The Navy Ball
The Navy-Marine Corps' Ball, Washington D.C.
The ballroom of the Hilton Hotel was beautiful; white walls, a polished hardwood dance floor, and crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Waiters in black tails were serving lemon water and white wine, bustling from table to table without stopping.
As the NCIS team settled in their seats, Deeks noticed a string quartet setting up in the far corner of the room.
The Secretary of the Navy and, presumably, his wife, were at a table up near the podium. Deeks could just make him out over the crowd of servicemen and women, all dressed in their formalwear.
"They really pull out all the stops for these things," Deeks said, looking around.
Sam smiled and took a drink of his water. "Highlight of the year," he said.
Deeks took off his jacket and hung it on the back of his chair. "You been to one before?"
Sam nodded. "Although, I don't think I've been to one in…." he trailed off and looked to Michelle for an answer.
She rolled her eyes. "Don't look at me. You took your work wife last time."
Sam and Callen exchanged a grin.
"Two-thousand-nine," Callen said, clinking his water glass against his partner's.
"Dodgers versus the Nationals." Sam smiled at the memory.
"I still appreciate you letting me go," Callen said to Michelle.
"Mmhmm," she said with a smile.
"Wait… was this like a man date?" Deeks asked. "Like… a fancy dinner and out of town baseball game?"
"It was not a date," Sam retorted, "It was two guys, hanging out…"
"At a fancy dinner in tuxedos," Deeks finished, "No, I totally get it."
A waiter stopped by the table to take drink orders. Next to him, Kensi silently sipped her water, an amused expression on her face.
"It wasn't a date." Sam looked to his wife for conformation.
Michelle laughed. "It was a date."
"Ha!" Deeks said. "I'm liking your wife more and more."
Sam rolled his eyes and gave Michelle a look. "Really? You givin' him more ammo?"
"I just tell it like it is," she said, patting him on the arm.
The main course was lamb, roasted red potatoes, and fresh green beans garnished with red pepper flakes. After eating off a food truck menu on a daily basis, Deeks felt he was living the dream. They definitely didn't have parties like this at the LAPD.
He recalled the last company Christmas shindig (the only annual event, to his knowledge), where they served freezer-burned hot dogs and boxed mashed potatoes. Captain Danworth got drunk, fell off the bar, and broke his collarbone right before his wife was caught banging a newly hired shield in the men's bathroom. Classy.
When the dinner plates had been cleared and everyone's drinks refreshed, a young blonde woman in a sparkling, ruby-colored ball gown took the podium and began to speak about the Navy and Marine Corps' rich history (her words). Deeks tried to listen for a few minutes, but kept getting distracted by the large sequins on the woman's dress; a lack of interest that was compounded by the fact that her carefully scripted monologue was incredibly boring.
He leaned over toward Kensi. "Her dress…" he said softly.
She raised her eyebrows, waiting for him to complete his keen observation.
"Yeah?" she finally asked.
"Reminds me of The Wizard of Oz," he finished, taking a drink of his beer.
Deeks handed her a glass of water. "I think she even said her name is Dorothy."
"She did not," she replied with a smile.
"Do you think she has matching bedazzled shoes?"
"Deeks, stop." Kensi punched him in the shoulder.
"And it is my esteemed honor to present the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus!" Dorothy was saying from the platform.
Deeks clapped along with everyone else, watching as SecNav shook the woman's hand and took the podium.
"Tonight," he began, "We are going to honor a group of people who work behind the scenes. Most of those here have, or still are, operating to keep this nation safe from the front lines. You are a great asset to this country, and the United States of America is indebted to you for your service." He paused. "There are other organizations that work the back lines, however. These are lines that most Americans don't know exist. But they do exist. And although these people work undercover, sometimes, it is important to acknowledge that what they do matters." SecNav looked around the room slowly, finally finding their team, hidden in the crowd. "Director Vance," he said, speaking to Leon, sitting at a table to the right of the podium. "Will you please make your way to the podium?"
Director Vance stood up and straightened his jacket before making his way up the platform steps.
"This Honorary Commendation Medal is being presented to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service' Office of Special Projects, based in Los Angeles, California for the neutralization of the biggest threat to national security on our soil since 2001."
