or not as he dabbed at his damp face with the sleeve of his jacket. He decided, due to Josiah's continuing somber demeanor, not to laugh, but take the words more seriously.
"You talking about yourself?"
Sanchez shifted in his seat. "In a roundabout way, I guess I am." Seeing JD's frown, he attempted to elaborate. "I was thinking on how I have found great peace in my life. A job I enjoy and friends I love. Life is good. . .I just wish it hadn't taken so long to achieve such happiness. I want to savor every moment, cherish every conversation, and I do but," he sighed. "Time passes so quickly, these days."
"You make it sound like you're dying or some. . ." JD went white, grabbing Josiah's arm. "You. . .you're not. . .I mean. . ."
Josiah placed his large hands either side of JD's face. "Lord, no. No. . .I'm sorry, I never intended to scare you like that." He dropped his hands, moving one to rest on JD's shoulder, understanding fully why JD feared such things and why that might bring them to the front of his thoughts. He lost his mother, the only person truly close to him, to then find, as they all had, a family, of sorts. The one thing the youth could not bear to endure was losing anyone else. Josiah knew this, because he felt it too.
"Ignore me, son. I'm getting maudlin in my old age."
"You're not old," JD said sincerely, looking nervously around for the rest of their friends. He could really use some back-up right about now, he wasn't happy seeing Josiah like this.
"Bless you, boy," the big man smiled. "But I'm no longer young, either."
Josiah's strange mood prompting him on a course of action, the young tech made plans in his head while the rest of the team began arriving. "Yeah, well, you think what you want, preacher, you'll never be old to me." He bobbed his eyebrows. "'Course, now I know it's a subject that bothers you. . ." JD cackled as Josiah grabbed him in as tight a bear hug as a seated position would allow.
"Don't break him, Josiah, I need him for a shift tonight," Chris ribbed, taking a seat.
Sanchez finally laughed, but did not release JD straight away. "I'll give it some consideration."
Vin shook his head at the pair as he took his seat. "Shoot, kid, hasn't anythin' I taught you given you a clue how to get out of that?"
"But. . .he's a martial arts expert," JD grunted out in his defense.
Looking at the hold Josiah was gripping the younger man with, Tanner sipped his coffee. "And I've been trainin' you for months, so what does that make you, chopped liver?"
"Not. . .an expert. . .ha!" finally wriggling free, JD slid to the end of the booth and stood before Nathan's imminent arrival corralled him. Josiah was chuckling, his mood, lifted.
"I'm nothing special, JD."
The young tech stared at the head valet, wondering if they were still talking about martial arts. "Everyone's special, Josiah," he said softly, bumping into Buck as the hospitality host joined them.
"You leaving? You haven't had breakfast, yet."
JD nodded. "Yeah, I uh, just remembered something I needed to do. Later, guys."
Chris watched him go, flicking a look between Josiah, Vin and Buck.
"He coming down with something?" Nathan asked of no one in particular. "It's not like JD to miss a meal."
"Anything *you* need to do, Mr. Wilmington?" Ezra asked as he joined them.
Buck frowned, sitting. "What's that, now?"
"I was just musing on the possibility of you missing out on the delightful Ms Recillos' burritos, but then, we at least have a full eleven hours before our next shift."
"Is it me, or is Ezra being particularly cryptic, today?" Josiah asked.
Nathan laughed, slapping the table with his hand and causing the others to grin. "I think our resident pit boss is referring to the way your body reacts to them, Buck."
Picking up on the subject, the others also laughed. Buck narrowed his eyes at Ezra.
"Flatulence, my friend," Standish stated and continued calmly sipping his coffee.
A grin formed on Buck's face. "I'm having them for lunch, too."
"How wonderful, I will alert our resident seismologists forthwith, to ignore any abnormal readings on the Richter scale this afternoon."
The men laughed harder as Inez arrived with their breakfasts. She was surprised JD wasn't there to have his, but happily allowed Buck to take the extra plate, unaware of the silent exchanges between him and Ezra. Josiah gazed around at them all, feeling considerably better than he had earlier.
