Chapter 1: "I've Wanted to Do That For An Age
Chapter One - “I’ve wanted to do that for an age.”
Nell Jones works long hours. By choice. In fact, nothing holds her attention better or longer than a puzzle. That's where her notions of work and play overlap, and it's what makes her exceptional at her job. OSP isn't for the faint of heart nor those lacking passion for what they do. And for the first time, she fits in with a team.
Everyone at NCIS was in and out of OSP at various hours, but the only other person who seemed to be there all the time was Callen. She first thought Lead Special Agent G Callen’s long hours were rooted in the same ethic as hers. They often passed one another during evenings in the breakroom for tea or coming and going to the gym. After a few weeks she realized he was mostly reading. Newspapers were delivered in six languages and he seemed to lean towards Russian literature for fiction. Nell took in her news from the web, but like Callen she preferred to read it in its language of origin. She left a copy of Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo on his chair, thinking he might enjoy the magical realism. She came back the following week to find Cueto’s La hora azul on hers. They idly discussed novels while making tea before wandering back to their separate workstations.
Nell trained as a field agent at Quantico before her tactical and analysis skills moved her to intel. When she mentions her desire to keep up training, Hetty simply adds her to the agents’ sparring rotation. Five in the rotation means they have four days a week training with a partner and one day solo training, which pleases the Special Agents. Because she’s tiny, Nell’s fighting style is extreme tactical defense based on years of mixed martial arts training. The first time they spar, Nell dismisses Sam’s careful approach and takes him down in two moves. It doesn’t happen again and they are exhausted when they finish. Sam takes her to lunch and they discuss attack tactics in depth. A high five from Kensi when they return make Nell laugh.
One evening after hours Callen dropped a thumb drive on her desk, offering dinner if she’d analyze it. They ate take out Chinese from the box, knee to knee at her workstation, staring at the screen, sifting data. Another night she called him to come up and look at some facial recognition results. He wasn’t as quick as she was with the computers, but his mind was sharply analytical, easily keeping pace with her thought processes. He seemed to enjoy solving puzzles almost as much as she did.
She memorizes his history as she backstopped his aliases. Sometimes information comes directly from him, other times from Hetty, or the files at NCIS, DEA and CIA. She strokes her keyboard absently while reading the psychologist’s dossier on the 37 foster placements and she backstops a legend through the small town in Nevada where he graduated from high school. Real is always easier. She only gets how thoroughly he disappears into deep cover when she realizes how little history he has. Perhaps easier to be someone else than himself. At least the legend has a story.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
G appreciates the arcanely familiar things Nell Jones sprinkles into his aliases. He enjoys her sense of humor. She created a legend for him as a left handed architect once. She turned him onto Latin American fiction, and they both read the Frontera. It was nice to have someone to joke with about Mexico City’s high society. Early on he assumed she spent so much time at OSP learning the ropes, but even after she knew everyone and everything as well as he did, there she was. Working out, shooting practice, and seemingly endless hours on the computers. She doesn’t like green tea and takes black teas with milk. He knows she orders kung pao or saag for take out. She’s probably the smartest person he’s met. He knows she keeps her Ruger in a fast release clip under her desk drawer and he likes girls with guns. Within a few months of arriving at OSP Nell, like Sam, is a reassuring fixture in his routine.
The first time Nell is scheduled to spar with Callen she is immediately irritated by butterflies spinning through her stomach when he arrives in the gym in shorts and t-shirt. He’s that kind of sporty gorgeous that never gave her a glance in high school. Way, way out of her league. No point in being attracted. She tamps the feelings down.
Sam refused to give G any insider info about fighting with Nell, instead repeatedly shaking his head and grinning. Noting her greeting glare he braces himself. And good thing. They make a perfunctory agreement to go first to three pins. They circle each other twice. When Nell sees G get distracted checking her out, she instantly drops and slides. Her feet make contact with his calf, tripping him. He falls well, rolling to his left. But she catches him before he regains his feet, sweeping his supporting arm out from under him and landing on his chest, a foot at his neck.
They’re not evenly matched at all, not even close. Nell knows the minute her foot makes contact, albeit gentle, with his neck Callen can take her easily. She feels the coiled strength of him beneath her, her hands flat on his belly. Except fighting her turns him on and he’s not sure what to do about it. He knows it, she knows it. If she didn’t have these damn butterflies, she’d take full advantage and beat him up. But, she can’t. They quit at two to two, too stressed to go to three and anyway it’s late. In the shower, Nell wonders how Kensi and Marty do it every week. More to the point, why. She is utterly drained. When she leaves the locker room her thermos is on the floor filled with ice and water. Callen is gone.
The next week Nell shows up in gym clothes with a lock pick set in hand. “If we have to work out, okay. But, I really need someone to teach me how to pick a lock.” Callen isn’t sure being curled around her while she stares down a lock is any easier than hand to hand. Maybe. Nell can’t make herself any smaller and pay attention. He smells good. She closes her eyes and concentrates on feeling her way through the tumblers. After a moment of nothing but breathing, listening and trying not to touch her, Callen’s gaze drifts to her face. Her mouth is slightly open, tip of her tongue pressing her upper lip. Damn.
The third week, Nell gets a text from Callen while she’s walking from the parking garage. Shooting re-cert coming up. Gonna practice if that’s okay with you. Join? Or let me know if you want to spar. Her grin is huge. She’s not the only who woke worried about this afternoon. She texts him back. Shooting it is.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Tonight Nell blows back through the front door of OSP at 8.30, having left fewer than 15 minutes ago. She skims around G without so much as a nod and takes the stairs at a run. He follows slowly, watching, bemused. She boots up her systems while using her teeth to take off the gloves he’d just seen her put on.
"Ha. Ha. Yes." A soft hiss from Nell. Intrigued, G leans over her shoulder.
She points. "Look, if I'm right, this trail of spending is someone else’s. What if Donaldson is there?" He pulls Eric's chair over to sit while she continues. "I think there are two patterns of spending on her accounts, not one." She nods. “Analyze this.” The computer screen in front of him lights.
"Then..." He pulls the keyboard over to key in the secondary searches.
"Yes." A hiss of pleasure from Nell makes him grin.
For several long minutes they work intently. Then G moves away and their eyes meet. "That's all we can do without more permissions." A thought crosses his mind that Nell, red hair peeking out from her green cap and a huge smile looks like she’s been gift wrapped. Unwrapping her would be a pleasure. His gaze travels from her head to her toes as boldly as a touch.
Callen’s eyes scorch an icy blue trail. Nell instantly recognizes this expression. Her mouth tips up at the corner. Slowly her brows rise, curiosity and desire lighting her eyes. Without thinking he stands and places his hands on her armrests. She rises into his arms. His mouth crushes hers and she kisses him back. His hands span her ribs and cross her back where one tangles up into her hair while the other slides to her waist pulling her tight against him. She grips his shoulders as her feet lift, nearly off her toes. “Ummm, nice.” Nell murmurs against his mouth. Kissing him is infinitely better than she’d imagined.
Callen sets her down and takes a deep breath. “I’ve wanted to do that for an age.”
“Me, too.” Nell tucks stray hair behind her ear, her gaze not wavering from his. “Come home with me?” Her eyes are the clear warm color of maple syrup, her invitation just as clear.
Having stopped on the way to her apartment for a box of condoms, just in case, G's thoughts trace back over the escalation of mutual attraction. Not something he planned, yet kissing her was something he’d wanted to do. Wants to do again. At her door he knocks, his mouth suddenly dry with a scary combination of anticipation and doubt. What is he doing here? The door opens and her extended hand clears his mind in the instant his senses fill with her.
Closing the door with a foot he bends to kiss her. As he lifts her, he presses her back to the door and she climbs him. She is lithe and strong. Her hands are on his belly, his slide up her thighs. There is no mistaking the want in her eyes. Clothing is peeled away, mouths skimming across skin. Soft fingers steal the condom from his hand, and his breath catches when she tears the foil with her teeth. Her legs around his waist, his mouth on her throat, the gentle slipping into and around each other, hot breath and teeth grazing along his collarbone, a squeak of pleasure, gasps, flashing filled, brimming heat lightning. Voices mingle, incoherent with hunger, as they find a rhythm and she quakes under him, arching into him, and then he’s gone.
They are sprawled on her entryway carpet, clothing strewn around them. It’s the most focused sex Nell has ever had and as her breath slows she revels in the cascade of sensations from the weight of Callen’s arm, his smell, his ragged breathing, the texture of his skin under her face. Unable to resist, she licks his collar bone. He faces her, catching her mouth with his and they begin again. Their eyes lock and she is amazed how utterly present he is as she tips into surrender and brings him with her.
By the time they reach her bed, they are four condoms into the box, laughing. she crawls across the bed and collapses on his chest. “No more, I can’t.” Her voice is hoarse.
“My god, woman, you are a force of nature.”
“You. I don’t know what you are.”
“Never underestimate the power of anticipation.”
“What were you anticipating?”
“More like imagining.” He props himself up on an elbow to cup her breast and kiss her chin. “Not that I could have dreamt up anything like that.” Nell’s gaze is serious, inquisitive.
Chapter 2: “Next time on the bed.”
Chapter Two - "Next Time in Bed"
Sex with Nell is intensely physical, they are somehow a match of needs and pleasures. G finds his way to her door most nights. He quests over her body, lingering over the satiny arch of her foot, the vine tattooed up her spine, the wisps of hair at the nape of her neck. She is an adventurous lover, and they have sex in the hallway on the way to her bedroom, on a dining chair and once in his car on the top level of a parking garage. When he accidentally popped two buttons off a blouse, her laugh spurs him to tear the offending item of clothing off of her. Consummation stirs contentment that’s been rare for him.
Nell looks forward to him in thirsty sort of way, loving how he doesn’t treat her as if she is fragile. He is undaunted when she climbs him, straddles him, tells him what she likes. He seems to have no ego in their play, willing to lead or follow, suggesting with a question or a touch. It is weeks before he allows his utter surrender, as amazed as she is at its completeness. In the aftermath he is gorgeous in repose.
Callen’s sleep habits are erratic at best, absent at worst. Nell is the first person he’s had any kind of relationship with at all who doesn’t care. In a 24 hours cycle, she will sleep six of them, typically at night, but not always. Her fixated work style transcends the clock and she often has no idea what time it is or how time passes. When she turns that focus on him, the result is a fiery intense pleasure. Where he is all outwardly tuned hyper vigilance, she is laser-like attention to detail. His vigilance invites her attention to what happens around her. Her focus treats him to long stretches of tactile tunnel vision. They arrange meeting whenever they can.
Nothing changes about work. Nell treats Callen exactly as she always has. He is the same with her. Work comes first. Days hold routine. The fine line between private and secret remains undisturbed. Nell expects Callen to mark off the territories of work and play with clear deliberation. It must be like any other cover. She holds herself to the same standard of behavior. It seems so unlikely that the Callen at work is the Callen in her bed most nights that she easily slips into her work self without reference to him. She wants to earn her way on this team uncolored by his favor. When she is alone at home she wonders if ‘Nell’s lover’ is another of his aliases.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Nell knows she is not Callen’s type. Can’t be; he is way, way out of her league. She doesn’t imagine he wants anything more than insanely yummy, safe, recreational sex. Which is fine with her, too. She simply doesn’t have time or energy at this point in her career to navigate a romance. Not to mention he is not the kind of guy she’s usually with. Her two semi-serious relationships had been with geeks like herself, guys who spent days squirreled away in an office carrel with her and multiple screens going full steam on a massive multiplayer role playing game complete with costumes. She didn’t even tell Will she carried a gun. He’d have completely freaked. Instead of worry about what G wants from a relationship, she plays.
A game of strip poker devolved to trading very specific sexual favors once they were both naked on the floor in his empty dining room. Two weeks later she greets him at her door with piece of paper in her teeth and an expensive handheld gps in one hand and a flashlight in the other. “We have to find a geocache for a friend.” Callen follows her into the night on the search for hidden treasure, while she explains that this is for a friend from college who is in some kind of geocaching competition. Twenty minutes later they have a large gold coin in hand, Nell texts a photo and something from the back of the coin to her friend and they are done. They are also standing on the roof of the Roosevelt Hotel behind the bar peering down at the walk of fame. Nell chortles. “He was sooooo sure I couldn’t do this.” She returns the coin. “Oh man, I love being first.” She chortles.
Her enthusiasm surpasses cute. Callen puts a hand in her hair, tilts her face to his and kisses her. She wraps her arms around his neck and hoists herself up, knees on his hips, skirt hitching. She kisses him back and her hand slides down his belly past his belt. With breathtaking suddenness they are making love in the cold night air standing on the roof paving. Two steps take them to the wall. He nudges the crotch of her panties aside and fills her. She gasps pleasure.. He groans, wonders for a flickering second how long he can hold her there. Then another thrust is all it takes to finish them both. He drops his head to hers, laughing.
“Oh god, what was that about?” Nell gasps for air.
“You.” He laughs.
“Oh no, that was you.” She accuses as he sets her on her feet. She demurely smoothes her skirt into place, watching him hitch up his jeans with twinkling teasing eyes. “Next time on the bed.” She shakes her head and touches his chin admiring. “You are lovely all fucked out like this, big guy. Those eyes.”
“Nothing like what you look like coming so hard your whole body blushed in the street lights. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” Nell feels heat rise up her chest. G brushed hair from her face. “Just like that.”
She digs an elbow into his side and wriggles free. “Come on. I could use beer.”
They stroll the 200 feet that takes them to the rooftop bar. They share a lounger, a beer for each, Callen lying back with Nell between his legs using his torso as her cushion. He tips his head back and takes in the city lights. Her head tucks under his chin. The only word he can think of is sweetness. He chuckles.
“What?” She tilts her head to see him but ends up kissing his chin.
He tucks her closer. “Just having a good time.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Huh.” He considers this and takes a long swallow. “Yeah, well.”
She shifts to kneel on his legs coming face to face with him, eyes clear and warm. “Recovered?” Her breath soft on his cheek.
This is what he means by sweetness. He kisses her. “I have.” He kisses her again. “Give me another half hour and you’re in trouble.”
“Promises, promises.” She settles back into his arms.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Four times G noticed the guitar propped on the wall beside the couch when he arrived at Nell’s. One night he hears a line of melody and leans on the door listening for long moments. If he hadn’t seen it he’d assume it is the stereo. But when he knocks the melody comes to an abrupt halt and seconds later she is in his arms, his mouth is on hers and the remnant of melody blurs into the taste of her breath, silk of skin under his mouth, her hand skimming up under his shirt. They rarely make it to the bed until much later in the evening. In a moment of respite on the couch he reaches over and hands her the guitar.
It’s been a couple years since Nell played for anyone. The mathematical precision of this particular Brahms intermezzi is so beautiful to her it aches. She embraces the ¾ sized classical guitar she’s played since she was five. The muscle memory of the music lives in her fingers, so she watches G while she plays. His blue gaze is warm on her face for a moment, then drifts to her fingers on the strings, then his eyes half close, the corner of his mouth tipped up in a smile of pleasure. She chuckles, and his gaze comes back to her. She stops, props the guitar on the wall. He catches her free hand and tugs her to him. He drops a kiss on the back of her neck. “Gorgeous.”
“Lot’s of practice.”
“Not that. You.”
A ripple of warmth traces her spine. She looks up to find him smiling at her. “Sometimes, the only way I can shake whatever we’re working on is transposing something from a piano score to guitar. Takes up the whole brain.” She admits with a shrug.
“Good idea.” He tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t really have anything like that.” His eyes glint wickedly. “Well… you.”
“I can’t believe I just played that for you.” Nell licks her lips. “It’s kinda daunting, hanging out with the superhero guy.”
“What are you talking about?” G is distracted from her words by the freckles on her shoulder and wanting to find every freckle on her.
“You know, goofy geek girl never gets the cool hunky guy. You are way out of my league.” She illustrates with a hand over her head.
G laughs. Nell stares at him, incredulous. Her dark hazel eyes show horror, or maybe humiliation, and G’s hands go up in surrender. “No.” He checks his laugh, but not the huge grin on his face. “Not laughing at what you said.” Her eyes narrow. He shakes his head. “Honestly. I’m… sorry, but I promise the reason guys don’t ask you out is not because they think they’re too good for you. It’s because beautiful, brainy and brave is a really scary combination.” He has regained his composure and even managed to turn the wattage of his smile down.
Nell’s mouth is a tight line of irritated skepticism. Unable to put words to her feelings she swats him. “I’m serious, you ass.”
“I know, but…” G looks skyward for a moment. “I…” He blows out air. “I’m going to be perfectly serious.” He levels a steely gaze at her. “From the moment I met you, being around you is like being struck by lightning. I cannot be the only man or boy who ever felt that way. Or feels that way, still. You are beautiful and brilliant. Not to mention you carry a Ruger and fight like a kunoichi. You’re fairly dangerous. That might stop a guy from taking you on. It’s a question of courage. Which is in short supply in high school, or college, or life for that matter.”
“That makes me sound like you.” She allows.
G cocks his head, speculation in his blue eyes. “Might explain this.” He gestures between them. “And, yes. You thinking guys are feeling superior is hilarious.”
“I never told my college boyfriend about the gun or ninjutsu.” She admits. “Seemed like it would freak him out.”
G sprawls back on the couch. “See, that’s what I mean. You had to dim yourself down for guys, not the other way around. You still scare me a little.”
Nell considers this for a long moment. She is still a little scared of him, too, although it’s waning. She takes another swing at him. He catches her wrist, ducks under her arm and kisses her and they begin again.
Chapter 3: “...hovering around each other forever.”
Chapter Three - "...hover around each other."
Something is different about G. Despite SEAL trained mad observation skill, it takes Sam a month and three cases to grasp. G wants to come home. And for a man who has never had a home, that surpasses weird.
Sam and his wife both know the risks of his job too well. Far less than when he’d been an active duty SEAL team member. Far higher than if he’d become a corporate security consultant. If he dies on the job, Michele and the kids will be ok. They’d be sad. But they’d be okay. All their plans for the future are carefully insured. With or without him, there will be bedtimes, bath times, birthday parties, graduations, pick-up games, holidays. But, he doesn’t want to miss any of it; wants to go home everyday.
G has never been that guy with a death wish. He’s careful with his team and with himself. More than a lot of guys Sam worked with G likes being alive. Even when G was basically living at OSP he never stopped watching his six. Now suddenly G, who has never looked forward to life with any sort of anticipation is looking. Sam isn’t sure what to make of it. Whatever caused the anticipation, it makes G better at the job. Of course.
The subtlety of the whole thing reminds Sam of the time Nell, noting G is ambidextrous, designed a legend for him who is left handed. Never one to leave a challenge to his adaptability skills unmet, G shifted from a slight right hand dominance to become left handed. Deliberate at first, then barely noticeable, then he simply was. G has been left handed since. Says he likes it, makes his brain sharper. G has changed in some fundamental way over the past month, which has eerily made his brain sharper, has him looking forward to coming home and Sam wants to know what.
Kensi notices G looks – well, better – for lack of a more precise assessment. She’s been immune to his good looks for a couple of years and suddenly she’s noticing again. He is leaner, fresher. He has shed the permanent haze of slightly tired he usually wears like some kind of deflecting camouflage. Now that she thinks about it, maybe it wasn’t cammo – maybe it really was the no sleep thing. Does that mean he’s sleeping? And if he is, what the hell does that mean? Kensi mentions this to Marty, who shrugs her off. Marty and G are alike in that their most annoying personality traits shroud a core of steely determination. Yeah, G’s grumpy and Marty is a puppy. Most days there’s a moment where she would gladly throttle the both of them. And G and Marty don’t interest each other much.
Marty notices Nell relax. All of her perk and playfulness is there, but something in the middle of her, almost a physical thing, just unwound somehow.
Everyone notices G spending more time in Tech Ops. He makes at least two unnecessary trips up the stairs per day. Sam watches G mount the stairs with a piece of paper in hand. Giving it to Nell, G leans in propping an arm on her desk. When Nell’s hand strays up the inside of G’s arm, Sam’s brow goes up. Nell, huh? Interesting. Once Sam knows what he’s looking at, it’s painfully clear. G and Nell leave work within 15 minutes every evening and a good two hours earlier than they used to go. G is texting twice more often. Nell’s eyes check on G when she’s not concentrating on work. G’s gaze falls on Nell first when they come back from a case.
They are in the locker room, wrapping their hands, getting ready to spar a couple days later. Sam gives Callen a long sideways look. “What’s with you and Nell?”
Callen’s eyes narrow. “What?”
“G. I have eyes. I know you. You are with her.”
Callen smiles. “Yeah. Well.”
Sam shakes his head. “Uh huh. You have good taste if you don’t have good sense. Relationships at work are tricky, G.”
Callen raises a shoulder.
Sam likes that G isn’t defending himself or putting out any deflecting bullshit. He nods once. “If you hurt her…”
“I’ll let you drive the Challenger over me.”
“Yes, you will.” Sam gives Callen a hard look. “Any reason you’re not telling anyone?”
“Nell worries about sleeping her way into her job.”
Sam laughs. “As if it’s worth putting up with your sorry ass for a job. That girl could go work anywhere.”
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Nell is heading out the door, clearly intent of getting somewhere she wants to be, and Marty can’t resist. When she passes, he catches the collar of her coat, effectively spinning her. “Nell Bell. Have a beer with me.”
Steadying her balance, Nell shakes her head. “No.”
“Pleeeeezeee.” He mock whines. “Just one beer.”
“Can’t. Have to be somewhere.” She says.
“Hot date?” He teases.
“Yep.” Nell’s eyes shine, her mouth pursed in a smug smile.
“Yes? Wait, what?” He stops clowning and assess her. “Damn. You do. With who?”
“Whom.” She turns towards the door, Marty dancing in front of her to block her escape.
Like he’s plucking the thought from her mind, Marty says. “Wait. Does Callen know about this?”
Nell stops and stares, heat rising to her cheeks. How on earth did he come up with Callen’s name in that moment? Her lips part slightly.
“Oh snap.” Marty doesn’t know where the thought came from either, but he’s used to his own brand of super psychic. “Ooooh, man.” Nell looks away and it’s enough to convict her. “It’s him, isn’t it?” He lets go a long low whistle of appreciation.
Nell shakes her head, eyes skyward. She steps around Marty again. She recognizes how perceptive Marty is. Even so, this means they’ve given something up. She’s sure Marty won’t gossip, but it’s just a matter of time before others notice. Notice what, exactly? She turns back. “Marty.”
His brows lift.
“How’d you know?”
“Had to be something.” He says slowly, trying to think of what it was. “You got all relaxed on us. Which is really nice, by the way. And then, honestly, you guys have been hovering around each other forever.” He shrugs.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
“Marty guessed us.” Nell tosses her bag on the floor next to Callen’s door. She folds her coat and leaves it there, too, stepping out of her shoes. G sits in his easy chair, a book in hand. She crosses the room and curls unceremoniously into his lap.
“Sam did too.”
Nell drops her face into her hands and leans against him. Callen’s hand rubs up her back. “Marty says I relaxed and we hover around each other.” Her hands muffle her voice. G’s laugh rumbles under her shoulder. “What did Sam say?” She looks up.
“We touch each other, which apparently we didn’t. And now I want to come home, which I didn’t before.”
Silence attenuates between them. Nell thinks it’s true they hover and touch. It’s really rare, and they try not to, but it used to be never. She guesses she has relaxed, which is kind of what contentment looks like. She snuggles under G’s chin, resting her head on his chest. “Is that true,” she begins softly, “you want to come home now?” More silence. She listens to the thump of his heart under her ear.
She decides he’s not going to answer. Or maybe, he doesn’t know. Then he says, “Nah. I doubt I’ll ever have a home in the sense Sam thinks of it. I think what he sensed is now I want to come back to you. Which I do. So, yes.” He drops a kiss in her hair.
Chapter Four - “Had to go and… to go and not go.”
It was just sex. Then, gradually it isn’t. The ease of being together, of sliding toward each other is gravitational. At two in the morning Nell brings a bottle of wine to G's house. They make love on the floor, drink the wine and talk about Dali’s ship of tears. She has researched him and quizzed him under the guise of building his legends. He has never been with anyone who knew as much about him as she does. Her intimate affection for both him and his various legends is so sophisticated he never has to think about being himself with her; it’s simply impossible not to be.
Eric whistles the team upstairs for a briefing on a dead arms dealer in Griffiths Park. Within hours Sam and Callen are in Idaho with RED team for week. The night they return Callen is on Nell's doorstep. He sweeps her into a wordless tight embrace, smelling of stale air and coffee. She peels his clothes off and runs the shower hot. Against wet tile he lifts her, a hand under her knee, her other leg around his hips. He tastes of soap and possession.
After a tedious day of paperwork she brings ramen and finds his bed pallet replaced with a thick cotton mattress on a low platform in the middle of his room. The Egyptian cotton sheets are a match for hers. An orchid stands tall in a slate black bud vase on the floor near the window. He tugs her onto the bed, undressing her with methodical tenderness, his mouth following his fingers across her body. Later he pulls on sweat pants and she dons his t-shirt. They eat reheated ramen at the kitchen counter talking about the Black Sea which they’d each seen from opposite shores 20 years apart.
In Kensi’s absence Hetty sends Nell out on case with Deeks. Nell in the field catches Callen by surprise and not in a way he is sure he likes. She sees consternation flicker across his expression. That he trusts her with a suspect during the takedown and she wins a grudgingly admiring smile from him when they make the arrests is as if Nell’s won the brass ring. That night he follows her directly home, parks his car behind hers, plucks the keys from her hand to unlock her door. He tastes every inch of her, stringing out her desire until she begs. He comes into her with something very near ownership, holding her wrists above her head. She takes him deep, arching up to meet him. For the first time he stays, and in the morning he kisses the bruises he’d left on her wrists. She kisses the one her heel stamped on his hip.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Nell uses her key. She leaves the box of photos on the floor near the door, wishing she could somehow unsee his unripe face in those stolen images of an infant’s expression already closed and wary. The house is dark. G sits in his chair beside an idle projector on a folding table. She crosses the empty room and climbs into his lap, touching her forehead to his. “Hetty told me.” His face is wet. He flinches and turns from her touch, but she insists, tenderly wiping his face with the palms of her hands and the hem of her t-shirt. She twines her arms around his neck and rocks. His tears soak hot through her shirt, branding her skin. “I know.” Her lips brush his ear. She doesn’t know, has no idea what seeing his father has felt like. She has seen her parents no less than weekly her entire life. Yet, like anyone she understands life is webbed with loss, colored in shades of grief. “I know.” She says again softly, her own tears spilling over. “Come home with me?”
After a night of white burgundy and making love on her couch, he is on his way out the door. “I gotta go.” His voice is low and rough. He wraps her hand around a burner-phone. “There’s a number in there. It’ll be on.” Without asking where or cautioning she nods, reaching up and pulling him to her for a kiss. For long moment he sinks into her gaze, gauging the surprising depth of her trust.
She reckons the depth of his trust the next morning as she overhears Sam’s concern and consternation telling Hetty Callen has gone. Watching Hetty’s resignation, Sam’s covert search, it all makes the phone in Nell’s pocket heavy. Callen left, but didn’t leave her. Which cannot be about sex. Though she could use the phone to both contact and track him she does neither. Every time Sam meets her eyes it feels as though he can x-ray her. No one asks if she knows anything about him at all. Kensi offers sympathy smiles and Nell figures Marty has told her. She upholds G’s silence in the face of her team’s struggle for eight days and nights, which can’t be about sex either.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Callen has a key, but doesn’t use it. When Nell drives into the parking lot, he is propped on her door jamb. He can't remember when he last slept or ate. She gazes through the windshield and he's not sure what to expect in the way of reproach. But this is where he wants to be, so he'll get through it. When she steps on the curb she collides into him and nestles her head against his chest. He closes his eyes and enjoys the solidity of her, he has missed being touched. She lifts her face to his. Pleasure and relief are mingled in her eyes. He didn't expect the simplicity of welcome.
She fixes eggs and toast while he showers. She brings the food into the bedroom and they eat on the bed, content to look at each other in measured glances. There is either too much to say or nothing. So they don’t talk. Done eating she puts her plate on the floor and curls up against his thigh, face pressed to his skin, needing the proximity. Eyes closed she breathes him in while he finishes his meal. Within moments he curls around her, resting his cheek on her hair. She experiences his slow settling, tension ebbs, his breath slows and he slips into an easy sleep. She matches her breathing to his and dozes.
Hours later, his presence dreamlike, she turns in his arms, he moves over her, in her, and the rush of pleasure is sumptuous, rising and electric with want and she clutches around him. G savors the intense hot wetness of her and realizes almost immediately there’s no condom. He stills, stunned and waking. Nell passes the magical point of no return, hands gripping his shoulders in a faint echo of the power with which she climaxes and his body is right behind her, she emits a gurgle of pleasure, he has no idea if he can stop. Surprise and fear is almost not enough of a braking force because he wants this, wants her, has missed her so deeply.
She senses his ambivalence and opens her eyes, he sees awareness hit her. She trembles and all he can think is how to pull out with letting go. “Oh god. I’m sorry.” Her whisper is ice through his veins. They disentangle slowly. He sucks in air. She frames his face with her hands fingers moving over his features. “You’re here.” She kisses him. For a few disorienting seconds she’s leaning away, tearing open a condom wrapper and gloving him with caresses. He slips into her with the fresh sense memory of the rawness of her skin against his and four strokes gets him off with the blinding intensity of heat lightning.
When he surfaces again she is pinned under him, but not protesting. He rolls off, an arm around her bringing her to his chest and she kisses him. She tastes salty and he pulls away to look at her. She is crying. “I’m sorry.” He whispers. “I… you were… and I…” He swallowed hard. “God, you felt really good. I promise I didn’t give you anything. And if…”
She is shakes her head, wiping her face. “Not that. I just didn’t know how scared I was you weren’t coming back.” She says, her voice is low and soft. There’s hitch in her breath before she can continue. “Damn it.” She scrubs at her face again, new tears spilling over her cheeks. Finally she meets his eyes. “So… you saw something you remembered in that film?”
“You went there.”
“Yes.” G is used to wondering if he will be able to stay somewhere, anywhere. This is the first time he’s ever wondered if he can leave. He’s not entirely sure he did leave. Not sure he can leave her again.
As if she hears his thoughts Nell reaches for the nightstand and picks up the burner phone. She turns it over in her fingers, then she taps it very gently on his chin, her gaze locked with his. “G, why’d you do this?”
He rubs his hand over his face. “Had to go and… to go and not go.” He admits this to himself as much as to her, recognizing how nuts it must sound. “I love you.” The only thing that makes sense. Like polishing up something tarnished, the feeling is so new it’s no wonder he doesn’t recognize it until he says it aloud. He loves this woman like he loves breathing. She stares with unwavering red-rimmed eyes. He goes on, “that house is still there. The woman living there remembers us. I sat in the backyard and stared at that swing-set.”
Nell drops the phone, frames his face with her hands, searching his eyes. “I need more than a phone next time.” She admits, “I can’t do it again without knowing, without helping. I just didn’t… I thought I could…” She is shaking her head in embarrassment, blushing deeply. “There are people in Romania who want to kill you.” She shoves him, headbutting his chest in frustration.
G wraps her tighter to him. “No one knew where I was. I used an alias. I was careful.” Hetty would have guessed, and clearly Nell did, too. He sighs.
“I know.” She wipes at her face. “I know you were. Of course you were.” She sucks in a deep breath. “I just…” She straightens, her hands dropping away from him. “Tell me about it. Did you remember? Do you...”
Missing her touch in even that instant he recounts for her. “Breakfast at an enamel table on the back porch, potato cakes and apple sauce and sausage. Running around a corner from the kitchen into the hallway. My father’s laugh. The smell. It smelled like belonging, comfort .” He closed his eyes. “It helps. It helps having memories. I have to go get them when I can.”
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Nell wakes up to sunlight filtering through the curtains. She stretches out and finds herself alone in the bed. She listens for a moment and finally hears G in the kitchen. She finds him standing at the kitchen window, sipping tea, wearing nothing but a very old pair of sweatpants that ride low on his hips. He turns, a smile breaking over his face. She walks over and leans into his chest. “Hey.” She takes the cup and sips, enjoying the hot liquid.