SecNav extended his hand toward the team from across the room. "Not only did this team successfully collaborate with other branches of service, recover nuclear warheads that hadn't been seen in decades, and capture the infamous Isaak Sidorov, they did it without sacrificing any American lives."
The crowd erupted in applause.
"So," he continued as the roar died down, "It is my pleasure to present this award to Director Leon Vance and the OSP team. Could I ask you to please stand, so that we can properly thank you for your service."
Deeks felt a little awkward as he rose with the rest of the group at the table. He had become accustomed to working undercover, hidden beneath a shadow of fake identities. Being here, as the center of attention, was a tad disconcerting.
One by one, the members of the NCIS D.C. office stood, clapping. This prompted others to do the same, and soon, the standing ovation had spread to everyone in the room.
After the dessert plates were cleared and the keynote speaker had finished addressing the room, Callen pulled the wine bottle out of the ice bucket in the center of the table and passed it around. The other members of the team, including Hetty, filled their glasses.
Callen pushed back his chair and stood, clinking his glass to call attention.
"It's been an intense few months," he started. "But even in the darkest of moments, I never once doubted that we would succeed in finding those nukes and nailing Sidorov." He took a breath and raised his glass. "To our team," he said, "and to always getting the bastards in the end."
"Here, here!" came the replies.
Everyone clinked glasses, savoring the moment.
Callen suddenly realized that although the case had been over for a few months, he hadn't been able to let go. The file had been closed and Sidorov had been taken into custody, but there was still an air of discontent swirling about.
Perhaps it had something to do with Deeks' eight-week absence or Janvier's escape and subsequent disappearance. Perhaps they were all fixated on how badly it could have turned out. Either way, Callen had been skeptic about attending the Navy Ball, but he now wondered if it had been what they needed.
He watched as Sam and Michelle left for the dance floor, Sam smiling as he twirled his wife under his arm and dipped her. She came up laughing, embracing him tightly. Next to him, Kensi and Deeks were chuckling about a beer that had been sent to Deeks by Special Agent McGee (Callen wasn't going to ask). Hetty had taken her wine glass and departed the table to find Director Vance.
Yes, thought Callen, this was exactly what they needed.
A few minutes later, Gibbs joined them, followed soon after by Tony DiNozzo.
"Congrats," Gibbs said, sticking out his hand. "Your team deserves it."
He shook Gibbs' hand. "Thanks, man." He leaned back in his chair. "But, I'd give it all back to never hear Issak Sidorov's name again."
"How about to never have heard his name in the first place?" Deeks suggested. "I could have lived my whole life in blissful ignorance of his existence."
"Someone would have eventually found those hidden nukes," Kensi argued. "If not Sidorov, some other psychopath."
Gibbs nodded and took a sip of his drink. "There're plenty of them out there."
Kensi poured the last few drops of wine from the bottle into her glass and stood. "I'm going to the bar to get a refill. Anyone need anything?"
Callen and Deeks shook their heads, Gibbs raised his full glass (a man of so few words).
She smoothed her dress and started toward the bar.
Callen drummed his fingers against the table, thinking. "I remember the first time I heard the name Isaak Sidorov," he said, turning toward Gibbs. "1993."
Gibbs nodded. "Moscow."
Deeks, who had been staring blankly ahead, tuned back in. "Wait… you had met him before this case?" he asked.
Callen shook his head. "I'd heard of him before the case. Our team was supposed to neutralize a Russian mob boss that had ties with the illegal arms trade," he explained. "Sidorov was an up-and-comer then, just starting to get his feet wet."
"Didn't take him long to move up the ranks," Sam added as he approached the table, Michelle at his heels.
"That was around the same time we realized there was a mole in our operation," Callen said.
Gibbs nodded, "Polorov."
"Was his name what tipped you off?" Deeks asked. When everyone turned to look at him, he added, "You know… 'cuz it sounds… Russian."
Callen raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, come on… Polorov?" Deeks rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine," he stood up and stretched, "I am going to go locate my partner and see if she wants to get her dance on. It'd be unfortunate if Hetty's waltz lessons went completely to waste." He took one last swig of his drink before leaving to find Kensi.
