Indisposed

Partners

“What are you doing?” asked Eric. He frowned when he discovered Richie sitting at Nell’s desk and rearranging her things.

Richie examined a small framed picture. “Is this your partner slash girlfriend?” His tone suggested disbelief.

In it, Nell and Kensi wore goofy hats and mugged for the camera, which in this case was a mall photo booth. Probably taken during one of their marathon shopping sprees.

Eric snatched it away from him. “Yes, that’s Intelligence Analyst Nell Jones. My partner. And this is her desk and her things.”

“But you said she was sick.”

Eric was growing more annoyed by the second. “She has the flu, not bubonic plague. She’ll be back in a couple days.”

I hope. Otherwise I can’t be held responsible for the bodily harm I might inflict on this kid.

Eric pointed across the room. “You need to sit over there and start running that facial recognition software for McGuire’s team. You’ll be working under their analyst. Also a black belt in karate.”

“Fine. Bring it,” said Richie. Reluctantly, he got up and shuffled to the other side of the room. Once he was settled, Eric set about straightening Nell’s desk.

“That’s better,” mumbled Eric when he had restored order. He checked his watch. “Three, two, one.” He glanced up to see the other Intelligence Analyst coming around the corner. “Right on time.”

Richie had walked back over to get his water bottle and stopped. His mouth dropped open at the sight of the petite agent. Product of a Vietnamese father and Brazilian mother, the young woman had long, shiny black hair, huge brown eyes, and an olive complexion. Guys often mistook her for a fragile, helpless creature. Until she slammed their sorry butt to the ground.

“Ah, Vanessa. Good to see you again,” said Eric.

“Likewise, Eric.” She smiled warmly at him.

“Vanessa Tran, meet Richie Everett.”

In her black ballerina flats, the Stanford grad and computer whiz was two inches taller than Richie. Her smile dropped and she gave off a distinct ‘don’t mess with me’ vibe.

“Well, come on. We have work to do,” she announced. “And please close your mouth. It makes you look like an imbecile.”

It took a moment for Richie to find his voice. “Uh, yeah . . . okay,” he stammered.

Eric chuckled. She’ll keep him on his toes and out of my hair.

***

Downstairs, Kensi and Deeks settled in to review cold cases. Callen was occupied at Hetty’s desk, so Deeks moved over to sit beside Kensi.

“Easier to compare notes this way,” he said. “And to monitor your total donut intake.”

Kensi snorted. “For the record, I’ve had three. Not that it’s any of your concern.”

“Wrong! Everything you do or don’t do is my concern, partner.” Deeks laughed and opened a case file. The way he said it showed he was still thinking about their earlier conversation.

Kensi was hyperaware of Deeks today. Their thighs were almost touching. Outside work, she enjoyed the closeness. At work, she feared Sam or Callen walking up at any minute, staring at them and then making a comment.

They know we have a close working relationship. They’re trying to figure out if we’ve crossed the ultimate line yet.

Deeks read quietly, but Kensi found it hard to concentrate. His scent – a mixture of soap, woodsy cologne, and just him – enveloped her like a cloak. She tried taking shallow breaths, but that didn’t help.

His surfer hair as she now thought of it, was a bit long even for him. Rather than being annoyed by this fact, her fingers itched to plunge into the silky strands and pull his lips down to hers.

What is wrong with me today? I’m like some sappy teenager in a Hallmark Channel movie.

He started tapping the eraser end of his pencil on the file. Usually this meant he was engrossed in whatever he was reading and Kensi usually got mad at this juncture and yelled at him. But today she was oddly mesmerized by the motion.

She cut her eyes to his forearms and biceps. She remembered how nice and secure it felt to wake up wrapped in those arms with his breath tickling her neck.

It could be like that every morning if we lived together.

He caught her ogling him and raised his eyebrows.

“What?” she snapped.

“You looked pensive. Did you find something in your case? Or were you maybe thinking about something else?” He had the nerve to wink at her like he knew exactly what she was thinking.

Kensi sucked in a breath. He really does know me better than anyone. It’s scary how he can read me.

She coughed nervously. “I, uh, noticed that this Petty Officer’s brother apparently was never interviewed about his disappearance. He was in the army in Iraq at the time but . . .”