“I called in a personal day for you.” He says, bending to nuzzle her neck. She looks around at him, brows high. He retrieves his cup and moves to the stove to make a cup for her. Nell is nonplussed. He sees her questions in her face and chuckles. “I had to call Hetty.” He shrugged, dropping a tea ball into a mug. “So I told her about us and asked if you could have a personal day. She said yes.” He poured the hot water in the mug. “She also said she wants to see us in her office in the morning.”
Nell assumed Hetty already knew about them, after all Hetty knows everything. But Callen telling her is a different thing altogether. The relief she is not the only person who knows he’s here is tangible. “Call Sam?”
“I texted him last night before I jumped in the shower.”
Of course he did. She smiles. His ‘I love you’ still hangs between them, but this acknowledgement that he saw her before communicating with anyone else including Sam is a matching declaration of its own. He hands her the mug of tea. She wraps her hands around his. “I love you.” It is pleasing to say it, and she drops a kiss on his fingers before letting him go.
“I love you back.” He bends to kiss her mouth. His phone vibrates its way across the table top. He catches it, reads and looks up at her with a grin. “Sam. Where the hell am I since I didn’t go home last night.”
“He’s probably got Eric looking.” Nell laughs.
He types 'at Nell's' and puts the phone down. "That should hold him for a bit."
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
“I need to speak with Miss Jones.” Hetty’s tone excuses Callen.
Callen frowns, cocks his head. Until this moment he was fairly sure that this conversation wasn’t over. The confusion is clear in his narrowed eyes and gathered brow, but Hetty insists with her stare. After the slightest pause he nods and leaves the room, exchanging a glance with Nell.
“Sit down, dear.” Hetty waves to a chair.
Nell sits on the edge of the chair in front of Hetty’s desk. The not subtle reminders to them about the perils of romance on the job were at least gentle. Now Hetty’s gaze at Nell hardens. Nell has no idea what might be coming, feeling a bit like she’s in the principal’s office. Her thoughts race backwards, trying to determine if there is something she’s left undone, or not done well.
“Nell, despite all the outward appearances to the contrary I, for one, am well aware that you are far better equipped for intimacy than is Mr. Callen.” Hetty says firmly. “There is no romantic relationship in his past with anyone at all who knows who he is and what he does. There is every possibility in a relationship with you, someone who knows him well, he could be badly hurt. I must ask you to consider your intentions most clearly. And, if you are not utterly committed to a serious relationship with Mr. Callen, please go no further.”
Nell blinks. “I love him very much.” She admits in a near whisper. She has never seen herself as having any advantage in this, and her mind whirls a bit. Put this way, she gets the point. She nods. “I… can’t imagine not being with him.” She allows slowly. This is true, but not something she’s planned to share with anyone, hasn’t told him, certainly wasn’t thinking she’d be telling her boss.
Hetty gives a single judicious nod. “Very well then.”
Nell stands up, feeling very exposed. . She turns to the door, then turns back. “Hetty?”
“You love him very much.”
Nell grins. The two women smile at one another in accord. The same awareness she’d felt when she saw Sam this morning, and he had smiled at her warmly. It is a small club, those who love Callen.
She doesn’t make it to the stairs before G snags her hand. He motions to the gym with his head. In the hall he faces her. “She thinks I’m too old for you? She’s not sure you should…”
Nell interrupts him with a hand to his chest. “Stop. No. Of course not.” She tugs him further down the hall, looking for somewhere, anywhere private. At the file room she swipes her ID and pulls him inside. Wary of the video surveillance she backs him into a corner behind the copier. There she pulls him down and kisses him. “What’s wrong with you? No. She…” it occurs to her how odd this is going to sound. He has 14 years, 9 inches, and nearly a hundred pounds on her. Not to mention super secret agent man powers aplenty. She starts to laugh, “ ah, she’s worried I’ll break your heart.”
G cocks his head, stilling. A brow rises. His smile is slow, widening to a grin. “Really?” He drawls, considering. Nell offers a rueful nod. G thinks about this some more, then chuckles. “Well, at least someone other than me knows how dangerous you are.”
“I have no plans to break your heart, you know.” She whispers.
“I do know.” He answers. “I have no plans to hurt you, either.”
“That’s good.” She laughs. “Cause if you do, Sam gets to…”
G laughs, too. “I know, I know… drive the Challenger over me.” He bends to kiss her, softly and then more deeply. “I love you, danger mouse. I’m staying with you.”
So that's where we are. Might be done, or mabey more to come - we'll see where it goes. Hope you enjoyed - and do comment. Thanks.
Chapter 5: "I just couldn't help it."
Chapter Five - “I just couldn’t help it”
When Nell arrives up in Tech Ops, throwing her bag in a drawer, Eric focuses a laser-like stare at her. Arms akimbo, although he’s sitting, he looks fairly comical and she grins. “What?”
“You have something to confess?” He offers, brows almost touching his hairline.
Nell stifles a giggle. “I’m dating Callen.”
“How? How am I the last to know this?” He demands.
“Too busy working your special brand of magic on surveillance, I guess.” She shrugs.The compliments are definitely a bribe, and Eric shakes his head. But he’s smiling as he turns his attention to incoming intel.
“Here I am, day in and day out. I thought we were friends.” He intones. “I tell you everything. I get nothing.”
“Such bullshit.” Nell peers over his shoulder and the banter dies on their lips as they process the incoming message from D.C. “Hmmmmm.” She falls into her seat and boots up her systems. The messages from the CIA are coming in fast and thick. Her fingers fly over the keyboard, her attention fixed on unraveling bits of communication between someone in China and several someones in Chinatown that look to her well trained eyes like human trafficking. “Well, shit.” She mutters.
Eric pulls up drivers license photos, and arrest records pop up behind them. “Do they want us to give this to homeland, LAPD, what?”
“Hang on.” Nell continues simultaneous reading and sorting. She pulls up several local newspaper articles and newscasts. “They aren’t saying.”
Below, Kensi and Marty are bickering over a maple glazed donut. G and Sam are doing paperwork, grumbling to each other about gas mileage. Just another average morning at OSP. Nell smiles. She reaches over a touches Eric’s arm. “We didn’t tell them, goofy. Sam and Marty guessed. Marty told Kensi. We didn’t tell anyone. Well, G told Hetty, but she knew.”
“Why the hell not?” Eric asks without looking away from his monitors.
“Seriously? Would you say anything if you were dating one of them?”
That gets a laugh. “I wouldn’t be dating one of them.”
Nell laughs, too. “No, I guess not.” She has parsed the intel into packets that begin to form a picture. Girls being transported here from North Korea. Maybe. “How are they getting here?” She mutters.
Eric flashes through video feeds from the port. “Containers?”
“We’ll need to take a look on the ground.” Hetty speaks from behind them, having materialized there without a sound.
Eric is up and at the top of the stairs, his whistle cutting through activity below. “We’ve got a case.”
Callen brings a bottle of white wine, as instructed, and finds Nell’s apartment smelling like heaven.
“Hey you.” Nell greets him with a kiss. “Put that in the fridge?”
“Yeah.” He watches her head back into her bedroom, there are powdery white handprints on the ass of her jeans he suspects are flour. He grins.
“I’m on Skype with mom.” Her voice floats back to him.
Listening to the rise and fall of her voice in the other room, G pours two glasses of the wine. He leaves the bottle in the fridge and leans in the bedroom doorway. Nell glances up, smiles and waves him over. He sets the wine glass on her desk. Sliding back on the bed, he reclines and closes his eyes. Nell sips and talks about her brother’s move to Minneapolis, something about a car repair, a cousin’s pregnancy, a camera and is she seeing anyone. G opens his eyes with interest.
“Yes, mother, I am dating someone.” Nell offers.
“You have?” Her mother sounds genuinely surprised. “Tell me about him.”
“He’s a friend from work. We have a lot in common, we just kind of went from there to dating. It’s nice.”
“I have an insane crush on him. He’s really good looking, smart and funny.” Nell divulges with relish. “It’s weird to date someone I work with, but he’s kinda irresistible. I just couldn’t help it.”
“Sounds like fun, sweety.”
“Definitely fun. A little intense. I’m not used to such strong feelings.” Nell’s voice dips, and she swallows wine. “Anyway. It’s nice.”
“I would tell you to be careful and all that. But, it’s about time.” There is affectionate laughter in her mother’s voice. “If you’re still seeing him next month I’ll want specifics.”
Nell snorts. “Geeeze.” She waves her mother off. Her gaze flickers to G so briefly he nearly missed it. “I gotta go, Mom. I have to finish cooking dinner.”
“Cooking dinner? Good lord, you must be serious.”
“I’ll call next week.”
“Love you, bunny.”
“Love you, too, Mom.” A flurry of goodbyes accompany Nell closing the program. In the silence she leans around the monitor and meets G’s eyes.
“Nice huh?” He asks.
She comes to the bed. “Very nice.” She clambers over him and settles on his lap. She kisses his chin, his cheek, his brow, his lips. His mouth opens under hers, cool and tasting of wine. “So nice.” She murmurs. She deepens the kiss, running her hands under his shirt, caressing his skin.
“You have an insane crush on me?” He rolls, lifting over her. She squirms, pressing her hips up against him. “Really?”
“Oh, I do.” She licks his collar bone, grazing his skin with her teeth. “I also love you.” She grinds up towards him. “I want you.” Her legs come up around his waist. “I adore you.” She frames his face with her hands. “I desire you. I crave you. I need you.”
G kisses her into silence. He peels her sweat jacket, blouse and bra straps down in one motion to taste flesh. He sighs and reached to take a breast firmly in his mouth.
The tug ripples down through her. “Aye.” She arches upwards to shed her now extraneous clothing. He sets about to taste every inch of her, claiming her with kisses and hands. Nell revels in his touch, her breath heavy and quick as his mouth trails across her belly and he unzips her jeans. She’s naked when his tongue darts up into the wet tender center of her. She cries out, her fingers trailing through his hair, she gives in to the building explosion in the center of her.
The sweet musk taste of her is dizzying. G unsnaps his pants and wriggles out of them without leaving her, then frames her hips with his hands and pulls her closer, lashing into her with his tongue. He glances up, withdrawing to move over her and the sight of her in the glare of the late day sun is dazzling.
She whimpers as he withdraws his lips from her, then he fills her, moving completely into her until her senses blur and the air leaves her in a long delicious sigh. He stills, thrust entirely up into her, until she opens her eyes and their gaze locks. A sensation of falling sweeps him and he dares not move yet. She answers with an upward thrust of her hips that tosses her head back as she gives herself to it and clenches around him. A throaty growl of satisfaction escapes her and propels him. He drives into her hard and fast, his urgency casting her toward oblivion. The primal rhythms crash through them. Nell pulls him down to her, biting into his shoulder, her fingers digging into the muscles of his back. She nuzzles into his neck and loses herself in the quick rise of and fall of him over her. When she comes again the depth of it robs her of anything beyond the power of him moving inside her.
G wants her with a physical hurt. Wants all of her. He wants her utterly. She pulls him into her deep and hard, wiping away all boundaries. Her surrender takes him with her and for a moment he vanishes into her, his orgasm surging up, through him, through her, and he is lost.
Breathless, they stare for long moments. Then Nell starts to laugh, pleasure bubbling around in her belly. “If you’re gonna make love to me like that mister, I’ll have to take you home to meet my family.” She props up on an elbow and traces a fine line of downy hair from his breastbone to his belly.
“So I can explain,” she kisses his shoulder, “how I’m going to spend the rest of forever with you.”
“Well then, okay.” He tugs on her hair. “But I could use some dinner first.”
Chapter 6: "That can be arranged."
Chapter Six - “That can be arranged.”
The realization he’s left Nell alone in the boathouse with a serial rapist and potential murderer crashes onto G nearly drowning him in instant fear. As a result, Sam and Marty are a half step ahead of him out the door. The three men race down the steps and across the yard to the docks. Sam reaches to boathouse door first and crashes through it yelling. Confronted with Nell digging a knife into her assailant’s thigh, Sam continues into the room at high velocity. The suspect reacts to the door banging open by lifting Nell off her feet. He hurls her at Sam and attempts to go around them, only to be confronted by Marty’s gun.
The desperate commotion in the room comes to an abrupt stop. Sam gathers Nell in his arms for a brief tender second and then hands her to G. Jacking the suspect’s arm up behind his back to cuff him, Sam reads him his rights as he and Marty haul him out of the room and toss him face down on the grass.
“Nell.” G kneels to lay Nell on the floor where he can see her. They are both covered in blood and his face drains as he takes this in. “Are you…”
“It’s not mine.” She assures him, trying to sit up.
“It’s not my blood. I’m okay.” Her hand goes to her face and she winces. “Ow.” There’s a gash over her left eye bleeding into her ear.
G touches her face. “Let me look. Be still.” His voice is very soft and a bit hoarse. “That’s gonna need a couple stitches. We ought to get you…”
“No. No hospital. You do it.” She says. She’s still scrambling to get up. G stands and hoists her easily to her feet. She sways against him and he feels that she’s shaking. He knows the symptoms of adrenalin cascade too well.
“Compromise. I’ll put a few butterflies on to hold it. Get you a quick nap. Then hospital and stitches.” He takes her hand and squeezes. “Come on. We’ll get you cleaned up first.” He leads her back to OSP and into the bathroom with the first aid kit.
Nell looks at herself in the mirror and grimaces. “Well, shit.” She leans toward the mirror for a quick inventory. Blood drips down her cheek and neck now, pooling in the hollow of her collar bone. Red marks on her forehead and cheek will be full on bruises by evening. The bastard’s hands left crystal clear imprints on her arms.
G lays the first aid kit open on the counter. “Hey. Come ‘ere.” He turns her from the mirror to face him and lifts her chin. HIs mouth is soft on hers for a second. “It’s gonna be a minute before we can do this. We’ve both got the adrenalin shakes.” He hold up his hand and hers. “You were pretty amazing in there. You beat the shit out of that guy.”
“Shouldn’t have let him get my gun away from me.”
“If you’d known who he was, you wouldn’t have. We thought he was a low level thug, too, not a killer.”
“Still.” Irritation is clear in her voice. She rolls her eyes, attempting to lighten it up with a half smile. “Lucky for him you guys showed up. I was gonna kill him.” She hears the sharp edge of truth in the statement as she says it and bites her lip.
“Mmmm.” G pulls out paper towels and wets them in the sink. He wipes blood off her chin, cheek and from the strands of hair around her face. Nell washes her hands and pulls back her hair. G wipes more blood streaks from her arms. “Here. Hold this.” He puts a wet compress on her brow and covers it with her hand. He unbuttons her blouse. “You’re gonna need a go bag nowadays.” He comments. “Come on up where I can see.” He lifts her to sit on the counter, bringing her face level with his in the light. He lifts the compress away and gets to work on the gash in her brow.
Nell stares while he ministers, noticing again the fine lines around his eyes and how blue and intent they are. His fingers are careful and gentle. He is so close she feels his breath on her face, could count his lashes. His presence is an unspeakable comfort. She feels safe in the protective curve of his shoulders and arms. She loves the feeling and hates that someone made her want this. Her eyes fill and tears spill over. She’s not sure if she’s angry or scared or tired, probably all of the above.
G sees the tears. He knows he’s not hurting her, and suspects she doesn’t want to be babied. He holds the cut closed and applies butterfly bandages with slow care. When he’s done, he surveys his work. Satisfied he drops a kiss on her nose and hands her a paper towel. “Want to tell me what happened in there?.”
She shakes her head, swallowing back the last of the tears. “It’d just piss me off.”
He gets that. “Okay.”
“I’ll catch a nap on the sofa. We can stop at the doctors on the way home.” She hops off the counter. “After we get the paperwork done.” She splashes water on her hot cheeks and dries her face.
G sits at the table in the break room where Nell sleeps. He taps away on a laptop, doing his paperwork and as much of hers as he can. Marty wanders in and makes a cup of tea. “You know she would’ve cut his femoral artery if we’d been much later. He’s got puncture wounds in his upper chest and both legs.” There’s awe in his voice, mingled with concern. “She alright?”
“Think so.” G says. He wipes a hand over his face. “Hard for me to think of her as one of us. But there we are.”
Marty makes a noise. G looks up, his eyebrows rising. Marty sips from his mug of tea. “It’s not about doubting her skills or ability. It’s more about the evil man code that we have to protect our women. Like they’re actually ours.”
“We talking about me, or about you and Kens?” G leans back in his chair.
“Probably both.” Marty shrugs, his smile lopsided. He tips his mug in G’s direction. “When you’re in a love with a women who can take you down in two and outsmarts you daily. There’s moments when it’s like be a man or be with her. A false dichotomy for sure, but there all the same. Fighting a damn mirage. But those moments pass.”
G strokes his chin and nods. “It get easier?”
“To be a good guy? Yeah. To watch them wade into the fray? Nope. Gets harder. At least for me. But, definitely worth it.” Marty’s grin is huge and contagious.
G shakes his head and nods in a rueful mix of chagrin and agreement.
G reluctantly opens the plastic container of cut veggies and takes several carrot sticks. He gives them a long look.
“It’s good for you.” Sam chuckles, shaking his head at his partner’s consternation.
G’s gaze shifts to Sam, skeptical and resigned. “I’d prefer fries. Or chips. Chips would be great about now.” He pops a carrot stick into his mouth and chews.
“Yeah, and you’d be nodding off in half an hour.” Sam lifts binoculars and peers across the park. They are parked on a service road running behind the small park directly from where they have a good view of the office building they have been staking out for two nights. Kensi and Deeks, who scored the day shift, have recorded a lot of coming and going, although none that involves their suspect. Absolutely nothing is happening at night.
“Vegetables are not what keeps me awake.”
Sam shoots him an annoyed look. “You know what I meant, G.” He returns to his surveillance. “Anyway, Michele says you’re on a diet.”
“I’m not on a diet.” G protests.
“That’s what she says, man. Talk to her. I personally don’t care if you’re fat.”
G eats another carrot. “I’m not fat.”
“That’s because Mitch has you on the diet.” Sam’s tone implies the subject is closed. “Fifteen minutes and you’re up.”
G tucks the veggies back in the hamper Michele sends with them on stakeouts. He stretches his arms. “Nell’s going to her parents’ for the weekend. Someone’s baby shower. I was thinking about asking if I could tag along.”
“You’re in a bad way if you’re wanting to go to baby showers.”
“I was thinking I’d like to meet her family.” G admits.
“Have you ever met a woman’s family?”
“I didn’t think so. Listen, it’s a great idea, but you want to wait until you are invited. It’s a big deal to introduce a boyfriend to the parents. Nell might not be ready for that. She might not have even told them she’s seeing anyone. Might not be the right time to turn up with someone.”
G considers this. “I’m gonna take a stretch. Then I’m up.” He climbs out of the Challenger stretching his back and legs. Nell hasn’t said anything serious one way or the other about meeting her family. But he knows she’s told her mom about him. And her sister. Maybe even a cousin. He texts her.
You okay with me meeting your folks?
I was thinking about coming with you this weekend: Sam says it might be too soon.
oh. not too soon. come with.
Super short texts mean she’s still at work. He sends xo, getting an x in return. He takes a quick jog twice around the car and climbs back in. “She’s says not too soon.” He takes the binoculars and focuses on the doors. “I’m going.”
Sam starts in on celery sticks and water.
G has never been to a baby shower, so he has nothing to go on, but this is not what he pictured. Instead of some two hour affair where the women go off and do something with infant clothing they think is too cute for men to participate in, this is a full on keg party. People brought gifts, and they are cute, but everyone’s family is here, men women and kids. The grill is fired up, people spill from the kitchen onto the porch and into the yard. Paper lanterns crisscross the backyard giving off a warm yellow glow. Music plays. There’s a t-ball game going in the side yard. He mans the grill, which gives him a way to stay busy despite not really knowing anyone.
Nell brings a tray of shrimp and vegetable kabobs out. She sets them beside the grill and leans on him. "Sit rep, Mr. Callen?" She does an excellent Hetty impersonation. G cocks his head. She shrugs. "You're surveilling. I want the situation report. Give.”
He complies while flipping burgers. “Your mother thinks I’m complicated enough to hold your interest. Your father thinks I’m far too old for you. Clare and her boyfriend are living together, but haven’t told anyone. I scare your brother half to death. I’m a little worried about your parents’ attention to the house, but it’s nothing we can’t remedy. Uncle Fox has been ready to leave for half an hour. The best escape routes are either over the side fence, or maybe through the basement to the side window. Best vantage might be the kitchen. And as far as I can tell, none of these nice folks has met any Nell boyfriends before. What’s that about?”
“Hmmm. I was wondering about Clare and Billy. Thanks.” Nell ignores his question. “Looks like food’s ready.” She waves her sister over and they begin taking filled platters to the long tables up on the wrap around porch.
An hour later, excused from clean up because he cooked, G snugs an arm around Nell’s waist and herds her into the yard. Pulling her close he two steps to the music. “How are you holding up?”
“Good?” She frowns up at him.
“You were looking a little frayed there.” He said. She follows nicely, so he moves them into a boxstep. “You dance.”
“As do you.”
“Handy.” He swirls her across the soft grass, the lanterns sparkling in her eyes. She keeps time with him and they just enjoy the rhythm and the motion. “What did you say to your dad?”
Her gaze comes to his, brows gathered.
“He’s a lot more relaxed about me now than he was before dinner. I know I haven’t done anything.”
“Oh, that.” She grins. “I told him about foster care, and how you don’t have a family.” G cringes. She smoothes a comforting hand over his chest. “Which, I told him, is why you have been so careful about loving and committing.”
“You been talking to Sam?” He groans.
“Of course I talk to Sam. Anyway, what you didn’t know is that Dad was a foster kid. He wasn’t adopted until he was in his early teens.”
G’s glance goes to Charlie Jones. That explains both the resonant familiarity of the man and the cautiousness. It explains Nell’s ease with G a bit, too. Charlie looks over and their eyes lock. There’s more acceptance there, as G suspects is true for him, too. With a small nod he spins them away and rests his cheek in Nell’s hair.
“I’ve always wanted to sleep with Greg Kinsey. Is tonight my chance?” She asks.
G throws back his head and laughs. “You miss nothing woman. Okay, yes, when I ran out of credible things to say I drifted into that legend. It’s my favorite.”
“Ooooh, and just think. I made him up.”
“Based on me.”
“Sometimes when we’re making love, I fantasize you’re him.”
G’s eyes flash over her face. “That can be arranged.”
G strolls across the small campus, taking in the college nightlife. He lets the easy demeanor of Greg Kinsey slip completely over him, his stride smoothing out and slowing. His thoughts drift into a more acutely visual frame of reference. He checks out the design of the buildings, seeing the old and the new, sometimes seamlessly complimentary, other times clashing across a parking lot. The campus is formal, symmetrical, traditional. It’s also comfortable.
He finds the library easily and climbs the steps at a lope. Inside the revolving door he enjoys the smells of wax, wood and old paper. The air-conditioner is a force to be reckoned. He’s glad he’d stopped for a jacket. He snags a map of the library and quickly sorts out where to find architectural photographs. An elevator delivers him to the sixth floor and he spends a half hour or a little more looking at large format photographs of 19th century buildings in New York City.
Nell browses the poetry stacks. Her fingers linger over e.e. cummings, Robert Frost. She tugs her hoody tighter around her in the chill. She’s surprised by a volume of Robert Louis Stevenson she hasn’t read since grade school. She opens it and reads about the land of counterpane, a smile breaking over her face. She slides the book back into place. She finally settles on a book of Anne Sexton’s poems. She sinks to the carpet and leans back on the stacks, reading. It’s a lovely reprise from the business of her parents’ house. She has always loved this spot, this book, these words.
G sees her first, between the shelves. She’s changed into jeans and a hoody over her pale green blouse. Her tennis shoes are propped one on the other as she turns a page. She’s near the end of the aisle and it’s easy to back around the corner and run into her. “Excuse me, I…” He turns and looks down at her wide-eyed surprise. “I didn’t know you were there. Down there.” He smiles. “What are you doing there?”
Nell scrambles up. “I’m sorry. I was totally oblivious.”
“I’m sorry I interrupted. What are you reading?”
She held up the book. He reads the title. “…and when we touch we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.” He quotes from Lessing’s ‘The Truth the Dead Know.’ Her astonishment is deeply pleasing.
“You know this?”
“I really appreciate Ms. Sexton’s work.”
“Um… uh.” It’s been years since she’s stammered. She swallows. “I’m also a fan.”
“I’m Greg.” G extends a hand.
Nell takes it. “Naomi.” She’s pleased to see how much this startles him. He wasn’t expecting her to also have an alias. Very pleasing.
“It’s nice to meet you, Naomi.” G slides a book off the shelf beside them and opens it idly. He leans on the shelves. “I guess you were planning to be here for awhile.”
She shrugs. “I lose track of time up here. I didn’t have anything else to do tonight so…” She glances around.
“That’s hard to believe.” G smiled. “It’s a Saturday night.”
“Ah yes, the life of the graduate student. When I get tired of writing, I come up here and read.”
“Oh, I remember that well.” He laughs.
“Do you teach here?”
“Yes, well kind of. I’m visiting this semester, teaching a course in the school of architecture. I teach at UCLA.”
Nell casts a questioning gaze around the library before her eyes return to his, brows up.
He lifts one shoulder. “It’s a good spot for a Saturday night.” He concedes. “Especially when you don’t know anyone. Maybe you can point me to a good all night coffee shop? The only places I’ve found close at 9.”
She laughs. “Small town. The real secret is that this is the best all night coffee spot in town. But you have to know where the coffee is.” She gestures with a conspiratorial nod, inviting him to follow her. Leaving the book open on a nearby shelf, she leads him back to the elevators. “The staff lounge is in the basement. If you like to work at night you have to know where this is.” Down a brightly lit hallway lined with antiquated card catalogues, she opens a door revealing a warmly furnished lounge. She flips on lights, casting a deep yellow light into the room. Overstuffed leather chairs and couches form conversation groups around coffee tables. Large mismatched rugs cover much of the concrete floor. What used to be a circulation desk in the center of the space is equipped with a commercial refrigerator and a Breville Barista Express. “No staff, but otherwise pretty much everything you need.”
“Can you work this thing?” G takes in the espresso maker skeptically.
She grins. “What are you having?”
She makes them latte and they lean on the counters talking about architecture and French literature. Over second cups they lounge in armchairs opposite each other, aliases slipping back a bit, and talk about school. The conversation winds down as G helps Nell clean up.
When they reach to door, as she flips the switch that pitches the room into darkness, G touches her arm and she turns directly up against him. “Thanks for this evening.” He murmurs. The air is suddenly too thick to breathe.
Without a thought Nell lifts her chin and then his mouth is on hers, firm and gentle. She takes in a swift breath as his lips part and he leans to her. His mouth is hot and tender, and she rises up to meet his kiss. She opens her lips to the touch of his tongue. The taste of him is dark and amber and inviting. Lightning traces down her spine. He draws back slowly and she realizes his hand is at her waist, the other hand on the side of her face. Her mouth is hot, “oh.”
He doesn’t move away, instead he caresses her jaw with a fleeting motion tracing down her neck. He leans against her until her back is flat to the door. His forehead to hers, they stand for a long moment. The sliver of air between them thickens and slows. Nell leans slightly away and unbuttons the top button of her blouse. G’s head falls to her shoulder. He braces himself with both hands on the wall. Nell feels him take a deep breath, his chest rising toward her. He nuzzles into her neck, his mouth finding the tender hollow there, making her catch her breath. She loosens another button as he kisses her breastbone tenderly. “If there’s a ‘no’ coming, I’d rather hear it now.” He whispers.
“Please. Don’t stop,” escapes her on a sigh and she surrenders against the wall. G’s lips graze across the top of her breasts. He tugs her shirt off her shoulders, slipping down her bra straps. Her arms lightly pinned behind her by her clothing, fire licking up inside of her, Nell’s head goes back. Her breasts spill from the lacy fabric and she moans aloud when he suckles.
Sinking to his knees, G pops open the button of her jeans, peeling down the zipper and waistband in one motion. “Oh, god.” Nell whispers when his tongue dips under the edge of her panties and caresses bare skin. Wriggling slightly she sends her jeans to the floor and steps out of them spreading her legs to the pressure of his fingers rubbing over thin material. He presses his face to her, the heat of his breath sliding over her swollen flesh.
G tastes the hint of her as her panties go wet. Desire crashes up, needs barely contained. He strips her panties off and unbuckles his pants. Coming to his feet he grips her hips tightly and comes up into her in a single powerful thrust that forces her off her feet against the wall and brings her knees to his ribs. Suspended there between G and the wall, her arms still tangled behind her in her shirt, his rise full up into her causes a crash wave of pleasure, a long series of explosions rock through her.
G holds her there and swallows back the urge to slam into her to satisfy his own threatening need. Balanced a little precariously, he savors watching her come, grateful for her total surrender to it. Her head tilts back, eyes glossy and unfocused, lips wet and open, breath ragged.
The fire ebbs and Nell shifts ever so slightly, looking at G with shiny dark eyes. She arches her back and frees her arms to wrap them around his shoulders. He sucks in breath as she moves around him magically, puts her face close to his. “Come with me now.” She whispers, clenching close her weight shifts and she frees him to move against her and rocked her hips invitingly.
Helpless to hold back any longer G’s head whips back and he drives into the hot, slick depth of her, losing himself instantly to the powerful tide that overtakes him, pouring into her. The fierce heat of his explosion caught fire in Nell’s belly and she comes a second time. He finds her mouth and holds her captive there, filled with him, wrapped up in him and around him, their tongues dancing together sensually slow as the searing passion subsides with a soft throbbing glow. For a long moment she can’t get enough of him, can’t get close enough.
He drinks in the urgency of her embrace, tension slacking out of his body, deeply satisfied. Her breath is ragged in his mouth and he hears or feels a note of desperation in her. He drags his mouth from hers and disentangles his feet from his pants without letting her go. Then he gathers her completely to him. “Come here.” He tucks her up against him and rests his head on hers. “It’s amazing that you do that to me.” He admits softly into her hair. He’s a little dizzy and leans them on the wall. “Amazing.”
Nell nestles her head to his chest, eyes closed tight. She listens to his heart pump under her ear and hears his chuckle vibrate.
“Quite a storm.” He comments, tugging on her hair. “I wasn’t expecting….”
Her sigh is deep and satisfied. “Well, it’s not every night a girl gets to live out three of her fantasies.”
“What was the third?”
“Perfect.” Nell grins. “That was just what I needed.”
Chapter 7: “You built me a legend.”
Chapter Seven - “You built me a legend.”
It has happened before. Nell watches gunfire erupt behind G’s car across four monitors, sees the rear windshield craze. Both cars car speed past the camera, then they are looking at parked cars until Eric finds the Mercedes skidding to a rubber burning halt because a filthy brown van is headed directly at it, effectively trapping them. Without realizing it, Nell keys her comms “Back-up, shots fired, agents engaged.” Her fingers fly over her keyboard sending the location to Kensi and Deeks, two separate emergency response teams and LAPD.
G slams the car into reverse and backs toward the mouth of the alley. Gunfire from the rear begins to crumple the rear windshield. As the van gives chase, G continues backing the car towards the men on foot despite the barrage of gunfire peppering the back of the car. Nell has the street map up in front of her. “There’s a through driveway coming up on your left.”
G backs past the driveway and then shifts into drive, taking the corner on squealing tires. Despite that now more than half their opposition is down, the others keep coming.
“Who in the fffff are these guys?” Eric mutters beside her.
“Mercs.” Her voice is low, she has a photo she snagged from the video feed running through photo-recognition. It hits and she reads. To read is to analyze. “Abraham Stanislov. Russian merc, interpol tagged him with the Isayev family two years ago. G, they are after you.”
“Mmmm.” G’s growl shudders through her. He drives into a parking lot where he slams on brakes. Nell’s fingers are numb, but working perfectly. She’s cold and feels helpless. Yet, she puts all Stanislov’s known associates she can find on her screen and begins reading them out. Shots continues to ring over comms. A door in the building they are retreating toward swings wide and a woman levels a handgun directly at G. A line of bullets tears across his back, spins him to the ground. Everything in Nell’s body goes to ice. She stops breathing, searching the image for blood. A crimson stain blossoms on his shirtsleeve.
