Okay, this is a mostly PWP piece for those of you who say there arent enough pieces about Nathan where he isnt spending all his time taking care of the team. Enjoy!
The alarm went off and Nathan Jackson rolled over and pushed the snooze button. His body ached from the fall he had taken a few days ago. The fire escape was sound enough but the anchors holding it to the building had rusted. It was one of those freak accidents that just seem to happen to his team. He had deep muscle bruising on his thigh and behind and a couple of cracked ribs. The minor scrapes were a nuisance he could have done without.
The second time the alarm went off, he carefully sat up and eased his feet to the floor. He wasnt looking forward to going into the office today. It was his birthday and he knew that the team would have something planned. He hated surprise parties.
A long, hot shower made him feel marginally better. As he was toweling off, he remembered that Vin had reminded him that it was his day to pick up breakfast. The sharpshooter offered to trade with him, seeing as he was still limping. I should have taken him up on it. He thought to himself.
Dressing had taken a little longer than he planned and he was now ten minutes past the time he normally left the house. There was an abnormal amount of traffic on the streets. He remembered that there was some kind of parade scheduled for later that morning. God, he hated elections!
The minivan in front of the traffic jam had a blown radiator hose and the harried young mother was nearly hysterical as people yelled and gestured at her. Nathan stopped behind her and got out of the Jimmy.
Have you called a tow truck? he asked when he got close enough to the woman.
No, my cell phone is dead! I dont know what to do. I cant take all of the kids with me, the woman answered as she looked through the window at the worried faces of the five kids in the van.
Here, call for help and Ill stay until someone gets here, he told her as he handed off his cell phone.
Twenty minutes later, the tow truck arrived and another mother had been called to deliver the children to school. Nathan accepted the grateful womans thanks as he got back into the Jimmy. His ribs were really throbbing and he didnt want to take any of his pain medicine until he reached the office.
The donut shop was crowded when he arrived and he had to wait in a line to pick up his order. The young girl behind the counter smiled when she slid the box across the counter.
I put the special ones in there, just like they ordered, she explained.
Special ones? Nathan wondered about it but didnt give in to his curiosity as he paid for the order and carried the boxes out to his vehicle. He had hoped to get to the office early. They were up to something, he could just feel it. He hated surprise parties!
Nathan eased the Jimmy in next to Vins jeep and got out. Chriss Dodge sat in its usual parking space. JDs Mustang was in the shop for a recall repair and he rode in with Buck. Josiahs suburban rumbled into the parking garage just then, coughing and backfiring as the power steering pump screamed with the effort of turning the large vehicle into a parking spot.
Good morning, the profiler called out over the screech the door made as he opened it. The battered, old Chevy was on its last leg but Josiah refused to admit it. Vin teased that the engine was held together with bailing wire and duct tape.
Good morning, Josiah. Youre running a little late, Nathan commented as he watched the graying man remove a box from the front seat before slamming the door.
I had to drop off some things for the auction. You remember, Sister Juanita organized an auction to benefit the summer camp program? I picked up a bunch of stuff yesterday after work and dropped it on my way in this morning.
Nathan had forgotten. He had brought in a box of things to be donated for the auction a week ago. The sisters were having a rummage sale and auction at the park along the parade route. They were making the most of the last minute press of election hysteria to try to earn money for their kids.
The ride up in the elevator was quiet. He hoped that they hadnt done anything to his desk. On JDs birthday, Buck and Vin had booby trapped the desk and decorated the desktop and floor with tiny, brightly colored confetti. On Chriss birthday, Vin and Ezra had broken into the office and deposited several hundred helium filled balloons. He shook his head as the elevator stopped and the doors opened.
It was quiet in the office. JD and Vin were working at their computers and Buck was in the conference room with Chris, going over the plan for the next case they were investigating. Everyone got up and followed him into the kitchen to get their morning favorite. On the coffee machine, two fresh pots waited. They had gotten a special pot for the sharpshooter to make the sludge he preferred to the regular coffee the rest of them drank.
Lets get what we need and meet in the conference room, Chris announced after picking up a cheese Danish. He had already filled his large, insulated coffee mug and carried it into the other room.