A few minutes later, Callen saw Deeks leading Kensi toward the dance floor, grinning. He could tell by her expression and body language that she was staging a protest. Despite this, she was nonetheless allowing herself to be pulled into the mass of dancing couples.
Callen turned back to Gibbs. "We should've known it was Povolov," he said.
"Would've made the job a lot easier," Gibbs replied.
"And maybe I wouldn't have been stuck in that safe house for two months while you were enjoying the Russian countryside."
"Saving your ass," he added with a smile.
"If that's what you want to call it," Callen quipped back.
As the music played softly in the background, Kensi found herself relaxing into her partner's arms, allowing him to pull her closer. He had just finished apologizing, unnecessarily, for the incident at the bar. Surprisingly, it had made her feel a little lighter.
As much as she didn't want to admit it, there was a small part of her that questioned Deeks' trustworthiness. Although his track record with women was pretty straight forward, he wasn't one to regularly kiss-and-tell when he truly cared for someone. Over the years, she had taken note of a few speed bumps; blips on the radar that wouldn't have been recognized by others.
There had been Detective Trainer, his LAPD handler that he had (probably) been involved with. Then there was his best friend Ray's wife, Nicole and, of course, the recent incident with Monica (Bonnie to his Clyde). Kensi knew firsthand how difficult it could be to maintain a cover and remain emotionally uninvolved, and she also knew that some were better at this than others. Deeks had accused her, a few months back, of being jealous of Monica. Jealousy was never the issue, however. Monica had been an overt reminder of other women and the undercover assignments they represented.
The small part of her that didn't trust him also wondered how they could possibly make a relationship work while doing this job. It was this doubt that had caused her to pull away from him after the Sidorov case ended and kept her from talking to him about where they were headed.
"I'm sorry too, Deeks," she said quietly.
He pulled back and looked at her, searching her face. "For what?"
She sighed and wrapped her arm tighter around his neck. "Not calling… not texting… not asking how you were doing…."
He needed to know that hurting him had never been her intention.
"Not kissing me back."
She froze. There it was.
"You—you almost died," she said finally.
It took him a few minutes to notice what was happening. Callen had been discussing an old undercover mission with Gibbs when he caught them in his peripheral vision. Years of training had taught him to always keep a watchful eye on his teammates, even off-duty. It was this over-developed sixth-sense that sent a quiet alert to his brain. He stopped talking and turned so that he could better see his two junior agents, assessing the situation quickly.
Kensi and Deeks had left for the dance floor a few minutes ago and were now surrounded by fifty other couples in the well-lit ballroom. They were closer than they had been a few minutes ago, Callen noted. Kensi's right arm was draped lazily over her partner's shoulder, fingers softly stroking the back of his neck. Deeks held her left hand with his right and as they turned, Callen was relieved to note that Deeks' other hand was in a satisfactory position on Kensi's lower back. He reminded himself that they were just dancing, which was completely acceptable to do at a Navy Ball. So why did he feel like he was intruding on an intimate moment? He watched them for another minute, trying to pinpoint what was bothering him about the situation. Deeks, for his part, was trailing light circles on Kensi's wrist with his thumb and talking softly into her ear. Callen was too far away to read his lips, but Kensi's body language suggested it wasn't a normal conversation that ended with a Deeks-esque joke. When he stopped talking, Callen saw her pull back slightly and the two made eye contact, freezing on the dance floor.
Callen felt the energy between them shift.
Shit, he thought.
He knew this had been coming, hadn't he? He had watched them over the past few years-bantering and joking, the endless flirting leading nowhere. Even the last few intense months had brought only minute changes, hardly noticeable to an untrained eye. But he had noticed. The pair would suddenly stop talking when he entered the room and Deeks' recent undercover assignment with Monica had seemed to dig at Kensi. Then there was the last case… the one that had landed Deeks in the hospital. He shuddered.
Turning in his chair, he lightly tapped his partner's back.
Sam Hanna, who had been in deep conversation with his wife, Michelle, looked at Callen over his shoulder, eyes raised.
"We have a problem," Callen said simply. He nodded in Kensi and Deeks direction.
Sam followed his gaze. "Shit," he said, echoing his partner's earlier thought. "Where's Hetty?"
The two agents surveyed the room, searching for their operations director.