Finding no one in the outer office at such an early hour, JD tapped on Orin Travis' door. When he received no reply, the young tech peeked in, smiling at the deserted area. Settling at the computer to one side of Orin's desk, JD booted it up. What he was about to do needed privacy and access to the main frame. The monitor room would be filled with staff from the next shift, so JD had come here. Hovering over the keyboard, he took one last look around as he flexed his fingers with a satisfying crack. "Forgive me, sir, but it's in a good cause, I promise." Seconds later, JD had accessed the employee personnel files, scanning through records he was not authorized to view. Though momentarily tempted, JD ignored all the files bar one. Quickly sending a copy to his email account before ensuring no record of the action remained, JD closed it all down and left for home.
"Enter!" Looking up from his desk that evening, Chris waved JD in. "Make it quick."
Standing before him, JD prepared. "Chris. . ."
"Something on your mind?"
"We're scheduled to work on the 13th."
"Buck said you were sharp."
JD pulled a face. "It's Josiah's birthday on the 13th."
Chris sat back, holding his pen between the index fingers and thumbs of both hands. "How do you know this?"
"It doesn't matter. . ." JD noted the start of a glare. "A little bird told me. I was wondering. . .I have an idea, could you assign another team for that shift?"
"That's not an answer."
". . .'A little bird told me'. . .it's not an answer."
"Chris," JD huffed. "You said to make this quick."
Sitting forward, Larabee nodded. "I did, didn't I? You have an idea?"
"Involving who, exactly?"
"All of us."
"All of us. . .for Josiah's birthday?"
"Who else knows?"
"Just us," JD answered, hopefully.
Sitting back again, Chris tossed his pen on the desk and folded his arms across his chest. "You got my attention, shoot."
From his seat in the bullpen, Vin glanced up toward Chris' office.
Tanner turned toward Buck as the hospitality host walked into the room. "No. . .not as such. JD seem okay to you?"
Putting two and two together, Buck also looked toward the office. "What's he done, now?"
"Nothin' as far as I can tell. I guess we'll know what's goin' on soon enough." No sooner had Vin spoken, JD was bouncing down the steps from Chris' office. "Everythin' okay, kid?" Vin asked.
"Never better," JD grinned. "Leave your diaries open for the 13th."
Buck checked his PDA. "We're working."
"We *were* working, big brother." JD's grin widened. "Now we're spending the day giving Josiah a day to remember."
"Josiah? Why? Doing what?" Buck pushed.
"It's his birthday, and leave the details to me," JD winked, trotting off. He looked back before disappearing. "I may need some money from each of you."
Buck and Vin glanced at each other. "Aww hell!"
Josiah looked at himself in his bathroom mirror. He didn't really feel a year older than yesterday, and until recently, was dreading this birthday. His special day had never really been so. Traveling most of his young life with his missionary parents, Josiah's birthday was never acknowledged with more than a simple card and a small gift, such was their lifestyle. Money was tight and their schedules even tighter. He had concealed his birth date successfully, until now, and he couldn't help wondering how his friends had gotten hold of it.
He smiled, convinced that one recent somber shift-end conversation with JD had prompted all this. His smile grew as he thought fondly of his friends. He was indeed, truly blessed, these days. After all, only true friends. . .family. . .would give a damn about not only finding out it was his birthday, but changing their rota in order to spend the whole day with him.
And now he was reflecting on what JD had planned for the day. Lord help them!
His doorbell ringing caused him to finish up and head for the door. JD's grinning features greeted him.
"Happy birthday, old man!"
A hearty chuckle filled the hallway outside his apartment as Josiah stepped back to allow JD in. "Good morning, John Daniel."
"You all set?"
Nodding, Sanchez picked up his keys and wallet. "I am now. May I ask what delights there are in store for me?"
"Well. . .based on the conversation we had the other day. . .you know. . .about you feeling old, I figured you needed a little reminder of just how young you truly are."
Josiah clasped the younger man's shoulders and squeezed them, fondly. "I'm all yours, son."
"Cool, oh, and, Josiah?"
"Mmm. . ."
"I hope, when we're done, you'll never think of you, or your life as `ordinary' again."
As he followed JD out, Josiah whispered. "Already there, son, already there."