“G!” Sam returns fire and the woman drops. Kensi and Deeks round the near corner, guns up. Thier gunfire knocks down another shooter and his rifle clatters across the pavement. Two LAPD squad cars stop feet from where G lies on the ground with Sam’s hand on his chest. One of the men behind the Mercedes falls and Deeks clears the alley.
“Sending medical.” Nell’s voice is so far away she can hardly hear it. She texts the request for an ambulance.
“Stay down, G.” Kensi’s mutters. “We’ve got visual. Three down.” Sam and Deeks are discussing putting Callen in Kensi’s car.
Nell whispers. “Kens?”
“Sam’s got him, Nell.” Kensi says. “He took two bursts, five to the vest and one grazed the upper left bicep. We’ve got him.”
“You’ve got medical on scene.” Eric says.
Nell closes her eyes, numbness turns to tingling. The siren dies, doors are opening and closing. A woman is crying. Sam and Deeks are talking over each other, then the med techs are getting vitals. Nell’s breath stutters to a halt again. Someone tried to kill him. Set out to kill him. Nearly killed him. Still wants to kill him.
Comms fall silent. There’s a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, you okay?” Eric. She shakes her head, no. She can’t feel her body.
G’s voice is in her ear through Kensi’s comms. “Coming in.”
“No Mr. Callen.” Hetty materializes behind Eric. “Sam is coming in. Miss Blye, escort Miss Davos to the hospital. Mr. Deeks, take Mr. Callen into protective custody until we know what this is. Mr. Beal will text you instructions.”
The team waits for Callen to argue, but there is only silence. Hetty nods. Eric has found them on the traffic cameras and Kensi’s car, with Deek’s behind the wheel, is picking up speed toward the highway. Nell glances over to see Eric has sent them a safehouse location north of Sausalito with instructions. 6 hours away.
“Ms. Jones. Please collect Mr. Callen’s go bag and meet him at LAX.”
“Hetty, I need to…” Nell tries to resurface from the panic.
“We all need you to acceed to my request., Ms. Jones. Without delay.” Hetty says, steel in her voice. “Do not go to Mr. Callen’s house or your apartment.”
“Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.” Eric intones.
“Exactly.” Hetty nods once and turns.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Nell opens G’s locker, looking for his duffel. What she finds is a beat-up leather roller bag. She frowns, checks that this is indeed his locker. She examines the bag again, flips up the luggage tag and reads the name of the first legend she’d built him from scratch, his favorite, Gregory Garrett Kinsey. The matching passport , driver’s license and three credit cards are in the front zip pocket. A second passport is there, this one Canadian and she discovers her photo above the name Naomi Jenner Kinsey. The matching driver’s license is inside the back cover.
It will happen again. And of course he has planned as best any of them can. Nell takes a cab to the airport, by the time she arrives her plane ticket is on her new phone and she can feel her extremities again. The new phone for G is in her pocket. He can’t go through security without ID or a ticket. She is in front of the United ticketing desk staring at the line when she gets another text from Eric. G @ S’bux in front of A/B concourse security. And he is. Sitting at a table, reading a newspaper. There are two cups in front of him. He looks none the worse for the wear until he sees her and his eyes go dark electric blue.
Nell rolls the bag up beside him and drops a kiss on his forehead. She is scared to do more for fear she will tackle him. His arm slips around her waist and he pulls her close for an instant. She sits, the highbeam of his gaze holding her. “Hi.” She takes a sip of what she knows is a tea latte. “You built me a legend.” She murmurs very softly.
The flight is up and down, but enough time for Nell to recount to him what she saw. He assures her that although he has seven stitches in his arm, that’s the extent to the damage other his desperation to know why it happened. In the rental car driving to the house Nell tells him everything she’s found on the shooters. Together they conclude this must be another leftover piece of business from a CIA Russian mafia hit, the second assassination attempt. What they can’t sort out is how they found him. Nell tries to push the thought from her mind that the third time’s the charm.
The safe house is set at the back of a lush garden, small, quaint. Nell unlocks the door with G’s breath on her neck. The door opens and she is lifted from her feet into his arms. The urgency of the day swamps back over her and she grips him hard and close, crushing her mouth to his. The fear and relief spill into the kiss and she can’t breathe. She tucks her knees against his ribs. He presses her to the wall, her hands skimming up under his t-shirt.
“Good.” She murmurs. “Yes.” Her feet touch the floor and she peels off her dress in one motion, pressing against him while he unbuckles his pants. She wants him in her, on her. He steps out of his pants reaching backwards for the bag. “No.” She says.
He startles, his eyes snapping to her, brow furrowed.
She tugs him to her, pressing her forehead to his, her eyes burning. “I need you to get me pregnant.” She hisses. That stops him and she grips his shoulders, pressing her lips against his ear. “Now. Need you.” The urgency of wanting in her voice, her hands, her press against his sternum is insistent and irresistible. “Need you. In me.”
Of course she is right. He lifts her to the back of the couch and pulls the crotch of her panties aside and thrusts. “Fuck.” He growls. He says it again in Romanian, and French. Making life is infinitely better than dodging death. Feels crazy amazing. She is silky hot wetness clutching him. She moans low, growling and he covers her mouth with his. She rocks him and he drowns in the rise of desire.
They end up in a tangle of limbs and clothes on the couch, gasping. He turns to face her, kiss her. Her hand is at the back of his neck. “More. Stay.” She crawls onto him, hands pressing against his chest, grinding onto him. He can do more. As his thoughts slip sideways he wonders if they will be able to stop. Then she’s gone again and he is too.
The next time Nell is coherent, G is collapsed beside her on a strange Turkish carpet in an unfamiliar dining room. Chippendale table legs reach up behind him and disappear beneath damask. Her gaze returns to him, his eyes are the dark blue of a storm. He is staring, and she lets herself get lost in staring back for a long moment. Finally his mouth curves reluctantly, as if he can’t resist smiling at her. She grins. He chuckles. Every fiber of her vibrates with delicious relief.
G props on his elbows and stares down at her. “Have to get you pregnant?” He has no idea what he expects but it isn’t her solemn nod. He leans to rest his forehead on hers. He waits. His job, hell his life, is not safe for a kid. He thinks it every time he’s with Sam and Mitch and their kids. He has no idea how they live with the fear Sam won’t come home. Nell’s maple hazel eyes are sure. “Maybe we should move in or get married before…” He begins. She shakes her head, gaze locked on him. Her eyes glaze with tears. His chest contracts.
“We have to make more pieces of you.” She whispers, her throat tight, tears slipping down her cheeks. “If anything happens to you then, I will still have you.”
A chunk of meaning falls into his heart and everything makes perfect sense. “Oh babe.” He says against her wet cheek.
“Don’t you dare.” She puts a hand to his face so he has to look at her. “Don’t you dare think it would be better not to do this. Or better if you left. Don’t you back up.” Her fist clenches in the fabric of his shirt.
G growls softly, “woman, be careful what you ask for.” He kisses her, and they begin again.
Chapter 8: "So we're official."
Chapter Eight - “So, we’re official.”
Nell slips awake to the smell of coffee and bacon. For a confusing moment she wonders why she's at her parents house. The previous day floats back arriving in the present where someone wants to kill G and they're hiding in Sausalito. And it seems like G might be cooking. She pads out and around to the kitchen, barefoot. Indeed, the coffee maker is full, there is bacon on a platter beside the stove and G is scrambling eggs. “I so had you pegged as a take out man.”
He turns and offers a brief smile. “I can be.”
She pours herself a cup of coffee, adds a generous dollop of milks and some sugar.
“OSP shopped for basics before we got here. But, no tea. I’ll get some later.” G serves up two plates and sits at the kitchen table with her.
Nell tucks into the food, realizing she didn’t have any dinner last night. “This is good. Thank you.”
“Glad you like it. Listen, can I ask a couple of questions about the baby thing?” In the clear light of day, G’s own sense of urgency has completely waned. In fact, the previous night is seeming a bit of a blur. “I had these ideas about a house, a wedding, definitely a dog.”
“You already have a house.” She points out. “I don’t want a wedding.” She pauses for a moment. “We can talk about the dog, I guess.”
G watches her eat, her hair going off in wispy directions. She sits cross legged in the chair, making him suspect her feet don’t touch the ground. Something he’s found her to be oddly sensitive about although it happens in most adult sized chairs. He wonders if she ever said anything remotely predictable if he would find her so riveting. But she doesn’t, and he does. “So… you don’t want to get married?” He ventures. She chews and swallows, assessing him with a keen gaze that starts to make him feel uncomfortable.
Finally she lifts a shoulder. “Just want to be with you. I’m not opposed to marriage in any active way. But, we’re not exactly religious, or conventional. And I’m not so insecure that I think a ring will keep you around.”
His brows rise and he stops eating. His expression slacks to indifference. His version of defense. This conversation isn’t going where he wants it to. How did her saying she doesn’t want to get married just become about him staying? Or not staying? His fork and knife slowly lower to his plate. Nell smiles as he’s about to speak. And she laughs.
“Wow. Whoa.” She holds up a hand, still grinning. “What scary place did you go? Come back.” She reaches across the table and grips his wrist. “You really don’t know how to do this, do you?”
“Do what, exactly?”
“We didn’t just meet, G. Please take whatever I said that made you look like that, and remember who is saying it to you. And everything else I’ve ever said.” Her tone has the crispness and bite of fresh cold radishes.
He does. It takes a moment. Then, “you meant you trust me without being married.”
“You looked like I’d pulled a gun.”
“It felt like…” He searches for words to describe two decades of loss, rejection and abandonment. Add in the two decades of highly paid sophisticated deceit. Well, shit. “You’re right. I don’t know how to do this. Never learned.”
She squeezes his wrist even tighter. “I want you so bad, I have to have some physical piece of you. Don’t worry. You’re stuck with me now.” She lets go, leaving pink finger prints on his arm. She sits back in her chair and sips coffee. “And worse. You still have to get me pregnant.”
The team isn’t working cases while they turn all their resources towards figuring out who’s after Callen. Within 72 hours the Russians and anything connected to the mafia evaporates. Eric tracks two of the mercs to Tel Aviv before they fall off the grid. Sam heads off to Israel to see if there is any intel on the ground that will help. Callen is on comms with Sam nearly constantly. Nell and Eric dig into each of the people involved in the ambush with little luck; they are hired hands. Marty and Kensi question everyone who might have had contact with any of the mercenaries in LA. By the end of the week there is nothing more to do, no more trails to follow.
Despite the onslaught of data coming at them, the week in protective custody is devoted to baby making. Nell knows logically there are more planful ways to go about it than having as much sex as possible. She just cannot slake her need to be as close to G as she can. G doesn’t fully understand, but he doesn’t object either. He wonders if Sam and Mitch have ever had a week like this. He’s fairly sure Kensi and Deeks exist in this zone and he makes a mental note to talk to Nate about it sooner rather than later.
At the week’s end Hetty consults with them via comms. “I’ve just met with Director and SECNAV. There’s a situation at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey that will benefit from an undercover effort. The decision was made to assign you both there. Sam will take lead here. We’ll see where we are when that case wraps up. The case files are available to you now. Familiarize yourselves with it and we’ll speak again in the morning.”
Callen protests. “Hetty, we have to break this…”
“Mr. Callen.” She cuts him off. “I believe I began by saying the decision was made.” Callen checks his retort. Hetty nods. “You have work to do. Good-night.”
Callen prowls out to the dining room, hands on his hips. Nell shuts down her systems, turns off the lights and follows. She walks to him and rests a hand on his chest. She shakes her head. “Keep you undercover until… what? I… watching those men come after you with such vicious purpose. It threw me.” He waits for her to go on. She searches his face. “This is our life.” Her voice drops.
He touches her chin. “Is that going to be okay?”
“Do we need a different life?” He asks.
“You would do that?”
“Of course.” His blue gaze is steady.
She smiles. “Of course.” She rises up on tiptoe and he meets her halfway. She kisses him. “But, there’s no where to guarantee you’ll be safe. This is what we do.”
He changes the subject. “Did you tell your mom about the baby making?” As he wants, she laughs.
“Yes. I’m afraid I did.”
“What does she think?”
“She’s on board. Anything to get a grandchild.”
“Ah. Well.” Callen gathers her in his arms, her feet leaving the ground. “We have work to do.”
As Greg Kinsey, Callen is inserted into the architecture department. He and his wife Naomi, a writer, move to Monterey. The legends are well suited to the analysis work they have to do and Nell sets up tech ops in the spare bedroom with two stations, OSP camouflages the room as a writer’s study with filled bookcases. The first day they are in the house, Nell is in constant contact with Eric, fine tuning equipment and bouncing ideas off each other. G is out on the campus meeting co-workers and taking on a class, one that five of the seven suspects share.
G arrives home in the early evening after a long day to find Nell still busy in the office. “I’m gonna shower.” He tousles her hair. “You need to wind it down. There’s a nice little cafe around the corner.”
In the bedroom he finds Nell has unpacked. Everything. Every drawer is meticulously arranged. Apparently he has been assigned the left side of everything, the bed, the chest of drawers, the bathroom sink. He stands arms akimbo, eyes narrowed. He’s reluctant to open the closet, where he finds every shoe aligned, every hanger equi-distant from the others. He thinks of himself as an orderly guy, a true minimalist. This is ridiculous.
He is tempted to both give it up and line up his shoes as he kicks them off and to rebel and leave them where they lie. Rebellion wins out and he strips off, leaving shoes and clothes in a pile on the floor. He’s in the shower letting steamy hot water ease the knot in his shoulder. The bathroom door opens. He watches her come in and begin to undress. When she drops her clothes on the floor he laughs. She climbs in and ducks her head under the water.
“Too much organizing?”
She nods. “I can’t always really help it, you know.”
“Come here.” He pulls her close, water cascading over them both. “Kiss me.” He bends to meet her mouth. He kisses her deep and long, feeling her relax in his arms and give herself over to it. She winds her arms around his shoulders, pressing close. He kneads the muscles along her spine. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She shakes her head. “Everything. I’m out of my element here. I’ve never really been undercover. What am I supposed to do?” G stops her with a finger to her lips.
“I’ve got this. You’re okay.”
“I feel stuck in this damn house.”
G gazes at her curiously.
“I feel like I’ll screw this up if I go anywhere. I’ll miss something. I’ll say something.”
This is not a side of Nell he’s seen. He’s suspected it’s there, but her death grip controlling of most situations keeps her clear of those she’s not confident in. Mostly. “What part of this is frightening you?” He asks.
“I’m not good at pretending.” She admits.
G turns off the water and hands her a towel. “No, I don’t guess you are.” He towels off and wraps the damp towel around his waist. He sits on the toilet lid. She dries her hair and then wraps the towel around her torso and sits on the edge of the tub. She rests her chin on her fists and stares at him. He brushes wet hair from her face and sighs. “I kinda like that about you, danger mouse. It keeps me honest, too. Let me pretend, you be my conscience. Just be yourself.”
She grins. “I can do that. Thanks.”
As a week passes, G acclimates to Nell’s compulsive orderliness. It still annoys him that she’ll pick things up before he’s done, like a half full cup of tea on the counter while he gone in the other room to pick up his book. His adaptability skills are keen, but Nell in edgy obsessive overdrive is a challenge. He wishes they weren’t working, he needs a minute to figure out what’s driving her crazy. He sees she’s too distracted to have any clarity and when he asks she just shakes her head in bewilderment.
But they are both busy. The case is complicated by not knowing if it’s the kids dabbling in terrorism or their parents. The boys still live at home, and use their parents electronics, accounts as well as their own. Still, it’s a straight forward investigation in a lot of ways and most likely they’ll be done in less than thirty days. Nell pries into backgrounds furiously, finally landing on one of the boy’s father, who is not who he says he is. She spends hours digging around, piecing together fragments of who he actually is.
Another week passes. Although the baby making frenzy has eased, Nell still wants to be in physical contact with G. He chafes at the constant touching. She gets annoyed with herself when he’s bothered and goes back into the office, distracting herself from him with work. He feels guilty that she’s working too much because he’s bothered. They are tripping over each other in the house.
G asks her to meet him for dinner one evening and it’s the first time they’ve had fun in a couple of weeks. They make it a habit. A pub, a diner, a movie, something light and entertaining. This evening after a movie they grab a slice of pizza at the mall and window shop while talking the movie. Nell stops at the Pottery Barn display. “I hate the house.” She says.
“What house?” He braces.
“The one we’re living in. The furniture is too dark, too heavy and there’s too much of it. The carpet is creepy, who knows what’s under that.” She shivers. “That evil painting over the couch.”
G laughs at that. The painting is hideous, a cheap landscape you might find on sale in a parking lot for $15. “Well, tell me what you’d have.” He snugs an arm around her and they begin walking again. Nell likes photographs and surrealism. While he does too, he has some space for the occasional impressionist. They compare notes on artists they love, like and those they hate. They both like simple furniture, though Nell tends towards blonde woods and G likes something a little warmer.
G can feel Nell deflate as they climb into the car. Before starting the engine he looks at her, waiting for her to meet his gaze. “Want to go to a hotel tonight? Forget about everything. Just be.” Her face lights with pleasure that tugs at his belly. She’s gorgeous and grinning at him again. He starts the car and rolls down the windows. He gets his phone.
The Clement Monterey is a dream on the bay. G has somehow (via his phone of course) arranged for a valet to meet them at the car and show them to their room where two dozen roses and a bottle of champagne are waiting on the balcony overlooking the bay. A fire crackles in the fireplace and soft music, the Brahms is playing.
Nell turns into G’s embrace. “Oh, you’re good.” He kisses her long and slow. He looks at her with an expression of wonder, almost surprise. Nell takes in the fresh details of his face, the rough texture of his skin, the lines at the corner of his eyes that didn’t quite match the crease in his brow. The firm set of his lips, still wet from her mouth. She sighs and leans against him. When he picks her up, cradling her tight to him, she melts.
The positive pregnancy test is a formality. For the past two weeks Nell’s sleep quotient has doubled and her breasts are so tender she cringes putting on a bra and yelps when touched. G finds her contentment so pleasing he can’t keep his hands off her. They stand in the bathroom together staring at the plus sign on the plastic indicator, grinning.
“So, we’re official.” She says.
He laughs. “I certainly hope so. Want to call your mom?”
She shakes her head. “Let’s… let’s wait for awhile before we tell anybody.” She leans into his arms. “Is that okay?” She tilts her face up to his.
His eyebrows go up. His eyes wonder what she’s up to.
“Just in case. And just to be normal for a bit. Hetty will flip.” She explains slowly.
G has imagined the conversation with Hetty many times over the past four months. What he always comes back to is she’s the closest thing to a mom he has and in that capacity, if no other, she will be thrilled. “Okay. But, you have to go see a doctor in the foreseeable future. Don’t see how that’s gonna fly under the radar.”
Nell’s eyes twinkle with mischief. “I had an idea.”
“Did you?” G isn’t sure he wants to know.
“Well, Naomi and Greg have an anniversary coming up. We ask Hetty for time off to go home - see my folks. I can go to my obgyn there. No one will be the wiser.”
Chapter 9: "Hetty thought I might talk you into staying put."
Chapter Nine - “Hetty thought I might talk you into staying put.”
It isn’t until the vacation plans are in place that everything falls apart. Or rather, blows up. Nell is up to her elbows in background intel on the seven students who are the most likely candidates for manipulation by jihadists. The data is monotonous enough to make her sleepy, not a problem she’s ever had. She rubs her eyes and peers at intel for another forty minutes before giving up. She signs off comms and stretches. It is only 3 in the afternoon, and she considers a nap. She stands and takes a quick walk around the house. If she’s still sleepy when she gets back into the office she’ll nap. If not, she’ll work. Her phone chimes with a text from Callen: heading home. Or, she could try to come up with a suggestion for dinner.
The explosion is a muffled grunt in the distance, but the air trembles. Nell glances out the bedroom window and sees a huge puff of black smoke balloon up blocks away. Faint screaming, yelling and then sirens begin coming towards her. She heads for the front of the house. She yanks open the front door and peers down the blocks. Her phone is unsettlingly silent. She touches the speed dial for Tech Ops. “Eric, what was that?”
“What?” He pounds on his keyboard, then whistles. “Damn it. I have no idea. Let me...” he trails off and he hears him call for Hetty.
Nell pivots, a different set of instincts kicking in. Accident, stupid young terrorists, or … She walks back into the study and unclips her Ruger from its customary clip. She tucks it in her pants at the small of her back, not bothering with the holster, though she knows she should. Spare clip in her pocket. She feels a need to hurry. Hurry. Eric’s voice climbs in pitch and volume, now on speaker. “Nell, get out of there. It’s him. Them. Shit.”
“Them who? Where’s Callen?” She snatches the car fob from the glass tray on the entry table and opens the door.
“Russians who. Hang on. He’s on campus. Moving east - probably on foot. I don’t have a visual.”
“Send his tracker to my phone.” Nell jogs to the car. When the garage door rumbles open, bullets pummel the trunk. Nell accelerates in reverse, hits something or someone. Curses. “Eric.” She growls. Call waiting cuts in; G. Nell accepts the call. “Where are you?” They ask in unison. “G, tell me where you are, I’m coming to get you. Eric says we’re blown.”
“Nell, leave now. Get out of here." Callen’s voice is harsh.
“No. Someone was shooting at the house.” Nell blurts. “I need to get you, then we can go.”
In the extended silence Nell knows Callen is angry. She is, too.
“Are you being followed?” He asks.
“No. Where are you?” She knows she’s is driving toward him, because the beacon on her phone gives her gps directions. But, it will only get her close. In fact she is close. “G.”
“Nell. Head away from me. I’m not clear.” He mutters.
Nell scans her surroundings critically. He’s here somewhere. She comes up on the metropolitan park. It’s the kind of place he’d try to lose pursuers. Shrieking draws her attention to a group of people leaving the park at a run. A single burst of machine gun flashes beyond the fountain. She brakes and leaves the car in the street.
Using the fountain as cover, she runs. She has watched G evade pursuers countless times from tech ops, where is he? He is notorious for going down. She looks for culverts, bridges, he favors places he can defend as well as escape from. Muzzle flash from a pistol flares to her right, and he’s there, crouched behind a gazebo built of field stones. She follows his aim with her eyes and gun. There’s a man holding a semi-automatic rifle moving through trees toward Callen. She fells him with a head shot. A second shooter melts from the woods and Callen shoots him. She reaches the gazebo and presses her back to its. “How many?” She asks.
He shrugs. “I only saw the two. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Though he is tempted to take her arm, hold her hand, hell, shove her behind him, she’s a better asset with both arms free. While they walk he wipes his phone. He sees Nell do the same and he loves that she doesn’t ask, just moves. "Give me your phone.” She hands it over, checking their six. He tosses both phones into the fountain. “If we’re blown again, comms is compromised. No way they find me twice in four months. The car might be tracked, if nothing else, they saw you in it.” His gaze scours the area around them. The crowds provide decent enough cover. Matching their pace to those around them, they leave the park as emergency personnel arrive. She nudges him and nods at an approaching bus.
Sitting in the rearmost seats of the bus, G wraps an arm around Nell, nuzzling into her hair and murmuring the sketch of an escape route he knows she won’t like. Disembarking downtown, they walk another few blocks to a hotel where they take a room. They are silent in the elevator, and down the plush hallway.
"I told you to go." G closes the door and turns on her.
"You would come for me. Even if I told you to go."
"It’s my job.”
"You needed backup. I needed backup. Where the hell else were we getting it except each other?" She crosses her arms. "Don't be ridiculous. It's my job, too." She snorts with irritation.
G growls. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to watch you walk into a gunfight?"
Her expression is incredulous. "Yes." She throws her hands up in frustration. "Every damn day. And I don't act like such an ass about it. I trust your skill and experience and I try to be helpful." She rubs a hand over her face. The adrenalin of the past 90 minutes ebbs away, leaving her sleepy and grumpy.
“Yeah, helpfully pregnant.” His voice is razor sharp.
“That’s not fair.”
“Helpfully pregnant being shot at is not fair.” G’s gaze is steely and hot. Silence stretches out between them.
Nell searches his expression without finding a hint of compromise. His argument engulfs her. A blush suffuses her chest and climbs to her face. "Agreed." She concedes. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes say never again. She nods, her maple eyes steady and solemn.
"Okay, danger mouse. We're not done with this. But, it'll wait." The corner of his mouth lifts in a tired half smile.
Nell calls Eric’s personal cell phone. Callen isn’t the only one thinking comms have been compromised. Selected systems at OSP are being removed for examination and replaced. Assuming Nell and G would take off, Eric has transferred money to Nell’s bank account back home in Minnesota. With Eric on speaker the three of them debate the next step, but it boils down to Eric using back channels to initiate protective custody. When the call ends, G and Nell sit back absorbing the new reality of agents arriving in the morning.
Nell lies down, pulling G down with her. She presses her face to his chest and breathes him in for a long moment. She can almost feel him plotting. When she looks up she asks, “what are you thinking?”
“I have to go.” He curls around her. “Last time… last time you said the phone wasn’t enough. What…”
She sighs, stretches and rests her forehead against his. “Tell me where.”
“Plausible deniability.” He whispers.
She blows out a long breath. “G. We have to be in this together.” Her voice was low and tight.
G closed his eyes. “Nell.”
His eyes open, meeting hers. “I’m going to go kill Mikhail, Gavril, Arkady and Pyotr. Then, I’m coming back.”
She sucked in breath. “G.”
“I have to do it. Have to do it alone. No one can know.” He folds her hands in his and kisses her fingers.
“No. Why do you do that? Why do you assume no one else would take this risk for you?” Her voice is almost inaudible. She stops, takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I know. I’m so angry at every person who ever left you to…” Words escape her for a moment. She swallows. “You would do this for Sam. For me. For Hetty. For Jethro.”
G nods, wary.
“Don’t you believe we will for you?”
“I can’t ask that.”
He considers her. He shakes his head, but it’s confusion, not refusal. “If I can’t… if I can’t take care of it alone, I will… ask for help.” He concedes slowly.
It’s not what she wants, but it’s more than she’d remotely hoped. She gets up. “Come on, we have a little time.”
Nell heads to the hotel business center and the computer. G catches a cab to a mall in the suburbs.
Between tech ops being down for rebooting and none of the software she’s used to, Nell resorts to her college hacking skills. Grateful for a public computer with no security to speak of, she peels off layers of commercial crap and eventually gets out to a server in Europe. She sifts through data, tracking the Russian mob. She hacks into figuratively dusty FSB networks prying into records of arrests, interrogations, and histories. She electronically prowls Russian news outlets and public records. Their targets aren’t hard to find, they have footprints all over the digital sphere. Nell gathers data.
G returns a couple hours later with a change of clothes, two pre-paid phones and a toothbrush. He watches over Nell’s shoulder, occasionally commenting or suggesting. As it grows late, he brings her a sandwich from room service and they eat while she keysboards and he takes notes. It’s after midnight before Nell shuts down the computer and they go back up to the room.
She sees the phones on the bedside table. Ignoring them for the moment, she turns and goes into the bathroom. If she can delay saying goodbye… she sighs. G is behind her then, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her to him. She faces him and his mouth is on hers, sweet and gentle. Her heart skids up into her throat and she tries to put all of it into the kiss.
“Be with me.” She whispers, hands sliding up inside his t-shirt across his chest.
G peels the shirt off and finds her mouth again. He rests his head on her shoulder. “I love you so much.”
“I love you so much more.” She teases. She deftly unbuttons her blouse and her jeans, shimmying them to the floor.
“I love you so much more truly.” He chuckles, his hand tracing her face, committing the details of her to memory again. She allows his slow passage over her features, staring. When their eyes meet, the affection flashes into desire and he sweeps her up and carries her to the bed.
Nell laughs when G tosses her onto the bed. She has a hold on his belt and he falls after her, a growl low in his throat. They roll and she straddles him, unbuckling his belt and unzipping his pants. He grasps her wrists, but not before she grips him, making him gasp, his hips jerking. She leans forward, grinding against him and finds his mouth, her kiss hard and deep. For a few feverish seconds they both strive for dominance, ratcheting up the heat. While G is undeniably stronger, Nell is arguably more fierce. She tucks her knees up and uses her feet to begin sliding his pants down past his hips, the silk of her panties rubbing against his skin. He groans, gathering her up and rolling her again. He skims the flimsy fabric away and comes full up into her. Thier voices mingle with pleasure and want. Their rhythm is fiery and fast, he lifts her knee to get deeper into her, she arches up to meet his stroke. They chase one another up toward completion, Nell soaring over the edge with G right behind her.
He rolls off her as they catch their breath. She curls close, an arm thrown across his chest. He plays with her fingers lazily. “Get a couple hours of sleep before you go?” She asks. He snuggles her closer, she nestles into his embrace. She wants to stay awake, breathe him in as long as she can. Yet in moments the melody of his heart beating lulls her to sleep.
The knock comes just past 3 am. G peels away from Nell and is at the door, gun in hand.
“Callen? Open up.” A voice G knows. “NCIS.”
That causes him to open the door as far as the safety bar allows. A very familiar pair of icy blue eyes glare back. “A minute.” He says and closes the door.
“Gibbs.” He throws Nell a shirt and tugs on his jeans. She scrambles to the bathroom.
G opens the door and steps aside. Gibbs strides in, clapping G on a shoulder. Nell emerges dressed except for shoes. Gibbs offers her a nod before aiming a level look back at G. “Hetty thought I might talk you into staying put.”
Callen’s eyes flash with amused irritation. “We’re pregnant.” Two sets of blue eyes lock.
“Go. I’ll handle this end.” Gibbs says. “Use this.” He tears a sheet from the notepad on the desk and scribbles some information, handing it to G. G nods. “Ok.” Gibbs turns his piercing gaze to Nell. “Get your stuff. You’re coming with me.”
Nell watches this exchange closely. G’s complete trust in Gibbs is in every line of his body. She wants a lot more information, but settles for asking, “where?”
“My house.” Gibbs says this as if it’s obvious. “Take your time. I’ll be in the lobby.” And he’s gone.
Nell looks at G a question in her eyes. He nods. “There’s no where you’d be safer, or I’d feel more confident in.” He tugs on her hair and kisses her. She takes the piece of paper from his hand and reads the name Ziva David and a phone number in Gibbs’ cramped script. She folds the paper back into G’s hand. Help. Serious help.
Walking down the hall, steps silenced by thick carpet, Nell slips her hand into G’s and he weaves his fingers between hers. Waiting for the elevator, she rubs his index finger with her thumb. On the way down, his thumb caresses the back of her hand.
Gibbs is in an easy chair in the lobby with a cup of coffee. He stands at their approach. Nell faces G and rests her free hand on his chest. “If I don’t hear from you every day, I’m coming for you.” G glares, narrowing his eyes, beginning to engage, when Gibbs chuckles.
“I like you already.” He flashes Nell a smile. His gaze shifts to G. “Me, too.”
G blinks, takes a breath, gives it up. “Okay.” He drops a kiss on Nell’s forehead. “Let’s do this.”
They part under the hotel portico, G heading to the curb for a cab. Nell and Gibbs watch the cab depart, and Gibbs lets her stand there for a long moment while the taillights merge into traffic. Finally she looks up at him, meeting his eyes for the first time. Her dark hazel gaze is assessing. “Me with you, huh?”
“I know him. It’s the only way this will work.” Gibbs offers. His eyes explain he will keep her safe for G.
Nell decides to tackle the irritatingly proprietary nature of this arrangement later. After breakfast, a nap, getting her stuff from home, talking to Hetty, actually… maybe sometime next week. Maybe… Because, Gibbs is right. She knows G, too. She sighs.
Gibbs waits out her deliberations, sees her acquiescence and nods. “Car’s over here.”
Chapter 10: "Do you play chess?"
Chapter Ten- “Do you play chess?”
Nell’s doorbell rings and she glances at Gibbs sitting at her dining table. He inclines his head. She swings the door open unceremoniously, only to find herself swept into a Sam Hanna bear-like embrace. She squeaks. “Oh!” Sam swings her around in two circles of utterly un-Sam-type joy. “Sam! Shit! Put me down.” He complies, grinning widely. Then he kisses her cheek. HIs eyes sparkle with infectious pleasure. Nell gawks, arms akimbo. Realization washes over her. “He told you.”