The team gathered around the large conference table and browsed through the folders that lay at each mans place. The folders contained the overview of the case as well as any specialized information sorted according to agent specialty. Vin was busy studying the aerial photos of the building and the blueprints in his folder. JD was looking at the schematics of the communications system in preparation for setting up wire taps and video surveillance.
Chris cleared his throat to get their attention.
Okay, the Harper case is still building so Ezra will be in later to fill us in on his observations. The new case is fairly straightforward. The LMJ Company is an import/export company suspected of smuggling in weapons. We are providing backup for Team 3 when they hit the place this afternoon with search warrants. Nate, youll have to stay here in the office. I want everyone else to suit up, vests and headgear, we arent taking any chances today.
The rest of the meeting consisted of the team reviewing the layout of the building and the pictures of the players involved. They reviewed the information provided by Team 3. As they were winding up the meeting, Chris tapped on the tabletop to get their attention.
We also wanted to wish Nathan a happy birthday. Knowing that you hate surprises and all the fuss, we just got you a card, the team leader announced as he slid the envelope across the table.
Nathan took the pale beige envelope and noticed the elegant script across the face. Ezra had written his name with the calligraphy pen he kept in the locked drawer of his desk. The card was cute, a picture of a group of bears holding balloons. On the inside, each of his friends had signed the card.
Thanks, I appreciate yall not making a fuss, the team medic said.
So, are you and Rain doing anything special tonight? JD asked.
No, she got called in to work a double because theyre so short handed. Well probably get together this weekend to do something.
Thats too bad, Nate. You know youre always welcome to join us at the Saloon, Buck called.
Yeah, Ill probably just go home and watch the game tonight, Nathan replied sadly.
Ribs still botherin ya? Vin inquired.
The bullpen was quiet as the men returned to their desks. Josiah slipped a foil wrapped package onto the corner of Nathans desk and smiled. The others glanced around with embarrassed expressions. Buck slipped into Chriss office and the two of them talked quietly before the ladies man returned to his desk, casting a quick glance at the medic.
For the next half hour, the soft electronic chimes announced that the men were E-mailing each other. Every other tone came with a quick glance across the office. Nathan had a niggling suspicion that they were planning something. Vin sprang out of his chair and rushed into the kitchen with his cell phone. Josiah eased out from behind his desk and followed the younger man. When the sharpshooter dashed out a few minutes later, the profiler stepped into Chriss office.
Catching Josiahs eye as he returned to his desk, Nathan raised a questioning expression.
Water heater burst at the apartment above Vins. He has to go let the landlord in to survey the damage. Hell be back in a couple of hours.
The elevator chime announced the arrival of the undercover agent. Ezra was soaking wet and shaking his feet every so often while he walked. As he passed Nathans desk, the medic heard the squishing sound of wet feet, very wet feet.
Ezra, did something happen? He asked.
Definitely, something happened! I parked my car outside of the restaurant where I was to meet Mr. Danziger. A city bus chose this morning to strike the fire hydrant on the corner. In the deluge that followed, I was forced to either move the Jag or have it towed away. With there not being a cloud in the sky, I naturally failed to bring my umbrella and so got thoroughly and completely soaked! Mr. Larabee will be receiving the bill for cleaning the car and to replace the leather if it cant be restored.
Sorry to hear that. Thanks for the birthday card, Nathan said softly.
What? Oh yes, youre very welcome. Many happy returns. I suppose you and your lovely paramour are going to paint the town red tonight?
No, she has to work a double.
Thats too bad. If youll excuse me, I need to get out of these wet shoes, my feet are killing me! The southerner huffed as he walked away.
The door to Chriss office opened and the blond stuck his head out. JD, run over to the Saloon and pick up our lunch order.
Chris, I rode in with Buck this morning! Came the defensive reply.
Buck, give him your keys so he can pick up lunch, the team leader suggested.
No way! Give him your keys! The last time he took my truck, he scratched the chrome on the back bumper, the mustached agent protested.
Come on, Buck! That wasnt my fault! That lady backed out and hit the truck! I wasnt even behind the wheel when it happened! JD defended.
Ill go pick up the lunch order, Nathan offered.
You shouldnt be lifting and carrying, take JD with you, Chris ordered.
