Indisposed

All's Well That Ends Well

The team assembled in Ops. Eric and Nell relayed info from LAPD about a home invasion involving two Marines. Two pictures were on the large screen.

Eric went first. “Last night, Lance Corporal Blake Landers, on the left, and fellow Marine Lance Corporal Thomas Avila were leaving the Stallion Club . . .”

“Wow. High-end strip joint.” All eyes turned to Deeks. He shrugged. “Max Gentry went there once. A long, long time ago.”

“I’d like to hear that story,” said Kensi under her breath.

Deeks gave her a sideways look. “Actually, you wouldn’t.”

Callen noted with interest that his two junior agents were standing even closer together than usual and oddly, Kensi did not punch Deeks for his remarks. He had already observed that they were surprisingly quiet when they arrived this morning. No loud teasing or arguing. No threats of bodily harm from Kensi.

Something’s different with those two. I can think of only one reason for that.

But right now they needed to get back on task. “What else, Eric?”

“According to the police report, in the parking lot Landers spotted the man he blamed for breaking up his three-year marriage, a Ricky Jordan. There was a minor altercation, but Jordan got in his car and left.”

Nell picked up the story. “Witnesses stated Landers was enraged. He and Avila left in an older model green truck and appeared to follow the other man. They all wound up at the condo of Landers’ ex-wife where a huge fight occurred. Landers and Jordan were both stabbed and shot and Avila was stabbed. All three are in surgery right now and Jordan is listed as critical. It’s unclear who was brandishing which weapon at this point.”

“Sounds more like a domestic violence case,” said Sam.

“There’s the twist,” said Eric. “The ex-wife, Angela, is the daughter of a Marine Colonel who has access to classified documents. Police speculate that Jordan may have targeted her for that reason.”

“Okay, Sam and I will talk to the ex-wife and the Colonel. Kensi, Deeks, see what witnesses at both scenes are saying.”

“On it,” said Deeks.

As soon as he and Kensi were in the car, Kensi asked, “So what happened at the Stallion Club?”

“I knew you couldn’t let it go.”

“Damn straight. I want to know everything about you.”

Deeks grinned. “I thought you did after this weekend.”

Kensi’s cheeks turned pink. “I certainly know a lot more than I did.”

“Touché. Yes, we’re much better acquainted now.” He leaned over and kissed her.

“Don’t think you can distract me with a kiss.”

“It was worth a try. You know that scar on my lower back? That happened at the Stallion Club.”

“What scar?”

“You ran your fingers over it several times yesterday. Although perhaps in your passion-fogged state, you didn’t really notice it.”

Kensi opened her mouth to respond, then paused. “I vaguely remember it. I think.”

“Max Gentry accompanied an associate there. We were barely through the front door when said associate got into a fight. That place is as well-known for fights as for its smokin’ hot women.”

Kensi narrowed her eyes at him and scowled.

“But that was the one and only time I was there. And now I have my own smokin’ hot woman so who needs tarted-up strippers?”

“Wise answer.”

“So we’re good?”

Kensi nodded. “We are excellent.” To punctuate that, she leaned across the console and gave Deeks a big kiss.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Deeks enthusiastically when it ended. “However, in the interest of full disclosure and our new relationship status, there’s something I want to say.”

Kensi sighed. “You used to be a woman? You have a love child?”

“Uh, no and not that I know of. Remember when I had to go to court, that blonde Assistant District Attorney?”

“Yeah.” Kensi wondered where this might be going.

“She wanted to buy me a drink when the case was over. But I told her I was having dinner with my girlfriend.”

“You didn’t.”

“Yep.”

Kensi had a sheepish look on her face. “Okay, I may have referred to you as my boyfriend a couple times before you actually were my boyfriend. So I guess we’re even.”

Deeks slowly smiled. “Looks like we were always trying to find our way to each other and . . .”

“And now we did,” finished Kensi.

Deeks reached over and squeezed her hand.

All day long, Eric kept looking over his shoulder. He expected Hetty to materialize at any minute, especially since Callen said she’d been cleared by her orthopedist to return to work.

The end of the work day came, but no Hetty. He and Nell tidied up and Dustbusted every surface in Ops to within an inch of its life. They stood back and admired their work.

“Looks good. I don’t see how anyone could find fault with our efforts,” said Nell.

“But Hetty isn’t just anyone,” said Eric.

“True.”

“Want to get something to eat?”

“That would be great except I have a hair appointment at 6:30. Maybe after that?”

“Cool. Text me when you’re done,” said Eric with a smile.

Nell got to the salon early and took a seat. The team was out most of the day interviewing witnesses and tracking down leads so she did not get a chance to question Kensi about the lasagna dinner. Now she called her.

“So, Kens. How was the dinner? I wasn’t sure from that first text.”

“First text? I only sent you one text.”

