Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS: Los Angeles

Chapter 3: Tea Time

It had been a few weeks since Dom's service and the team was functioning, barely. Every mission found the team not only working harder but smarter. They seemed to try to be more in tune with each other, to anticipate each other's moves and thoughts. They tried to let each other into their thoughts. Nate taught them a trust exercise. He even had Deeks sit in. He was just a liaison, but they all needed to be able to read each other. Hetty's reminder to them was that they didn't need to be scared to do their jobs, just more cautious.

It had also been months since they had spent any bonding time together. Almost five now. They didn't go anywhere while Dom was missing; they didn't want to take the chance of being inebriated and trying to sober up if any new info came up. So she suggested it at the morning briefing.

"We haven't had a bonding experience in a while and I think we should do something together this weekend. So I want you to think about it and give me your ideas, ok?" There were a few groans. "You can choose or I will choose for you." When they couldn't choose, they often ended up at a karaoke bar.

"No offense, Hetty, but I'm not the mood for beer and bad singing. Well, the beer might not be so bad." Sam said.

"Think about it and get back to me."

It had been two days and not one suggestion had been made. They needed to get away and bond, laugh, make fun of each other, anything to bring back the smiles from before four months ago when Dom first went missing. Hetty had to agree with Sam; she didn't feel much like karaoke either. She was sitting at her desk with a cup of orange pekoe tea and a thought came to her. She let he fingers do some searching on the internet and then placed a very important call.

Friday afternoon and it was about time for everyone to go home. They had all had a pretty quiet day. Mostly paperwork and tying up loose ends. Hetty thought she'd try one more time to get a suggestion out of them before presenting a clue to her surprise.

"So, what are our plans for tonight?" No one said anything. "Shall we go for Chinese? Pizza and beer?" They all just kind of sat there. "I figured as much. Therefore, I will leave you to your devices or vices, whichever you prefer, for tonight. However, Sunday afternoon I will see all of you at 1:45 p.m. in the lobby of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. We will then go to the Rendezvous Court together." She passed out little slips of paper with the address on it. "Everyone should be properly dressed. Mr. Beal, no shorts or flip-flops. Mr. Callen, no jeans. Gentlemen, you should be a suit and shirt. Tie optional." Deeks kind chuckled. "This includes you too Mr. Deeks. You are a part of our team as well. Ms. Blye, a dress or skirt will do nicely. Please make sure you are on time. Parking will be scarce the closer you arrive to 2 p.m. Until Sunday afternoon." She smiled and walked out to her car.

"Wonder what's going on?" Nate asked.

"No jeans?" Callen asked.

"No flip-flops either." Eric said. Sam shook his head.

"Just wear nice decent clothes guys. Millennium Biltmore. Must be something special."

Sunday afternoon

Hetty peeked inside the dining room of the Rendezvous Court. Everything was set up according to her request. She was pleased and she knew the team would be surprised. She hoped it would be a pleasant one. She walked into the lobby and saw that nearly everyone was there. The only exceptions were G and Eric. However, before she could start to complain, they walked through the door dressed as gentlemen. Now she was the one impressed. The Maitre D' came over to them.

"Ms. Lange, your table is ready."
"Thank you, Franklin."She turned to the team. "Shall we?" They followed her into the dining room. Everything seemed so ornate and overwhelming. Dainty and untouchable, were the words that came across G's mind. Franklin led them to their table and they all sat. He pulled Kensi's chair out for her. The table was curved, like a mezza luna, covered with a lace tablecloth and a sky blue one underneath it. Each table setting had a teacup, a saucer, and silverware wrapped in a napkin. In the middle, where Hetty was standing were several teakettles, matching the cups. On the other end of the dining area, they could see other people being shown to their tables.

"Well, I was trying to think of something we could do together and I realized that we have never had tea together. We have one on one from time to time in my office, but nothing like what we will experience today. Here at the Millennium Biltmore, afternoon tea has been served since about 1924; a year or so after it was built. The tradition of afternoon tea, started in the 1800s, Victorian times- by the Duchess of Benford. Lunch would normally be served around noon and dinner later at night around 8 p.m. The Duchess decided she needed to eat something in between the times. And we have what developed into our afternoon snack. If you think about it, we usually have caffeine and something sweet or salty. This is exactly what we will have today."

"Ah, food." G whispered.

"Yes, food." She said. "I'll get to that in a minute. I know many of you wonder why tea is so important to me. It's an excellent way to start the day, or end one for that matter. It's a great pick me up. In the south, it's a staple like grits, fried chicken and lemonade. The best sweet iced tea I ever had was in this restaurant in Atlanta. There are teas to match your mood. Most people know that Chamomile is used as a natural sleep aid. Green teas have become a part of the health craze it the past few years. Blends are made all the time, fruit teas are popular. There are so many benefits from drinking teas and so many uses. You'll find them in your goodie bags when you leave." Everyone's eyes lit up and the possibility of a gift. Maybe today wouldn't be so bad after all.

"The food Mr. Callen. Traditionally, it was scones, pastries and mini sandwiches, called tea sandwiches. Only served at tea time."