On the elevator ride down, Nathan replayed the last few minutes in the office. The whole thing had been just a little too rehearsed. They were up to something. He hated surprise parties!
The lunch rush was in full swing when they pulled into the parking lot. Every space was filled. They pulled around behind the building to the service entrance area and parked. JD jumped from the Jimmy and turned back.
You may want to come in. From the looks of the lot, it could be a while.
The niggling feeling intensified! Nathan followed JD around the building and carefully surveyed the vehicles on the lot. None of the teams cars were parked where he could see them. It would be strange for them to plan a surprise and not be here to see his face but maybe they came over by another route and parked somewhere else.
Nathan! JD! I was wondering when you would show up, Inez called as they approached the register. Ill have your order in a couple of minutes. Sit down and have a soda?
Thanks, Inez, JD replied as he slid into an empty stool.
How are you feeling, Nathan? Buck said you were on desk duty for a few days, the barmaid asked as she placed sodas on coasters in front of each of them.
Better, thanks for asking. Still a little sore but it could have been a lot worse, Nathan answered. He sipped the Coke she had handed him and looked around the room suspiciously. He caught sight of one of the barmaids slipping into the room where the private parties were held. She was carrying a sheet cake and had a bunch of helium balloons.
Seeing the direction of his gaze, Inez leaned on the bar. One of the girls is throwing a surprise baby shower for her sister, she explained.
A waitress placed a box and a large brown paper bag on the counter. She pulled the order form and checked the list one final time before nodding.
Youll want to keep the box level. The bag has the salad and condiments in it, she handed JD the bill and he handed her the money Chris had given him.
Keep the change, JD told her as he picked up the box. Can you get the bag, Nathan?
What took you so long? Im starving! Vin hollered as they stepped off of the elevator. He took the box from JD and rushed toward the conference room.
Nathan slowed as he approached the door. So thats it. They sent me out to get lunch so they could get the surprise ready in the conference room. He handed the bag to JD.
You go ahead, Im going to hit the mens room, he told the young agent.
Taking his time in the restroom, he entered the conference room some ten minutes later. The team was spread out around the table, devouring their lunch.
Thought we were going to have to come and get you, Josiah commented around a bite of the roast beef sandwich he was eating.
Beside Nathans plate was a single iced cupcake. He slid into the leather office chair and nudged it with his index finger. Whats this?
Inez put it in the box. She remembered that it was your birthday, JD explained.
How bad was the mess at your place, Vin? The medic asked as he unwrapped his sandwich.
Not too bad. Some of the drywall will have to be replaced but I had already taken up the carpet after the time the pipes froze and burst so they wont have to do anything to the floors.
Still dont understand why you dont find yourself a decent place to live, Chris growled.
Im not having this argument with you, Larabee. Im a grown man and Ill live where I want, the sharpshooter called over his shoulder.
Hey, Nathan. Molly called from downstairs. They need you to come down and sign some paperwork about your light duty release, JD announced after hanging up the phone.
Did she say when?
No, but they are getting the payroll stuff together down there, the younger man reminded.
Okay, tell Chris where I am if he asks. If you have to leave before I get back, watch your backs, he warned.
JD tossed a two-fingered salute before turning his gaze back to the computer screen. Nathan walked to the elevator and pushed the call button. The ride down to the floor where Human Resources was housed normally took only a few seconds, this time it took much longer. The elevator was inordinately slow about starting and took forever to level off at the desired floor.
When the doors finally opened, Nathan stepped off and cast a hard glance at the elevator as the doors closed smoothly. The sound of giggling from behind one of the numerous movable partitions had him instantly on guard. Maybe they had tampered with the elevator controls to slow him down so they could get down here ahead of him. He hated surprise parties!
Rounding the partition, he caught sight of Molly giggling with another woman over something on the computer screen. The secretary looked up at his appearance and moved back to her own desk.
Mr. Jackson! I didnt mean for you to rush down here. You missed one of the signatures on the paperwork. It wasnt a big deal.
Nathan took the form and pulled off the Post-it arrow and signed the missed line. While he was leaned over the desk, he snuck a peek at the monitor on the next desk. When he caught a glimpse of the screen saver, he realized what the women were giggling about. JD had fashioned a screen saver that had Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny chasing each other across the screen, both wearing little ATF logos on their backs.