“Good to see you, Gibbs.” Sam reaches over the table, shaking Jethro’s hand. Turning back to Nell he simply grins and shrugs.
Nell shakes her head. Sam’s unabashed enjoyment feels like sunshine on the heels of a long and unpleasant past 18 hours. She leans against his hard broad chest for a moment and then waves him to the table. “Sit. Have some coffee. There’s iced tea in the fridge. I’m packing.”
When Eric arrives with donuts somehow it’s oddly like a party, though G is on his way straight into danger and she is being packed away to more protective custody. The party atmosphere only grows stronger with the arrival of Marty and Kensi. Her tiny apartment fills with words, laughs, the smell of coffee. Laughter and friendship. Nell smiles while she packs, systematically filling two suitcases with clothing and toiletries.
Kensi saunters into the bedroom with a donut in her teeth and one for Nell. She sprawls on the bed. “Listen to them, will you?” She gestures towards the other room where the rumble of male voices is a constant undertow. “Trying to impress Gibbs, I guess.”
“I can see that.” Nell zipped up the largest of the cases. She sits, leaning against the headboard. Kensi’s gaze is intensely curious. “Sam told you, too.”
Kensi nods. “Congrats?”
“I guess. My fault, certainly. At least this way, no matter what happens…” Nell trails off.
“You know he’s not gonna let you back in the field.” Kensi says.
Nell huffs out a breath and purses her lips. “Well, if we get past this, I’ll deal with that.”
Kensi’s laugh is rueful and sharp. “Oh, man, I love you guys together.” She shakes her head. “How are you with him taking off?”
“Pissed.” Nell admits. “But, I get it. My parents would flip if they had any idea that I am essentially gonna spend the rest of my life with an assassin."
“Hey. The correct term is sniper.” Kensi corrects her with mock indignation.
“You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.” Nell chides. “They’re never exposed to the messes outside right and wrong. G is the kindest, best man I know. If he doesn’t kill those bastards, they will kill him. There we are.”
“Do they know what you do?”
“Oh, kind of…” Nell waves a hand. “In theory. Not in the - I stabbed a guy five times yesterday or oh by the way my lover killed two men today - kind of way. I don’t think I have the heart to clue them in on this. Or pregnant. Yet.”
Kensi nods thoughtfully. Her own mother is fairly savvy to the eternal grays of law enforcement as well as the risks. She stands and extends a hand to pull Nell to her feet. “Come on, lets get this show on the road, chica.”
They haul Nell’s bags to the door. With another three hours until their flight, Nell perches on a chair and lets conversation eddy around her. Sam and Eric take turns recounting a mission that had G and Sam running through a maze of shipping containers with Eric directing them via comms, six smugglers on their trail, eventually landing them in the bay. Gibbs nodding along politely, cracking a genuine smile as the tale ends.
It’s odd after all these weeks to be hearing so many voices other than G’s. Nell is astonished how easily their lives had fallen away from the hectic pace of OSP and into a rhythm of its own. Her apartment seems a bit alien. As an after thought she puts her guitar into its case and adds it to the pile of things by the door.
“How are you?”
“How did you get out.”
“Hitched a ride on a cargo flight out of LAX. It was cold.”
“Walked to Ziva’s. Got some food. I’m tired. We’re going to start plotting this out tomorrow.”
“Tim is rigging a secure laptop for me at Jethro’s. Speaker phone?”
“I’m better at logistics than either of you.”
“Yes. You are. How are you?”
“I miss you. I’m okay. You told Sam.”
G’s chuckle brings a smile to Nell’s lips. “He told Kens and Marty.”
“They’ll watch you.”
“Yes. I know.”
“I’ll sleep better.”
“You don’t sleep.”
“When will you be in DC?”
“Love you back.”
Jethro’s house is not quite as spartan as G’s, but it’s a close thing. While it’s furnished, there is an empty, unlived-in-ness in the shadows. Apparently he sleeps on the couch. Wandering around the house, familiarizing herself by systematically locating the basics, Nell takes in the clash of family man and loner. Arriving in the basement, she finds Gibbs working. The room smells of wood and oil with a subtle but distinct taste of sweat and bourbon. She sits on the stairs and watches.
A long time passes while Gibbs runs a planer over what looks to Nell like pieces of a banister. When he looks up his expression wants to know if she’s okay, does she have what she needs. She nods. “Can I ask you something?”
His brows rise.
“Do you play chess?”
Nell claims two of the three second floor bedrooms and the guest bathroom. Effectively leaving Gibbs the master suite he doesn’t use. She moves furniture until she has a bedroom and a study. She settles her belongings, and rearranges Gibbs’s few books and mementos into a closet.
It’s nice to have Nell in the house. Gibbs spends less time in the basement, and more time in the kitchen playing chess and laughing. Abby and Tim stop by two or three times a week, bringing take out for dinner, watching movies. The house is suddenly alive with laughter and conversation. Gibbs could get used to this. He even enjoys taking Nell to the doctor. She’s clean to a fault, which is good. And while she does expect a mite of conversation, she’s also content enough with silence, even better. He’s asked her to tell him if G needs help, but otherwise he’s staying out of it. He’s betting as long as she’s fine G’s fine. That means trusting G to tell her the truth, which is a stretch. But from the look of them at the hotel, she won’t tolerate anything less and G knows it.
Gibbs thinks of G as a bit more of a son than a friend. But as a lot of both. He’s hauled that boy’s sorry ass out of harm’s way twice and will happily do it again if needed. He has no doubt G would do the same. He doesn’t think G is as reckless as he was 10 years ago, though. It’s been very quiet on that front, until now.
Gibbs figures working Nell is gonna be easier than stay at home Nell. He has Tim rig up a tech ops workstation for her in the lab downstairs. From there she runs intel analysis for both OSP and Gibbs’s team. It’s not what she has in LA, but he’s had Tim requisition a couple of plasma’s, which he should have done a few years back anyway.
When Nell boots up all her systems and gets Eric online things begin to hum in intel faster than they ever have. Tim gets in a lot more leg work and Gibbs is surprised to discover how much of Tim’s time and effort is intel or digital. He mentions it and Tim beams. Another son, though neither Tim nor Tony is so much like him as G.
Hetty unexpectedly comes on screen, the first time Nell has seen her since the incident in the park. For a second Nell freezes at her station, wondering how Hetty could sneak up on someone online. “Miss Jones. I hear congratulations are in order.”
“Wow. I was going to tell you.” Nell begins.
“I suspect not.” Hetty concludes. “But, for the record. Congratulations. You know where Mr. Callen is?”
Nell should have asked G what he wants Hetty to know. Damn it. “Yes.” Having lied once is plenty.
“Very well. Eric will send you several rather cryptic text messages between someone in Pakistan and a company in Eugene the NSA wants us to look at. I want you to find out everything you can about who the parties are on both ends.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Nell nods and Hetty’s image is replaced with the OSP seal. Pakistani text messages can’t be any more cryptic than that exchange just was. Nell lets that go and turns her attention to incoming intel.
Abby’s lab is considerably more fun than OSP. Music rages and Abby keeps a constant stream of conversation going with herself and her equipment. Evidence comes in the shape of body fluids, vehicles, and sundry stuff from books to glasses. Weirdly Nell likes it. It reminds her of her internship running data out at the Farm in Virginia. That crew was a collection of characters, and the DC team is, too.
“How are you?”
“Well, I guess I’m good. It’s decidedly not protocol for me to be staying with Jethro. You should’ve seen Vance’s face. I thought you and Hetty were interesting to watch, these two…”
“I’ve seen ‘em.”
“They don’t really talk. It’s a bit like you and Sam.”
G chuckles. “Well, Gibbs doesn’t do a lot with words.”
“Bit of an understatement, love. Did I tell you my workstation is in Abby’s lab?”
“Jethro might regret that. I predict serious mischief.”
“Absolutely possible. Listen, I sent the Russian ID and passport and credit card to a dead drop in Tel Aviv. There’s $20,000 on the card. Let me know if you need more. They should be there in a few hours. I will text the details.”
“How did you make that happen so fast?”
Nell considers, but then can’t resist. “Plausible deniability.”
She laughs. “It’s all off the books. I cracked into some old resources. The cash is Jethro’s. I told him we have the money, and we’ll pay him back when the coast is clear.”
“Old resources?” He presses.
“In the hacker community. People I’ve known since college. They are underground and can get a lot things done behind the scenes.”
“You are part of the hacker community?”
“Duh. Most intel geeks have one foot in both worlds - you could never get anything done otherwise.”
“I’ll tell you all about it, and show you if you want. When you get back.”
“I should let you sleep. Love you.”
“Love you back. If you don’t come back, I come for you.”
Chapter 11: "I'm proud of him, that was damn quiet.”
Chapter 11 - "I'm proud of him, that was damn quiet.”
There are parts of a mission, any mission, G enjoys. Given what he does, that’s probably not alright, but what can you do? There are elements of disappearing into another persona, another language, another place entirely that has power. He is, he thinks, altogether too comfortable with secrets. The best part of working with Ziva is her own predilection for stealth. Like him, she is the sharp end of the stick and has had to be for far too long. There’s an instant bond. They’ve known each other for a long time, though never well. What provides the unquestionable trust is both being Gibbs’ kids. It’s a tiny family of misfits and orphans who recognize each other quickly and deeply. Ziva agreed with G’s assessment of the situation. In fact, her enthusiasm gave away the length of time she’s been off the job. At the moment they are hunched in a fishing rig that will drop them near Rostov-On-Don, which is still a long long way from St. Petersburg.
It is past cold. They are kitted out well, Ziva’s Mossad connections served them well in the clothing department. Ziva sits opposite staring up at the night sky, she’s relaxed and turned inward on herself. He’s also lounging against the deck rail. He spreads his bedroll on the deck and lies down, at least let his body rest. The rise and fall of the boat is wonderfully soothing. ‘We have to make more of you.’ The phrase lodges behind his thoughts, resurfacing whenever he’s idle. It comes in her voice, shaded with the odd mix of her determination and fear. He’s aware he’s been pushing the idea away for coming on three months now, with no success.
G never wanted anyone to have any piece of him. Certainly not such a graphically tangible piece. Around 35 he began assuming he wasn’t having kids. Not regretting, accepting. Not his gig, not his luck. C’est la vie. He actually thought he liked being alone. Clearly self-delusion. He misses Nell’s real presence every moment and savors the bone deep sense of her that he now carries with him. He closes his eyes against the stars. Part of him in her though, that’s just mysterious. Good, but out of reach. Stranger the further he gets from her. Like a boat dragging anchor. He smiles. Gibbs would appreciate that one, though it doesn’t quite fit right; doesn't feel heavy, just constant. He drifts into sleep wondering why Gibbs hadn’t looked remotely surprised.
He wakes to find Ziva unmoved. The clock in his head says less than an hour has passed. He unfolds, stretches. Ziva's gaze comes to him. The white starlight is as stark as it is dim, revealing the lines of her face, her mouth curving into something a little shy of a smile. G returns a rueful grin. "Gonna sleep?" She lifts a shoulder of non-committal. He props up on an elbow. The boat crew is below decks save for the shadow in the wheelhouse. Ropes and beams creak softly, accompanying the liquid sound of a quiet sea.
"Do you think you will continue as an agent? Now that you have a family?"
The question surprises him. Ziva walked away nearly a year ago because she had no family left. He hasn't crossed this bridge. He shakes his head slowly. "I think so.” He ventures. "You coming back?"
That gets a full smile. She shakes her head, but it's not no. A shoulder rises, she shifts her weight forward. "There are some days that I think yes. Then there are other days that I am content to leave it behind me."
G's brows arch up skeptically.
"I am. Truly. But, in the end I have not known another life. I have consulted on Mosaad projects. I thought if I came back home I would feel closer to my family. It may be be, though, that my family is not there. They may be in DC." She closes her eyes briefly.
"Probably always a place for you there. I appreciate you doing this." Another sign that he’s been fooling himself about preferring to be alone. Six years of being part of a team has taught him to appreciate help.
"You are welcome." She says. She grins broadly, flashing teeth. "It is good to be able to help. Very good."
“Sort of. Where are you?”
“Still on the boat. Another hour, maybe.”
“Tell me about the doctor.”
“Uh, fine, everything good.” Her words are slurry with sleep.
“You could tell me more than that.”
She giggles. “Paper work, vitals good, yep there’s a baby in here. Sonogram next visit in a month. Vitamins, eat well, you know.”
“Actually I don’t know.”
“Jethro took me.”
“There’s a thought.” Amusement tinges his voice. “Go back to sleep.”
He listens to a rustle that might be her climbing out of bed. He lets that picture rise up.
"Tickets to St. Petersburgh are waiting for you both at the airport in Rostov-On-Don. I'm sending you the confirmation now. There was nothing direct, so you have a layover in Moscow."
He has stopped asking her how she's getting this done outside the agency. Instead he grunts.
"Talk to you tonight?"
"Loved you first."
He laughs. "I'm pretty sure I made the first move."
"Nonsense. You think there was no method to my asking you to teach me how to pick a lock?"
"Hell, yes, it does. It takes mad skills to make a move on a man while letting him feel all alpha about it. I want credit. Come on, admit it. There's no way you would've just up and kissed me if you didn't already have half a clue."
"Yeah, I'm thinking about that kiss right now."
"And what followed."
"G." The whisper of his name. A breath.
"Go back to sleep. Love you."
OSP without Nell in the office or G in the field is nearly a different agency. Sam is an outstanding team leader, more methodical and generally less passive aggressive than G. Eric has done the job alone before and Nell is at his fingertips when he needs her, just not in the room. Yet, they are all distracted by G’s absence and consumed by wanting to see how Nell manages being pregnant. They each deal with it in their own way.
Sam considers taking care of G part of his job. It’s not that he doesn’t know G worked for decades without him, but knowing something and believing it are very different things. Sam firmly believes his vigilance has greatly improved the quality of G’s life. Under his watchful eyes G has transformed from whatever he was to a guy with a job, a house and a girlfriend. Now he’s gonna be a dad. It’s huge. Sam is delighted. If only he could get G out of Russia in one piece. Being unable to do a single thing about it is making Sam a little crazy.
Marty is jealous. A subtle, why him and not me kind of jealous. He’s so tickled for G and Nell he can hardly stand it. The idea of a little G running around is the source of endless giggles. Yet, the stress on his relationship with Kensi is tangible. What was fun passion has acquired a sharper edge. He struggles with the distances she keeps. She’s on his couch nearly every night with a beer and bad movies. She is the tenderest lover he’s ever been with. He declares his love for her daily. She accepts this with sweet smiles and kisses he tries to equate with words. They’ve been together for two years to G and Nell’s six months. He’s jealous.
Kensi is struck by powerful protective big sister feelings for Nell that have her wanting to get on a plane to DC every day. She and Nell text and talk throughout the day about everything from toothpaste and baby names to lengthy conversations about love and career. Nell demands detailed information about Kensi and Marty, and chides Kens for her reluctance. One night they spent an hour talking with Kensi’s mom, Nell on video chat, Sonya baking and Kensi’s feet up on the kitchen table.
Eric is working two jobs during the day, and working for Nell at night. Eric, Tim and Nell are part of the loose network of legit and illigit hackers around the world. Each of them boast long histories on both sides of the legal line, both as themselves and anonymously. As such, they spend each evening dredging the dark web for resources that might help G and Ziva in Russia. They spend even more time surveilling the Isayev organization to make sure no one knows where G or Ziva is, and that should anyone come looking for them that Nell and Gibbs know first. Eric is also watching Hetty, who is watching him, watching her. It’s exhausting.
The mix is oddly combustible. Marty is short tempered and his otherwise goofy humor is now just being a smart ass with a mean streak. Kensi’s lack of focus makes the guys worry and this is mixed with gratitude for bringing them a Nell fix every day. Sam micro-manages, which irritates everyone.
Watching the group bicker over a snack, Hetty sees it’s a matter of time before the breakdown makes it to field. They’re usually fine with absences, but the circumstances of Mr. Calllen’s and Nell’s absence is the problem. If no one likes Mr. Callen being a target, least of all herself, it’s not like they aren’t accustomed to it. Nell’s affection humanizes him in ways Hetty could never have foreseen. Should an attempt be made on Nell, Hetty is sure Gibbs will keep her perfectly safe, but the entire team would decamp for DC before Hetty could take a deep breath. She refuses to think what might happen should Mr. Callen not… no she refuses to think of it. Hetty lifts her phone and calls Director Vance and then Mr. Getz.
Nell puts down her book. "Jethro?"
He looks up from his sanding, brows rising with interest.
"I was thinking I'd go up and visit my parents."
His expression tells her that isn't happening on his watch. She purses her lips. He straightens up, puts down his sanding cloth and picks up two mason jars. He's taken to drinking apple juice since Nell is off liquor. He pours them each a couple inches and sits on the workbench giving her his undivided attention. “Talk to me.”
Nell absorbs the warmth of his gaze. “I need to tell my parents about the baby coming. About me and G.” She pauses, staring into her glass for a long moment. “I don’t know how to do that without seeing them. I…” She trails off with a swallow.
“Want to see them.” Gibbs finishes for her. She nods. “You get why you can’t up and go.” She nods. “I get why you need to.” He adds. His gaze rises above her head. “You two didn’t do this easy, did you?”
Nell bit her bottom lip. “Is there any easy?”
Gibbs chuckles. “No, don’t suppose there is.” He gets to his feet, reaching over to ruffle her hair. “We’ll figure something out. Come on.” He heads up the steps. “Let’s get a bite and see what’s on the tube.”
Nell rolls her eyes. She’s not even sure where to begin to explain the plasma screen tv.
An hour later, in the middle of watching a Pollack documentary, Gibbs turns to Nell on the sofa where she’s curled up. “I’ll take you.”
“Up to see your folks. I’ll go up with you, but you need to tell G.”
She glares. He shrugs with a look that says that’s the way it is with them. She huffs out a breath of frustration. “I don’t belong to him, you know.”
“I do know.”
“Then…” She sits up. “Why do I need his permission?”
“Same reason he needs yours. If he doesn’t ask, he should. But, that’s no excuse for not asking him.” Gibbs turns his attention back to the movie.
Nell narrows her eyes. She almost understands. “But?”
“Because you love each other." Gibbs doesn’t look as he reaches out and gently slaps the back of her head.
“Crazy long day. We found Isayev’s house. Or compound, is more like it. Spent a few hours watching. Security is good, but nothing special. It’ll take some thought though.” His sentence trails off, his voice a little muffled.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting undressed. Hold on.”
In the silence Nell tries not to imagine him undressed. She’s completely unsuccessful. She turns over in her bed.
“Okay I’m back.”
“Well, what are you wearing? I have you all undressed in my mind, that’s hardly fair.”
“Bed covers.” He admits. “And you?”
“Cotton sheet and down comforter.”
“So wait… let me get this straight. We are both lying in bed, naked. Is that about right?”
Nell takes in a breath. “Yeah, I guess.”
They’re both silent for a long time. She listens to him breathe. She imagines he’s listening to her. She’s intensely aware of the soft cotton over her, newly conscious of the contact all over her body. She turns over again, but that just heightens her arousal. Her laugh is very low.
“What?” He asks.
“Ummm. I, uh… just find it rather sexy to think of you in bed, naked. It’s a very nice idea, and so then I started wondering about…” She trails off, unsure.
“Tell me.” He prompts gently.
“What it would be like if you were touching me instead of these sheets.” She closes her eyes, venturing into the fantasy. “This fabric is very soft. I can’t help imagining the heat of your fingers touching the hollow between my breasts.” She lifts her hand to touch herself there and sighs. “Or what your skin feels like when I run my hand over your shoulder and down your back.”
“What exactly are you doing?” He asks, his voice dropping.
“Running my hand over my belly.” She describes. “Turning in my sheets, under my pillows. And talking to you.”
“Mmmm… what if I kiss you?” He asks.
“Kiss your neck?”
“Mmmm. I like that.”
“If I put my hand in your hair at the nape of your neck and taste the skin on the top of your breast…”
“Oh, lovely…” A slight moan escapes.
“What are you doing?”
“Well, I have this achy sensation.”
“Achy?” He asks. “Yeah, me too.”
“Well… I only know one way to deal with that when I’m alone. So I was thinking perhaps…” Her fingers slide between her thighs. “Ahhhh.” She rubs lightly and slides the pads of her fingers lower, pushing slick wet folds open, a fingertip entering.
“Are you doing what I think you’re doing?”
Her breath slows and deepens. “Probably. What do you think?”
“Where is your hand?”
“Entering very tender places.”
“Places I want to go. I want to taste that tender flesh with a soft mouth.”
“Press in with my tongue and my fingers. Come up into you deep. Feel you wet on me, rocking.”
Pleasure spikes hotly through her. The phone slips between the pillows. Fire washes over her and she grinds into her pillows against her hands, arching her back in release. As the passionate heat slowly subsides she giggles, laughing. It’s a moment before she digs the phone out. “You there?”
“That was a thrill. I just came all over my hands, the sheets, myself.” He chuckles. “I’m gonna have to go get a towel. And a shower. Maybe not in that order.”
“God, I miss you, babe.” The words carry the weight of her longing, sounding wistfully heavy.
“That was… well, yum.” She tries to turn the conversation back. No answer. “G?” Silence. Her eyes are suddenly wet, her throat tight. She wills herself not to cry. Crying will not help. Tears drip over her cheeks. She swallows. If she says anything he’ll know. All she can do is wait him out.
Long moments pass, then she hears him breathing again, a sigh. Finally, “miss you, too. Did you talk to Sam today?”
“No. Talked to Kensi. I talked to him yesterday, though. They’ve got another case up in Oregon, so everyone’s on the road. According to Kens, Marty and Sam are getting on each other’s nerves something fierce.”
“Gibbs told me a story about the two of you in Belarus, shit, what were you thinking?”
“Long, long time ago. Wasn’t thinking much at all, if I recall. But, don’t believe everything he tells you.” G’s voice has returned to normal, with a touch of humor underneath.
She relaxes, the tears stop. She climbs out of bed, shrugging into her robe and starting towards the kitchen. “I’m freakin’ starving. Constant starving. Abby has me eating this vegan diet, which is great, but I’m starving.”
It took six weeks to get to St. Petersburg undetected. The first week there Callen and Ziva orient themselves tactically. The first order of business is settle into a routine that sinks below the notice of anyone around them. They rent a room in a hotel for two nights, the next night they find a boarding house and get a room there. During the day they work reconnaissance, looking for Isayev, his son, and their counselors, the Tomlin brothers. They endless discuss various ways to assassinate Isayev without notice.
They sit in a cafe with cups of espresso, bent over a hand drawn map, considering approach tactics. The compound they plan to infiltrate is both well guarded with personnel and still technologically very vulnerable. His phone vibrates in his pocket and he glances at it. The grainy black white sonogram image on the screen takes his breath. The message from Nell reads 'your daughter.'
“Callen?” There’s concern in Ziva’s voice. “Everything is okay?” Wordlessly he hands her the phone. Her smile widens. She looks up at him and her expression grows serious again. “You are sad to be here and not there.”
“I should be there.”
Ziva hands him the phone. She lifts her shoulder. “These people have planned to kill you for many years. They will not stop. They shot at the woman you love and your child. You should be here.”
He stares at the phone screen, the corner of his mouth tightening. “Lets get this done then.”
When Mikhail Isayev dies in a car accident, there's no hint in the news of anything other than accident. His father’s suicide two weeks later is reported as a direct outcome of Mikhail’s untimely death. The Zukov gang begins an aggressive and bloody move to take over the Isayev’s businesses. The deaths of the Tomilin brothers in a gunfight at a disco are correctly labeled as mob warfare and the face of the Russian mafia landscape changes. The small trace of the Isayev family remaining with any ties to the costly CIA op are absorbed into a new faction.
After ensuring Arkady Isayev took a fatal dose of his pain medication, Ziva and G lay low at the boarding house waiting for an all clear and moving papers from Nell. No one in the intelligence community is fooled by the coincidence of G’s absence during this major shift in the Russian mafia. But there's nothing in the news or in FSB or CIA reports to raise any substantive questions. After some low level speculative chatter that doesn’t mention G, the topic dies.
Nell uses the burn phone to call Sam this time. "Is it over?" He asks.
“Yeah. I think so, yes.”
"I'm proud of him, that was damn quiet.”
Chapter 12: “it’s kintsukuroi”
Chapter 12 - “it’s kintsukuroi”
“Need something Abs. What’ve you got?” Gibbs crosses the lab to Abby.
“The hair on his jacket is not an exact match for our vic.”
“It is a female relative my bet is sister.”
Gibbs kisses Abby’s cheek and heads back to the elevator, ruffling Nell’s hair on his way past. He drops a plain brown wrapped package on her desk. “This came to Vance, it’s for you.”
Nell stares after him, confused. She picks up the package, reads her name on the rough paper. Several layers later she finds a square velvet box and narrows her eyes.
“Well, open it.” Abby prompts.
Nell opens the box. She lifts out a plain gold ring. In G’s cramped script, a complete circle of letters are engraved inside of the ring. The letters are all evenly spread in the tiny space, it take her a moment.
"Can you read that?" Abby asks as the word resolves for Nell.
"No, um, yeah. It's kintsukuroi."
"Japanese ceramics, a way of repairing broken.... It means to repair with gold. It..." She types and a picture comes up on her screen of an earthenware bowl with jagged scars of gold running through it. "Broken stoneware, repaired with gold or silver lacquer. He says I... help him be whole because I find his brokenness beautiful. "
Abby squints her near comprehension.
The ring is too big for Nell’s ring finger. Something she’s sure he’s intended. She slips the ring onto the center finger of her right hand. "It also means recognizing something very simple can become more beautiful for having been broken."
“Hmmph.” Abby rests a hand on a shoulder. "I'm impressed. Unexpected depth of Callen romance there."
What G said, in the deep of a night months ago was that he's grateful for how her gaze captures him, loves that she makes him feel visible, feel real, how he feels as if her gaze realizes him anew. Kintsukuroi, the title of the poem he left on the bed for her one morning describing her presence in his life as liquid light. What she knows is that this image of himself is challenging, he has never thought to see much of himself as beautiful.
His willingness to vanish on a quest is wrapped around a deep wide romanticism. He protects people he believes deserve saving and kills those he believes needs killing. His romanticism is a challenge. While she has no problem seeing him as beautiful - he is - she is simply not that adept at romantic gestures. She is far too practical to write poetry, though she supposes she could try and write music. She sighs and shakes her head, the ring fits comfortably, unassuming, the gold quickly warming against her skin. She wants to scoff at this really conventional gesture, but it is so sweet. She misses him, wishes she’d thought of sending him something somehow. She sighs, twirls the ring on her finger, savoring the way it slips around smoothly.
She processes intel about a dead marine, while trying to think up something sweet to greet G with on his return. She estimates it will take another 2 weeks to get them safely back without anyone noticing anything. G and Ziva have moved to a hotel in Moscow and still no fanfare from the Russians. She’s bought plane tickets for them to London in a week. Same day travel is too risky. They’re waiting.
If she were in LA she would could move in, furnish the house, decorate, he’d love that. But the agreement is she stays put until he comes back; she’s stuck here. While she’s waiting for court orders on phone records she checks out the offerings at a couple of her favorite stores. There’s a couch she wants that’s perfect for the living room.
Abby leans over. “Comfy. Watcha thinking?”
“Wishing I could get the house in LA set up to surprise him.”
Abby claps her hands. "Yes, yes,yes." She glances at the mass spec, which has a few minutes on it. She pulls up her stool. "Let's do it. Call Kensi."
Kensi parks in front of G's house, behind Marty's car. The moving van that moved Nell’s stuff is only half unloaded and she checks her watch. The delivery trucks start coming in two hours with the new stuff. She kills the engine and heads up the steps. Marty meets her on the porch. "Hey you."
"Man, I thought this was gonna be too much, but it's not going to fill the place. Or at least I don't think so." He kisses her lightly. "Did you really tell Nell we'd unpack?"
Kensi nods. "Get this. We'll have her on video chat to supervise." She giggles.
"That is a little spooky." Marty holds the door open for her and they walk in to begin the unpacking project.
To the insistence of Nell’s voice they put away dishes, pots and pans. They stack towels, sheets and blankets. They hang pictures. They arrange furniture. Finally, free of Nell’s digital supervision, they fluff pillows and fill closets. Late afternoon brings Sam and Michele with Zoey and Rose with bar-b-que, and they have a house warming party sans hosts as they finish putting together the nursery and a guest room. Rose is asleep on Sam’s shoulder by the time they leave, Michele still making suggestions about filling the freezer.
Marty leans on the door and surveys their work. “Nell’s gonna be happy. And G will either love it or hate it.” He assesses.
“They can rearrange everything.” Kensi says. She flips off the lights in the kitchen. “At least everything is here. That’s the point, I think.”
“I don’t know what the point of this is.” He admits. Kenis flips off the hall light. He catches her around the waist and tugs her into his arms. “How come you won’t live with me?”
“I live with my mom, she needs me.” She wriggles, trying to escape him.
“Bullshit.” He lets her go and turns. He isn’t joking. He’s unsure how, though, to be serious. It’s always somewhere in between with her. “Just tell me.”
“Tell you what?” Kensi has the front door open, warm red evening light pours in. When she looks behind her, she is pinned by his sea blue stare. “What?” Although she knows what. She bites her bottom lip and yanks her eyes from his.
“Just tell me we’re never gonna do this. It’s never going to work, never going to be more.” He says. “Just tell me, because apparently I can’t let go unless I hear it. I don’t want to hear it. But, I don’t want to keep making myself and you crazy with this. This. My.” Her hand on his chest stops him. They stand there for a long time without moving. Kensi looks up, her mismatched eyes mesmerizingly filled with tears. Marty takes a breath and backs up a step. Out of her reach. “Okay.” He swallows. “Okay. Just hear me out. Then we can be done. I love you, Kens. I want to have a life with you. An everyday kind of life. Okay. That’s it. Let’s get out of here.”
Kensi closes the door and reaches with both hands to shove him backwards. He gives several steps, resigned. She shoves him again, and they are in the livingroom. The next time she puts both hands on his chest Marty holds his ground and she can’t move him. She glances up and he kisses her, long and hard and deep, his arms come around her, pull her against him. She molds herself to him, kissing him back. They are nearly the same size, though he is heavier, and they fit together like matched puzzle pieces. He doesn’t have to bend to meet her mouth, she doesn’t have to stretch to wrap her arms around his shoulders.
Clothes peel away, hands and mouths soothe. Marty drops to his knees, hands around her waist, pressing his face into her, rubbing his cheek over the flat plane of her belly. She drops in front of him and takes him to the floor under her. He rises up into her with a long sigh of deep pleasure and she groans. Their rhythm is always slow, deliberate, achingly tender. Marty closes his eyes, it hurts to watch her, her eyes glossing over as she gets lost to the physical surrender. Tonight it hurts to watch, and he loves the way she feels clenching around him, wet and sated, but can’t follow her into that oblivion. She slows and then rests, curled over his chest, breath coming shallow and hard.
Rolling until they are side by side, he kisses her hair, tucks her tightly up against him. Holds on. When she catches her breath, he slides away, dropping a kiss on her forehead. Her grip on his shoulders tightens. “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” He is weary, tense and unfinished.
“Don’t go.” She says.
“What do you want?”
“You. I just want you. I want you forever. I do love you, Marty.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Although his voice is still full of irritation, he rolls back towards her, encompassing her in an embrace, burying his face in her hair. When he finds her mouth and kisses her, thought sifts away.
After dressing Nell sends G a selfie. The silver sequined mini dress on her expanding curves reflects lights from every direction and it's cute and hilarious at the same time. Disco belly. She labels the photo before hitting send. The party, hosted by the SecNav, is formal and crowded. McGee and Abby pick up Gibbs and Nell, and they arrive as the festivities are in full swing. Nell is dancing with Palmer next to Tony and Breena when Tony halts mid-breath and stares, leaving Breena on the dance floor without so much as a comment. All three of them follow his stare and land on Ziva in the doorway. Nell catches her breath and swivels. They are two days early. How?