Callen found her first. She and Director Vance were at the far end of the ballroom, having an animated discussion. "There," he said, pointing.
"Don't point, G!" Sam pulled his arm down. From across the room, Hetty stopped talking, and turned to look at the two agents, a questioning look etched upon her features.
They both waved, smiling innocently.
"How does she do that?" Callen asked after she turned away.
"I don't know, but you can bet it'll take her another few seconds to realize that Kensi and Deeks are about to do the horizontal tango in front of two hundred servicemen," Sam replied.
"And women," Michelle added, leaning across Sam.
"You know you can't stop them," Gibbs said, speaking for the first time in a few minutes. "You, of all people, should know that." He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, an amused expression on his face.
Next to him, Gibbs' senior field agent looked stunned. "Can't stop them?" Tony asked, an incredulous look plastered on his face.
Callen turned and smirked at Gibbs, knowing full well what he was referring to. "But I can stop them from doing it in front of Hetty," he said.
"What does he mean, you should know?" Sam asked. "I apparently need to spend more times with Gibbs. It appears that he knows some things that I don't."
Callen rolled his eyes. "We need to instigate operation Arctic Storm, Sam."
Sam nodded solemnly. "You take Hetty, I'll separate the lovebirds." He rose from his chair.
Callen shook his head, "Why do I have to take Hetty?"
Sam was halfway around the table already, headed in the direction of the dance floor. Without looking back, he laughed, "Cuz this was your dumb idea, G."
Callen swallowed the last of his beer and took a deep breath before steeling himself. He felt like he was marching to his death as he crossed the room.
"Something wrong, Mr. Callen?" Hetty asked, a stony expression on her face.
Deeks lifted a hand to Kensi's face and brushed a whisp of hair out of her eyes. His touch was soft, and she closed her eyes for a moment, savoring the feeling of his palm against her skin.
"I know," he whispered. His eyes were serious, unblinking.
Kensi felt her eyes beginning to water, thinking of his limp form in the hospital bed, breathing tube down his throat, chest tube keeping his lung inflated. She had sat with him for seven days while he had been in a medication-induced coma, waiting for him to open his eyes.
She took a slow breath, fighting back the tears. "And then you were in the ICU and I was…."
She exhaled shakily and nodded, clasping the fingers of his hand tighter and pulling him closer. She thought of her father, Dom, and Jack. "I can't lose you, Deeks," she managed in a whisper.
He closed his eyes and exhaled. "I need you to say something you really mean, Kensi."
She looked into his eyes, knowing exactly what she wanted to say and yet having no idea how to put it into words. "I…"
"Can I cut in?" came Sam Hanna's voice.
Kensi had forgotten that they were in a room, surrounded by people-people that would see their body language and know exactly what was happening. She stepped away from Deeks, every fiber of her being screaming at the sudden separation from him.
"Your timing is impeccable, Sam." Deeks said, not breaking eye contact with her.
She recovered quickly and offered Sam a small smile. "Of course you can," she said. "Unless, of course, you meant you wanted to dance with Deeks." She held out her hand, and allowed herself to be pulled into Sam's arms.
He chuckled, "You're just not my type, Deeks," he replied.
"Too good looking, I would assume," he quipped back before turning and moving away from them.
Kensi watched as he walked away, letting Sam set the pace to the music. They swayed for a few seconds in silence.
"Talk to me, Kensi," he said.
She pursed her lips and shook her head, "Nothing to talk about."
"Really?" he asked, "Cuz from where I just stood, it looked like you and Deeks were about to give everyone in this room something to talk about."
She rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to protest.
"I've been there," Sam said simply, cutting her off. He turned and they both looked across the room toward where Michelle sat, drinking wine. She gave them a little smile.
Kensi closed her mouth. They danced in silence for another few seconds.
"Is this the part where you lecture me on how hard it is?" From the dance floor, she watched as Deeks grabbed a bottle of wine off the table and disappeared between the double doors leading out of the ballroom.
Sam shook his head. "Nope."
The music slowed and the song ended, the musicians adjusting their instruments and turning pages of their music sheets. Sam and Kensi stepped apart.
She started to turn away when Sam put his hand on her shoulder to stop her.