“No, there were two. The first one was at 2:40 a.m. You said Words can’t describe it!!! with three exclamations points.”

Kensi gasped. “What? Oh my . . . Marty, uh , I mean, Deeks must. . . ugh!” She clenched her fist. “I’m gonna strangle him!”

“Marty? You never call him that. Is there something you want to share?”

Kensi hesitated. “Well, I burned the lasagna, the edges anyway, but we ate the middle and it was good.”

“That’s it?” Nell knew that couldn’t be the end of the story.

“Actually, no. There’s more. A lot more.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Deeks brought wine, flowers, and Godiva chocolate. But we didn’t get around to eating until the middle of the night after we, you know. . .”

“NO WAY!” People sitting nearby turned to stare at Nell.

“Sorry,” she mouthed to them.

“Yes way. And we ate in bed by candlelight. Deeks must have sent that text when he went out to get the chocolate.”

“So you guys are finally together together. Awesome! I’m so happy for you, Kens. Deeks is a great guy.”

“He is a great guy. But I’m worried how the others will react.” Kensi’s face grew warm remembering their encounters in the bedroom and the shower.

“Don’t obsess about it. They’ll just have to accept it. Oops, gotta go. They’re calling me for my hair appointment. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

After having her hair trimmed, Nell met up with Eric at their favorite pizza place. Between slices of the L.A.’s best pepperoni pizza she said, “My folks will be in town Friday night and I’m having dinner with them.”

“That’s nice.”

“My mom said, and I quote, ‘Why don’t you bring that interesting young man from work?’”

Eric was bringing a slice to his mouth. “You told them about Richie?”

She jabbed his shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly.”

Eric swallowed nervously. “Would I have to wear real pants?”

“I’m sure any kind of pants would be appreciated.”

He shrugged. “Okay, let’s do it.”

Tuesday Morning

Callen sat at Hetty’s desk going through paperwork. “What happened to our paperless system? We have more paperwork now than ever before,” he mumbled to himself.

He wasn’t sure if Hetty was returning today or tomorrow, but as far as he could tell, all was in place. He looked over the desk. Everything was dusted and new sharpened pencils were in the desk drawer. The replacement teacup sat on top of the credenza and he’d even kept up with watering her philodendron and some other unnamed plant.

He glanced across to the bullpen. Deeks was sitting beside Kensi instead of at his desk. He studied them for several minutes. They quietly talked as they went through their own paperwork. Like yesterday, there were no loud voices, no snippy comments, no arm punches. Deeks would gaze longingly at Kensi and she would cut her eyes to him and smile. Deeks even reached over and patted Kensi’s thigh. Any other time that would have almost been grounds for a sexual harassment suit.

Uh huh, that line has so been crossed.

Callen blew out a sigh. As team leader he would have to address the situation. Each agent, or detective in Deeks’ case, had to be laser-focused on the mission and watching his partner’s back.

Deeks has no problem watching Kensi’s back or any other part of her.

Suddenly his cell rang. He expected it to be Hetty or Granger, but was pleasantly surprised to see Gemma’s name.

“Good morning, Agent Callen.”

“Hello, Gemma.”

“I assume you can talk?”

Callen laughed. “Yes, for the moment. How are you?”

“Wonderful! I got the DEA job. I’ll be moving up to your ‘hood soon.”

“Congratulations. We’ll have to celebrate.”

“Sure. But what I really need is help finding an apartment. Are you game?”

“Just name the time and place.”

“Fantastic. I have to go turn in my resignation now, but I’ll call you soon.”

“Okay, and Gemma. . .”

“Yes?”

“I’m glad we’ll be in the same city now.”

“Me, too. Bye, Callen.”

Callen disconnected. He couldn’t stop smiling. Laser-focused. Yeah, right. A certain San Diego detective is messing with my focus.

His eyes swung to Kensi and Deeks. They were laughing quietly. Probably sharing a private joke.

Reluctantly, he got up and decided to have “the talk” with Deeks. He felt like a father about to give the “birds and bees” spiel to his son. Best to get it over with.

“Deeks.”

Deeks’ head jerked up at Callen’s approach. “What’s up, Callen?”

Nell walked by. “Kensi, could you look at a translation upstairs?”

“Uh, sure.” She got up and went with Nell. She shared a brief, questioning look with Deeks as she left.

“Deeks, what’s going on with you and Kensi?”

“Going on? Nothing. We’re good. Really good. We were just laughing about a TV show we watched last night.”

Callen stared at him. Deeks always found that unnerving. “I think you know what I mean. Are you two . . . dating?”

“Dating?” Deeks said it like he was unfamiliar with the concept.

“We don’t have all day, Deeks. Are you guys sleeping together? Are you a couple?”

Deeks tried hard not to smile. “Sleeping as in physically sharing a space designated for the acquisition of rest?”

