TITLE: Birthday Blues

AUTHOR: Aimless - K

SPOILERS: None

SYNOPSIS: Are our guys really insensitive enough to forget Mac's birthday?

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them (sigh – if only) and I'm not making a dime here. No copyright infringement is intended so please don't sue me. Besides, all you'd get is a pocket full of lint, a couple of cats, and some half-dead houseplants.

NOTES: This is yet another response for the birthday challenge, but it is a different style from my others. I feel that I must apologize to Angel for not sucking her into the fic, but please know that this was written as a birthday gift for you. Happy Birthday Angel (9/26)! Hope you enjoy!

My eternal gratitude goes out to Little Wing for allowing me to steal this plot at the last minute! THANKS A MILLION!

PLUS: Ten bonus points to the person who can tell me where I got the name of the restaurant Gabe wants to order pizza from.

BIRTHDAY BLUES

I must admit that I'm severely disappointed. No. No, I think that's an understatement. Perhaps 'insulted' would be a better choice of words.

I can't believe this! Here it is, my 30th birthday, and I haven't received so much as a mumbled 'happy birthday' from anyone!

It's not like I'm some stereotypical spoiled little rich girl who insists on champagne and roses. I don't expect the men in my life to remember every detail about me, right down to the shoes I was wearing when we first met – which, by the way, were some very sexy black five-inch stiletto heels that had straps that laced up to my knees. But come on! Judson, Gabe, and I work together, play together, eat together, and live together – all quite platonic, I assure you. You would think being that close to someone, things like remembering birthdays would be almost automatic, even for your typical, everyday, average, ordinary male. But Judson and Gabe are far from ordinary, aren't they?

Judson is easily the best in his field. He knows practically everything about civilizations past and present. He can read people like a book and instinctively knows exactly what to say, and what to not say, to get them to cooperate with him. He has an incredible passion for exploration and his ability to find lost treasures is absolutely uncanny! He is very open to new ideas and is probably the most honest man I've ever known, but at the same time, he's surrounded by an aura of mystery. I've dedicated quite a bit of time to unraveling the enigma that is Judson Cross. I haven't succeeded yet, but I'm still working on it.

Then there's Gabe. He's barely 25 years old and it wouldn't require any stretch of the imagination to call him a genius. He's our resident go-to guy for all things technological – both mechanical and computer related. He's fluent in several languages and knows enough to get by in a few others. He's a problem solver and loves a challenge. I've seen him completely exhaust himself, both physically and mentally, when he'd been working on something that others had deemed impossible. He thinks so far outside of the box on so many occasions, I often wonder if he even knows that the box is there. It takes a lot to impress me, but I have to admit that Gabriel Patterson has done just that.

Maybe that's where the problem lies. Maybe both of them have so much…stuff…cluttering their brains that there isn't room for trivial things like remembering my birthday. Or, maybe they just don't care.

I had actually been dreading this day for a few weeks because I was sure the guys would do something to embarrass me. Something that involved pointy hats and noisemakers. After some time, I finally convinced myself that it wouldn't be that bad. I could play along, plaster a fake smile on my face, and tolerate almost anything for a few hours. After all, revenge is sweet.

By the time this morning rolled around, I'd decided that the expected surprise party could actually be fun. I got up at my usual time, dressed in a nice skirt and top, and headed off to the kitchen with a smile on my face. I was actually beginning to look forward to whatever my two best friends had in store for me.

I had made it as far as the living area when I ran into Judson.

"Mac! You're up!" I think I had caught him off guard. He whirled around to face me, but he seemed to be attempting to hide something on the desk. "Oh good! It's your turn to make breakfast. How about some French toast?"

"…"

Yeah, that's right. I, Mackenzie Previn, was speechless. Here it was, my birthday, and I was going to have to cook breakfast! I was full of self-righteous indignation and ready to give that oaf a piece of my mind when it dawned on me that his breakfast request might have been a diversion. He was still trying to hide something on the desk from my view. A birthday present, perhaps?

My anger instantly vanished and a smug smile crossed my face. "Okay, Judson. Three orders of French toast, coming right up!" With a spring in my step, I continued my journey to the kitchen.

Less than ten minutes later, I heard a commotion in the other room. I raced in, ready to do battle, but pulled back when I saw that only Gabe and Judson were in the room.

"What's going on out here?" I asked somewhat nervously as I stood there watching Gabe pin Judson with a glare that would surely have killed a lesser man.

Gabe held his laptop out towards me. Or perhaps I should say the shattered remains of his laptop. "Did you know about this?" The heated question was directed towards me, but Gabe's steely blue eyes never once drifted away from a very remorse looking Judson.

"Is that what you were trying to hide when I walked through?" I asked somewhat bewildered but for reasons not at all related to the broken bits of computer in Gabe's hands.

When Gabe's gaze darkened further, Judson finally decided to come clean. "I thought I could fix it before anyone found out it was broken. I'm sorry." At least he had the decency to look duly chastised.

Gabe heaved a long-suffering sigh then seemed to remember he was addressing his boss. In a much calmer voice, he asked, "Why were you messing with it in the first place?"