"Relationships are hard," he said. "But Michelle and I have survived because of where we began." Sam looked at his wife again, shrugging. "Being partnered with my wife… was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Kensi stood, unmoving, on the dance floor as Sam's words hit her square in the chest. She watched as he walked back to Michelle, kissing her on the top of the head when he reached the table.
The beat picked up suddenly and people began dancing around her. Taking a few steps forward, willing her brain to clear, she stepped back onto the carpeted floor and moved toward the rest of the group.
As terrified as taking this leap was, she realized that she could no longer deny that there was something between them. It had started as a feeling that she couldn't even admit to herself. Their partnership was easy; he complemented her in every way. She had rigid adherence to protocol and he had raw talent. She was serious, him… not so much. She was fire, he was water.
As she stood a few feet away from her teammates (minus Deeks), she realized that the two of them had unknowingly moved beyond just being partners. Maybe someday, when she was far removed from this moment, she would be able to see exactly when this had transpired.
All Kensi knew now was that she needed him. She needed him like oxygen.
At the moment, Eric and Nell shimmied by her, drinks in their hands.
"Oh, Kensi?" Eric said as he was towed toward the dance floor by Nell, "Deeks said to tell you he went home."
She nodded, making a decision right then.
Kensi moved swiftly, grabbing her pashmina off the chair and heading toward the exit without making eye contact with anyone else. It only took her a few seconds to weave her way through the crowd to reach the double doors. The doorman tipped his hat and opened the door for her, the cool breeze kissed her cheeks as she stepped outside.
Looking around, she quickly realized that it would be impossible to hail a cab at this hour and pointless to have the doorman call for the car. Hitching her dress up around her ankles, she started jogging toward the safe house.
With the streetlights as her guide, Kensi ran down the sidewalk, her heels clicking against the hard pavement. She was thankful that the local homeowners kept their hedges and trees so tidy, as it made running in stilettos and a ball gown much easier.
As she rounded a corner a few doors from the safe house, she caught sight of him, walking twenty-or-so yards ahead of her, hands shoved deep in his pockets.
She stopped, breathing hard. In retrospect, she would have eventually caught up with him whether she walked or ran—the latter would have saved her hair and makeup and decreased the chance of breaking an ankle in a trip-and-fall incident.
Live and learn, she thought.
"Deeks!" she called out. A sweaty, heaving mess, she stood panting on the sidewalk as he turned around. Her hair had escaped the carefully crafted chignon, and sweat beads covered her brow, but he looked at her as if she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever laid eyes on.
Without giving her next move a second thought, she moved toward him without a word.
"Do you think that these constant interruptions by our coworkers is a sign that…"
She didn't give him the opportunity to finish speaking. In the next second her lips crashed against his, her hands on either side of his face. She kissed him with an urgency that she had never felt before; feeling a rush of built up emotion leave her body.
Deeks, momentarily startled, recovered quickly. His snaked his left hand around her neck, curling his fingers into her hair; right hand pulling her closer by the small of her back. She allowed herself to melt into him, closing the distance between their bodies.
His lips were softer then she remembered. She breathed in the rustic scent of his cologne and ran her hand softly across his face and into his soft blonde curls. A small gasp escaped his lips and she used the opportunity to deepen the kiss, before lightly nipping his bottom lip and pulling back.
They stood on the sidewalk in silence for a few seconds, still wrapped in one another's arms, eyes locked, breathing together.
Kensi studied his face, his eyes, his nose, his swollen lips. She rubbed her thumb across his jawline lightly, feeling the familiar roughness.
"I don't…" she started. This was the part that she was not so good at: the honest conversation. But she knew that if they were going to have a chance at a real relationship, they had to improve their communication skills. "I don't know how this is going to work, I just know that we need to try."
He took a step back and leaned against a lamppost. "Try…."
She sighed, he wasn't going to go easy on her. "Having a…"
"If you say the word 'thing,' I swear to God I'll end it right here."
She laughed and stepped toward him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "A relationship."
There it was.
She had finally named it. They were starting a relationship.
Deeks smiled and leaned forward, brushing his lips across her forehead. "Okay," he said softly.
Kensi stepped back and took his hand, intertwining their fingers. "Now can we go home? I just ran three blocks in heels and my feet are numb."