"What's a scone?" Deeks asked.

"Ah, British and American cultures have different names for the same thing. For example, what we call potato chips, they call potato crisps. What we call fries, they call chips. What we call cookies, they call biscuits. The closest thing they have to what we call a biscuit is a scone. Scones can be dense or extremely flaky. They can be made plain, sweet or savory."

"Ok, makes sense."

"Pastries served can include cookies, mini cakes, petit fours, and muffins. Traditional tea sandwiches are cucumber, salmon and maybe a chicken salad or some sort."

Hetty began to turn over everyone's blue flower teacups. She then took the silver box from her office and placed it on the table. Everyone recognized it from looking at her tea selections. Now, they would find out what was in it. She placed a bag in everyone's cup and filled each halfway with water.

"I know you know that tea is important to me. And when something is important to me, I like to share it. This is why you are always welcome to join me for a cup of tea. And it must be a cup. Tea should never be sipped from a mug. Those are for coffee. You are also welcome to come in and take some tea back to your desk. I have blends from everywhere. My friends and family send them to from everywhere. I have a place here in the city that will make certain blends for me. Which is what is in your goodie bags. And in my office. I have a blend made for each of you, according to your personality." They were impressed. "None of them tastes like the other. Each is unique, as you are. Each has it's own name. I guess I will need to label them in the office so each of you can find them. And you are welcome to share; I hope that you will."

She took a deep breath and closed the silver box.

"This blend was the one I had made for Dom." Then everyone at the table seemed to take the same deep sigh. "I was drinking it, the day he went missing. I was testing the blend out so to speak, before I shared it with him. It's an oolong tea. Oolongs are considered the finest teas in the world. They are sometimes ranked like champagne. It is part Taiwanese and it doesn't have a long oxidation period. The flavor of most oolongs you'll find is floral and fruity, with a hint of smoky peaches. If you've ever had grilled peaches, you would know the flavor. It's very sweet, no need to add sugar at all. This particular blend has hints of ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and raspberry. The mere scent of it reminded me of the day I met him. I don't really know what was in the air at the time, but this reminds me of the day and I asked him about NCIS. And I smelled it again the day he joined us. Maybe a scent from God Himself. After his disappearance, I vowed not to drink it until I could drink it with him. I didn't get that chance.

What I discovered by testing the blend first was that the longer I let it steep, the sweeter it became and then there was the kick. Not a ridiculously spicy hot kick, like a habanera, but a sweet heat…like"

"Like a strong peppermint that tickles your nose?" Eric asked.

"Something like that. It reminds me of our situation. Tea is basically leaves, but they are useless until they are picked and processed. The drying and oxidation is a waiting period. The full realization comes when the hot water is added and the transformation is complete. The longer the tea steeps the stronger it gets. We have been picked for a certain purpose, gone through a difficult transformation, and we have been stewing in sadness and grief longer than we would like. But we will be stronger for it. We are all stronger because we got the chance to know Dom. And life is sweeter because we got the chance to be there for him and he for us. I miss him too. We will never know what his full talents could have been. But we did get a glance, and I thank God that we did. Perhaps he now has the most dangerous assignment of watching over us and trying to keep us safe." Everyone chuckled a bit.

"I have no doubt that he will follow through." G commented. The team nodded in agreement.

"You can now discard your tea bag, on the side of your saucer. Now if you will, please join me in a toast to our dear Dom." Everyone raised their teacups. "To NCIS Special Agent Dominic Vail- for your quietness, your technique, your skills, your bravery, strength and gentle spirit, your love for family and country- may God Himself grant your reward and rest."

Some replied "Here, here", others "To Dom" as they sipped the tea, made just for him. As they finished the teacups were reunited with saucers. A waiter came to remove the blue flower cups replacing them with white ones with a blue rim. He replaced the teakettles with hotter water.

"There are a variety of teas here in the basket and here…" Two waiters brought the tiers, two filled with sandwiches, and the other two with sweets. "are our treats." One waiter then placed two large salad bowls with tongs on the table, the other set out two sets of plates. One for salad, the other for the treats. Each team member selected their own tea and set out to enjoy their lunch with the Ops Manager.

As they ate, Hetty continued to educate the team on proper tea etiquette, teakettles, oxidation techniques, types of tea, teacups and other purposes for tea. By the end of the afternoon, each team member was glad that Hetty had chosen this place for team bonding. It was different and something they needed.

The team was excited to see what was in their goodie bags. Each bag contained other uses for tea, tea soap, their own special blend, and a coupon to the Tea House. This was Hetty's favorite place for blended tea. The most unexpected item was a hand written thank you note from Dom's family. Dom had talked to his parents about his teammates and they personally thanked each person for being a part of his life and never giving up hope on finding him. Perhaps that was the most cherished item in the bag.

Hetty wondered as she watched the team leave and go home, if she would ever tell them why she picked them and how. It was her secret. She'd always had her secret way to choosing, training and assessing. Similar to how she chose her tea. Both were propriety as far as she was concerned. And if she ever did tell anyone, she would probably have to kill them.