Judson fidgeted around for a bit before finally answering in a meek tone. "Playing solitaire." Seeing that Gabe was about to explode, or at the very least have a stroke, Judson quickly switched to a diversionary tactic. "Breakfast!" he blurted. "Mac is making French toast, your favorite." He placed an arm across Gabe's shoulders and ushered him towards the kitchen.

Breakfast was eaten in relative silence, which offered me a chance to think. Okay, so Judson hadn't been hiding a secret birthday gift, but that didn't necessarily mean that they'd forgotten. The day was still young.

The remainder of the morning was more or less uneventful. Despite his many, many, MANY very vocal complaints, Gabe had his computer repaired and operating as good as new in less than two hours. Judson was noticeably absent most of the time. I finally questioned Gabe about it.

"He's sequestered himself in the office to work on some deal," came the cryptic answer.

I hadn't heard anything about pending job negotiations or the need to barter for parts for the Vast Explorer, so the only conclusion I could possibly reach was that Judson was preparing for the surprise party.

Hours passed and soon it was time for lunch. Lunch for the crew of Adventure Inc. has never been a formal affair. Usually, we just grab a sandwich or energy bar whenever we begin to feel hungry. Sometimes we skip lunch entirely if we're too busy or anticipating a large or early dinner. I would never expect the guys to plan any kind of birthday surprise at that time, so naturally, that's exactly when I anticipated something happening.

I was only a little surprised when Judson called us away from our assigned duties to come below deck for a meal shortly after noon. When Gabe abandoned his task of attempting to pinpoint a pesky little rattle in one of the engines without so much as single complaint, I knew that something was up.

"But, Judson, I'm right in the middle of something here." I was only doing an examination of our ropes to make sure there weren't any frayed spots, but I felt that I had to offer the protest and at least act like I didn't know what was going on. If I didn't, then they'd know that I knew.

"Come on, Mac," Judson hollered back. "I've got something special prepared and I promise that it'll be worth your while to come eat."

I was about to offer one more half-hearted complaint when I felt Gabe's hand on my shoulder. "Come on, Mac. Let's not keep him waiting. He is the one who signs our paychecks," he quipped.

I sighed and rolled my eyes before making an exaggerated point of marking the place I left off with the ropes. I stood and led the way into the kitchen, trying to smother the grin that threatened to split my face in two.

We had made it to the kitchen's threshold when a pungent aroma assaulted our olfactory senses.

"What the hell is that?" Gabe so eloquently asked.

A proudly smiling Judson waved us in a guided us to a couple of chairs at the small kitchen table before depositing a couple of plates full of … brown-ish goop … in front of us. He filled his own plate and joined us.

"Eat up," he encouraged.

Obediently, Gabe and I lifted our forks and plunged them into the mountain of … stuff. Gabe pulled his fork back out and, I swear, half of the tines had melted away. I, on the other hand, was having a hard time removing the fork. I think the food (and I use the term loosely) had a hold on it and was refusing to let go.

"Um, Judson. Where did you get this recipe?" I asked, stalling for time and desperately praying that this wasn't supposed to be my birthday meal. I'd hate to be killed by something that was supposed to be a gift.

"Martha Stewart," he replied. At our blank stares, he elaborated. "Well, I'll admit that I had to substitute a couple of the ingredients. We didn't have any pate so I used Spam and I used sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes and we didn't have any mint so I added some mint-flavored chocolates and…"

I swear, I didn't mean to laugh. Actually, I didn't laugh, I gagged. Is it my fault that Judson misheard?

"Oh, come on you two! It's a great recipe – even with the changes I had to make. Just give it a try."

Gabe and I glanced at each other and then turned expectant eyes to Judson, our fearless leader.

"Fine," he gave up. "I'll go first."

We watched with a combination of trepidation and amazement as Judson lifted a forkful of the glop and slowly eased it into his mouth. He chewed once, twice, three times, swallowed … and made a b-line for the bathroom where the stuff engaged in a valiant battle with his stomach before finally earning its freedom by escaping into the Vast Explorer's plumbing.

Lunch was officially over.

The afternoon dragged on. Minutes seemed like hours and hours seemed like days and all that time passed without a single birthday wish. Judson was still locked in his office working on the 'deal' so I intentionally avoided that area of the ship. After all, I didn't want them to know that the surprise wasn't really going to surprise me. Finally, the sun started to set and we all retired to the living room to relax.

"I think we should order some pizza for dinner tonight," Gabe announced cheerfully at about 8:00. "Villa Cucina?"

"The Rover is in the shop," Judson announced calmly, without looking up from his book.

"Oh," Gabe's face fell in disappointment.

It was just too much to resist. It was so obvious what was going on! We don't often order from Villa Cucina because the restaurant is on the opposite end of town and they're probably the only place in Beau Harbor that doesn't deliver. The Rover was in the shop for maintenance, so that meant that the only vehicle available was the rental car – the rental car with a standard transmission. Gabe can't drive a standard and I had the feeling that Judson wouldn't be volunteering to go this time.