"Holy shit! No way, Jose!"
"Get a grip, Larabee," Buck chuckled. "You're ex FBI for crying out loud."
"What's that got to do with going up. . .that?" he pointed.
"Afraid you'll lose that `cool exterior' image?"
"Afraid I'll lose my breakfast, more like." Chris sighed, a small grin forming. "Ah, what the hell, you only live once."
"Did I mention I have an inner ear infection?" Ezra said to Nathan as he viewed their venue. The doctor raised an eyebrow.
"Like hell you have. Suck it up, we're doing this for Josiah."
"You keep telling yourself that when you're screaming like a girl."
"I will, but I'm guessing my screams will be lost against yours."
"We shall see," Ezra smirked, resisting the temptation to offer a wager.
"Awesome, kid. I like the way your mind works."
JD grinned at Tanner. "I hoped you would. You okay with this, Josiah?"
"It's not somewhere I would have chosen to come." He smiled to reassure the now frowning tech. "But that just makes the choice all the more perfect."
"Let's do it, then, huh?"
"Hell yeah," Vin grinned.
"Absolutely, " Josiah agreed.
"Guys, you ready?" JD called. Laughing at the gestures he received, he and Josiah led the way as the seven men entered the Stratosphere.
Seven men stood in awe on the observation deck, over 850 feet above the city. Offering a full 360 degree view, they spent some time taking in the sights before JD urged them onto their first ride.
Seating all seven, with the birthday boy getting the front seat all to himself, the X-Scream, listed just above and to one side the observation deck. Patiently waiting for something to happen, while trying not to think about literally hanging in mid air over Las Vegas, they wondered if this open capsule was working. . .until it teetered and they plunged head first to the end of its short track, stopping abruptly before it could send its occupants to certain death, to then be tipped back to repeat the sequence again and again.
JD, Vin and Josiah instantly howled and raised their arms in the air. Nathan looked at Ezra.
"Quit squeezing my arm, man. Are you scared?"
"Absolutely not," Ezra replied, indignantly, "I was merely ensuring you didn't fall out."
Chris turned to Buck. "Tell me how to get off here without hurling and I'll give you a pay rise."
Buck laughed, yelping as they dipped again. "Relax into it, stud, we got two more rides to go, yet."
"This is awesoooooome! " JD and Vin yelled out together. Josiah looked down from his precarious perch, in awe of the view.
Addressing God he said quietly, "You truly do great work."
The next ride was the aptly named `Insanity'. Strapped in pairs, into chairs suspended from giant arms, a grinning, JD yelled across at his teammates.
"This one's 960 feet up!"
"Marvelous!" Ezra replied, wondering how he could retrieve Gucci slip on shoes should they drop off.
"You okay, Josiah?" JD asked the man next to him.
"Having the time of my life," he grinned back.
"We're moving. . .out?" Chris asked as the large support arm swung out over the city below.
Vin nodded. "Yup, can't spin too close to the observation deck."
"Spinning. . .great, " Chris grunted.
Buck was happily chatting up a pretty blonde that had joined them for the ride. Nathan chuckled. "Man can find `em anywhere."
JD was grateful no kids were on the observation deck when the expletives flew as the ride spun, throwing the suspended seats back at a 70 degree angle, at 40 miles an hour with a G-force of 3.
More than a little dizzy, their last seating was on the infamous `Big Shot'. Being catapulted 160 feet into the air in 2 seconds at G force 4. . .dropped instantly back down to zero force then bounced up and down the mast three times, and all in one minute, could only be described as `mind blowing'. All seven got off the ride laughing like fools. Before they could catch their breath, JD was ushering them into the elevator. Back on Terra firma, Josiah was still laughing and clinging to JD and Buck when a stretch limo pulled up. The driver got out and opened the doors.
"Sanchez, limo for seven?"
All but one of the men surprised, they nodded and climbed in. "Where are we going?" Josiah asked.
JD grinned. "To the Grand Canyon."
Taking off from Las Vegas Airport, the seven men went on an exhilarating 45 minute each way helicopter flight to the Grand Canyon, treated to spectacular sights as they passed over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam as well as the Grand Canyon itself. Landing deep in the canyon, they enjoyed a champagne picnic. Josiah gazed fondly at them all.