Again, Callen stared. Deeks could tell he was getting annoyed. Yeah, that went over well. There was really no point in trying to deny it. “Yeah, we’re together now. A real couple.”

Callen nodded. “I see. You realize if you hurt her in any way Sam and I will beat the hell out of you and toss your remains in the Pacific. It will be like you never existed.”

Deeks grimaced. “I hear you, loud and clear, boss. But what would happen to Monty?” They stared at each other for a long moment. “Just so we’re clear, I love Kensi and I would never hurt her. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I know I don’t deserve her, but somehow I got lucky. I’m well aware of my responsibility to protect her at all times.”

Callen continued to stare at him. Strangely, Deeks’ admission sounded like wedding vows.

“Well said.” He started to walk away, but stopped and turned back to Deeks. “You’ve been in love with her from the beginning.”

Deeks leaned back in the chair and ran a hand through his hair. What the hell? Cat’s out of the bag now.

He was still in shock when Kensi returned from Ops. She sat down and gave him a strange look. “What did Callen want?”

“We’ve been outed.”

“What?” Her voice was sharp.

“He asked me point-blank if we’re sleeping together.”

She gasped. “He didn’t.”

“He did.”

Kensi started to get up. “I should give him a piece of my mind.”

Deeks grabbed her arm. “Kens, let it go. He was only doing it out of concern and brotherly love for you. He explained in no uncertain terms what would happen if I hurt you. Then I explained in no uncertain terms how I felt, so we’re all good.”

She studied him. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. He may lack finesse, but I get where he’s coming from.”

Kensi slumped back in her seat. “Hit hard and hit direct. That’s Callen.”

“So you’re not going to go take his head off?”

“Nah. We’re out there so we’ll roll with it, like you said. However . . . what do you think should happen to someone who answers another person’s messages without their knowledge?”

Deeks’ eyebrows lifted in surprise.

Wednesday Morning

Ah, it’s good to be back, mused Hetty as she looked around the Mission. It felt like she’d been gone forever. Oh, Callen had done a marvelous job of keeping her updated about the big things. But she would have to observe her team in person to determine what else might be going on.

She reached for her favorite teacup from the credenza behind her desk. It appeared that Callen had washed it for her. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed. She turned it around and around in her hands and methodically examined every detail. Something was amiss.

Just as I thought.

It was indeed the same Royal Doulton pattern, but it was not the same cup. Her cup had a tiny imperfection in one of the flowers. This cup did not.

Well, well. What else might he be trying to hide?

She spooned loose tea into the cup and poured hot water over it. She set it aside to steep.

Of course, there were e-mails to answer, reports to be read and analyzed, and perhaps an agent or two to be reprimanded. Earlier this morning, she frowned when she discovered a red M&M behind her trash can and what appeared to be Oreo crumbs in Ops

It would be at least an hour before the others arrived at the Mission, but just as she anticipated, Callen was pushing through the door. He walked up to her desk and smiled.

“Welcome back, Hetty. We missed you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Callen. I missed being here.”

“How’s the knee?”

“Splendid. Let me know when you want to tackle the climbing wall,” she said with a little smirk.

Callen gave her a look. “Right.”

“Have a seat. We have much to catch up on.”

They discussed work issues for a time, going over reports and recommendations. Callen noticed she was using the replacement teacup, yet she made no comment. He thought he was home free.

The conversation turned to other topics. “Hetty, how is it I didn’t know you had a sister? A twin, no less.”

Hetty chuckled. “Ah, Mr. Callen. We all have our secrets. Wouldn’t you agree? Some fact known only to us that we hold close. Something that may or may not come to light in the future.” She took a sip of her tea and set the cup delicately on its saucer.

She knows. And she knows that I know she knows.

“Touché, Hetty.

Hetty’s cell rang. She picked it up and frowned. “Granger. No rest for the weary.”

Callen picked up his gym bag and stood. “Indeed.”

He planned to get in an early workout, but first he had to call Gemma.

“You won.”

“Won what? The Publisher’s Clearinghouse?”

“The teacup challenge.”

“Oh, right. Hetty’s back at work. So she busted you?

“In her own way. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell she knew.”

Gemma laughed until she cried. “Didn’t I warn you that nothing gets by Hetty?”

“You did. So now I must cook dinner for you.”

“Excellent. I’ll take pity on you and bring dessert.”

“Deal. What about Saturday night?”

“Works for me. Wait, where do you live?”

Callen gave her the address. “We can scope out apartments for you as well.”

“Great. See you then.”

10 A.M.

Vanessa and Richie were downstairs in the burn room disposing of a dozen boxes of old paperwork. To make this mind-numbing task more fun, they balled up the papers and stood in pre-determined spots to see who could hit the opening from the greatest distance.

“Loser buys lunch today,” said Vanessa.

“Deal!” agreed Richie. “I want the spicy catfish plate from that Thai place.”

