Something to Think About

Nell and Eric settled on opposite ends of the couch and began stuffing themselves on the sushi, sandwiches, and soup. Mr. Bubbles acted as chaperone and curled himself into a ball on the middle couch cushion.

“Hmm, I didn’t realize how hungry I was,” said Nell between mouthfuls.

“ ‘Feed a fever, starve a cold,’ ” quipped Eric.

“Or is it the other way around?” wondered Nell.

“Does it matter?” said Eric.

They shared a look. “Nah,” they said together.

Then they dug into the M&M’s and Oreos as they watched Comedy Central.

“Someone in their infinite wisdom, probably Granger, sent this Richie kid to help out,” said Eric during a commercial. “But he tried to sit at your desk and rearrange things. I didn’t like that. Sooo . . . I foisted him on Vanessa.”

Nell’s eyes widened and she giggled, almost choking on a handful of M&M’s.

“Masterful plan. A match made in geek heaven.”

“I thought that was us,” said Eric with a little smile.

“You think?”

They shared a look and Eric nodded. “I think.”

A couple minutes passed. Some lame stand-up comic attempted to make jokes on the TV. “Is this how Kensi and Deeks hang out?” asked Eric. He was pretty sure he knew the answer. There was a lot of speculation in the team about how Deeks and Kensi spent their time away from the Mission.

“Yeah, except . . .”

“Except what?”

Nell slanted him a look. “Deeks usually stays over. Or if they’re at his apartment, Kensi stays over.”

“What are Hetty’s thoughts about that?” asked Eric.

“Are you kidding? She’s like a fairy godmother bestowing her blessing.”

Eric dismantled an Oreo, studying the chocolate side first, then the cream side. It appeared to be the most fascinating thing since the pyramids.

“Something to think about,” he mumbled.

“Exactly,” said Nell.

The Next Day

Eric scrolled through the information on two flash drives recovered from the body of a dead Marine in Santa Monica. There appeared to be a link between the Marine’s relatives in Lisbon and a known al-Qaeda cell in Sintra. Sam and Deeks were canvassing the area around the strip club where the body was discovered in the early morning hours.

Behind him he caught snippets of conversation between Vanessa and Richie.

“I’m going to get a soda,” said Richie. “Can I bring you one?”

Vanessa snorted. I don’t pollute my body with unnecessary caffeine.”

“Okay, juice?”

“Yes, please. That would be lovely.”

Richie pointed to the candy bar on the other side of Vanessa’s computer. “I guess that chocolate is necessary caffeine?”

Eric’s back was turned, but he imagined a frosty glare from Vanessa.

“I’m still waiting for that juice,” she said in a no-nonsense tone.

As Richie passed Eric’s desk, he grinned and gave a thumbs-up.

“Whatever, dude,” said Eric. Those two were starting to sound like another set of partners he knew.

Eric searched a while longer, then went downstairs to Hetty’s desk. Callen sat there going through paperwork. He glanced up.

“Problem, Eric?”

“Is there a rule about co-workers dating? Because I may have created a situation.”

“What kind of situation?”

“I put Richie and Vanessa together and now they’re starting to sound like Kensi and Deeks.”

Callen couldn’t help but smile. “Is that a bad thing? Kensi and Deeks work well together. And what about when Nell first came here? It took you some time to warm up to her.”

Eric appeared flustered. “True, but I didn’t want things to get out of control and Hetty blame me for the consequences.”

“I think we should let the situation, as you say, play out for now. Hetty knows the value of strong partnerships.”

“Okay then.” Eric blew out a sigh. He’d passed the ball to someone else and whatever happened, well, it just happened.

“Eric, I need your opinion about some software,” said Callen. He picked up a sheet of paper. “ Granger thinks we should upgrade to the 4.0b version of Kaleidoscope. That means nothing to me. What do you think?”

“That is the latest version, but my buddy at the NSA said there are several bugs that haven’t been resolved and . . .”

Richie was passing by and butted in. “Yeah, those bugs may not get fixed until next year’s release.”

Callen listened quietly while the two computer guys discussed the pros and cons of upgrading. Finally, he asked, “So that’s a ‘no’ for that version?”

“Yes!” said Eric and Richie together.

Eric pointed to the grape juice in Richie’s hand. “I believe Vanessa is waiting for that.”

“Yeah, man.” Richie bounded up the stairs to Ops.

“I see what you mean,” said Callen.

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