Hey, I just realized, today is your birthday! Happy birthday! Molly exclaimed. Ill bet the team is taking you out to celebrate tonight.
No, Im just going home to watch the game tonight, he told her.
The two women kept him there talking for several minutes before he managed to slip away. He pushed the elevator call button and waited. When the same elevator that brought him down arrived, he debated sending it away and calling another but he stepped in. The car rose quickly and smoothly and the doors opened on his floor.
The team was putting on their vests and getting ready to head out when he reached the bullpen. Chris was checking Vins vest, Buck was checking JDs and Josiah was checking Ezras while the southerner whined about the unflattering color of the protective garment. As soon as JD was cleared with his vest, he began to hand out the headgear so he could test it again before they left.
Is there anything I can do from here? Nathan asked.
No. Why dont you go on home, Nate. There isnt any reason for you to sit around here by yourself on your birthday. You shouldnt even have come in today. Ill call you when we get back to the office, Chris said as Vin checked the Kevlar vest.
Ya sure? I could ride along, just in case something happens to one of you, the medic offered.
No, well be fine. Team 3 has a good man, you said so yourself. Go on home, Ill call.
The team completed their checks and hurried toward the elevators. Nathan eased into his desk chair and sighed. The niggling sensation hed been having all day was becoming disappointment. He remembered telling them that he didnt want anyone fussing over him for his birthday this year but he didnt think theyd take him seriously.
His mind wandered over the party theyd thrown for Buck a couple of years ago. They had managed to convince the ladies man that they had forgotten that it was his birthday. The look of surprise on his face had been priceless. Hed actually reached for his gun because he was so completely unprepared for them.
Powering down his computer, Nathan took the card and tucked it into his pocket to take home and show to Rain. He picked up his jacket and headed for the elevator again. He still didnt like surprise parties but he decided that he didnt like not having a party more.
It was quiet at the house when he got home. The blinking light on the answering machine drew him across the room. He depressed the button and listened as his sisters wished him a happy birthday. There was a message from Rain, telling him that she would stop by when she got off at 11:00 PM.
After taking one of the prescription pain pills, he lay down on the couch and turned on the stereo. The soft strains of the reggae station lulled him to sleep.
A bullet struck the wall near his head and Chris ducked. Their simple backup assignment had turned into life or death. As soon as the warrant had been presented to the foreman on the dock, all hell had come loose. Team 3s female communications expert was hit and had been pulled to safety. Vin and the sharpshooter from the other team were laying down cover fire because they were unable to see the bad guys from their present positions.
From his position behind a large crate, Ezra could see JD and Buck. The roommates were pinned down behind a forklift. Hearing the soft click of an open mike, Ezra strained to hear what was being said.
Vin? Are you in position yet? Chris had ordered his sharpshooter to break position and try to provide some much needed backup.
Yeah, the next time that little red headed bastard pops up, Ill have him, Vin growled. He had been the one to pull the female agent to safety.
Josiah was holed up with an agent from Team 3. They could see the others but had very little in the way of cover. If they broke position, they were sure to be picked off.
Chris and the rest of his team had been volunteered to stay and do the clean up of the scene. Vin had been as good as his word, the next time the red headed man had popped up to take a shot at Buck and JD, he had been taken out. With their leader dead, a few of the men surrendered. When all was said and done, three bad guys were on their way to the hospital to have wounds repaired, one was dead and two ATF agents were only slightly injured.
Slapping the sharpshooter on the shoulder, Chris smiled.
You done good, he complimented. A slight blush colored Vins cheeks.
Hey boss! You about done? We need to get cleaned up, JD called from the warehouse door. He had finally peeled off his Kevlar vest and was carrying it over his arm. Buck and the others had shed theirs as soon as the all clear was announced. The kid actually enjoyed wearing his as it padded him out a little and made him look tough, he thought.
Are you sure you dont want me to go pick him up? What if he gets upset or has an accident or something on the way over here? JD asked.
Brother Nathan is the calmest when all around him are falling apart, hell be fine, Josiah assured the young agent.