"Go ahead and order the pizza, Gabe," I said. "I'll pick it up." Don't ever let it be said that I'm not a good sport. If they want me out of the boat for a while so they can prepare for the surprise, I'll play along.

Gabe placed the order and I went to pick it up. The drive to Villa Cucina usually takes only about 20 minutes, but I took the scenic route. I figured that they had made me wait and wonder all day long so it was time for a bit of revenge. When the delicious aroma from the pizza finally got to me and forced me to return home, I had been gone for about an hour.

"Geez, Mac! Where have you been?" Gabe asked in irritation when I returned. Without waiting for my reply, he took the pizza from my hands and placed it on the coffee table where paper plates and cold sodas were waiting. "Well, come on. It's going to get cold."

I had been so shocked by the sight of all the … nothing, that I was rooted in place, staring at … nothing.

"Yoo-hoo! Earth to Mac!" Judson called, finally breaking the trance.

I shook my head to clear it of all the unpleasant thoughts I was having concerning my two male companions and joined them on the couch.

We ate the pizza, drank the sodas, and watched a cheesy old movie. My anger was building the entire time. This was their last chance and they blew it! There were no balloons, no streamers, no pointy hats, no noisemakers, no cake! Heck, there wasn't even something as simple as a card. By this time, I would have settled for an 'Oh, by the way, happy birthday Mac.' But there was nothing! At 10:30 I decided that I couldn't take it anymore and headed to my cabin for the night.

And that brings us up to where I am now, alone in my cabin at 11:00 on my birthday. Can things get any worse? I'm just about to drown my sorrows in the secret chocolate stash I keep under my bed when there's a knock at my door.

"Mac, can I come in?"

My initial thought is to ignore Gabe, but I go ahead and give permission. One missed birthday isn't the end of the world. I'm sure they'd feel horrible if they remembered now and I really don't want them to feel bad. It was an honest mistake.

Gabe enters and closes the door behind him. From the grim expression on his face, I can see that he has something very serious to talk to me about and my protective instincts instantly kick in.

"Gabe, what's wrong? Are you okay?" I motion for him to sit next to me on the bed and he complies.

"I'm fine, Mac." He looks up and I can see the tears that threaten to roll down his cheeks. I swear that I'll kill whoever has caused him this pain!

"Look," he continues, once again looking down as if the mysteries of the universe are written on the floor. "I'm sorry, Mac. We forgot your birthday."

I tense, suddenly angry with myself for causing him to feel this bad – even if it was indirectly.

"Judson and I feel horrible. He's in the kitchen right now putting something together for an impromptu celebration. Do you think you can find it in your heart to forgive us and come out and join us for a while?"

All thoughts of revenge have suddenly left me. For now, I'll go along with their little celebration. Tomorrow, when spirits are higher, I can tease them mercilessly. Wordlessly, I stand and he follows suit. I put my arm around his waist and he puts his across my shoulders and we walk to the kitchen together.

"SURPRISE!"

I actually jump and scream when the dozen or so people pop out of every nook and cranny in the kitchen to surprise me. Streamers and balloons decorate the kitchen and a pile of presents and cards adorn the table. I look to Gabe who is doubled over laughing and then shift my gaze to Judson. My mouth opens and closes wordlessly.

"Come on, Mac," Judson says as he walks up to me and places one of those pointy hats on my head. "It's your birthday! Try to loosen up a little!" He hands me a glass of champagne then reaches behind him to retrieve a single yellow rose. "For you."

I take the rose then mumble incoherently for a bit before my brain finally catches up with me. "You planned this all along?"

"Yup," they chorus.

"You never really forgot?"

"Nope."

Judson takes me by the hand and leads me over to the counter to stand in front of a large, decadent looking cake. "Mac, we knew that we'd have a hard time surprising you on your birthday, so the only solution we could think of was to make you think we had forgotten. Who would ever expect a birthday party to be thrown at this hour?" All those gathered chuckle their agreement.

My brain finally snaps into full gear and I reach out to pull Judson into a warm embrace.

"Do you think you can find it in your heart to forgive us?" Gabe's voice sounds from my right. The words don't have the same emotion behind them as they did earlier since he's laughing so hard he can hardly remain upright.

I pin him with a glare, but break down and hug him as well. "What an actor!" I shout into his ear over all the commotion as the party begins to warm up.

We laugh and drink and laugh and eat and laugh well into the wee hours of the morning. The last guest leaves and I finally drag myself to bed just before dawn. I'm just about to doze off when I hear a soft tapping on my door. I can't even rally the strength to open my eyes, let alone call out for whomever it is to enter.

I hear a soft click as the latch is released and the door opens slightly. "She's asleep," I hear Judson say. A few moments pass in silence.

"Happy Birthday, Mac," both of my friends whisper in unison, followed shortly by the door closing again.

I smile and snuggle further into the warmth of my bed. A few hours ago, I thought those two goons had forgotten my birthday. Now, I know that my two best friends would never do something like that. It may have started out to be the worst day in my life, but it ended up as one of the best. Friends like Judson and Gabe and the best birthday present a girl could ever hope for.

THE END