Author: LaraMee Deux
ATF/AU – Thanks Mog, I’ll bring ‘m back when I’m through!
Tuesday, February 13th. Seven forty-five p.m. The mall. The air hung heavy with the scent of sweat and fear; it was saturated with testosterone. There were very few females in attendance other than those employed in the standing room only boutiques, the vast majority of the crowd were males. They roamed from store to store, wearing variations on the ‘deer-in-the-headlight’ looks. Fist fights broke out from time to time, wherever the final offerings of chocolates or roses were. Otherwise men consoled, counseled and coerced one another in finding the perfect gift for their wives and lovers.
Into the fray came five men, four of them as frantic as the rest, the fifth seemingly impervious to the panic. He looked at his companions, a broad grin brightening his dark and handsome face. "I can’t believe y’all put this off til the last minute."
"I had my gifts for Casey, Nathan," JD Dunne said sharply as he glared at his big, mustachioed roommate. "And I’d still have them if someone hadn’t decided to use them without permission…and if that someone had at least had the guts to tell me he’d used them – "
"Alright Kid!" Buck growled. "I told y’ a hundred times I was sorry. I panicked when Serena heard me makin’ a date with Wendy. I saw the things you had hidden away and I grabbed ‘m. I’m payin’ for whatever y’ decide t’ get her tonight, and I told y’ I’d pick up the tab for dinner, too. How long y’ gonna make me feel like a weasel?"
"For as long as I’m angry Buck," JD growled as he stormed away from the big man.
"Ah, dammit Kid, c’mon!" Wilmington called after his friend as he followed on his heels.
"I do believe our Mr. Dunne has reached a new level of perturbation as far as Buck is concerned," Ezra Standish said coolly.
"I believe you’re right brother," Josiah Sanchez agreed. "I wouldn’t want to be in Buck’s shoes right now…or for quite a while for that matter."
"Yeah well I wouldn’t wanna be in any of your shoes tonight," Nathan Jackson said. "Reckon I’ll enjoy just standin’ off to th’ side watchin’ the rest of you wrestlin’ for the last box of chocolates."
"Don’t be so smug, Nathan," Josiah admonished. "Just because you’ve already gotten Rain’s gifts. It’s not as hard to buy for a woman you’ve been close to for awhile. It takes a lot more thought to find a gift for someone you’ve only known a short time." The older man’s eyes lit up as he turned to the Southerner who stood nearby. "Of course when you’ve got an inside track on what the lady wants – "
"I believe I already made it clear, Josiah, that I am not the expert on Maude’s tastes that you seem to believe. My Mother is as much an enigma to my as she is to you. Your decision to invite her to celebrate this day of romance is one you shall have to carry out sans my counsel."
"Oh, come on Ezra, she’s your mother!" Josiah’s voice rose as he pleaded with the younger man.
Slapping the bigger man on the arm, Standish grinned until his dimples threatened to eclipse his handsome face. "You, sir, are on your own. I have my own purchases to make." Laughter that was only tinged with nervousness echoed as the agent entered the throng and disappeared in the sea of frantic males.
"Come on, Josiah," Nathan said sympathetically as he propelled the other man away from the wall they had sought momentary refuge against. "I’ll see if I can help you."
Shooting Standish’s retreating back a final angry look, the former preacher sighed heavily and allowed Jackson to direct him toward a nearby over-crowded Godiva Chocolatier’s. "Thanks Nate," he said softly.
"No Buck! No, no, no!" JD yelled at the bigger man.
"But Kid – "
"I said no! I am not going to give Casey that ratty little bracelet."
"But, it’s supposed to bring good luck. Nothin’ says y’ care about a woman like somethin’ to bring ‘m good luck!" Wilmington was grinning his best Cheshire cat grin.
"Buck, how many times do I have to tell you…you’re full of crap. Now, get away from me, I’m getting out of this place. I’m going to the jewelers and I’m finding Casey a sweetheart ring."
"But that’s a helluva lot more expensive than the bracelet you had tucked away for her. When I told y’ I’d pay for her gifts, I didn’t mean y’ could go hog wild."
"You said you’d pay for whatever I decided to get her, Buck." Dunne’s hazel eyes gleamed with mischief.
"But Kid, I didn’t figure you’d…" he spluttered, "I mean…if you…I won’t…ah, hell."
The two men wound their way out of the little boutique filled with trendy crystals and friendship bracelets. Wilmington followed JD slowly, hands stuffed in jeans pockets, deep blue eyes focused on the floor. Ahead of him, Dunne entered the jewelry store that even smelled expensive.
"Ah hell," the younger man growled as he saw Sanchez approaching him, his arms laden with a variety of items. Quickly Standish dropped the item he had been appraising back to the counter it had rested on. Folding his arms, he turned to face the approaching man. "Josiah."