G walks towards her, smiling. “Hi, gorgeous.” He bends to kiss her, his mouth soft and inviting.
Ziva has been gone for months and her arrival causes enough excitement that G’s return goes unremarked. Only Gibbs sees Nell and G leave the party.
Outside in the crisp winter air G buries his face in Nell’s hair. “How did you get back?” Her voice rises with incredulity.
G laughs. “Come on, you don’t really think you’re the only one with ninja superpowers did you?”
“Omigosh. Hetty helped you.” She squeaks. G crushes his mouth on hers, silencing even her runaway thoughts. She sinks into kissing him, wrapping her arms around him, feeling him against her. Her feet leave the ground for a long moment before he sets her down, breathless. She stares at him, unable to get enough of looking at him.
His grin is a mirror of hers, laughter very near the surface. “Nice to be home.” He kisses her. "Really nice."
"Mmmm." She sighs. "Welcome back."
Chapter 13: Six Months Later - “We should do this more often.”
Adjusting to life with a kid is going take help from friends.
“We should do this more often.”
G rolls out of bed and crosses to the bassinet in three steps. Maryclare stirs, approaching hungry. He scoops her up, takes her to the changing table for a clean diaper. Wet wipe on the bum always a bit of surprise, Maryclare’s eyes pop open. She focuses on G and her mouth forms a perfect ‘oh.’ In a moment he is back in bed. Nell curls around the baby and leans against his chest chest. The four a.m. nursing session is really nice. Not the waking up Nell part, but being in bed with Nell and Maryclare, both warm and drowsy. Typically G is wide awake. He hears the shift in Maryclare’s breathing, he tries to be there before she realizes she wants him, to get the jump on any distress. Nell looks over her shoulder and kisses his chin. “Hey.”
“Hey, back.” He drops a kiss on her mouth.
To everyone’s astonishment G has taken paternity leave and been home with them for nearly three months. He is often mystified by something that either Nell of Maryclare does. But, he’s not going to miss a moment of this tangibly new experience of being required. Not much about this having a baby business has met his expectation. He expected a newborn to not do much of anything. Wrong. Maryclare seems to be busy all the time. There is always a fist moving, a foot waving, a mouth grasping, fingers gripping, she’s an endless supply of amusement. Not to mention how noisy she is. She grunts, coos, sighs, bleats and yells. She also purses her lips and bubbles. Her gaze is a dark kaleidoscope of golds and browns, like Nell’s. And, she stares. He thought she’d be rather round, like Sam’s kids were. Instead she’s kinda scrawny, her tiny fingers and toes startlingly strong. When she was born at a mere 6 and a half pounds even newborn clothes swallowed her up. She’s lengthened into those now, but he can still tuck her up like a football. When she’s curled in the babybjorn on his chest he hardly notices the weight.
Nell is too tired to be super control mom. She’s utterly content to depend on him for everything. She has no instructions for him about anything. She says his vigilance like a radio frequency in the room. While she does look a bit befuddled when everything isn’t in its place, she’s coped with the disorganization with at most a shake of her head. Like this moment, she likes to nurse the baby while curled up on him. He worries, wants her to rest, and at the same time he loves that she shares this so easily. He smiles, tilting until his lips land on her forehead. She giggles, curving around Maryclare and further into the circle of him. New mom Nell is even sexier than pregnant Nell, which is saying something. She’s curvier and cuddlier than usual and he doesn’t want to miss any of this either.
G never recognized he was the social center of the team. He knows it now. He hasn’t been to OSP since Maryclare arrived, but OSP has been here. Sam comes by on the way to work. Lets himself in and makes tea. G brings the baby down and they sit in the kitchen talking over the previous day’s work. Nothing makes Maryclare look smaller than Sam’s forearms. Having just nursed, Maryclare snoozes on Sam while G makes breakfast. Nell wanders down to eat with them before Sam takes off. Eric and/or Kensi come by mid-day with lunch, some kind of intel question for Nell, and Nell texts them to bring any odds and ends they need at the house.
Marty might turn up at any time, but is here at least twice a day. He sprawls on the floor, chattering away about Kensi, Sam, work, the morning surf, what movie he just saw. How G had missed the sibling-like relationship between Nell and Marty is beyond him, but now it’s extended to him, too. Marty changes diapers, gives baths and takes out the trash. He’s happy doing dishes and entertaining Nell with stories about his hapless adventures wooing Kensi. Marty also babysits. He is the first one to shoo G and Nell out of the house without the baby.
Hetty takes grandmothering very seriously. Every Sunday afternoon she arrives to spend the afternoon with the baby. She takes Maryclare, sits in the rocking chair and tells her stories. For the first few weeks Nell and G curl up on the couch to listen. Hetty has fascinating stories about tea ceremonies, Inuit dancing, Mongol horse racing, and any other number of things. Eventually, they take full advantage of extra hands and go out.
Life feels crowded with the baby. Crowded in a nice way. G’s house transforms from empty retreat to transit hub. Most days he likes it. Likes it a lot.
Nell was in no way prepared for the consequences of G having a kid. Not that she’s prepared either. Her mom says there is no preparing. True, it’s pleasantly convenient to have one new parent in the house who isn’t sleeping anyway. She’s in the OSP gym, lifting. It’s been four months and she’s almost back in shape. Cardio everyday, lifting every other. Interval training. Also two hours of solitude. Good solid thinking time. Critical. At the moment she’s trying to figure out how to get back to work. G might be having some kind of domestic blissed out fog about being at home all day with a baby, but she’s not. She’s torn between the shiny new comfort of surrendering so much to someone else, and just wanting to get back to something she can wrap her brain around. She’s thinking about leaving the baby with him if he wants to stay home.
Their daughter is a delight. When Nell’s at home, she can’t imagine being anywhere else. Maryclare is an easy baby. She sleeps through the night, eats well, laughs aloud, is highly attuned to her parents. A month ago she began fussing in her bedroom until one of them comes into the room and then turning away from them and laughing. It’s hilarious. She is small and wiry, sitting up on her own, and rocking back and forth on hands and knees. Nell was a physical kid who walked at nine months, and she guesses that G was, too. She has no idea where Maryclare’s love of peek-a-boo comes from. Neither she or G is keen on surprises, but Maryclare crows with pleasure and belly laughs when engaged in any form of hide and seek. In fact she instigates games with strangers at the store, visitors and can even get G to play before he realizes he’s engaged.
It’s hard to admit Maryclare is G’s baby. Nell’s overriding experience of parenting so far is G bringing her the baby to feed. Luckily, Maryclare likes to eat. Otherwise, G and baby are inseparable. On the sofa, in his recliner, strapped to him while he putzes around. Nell made the error of complaining to her mom about this once. Her mom laughed and told her to enjoy it, she’s lucky G shows up. Nell thinks this is her mom projecting. She does enjoy it. Hetty and Sam separately commented in private on G’s tenderness with his daughter. Watching him pleases her, too. She also knows she’s welcome to join in anytime she wants.
Nell curls, her core muscles almost back. Then she stretches out flat on the mat, hands behind her head and stares at the ceiling. She could work from home. That way the breasts are available and the brain could be entertained.
She rolls her head to find Eric in the doorway. “Yeah?”
“I know you’re not officially back. But, I was wondering if you could take a look at something?”
“One down, two to go.” Marty arrives in the kitchen, grinning. “She’s asleep. Now you.”
G glances over from the sink where he’s rinsing dishes for the dishwasher. “Please tell me you’re not putting us to bed, too.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m putting you out.” Marty pulls out his wallet. “I’ve got five hours hours before the next feeding and a bottle for that in the fridge. That means you’re outta here, and no re-admittance until 8 tomorrow morning.” He hands Nell a keycard. “Cabana 30, Beverly Hills Hilton. Don’t think you’ll need luggage.”
G shakes water from his hands and reaches for a towel. What are you talking about?”
“You. Her. Child free night. Luxury hotel.”
“Marty, that’s insane.” Nell’s eyes flick back and forth between G and Marty.
“I agree.” Marty opens the fridge and gets himself a ginger ale. “Not my idea. Everyone pitched in. I’m just the sitter. Don’t shoot the messenger. And quit wasting time. Shoo.” He waves a hand at them and sits at the kitchen table.
Nell looks at G, turns the keycard once in her fingers, pivots and leaves the room.
“You should…” Marty lifts his can.
G grins. “Yeah.”
The hotel gardens are lush, the noise of the city begins to fade. Nell takes G’s hand on the way to the cabana. The wind whispers in the palms, and laughter filters up from the pool along with the tinkle of ice in glasses. G pulls her close and puts an arm around her. She’s bouncing, which feels like fireworks under his arm. The last time she was bouncing was before he went to Russia.
Nell slides the keycard into the lock on the cabana door and G swings it open. A lamp is lit on the desk, pooling gold light across the room, glinting off a silver wine chiller and an open bottle of champagne and two flutes on the bedside table. She lifted her face to his, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. “Did you know about this?”
He shakes his head. “I did not. You?”
She runs a hand over silken bedcovers. “Mmmm. Well, whatever this is about, it’s lovely. Let’s hit the shower and enjoy this nonsense.”
She peels off clothes, making her way to bathroom. Shimming out of her shorts and panties, skimming her shirt over her head, her bra hits the floor in front of the bathroom sinks. Naked, she stops to admire the room. Gleaming surfaces and lots of mirrors reflect several of her, grinning impishly. She laughs, turning to G, still fully dressed in the doorway. He licks his lips, and her smile widens. He’s watching her with the hungry expression she knows means serious pleasures ahead. Her stomach tumbles in anticipation.
The shower is a spa like marvel of glass, marble and water jets. She spends a moment deciphering the faucets and turns on the hot water. The shower fills with water spray from two sides and a rain panel on the ceiling, immediately fogging with steam. She flicks water off her hand at him. He doesn’t flinch.
“You are lovely.”
She looks up and his blue gaze captures her. “You are lovely.” She offers back. The warmth and desire in his eyes pull her toward him. He’s everything she wants. She frames his face with her hands. “Hi.” She whispers.
“Hi.” He smells faintly like dish soap and sweat. She kisses him, slowly. Her hands slip down his neck to his shoulders. His hands on her ribs bring her up, and against him. He nips her earlobe. She giggles, gasps, bites his neck. He tips her chin up, meeting her eyes. “Hi gorgeous.” His hand comes up into her hair. “Hi.” His mouth settles on hers again, now demanding, stealing her breath. His fingers are hot on her skin. Her fingers tighten in his shirt, she presses to him, not close enough, grinding and finding him hard. “Want you.” He growls.
She feels airdropped into her old life where moments of nothing but him are frequent. “G.” She says on a deep sigh of wanting. She tugs at his shirt, wanting his skin against her. He pulls it off over his head, and she deftly unbuttons his jeans slipping a hand down and savoring his intake of air when she grips him. She hums happily, dropping to her knees, taking his pants with her. The jeans and briefs pool at his feet. Holding him with both hands she takes him in her mouth, humming with the pleasure of the earthy, salty flavor of him. His hands fist in her hair, a groan rising from his belly.
“My turn.” G scoops her up and sets her on the counter.
The cold tile under her butt is a startling contrast to the scald of his mouth, his tongue swipes into her, lapping, sucking, hitting the spots he knows make her crazy. “Oh.” She grips the edge of the sink tightly, lightning pleasure whipping up through her. “Ohhhhh.” Over the edge, quaking. His mouth softens, easing with soft nips and soothing laps.
“Shower?” He gazes, all innocence.
“I…” Her eyes flick to the bed, she wants him in her. “Uh.” She sucks in some air, now warm and humid. She slips from the counter, he tugs her into the shower. The cascade of hot water is insanely arousing in the aftermath, seeming to touch her from every direction at once. His hands are everywhere, too, and she nearly swoons from the stimulation. He cups a breast with a strong hand, rolling the nipple lightly. Her breasts and nipples are hyper responsive these days, and he takes his time, tugging firmly. She leaks milk, the oily slightly sweet liquid adds a silky slip to her skin that feels heavenly.
He bends and licks the underside of her breast and chuckles. Fingers slide up her inner thigh and into her, he curls the fingers, a thumb massaging already aroused flesh. She surrenders to wet, hot, electric pressure from inside and out. She clasps her hands at the back of his neck, her legs shaking. His fingers slip away. “G.” His name slips out like a curse. Hands come to her bottom and lift, he thrusts into her, deep, hard, the insistent rhythm of him spinning her out, not letting her down. She loses track of everything but the slide of him lighting up her senses, riding it, clutching, drawing him with her, past longing. Her second orgasm blends into a third when he purrs his satisfaction, pouring into her.
For a long moment she is crushed between the weight of G and wall of the shower, everything liquid and still melting. His gasps are harsh in her neck, she grips him more tightly, rubbing her face on his shoulder. She’s caught her breath when he leans back. She catches his mouth, kissing him. “Thank you. Needed that.” She sighs.
“Mmmm.” His pupils are blown, huge and dark, rimmed with stormy blue delight.
Her feet find the floor again. Not ready to move apart, they take their time washing each other with their hands, kissing, petting as they go. She likes attending his body, her hands tracing over his skin with soap, caressing the scars, teasing the ticklish bits. She runs her tongue down the fine line of hair that runs from his breastbone past his hips, dusting him with playful kisses. She works lather between his toes, massages the arch of his foot.
Twin sensations of hot water and ebbing passion flow over and through G. Nell’s small hands take inventory of him with silky lather. He’s going to be frighteningly clean before she’s done. He allows her this detailed passage over him, lingering and close. The dark aroma of sex and sandalwood infuses the damp air. Her ministrations comfort and he drifts in a meditative haze. She hums. The quiet busy melodies of living with her.
Exhausted, they towel off. Nell slips on G’s t-shirt and he pulls on briefs. They take the bottle of champagne to the porch and sit in the dark, sipping, listening to sounds of the pool and the city. Hushed conversation nearby, slight pulse of traffic, a siren, then another. An evening breeze ripples through palms overhead, but the air on the porch is still. Nell’s silhouette is etched against the twinkling light from the pool. G trails a hand down her thigh, leans to kiss her, tastes the champagne on her lips. “Nice evening.”
“Really nice.” She bites softly on his bottom lip. “We should do this more often.”
“Which? The hotel? The sex? The champagne?” He teases.
“All of it.” She traces his brow. “Every last bit.”
Nell and G get home a few minutes past 8 the next morning. Kensi and Marty are in the kitchen with Sam eating eggs and bacon. Maryclare is tucked into Sam’s left arm.
“Good morning?” Sam hands the baby to Nell.
“Hello sunshine, oh so happy to see you.” Nell sits and unceremoniously tugs up the hem of her t-shirt. “Hoping you are hungry.” Maryclare is indeed happy to see her breast, mouth opening, leaning. She latches on and Nell sighs. “Whew. Just in time. Thought they might explode.” She presses a palm to her other breast, though it leaks a bit anyway. Conversation halts. “What?”
“That is a lot of you to take in, Nell bells.” Marty offers.
“Well, if you people are moving in, get used to it.” Nell strokes Maryclare’s head. G and Sam laugh.
G pulls up a chair and serves himself a plate of eggs and bacon. Kensi brings Nell a glass of water and cup of tea. Sam puts some food on a plate and slides it to Nell. She picks up a strip of bacon and nibbles. “Hey guys, thank you so much for last night. Really.”
“Seemed like you guys could use a break. About the time Zoey was her age, Michelle’s sister came and stayed for a couple of weeks and she made us get out for the night once a week. It was a real life saver. Or, I should say, marriage saver.”
“Well, it was crazy sweet to get out of here. So, thank you, again.” Nell turns in her chair and moves Maryclare to the other breast. “When is the next time?”
The work from home strategy is brilliant. A week later, Eric arrives with a van full of equipment. Nell has staked out the dining room as least used and easiest to convert to an office. Two plasmas and dedicated hard lines for phones and web access and Nell’s in business. While not the same as being onsite, she gathers and analyzes an impressive amount of intelligence.
Incidentally G does a fair amount of analysis over her shoulder. The ease with which he picks up on and then incorporates her work habits and strategies is spooky. No doubt why he made such a good spook. He’s also a good workmate. Nell foresees keeping this set up when they return to work. Neither of them will want to go back to 60 hour work weeks, at least not away from home.
G’s got Maryclare, who is becoming Clary or Clares, propped with rolled dishtowels in the highchair. He’s spooning applesauce in, and it’s finally mostly staying in. Around mouthfuls of food Clary babbles conversationally. G answers with the occasional ‘um hum.’
“Amah.” Clary calls.
It sounds to Nell as if Clary is calling her. She looks over from her monitor to see Clary bang on the tray with pleasure. “Are you saying Mama?”
“Think that’s you.” G is grinning, spoon in mid-air.
Nell comes to the counter and touches Clary’s nose. “What’s up, miss?”
Clary offers a long string of syllables. G hands Nell the spoon and the jar of applesauce. “As long as you’re here.” He stands up and offers her the seat.
“So anything to do with food and I’m popular, huh?”
Clary swallows. “Amah. Amah.” Her tiny fists beat on the tray and she bounces.
G gets leftover pizza from the fridge. “You want some?”
Nell nods. “Can we talk about work?”
“Hmmmm.” This noise is neither assent or refusal.
“One of us ought to go back in a month.” Nell says, 5 months seems exorbitant and delicious. “I’m about to run out of leave.”
“We can afford unpaid leave if you want.” G has said this before. While she has some money saved, it’s nothing like the reserves he’s squirreled away.
“Maybe, but we should start looking for a nanny.”
“Don’t want a nanny.” He has already nixed daycare. He doesn’t like the idea of Maryclare in the hands of anyone he doesn’t know. All very papa bear and dear. She loves the growly possessiveness of him, even when she struggles to find ways out from under it. When Hetty told her those longs months ago that G wasn’t prepared for intimacy, it had not occurred to Nell his MO would be carefully guard every aspect of it like a land claim.
She spoons applesauce into Clary’s open mouth. G warms up the pizza and puts two slices beside her on the counter. He opens a bottle of wine and pours two glasses.
“So you want to take her to work with us?” His brow gathers. She smiles. “Joking. Just want you to at least suggest something you’ll be okay with.” G still stares. She reaches up and touches his lips, eliciting a smile.
“Don’t know.” He murmurs. “I like this.”
“Me, too.” She agrees.
After dinner G nestles Clary into the stuffed donut on the floor to play with a frog shaped teething ring. they finish eating, and take the wine to sit on the floor. Nell cozies between G’s legs, leaning back to watch TV. He’s binge watching season one of Fringe, which she saw when it was broadcast. He wraps fingers around her hair. She watches him. It occurs to her that he’s honed his mad morphing skills instead of risking real relationships. Her mom’s thought that she’s lucky he shows up is almost right, but not quite. He shows up. It’s not luck. Contentment swells in her belly. As she settles in to watch TV with him, she wonders if he has enough money for them to just be here.
Ok, yeah - kept writing. Ah, well. Feedback feeds the beast - so chime in.
Chapter 14: "Work is important."
Chapter Fourteen - "Work is important."
Kensi is a little confused by how relaxed Nell is as a mom. The running joke had been anything about the precision baby, scheduled play, coordinated outfits. But it seems the baby relaxes Nell in much the same way being with G relaxes her. Nell has been back at work for two weeks, leaving the baby at home. Callen and the baby stop by twice a day to nurse. It’s all very sweet and domestic and frankly frightening. They’re making it look much easier than it should. Kensi wonders if maybe she gives in and moves in with Marty if… no, it wouldn’t work that way for her. She gazes at Marty, who is in a bliss bubble holding and talking to the infant Maryclare Callen, undisputedly the cutest baby Kensi has ever seen.
Marty is deep in conversation with the 6 month old, discussing who knows what. His voice is low and steady, as if the baby is his equal in the conversation. Maryclare, in response, is waving her arms at him and babbling along in what sounds like garbled sentences. Kensi grins. This is a side of Marty she usually only sees at home.
Callen, still on paternity leave, has joined the team at the diner after work. Eric recounts the day’s escapades up in tech ops, Nell chiming in. Callen sits beside Nell, arm stretched across the back of her chair, his hand playing aimlessly with the end of her ponytail. Marty looks up and catches Kensi’s eyes. He grins and she can’t help but smile. He’s looking particularly scrumptious.
“He’s gonna make somebody a good dad.” Callen remarks to Kensi, inclining his head towards Marty. “She’s mesmerized.”
“Yeah, I see that.” Kensi allows, it’s tempting to deflect to a joke about Marty being about as mature as the baby.
As if sensing it, G heads her off with, “Clary’s an excellent judge of character.”
Marty, perfectly capable of talking and listening at the same time, is surprised and a little embarrassed by Callen’s compliment. Kensi tucks her ankle on the inside of his, applying some pressure. He glances at her, a question in his eyes. She shakes her head.
Sam arrives and pulls a chair up. “Hey, partner.” He chides Callen. “Have you people worked out the child care so you can get back to work?”
Nell arches her brows. “Well. Yeesss. Sort of.” Nell’s mom is coming to stay for six months, allowing Callen to go back to work and putting off child care decision making until Maryclare is a year old. She’ll be there in the morning.
Sam throws his hands up in happy relief. “About time. What is it? No. Don’t care. Not my business.” He turns to Callen. “When are you back?”
Callen laughs. “Monday, in fact.”
When Marty returns from his morning surf, he finds Kensi in the kitchen. She grins over a cup of coffee. “Hey.”
“Hi.” He looks around, spies tacos on the counter beside a tall cup of what he’s guessing is green tea for him. “What?”
“Thought you’d enjoy some breakfast.”
“I will.” He pulls up a stool. “Still wondering what you’re doing here.”
“Wanted to see you. Is that okay?” Kensi comes around the corner and sidles up against him.
Marty sighs. He unwraps the tacos and opens hotsauce. He shakes his head. “What do you need?”
“A tiny favor?”
“Mmm?” He’s wolfing down the tacos. Hadn’t realized how hungry he was.
“Help me clean the gutters at mom’s this afternoon?”
“Good god, I can’t wait for that.” He intones around a bite. “Seriously? I was planning to…”
“Listen, if we had a kid, would you be, like, a stay at home dad?”
Marty glances up, tilts his head. Her mismatched eyes are wide and earnest, focused on him from a few paces. His brows loft up. “Random much?” He licks his fingers. “And, we’re not having having a baby. What are you talking about? And why?”
“I don’t know. I was just impressed with how Callen takes care of that baby.”
“That baby has a name. Maryclare. He’s afraid he’ll lose them, which is why he’s having attachment issues. I have no such fears. I have nothing to lose. I’m certainly not losing you. Certainly not losing our imaginary baby.” He chuckles. “You are a mess. Help me change, and then we’ll go to your mom’s.” He keeps her hand, tugging her toward the bedroom. “I’m gonna expect dinner.” Kensi’s smile widens. She dances around him, taking the lead. Marty’s eyes roll skyward. “Come here.” He pulls her up against him, kisses her. “You’re so sexy.” He kisses her neck. “And so bossy.” His teeth graze her collar bone.
“You love it.”
“I do.” He steps her through the doorway. “I really do.”
Callen has Sam in view through a pair of binoculars and has everyone’s voices in his ear. Marty hassles Kensi as they weave among vendor’s stalls. Nell narrates from tech ops. Sam works with the delivery crew, hoisting a keg onto his broad shoulders. “See, now that’s why you always get to be the help.” Callen remarks.
“Uh huh. Go ahead. Make fun of the big guy.” Sam mutters.
“It’s not my fault you’re huge.”
“No. It’s your fault you’re not.”
Callen grins. “Yes. Indeed.”
“Guys, on Sam’s nine. Greison.” Nell.
Callen lowers the binoculars and sweeps his gaze to Sam’s left. “Got him. Marty, he’s moving past the pretzel stand. Kensi, flank him.” He gets out of the car and draws his weapon as his team swings into action. Two hours later, the team is back at OSP filling out arrest paperwork and incident reports.
Sam brings his over for Callen’s signature. “Good to have you back.”
“What? You didn’t enjoy the extra paperwork?”
“Nah. Just feels right.” Sam goes back to his desk.
“Did he just pay you a compliment?” Marty feigns disbelief, putting additional paperwork in Callen’s in box with a flourish.
“I think he did. Sam, did you just pay me a compliment?” Callen lets incredulity rise in his voice.
“No. I did not pay you a compliment. I was just commenting on the working atmosphere around here.” Sam grumbles.
“I don’t know. It sounded like a compliment.” Callen muses. “It felt like a compliment.”
“If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” Marty heads towards Kensi’s desk.
“Now I might call you a duck.” Sam grins.
Hetty glances up, watches the room for a long moment, thinking Sam is correct. It just feels right. She would never make the mistake of saying Mr. Callen is a good leader. He is far too self contained, too rough around the edges to be skillful at guiding others. On the other hand, it would be unwise to the point of foolish to ignore the gravitational reliability with which others follow him. She’s been part of more teams than she can count. This particular team gets its confidence from G and Nell. His steadiness and her accuracy anchor the team’s personality. If, or should she say when, those two decide to get married and have a bunch of small Callen’s running about the suburbs, this team will disintegrate. Ah, well. Hetty has also been through that more times than she wants to count. Perhaps… well, she won’t get ahead of herself.
The Lozano Bar - Calderon drug trafficking sting is six weeks in the making. For the past month, and to G’s spoken and unspoken disapproval, Nell’s been working the bar at Lozano’s. Last week, Kensi began serving and dancing and Marty made himself into something of a regular. Nell found the documentation of money laundering for a drug cartel out of Mexico within days of her arrival. Two days ago, Kensi asked about her brother, a dealer in northern California, getting some product and maybe bringing in some business. Introductions and arrests happen tonight.
When Callen, aka Kensi’s brother Wade, walks in the bar the atmosphere changes. He’s in leather from the feet up, scuffed up work boots, worn leather pants, tight white t-shirt, a leather jacket that used to be black and has worn to the rich graphite color of stone. Nell admires his instant command of the room. The chill he brings in with him is pure threat. He comes directly to the bar, no eye contact with anyone until he reaches the counter. Nell moves to him. She is essentially unrecognizable, lots of eye makeup and sporting a long black wig, wearing a skin tight black minidress and combat boots. She is doll-like, expression solemn and disinterested. Watching something unfold from tech ops has its own joys, but being here breathing in the dynamics is another experience altogether. “What can I get you?”
Callen looks her over, a smile touching his mouth. “Shot of jack.” She pours, answering his smile with one of her own, slides the shot glass to him and takes his money.
Kensi grabs Callen by the neck. “Wade, Wade, I’m glad to see you.” She lands a kiss on his cheek. “I want you to meet my boss.” She drags him away from the bar.
Callen’s gaze lingers on Nell. “Set me up one more.” He turns to follow Kensi behind the bar and into the hallway. Marty gives it a moment and follows. Nell waits a beat, takes off her apron and walks.
“You. Ass.” Nell hurls the icy words at G when he steps in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry.” He glances around wondering where Nell’s mother and the baby are. Wondering how ugly this is going to get.
“Sorry. Son. Of a bitch.” She confirms on a hiss. The hour between the time they got back to OSP and got home has intensified her anger, now fury. She presses her hands to her eyes, as if to block out the very sight of him. That hurts. Badly. G stills in the middle of the room, mid-way to her, now a full stop. Without lowering her hands she goes on. “How dare you step in front of me, make me look like… I cannot…” She takes another breath, not wanting to start crying again. “You want to get me fired? Undermine the team trust in me? Get yourself killed in front of me?”
“I’m sorry.” He repeats. Although he is not sorry for anything other than her pain. He swallows. “No. Stop. Please.” He wants her to look at him. Can’t make her. She’s shaking. He wants to hold her, and is certain she doesn’t want that. He breathes. “Listen. I don’t care about any of that. I’m not going to care about any of that. I’m not gonna stand there and let someone take a shot at you. It’s not going to happen. Couldn’t even if I tried. And, I can’t try.”
“You’re not sorry.”
“Well, I’m sorry you’re so angry. I’m sorry you think I should not protect you.”
“What if I did it to you?”
The silence is long. Ridiculous question, he thinks. Being on the team means being willing to take a bullet for the other. And being willing to kill for the other. It also means keeping your head in the situation at hand. She’s not ready. He knew she wasn’t ready. He and Hetty have argued this until he is practically blue. He’s exhausted with this. He can’t have her on his team, and she’s going to kill him in his sleep. This makes him smile, and unfortunately her hands come down at that very moment.
She hurls herself at him, fists and head landing on his chest, knocking him backwards several steps and he begins to fall. Her fists rain down on him as he lands, her atop him, and he groans. He wraps her, holds her against him, buries his face in her neck. She smells of cinnamon and tears. He brings a leg up and over her, effectively pinning her beside him. She collapses into a heap of angry sobs. “Don’t patronize me.”
“I’m not. I wasn’t. I was thinking you’re gonna kill me in my sleep.” He murmurs in her hair. “Where’s your mom and Clary?”
She wipes at her face as best she can within the circle of his embrace. “I don’t know. I asked her to take the baby and leave for a couple hours.”
G hates not knowing where his daughter is. Ever. Irrationally. He gets past it for the moment and turns his attention back to Nell. She stops shaking, and the crying ebbs to hiccups. It occurs to him that she has never been this angry with him. He kisses her forehead, her neck. “Okay. Here’s the thing. You’re with me. Not some idea of me. Me. Still me.”
“I know.” She admits. She isn’t sure how she both understands him and is furious with him at the same time. “Damn it.”
“Can you at least give me a tiny bit of credit. I would do it for Sam.”
“Idiot.” She pulls back enough to glare at him. “Why do you think your life is less valuable than ours? Why would you do that?”
He shrugs. Happily she is actually looking at him with some semblance of acknowledgement. With the glare there’s hint of affection. A glimpse of acceptance. A start. He kisses her chin. “We can’t go out together anymore, you know.”
“G.” She shakes her head with vehemence.
“I’d rather live with you than work with you.” That gets a smile, and he begins to relax his hold on her. “I gotta lead the team. Don’t want to lead you.” Her smile widens. "And surely don't want to fight with you about work."
"Work is important."
"It is." He agrees.
Nell sits up, shoves her hair back and sighs. "I've worked really hard for this."
He props up on his elbows. "I know you have. And well done. Tell your mom to come on home. We need to go back to OSP." She frowns. He stands and extends a hand to pull her to her feet. "Eric has security video. We're going to watch it and see if we can dissect what happened out there."
Nell boots up the video from this afternoon. G makes himself comfortable in Eric's chair, pulling it up until his thigh touches her knees. His arm comes around her shoulders as the screen above them fills with the image of Marty's gun, leading him into the courtyard. Kensi comes in behind him and he turns right, Kensi left, Nell comes into view, passes the corridor, G on her six. Nell drifts to the left, G to the right. The unsub steps into the courtyard directly in front of Nell. Her gun tracks him and as she declares herself, the unsub lifts a semi-automatic rifle towards her, G takes four strides towards the unsub and in front of Nell. For a brief second G is standing between Nell and the unsub, her gun pointed at his back and the machine gun in his face. Then the machine gun spins away from the unsub - Marty shot it out of his hands.
The distance G walked was equally toward the unsub and in front of Nell. On screen she looks tiny. She cringes. G’s movement was sudden, direct, and distracted the unsub long enough for Marty's move. She freezes the video and turns to him. "I see." She allows. She stares hard at the frozen image, trying to find the words. "I see what you think. It’s just that you didn’t give me a chance to stand my ground. As if you couldn’t believe I can do this. And I can. If I needed to shoot him, I would have shot him.”
“Nobody had to shoot him. There were enough of us there. I know you can defend yourself. But, why would I want you to? Nell, that’s crazy.” He grips her hands.
She lets it sink in. She realizes that she doesn't want him as her teacher anymore. "It felt humiliating." She starts. "I felt out of place suddenly looking at the back of your shirt. I felt like a liability. I can’t see around you, you know. As if you wouldn't have had two guns pointed at you if I wasn't there." She shakes her head. "I see. I see what really happened. I did my job. You did yours." He nods. His eyes are warm on her face, yet serious. He tilts his head, a question in his eyes. She smiles. It is remarkable to be held in his gaze, so safe. “Do you get why I was so angry?”