He chuckled, nodding.
They started walking, hand-in-hand, toward the safe house. The neighborhood was quiet, the trees absorbing the sounds of the surrounding city.
Deeks pushed the gate open for her. "So…."
She turned and recognized the look on his face immediately. "Can't we just appreciate this moment in silence, Deeks?"
He shot her a sly smile. "You gonna tell your mom?"
She rolled her eyes.
"Because having a boyfriend is the kind of thing moms like to know." He walked backward up the steps, grinning at her.
"Are you going to tell your mom?" she asked, shaking her head.
"Not applicable," he answered, "I don't talk to my mom." He unlocked the door and pushed it open. "What about my name?"
She entered the house and kicked her shoes off. "What about your name, Deeks?"
"Are you going to start calling me Marty?"
She snorted. "No."
"What about Martin?"
She started up the stairs. "Nobody calls you Martin."
"Maybe I'll start calling you Blye… we can be Deeks and Blye."
"Really?! Maybe you should stop talking before I start to rethink this whole relationship thing," she called from upstairs.
Sometime later, Callen unlocked the front door to the safe house and entered the foyer, Sam and Michelle following him inside. Loosening his tie, he pulled it over his head and tossed his jacket over the banister. From the hallway, he heard the sound of Kensi's laughter from the living room. He and Sam exchanged a look and peered around the corner.
They were sitting on opposite ends of the couch, the bottle of wine from the ball perched between them; Deeks had Kensi's feet in his hands, massaging them lightly and Kensi was pulling bobby pins out of her hair and leaving them in a pile on the coffee table. They looked completely comfortable in one another's presence, no trace of the intensity from earlier.
"Her name was not Dorothy and she so did not say that to you." Kensi said before throwing a bobby pin at her partner, hitting him square in the nose.
"No, I swear to God," he said with a laugh. "I told her that I've never been much of a traveler and she said Well, there's no place like home." He stopped rubbing her feet for a second to take a drink from the wine bottle, noticing Sam and Callen for the first time. He waved and passed Kensi the bottle.
Kensi took a swig. "Hey, how was the rest of the ball?" she asked.
Callen wondered what had transpired between the two junior agents after they left. Knowing Deeks and Kensi as well as he did, they either glossed over the issue, avoiding it completely, or finally had the conversation about what it all means.
"We left when Hetty mentioned the Vietnamese Waltz," Sam answered, shaking his head.
"You know she was talking to Nell and Eric, right?" Callen asked.
"Only a matter of time until she moved onto us," Sam said. "And I like you, but there's no way in hell I'm dancin' with you, G."
Callen chuckled and collapsed in an armchair, accepting the bottle of wine that Kensi handed him. He took a drink and corked it, tossing it to Sam, who caught it easily.
"To SecNav," Sam said, holding the bottle aloft.
"And the last vacation we'll have for a long time," Callen added.
"We should totally make this an annual thing, don't you think?" Deeks asked. "Or biannual, even… a mandatory biannual vacation. I could win a government award every year for the rest of my life. What about you guys?"
Sam and Callen shook their heads.
Sam tossed the bottle of wine back at Deeks and stood. "I'll let Sidorov know," he said, "Maybe he'll make a yearly escape from prison so that you can recapture him."
Deeks grimaced. "Maybe the Navy can just give us an annual 'the time we recovered the nukes and saved humanity' anniversary vacation."
Sam rolled his eyes and left the room, Callen close behind.
"Guys?" he heard Deeks say. "How is that not an awesome idea? Seriousl—ouch! Kens—owww."
Callen started up the stairs, still listening to Deeks running commentary.
"I can't rub your feet if you're kicking me, Pumpkin Butter."
Yup, everything was back to normal. As he turned down the hallway toward the room he and Eric were sharing, he wondered again if something had happened between Kensi and Deeks. Hetty was positive that nothing would alter the team dynamics, but he couldn't help but fear for the wellbeing of his team. If he so much as sensed a difference in their behavior over the next few weeks, he would separate them. Although he trusted his operations manager, it was his responsibility to ensure mission security and team safety. If Kensi and Deeks were starting a relationship, they needed to tread carefully.