"This has been an amazing day, boys, thank you."
Five men looked at their youngest teammate, grinning. JD smiled at Josiah. "Well, it's not quite over yet." Deliberately not elaborating, he leaned into him. "Feeling any younger, old man?"
"Like a spring chicken," Josiah replied, his huge grin dazzling in the Nevadan sunshine.
Chris tapped his half-empty glass, Ezra quickly refilling it, his and then the others. "To Josiah, the best head valet, and one of the best friends a man could wish for. Happy birthday!"
"Happy birthday!" they all chorused, raising their glasses and taking a drink.
"Thank you, brothers," Josiah choked out.
JD giggled. "This stuff's gooood!"
Buck tapped the back of JD's head. "And way out of your daily budget, squirt."
Ezra licked his lips, looking fondly at his drink. "Some things are worth budgeting for, Mister Wilmington."
"Yeah," JD agreed. `Whoa. . .maybe I should lay off it for now', he thought, recognizing he sounded a little more `relaxed' than he should have.
Vin grinned and `encouraged' JD to take a little more.
"Bubbles go straight to his head," Buck argued with Standish. "He should stick to milk."
"I like milk," JD said quietly, staring at his glass as he debated whether to drain it or not.
Josiah's shoulders shook with laughter as he watched and listened to the interactions, smiling as Chris moved to sit next to him.
"Thank you for allowing us to have this day," Josiah acknowledged.
"My pleasure," Chris smiled. "JD made a good case."
"I'm curious, I wasn't aware anyone knew when my birthday was. How did JD find out?"
Chris glanced across at his youngest team member. "Not sure. . .but I have my suspicions."
Josiah leaned in, his gaze fixed on JD. "Hold onto him, Chris. He's a breath of fresh air, and good for these men."
Larabee pursed his lips. "I know, but if you ever tell him I said so, I'll have to kill you."
Both laughing, they looked up as the pilot joined them. "Time to head back, gentlemen."
"Awww. . ."
Buck hauled JD up. "All good things come to an end, kid."
Flying low over the famous Las Vegas neon Strip on their return, their limo returned them to the Montecito.
"One for the road?" Chris asked, receiving nods in return. As they walked into Mystique, Rain, Inez, Gloria, Orin and Evie Travis called out `Happy Birthday!'
Josiah was overwhelmed by the welcome and the decorations adorning the nightclub, thanking everyone again and again for their kindness. He spent the next hour opening cards and presents and drinking more champagne.
"This has been a most wonderful birthday," he declared. "Thank you all so much for everything you've done for me. I'm truly blessed to have friends like you."
Nathan draped an arm around Josiah's shoulders. "As long as you've enjoyed it, that's all that matters."
"I have, my friend. . .I have."
"Ready to get a cab?"
"No need," Orin chirped up. "I've laid on a couple of limos to drive you all home."
Thanking him, the seven men said their goodbyes. Josiah pulled JD into a tight embrace. "Thank you for making me feel young again, John Daniel," he whispered.
JD hugged back. "Thanks for being such a good sport."
Relaxing, Josiah held him at arm's length, looking around all his friends. "One thing's for sure, this truly is a most wonderfully, extraordinary life. We must cherish every moment of it."
"Ain't that the truth," Vin agreed. They all nodded.
Chris made a noise and they all turned to him. "Meeting, tomorrow, 7:00am sharp."
Groaning, the group dispersed.
Preparing for bed, Josiah unbuckled his watch and placed it on his bedside table. With a soft grunt he knelt at the side of the bed and bowed his head in prayer.
"Lord, bless my brothers this night and guide them through a restful sleep. Help me to watch over them and care for them and show them how much I love each one.
"Keep them safe. O Lord, cherish them as I do, for they are truly special.
Climbing into bed, he reflected on his day, chuckling to himself as he recalled every moment. Before turning off his lamp, he set his alarm. He'd been thinking about taking up jogging again, deciding there was no time like the present.
Especially as he had realized today, his `roll of toilet paper' was still full.