“I do.” He allows. “I got it the minute I saw your face. There was nothing I could do about it. Not on the job.” He leans closer, his gaze piercing. He hesitates. In his eyes she reads him wanting to say something. She cocks her head. He swallows.
“That bad, huh?”
“Probably not.” He concedes. “But first, tell me why I’m not as good an analyst as you.”
“You’re good at everything.” There’s a note of grudging admiration in her voice.
“Not what I asked.”
She nods. “Okay.” She firms her mouth and gives it some thought. She meets his eyes, which is hard and she lets her gaze drop to rim of his white t-shirt at his neck. “You think in sequential linear steps from one bit of information to the next, instead of thinking in a web so information comes together faster and with more subtlety.” Her gaze rises back to his.
“You’re being awfully nice.” His mouth twitches. “But, yeah, that’s the general problem. I don’t see information in layers the way you can. I see it two dimensions - sometimes I think you can do four or five. On my best day and your worst day you are going to deliver the goods easily three times faster and more thoroughly. Here’s what I see. You are a really good shot, you fight well, and defend well. You have frighteningly accurate people skills.” He shakes his head with bemusement. “I know you can defend yourself, and me and anyone else who needs defending. But, honey, you don’t get out of your head and into the moment fast enough. Why were you thinking anything related to team dynamics of all things? If you can’t see around me, then you’re looking to make sure no one else is coming, not worrying about being patronized.”
Her mouth opens, closes. She looks up at the playback on the plasma. When her eyes come back to him, a faint blush is in her cheeks. But she listens.
“In the field you have to be able to get out of that head space. Like Kensi and Sam, they both turn into the soldier. Cold, steely, automatic, relying on training and instincts. It’s a little different for Marty and me. We disappear, tuck ourselves away and go. You… your head is bouncing all over the place. So if I’m there two bad things happen at the same time. You’re right. I know you’re still there and there’s no doubt I will react in that direction. And you over think.”
“Tell me straight up. Am I a liability out there?” Her eyes are dark with worry.
“No.” He answers flatly. “You’re an asset. I just… if there’s not enough happening out there to keep your brain engaged… I don’t know.”
“Can you let me do the job?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Truthfully, we’re a much stronger team with you and your big brain in my ear than you on the ground. When you’re on the ground, we don’t have the benefit of the intel analysis. And we’ve got one of us agitated about the other one - which is exactly why lovers shouldn’t be partners. We either have to figure out how to do this together or you need to be on another team or you need to stay in tech ops. You’re an asset, you’re really good. Being in love with you is a bit of a hurdle.” She flashes a grin, a twinkle in her eyes. He stands, pulls her to her feet. “Let’s go home.”
Nell leans around the corner to Hetty’s office. “Do you have a minute?”
Hetty looks up and smiles. “For you, always.” She extends a hand.
Nell perches on the edge of the guest chair, her hands clasped in her lap. For a long moment she looks at her hands. One of the nicest things about talking to Hetty is her patience. She knows Hetty will simply wait for her to begin. “You probably know G and I have a hard time out in the field together.”
Hetty nods once.
“G says I think too much. Which, I do.”
Hetty nods again.
“I want this. I’ve worked hard to be a field agent. I’m good. But, I don’t want it at the expense of this team. I don’t want it as much as I want him, to be completely frank. Which sounds ridiculously banal. I will be fine in tech ops. But, before I do anything, I was wondering if you had any advice. Or any suggestions.” She sits back in the chair.
Hetty steeples her fingers over desk desk. She gives Nell a long thoughtful look.
“Hetty, you understand this job better than anyone. And you understand us.”
“Don’t be so sure of that, my dear. But, thank you. There’s nothing I have wanted more than for Mr. Callen to have good things in his life. You, young lady, are far more than either he or I could have dreamt.” Hetty raises a hand to forestall Nell’s demuring. “There are several limitations to my experience. I have never had, or tried to have, what you and Mr. Callen share. I have no children. No lover. I have this job. I love this job. I don’t wish that on you. Or on him. Therefor I believe we will all need to be open to the unexpected.”
Nell’s brow gathers. “I should…”
Hetty stops her again. “There is no should, Nell. You had a plan. It’s changed. I hope for the better. But, different. Give this time. You may have to make something new instead of trying to fit into a field agent mold. Try not to push. ”
Nell nods. “I think I can do that.” She hears the doubt and grins.
“Oh, I expect you can.” Hetty chuckles. “Back to work.” She waves Nell towards the door and the stairs.
G finds Nell on the back porch swing. “There you are.”
“Here I am.” She pulls her feet up to make room for him. “She’s asleep?”
“She is asleep and your mom’s asleep. I was thinking about a nap myself.”
“Can I ask you about something?”
Nell doesn’t usually preface questions or ask permission. He looks over at her, brows high.
“The other day you said lovers shouldn’t be partners. Which I know. But, I mean, how serious of a rule is that? Will Marty and Kensi be okay?”
G lifts her hair from her neck and rubs small circles on her nape. “I’m not going to do anything, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m pretty sure Hetty isn’t. I haven’t talked to her about it, though. Once we talk about it, then it’s out there. Neither one of us wants to go there. At least not yet.”
Nell turns to look at him. “They’re like the exception that makes the rule. They’re better together instead of worse.”
He nods. “For the moment.”
“You don’t think that will last?”
“How can it? It’s gotta be hell having to hide, that’s gotta take a toll on all kinds of things. It kills Marty. I don’t see him being satisfied with that in the long run. And she. Well, she’s a whole other bundle of mess. Something’s gotta give.”
“We should do something.”
He gives her a long look, his eyes narrowing. “When you figure that out, you let me know.”
“I’m going back to only tech ops.”
His hand falls from her hair to her shoulder and he grips her. She offers a half smile and a nod. He frowns. “Why? What happened?”
She’s acutely aware he doesn’t protest or disagree. She nods again. “I talked to Hetty, talked to mom, thought about what you said last night. Thought about what happened when I was sent from Quantico to cyber operations. Why that happened. Why I fight it. What I’m good at. You know. The usual, over thinking.” Her smile widens to a grin. She rests a hand on his thigh. “But here’s the thing, G. I’m choosing this so I can make it more.”
He’s watching her carefully. His smile is slow, starting in his eyes. “Okay. We can do that.” He leans to kiss her nose forehead, her nose, her mouth.
She kisses him back, wraps her arms around his neck and climbs into his lap. “Don’t choke yourself trying to swallow all that relief.”
Chapter 15: "I'm working on it"
Callen leans on the door jamb in silence, arms crossed over his chest. The team is narrowing in on proposing an undercover on an op across the country that looks to last longer than he likes. Nell glances at him, takes in his posture, meets his eyes with with what she hopes is a reassuring gaze. His face is like a gathering storm cloud. Their gazes lock and hold while conversation eddies around the room.
“I believe while an undercover effort might bear fruit, there is merit in a straight investigative approach as well.” Hetty muses.
Sam shakes his head. “There’s no way we find out who is driving this if they have any idea we are coming. They’re too high up the food chain. They might stop, but we won’t find them.”
“The big guy is right.” Marty puts in. “Even if we stop the leaks for now, there would be no guarantee it would stop for good unless we take down some personnel.”
The intel leak is coming directly from the White House and going to China. The Vice President’s office is asking for this help. Callen takes his gaze from Nell. “We would need Nell on White House staff. Me on the security detail.” He is rarely the person suggesting Nell go out, but the this job is bound to be hip deep in digital surveillance in some way. The idea of both of them on assignment for the first time in months raises questions no one can ask. “Sam on the secret service detail. Marty I need you with me. Kens, you on the support staff.”
Hetty nods slowly. “I’m consulting with Director Vance in five minutes to talk about this and other matters. We’ll take this up again later.”
Nell tilts her head and walks to where Callen still stands in the doorway. “I have an idea.” She raises a brow. She rises up on her toes and he bends so she can kiss his chin.
“If we do this, you’re gonna have to clean up.” Callen thumps Marty gently in the chest.
“Yeah.” Marty falls into his chair.
Kensi walks behind him and ruffles his hair. “Shave and a haircut. Oh my.” She perches on the edge of his desk.
Sam folds in behind his desk. “No way Vance let’s us all go when they have a team in DC.”
Kensi nods. “Agreed. Hold off on the haircut.” Marty perks up.
Nell is whispering something to Callen that looks more like work than flirt. Kensi shoots her a questioning glance. Nell gives her a ‘tell you in a minute’ look. That just piques Kensi’s interest and she nudges Marty. “What’s that about?” Sam circles closer. Work isn’t private and Nell is outspoken. Whispering just gets attention. Everyone knows Callen and Nell in the field together is a cranky Callen and a pissed off Nell. Them all out of town seems tailor made for Callen unhappiness.
Sam mutters, “no matter how you slice it, I don’t see us all in DC. I’ll go and get the lay of the land, meet some people, see what I can learn, see what’s needed.”
“How about Kensi and I go with you and start a straight up investigation to distract whoever it is.” Marty offers. “If…”
Callen holds up a hand. “Guys, hang on.” He spends a moment looking at Nell. She shrugs. He turns to his team. “Nell thinks we could try hacking in from here. Running it as a cyber ops mission.” Eyes turn to Nell. She nods, shrugs. The team immediately begins a hushed assessment of the pro’s and con’s. The idea of a purely cyber ops is new. None of them is sure how that would work.
When Hetty comes back into the room, attention shifts to her. “Ideas?”
“Hetty, Nell has a suggestion.” Callen sits behind his desk and leans back in his chair. Hetty’s eyes move patiently from one to the other.
Nell moves up beside him and takes a deep breath. “The White House staff is seasoned and tight, any new faces will raise suspicion. We can start it as a cyber ops mission, covertly, with the permission of the Secret Service.
Callen turns to her. “Say more.”
“With the support of the Secret Service Tim McGee can go in at night, check out the system security, put in some access ports and get out in maybe 6 hours. I can manage an investigation and surveillance from here. When we find the digital fingerprints we can turn it over to the FBI and let them decide how they want to handle it.”
“That assumes no one in the detail is involved.” Callen shakes his head. “Are we sure?”
Hetty gives him a long look. “We’re not sure. The Vice President wants an agency external to the White House for a reason. And, he wants Nell. Whatever is happening involves someone without clearance getting into some very sensitive data that’s very well encrypted. Or worse, it involves someone with security clearance selling information. Either way we could be looking a treason. Never pretty.”
Callen turns to Nell. “Can you hack in without the Secret Service and find out anything about the source?”
“Yeah, I can start here for sure and learn a lot. I’m not sure what permissions we’d need to make it legal. But, we could find out.”
Callen turns to Hetty and nods.
Hetty looks from one of them to the other for long moments. She purses her lips. “I’ll propose it to Director Vance and the Sec Nav.”
Callen mounts the stairs to Tech Ops. Both Nell and Eric swivel to face him. they both look so expectant he grins. “Seems we’ve got a green light from the White House along with some useful passwords. Walk me through the next steps.” He pulls up a chair and listens as Nell and Eric outline a plan of attack.
Late in the afternoon Nell pours two cups of tea, hers with milk and sugar. She sets a cup in front of G, dropping a kiss on his forehead. “Thank you.”
He looks up, a question in his eyes.
“My first cyber operation. I only ever want you on my six.”
“Good. You’re stuck with me.” His voice still has a terse edge from the morning’s assignment dilemma. She eases into the chair in front of his desk, holding his gaze. They look at each other for a long time, sipping tea, until G leans back, his shoulders relaxing. He spreads a hand on his desktop where it leaves a damp print. “I want this all to be easier.”
“Me, too.” She says. “We’ve been snooping around the system in the White House. I have an overwhelming urge to brag about that online, by the way.” She giggles. “I’m looking for any obvious malware or other sneaks in play. Eric is looking to see which systems and who has touched the data we’re worried about in the past six months. He could use a hand. The First Lady’s staff office has a bullpen with four unassigned computers, which is where I would start if I was breaking in. I need to get spyware on them. Tim can do it for me tonight. With surveillance in place, we can watch tomorrow to get a feel for the routine out there. I’ve also got a program prowling through the daily logs looking for specific types of anomalies. Can I run assignments past you in the morning?”
“We all stay here?”
“For the moment.” She allows. Her smile widens. “I have some very specific plans, especially for you tonight.”
His face brightens, finally. “Really? That’s what you’re going for? Placate the monster with sex?”
“Worked didn’t it?” She inclines her head. “First smile since this morning. I know my monster.” She stands, leans to kiss him again. With a wicked curve to her mouth she heads back up to tech ops. G watches her go. His gaze lingers on the spot where she vanishes from view.
“Better?” Sam asks.
Sam shakes his head. Sam is accustomed to trying to keep G from wandering off, now the concept of trying to get him to leave is so contrary to the man’s nature it’s ludicrous. He’s elbow deep in paperwork. “You gotta get past it, man.”
“I know, I know.” G mutters. “Damn it. I know.”
“Michelle says you need therapy.” Sam offers.
“Yes. I know that too. She told me. She tells Nell. Repeatedly.”
“She’s always right.” Sam reminds.
“She owns you.”
“You better believe it.” Sam chuckles. “And if you think Nell doesn’t own you, you are one seriously deluded individual.”
G stands abruptly. “Gonna work out.” He goes.
Kensi sends a glance to Marty, with a ‘told you so’ smile. She is the only one of them who predicted this particular disturbance in the force. Sam shuffles paper pointedly. “Come on people, paperwork.” Five minutes later the faint patter of gloves on a bag drifts into the bullpen.
G beats the shit out of the speed bag, concentrating on moving his feet in time with his fists, keeping his breathing deep and even. He speaks more regularly to Nate than he’d want Sam to know. He talks to Nell. He talks to Hetty. The raw truth is a lifetime of having no one hasn’t equipped him for a flesh and blood family. The moment he held Maryclare something fiercely protective rose up and he hasn’t been able to quell it. Nate says it’s normal, and he needs to accommodate it. He picks up the pace, letting the rhythm take over.
An hour later Hetty finds him leaning against his arms on the wall, soaked. “Mr. Callen. A word?”
He turns his head and looks at her, eyes dark. After a long moment he straightens, squares his shoulders.
Hetty nods, clasps her hands behind her back. “What needs to happen to get you back to working form?”
G’s brows rise, eyes widening. He opens his mouth, has nothing to say, closes it. He’s been asking himself how he got so off kilter. He turns it around, tries to sort out an answer to her question. “If I knew…” He begins. He shakes his head. He takes off his gloves, drops them at his feet. He slowly unwraps his hands. “I won’t have her go through what I did.”
“No.” Hetty waits.
“It never mattered if anything happened to me.”
“It always mattered. Though perhaps not to you.”
He ignores this. “It’s my job to make sure she’s never alone like that.”
Hetty nods. “Yes. It is. Has it occured to you that you have already done that?” His eyes come to her, questioning. She’s serious. She nods again. “Mr. Callen, your parents were on opposites sides of a cold war when they fell in love and started their family. When they were killed, there were significant enemies still active and no family to take you. We have taken care of that. You have a family. Perhaps not a conventional family. Perhaps not the family you searched for. But a family all the same.” G’s eyes narrow, his mouth tight. Hetty extends a hand, touches his elbow lightly. “Your daughter could never be alone. If anything happens to you, she has Nell. If anything happens to you both, she has Nell’s entire family, the Hanna’s and she has me. That is the best anyone can do. It is a damn sight better than your parents were able to do.” He swallows, and she tightens her grip on him. “If you and Nell both walk away from this, who’s to say that there would never be an accident? Never be an illness?” Hetty shakes her head. “No, Mr. Callen. You have done what needs doing. It remains to be seen if you can accept and enjoy what you and your daughter have, or not. Now. I want you to take time off. I don’t want to see you back here unless and until you want to be here.” She lets him go with a gentle pat. She turns and leaves the gym.
G leans back against the wall of the gym and slides down until he’s sitting, arms on knees, head on arms. Has he been so much in the habit of searching for his family that he can’t enjoy the family he has? Has he been so much in the habit of watching his back trail for danger that he can’t enjoy feeling safe? Shit. Hetty is always right. He grits his teeth. He has learned to trust what Hetty sees. He has learned to trust that Sam is there. He has learned to trust that Nell loves him. He sighs. He’s honest enough with himself to admit it’s an unfamiliar luxury to be distracted with something so pedestrian as balancing life and work. He can’t recall having enough emotional anchor to call anything life before. A corner of his mouth lifts. If it wasn’t so annoying the situation would be funny.
There’s a hand on the back of his neck. Nell. He hears her sink to the floor beside him, then he feels the weight of her leaning against him. “You okay?” Her soft voice.
“Hetty sent me home.” He admits without looking up.
“I believe what she said was, she doesn’t want me here unless and until I want to be here. Yeah, almost exactly that.” There’s a long silence before he looks up. Nell is looking back at him, her eyes somber. She takes his hand and squeezes. He returns the pressure.
G’s eyes are still the stormy blue of distress. Nell’s chest tightens. Most days he’s close to having it all together, but today he was a mess. Worse, they’re all starting to try to compensate for him. Herself and Hetty included. Not good. She can’t unlove him nor can she tuck Clary back into her womb. If anything she loves him more, loves everything about him. She leans over and rests her forehead on his shoulder. She closes her eyes. “So, what’re you gonna do?”
He sighs. She feels him shrug under her cheek. “Going home.” He allows. He gets to his feet and pulls her to stand.
They’re nearly home when Nell asks, “would it help if I take her and go with mom back to Eau Claire?” No answer. A block later, G pulls to the curb and turns off the car. He shifts in the seat to face her, his expression perplexed. She shrugs. “I mean, I don’t know how to fix this. Before we…” she glances away and back. “Everything was better before…” she trails off.
“Please don’t suggest that me before you was a good thing.” He says slowly. He sees a flicker of fear in her eyes and his throat constricts.
“If we were with my parents, we’d be safe.” She offers.
“Stop.” He covers her hand with his. “Just stop.” He leans over and touches his mouth to hers, softly, briefly. “What did you tell me before Russia?”
“Together.” She whispers, and he can feel her smile under his lips.
He kisses her again. “Look, I don’t know what the answer is yet. But, whatever it is it’s together. Because, we both know that me before you was not pretty. Focused, yes. But, not whole. So, let’s stick with together. Lack of focus is a problem, not the end of the world as we know it.”
“You seem pretty focused to me.”
His eyes meet hers.
“You seem pretty focused on me and Clary.” She holds his gaze. He frowns, leaning back a little in the seat. She rests a hand on his chest. “Which is lovely, although weird. And not necessary. We can focus on ourselves, you know.” The line of his mouth tightens, and in response she rubs his chest. “Seriously, love. I get it, and I worry about you, especially out in the field. It’s dangerous, what we do. What you do. Sometimes how you do it.” She arches a brow at him with knowing severity. “But, you are the you I fell for, I don’t want you to be someone else. And I don’t want you scared to death all the time, either.”
Bedtime is a bit of an ordeal. Maryclare winds up when she’s tired, making putting her to sleep an exercise in patient persistence. She’s nursed, burped and changed. But, she’s also restless and fussy. Nell tries rocking and walking without success. Eventually Maryclare is whining, on the verge of wailing. Nell brings her into their bedroom. “Can you sing?”
G singing in a low monotone is akin to Gregorian chants and has the benefits of both sound and vibration. It takes a bit for Maryclare to be lulled, and another bit to ease her into her crib. He keeps his hand on her back as she settles. A reminder to her, and to him, that he’s here. Where he belongs.
Nell leans in the door. “Come to bed?”
“Yep.” He stretches, comes to the door and leans to rest his forehead on hers.
“You are damn near irresistible when you’re all vulnerable and . . .” He interrupts her with a kiss and she rises to her toes to kiss him back. “Mmmmm. Completely irresistible.” She chuckles, moving close. She slides her hands up under his t-shirt with a sigh, palms against his skin. He gathers her, kissing her again deeply.
“Did you say something about bed?” He murmurs.
“I did. I want to be with you.” She nuzzles in against his chest. “Want to be touching you.” Her arms twine up around his neck, the length of her molding to him. His hands settle at her waist above the elastic of her sweats. He tugs her closer. He rests his head on hers, enjoying the way they fit together.
“What the hell were you thinking earlier?” He asks, a laugh in his voice. “Go with your mom.” He adds dismissively. “When we could be all snuggled up with each other.” He huffs out a chuckle. He ducks and noses her collar aside, presses his mouth to the hollow of her shoulder. His hands come to her face and he lifts her face to his, his thumbs tracing the line of her jaw. He expression grows solemn. “You have to know I’d quit the job before I ever gave you up.”
She sucks in a breath, absorbing his words. “Well. I do now.” She allows slowly. She covers his hands with hers, weaving fingers between his. “Good to know.” When his lips touch hers, she lifts to her toes to open her mouth against his kiss, kiss him back. His mouth demands, hard against hers. An arm falls to her ribs and grips, gathering her. Fingers dig into her waist, insisting. He wants her, desire arching up from his gut. He gets lost in her for a long moment. But, taking her in the doorway of their daughter’s bedroom, five feet from her mother’s bedroom door isn’t really a choice. With reluctance he lets her go. His hand lingering in her hair.
Nell’s mouth is wet and pink, slightly open and smiling. She takes his hand, pivots and leads him to their bedroom with mock stealth and twinkling eyes. Closing the door softly, she tugs, backing towards the bed until she falls, taking him with her into the folds of the down comforter.
Nell runs her op with predictable precision. She has Kensi going through surveillance video for the past month. Marty helps Eric with user data. Sam begins remote interviews with the Secret Service staff, putting together the big picture of the office routines and protocols. Nell puts each new piece of intel up on a virtual whiteboard she’s got going on the one of the plasmas.
Day two, Nell explains to Hetty she needs G to begin looking for patterns with her. Back in the office G moves bits of intel around on the boards, looking for anything that’s out of place while Nell looks for patterns. Day three she finds the data thief. It takes two more days to wrap up the evidence and the DC team makes the arrest.
Nell has a mountain of paperwork to approve, so Sam offers G a ride home. They discuss the op for a while, both of them impressed with how much they were able to accomplish remotely. They joke a little about becoming obsolete. Finally Sam ventures to ask, “you haven’t been yourself, G. Hetty made it sound like you were taking more time. What the hell is up?”
“I’m still me.” G says. “But a little out of it, yeah.”
G takes this as his due. “Ok, yeah. I’m just trying to get my head back on center, which I know isn’t going to happen. Trying to find a new normal, I guess. Hell, I’m not sure. I spent my whole life looking for family, or at least trying to find out what happened. I’d see people all around me with what I wanted. Connections, family. All that. So close, so commonplace and just outa reach. Now there’s Nell and Clary, you and Mitch, Hetty. It’s crazy, it’s really ordinary, which is perfect. But it’s also, I don’t know, it’s one of kind. I couldn’t replace it. Not even with my original family. Damn it.”
Sam reaches across the center console and grabs G’s shoulder, hard and tight. “Welcome to being human, friend.” His voice is gentle, and happy.
G looks at him, perplexed. Sam shakes his head, smiling broadly. G’s brow furrows. “You saying I wasn’t human until now? That’s harsh, man.”
“It was a close thing, G. You have to admit that.”
“No I don’t.” G protests, but he’s laughing. “I was plenty human. Might not have been happy. But you gotta gimme human.”
“Like I said. It was a close thing.” Sam lifts his hand. “Take it easy with all this, man. Don’t want you to blow any circuits.”
G opens the car door. “I’m working on it.”
G stands on the walkway and watches Sam drive away. It’s dawning on him that what he feels isn’t anything out of the ordinary. This is how it feels to love people.
It’s fifteen degrees colder in DC than LA. At the baggage claim carousel, Nell opens the suitcase and snags Maryclare’s jacket. She tucks the toddler into the coat, snugs the hood under her chin. She zips up their bag and rests Maryclare on her hip. She expertly buckles the carseat to the bag, steers the bag toward the ground transportation exit and a cab.
Gibbs meets them at the curb in front of his house. He pays the cabbie, and grabs the luggage. Nell carries the sleeping Mayclare. When Nell comes back downstairs and settles at the kitchen table, Gibbs sets a cup of tea in front of her. “How’d you get him to let you come?”
Nell shakes her head smiling ruefully. “You’re here.”
Gibbs’s expression says ‘of course.’
“And, he’ll be here tomorrow.” She admits. It’s Thursday. She reports to the Sec Nav and briefs the Secret Service tomorrow. G will be here tomorrow night to spend the weekend with Jethro unless somebody turns up dead in the morning. Perhaps even then. “I want to talk to you about something before I talk to him.” Gibbs looks both surprised and curious. So she plunges ahead. “You retire in three months. We would love you to come live with us.” She stretches a hand across the table to touch his arm. “Please. I need you.” Gibbs is taken aback. He raises his brows. She continues, “it’s been heavenly having my mom. But she has to go home. We can’t juggle the baby and the jobs without help. And G won’t… isn’t… can’t have strangers.” She pulls her hand back, crosses both arms on the table and rests her head, her eyes focused on Gibbs. “We really need another grandparent. G needs a dad. If you come… I think he’d let you help. We need help. If you…”
“Well, I wasn’t expecting you to say that.” Gibbs sipped his tea.
“Think about it?”
“You haven’t talked to him about this at all?"
“No, I probably should have, but if it’s a total non-starter, I’ll look for something else.”
Gibbs gives her a long considered look. “It’s not a non-starter.”
Hope lights up her face. “You’ll think about it.”
“I kinda like the idea.” He sounds surprised, and Nell laughs. Gibbs grins, shaking his head. “I was thinking I would head to the beach, sail my boat. Maybe build another one.”
“We have beaches and docks aplenty.” She leans back into her chair, speculatively. “Would you be okay to talk about it with G when he gets here?”
He nods. “Sure. But you’re looking sleepy right now. You probably need to rest up.”
Friday Maryclare spends the day in the lab with Abby while Nell and Tim brief the Secret Service on what they’d discovered. The team ends up over at Abby and Tim’s house for dinner. By the end of the evening, Maryclare is asleep on Gibbs. Nell takes their picture and texts it to G. Her phone rings.
“Cute. Where are you?”
“Tim and Abby’s”
“Yes. How was your day?
“I missed you.”
“We miss you, too. She was looking for you this morning.”
Nell goes on, “Jethro says hi. Where are you?”
“Atlanta. Be there in three hours.”
Chapter 16: "...this might have something to do with Vienna."
“Ampa?” Maryclare Callen at eighteen months is a dark haired, sloe-eyed scrap of a girl. Skinny and quick, she’s the only baby Gibbs has ever known who has a sense of humor. He constantly wonders how two such serious people gave life to this tiny clown. She brings him the most delight he’s had since his daughter Kelly.
He meets her brown hazel eyes. She extends a book to him. He has been reading Greek mythology to her. She’s rubbing her eyes, it’s nearing seven-thirty and if he starts reading now they won’t get a bath in before she falls asleep. She’s dusty, but since Nell’s not home he decides to put bath time off until morning. He accepts the book and lifts her up to his hip. Her thumb pops in her mouth and her head snugs against his shoulder while they climb to the living room. He gets comfortable in the recliner and opens the book. Maryclare lays back against him, her ear to his chest. He reads.
Gibbs moved in with G and Nell six months back, upon retirement. He recalls looking down into G’s face fifteen years ago under the axle of a jeep and seeing his own eyes staring back at him. If anyone had told him then he'd retire and care for Callen’s kid he would’ve thought they were crazy. But here he is, certainly as happy as he’s ever been. Retiring to the beach and building boats was always in the plan. The family is a bonus.
He’s also certain despite Nell and her family, who love G intensely, that the level of protection Gibbs brings to the house as Maryclare’s granddad comforts G in ways they couldn’t ever imagine. Maybe Nell can imagine. It was after all she who traveled back and forth to DC many times with an infant to convince him, bought the new bigger house, set up the woodshop in the three car garage. For G to be sane, each member of his tiny family has to be safe. Fair enough. Yeah, Nell might not understand how deeply Gibbs appreciates being part of a family. But on some level, Nell gets it.
There are a lot of things Gibbs misses. He misses the thrill of the hunt. He misses Tim and Abby. G and Nell don’t hesitate consult him about cases regularly, and Hetty and Leon don’t seem to mind. At least haven’t objected. Nell has invited Tim and Abby for a week next month. All good. Maryclare is asleep, and in a minute Gibbs’s going to muster the energy to stand up and tuck her in bed.
The house is quiet with both G and Nell gone. They are undercover on an op for the first time in almost a year. It’d been mighty entertaining watching them negotiate. G insisted he could handle the data end of the op and Nell graciously allowed he undoubtedly could, unless something went wrong. Gibbs smiles at the recollection of G’s mouth tightening up for the lack of a counter argument. Nell blythely carried on with the dishes. They left two days later.
Nell’s instinct that G needs a dad was smartly on target. Gibbs spends a lot of time putting G to work in the wood shop and just being. They don’t talk. But in the silence of working together they share a lot about trust and dependence, things they both have had to learn the hard way. What Gibbs wonders is if Nell also knew he needed to parent. He is sure he gets as much, if not more, from the relationships as they do. He needs to do something for her. With that thought he stands up, tiny girl in his arms.
Nell watches G climb out of the pool, savoring every glistening second. He is in the best shape he’s been in since they’ve been together. Tan and lean, muscles ripple fetchingly in the sunlight. The scars on his chest and back, which don’t tan, stand out in startling relief. From the shade of the huge umbrella she’s acutely aware that other women poolside are also enjoying the sight. He comes to her and grabs a towel from the lounger next to hers, toweling off and sitting. He leans to kiss her. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.” She grins at him over her tablet and licks her lips.
“Really?” His blue eyes sparkle with interest. She shrugs, her lips twitching with amusement. “That looks like an invitation if I ever saw one, young lady.” He grips her wrist and pulls, tugging her from her seat and onto his, into his arms. He nuzzles her neck and bites her softly. She squeaks with pleasure. “Mmmm. Just as I suspected.” He stands, lifting her easily and carries her back towards their bungalow, both of them laughing.
In the cottage he drops her on the bed and crawls over her. She shimmies out of her bikini, sighing with the contact of skin on skin. While G doffs his trunks, she wraps her legs around his hips. She lifts her hips and meets him, taking him deep on a long moan. Every slow stroke takes her higher towards the edge. He moves over her with deliberation, knowing exactly what she likes, following her ascension. There’s nothing he enjoys more than making love with her. Her eyes flutter open, her gaze meeting his as she cascades into orgasm. Another quivering stroke and he comes crashing over with her.
Nell shivers with satisfaction. “Oh, thank you, babe.” She whispers, kissing a line from his breastbone up to his chin and his mouth. He pulls away from her, coming to rest beside her, an arm draped over her torso.
“Huh,” he breathes. “My pleasure, ma’am.”
Nell rests her head on G’s chest, listening to his breathing, feeling the thump of his heart under her ear and drifting just above sleep. He smells of summer, sea water, sunscreen, sweat. She feels him fall asleep under her. She matches her breathing to his, a sure lullabye, and skips through a checklist in her mind. Sam and Michelle have eyes on their target for four more hours. Phones are in her bag where she dropped it beside the bed. Maybe they can video chat with Jethro and Clary tonight. She falls asleep.
She rouses from deep sleep to G’s mouth on her neck. His hands are at her hips. She stretches out up against him, pressing close. His mouth finds hers and she kisses him, tasting him, teasing his bottom lip with her teeth. He growls, the sound sending a shiver of anticipation from her mouth to her center. She slides a hand to grasp him, and he thrusts into her grip with a hum of pleasure. They slip in and around each other amidst small soft noises of delight. Though Nell likes sex that is fast, hard and direct, this third go round of the day is languorous, delicate and G is nothing if not thorough. He admires every inch of her with eyes, hands, mouth. Desire spins up, his touch ratchetting past want to need.
She whimpers, a brief keening sound. Her fingers dig into his shoulders, she grinds against his thigh seeking relief. His hand at the back of her knee, lifting. His rumble of ascent precedes a thrust that bottoms him out against her cervix. Release is sudden and total, she moans with the power of it, the thrill. He rocks into her with a steady ferocity that doesn’t let her down, rather arcs pleasure upwards until she melts. He spills into her with a roar of satisfaction that leaves her trembling. She savors the weight of him, the heave of his breath. She sucks in air, shaking.