“Dream on,” snorted Vanessa. “Do you realize I’ve gained three pounds since you came here? You’re a bad influence.”

“Where?” Richie paused as he was about to throw another ball. His eyes scanned her from head to toe. “Okay, maybe your boobs are a little bigger.”

Her jaw dropped. Then she punched his shoulder. “You shouldn’t be looking there.”

“Ow! What is it about all the women here? They’re always hitting their men. Kensi punches Deeks, Nell punches Eric, and now you punch me.”

Vanessa giggled. “We have to keep you misfits in line.”

Eric was walking by and heard whoops of laughter. Those two are having too much fun. He stuck his head in. “Richie! Hetty would like to see you.”

“Hetty? She’s back?”

“Yep, bright and early this morning.”

“Uh, okay.”

“So . . . you are Mr. Everett,” said Hetty. She lifted her eyes from the laptop where she had Richie’s evaluation from Callen on the screen. “I have heard a lot about you.”

Richie swallowed once, then twice. In his short time at NCIS, he’d heard a lot about the woman seated in front of him. Amazing and scary things. Appearance-wise, she reminded him of his grandmother on his dad’s side. An austere woman who sometimes had difficulty coping with her more rambunctious grandkids, namely Richie and his brother.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I am Hetty Lange, Operations Manager.” She waved a hand. “Please. Have a seat.”

Richie slowly lowered himself into the chair and clamped his hands on the top of his thighs in an effort not to fidget. “Thank . . . you.”

Hetty studied him for a moment. “You seem rather nervous.”

Richie could feel the perspiration beading on his forehead. “Am I in trouble, Miss Lange?”

Hetty’s eyes narrowed and she leaned forward. “Trouble? Why would you think that? Have you done something wrong?”

“I . . . I don’t think so. I mean, I tried to do everything Eric and Callen asked me to.”

“Uh, huh.”

“And I have the utmost respect for Vanessa. She has a brilliant mind.”

Hetty nodded slowly. “Yes. Ms. Tran.”

“I really like this job. It’s awesome, in fact.” He paused. “If I’m being fired, can you just go ahead and do it? I can’t stand the suspense.”

Hetty laughed and Richie blinked in surprise.

“Fire you? Oh no, Mr. Everett. On the contrary, I’m about to offer you a full-time position here. Both Mr. Callen and Mr. Beale praised your work and recommended you. We feel you would be an asset to our team.”

The usually talkative Richie was temporarily speechless. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Then he recovered. “You do? An asset?”

“Certainly.” She slid a piece of paper across the desk to him. “All that’s needed is your signature.”

Richie glanced briefly at it. “No sh, I mean, no kidding!”

“Perhaps you would like to take it and read over it more carefully.”

“No need. I’m all in, Miss Lange,” said Richie eagerly. “Thanks, man, uh, ma’am.”

Hetty smiled and offered her Montblanc pen to complete the transcation. “In future, you may call me Hetty.”

Richie scrawled his name and grinned. “Guess I should get back to work then.” He jumped up and started to walk away.

“One more thing, Mr. Everett.”

Richie stopped and turned. “Yeah?”

“Please give my regards to Hazel.”

“Hazel.” A sense of foreboding came over Richie. He stared at Hetty, trying to decipher her expression. “That’s my grandmother’s name,” he said slowly.

“Of course it is. I play bridge with her.”

“You know my Gran-Gran?” His eyes went saucer-wide.

Hetty leaned forward and whispered. “I even know about the incident involving super glue and your sister’s hair.”

Richie sucked in a breath. “Holy crap.”

“That’s all, Mr. Everett. I believe Mr. Beale is looking for you.”

Richie hurried away to Ops and Hetty leaned back with a smile. She tapped her pen against the desk blotter.

Yes, it is indeed good to be back.

Her phone rang and she saw it was her sister. “Hello, Migs.”

“Hetty, how was your first day back?”

“Busy, but good.”

“Glad to hear it. I have some news that’s good and bad.” Migs paused to draw out the suspense.

“Are you going to tell me or should I use ESP?” asked Hetty.

“It’s about Gemma. She got the DEA job, which is good and means she will be closer to your Mr. Callen. But it’s also bad in that I will lose a most excellent neighbor.”

“I see.”

“On the other hand, I was thinking maybe you could buy her house. That way we wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves when you visit.”

“But when I visit you’re always running off to work or charity or community events. You’re hardly there.”

“Which brings up another point. I have a friend on the Board of Directors at the museum who would be perfect for Granger. She . . .”

“Oh, give it a rest, Migs.”

“No, seriously, she . . .”

“I’m hanging up now, Migs.”

But she didn’t. There was silence for a moment.

“I know you’re still there, Hetty. I can hear you breathing.”

Hetty tried not to snicker on her end. They always did this as children, seeing who would hang on the longest.

Click!

Migs stared at her phone. “How rude.”

