"I've never actually had oysters before," Nell said, regarding the platter with obvious unease.

"Try one," Nate coaxed, and picked up a choice specimen from its bed of crushed ice. "Some people add a little lemon juice, or even a dash of tabasco, but to start off with, just take it as it comes." He held out the shell invitingly and Nell reached out a tentative hand.

"I just swallow, right?"

"You just swallow. It's easy. There's nothing to be afraid of."

She reached out and their fingers touched briefly.

"It seems such a waste – just to swallow it straight down like that."

"It'll be worth it. Believe me."

Looking into his eyes, Nell felt she could trust Nate with anything and it was the easiest thing just to tip back her head and let the oyster slip into her mouth and linger there for just a second before swallowing. "It tastes like the sea!" she exclaimed in delight.

"Exactly. And this is the perfect accompaniment." With a flourish, Nate waved forward a waiter, who poured two glasses of champagne.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to seduce me," Nell giggled. For a split second, Nate's face revealed a surprisingly vulnerability, but then it was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.

"I just wanted to give you a pleasant evening." He'd planned everything so carefully, leaving nothing to chance. He wanted this to be perfect, to show Nell how much he cared.

"Oh, you are - and it is." Nell wished she could stop and think before she spoke; her mother was always telling her to count to ten and then count back down to one, but sometimes she just couldn't help herself. It seemed she was doomed to annoy Eric and hurt Nate – and she wouldn't have done that for the earth. "Can I have another one?" she asked, keen to make amends.

"You can have whatever you want." Sometimes Nate wondered if people ever saw past the exterior appearance to the man beneath. Sometimes he didn't want to know what they saw, if indeed they did just that. Sometimes it was better not to know and to just keep on dreaming.


"So - Kensi and Deeks." It was morning and a sense of lingering regret still floated nebulously around Nate's head.

"Why does everyone call him Deeks?" Nell asked curiously.

"Because that's his name?" They had only just begun and already she was running rings around him, Nate thought.

"I get why everyone calls Callen 'Callen', on account of the fact he doesn't have any other names, but why don't they call Deeks 'Marty'? It doesn't make sense. But then, neither does Deeks, a lot of the time."

Oh my God, she's started to answer her own questions, Nate thought incredulously. Soon she'll be able to analyse herself and then I'll be totally superfluous. Then she'll take over OSP, then NCIS and from then it's a short step to total world domination..

"It just doesn't seem very fair," Nell continued. "Not very friendly. And he's a friendly sort of guy. Even if Kensi doesn't seem to like him very much."

"Really?"

"Really. Have you heard the things she says to him? If I was Deeks, I'd want to smack her."

"Maybe she does?"

"No." Nell was very definite about that. "She might say mean things to him, but her mouth says one thing and her body says another."

"Excuse me?" It was a good thing he was sitting down, Nate thought. It didn't seem quite right to hear Nell speaking like this.

"You just take a good look at Kensi. Look at how she looks at Deeks. She wants him."

"She's already got him. They're partners."

"Maybe she wants to be more than partners? Maybe she just wants him? Period."

Nate knew how she felt. He knew exactly how Kensi felt. "And what about Deeks? How do you think he feels about Kensi?"

"Oh, he definitely wants to feel her. All over. Don't you want to tell them to get a room and just get on with it? I do."

"Don't. Don't say anything, Nell. Not to either of them. You've got to promise me that." Nate was suddenly very afraid of what Kensi might do to her. Deeks would probably just make some sort of remark and try to brush it off, but Kensi would go beserk. Mainly because it was true. Everyone knew it – except the agents concerned.

"Of course I won't say anything. I'm not entirely tactless, you know."

"Tell what you first thought about Kensi," Nate suggested. He knew better than to respond to her last statement. That was going to have to be approached very carefully. Possibly while wearing body armour.

"Confident. Very very very confident. Scarily confident."

"You were scared of Kensi?"

Nell nodded. "Of yes. If you were me –wouldn't you be? I mean, come on Nate – I look like a little girl next to her. Like some Shetland pony standing next to a racehorse or something." Working with Kensi brought back all Nell's latent insecurities. "Who wouldn't want to look like Kensi?"

"I wouldn't change a single thing about the way you look," Nate said, with total sincerity.

"I would." Nell completely missed the subtest. "Girls like me dream of looking like Kensi. And she knows that. She knows how good she looks and she wants everyone else to know it. It's like she's always got a mirror in her pocket just so she can keep checking that she still looks great." And the really annoying this is that she always does look great.

"Kensi's the least vain woman I know. Except for you, of course. And Hetty."

"Nate – let me ask you this – how often does Kensi go to the gym?"

"Every day."

"What size jeans does she wear?"

"Size two." Too late, Nate realised what was happening. Nell's loquaciousness seemed to be catching.

"And you know this how? Because she told you, right? Just like she tells everyone." Nell hated the gym and confined her exercise to cycling on her push bike. And she certainly wasn't about to tell anyone what size jeans she wore, far less that she got them from children's department at Gap. "And I just feel so inadequate beside her. Who wants to be smart when they can be gorgeous and kick ass?" Not me, that's for sure. Just once I want to have a guy look at me the way Deeks looks at Kensi. Just once. That's not asking for much is it?

"I don't have the answer to that one." But Nate knew exactly how she felt. There were times when he looked at Kensi and Deeks, and at Callen and Sam and he felt like he was right back at school again, getting his butt kicked while the cool kids walked by and didn't even know he existed. People were shallow, he knew that – but it didn't help when you were surrounded by physical perfection.

"And she gets to work with Deeks as well. On top of everything else – she gets Deeks and she pretends she doesn't even want him. Ooh – I could bite chunks out of her. I really could." I really like Kensi. I want to be Kensi, but seeing that isn't going to happen, I'd like to be friends with her.

"Do you like Deeks then?" Nate wasn't sure that he wanted to hear the answer to that question. Maybe he should stop this session right now and get out with a few remaining shreds of dignity still intact?


And yes - the inspiration for this did indeed come from the Shania Twayne song!