"Look, I know you said you wouldn’t be able to help me out, but just give me some advice. Not as Maude’s son, but just sort of man to man. Which of these things do you think a woman would like the best?"
"Josiah, I don’t – "
"Come on Ezra, you’ve got excellent taste. I’ve always said that about you." He turned to Jackson, who had come up behind him. "Haven’t I always said that about Ezra Nathan? I’ve always said he has excellent taste."
"Josiah, the man told y’ that he couldn’t help you. I told you that I would. Now leave Ezra alone."
"But, I’m only askin’ the man for his opinion. The good Lord knows he’s always got one for everything else," Sanchez complained. "Why wouldn’t he have one now?"
"Whether I have an opinion for everything else or not," Standish said coolly, "is irrelevant. I have purchases of my own to make right now, Sir, and little time to make them in. I suggest that you avail yourself of Nathan’s assistance and be grateful for it." With that, Ezra turned away from the other men and busied himself perusing a display of crystal.
"Ezra," Josiah said in a small voice, embarrassed at his actions.
"Come on," Jackson turned him away and pushed him toward the other side of the department store they were in. "Let’s go."
Tuesday, February 13. Nine forty-five p.m. The mall. The final shoppers, looking like survivors of some horrible disaster, were shuffling through the debris and searching for the nearest exit. Among them were five men, none of them appearing any happier than the rest of their brethren. Even Nathan Jackson, his gifts already wrapped and tucked away at home, looked as if he would prefer to be anywhere else.
Slumping tiredly against the nearest wall, Buck looked sadly from the tiny bag that dangled from his hand to the pile of neatly wrapped boxes that JD balanced before him. Wendy was not going to be overjoyed with the inexpensive necklace he had purchased and draped around the neck of a little heart bedecked teddy bear.
For his part, Dunne was grinning from ear to ear. He had pretty well maxed out Wilmington’s Visa; leaving only enough to pay for the meal he would treat his lady love to tomorrow evening. This would be by far the best holiday he had spent with Casey Wells.
Josiah was smiling nervously, still unsure of his final decision. Nathan had finally convinced him to get a rather refined gold filigree rose brooch, a conservative size box of chocolates and a single red rose. Given the somewhat extravagant tastes of Ezra’s mother, he wasn’t certain that she would appreciate his gifts. In the end, the balance on his Master card had made his decision.
Nathan leaned against the wall near Buck, sliding down to sit on the floor. He grumbled under his breath, quietly venting his irritation toward the older man. Josiah had questioned his tastes at every turn and argued over every potential purchase. Then, any time he could, Sanchez had broken away, going to harass Standish. Each time he found something that caught his eye, he would track down the young man and question him about it. The undercover agent was acting more secretively than usual; quickly hiding whatever he happened to be looking at.
"Where’s Ezra?" The paramedic asked as his thoughts led him to realize that the Southerner had yet to appear.
"The last time I saw him, he was heading into Bed and Bath," JD said.
"Bed and Bath," Josiah said softly. "Maybe Maude would like something – "
"THE MALL IS CLOSING," came a generic voice from above them, "PATRONS HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO MAKE THEIR FINAL PURCHASES. THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING THE MALL. WE WILL RE-OPEN AT 8:00 A.M."
"No time, Josiah," Nathan said, barely managing to remain calm. "She’ll have to make do with what you’ve got her there."
"Well, I think Casey’s going to really enjoy this Valentine’s Day," JD crowed.
"She oughta, considerin’ how much a my money you spent on her," Buck groused. He glared as the younger man smiled broadly at him.
"Yeah, well maybe next time –" JD began.
"THE MALL IS CLOSING. PATRONS ARE ASKED TO MAKE THEIR FINAL PURCHASES AT THIS TIME. THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US. THE MALL WILL RE-OPEN AT 8:00 A.M."
"There’s Ezra," Nathan said with a sigh. He wanted nothing more than to get out of there. He had shopped for tomorrow’s holiday nearly three weeks ago so he could avoid the last-minute mayhem. He hadn’t banked on being coerced by his teammates to lend moral support and shopping advice.
The fifth member of their group strolled up to meet them. He carried a single bag, the store’s name turned toward him. His face was unreadable, a tool of his trade. The other men looked at him curiously. Standish had been particularly close-mouthed about his current companion. None of them had been able to get any information from the man. Still, they tried to at least see which of the mall shops he had made his purchases in.
Deftly dropping his jacket over his arm, covering the bag, the object of their interest said only, "shall we celebrate the end of our excursion with a nightcap at Inez’s?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," Dunne said cheerfully as they made their way toward the nearest exit and past a rather frustrated looking mall guard. "Too bad Chris and Vin had to go out of town."
"Yeah," Nathan said with an envious note in his deep voice, "they’re missin’ all the fun."