The team assembled in Ops. Eric and Nell relayed info from LAPD about a home invasion involving two Marines. Two pictures were on the large screen.

Eric went first. “Last night, Lance Corporal Blake Landers, on the left, and fellow Marine Lance Corporal Thomas Avila were leaving the Stallion Club . . .”

“Wow. High-end strip joint.” All eyes turned to Deeks. He shrugged. “Max Gentry went there once. A long, long time ago.”

“I’d like to hear that story,” said Kensi under her breath.

Deeks gave her a sideways look. “Actually, you wouldn’t.”

Callen noted with interest that his two junior agents were standing even closer together than usual and oddly, Kensi did not punch Deeks for his remarks. He had already observed that they were surprisingly quiet when they arrived this morning. No loud teasing or arguing. No threats of bodily harm from Kensi.

Something’s different with those two. I can think of only one reason for that.

But right now they needed to get back on task. “What else, Eric?”

“According to the police report, in the parking lot Landers spotted the man he blamed for breaking up his three-year marriage, a Ricky Jordan. There was a minor altercation, but Jordan got in his car and left.”

Nell picked up the story. “Witnesses stated Landers was enraged. He and Avila left in an older model green truck and appeared to follow the other man. They all wound up at the condo of Landers’ ex-wife where a huge fight occurred. Landers and Jordan were both stabbed and shot and Avila was stabbed. All three are in surgery right now and Jordan is listed as critical. It’s unclear who was brandishing which weapon at this point.”

“Sounds more like a domestic violence case,” said Sam.

“There’s the twist,” said Eric. “The ex-wife, Angela, is the daughter of a Marine Colonel who has access to classified documents. Police speculate that Jordan may have targeted her for that reason.”

“Okay, Sam and I will talk to the ex-wife and the Colonel. Kensi, Deeks, see what witnesses at both scenes are saying.”

“On it,” said Deeks.

As soon as he and Kensi were in the car, Kensi asked, “So what happened at the Stallion Club?”

“I knew you couldn’t let it go.”

“Damn straight. I want to know everything about you.”

Deeks grinned. “I thought you did after this weekend.”

Kensi’s cheeks turned pink. “I certainly know a lot more than I did.”

“Touché. Yes, we’re much better acquainted now.” He leaned over and kissed her.

“Don’t think you can distract me with a kiss.”

“It was worth a try. You know that scar on my lower back? That happened at the Stallion Club.”

“What scar?”

“You ran your fingers over it several times yesterday. Although perhaps in your passion-fogged state, you didn’t really notice it.”

Kensi opened her mouth to respond, then paused. “I vaguely remember it. I think.”

“Max Gentry accompanied an associate there. We were barely through the front door when said associate got into a fight. That place is as well-known for fights as for its smokin’ hot women.”

Kensi narrowed her eyes at him and scowled.

“But that was the one and only time I was there. And now I have my own smokin’ hot woman so who needs tarted-up strippers?”

“Wise answer.”

“So we’re good?”

Kensi nodded. “We are excellent.” To punctuate that, she leaned across the console and gave Deeks a big kiss.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Deeks enthusiastically when it ended. “However, in the interest of full disclosure and our new relationship status, there’s something I want to say.”

Kensi sighed. “You used to be a woman? You have a love child?”

“Uh, no and not that I know of. Remember when I had to go to court, that blonde Assistant District Attorney?”

“Yeah.” Kensi wondered where this might be going.

“She wanted to buy me a drink when the case was over. But I told her I was having dinner with my girlfriend.”

“You didn’t.”

“Yep.”

Kensi had a sheepish look on her face. “Okay, I may have referred to you as my boyfriend a couple times before you actually were my boyfriend. So I guess we’re even.”

Deeks slowly smiled. “Looks like we were always trying to find our way to each other and . . .”

“And now we did,” finished Kensi.

Deeks reached over and squeezed her hand.

All day long, Eric kept looking over his shoulder. He expected Hetty to materialize at any minute, especially since Callen said she’d been cleared by her orthopedist to return to work.

The end of the work day came, but no Hetty. He and Nell tidied up and Dustbusted every surface in Ops to within an inch of its life. They stood back and admired their work.

“Looks good. I don’t see how anyone could find fault with our efforts,” said Nell.

“But Hetty isn’t just anyone,” said Eric.

“True.”

“Want to get something to eat?”

“That would be great except I have a hair appointment at 6:30. Maybe after that?”

“Cool. Text me when you’re done,” said Eric with a smile.

Nell got to the salon early and took a seat. The team was out most of the day interviewing witnesses and tracking down leads so she did not get a chance to question Kensi about the lasagna dinner. Now she called her.

“So, Kens. How was the dinner? I wasn’t sure from that first text.”

“First text? I only sent you one text.”

“No, there were two. The first one was at 2:40 a.m. You said Words can’t describe it!!! with three exclamations points.”