“Third time’s the charm.” She whispers.
G rolls to her side. “The first two times were pretty charming.”
“You bit me.”
Nell’s eyes fly open. “What?”
“You bit me.”
“Nonsense.” She turns to him. G’s eyes pupils are blown wide, huge with just a rim of icy blue. She can’t help smiling. Her gaze falls to his shoulder where there are clear teeth marks and a very small rip sporting a few drops of blood. “Well, shit.” She licks the blood away and kisses the wound. “That’s gonna leave an awful bruise. You make me crazy. Anyone who sees you in a bathing suit will think...” She feels heat rise to her cheeks.
“What? That you’re marking me up?” He teases.
She covers her face with her hands. “Sam and Michelle.” She intones.
“You know they know we have sex.”
She swats at him. “G.”
G is still laughing at her embarrassment when they meet Sam and Michelle for dinner. The bistro, one of three five star restaurants at the resort, is small and intimate. G orders a bottle of wine for the table. Sam and Michelle arrive looking relaxed and happy.
Sam looks from Nell to G and back again. “You guys look entirely too content.” He accuses. “We had to follow this fool all over the damn place. 8 holes of golf, some kind of kite surfing.”
Michelle shakes her head. “It wasn’t that bad. It’s beautiful here.”
“And you two were snoozing by the pool.” Sam mutters.
“Nope. She bit me.” G points at Nell. Sam turns an interested gaze on her, a brow up.
Nell is torn between screaming, running, throwing something at G and a fervent wish the floor would open up and swallow her. Putting all that aside she takes up the gauntlet. “Yes. Yes, I did. But you have to understand he was being sooooo deliberate and sooooo focused and sooooo thorough...” She brushes hair back with exaggerated frustration. “I couldn’t help it.”
Sam held up a hand. “Waayy too much information.” He glares at G. “She’s spending too much time with you.”
Michelle laughs and leans over to Nell, “I hope you drew blood, sugar.”
“No. No. No.” Sam waves the conversation away. “Can we get some or d'oeuvres over here? And maybe come up with a surveillance plan for tonight and tomorrow?”
There was something in Hetty’s face G didn’t like. They’d stolen the intel they’d gone after and reported in. They go home tomorrow morning. Something about Hetty’s response dogs him. Nell puts toiletries in her bag. “Nell, did Hetty seem off to you?”
“Last night?” Her hands still, she mentally replays the previous evening’s video call. A moment later she tilts her head and looks back at him. “Maybe. She seemed… I don’t know… a little tired.”
“Did she seem at all disappointed to you?” He pursues his thoughts, trying to nail down what he saw. “Not with us, but you know, slightly disappointed in how this went. No that’s not it either. Disappointed by what we found. By who we found.”
Nell shrugs and begins packing again, although more slowly. “I don’t see why. We all knew this was just step one of a much more complex mission. We were lucky to find as much as we did without letting on that we’re looking. We’ve got a ton of analysis to do.” She zips a bag. “What are you thinking?”
“Wish I knew.” He rubs his head in frustration. “Can you cross the info on Abramoff with Hetty?”
Nell gives him a long considering look. “Yeah. I can. Will you finish packing?” She slides the laptop from its bag and moves to the desk.
G packs to the tapping of Nell’s fingers on her keyboard. He doesn’t like being this far away when Hetty is in trouble. He realizes he thinks she’s in some kind of danger and stops to text Marty and Kensi. Something’s up. Don’t know what. Keep an eye on Hetty. Seriously. He scrolls Hetty up on his recent calls list and hits send. He listens to the rings, and then to her voice message. He ends the call. She’ll see that he called. He’ll try back later. Nell’s fingers have stopped and is head snaps up. “What?” He moves to stand behind her.
“His mother was in Vienna with her. And Mathiesson.”
G’s phone rings. He answers on speaker. “Hey, Kens. Nell’s here. What’ve you got?”
“What’s going on?” Kensi’s concern cut through the air. “Hetty didn’t come in today. Marty didn’t get an answer on her phone. We’re headed to her house. What are we looking for?”
“I don’t know. But this might have something to do with Vienna. Be careful. Call me.”
Nell is typing furiously. G peers at the screen over her shoulder. He rests his hands on the back of her chair and she looks up. “I’ll have Eric track Abramoff. I’m trying to get a ping from her phone, but…” She types while she talks. “The thought of the Russians, the Germans and the US intelligence all in the same spot back then...” She bites her bottom lip. “G, something happened in Vienna. Something we don’t know about.”
G gets Sam on the phone and begins telling him what’s going on. By the time he’s done, Sam and Michelle are both standing in the doorway. G ends the call. Sam’s gaze locks on his. “We gotta get back to LA.”
Nell moves their flight up from the morning to the red-eye tonight. As they leave the resort, Kensi and Marty call to tell them that Hetty is not at home. Her phone and laptop are there, undisturbed. She clearly packed and left the house. But, there’s nothing to indicate where she’s headed. Nell and Eric consult and set up several searches to run through the night. After a long debate about being able to do nothing, the team agrees to meet at OSP the following afternoon.
G is quiet on the way to the airport, through airport security to the gate. Nell watches him think. Every chance she has she uses her phone to communicate with Eric and get an up to the moment sitrep as he beings to track Hetty via traffic and security camera feeds. They are seventeen hours behind her, but may be able to get enough information to piece together where she’s headed.
On the plane she snuggles up to G and taps him on the chin. “Hey.” He focuses on her slowly. “Do you think we should maybe let Hetty take care of Hetty?”
“No.” His brow comes down and his eyes narrow. “What are you talking about?”
“Well… when you went off the reservation it was always for a reason. You never wanted us tracking you.”
“But I’m glad you did.” He leans over and kisses her.
“What in the fuck is that?”
Everyone in the bullpen responds to Nell’s tone immediately. They abandoned paperwork and scramble for the stairs, G first, Sam, Kensi, and Marty on his heels. In tech ops they find Nell and Eric staring at the plasma. There in a frozen image, Hetty stands in a bank vault in front of an open safe deposit box. The box holds her passports, cash, gun and Hetty’s hand is on a black book - The Red Badge of Courage - emblazoned on its cover in gold.”
G flashes back three years, Mathiessen in the wind, Hetty’s enigmatic smile when he picked that same book up and commented he hadn’t read it. “When is this? Where is this?” He demands.
“Chase Bank Beverly Hills, two days ago, an hour after your last check in from Oahu.” Eric supplies.
“She takes the book, three passports - the Canadian one’s on top of the other two, I might be able to guess them by elimination in a minute - the gun.” Nell narrates as the video goes back into motion. turn her face up to G. “If I had to guess she’s either going to Vienna or Berlin. But, that’s just guessing.”
Everyone’s mind wheels through the possibilities. A book that has such a dense collection of intel data in it from the cold war era sources from around the world want it. A book Hetty convinced all interested parties never existed. Glances bounce around the group, meeting, holding, seeking the next gaze. “She said the book wasn’t real.” Kensi comments.
“She lied.” Sam intoned.
Eric’s attention is yanked to his console by a flashing alert. Nell is only a fraction of a second behind him. A rueful expression clouds his face. “Granger will be here by three.”
“I gotta talk to Vance.” G moves fast, taking the stairs at a run.
Chapter 17: “He’s damn surprised and happy you’re alive.”
G listens to Vance’s level explanation of why Owen Granger will indeed arrive within hours, and will indeed be supervising the team until Hetty returns. Before he can formulate an additional argument he is distracted by the delightfully disturbing sight of Nell marching down the stairs, gun in holster. A quick glance to the top of the stairs where Eric shrugs helplessness at him has him telling Vance he’ll call back.
Nell stops when she reaches him. “We have to go get her.”
Sam comes up. “Hold on.”
“Nell, wait.” Marty arrives.
Nell turns on Sam. “You know how dangerous this all is. What would we wait for? We can have this argument in route.”
Although Marty looks dubious he is strapping on both guns. Kensi is shutting down her computer. Sam flashes G an imploring look.
G makes up his mind. “Marty and I go. I need the rest of you here.” He takes a breath. He looks at Nell. “Actually, I’m going to need you out of here to give us enough tech support to…” Her fiery gaze stops him. He tilts his head.
“I’m so not staying here to babysit Granger.” Kensi interrupts. “No way.”
“Me either.” Sam agrees.
Nell begins again. “She knew she was on video. She knew we’d find it. She’s counting on it. She’s telling us what to do.”
“You don’t know that...”
“Okay, so we should figure out what the…”
“Of course she knew, but...”
“To get the book and passports she had to…”
“...how was she going to…”
The cross talk piles up, G follows only the gist, not who’s making which argument. Perhaps there’s a message to them in Hetty’s activities, at least those on video. To chase or stay put? Which provides Hetty with the most resources when she needs them? They are a boots on the ground team and G’s begun to suspect that’s as much a weakness as it is a strength. The most annoying statement ever is also the truest: if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Eric’s piercing whistle brings talking and thinking to an abrupt halt. All faces turn up.
“Somebody needs to get up here and look at this.”
The gazes all swing back to G and he presses his lips together, jogs up the stairs. Seven shipping containers have arrived at the Port of Los Angeles without a port of origin amidst a huge cargo from China. And there’s a dead marine in the first one they opened. Homeland is all over it and SecNav wants them there immediately. It looks to be a jurisdiction showdown and LAPD wants in on the murder investigation because that particular marine was an LA resident with prominent connections. When Eric is done briefing, G sighs clear down. “Ok. Marty and Kensi to Waller’s house. Sam and I will hit the dock. And, I’ll try to get Nell back up here.”
Eric offers a grimly appreciative smile and G nods. He takes the stairs slowly, wondering when he became the responsible one here. The argument downstairs has simmered, but not cooled. He stops one step from the bottom. “We’ve got a case.” He glares, insisting. “I’m not saying we stop trying to help Hetty. But we have a job to do and it won’t help her if we don’t do it.” His voice is steel. “Kensi, Marty, Eric has your directions coming to your phones now. Sam you and I are hitting the docks, I’ll fill you in on the way.” He takes the last step down as the three of them move. His eyes lock with Nell’s. He walks to her. “Murder, mayhem and contraband at the docks. We’ll need you upstairs.” Although he lowers his voice, it still has all the steel in.
Nell breathes deeply. She shakes with fury. G grips both shoulders and leans closer. “We will take care of all of this. Hetty trusts we can and we have to trust it, too.” Who is he to be talking about trust? He chuckles at himself, garnering a glare from her. He shrugs. “I know, who am I to talk?” He kisses her mouth lightly. “Guess I caught it from you.” He flashes her a grin and he’s gone.
The case is seven kinds of complex. When Nell heads home for dinner with Clary and Jethro, G and Sam are still on the docks. Throughout the day she and Eric ran intel and surveillance for the current op. They also continued to analyze and collect data tracking Hetty. Nell’s sure Granger noticed, as he skulked around tech ops all day making mostly helpful suggestions. But he didn’t say anything. G called an hour ago and told her Vance had spoken to Hetty the day she left. So Hetty isn’t off lone wolfing, she’s just off. Family business. Nell grits her teeth. They are Hetty’s family, damn it. There are not enough hours in a day. She’s begun to suspect analyzing the intel they brought back from Oahu is critical to where Hetty is and she’s annoyed she’s let it slide to the background. She’ll dig into tonight.
Over dinner Nell fills Gibbs in, talking fast, not sparing a single detail. The recitation helps her get some perspective. Mostly silent, Gibbs contributes a few questions. By the time Nell finishes describing the current op, they’re clearing up in the kitchen. The dishwasher humming and the counters clean, Nell is winding down into speculation and Clary is winding up towards bath time. Gibbs kisses them both on the forehead and nods them up the stairs. Clary’s bath and story time works as a meditation, calm sifts into Nell’s mind with each giggle, splash, chuckle, snuggle.
With Clary asleep, Nell settles in at her desk, fingers flying over the keyboard, images flashing by, scribbling notes on a pad at her elbow. She’s unaware of Gibbs drifting in and getting comfortable in G’s recliner. The recliner meandered around the house for awhile, winding its way from the family room to the master bedroom, finally to the study. Someone can work or watch work in the chair, and all three of them use it to read. Mostly it’s a thinking chair. Which is exactly what Gibbs is doing when Nell pauses to stretch her back and catches sight of his work boots. She swivels toward him which gets his attention. They’re both coming around from deep thought and it takes a moment.
Gibbs grins, blue eyes remain deadly serious. “I can help.”
Nell is sound asleep when G slides in bed. She rouses, turns, burroughs into him. “Hey. What time’s it?”
He wraps arms around her, nestling her close. The clock in his head tells him. “Four. Little after.”
“Urgh.” She wriggles against him until she’s comfy, ear pressed to his chest, her favorite sounds measuring out moments. “Found Hetty. She’s in Poland. Jethro went.” She murmurs. “So I’m gonna work from here tomorrow. Urgh, today.”
“Did you just say Jethro went to Poland to meet Hetty?”
“Mmmm.” Her hand strays across his chest.
G throws an arm over his head, exhaustion tugging at his muscles and bones. “I really really want that to be good news. Is it?”
“Mmmm. I think so, yeah. We got video chat for about three minutes. Seemed like she’s fine. She said s’good you’re here. She was glad when Jethro offered.”
“K.” G rolls toward her, curls and lets sleep take him.
It’ll take another day to wrap up the case. Without a blip of any kind from Hetty or Jethro, Nell assumes all is well. The problem is G doesn’t assume well. He wants to know. And he’s certainly not the only one. In the morning Sam stops by and has Nell recount the entire three minute conversation with Hetty. A couple hours later, Marty is over asking for more low down on Gibbs. Uncles in the house is always a welcome surprise, Clary begins to think it’s the weekend, a concept she only measures in terms of her grownups’ activities.
Tim McGee sniffs the situation out of the ether and is on comms quizzing Nell down by noon bringing the entire DC team into the loop, because anything that involves Jethro clearly involves everyone. When Eric takes his lunch break at the Callen-Jones household, Granger pops up on Nell’s plasma asking if he should relocate the entire office there to get any work out of these people. She thinks he’s joking and rolls with that thought. That and G’s hourly calls.
As people call or come by, Nell invites them back for dinner. Marty and Kensi take Clary down to the beach, splashing about in the surf. Sam and Michelle bring their girls and enough tamales for the clan. Nell combines all the veggies she finds in her fridge for a hearty salad. G brings beer. Eric brings his a new girlfriend, Evangeline, a cgi artist Marty knows from LAPD where she does frequent stints rendering suspects and crime scenes. The evening unspools with good conversation and lots of laughs. It turns out Evan also renders computer simulations for the Army. Nell, Eric and Evangeline launch off on a conversation that sails right over everyone else’s heads and interests.
G wanders down to the beach to join Marty, Kensi and Clary. The baby is tired from her antics with Uncle Marty and the busy day in general. She reaches her arms up to G and when he lifts her, her head tucks into his shoulder, thumb popping into her mouth. G snuggles, kisses her neck.
“What’s wrong with you?” Marty asks, falling into step with G.
“I dunno. Case closed tomorrow. Bad guys already in the joint. Hetty safe and sound in Poland. Why are you walking around like you’ve lost your best friend?”
G offers Marty a sharp gaze. The dude is ten times more perceptive than anyone has the right to be. And so damn eager. G is about to defend his mood when it hits him. For all intents and purposes his parents are in enemy territory, doing something he has no idea what it is. Again. Instead of being an adult, as in realizing that this is nothing like his childhood and he is not a child, he’s sulking, feeling belligerent, and preparing for abandonment. Marty keeps glancing over and G knows he’ll be content with whatever answer G gives, as long as it’s an answer. Well shit. Guess therapy works. He sucks in a breath. “I’m a bit freaked out by Hetty taking off and now with Jethro going, I’m having mild childhood terror flashbacks.”
Marty nods. “I know what that’s like. Sucks. Lemme know if you need something.”
“Ok.” G drawls, amused now. Surprisingly, now he’s fessed up, some small note of anxiety is easing.
Kensi walks with them, listening to two of her favorite boys behave like men for a moment. She starts the slow turn that will take them up the stairs and back to the house and the guys shift directions with her seamlessly. If G’s response to life is permanent defense, Marty’s is finely tuned emotional radar. Given her own sphinx-like reserve, his ability to read her accurately is both infuriating and perfect. She slips her hand into his.
Friday begins when G wins rochambeau and gets to stay home. He is still at the table with Clary, tea and cheerios when Nell takes off for OSP. Leaving Granger to sort out the lingering turf pissing with Homeland and LAPD is doubly satisfying as he pulls on swim trunks, gets Clary into her suit, slathers them both with sunscreen and heads for the beach. While there’s always the possibility of something blowing up any minute, he’s betting on it being a paperwork day.
Clary swam before she walked and having her in the ocean requires one’s full attention, she’s not afraid of anything out there. Gibbs has made sure the baby is at home in the water, and Marty’s already got her body surfing. Where the water is up to G sternum they stop to play the breath holding game. When he sits they are under water, when he stands they aren’t. Big breath. Under. Wave at each other. Up. Clary will do this forever. The upside being she will sleep for hours afterwards.
So much about his little one brings memories hauntingly back. Snippets of recall he searched for for decades arrive effortlessly. How had it never occurred to him that parenting would unlock melodies, rhymes, and soft words spoken in the dark? How had he not imagined the mixed scents of talc and applesauce would carry the gift of his mother’s smile? Clary underwater, all huge eyes and floating hair, a visceral echo of his sister and the icy water of the Black Sea. He hasn’t figured out yet how to thank Nell for this thing. For accidentally returning his family to him so gently. He keeps a journal of new found memories and she reads it, writes notes and questions in the margins, a conversation they have without having it. He stands one more time, water streaming, his daughter crowing, and Nell jogs across the sand as if he conjured her.
Hatless and ponytail free, she must be in a hurry. She’s waving him in from the water. Her hair blows across her face, whipping around in the breeze. G glances at his shadow on the waves, it’s not even 10:00, she hasn’t been gone more than an hour. He frowns. Nell bounces on the balls of her feet at the edge of surf line. She hasn’t thought this through, because when Clary sees her the baby leaps from G to Nell and Nell is instantly soaked. She scoops up the sopping wet child without complaint. G scowls. “What the hell?”
“Hetty wants to talk to you. She’s on videochat. Come on.”
“Of course. Well, I think so. She just wants to talk to you. She told me to come home and get you on.” They walk up the beach, Clary babbling away about fishes. “I did call.”
G is surprised when Jethro’s image appears on the plasma. “Jethro, everything alright?” Gibbs’s smile is relaxed, his gaze easy, answering that question. “Hetty wants to talk to me?”
“She does.” Gibbs concedes. “In a minute. We have information about Reznikov.” Everything inside of G stills. He and Jethro look at one another for a long quiet moment. Jethro’s face tells G an avalanche is coming. G’s face tells Jethro he’s braced. “Reznikov is here.” An avalanche of three words. G hears Nell rasp in a sudden breath. “Met him this morning.” Jethro continues evenly.“He’s damn surprised and happy you’re alive.”
Nell, holding a damp sleeping toddler on one hip, texts madly with her free hand. Her intel analysis of the two men in front of her is swift and flawless. Hetty found G’s father alive. She and Gibbs met him this morning. The first reply comes back from Marty before her phone screen dims. Be there in 5. OSP is fifteen minutes away.
Nell’s phone ding brings G’s attention back to the present. He glances at her, raises a brow. She lifts a shoulder. “Um. Family meeting in half hour?” She aks. As she wanted, G flashes a grin, for a second lifted from the mire of new reality. It’s team code for considering rogue action either at work or in their personal lives.
“Give me until dinner?” He turns back to Jethro. “I should talk to Hetty.” He pulls up the chair and settles.
Nell fires off a text about dinner and fields a variety of questions from the team while Hetty describes how she decided to leverage assistance finding G’s father. There are a lot of questions flying around, both spoken and not, about G meeting Reznikov. G doesn’t offer answers and Nell has to literally keep her tongue between her teeth to keep from chiming in.
Marty shows up anyway, strides through the house to the study and wraps G in an embrace. The two men hold each other for a long moment. Nell steps up and thanks Hetty and Jethro, signing off the call. Marty lets go and back up a step shaking his head. “Man.” He mutters. “Man.”
“I said dinner.” Nell chides.
“I know.” Marty offers a wolfish grin. “But I figure you guys big time need some emergency babysitting. So I took the rest of the day. Gimme.” He extends his arms and Nell transfers the sleeping baby to him gratefully. “Now scram.” He shoos them out of the study and down the hall, receding up the stairs.
Nell looks at G, wondering if he needs her, or needs alone, or… He reaches and she leans into his arms. His beard scrapes her cheek and neck. He smells like the ocean. She realizes she’s the only person who has used the word father. Something more is happening here than she sees. She mentally plucks the word from her vocabulary about Reznikov. “Shooting range?” She asks.
G shakes his head. “Walk.”
Chapter 18: “Be careful what you ask for?”
The scotch is rich and sinfully smooth sliding down his throat. Callen hums approval and takes a second sip. He turns the snifter in his hand, watching the gold liquid swirl gently and warm to his touch. OSP is quiet and dark, save Hetty’s desk lamp.
“Are you angry with me?”
Callen meets Hetty’s eyes warily. “Should I be?” If there’s more, he’s not sure he wants to hear it. He’s still digesting the shitstorm of a breathing Reznikov whose forty years of grieving must equal his own. Not to mention half-sibling, three of them. Hetty continues to gaze at him, sip her scotch. “No.” He says. “No, of course not.”
“I couldn’t have borne it should it been a false lead. A mistaken identity.” Hetty explains. “It wasn’t in me to get your hopes up, and have them dashed again.”
Callen isn’t angry, but he’s not feeling filled with gratitude either. Maybe he should be. He’s undecided about whether or not she should have told him something sooner. It’s done. He’s not trying to decipher it. There’s simply too much else happening in his gut to add in any feelings at all about what Hetty did. It helps to know she does what she does to protect him. He’s learned enough from Sam and Nell to recognize love when it comes in this guise, and he is grateful for that. The corner of his mouth rises and he inclines his head. Hetty nudges the thick album on the desk between them fractionally closer. Its leather binding looks to be hand stitched and worn from use. A thick cream colored envelope rests on the album. He puts a hand on it and looks up.
“I had a time getting that away, I’ll tell you. He wanted me to make a copy. Jethro made it very clear you deserve to see the originals.” Hetty murmured. “We haven’t, either of us, looked at that.” She pushes her chair away and stands. “I’ll leave you to it.” As she walks past, she rests her hand on his and squeezes.
Callen downs the last swallow of scotch. Now that it comes to it, he’s not sure OSP is the right place to delve into his past. He stares at four inches of what looks to be photographs, paper, cloth, what all is in here? He picks up the envelope. The purr of air conditioning and processors creates a familiar and peaceful kind of silence. He opens the envelope with slow deliberation and finds another smaller envelope inside addressed simply Сын Мой возлюбленный Gavril. His face burns, tears scald and breath halts. Here is proof the memory he’d had one night while singing Clary to sleep is a true one. Once upon a time he was a beloved son called Gavril. He sighs. That same night, a couple months back, he’d also been struck by fear he has been searching for a name that would never be his again, the name of a little boy who’d grown up and away from the dreams his mother and father gave him or imagined for him. He tapped the letter on the table. Even so, he is his parent’s child, son of a CIA informant and a policeman. The corner of his mouth quirks. He unfolds the page written by his father to him two days ago.
There are no words to convey the joy and sadness I feel knowing you are alive. On August 12, 1975 - I had been in prison four days - my father told me Clara and the children were assassinated on the beach in Vama Vache. Months passed before I could see out of my grief to ask him what happened, but he didn’t know. Know I have loved you every day.
After two years in the work camps, while we were being transported who knows where, several of us attacked the guards and escaped our imprisonment. I was homeless for a time before coming to Poland. I assumed a new name. I started another life. If I had known you were alive, I would have stopped at nothing to find you. I am sorry.
This notebook contains what I have from my life with Clara and with you. My mother gathered what she could from the house, fearful that she would never see me again. It’s what I was able to smuggle from my parents. I have not gone gone by the name Nikita Reznikov for nearly forty years. I am known, and know myself, as Grigori Wisneski. I am thirty years re-married with two more sons and two grandsons. Anya and the boys have always known about my first family.
Henrietta tells me you have searched for information about our family since you were old enough to look. She tells me I have a granddaughter, too. You and your family are always welcome here. Our door and hearts are open.
There is much to say. Many memories to share. Many amends to make.
His father’s initial as a signature is eerily like his own. He rubs a hand over his head. He can’t open up the album, yet. He’s also not at all sure he wants to do any of this alone. He should want to do this alone. He turned down the offers from both Nell and Jethro to come with him. Perhaps just take a dispassionate and quick first swipe through the entire album. Just see what’s in there. Get a feel for…
His fingers rebel, stopping on the second page. A marriage license signed Nikita Reznikov and Clara Callen, under a picture of a tall willowy blonde boy with a square jaw and a soft smile, his arm possessively wrapped around the shoulders of a dark haired girl with big eyes and a small bouquet clutched in her hands. His fingers trace the signatures, the faded ink. They were kids. His mother touched this piece of paper.
This isn’t going to work. He closes the book. Aw, what the hell. He swings the thing up under his arm and heads home.
Nell puts a foot out of shower and grabs a towel. She towels off her hair, and then her face. Something is tapping and she glances up, raindrops fall on the shower skylight in a gentle patter. The weather has been threatening all evening and they need the rain. She wonders if G is home yet. Stepping out of the shower stall and nearly dry, she opens the door, letting steam out, and assessing the empty bedroom. If he's home, he's either in the kitchen or in Clary's room. All is silent. She glances at the clock. Nine thirty. She slathers body lotion from toes to shoulders. Finishing up at her elbows and hands, she moves to the window, checking for G's car.
G sits on the trunk of the Mercedes in the rain. Nell blinks. Yep. He is sitting in the rain. She cannot imagine what Hetty could have told him or shown him that would cause this. She grabs his black t-shirt from the back of a chair and skins into it, heading for the stairs. G went to OSP meet Hetty and get something after dinner, maybe a little after seven. Nothing Jethro shared with her about the trip to Poland or Reznikov helped her predict G's reaction to having a flesh and blood parent on the planet.
She jogs out the side door and several steps towards the car and stops. It's still warm out, and the rain is soft. She's instantly soaked again. She hesitates. If he wants her he could have called or texted. Albeit she hadn't checked her phone on her quick dash. She doesn't want to intrude. Well, she does, but she also knows better. G looks up and smiles. She lifts a thumb toward the door, "I can go..." His grin widens and he extends a hand. She walks into his arms and leans against his chest with a contented sigh. She looks up. "How long have you been home?"
"Twenty minutes, maybe."
"You don't want to come in?"
He shugs around her. "Trying to figure out when I stopped searching. Two years ago all of this would've been... and now it's... don't get me wrong, I'm intrigued. But I'm not on a plane. For so long there was just this insane need to know. Always thought finding out what happened, and who my family was, would give me some kind of anchor. Now that I don’t need it, here it is.”
Nell watches his face, water glinting gold on his skin in the light from the front porch. She lifts a hand to her brow to keep drops off her lashes. G has undoubtedly spent entire days out in the rain for one reason or another. His mouth twitches with amusement. He licks the end of her nose. She wrinkles her nose and brow in protest. His expression goes solemn again. "Best I can tell it was a gradual thing. There was you. There was Clary. Somewhere in there memories drifted up. And somewhere in there the need slaked off and didn't come back."
"When are you going?"
He holds her gaze, corner of his mouth lifting. "Not going."
Her head tilts.
"Oh, eventually, yeah. We'll go." He says. She nods once. A little shiver runs through her. Cold? Relief? Bit of both? G notices, tugs her closer. "Let's go in."
They tramp through the house, hand in hand, leaving small puddles in their wake. Back in the bathroom, Nell strips off the sopping t-shirt and turns on the hot water of the shower. G peels off wet clothes and follows her in. They stand in the warm water, G leaning on the stone tile and Nell leaning on him.
“D’you have any idea what Hetty leveraged to get the intel on Rez… my… him?” G slows to a halt, absolutely unsure how he wants to think about his father.
Nell snuggles closer. “Nope. No clue. Maybe something from the book?”
“That would be crazy.”
“Well… stranger things have happened. But I don’t think she’s gonna tell you.” She pats his chest.
G laughs. “I’m sure you’re right about that.”
Warmed up and dried off, they slip into bed. Nell curls into the curve of G's body until her face is nestled where she likes it, under his chin, snug against his chest.
The morning is bright and dry. G brings the large notebook in and sets it on the table where Nell and Jethro are finishing breakfast. Nell reaches for it, flipping open the cover. “What’s this?” She reads, chewing on toast. “Oh.” She swallows. She turns pages slowly, glancing at birth certificates and stiff black and white pictures. She lifts a small square, smiling. “You.” She flips the picture over, reading. “May 1970. You were like three months old.”
Jethro lifts his brows at G. “Coward.”
Nell looks up. “What?”
G and Jethro are laughing. Jethro points at G’s chest. “He’s afraid to look at all that stuff, so he baited you into doing it.” He accuses.
Nell turns to G. He lifts a shoulder, leans back against the counter. She purses her lips. “Is this what Hetty gave you last night?”
“That and some information.”
Nell continues to look through the scrapbook. There are cloth baby shoes pressed between wax paper. A crocheted doily. She lifts out a sheaf of flimsy paper. Tiny cramped cyrillic lettering. She begins to read. “Letters from your father to your mother.” She reads a bit longer, then puts the pages back and eases the book closed. “What are you going to do with all this?” Her gaze returns to G.
“I’m not really sure.” He admits. “I don’t even know what to call Reznikov. He goes by Wisneski, now. And somehow dad just doesn’t feel right.” He chuckles with a rueful quirk at the corner of his mouth. “Take this all one day at a time, I guess. Go to work and see if we can sort out the data coming out of China. Come home for dinner. Carry on. You coming?”
Nell picks up her tea cup and gets to her feet. G nods to Jethro, gesturing to the notebook.
“You drove last time.”
“You’re not driving, G.” Sam already has the driver’s door of the Challenger open. G stops near the bumper, glaring. Sam shrugs. “Get in or we take two cars.” Sam slides behind the wheel.
G climbs in as Sam punches the victim’s address into navigation. “If you’re driving and we have a runner I have to run.” G grumbles.
“You’re younger.” Sam points out. “And smaller. You’re faster G, admit it.”
G rolls his eyes. “You strong. Me fast.”
“Exactly.” Sam taps on his earwig. “Eric. What have you got?”
G taps his on and they listen while Eric delivers the responding officer’s notes on the crime scene. Photos of the victim, dead and alive, pop up on G’s phone and he sifts through them. Nell’s voice chimes in with the victim’s recent history. Hetty wraps the briefing up with instructions to stay out of LAPD’s homicide investigation and concentrate on the money laundering.
“So when are you gonna tell me about Reznikov?” Sam asks.
G lifts his brows. Sam glances over, looks back at the road. G squares his shoulders. “Nothing to tell.”
“Well. I haven’t talked to him.”
“Okay.” G concedes. “His parents were told we all died that day on the beach.”
“How are you with this? I mean, you never expected to find either of your parents alive. Now your father is alive and well in Poland and you’re all calm about it. Doesn’t make any sense.”
“No it doesn’t.”
Sam is nonplussed by G’s agreement. He cuts a sideways glance at his partner. “G.”
“Boys.” Nell’s voice in their ears. “Focus.”
G smirks. “Yeah, Sam, focus.”
“This isn’t the end of this.” Sam intones.
“I’m sure it’s not.”
That is the end of it for the next five hours. Engrossed by crime scene anomalies and confronted by a furious girlfriend with family ties to a Colombian cartel, the team is busy for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, the girlfriend stews in a holding cell and Hetty counsels them to wait another day before interrogating her again.
The ride home is unusually quiet. Nell is determined to leave G to his own devices to sort through having a father, and to sort through what to tell people. Not that she has any idea how to be useful. She has read Grigori Wisneski’s letter. She’s also poured over the contents of the album and matched up information from G’s journal to documents and photos, filling in some gaps. With the additional information in the album she has also been able to find the scant documentation of his father’s arrest and imprisonment, including a notation about the escape and supposed deaths of three unnamed inmates in 1977. Okay, so she’s not so much leaving him to his own devices as trying not to badger him.