Behind them, the rest of the team was surrounding Ezra. The undercover agent was lying on the gurney in a pale green hospital gown. Josiah pulled his cell phone and made the call.
After his nap, Nathan had decided to eat something light with the plan to take Rain out someplace after work. The stir-fry rice was almost gone when the phone rang.
Jackson residence, he answered without looking at the caller ID.
Nate, its Josiah. Can you get to the hospital? Its Ezra. Hurry.
The line went dead and the medic found himself staring at the phone. He jumped from the couch and tossed his plate into the sink. Running from the house, he replayed Josiahs words in his head. What calamity had befallen the southerner this time? He wondered.
The team stood nervously in the examining room. Ezra lay on the gurney surrounded by hospital staff. Vin opened the door and called to the others.
Rushing down the hospital corridor, Nathan entered the room and looked around at the faces of his teammates. JD stood facing Buck, his shoulders trembling and his face hidden. The ladies man squeezed the back of the kids bowed neck as he stared across the room. Chris looked up from where he stood at Ezras side.
Hes been asking for you, the team leader imparted as he backed away.
For me? Why? What happened? Nathan asked as he moved across the floor.
He trusts you, Josiah offered.
A pale, trembling hand rose and Ezra whimpered.
M-Mr. Jackson? Perhaps youll tell me the truth, the southerner whispered.
Nathan stepped up to the bed and took the outstretched hand. His eyes swept over the monitors, noting the heart rate and blood pressure. Ezra pulled him down closer.
Nathan? Will you tell me?
Tell you what, Ezra?
Why what? I dont know what youre talking about.
Why dont you like surprise parties?
In that instant, Nathan realized that hed been had. As the burst of laughter broke forth from behind him, Ezra began to shake with the effort to hold back his own laugh. As the medic turned, he saw the rest of the team standing alongside of Rain.
You were in on this, too?
Im sorry, Nathan. I organized it. I knew you would throw a fit if we tried to plan a party so I contacted Chris and we worked it out together. Dont be angry, she pleaded.
As he stepped toward her, Nathan shook his head, I would never be angry with you.
Hearing the laughter behind him, the medic turned on Ezra, But you! Just wait until the next time you need me for something!
The southerners mouth dropped open. A look of angelic innocence graced his face as he stared at the older man. Mr. Larabee put me up to it! He said I was the only one who could do it with a straight face! Ask him, hell tell you!
I dont know what hes talking about, Nathan. Rain only asked me to get you here, Chris lied.
My friends, a toast. To a good friend with a good sense of humor, Ezra said as he raised his drink. All around the table, glasses were raised.
Dont think that gets you off of my to do list, Ezra, Nathan called across the table.
After the undercover agent had been extricated from the hospital equipment and dressed properly, the team had driven to Antonios for supper. In addition to the book he had gotten from Josiah earlier in the day, he received gifts from the others.
Rain had gotten him the Jazz Collection, a set of CDs of jazz music from the 60s through today. The team had pitched in on a pair of gifts. The first was a new medical bag with the latest in high-tech first aid equipment. The second gift was a shadow box with a collection of early medical equipment. Most of the pieces were from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The old, metal barrel syringes were in excellent shape. The old-style stethoscope stretched along the side of the framed case. Several paper packets touting herbal remedies rested in a small divided section.
The waiters cleared the supper dishes from the table and wheeled out a sheet cake. Vin pulled his harmonica from his pocket and blew a few notes before the entire restaurant burst into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs. A single candle bearing a question mark graced the center of the cake.
After he had blown out the candle, the waiter began to cut and serve the cake. JD leaned across the front of Buck, who was flirting with a woman at the next table, and tugged on Nathans sleeve.
Did you make a wish? The young man wanted to know.
Yeah, and Im not telling you what it was either, the birthday boy announced.
The team was preparing to leave the restaurant. Nathan had thanked each of them repeatedly for the wonderful gifts. Chris told him to take the next day off and stay at home playing with his new toys. The medic turned and caught Ezra by the arm.
If you ever scare me like that again, Ill put you in the hospital for real! He threatened.
Why Nathan, I didnt know you cared! Ezra innocently proclaimed.
Maybe surprise parties were not so bad after all, Nathan decided.