“Okay, good. That’s a starting point,” said Deeks. “Is there an address for the brother?”

“Let’s see.” Kensi began flipping through the file. Thank goodness we got away from the personal stuff.

**

Eric returned from lunch and logged back into his computer. Hetty’s image popped up and filled the screen. He almost fell out of his chair from the shock.

“Hetty! What are, uh, I mean how are you? Shouldn’t you be resting?”

“I’m fine, Mr. Beale. Just returned from my daily physical therapy session. Let me tell you, knee replacement is not for sissies. But enough about me. Have you checked on Ms. Jones?”

“Uh, no. I was about to call her. Callen’s keeping up with her.”

“She’s your partner. Besides, Mr. Callen has enough on his plate at the moment.”

“You’re right. I’ll get right on it.”

“Excellent. I’ll be in touch, Mr. Beale.”

As quickly as she had appeared, Hetty was gone.

“That was weird,” muttered Eric. “Almost as scary as the Hetty-bot.”

However, before he could phone Nell, word came in about a Marine with a high security clearance being shot at a nearby mall. Sam and Deeks went to investigate and Callen informed Assistant Director Granger.

Hours passed before Eric could leave the Mission. Instead of calling Nell, he decided to drop by her apartment. He’d never been there before, but he knew her address.

He turned off the engine and sat in the car for a few minutes. He felt a little nervous or shy or something he couldn’t quite name. He’d brought sushi and large bags of Oreos and M&M’s. Hetty forbade the consumption of junk food in Ops so they would indulge their sweet tooth here.

**

Nell opened the door to find a familiar face standing there.

“Oh . . . hi, Eric.”

Eric smiled and took in Nell’s appearance from head to toe. She wore a fluffy pink robe and fluffy pink slippers. Her nose was red and her hair was sticking out at weird angles.

“Did you check the peephole? I could have been a terrorist,” he chided.

“I can’t recall a case where a terrorist actually rang a doorbell. Besides, I thought it was my neighbor, Mrs. Mendoza. She was bringing me some special Mexican soup. Swears it will knock those flu germs ‘right out of the ball park,’ in her words. She’s a huge baseball fan.”

“Are you disappointed?”

“Not at all. I’m really glad to see you. I’m bored here. You have to tell me everything that’s going on. And what’s in those bags?”

Eric smiled. “You’ll see.”

But he’d barely finished unloading the goodies when the doorbell rang again.

They looked at each other. “Mrs. Mendoza,” they laughed.

“But let me check first,” said Eric, being the protective male. He put his eye to the peephole, then turned back to Nell.

“Short, chubby Hispanic woman.”

“That’s her,” confirmed Nell as she came to open the door.

Mrs. Mendoza breezed into the apartment, chattering and smiling. She carried a tray loaded with Tupperware containers.

“Oh, I didn’t know you had company,” she smiled.

“I’m Eric. Can I take that for you?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s soup and sandwiches. Plenty for your boyfriend, too.”

She reached out and pinched Eric’s upper arm.

“Ow!”

“You could use some more meat on your bones, Eric.”

Nell was shocked. “Eric’s not . . .”

“I’m not her . . .”

They looked at each other in panic. “We work together,” they blurted at the same time.

“Oh, at the TV station,” smiled Mrs. Mendoza. “Maybe you can explain why the Dodgers game was delayed until 2 a.m. the other night.”

Thinking fast Nell said, “I’m afraid we really don’t have anything to do with programming. We do computer stuff. Boring stuff. You know, gauging market share, that sort of thing.”

Mrs. Mendoza departed and Eric rubbed his arm. “Now I know how Deeks feels when Kensi slugs him.”

They sat on the couch. Nell’s cat, Mr. Bubbles, climbed into Eric’s lap and prepared for a nap. Hesitantly, Eric petted him.

Suddenly, Eric laughed. “We work at a TV station?”

“Yeah . . . about that. It seemed safer for national security than revealing what I actually do. If I’d told Mrs. Mendoza the truth, she’d blab to her eight kids and bazillion grandkids and then all of Los Angeles would know and Hetty would . . .”

“Hetty would impale us with her antique letter opener,” finished Eric.

Nell nodded. “We would be stuck to the climbing wall like bugs under a microscope.”

“Good thinking, Ms. Jones.”


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