“What?” He interrupts her thoughts.
“You’re thinking so loud over there it’s distracting. What?”
“I was thinking, you should probably do a video call with Grigori instead of voice.” She ventures.
G tosses a nonplussed glance her way.
“Do you think his system has video capability?”
G sighs. “Why video?”
“Well it’s not like either of you talk, so, maybe if you can see each other?”
“I expect we can talk to each other.” He mutters.
“Talk to Sam?”
“It’s been two weeks. He’s been your brother for how many years now. Shutting him out makes it seem unimportant. And we both know that’s not true.” Her voice drops away as she hears the bluntness of her words. She reaches over and soothes her hand down his thigh.
He sighs, muscles bunching at his jaw. “Is it possible to have too much family?”
“Every day.” Nell confirms. “But, too late now.”
“Be careful what you ask for?”
Nell chuffs a breath out, surprised at his humor. “The grass is always greener?”
“Good one.” He merges south onto the highway, and turns his attention back to the road.
Chapter 19: "It's not worth this."
G has his father’s eyes and jawline. For long long moments the two men simply look at one another via the video connection. G feels the scrutiny crawl along his skin. Both men maintain careful neutral faces, measuring gazes with equally cool eyes. Cops taking each other’s measure. Strangers trying to become acquainted. Finding hints of attachments long absent, but not entirely forgotten. Assessing the familiar and the new.
“It is remarkable to see you.” Wisneski says, a hint of pleasure showing in his eyes.
G nods. His breath quickens, the email exchanges helped but somehow this moment is affecting. His father’s voice is startlingly known. His hands tighten on the back of chair between him and the screen. He has seen photos of his half-brothers, and knows the resemblance makes him doubly familiar to this man.
“I am curious to ask you what you remember from our life. Our life before. But I suspect you want to hear more from me about your mother.”
G’s mouth tightens.
Grigori smiles for the first time, looking past the camera. “When you were a baby, she carried you in a papoose on her chest. She sang, walking back and forth to her mother’s house. She had the biggest brown eyes, lit up with brilliance. Much like your Nell.” His eyes come back to the screen. “We were so proud. So earnest, too. We had such plans to change the world. Perhaps we did. We knew you were the best thing we had ever done. And you survive.”
The two men settle into weekly video calls on Sundays. The initial awkwardness eases into a kind of formal acquaintance. Listening to them converse, Nell’s Russian improves. Nell is usually at her desk across the room playing solitaire. They learn early on that her eavesdropping spares G her inquisition as he recounts conversations. As each conversation winds to a close, never more than twenty minutes long, Grigori invites G to come meet him in person. Each time G agrees to go, deftly deferring details such as dates or travel plans.
They’re in the paper goods aisle when Nell answers her phone. “This is Nell.” She listens, stops walking, grabs G’s sleeve. “Yes.” Color drains from her face. “Oh god, no.” Her eyes fasten on G’s, her expression slightly glazed. “Yes. I’ll be right there. Yes. Thank you.”
Nell’s fingers dig into flesh. G reflexively scoops Clary out of the seat in the shopping cart.
Nell shakes her head. “Marty was shot. We have to go. He’s at Cedars-Sinai. G, he’s going into surgery. I’m his next of kin.” She’s speed walking through the grocery aisles as they abandon the half full cart and head for the doors.
“You are?” G keeps pace. Clary has a fist full of his t-shirt.
“We have to go.”
G flips on the visor light bar and speeds through the city. “Why are you Marty’s next of kin?”
Nell ignores him. She's got her phone up again, her voice soft and low. "Hi sweetie. Where are you? Okay. Listen honey, I have news, and it's bad. It's Marty. You know that job he’s on with LAPD? Yeah. Yes. No, sweetie, I need you to listen. He was shot this morning."
G glances over, grips the steering wheel a little tighter. She must be talking to Kensi. He hears Kensi’s voice rise, but not what she's saying. Thankfully. He can't imagine the anguish. Or maybe he can. He refocuses on the road. Wonders what Nell’s face looked like the day he was shot, a sick feeling in the pit of his belly. Marty doesn’t have any more family than he does. Less, now. But he’d’ve thought Kensi, or Hetty…
Nell continues. "Yes, we're on our way right now. He's at Cedars-Sinai. Sweetie, I'm afraid they're taking him into surgery now. No, not a chance, Sam will pick you up right."
She calls Sam. G checks on Clary in the back seat. Thumb in mouth, these days a sign she knows somethings not quite right. He takes the turn into the emergency room parking area fast, slots the Mercedes into zone of the law enforcement spaces. He throws his NCIS placard on the dash, Nell already out of the car.
"I'll meet you." She's jogging up the walk.
G gathers Clary from the car seat. His heart thuds against his ribs. He has a flash of memory, Marty grinning in the sunshine. He shakes off that thought as he moves swiftly through the emergency room doors and catches up with Nell at the counter. A doctor approaches Nell.
“Miss Jones? Mr. Deeks took two shots, one to the shoulder, one to the head. He’s in surgery now. They’re gonna have a lot more information when they get in there. But, I have to be honest, it didn’t look good.” The guy takes Nell’s arm and moves her gently away from the desk. “Dr. Kantor is the very best, and it looks as if Mr. Deeks will survive. But, we won’t know what’s happening in his head for quite awhile. You can wait here in the waiting room. We’ll have him admitted soon and you can go up to the room then.” He nods in the direction of some couches and chairs. “I’ll keep you informed.” He’s gone.
Nell turns to G, her eyes dark, plaintive and full. Clary reaches and she takes her absently. “I asked Sam to call Hetty and Jethro.” She comments. She sucks in a deep breath. G puts an arm around her and kisses her head, trying to put reassurance in his touch. There’s nothing to say or do. He’s about to suggest they sit when Kensi strides through the doors and towards the desk.
G jogs to intercept Kensi. “Kens. Here.” He grips her shoulder. “Hey.” He takes in her panicked expression, her short breath.
“Where is he?”
“Surgery.” G says. “He’ll live. But, he took a shot to the head. We won’t know anything else until…” He stops because Kensi can’t hear him anymore, her face blanches, blanks and she bends over with a moan. G slips an arm around her waist and half carries her to a chair near Nell. “I got ya.”
“Saaaaam.” Clary pipes up, sliding off Nell’s lap she runs to where Sam sweeps her into his arms.
Sam kisses Clary and chucks her under the chin. “How’s my sugar?” He growls, kissing her neck until she crows. Hugging the giggling girl tight, he searches the faces of his friends and assesses the seriousness of this situation. Nell looks a bit shocky; pale, shallow breath. Kensi is crumbled onto G. But, G’s steely resignation is probably the scariest. Hetty arrives, followed by Jethro. While Nell repeats what little they know, Sam steps outside to call Mitch, hungry to hear her voice, he gives her the few details he has so far, increasingly angry that whatever backup Marty had out there wasn’t enough. Unacceptable. When he ends that call he dials LAPD, wanting to know what the hell happened out there.
It seems no time has passed, or perhaps it’s been ages, when a nurse’s aide sends them up to the room Marty’s admitted to. The room is cold and dark. Two chairs and a bag of Marty’s clothes and belongings are in a corner. Monitoring equipment sits silent against the wall. Without a bed in the room, it feels eery and isolated. Nell sighs and turns on the lights, sending G to get at least one more chair. Jethro has taken Clary home, and Hetty and Sam decide to wait in the cafeteria until called. G, Nell and Kensi sit silently waiting. Kensi’s distress fills the excess space in the room with palpable tension. She holds Nell’s hand and stares at the floor.
Too many hours pass before Marty comes out of surgery, and moves to recovery. A phone call to the room phone summons Nell to recovery. G watches Kensi wring her hands tightly together, fear in every curve of her posture, curled in a chair, leaning against Sam. He glances at Hetty and catches her gazing at him. Her mouth twitches and her eyes go to Kensi and come back to him, she nods once. G pushes off the wall and kneels in front of Kensi. He wraps his hands around hers. "Hey." She focuses on him. He locks his gaze to hers. "It's not worth this. The job. It's not worth it. We'll figure it out somehow. But, right now let's get you in there with him." He stands, bringing her to her feet with him.
At the nurse’s station outside the recovery ward G patiently explains that Kensi, who is Marty's significant other, needs to be admitted to stay with him. Interestingly, they require Nell's permission. Kensi vanishes through the wide double doors, and a moment later Nell flies back through the doors and into G’s arms. He gathers her to him in a possessive crush, sighing into her hair. It's not worth this, he realizes, a weight lifting. He's got an eternity ahead of him, with these people, these loves, the best company one could ask. Yet every second is precious. Wasting any more of it seems reckless at best, stupid.
Some kinds of fear make things suddenly and extremely clear. Often it is someone else's fear. The fear on Kensi's face is that kind of fear. G's mind shifts into a focused overdrive as Nell presses her face to his chest, the warmth of her breath against his skin. They need to shape lives together that promise as much future as possible. He needs that. He holds Nell until the urgency of her embrace eases. When she settles back on her heels he looks into her face, back in the immediate present, questions in his eyes.
"They got the bullet. There's a path of damage tracking a couple inches from the entry wound, here" she taps a finger lightly on Gs forehead slightly above and beside his right eyebrow. He winces. Her finger slides up and back into his hairline. "And because it was a small caliber bullet it didn't exit through his skull, rimming the lining of his brain and stopping." She sighs, hand coming to cup Gs cheek, lingering along his jaw before dropping away. "Not much damage to the brain, but a hole in his head and bruising and bleeding to keep a close eye on. The neurosurgeon is pretty upbeat, really. He says he's seen people with a lot more damage who heal up to be just fine. But, it's gonna be a long wait. Nothing short of 6 months, maybe longer."
"Let's go tell the others."
Michelle and Nate have joined Hetty and Sam in Marty's room. Nell repeats the prognosis and G leans against wall and fires off a text to Gibbs, Eric, Vance and Marty's LAPD captain. Michelle suggests they go to dinner and call it a night. Agreeing Nell will return afterwards and stay with Kensi, the group reluctantly leaves the hospital.
Driving home, having dropped Nell back at the hospital, G get Sam and Michelle on speaker. “Botched execution?” He asks, his tone icy and clipped.
“Yeah.” Sam growls.
“You talk to whoever supervised that shit show?”
“Drop off Mitch, meet at the armory?”
It’s nearly morning, the edge of the eastern horizon brightening. G slips into the bedroom and finds Nell in the reading chair parked in the bay windows. A pool of gold light fills the small space, and recedes into the room. Hair down and wispy to her shoulders, wearing one of his old t-shirts, her feet tucked up under the hem of his shirt. She’s small and gorgeous and smiling.
During the the furious first four hours of hunting down a pair of men LAPD thought were drug dealers, who turned out to be cartel leaders up from Columbia, she’d sent text after text of intel pointing them in the right direction. His mental picture had been of her in tech ops, but he realizes she was probably right here the whole time. His last text two hours ago had said ‘going in’ and she’d left it there. Waited for him. He feels a twinge of guilt he didn’t call her after the arrest to assure her they were okay. A little beaten up, but ok. He’d just wanted to get home. And they’d been on with Kensi, making sure she knows no one is after Marty. Not any more. Still should’ve called.
He’s in briefs and socks, and she guesses he doffed his clothes in the laundry room on the way in because he came in either bloody or really filthy. She gazes up expectantly. “Taken care of?”
He nods. “Couldn’t sleep?”
She tilts her head.
“Okay, yeah. No. Let me…” he nods towards the bathroom and pads across the room.
Unable to go back to the magazine article she was barely reading before he got home, Nell sits and listens to G rinse off, wondering if she really wants to know how he and Sam took care of the Columbians, or what Marty was doing this morning, um, yesterday morning. She’s bone weary, so tired her intercostals ache. She’s not entirely sure how she managed to wait through what G was doing out in the criminal world with Marty already so badly injured. She does know better than to call or text once they move into action, she does know no news is good news. Even relief is heavy. The water cuts off, maybe she can doze a few hours if G’s in bed. She stands and turns off the reading light.
G comes behind Nell at the edge of the bed, his hands settle on her waist, he rests his face on her shoulder and breathes her in. There are the rosey notes of her soap and shampoo, a powdery Clary smell is there too, tangy undertones of stress-sweat laced with what he has catalogued as Nell smell. Home. He opens his mouth against the curve of her neck. Mine.
When G’s touch changes from comfort to desire, the muscles below Nell’s belly tighten with anticipation. She turns in his arms, lifting her mouth to his, thoughts slipping away into the press of his lips and tongue, the grit of his beard, the surrender that hits whenever he lifts her. They slide across the bedsheets as she reclaims well known and cherished pleasures. His ribs under her palms, the on coming roll of his weight, she takes him deep on the first thrust, thrilling to the utter completeness of him, here-ness of him. The rumble of his moan sets off a cascade of shivery quakes in her. She murmurs urgency in an incoherent rhythm, inner fire arching her back.
Her voice raspy and garbled, her scent now musked with passion, her skin under his fingers and tongue warm and yielding, he gets lost in sensations a familiar as they are exhilarating. He knows exactly what will please her, what will string her out, and that for both of them it is rhythm. Primal, demanding, answering rhythm to the very peaks of pleasure. Thoughts fizzle, overwhelmed with sensations as he chases her up and over the edges of delight.
Jethro doesn’t envy any of them the vigil, or the strain. Not even the vengence. Last night he’d checked in with Tim, Ziva and Tony before even getting Clary to the house. All that being said it was frankly frustrating to be rocking a toddler to sleep while someone else sat at a bedside or chased down the bad guys. The trip to Poland freshened his sense of adventure. What the kids don’t know can’t come back and bite them. In fact, Hetty needs to watch her back - with which he will help - or she needs to retire. The best perk of retirement is absolutely no qualms about strong arming information out of a fellow retired Russian agent about a mess 40 years ago no one cares about to find Grigori. Doesn’t make it legal.
This morning, figuring G and Nell were up all night, he sets his alarm to wake before Clary. He tiptoes upstairs and into her room with the newspaper and turns off the baby monitor. In the early morning sunshine he reads until she stirs, then scoops her up and heads down to the kitchen. The least he do is help them get extra shut-eye. After breakfast he grabs clothes from the laundry and much to her amusement dresses Clary in the kitchen, including brushing teeth and hair. Giggling, she happily trails off with him to preschool. He’s laughing too, there will be hell to pay in 12 years when she tells them she learned how to sneak out of the house from him.
He’s got a text from Hetty saying no change on Marty. He appreciates being allowed in this loop, and hopes no change is good news. The house is still quiet on his return, so he leaves a note on the kitchen table. “C → school.” He pours another cup a coffee on his way to the woodshop. An hour later when G saunters in, Jethro’s got five gorgeous pieces of maple up on the workbench going together with dovetails to create a box he has in mind as a gift for Nell. G leans in the doorway, Jethro looks up briefly. He returns to his work, a little sandpaper, a little glue, a lot of patience. He hears and feels G move to the couch and stretch out.
“Thanks.” G says.
G lays back, ankles propped on the arm of the couch. Jethro glues. G will talk when he’s ready. Jethro snugs pieces of wood, one to the other, and clamps them in place. His mother had a cedar chest. Don’t see those much any more, but Nell might like one. He’ll line the maple with cedar.Two more pieces go together and now he has to wait on that. He scribbles some careful measurements on a scrap of paper and shoves it in his pocket.
The other project he’s working on is a bit smaller and more complex, a tall narrow jewelry box for Abs. She was complaining that they don’t make pretty jewelry boxes that work well for her adornments of cuffs and collars. He’d gotten Tim to estimate some dimensions and created this box to stand on Abby’s chest of drawers. The box is done, he sets it up on the workbench and opens the tall door. He’s got a variety of hooks to install, some gothic and some funky, with a few skulls. Outside the box matches her chest of drawers, clean lines and soft curved corners. The inside of the box is lacquered deep dark red, which looks incredible.
An idea for inlaying a thin red stripe of wood on the door percolates up and Jethro turns to make a note, re-discovering G on the couch. He’d forgotten G was there. He observes the tranquil lines of G’s face, eyes on the ceiling, clearly lost in thought. Jethro huffs out a chuckle. G looks over. Jethro’s face ask what G wants.
G slowly sits up, arms on knees. “I can see ways to move on. Get a bunch of us out of the direct line of fire, and still in the game.”
“I hear a but in there.”
G shakes his head. “More than just one.” His chooses careful words. “How do I talk to Hetty about succession planning?"
They look at one another for a long moment. Jethro wanting to know, ‘are you serious’? G intent. When Jethro finally answers, there's a laugh in his voice. "You don't." G tilts his head, ‘not helpful’ written all over his face. Jethro holds up a hand, saying "I talk to her. You. You wait." G's eyes narrow. Jethro's shrug says that's the way it is. G lets out long breath, half sigh, half irritation. Jethro leans back against the workbench, crossing his arms over his chest. "Talk me through it."
Kensi sits. Her legs are stiff with inactivity, her head aches from holding in tears. It's dim in here, and the constant whirring and beeping is maddening. She wants to know his heart is beating, wants to see the digital tracks of brain activity that mean he hasn't slipped into a coma. Just the noise, it’s beginning to grate.
It's dinner time, and she ought to eat. She told Nell her mom was bringing food, and told her mom Eric was bringing a sandwich. She wants to be alone for a short bit. Well, alone with Marty. It seems as if there were people here all day. Her mom is coming back to spend the night with them tonight. The nurses keep telling her he's doing well. "Hey, Deeks?" She asks his recumbent form. "We got a couple hours of peace and quiet." She's holding his hand, tangling her fingers between his like she does when they make love. Her throat closes up for a second. She’s acutely aware she hasn’t said the words he needs to hear, though she’s not entirely sure what they would be. She has said ‘I love you.’ But there’s a part about ‘want to spend my life with.’ The last time she said those things, wore a ring, made that leap, it was such a disaster. What if the words, if the intention even, jinxes everything. Job, life, love, everything up in smoke again. Marty's head and chest are swathed in bandages, he's got two black eyes. “Don’t leave me, okay?” She whispers.
This is her fault. Marty keeps the LAPD designation because it means that technically they can have a relationship. He joins NCIS and they’ll be put on different teams. He stays with LAPD and she can’t always have his back. Or his head. Or… she massages her temples. Needs to stop thinking. She would give nearly anything to have him just open his eyes and see she’s here. Nothing fancy. “I’m not leaving.” She tells him. “You know that, right?” Oh god, she sounds pathetic. She sucks in her gut, straightens her shoulders. Lock it down, soldier. She firms her lips. Marty would poke her about now and she smiles for a second. Six month ago he asked her to marry him. Not joking. Ring in hand. She hasn’t answered him. Of course she’s gonna say yes. He must know that. Surely, he knows. How she feels. That she doesn’t tell him in words, well, that’s just too awkward, too risky. She needs to say yes.
She could just say yes. Whatever fallout comes from yes will be better than this. She knows where the ring is. The bag with his stuff in it is under the bed. She digs around for his wallet. When she opens the denim bill fold she notices the ring has been in the coin slot so long the denim over it is fading into a curve. Smiling at her. She slips it out. A platinum band, hand engraved, a mere two millimeters wide. A ring for a shooter. She slips it on her finger. She leans over and kisses him. “Yes. There. Yes.”
She takes his hand and folds it into her arms so she can rest her head without letting him go. She’s still tired and hungry, but, all things considered, she feels better. She closes her eyes, twirls the ring on her finger.
Chapter 20: “I’m gonna work on that.”
The final chapter.
Nell and G sparring is complicated. They know each other too well for it to be a straight up fight. They’re too competitive for it to be just exercise. And because it’s always been about sex with them, well, it’s complicated. At the moment G is letting Nell beat on him. He’s countering, keeping her guard up. But, she’s beating out some pissed off and he’s absorbing it. He’s heavier, and stronger, flat out. But they’re equally well coordinated and balanced. And she’s a good bit faster, meaner, and has had lots more martial arts training than he does. If they were fighting he’d be able to take her, but when they spar it’s up for grabs. Especially when pissed off is pissed off at him.
He drops back one half step, looking for room to go on the offensive and she comes after him, lightning speed full body hands and feet coming at him. Holy shit. He completely misses her foot coming for his face, she catches him in the jaw and he goes down like a sack of flour. She also hits the floor, his jaw is a long way up for her, and she sacrifices having a foot under her to take him. She falls beautifully and rolls instantly back up. He lies on the mat, a hand on his jaw, ears ringing, eyes narrow, watching. She has the good grace not to jump on him. It looks as if it’s a close thing though, she’s still bouncing on her toes. Their eyes meet for a brief second, Nell pivots and stalks toward the edge of the mat and the water bottles.
G watches her back retreat. He opens his mouth and stretches his jaw muscles. Ow, shit. She got his ribs a good one, too. He’s hoping she’s done beating him. He knows she’s not done being pissed at him. When she turns to come back, every muscle in his body flexes defensively.
Nell enjoys seeing G clench on her approach a little too much, which she knows is just mean. She lifts a conciliatory hand. She sinks to the mat beside him, thigh touching his arm. He melts back into a puddle of tired. Her body is also protesting the fury of the workout. She notices she didn’t bring him a water bottle, so yeah, still mad. She drops her head on her arms, crossed on her knees. She’s already told him it was patently not okay for him to fucking go to Poland without telling anyone. She’s already told him he cannot scare her with absence, leave them whenever he wants, leave Marty unconscious in a hospital bed. And yes, he was only gone 48 hours, 24 of which were in transit. And yes, he picked up his phone when she called on the way home from the hospital to make dinner plans. He answered the phone, let her ask him to run to the store and said, nope, can’t pick up asparagus because I’m at JFK. Excuse me?
She also understands it was the first time in forty years he’d truly felt like someone’s child. She’s actually proud of him for having the feelings, hell, even acting on them. Not that specific action at that specific time. Not with no notice at all. “Ok.” She says softly. “I’m better. Please tell me what on earth went through you head.”
G considers, he tried to explain several time with absolutely no success. A sigh starts, he reminds himself she’ll slug him if he sighs, swallows that. Starts again. “It was Sunday. Got on the video chat with Gregori. You were at the hospital with Kens and Marty, so I’m telling Gregori what happened, you know, this is what’s going on. Saw his face. And it hit me. Hit me what it would feel like if Clary kept saying she’d come see me and didn’t. If she disappeared next year. If I didn’t get to hold her for 40 years. If she told me she’d gone out into the mean streets and beat up and arrested the asshole who shot her friend. I just, I mean, I just…” Nell stops him with a gentle hand to his chest. “And I’m sorry, Nell, I really am, about the tunnel vision. It was this awful moment and I knew I could fix it. Couldn’t fix anything else. So I went and hugged my father and came back.” He glances over and sees her staring at his chest, cheeks wet with a combination of sweat and tears. “I’m sorry.”
Nell nods slowly. “Ok. That part makes sense. It really does. What doesn’t make sense is the part where you completely forget me, Clary, Marty, everything, and drive to the airport, and get on a plane, and fly away. That part. What is that?”
“That part is still pretty messed up.” He admits. “I’m gonna work on that.”
“G. I don’t want you to work on it.” A sad note of pleading seeps through her voice. “I need you to fix it.”
Something else is happening here. G closes his eyes for a long moment. Why does this feel so huge? Because Marty is still not awake? That scares everyone. Nell least of all, really. He rolls to his side and props up on an elbow. He very slowly tugs her down into his embrace until she’s tucked up next to him. She’s so beautiful it hurts. It also makes him smile. He traces her profile with a finger. “What?” Almost a whisper.
Well that explains it. G lets it settle in, because he likes that very very much, and she’s still mad or sad or something other than delighted. He rests his forehead on hers and waits until she looks at him. He pitches his voice very low. “That is extremely good news.”
“Yeah.” She agrees. They haven’t been trying, but they’d stopped with the birth control. “Found out Sunday. Snagged a test at the hospital. Was coming home to tell you in person.”
“I was in New York.”
She swats at him. “Asshole.”
“Yeah. Asshole who just got the shit beat out of me by a really tiny pregnant chic. Embarrassing.” G collapses back on the mat and throws an arm over his face. To his everlasting relief she chuckles.
Gibbs listens to Nell and G explain why G is bruised up and deliver baby news over a cup of coffee. They are talking over each other a little, like they do when they’re happy. He grins. Nell and G happy is good. More babies is good. When he can get a word in edgewise he points at Nell. “You act like he left you and the kid alone in a jungle without water. I think my feelings might be hurt.”
Nell kisses Jethro on the head. “Don’t you dare make excuses for him.” But, she’s smiling again.
The first thing Marty notices as his brain begins to wake is the sharp smell of antiseptics. Hospital. The last thing he recalls is Enrique Lozano shooting him in the head. Which explains the hospital and the vise around his head, and is significantly better than the eternal nothing he expected. Didn’t happen. Can’t quite wake up though. The second time his brain cruises up for air women are talking quietly and he has to wake up a bit more to recognize it’s Kensi and Rose. He smiles. “Mama, he’s smiling, look.” Kensi’s whisper accompanies him back into the depths. “Deeks, hey. Hey, I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. Love you.”
Marty doesn’t know how much time has passed when he opens his eyes, squints at the light over the bed and mutters, “well, damn.” There’s startled movement beside him, he tries to turn his head to look. Big mistake. The vise around his head snaps shut and his vision dims for a second before he determines that the vise is a concussion and the dimming effect of that is also pain. A long quiet string of cursing ensues. Kensi’s smile comes into his line of returning vision and she chuckles. Frowning hurts, too. “What’s so fucking funny?”
Instead of answering, she kisses him lightly and that’s really good. Really comforting. Just right. He relaxes, the pain lets up. An avalanche of other aches chime in, but it’s all good. It all means still alive. It all also brings a host of nurses and eventually doctors with bad news about his head, good news about his shoulder, killer bright lights in the eyes and demands to move various bits of himself and far too much poking. Kensi’s hand is on him the entire time, which is nice. Weird, but nice weird.
He feels a cascade of morphine hit his system. It’s a bit of surprise, but what the hell can you do about it? People are leaving instead of arriving, for which he’s grateful. He tightens on Kensi’s fingers. He lifts her hand up to verify, yeah, she’s wearing the ring. Must’ve thought he was dying. “Love you, Kens.” He slurs. Damn it. Sleep’s grabbing him.
“Love you, too, Deeks.”
G has always gone where he felt his skills could best be used. No agency hasn’t wanted him. He’s good at what he does. He hasn’t ever tried to make something happen from scratch until now. He’s got his proposal in a black folder, two sheets of paper outlining the justification for a west coast Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, including every reason he, Hetty, Vance and SecNav can come up with explaining why G is the best possible person to set it up and direct it.
He doesn’t mind the suit, though it still strikes him as odd that he owns one. Actually owns two. Sitting in the small reception area outside the office of the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, his mouth curves up in a rueful smile. If this works he’s gonna have more than two. He does mind the dress shoes. Now that the Director of FLETC is on board, these meetings, the next one is two days from now with Sec Johnson, are formality and protocol. But, also an opportunity to show off a little, make a memorable impression. He is asking for a lot of money.
Nell teased him this morning about falling into this as if it’s a legend. It’s her way of warning him not to do this just because he can, it’s not a mission, it’s a career. His career. He’s trying not to. Some of his more professional mannerism though, definitely come from legends she built. Nell says his legends come from him. Introspection is a sure sign of nerves, and he stands, tells the receptionist he’s stepping out for a drink of water. Leaving the folder on the chair he takes a brisk walk back to the elevator, walks the jitter off into easy calm. Better.
He keys into the wireless on the plane home, messaging with Nell, Sam and Hetty, all three conversations going at once. Details of the meetings, they went well. Catching up on a case Sam and Kensi are working, they are stuck with a probie and frustrated. Nell is four months pregnant, which he missed with Clary, and he can hardly keep his hands off her. She knows this and cruelly texted him a selfie just out of the shower this morning that nearly melted his phone. He composes a careful email describing in rather picturesque language what he has planned for this evening. The flurry of communication peters out, and he closes his laptop. Nothing about Marty’s rehab from any of them means that’s still not going as well as one might like. He closes his eyes. Three more hours until home.
Marty’s wits are entirely intact after the gunshot. Physically, it’s been a longer road to get back. G thinks this is because in the real world his recovery will be complete in the six months projected. In the law enforcement world he needs to be back in peak condition, and some coordination issues are proving elusive. You’d think a guy who was surfing already would be doing fine, but large muscle groups versus small isn’t the same. Marty’s been home for a month, daily surf, cooking, playing with Clary, consulting on cases. He’s on paid leave until he recovers. He struggles with writing, tying shoe laces, shooting. He’s still not driving. The doctors predict a full recovery, but in nine months, not the six originally hoped. Bored Marty is interesting.
Kensi, who never does things by halves, has moved to Marty’s house. She says when she gets pregnant, she’s quitting. Nobody saw that coming. Except Hetty, of course. Hetty explained to G over a glass of whisky one night that Kensi needs to be a hundred percent, she can’t be half parent half cop. Hetty predicts Kensi will be happy at home with a couple of kids. G has his doubts. They both remarked Marty needs to make more money if that’s the plan. Then again, if G can get Sam to come teach at the newly proposed FLETC Ventura , Marty can take the Lead Special Agent position. He’d be good.
G still hasn’t had the nerve to talk retirement with Hetty. He has no idea if Jethro has either. G has a small fear that Hetty is grooming Nell to run the unit. He doesn’t want to think about that. Hasn’t asked either one of them. Nell isn’t talking about career at the moment, or not much. She’s talking about childcare, sibling rivalry, staying in shape, and something he’s not clear on about the cyber security systems at the White House. But if it’s occurred to him, you can bet it’s occurred to them. He needs to get her to sit down long enough to get him fully up to speed on that.
He yawns, feeling distinctly dozy. Can’t recall ever falling asleep on an airplane.
Nell rocks on her mom’s porch swing. Feet up, lemonade in hand. Across the yard, G, Jethro and her dad are building a treehouse. The sun’s gonna set soon and they’ll have to call it quits for the day. But for now it’s nice, their voices occasionally rumbling along in the the distance and fireflies just starting to wink at the dusk. Her sister scooped Clary up for a trip to the zoo with her own brood of three, and they’ll be back in an hour. Nell loves being at her parents house. Her mom hovers, but it’s a small price to pay for easier. No work, very little kid stuff, lots of down time with G. Just nice.
Daughter number two, as yet unnamed, is big and restless. There’s a foot on Nell’s diaphragm. Soothing a hand over her belly she stands up and walks out into the yard. Walking does the trick, and baby girl settles down again. “Hey, how long are you guys gonna be out here?”
G reaches for her glass, taking a long swallow of lemonade. “We’re done for the night. Kids back yet?” Nell shakes her head. “Want to get a shower with me?”
“Keep it down, you two.” Jethro smacks G on the back of the head as the group heads for the house.
Heat rises in Nell’s face. This is normal banter at home. Jethro is highly amused by their sex life and remarks on it frequently. In front of her dad, Nell is a bit taken aback. G laughs. “I think your dad knows we have sex, honey.” He pats her belly.
“Yep, I know.” Alan smirks. “If it wasn’t for the 3 year old, or that belly, it’d be the noise.” Jethro gives him a resigned ‘tell me about it’ look. Alan returns a ‘kids, go figure’ look.
Nell’s insides shriek with a combination of shame and pride so toxic she starts laughing. Silent, hysterical, can’t control it laughing. Hurt your giant belly laughing. Hiccup producing laughing. They reach the steps, where Nell stops, hoping to breathe. Jethro and Alan go up the stairs. G stands beside her, head tilted. His icy blue eyes sparkle with amusement, his mouth quirks in a barely suppressed grin. “Gonna be okay?”
Nell fans her face with dramatic hand. “I don’t know.” She squeaks. She hiccups. She waves at the house, shaking her head. “We’re never having sex again.”
This sets her off again. She sinks to sit on the third step. G joins her there, and she leans on him, mirth still shaking her. “I love you, danger mouse.” He says, voice soft and full of humor.
Catching her breath, Nell sobers enough to answer. "Love you, too, secret agent man."
Another Nallen origin story starting up within the week. This needs a really good edit, which will happen soon, too. Thanks for reading. Comments always fuel.