Kensi gasped. “What? Oh my . . . Marty, uh , I mean, Deeks must. . . ugh!” She clenched her fist. “I’m gonna strangle him!”

“Marty? You never call him that. Is there something you want to share?”

Kensi hesitated. “Well, I burned the lasagna, the edges anyway, but we ate the middle and it was good.”

“That’s it?” Nell knew that couldn’t be the end of the story.

“Actually, no. There’s more. A lot more.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Deeks brought wine, flowers, and Godiva chocolate. But we didn’t get around to eating until the middle of the night after we, you know. . .”

“NO WAY!” People sitting nearby turned to stare at Nell.

“Sorry,” she mouthed to them.

“Yes way. And we ate in bed by candlelight. Deeks must have sent that text when he went out to get the chocolate.”

“So you guys are finally together together. Awesome! I’m so happy for you, Kens. Deeks is a great guy.”

“He is a great guy. But I’m worried how the others will react.” Kensi’s face grew warm remembering their encounters in the bedroom and the shower.

“Don’t obsess about it. They’ll just have to accept it. Oops, gotta go. They’re calling me for my hair appointment. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

After having her hair trimmed, Nell met up with Eric at their favorite pizza place. Between slices of the L.A.’s best pepperoni pizza she said, “My folks will be in town Friday night and I’m having dinner with them.”

“That’s nice.”

“My mom said, and I quote, ‘Why don’t you bring that interesting young man from work?’”

Eric was bringing a slice to his mouth. “You told them about Richie?”

She jabbed his shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly.”

Eric swallowed nervously. “Would I have to wear real pants?”

“I’m sure any kind of pants would be appreciated.”

He shrugged. “Okay, let’s do it.”

Tuesday Morning

Callen sat at Hetty’s desk going through paperwork. “What happened to our paperless system? We have more paperwork now than ever before,” he mumbled to himself.

He wasn’t sure if Hetty was returning today or tomorrow, but as far as he could tell, all was in place. He looked over the desk. Everything was dusted and new sharpened pencils were in the desk drawer. The replacement teacup sat on top of the credenza and he’d even kept up with watering her philodendron and some other unnamed plant.

He glanced across to the bullpen. Deeks was sitting beside Kensi instead of at his desk. He studied them for several minutes. They quietly talked as they went through their own paperwork. Like yesterday, there were no loud voices, no snippy comments, no arm punches. Deeks would gaze longingly at Kensi and she would cut her eyes to him and smile. Deeks even reached over and patted Kensi’s thigh. Any other time that would have almost been grounds for a sexual harassment suit.

Uh huh, that line has so been crossed.

Callen blew out a sigh. As team leader he would have to address the situation. Each agent, or detective in Deeks’ case, had to be laser-focused on the mission and watching his partner’s back.

Deeks has no problem watching Kensi’s back or any other part of her.

Suddenly his cell rang. He expected it to be Hetty or Granger, but was pleasantly surprised to see Gemma’s name.

“Good morning, Agent Callen.”

“Hello, Gemma.”

“I assume you can talk?”

Callen laughed. “Yes, for the moment. How are you?”

“Wonderful! I got the DEA job. I’ll be moving up to your ‘hood soon.”

“Congratulations. We’ll have to celebrate.”

“Sure. But what I really need is help finding an apartment. Are you game?”

“Just name the time and place.”

“Fantastic. I have to go turn in my resignation now, but I’ll call you soon.”

“Okay, and Gemma. . .”

“Yes?”

“I’m glad we’ll be in the same city now.”

“Me, too. Bye, Callen.”

Callen disconnected. He couldn’t stop smiling. Laser-focused. Yeah, right. A certain San Diego detective is messing with my focus.

His eyes swung to Kensi and Deeks. They were laughing quietly. Probably sharing a private joke.

Reluctantly, he got up and decided to have “the talk” with Deeks. He felt like a father about to give the “birds and bees” spiel to his son. Best to get it over with.

“Deeks.”

Deeks’ head jerked up at Callen’s approach. “What’s up, Callen?”

Nell walked by. “Kensi, could you look at a translation upstairs?”

“Uh, sure.” She got up and went with Nell. She shared a brief, questioning look with Deeks as she left.

“Deeks, what’s going on with you and Kensi?”

“Going on? Nothing. We’re good. Really good. We were just laughing about a TV show we watched last night.”

Callen stared at him. Deeks always found that unnerving. “I think you know what I mean. Are you two . . . dating?”

“Dating?” Deeks said it like he was unfamiliar with the concept.

“We don’t have all day, Deeks. Are you guys sleeping together? Are you a couple?”

Deeks tried hard not to smile. “Sleeping as in physically sharing a space designated for the acquisition of rest?”

Again, Callen stared. Deeks could tell he was getting annoyed. Yeah, that went over well. There was really no point in trying to deny it. “Yeah, we’re together now. A real couple.”

