A/N: After the intensity of rewatching 'Sans Voir', I felt the need for fluff, and lots of it, thus, this story. For the record, I thought 'Endgame' last night was awesome! Still no Nallen, but that's why we have fan fiction, right?
Disclaimer: Me- "It's mine. Check." SB- "No, it isn't. Checkmate."
The Office of Special Projects was finally quiet, and Nell Jones sighed in relief. This week, the team had uncovered a terrorist plot to attack the upcoming Navy Ball, where the highest ranking Naval Officers, including SecNav himself, would be in attendance. The plan had been to infiltrate the Ball by going undercover as guests, and take down the terrorists before they could proceed with their attack. However, after several stressful days of planning, they had stumbled upon a piece of intel that allowed them to thwart the plan and bring the bad guys into custody, all a full day before the Ball was to take place. As a thank you, SecNav requested the presence of the entire team, including Eric, Nell and Hetty, at the Ball as his honored guests, instead of as protection detail.
They had all complained about going, but they really couldn't say no to the Secretary of the Navy. Besides, Hetty had given them full access to Wardrobe, with the stipulation that any damages to her outfits would be taken out of their hides and their paychecks. One by one, they had chosen designer outfits that would be suitable for the gala affair, and everyone had left to get ready for the party. Everyone, that is, except Nell.
She sat in Ops very quietly until she was certain she was alone, then relaxed into her chair. She hated this kind of thing. She liked to get dressed up and go out, no doubt, but she felt uncomfortable around the politicos and higher-ups that would be in attendance. She had no desire to stand around all night, nursing a weak drink, making small talk with her superiors, and being scrutinized. So she hid upstairs until everyone had been gone for a bit, then she planned to retire home to a stack of People magazines and a bottle of wine.
"Miss Jones, you'd best start getting ready for the Ball, or you'll be late," a familiar voice interrupted her reverie.
Nell jumped. "Hetty! I thought everyone had gone..."
"I was about to leave when I noticed the lights on in Ops. I assumed Mr. Beale forgot to turn them off in his haste to escape. Why are you still here?"
"I..um... I thought I would just finish up the paperwork on this case tonight."
"The paperwork can wait until tomorrow, dear. Go, and have a good time."
"But Hetty, I'd feel better if I just got it all done. Maybe I could drop by later, if there's time," she hedged.
"Nonsense! You need a break from work. Go. Enjoy yourself. Now, what did you choose to wear this evening?"
Nell sighed. "I..uh...never had a chance to go to Wardrobe," she lied.
Hetty peered at her for a moment, then approached her carefully. "Nell, dear, what is the real reason you don't want to go?"
Nell glanced up quickly. Hetty was staring at her in a motherly, concerned manner, and it immediately melted Nell's defenses.
"I hate these events," she grumbled.
"What do you mean?" Hetty prompted.
"Ugh, Hetty, I just don't feel like I fit in there! I'm not an agent, I didn't rush in to save the day. I didn't earn this! And I'm not one of the beautiful people. I've always been the smart girl, not the pretty one. I didn't even go to my high school prom," she revealed.
Hetty stared at the young analyst for a moment, then pushed her glasses up on her nose, deciding that tough love was indicated. "Miss Jones, while I can understand that you might feel uncomfortable in this particular social setting, let me remind you of several things. First, you might not have 'rushed in to save the day', as you put it, but you decrypted the data that allowed the field agents to do so. You were invited by the Secretary of the Navy as his honored guest, and you will go. This is a commandment, not a request. Furthermore, this event is hosted to honor our military- the very men and women who protect our great nation. You would do well to remember that. And finally," Hetty's eyes softened, "you, my dear, are indeed one of the beautiful people, both inside and out."
Nell looked at the older woman, properly chastised. "Sorry, Hetty."
"Alright, then, come along. I think perhaps you might benefit from the help of a fairy godmother. We have work to do." Hetty winked and started downstairs, beckoning Nell to follow her. Half an hour later, Nell looked at herself in the mirror and hardly recognized the woman she saw.
Her dress was vintage Dior in a deep olive color that complemented her hair and skin beautifully. It was sleeveless, cut in a deep V in the front, and tapered in at the waist, emphasizing Nell's tiny figure. Finally, it ended in a ball gown skirt that stopped just above the knee. She accessorized the outfit with diamond drop earrings and a matching cuff bracelet.
"Wow," she breathed, spinning slowly in front of the mirror.
"Wow indeed," Hetty smiled. "Now, come along. We have a party to attend."
"Ms. Lange, Miss Jones- Nice of you to join us this evening," Director Vance welcomed the two ladies as they arrived at the Ball. "Nell, allow me to introduce my wife, Jackie. Jackie, this is Nell Jones, our intelligence analyst in the Office of Special Projects. And you already know Henrietta Lange, our Operations Manager." The women murmured greetings and shook hands. The group exchanged pleasantries for a few moments before Director Vance interrupted. "If you ladies would excuse us for a moment," he addressed Nell and Jackie, "Henrietta, I believe Secretary Jarvis would like a word with you." He took Hetty by the arm and led her toward the SecNav.
Nell looked longingly after Hetty, appearing uncomfortable at being left alone with Mrs. Vance, but Jackie's outgoing personality broke the ice quickly. "Well, nobody ever accused Leon of being all play and no work." She grinned warmly at Nell. "Nell, I have heard so many wonderful things about you. My husband says you're the brains behind the L.A. operation, but he didn't tell me you were so beautiful."
The analyst blushed. "Thank you, but as far as the brains, I'm only half of the geek squad at OSP, and as for the beauty, my fairy godmother is responsible for all this," she pointed to her dress and accessories, smiling.
"Well, your fairy godmother has excellent taste in clothing, but she only enhanced what was already there," Jackie winked conspiratorially. "I believe your co-worker would agree. He hasn't taken his eyes off you since you came though the door."
Nell glanced around until she found her team. "He is probably relieved that I'm finally here. Eric isn't really into the black tie scene. I imagine he's counting the minutes until he can change into shorts and flip flops," she joked.
"Yes, I've heard about Mr. Beale's creative wardrobe," Jackie laughed. "But I wasn't referring to him. I was talking about Agent Callen."
"What? Callen?" Nell sputtered nervously. "Oh, no, I'm sure he was looking at someone else. He probably noticed Hetty had arrived."
Jackie shot her a look. "He was most certainly not noticing Hetty. Girl, that man is looking at you like he could eat you alive!"
Her comments caused a flush to run straight through Nell's body. She had always had a slight crush on the Senior Agent, but the thought that he would find her attractive was ridiculous. Yet, when she turned again toward the team, she noted with pleasure that his smoldering gaze was trained on her.
"You like him, don't you, Nell?" Jackie questioned observantly. "He clearly likes what he sees. You should just go for it," the Director's wife nudged her. "Sometimes, we women have to make the first move, or else nothing will ever happen. I asked Leon out on our first date. He was so shy, I would still be single if I had waited for him to ask me."
"But clearly, my wife isn't shy," Vance smirked as he put an arm around Jackie. "Give her long enough, and you'll be braiding each other's hair and know each other's life histories."
"Nice party," Kensi noted as her eyes followed a group of handsome sailors in uniform who walked by.
"Yeah, if you like wearing a monkey suit and making small talk," grumbled Eric.
"Come on, Eric. The drinks are free, there are some bodacious babes, and you're wearing Hugo Boss. How could an online game be better than a night out with your team?" Deeks teased.
"Maybe if you weren't here," interjected Sam.
"Oh, look- there's Hetty talking to Director Vance," Kensi pointed out to the guys.
"Forget Hetty. I want to know who the hottie is talking to Mrs. Director Vance," Deeks mused aloud.
"Oh my God, guys..." Eric began, as the woman in question turned slightly toward the group. "That's Nell!"
A collective gasp went up from the remainder of the team as they took in her appearance. Only Callen remained silent. His gaze became heated as it raked over her body. He mentally caught himself- this was Nell Jones, intelligence analyst, co-worker. There was no way he should be thinking these improper thoughts about Nell. Except that he inexplicably was.
His reverie was broken by the conversations his teammates were having about their co-worker.
"She looks like a young Audrey Hepburn," Kensi noted.
Sam grinned. "Looks like our little Nell is all grown up."
"Yeah, who knew Nell Bell had such a nice pair of...oof!" Deeks was cut off mid-sentence when Kensi's elbow made contact with his ribs. "Shoes! I was gonna say a nice pair of shoes! What are those, Manolo Blahniks?" he rambled as he rubbed his sore chest.
"Actually, Mr. Deeks, they are Christian Louboutins," Hetty interrupted from behind the group.
Deeks whirled around. "With the red soles?" he inquired excitedly.
"The very ones," Hetty replied. "Msr. Louboutin himself designed that style especially for me."
" 'The Henrietta' is named after you? That is so cool!" Deeks gushed.
Sam shook his head. "Deeks, you're such a girl."
"What? I sold shoes in a high end boutique when I was undercover once," he defended.
Kensi snorted. "You were Al Bundy?"
"No, Kensi," Deeks explained patiently. "These were expensive designer shoes for ladies with expensive tastes and rich husbands. We're talking Manolos, Jimmy Choos, you name it. Al Bundy worked at the mall."
"Is that like the difference between an escort and a hooker, Deeks?" Sam goaded.
The banter continued as they all observed Nell making her way toward the group. Once she arrived, her friends showered her with hugs and compliments on her attire for the evening. Hetty merely stood by and smirked, giving her a knowing look.
The merry-making was interrupted by a very good looking blonde man in dress whites.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he began as he gently touched Nell's elbow. "Would you like to dance?"
Nell looked around in confusion. "Me?"
The sailor nodded, smiling. "You." Nell blushed, but returned his smile and made her way onto the dance floor with the young man.
"Um, guys? What just happened?" Eric queried nervously.
"What just happened is that your partner looks hot tonight, and judging by the looks of things, she's made quite an impression on the single male population in attendance," Sam joked. "Maybe you should ask her to dance."
Kensi elbowed him, pointing. "You may need to take a number."
They all turned in unison, and there was indeed a group of young men surrounding Nell, asking her to dance, and fetching her drinks.
"Looks like she's the 'Nell Bell' of the ball tonight," Deeks observed, garnering groans and eye rolls from his friends.
Callen felt a strange wave of jealousy and possessiveness pass through him. He passed it off as concern for a co-worker, but it niggled in the back of his mind all night. He finally became so disconcerted at his unexpected emotional response that he excused himself and went to the bar to clear his head.
"She's stunning, isn't she, Agent Callen?"
The young man turned to the source of the comment, and found Jackie Vance smirking at him.
"Mrs. Vance," he acknowledged. "Enjoying your evening?"
"I am, but it looks like you aren't having a very good time," she said, turning to follow Callen's gaze to the dance floor, where Nell was twirling with the Director. "You need to tell her."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Tell her she looks pretty. Ask her to dance. Tell her you like her. But don't stand around sulking all night because you're too scared to admit it to yourself or her."
Callen cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about," he told her.
Mrs. Vance sighed. "You are both in denial." She rolled her eyes. "Honey, if you could only see the looks you two keep sending each other. It's cute, actually. But given the number of guys on her dance card tonight, I wouldn't wait too long." With that, she gave him another smirk, picked up her drink, and walked away, shaking her head.