Callen nodded. “I see. You realize if you hurt her in any way Sam and I will beat the hell out of you and toss your remains in the Pacific. It will be like you never existed.”

Deeks grimaced. “I hear you, loud and clear, boss. But what would happen to Monty?” They stared at each other for a long moment. “Just so we’re clear, I love Kensi and I would never hurt her. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I know I don’t deserve her, but somehow I got lucky. I’m well aware of my responsibility to protect her at all times.”

Callen continued to stare at him. Strangely, Deeks’ admission sounded like wedding vows.

“Well said.” He started to walk away, but stopped and turned back to Deeks. “You’ve been in love with her from the beginning.”

Deeks leaned back in the chair and ran a hand through his hair. What the hell? Cat’s out of the bag now.

He was still in shock when Kensi returned from Ops. She sat down and gave him a strange look. “What did Callen want?”

“We’ve been outed.”

“What?” Her voice was sharp.

“He asked me point-blank if we’re sleeping together.”

She gasped. “He didn’t.”

“He did.”

Kensi started to get up. “I should give him a piece of my mind.”

Deeks grabbed her arm. “Kens, let it go. He was only doing it out of concern and brotherly love for you. He explained in no uncertain terms what would happen if I hurt you. Then I explained in no uncertain terms how I felt, so we’re all good.”

She studied him. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. He may lack finesse, but I get where he’s coming from.”

Kensi slumped back in her seat. “Hit hard and hit direct. That’s Callen.”

“So you’re not going to go take his head off?”

“Nah. We’re out there so we’ll roll with it, like you said. However . . . what do you think should happen to someone who answers another person’s messages without their knowledge?”

Deeks’ eyebrows lifted in surprise.

Wednesday Morning

Ah, it’s good to be back, mused Hetty as she looked around the Mission. It felt like she’d been gone forever. Oh, Callen had done a marvelous job of keeping her updated about the big things. But she would have to observe her team in person to determine what else might be going on.

She reached for her favorite teacup from the credenza behind her desk. It appeared that Callen had washed it for her. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed. She turned it around and around in her hands and methodically examined every detail. Something was amiss.

Just as I thought.

It was indeed the same Royal Doulton pattern, but it was not the same cup. Her cup had a tiny imperfection in one of the flowers. This cup did not.

Well, well. What else might he be trying to hide?

She spooned loose tea into the cup and poured hot water over it. She set it aside to steep.

Of course, there were e-mails to answer, reports to be read and analyzed, and perhaps an agent or two to be reprimanded. Earlier this morning, she frowned when she discovered a red M&M behind her trash can and what appeared to be Oreo crumbs in Ops

It would be at least an hour before the others arrived at the Mission, but just as she anticipated, Callen was pushing through the door. He walked up to her desk and smiled.

“Welcome back, Hetty. We missed you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Callen. I missed being here.”

“How’s the knee?”

“Splendid. Let me know when you want to tackle the climbing wall,” she said with a little smirk.

Callen gave her a look. “Right.”

“Have a seat. We have much to catch up on.”

They discussed work issues for a time, going over reports and recommendations. Callen noticed she was using the replacement teacup, yet she made no comment. He thought he was home free.

The conversation turned to other topics. “Hetty, how is it I didn’t know you had a sister? A twin, no less.”

Hetty chuckled. “Ah, Mr. Callen. We all have our secrets. Wouldn’t you agree? Some fact known only to us that we hold close. Something that may or may not come to light in the future.” She took a sip of her tea and set the cup delicately on its saucer.

She knows. And she knows that I know she knows.

“Touché, Hetty.

Hetty’s cell rang. She picked it up and frowned. “Granger. No rest for the weary.”

Callen picked up his gym bag and stood. “Indeed.”

He planned to get in an early workout, but first he had to call Gemma.

“You won.”

“Won what? The Publisher’s Clearinghouse?”

“The teacup challenge.”

“Oh, right. Hetty’s back at work. So she busted you?

“In her own way. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell she knew.”

Gemma laughed until she cried. “Didn’t I warn you that nothing gets by Hetty?”

“You did. So now I must cook dinner for you.”

“Excellent. I’ll take pity on you and bring dessert.”

“Deal. What about Saturday night?”

“Works for me. Wait, where do you live?”

Callen gave her the address. “We can scope out apartments for you as well.”

“Great. See you then.”

10 A.M.

Vanessa and Richie were downstairs in the burn room disposing of a dozen boxes of old paperwork. To make this mind-numbing task more fun, they balled up the papers and stood in pre-determined spots to see who could hit the opening from the greatest distance.

“Loser buys lunch today,” said Vanessa.

“Deal!” agreed Richie. “I want the spicy catfish plate from that Thai place.”

“Dream on,” snorted Vanessa. “Do you realize I’ve gained three pounds since you came here? You’re a bad influence.”

“Where?” Richie paused as he was about to throw another ball. His eyes scanned her from head to toe. “Okay, maybe your boobs are a little bigger.”

Her jaw dropped. Then she punched his shoulder. “You shouldn’t be looking there.”

“Ow! What is it about all the women here? They’re always hitting their men. Kensi punches Deeks, Nell punches Eric, and now you punch me.”

Vanessa giggled. “We have to keep you misfits in line.”

Eric was walking by and heard whoops of laughter. Those two are having too much fun. He stuck his head in. “Richie! Hetty would like to see you.”

“Hetty? She’s back?”

“Yep, bright and early this morning.”

“Uh, okay.”

“So . . . you are Mr. Everett,” said Hetty. She lifted her eyes from the laptop where she had Richie’s evaluation from Callen on the screen. “I have heard a lot about you.”

Richie swallowed once, then twice. In his short time at NCIS, he’d heard a lot about the woman seated in front of him. Amazing and scary things. Appearance-wise, she reminded him of his grandmother on his dad’s side. An austere woman who sometimes had difficulty coping with her more rambunctious grandkids, namely Richie and his brother.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I am Hetty Lange, Operations Manager.” She waved a hand. “Please. Have a seat.”

Richie slowly lowered himself into the chair and clamped his hands on the top of his thighs in an effort not to fidget. “Thank . . . you.”

Hetty studied him for a moment. “You seem rather nervous.”

Richie could feel the perspiration beading on his forehead. “Am I in trouble, Miss Lange?”

Hetty’s eyes narrowed and she leaned forward. “Trouble? Why would you think that? Have you done something wrong?”

“I . . . I don’t think so. I mean, I tried to do everything Eric and Callen asked me to.”

“Uh, huh.”

“And I have the utmost respect for Vanessa. She has a brilliant mind.”

Hetty nodded slowly. “Yes. Ms. Tran.”

“I really like this job. It’s awesome, in fact.” He paused. “If I’m being fired, can you just go ahead and do it? I can’t stand the suspense.”

Hetty laughed and Richie blinked in surprise.

“Fire you? Oh no, Mr. Everett. On the contrary, I’m about to offer you a full-time position here. Both Mr. Callen and Mr. Beale praised your work and recommended you. We feel you would be an asset to our team.”

The usually talkative Richie was temporarily speechless. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Then he recovered. “You do? An asset?”

“Certainly.” She slid a piece of paper across the desk to him. “All that’s needed is your signature.”

Richie glanced briefly at it. “No sh, I mean, no kidding!”

“Perhaps you would like to take it and read over it more carefully.”

“No need. I’m all in, Miss Lange,” said Richie eagerly. “Thanks, man, uh, ma’am.”

Hetty smiled and offered her Montblanc pen to complete the transcation. “In future, you may call me Hetty.”

Richie scrawled his name and grinned. “Guess I should get back to work then.” He jumped up and started to walk away.

“One more thing, Mr. Everett.”

Richie stopped and turned. “Yeah?”

“Please give my regards to Hazel.”

“Hazel.” A sense of foreboding came over Richie. He stared at Hetty, trying to decipher her expression. “That’s my grandmother’s name,” he said slowly.

“Of course it is. I play bridge with her.”

“You know my Gran-Gran?” His eyes went saucer-wide.

Hetty leaned forward and whispered. “I even know about the incident involving super glue and your sister’s hair.”

Richie sucked in a breath. “Holy crap.”

“That’s all, Mr. Everett. I believe Mr. Beale is looking for you.”

Richie hurried away to Ops and Hetty leaned back with a smile. She tapped her pen against the desk blotter.

Yes, it is indeed good to be back.

Her phone rang and she saw it was her sister. “Hello, Migs.”

“Hetty, how was your first day back?”

“Busy, but good.”

“Glad to hear it. I have some news that’s good and bad.” Migs paused to draw out the suspense.

“Are you going to tell me or should I use ESP?” asked Hetty.

“It’s about Gemma. She got the DEA job, which is good and means she will be closer to your Mr. Callen. But it’s also bad in that I will lose a most excellent neighbor.”

“I see.”

“On the other hand, I was thinking maybe you could buy her house. That way we wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves when you visit.”

“But when I visit you’re always running off to work or charity or community events. You’re hardly there.”

“Which brings up another point. I have a friend on the Board of Directors at the museum who would be perfect for Granger. She . . .”

“Oh, give it a rest, Migs.”

“No, seriously, she . . .”

“I’m hanging up now, Migs.”

But she didn’t. There was silence for a moment.

“I know you’re still there, Hetty. I can hear you breathing.”

Hetty tried not to snicker on her end. They always did this as children, seeing who would hang on the longest.

Click!

Migs stared at her phone. “How rude.”

The End


Continue Reading

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.