Welcome one, welcome all to my 2012 Annual Christmas Fic!
For those of you who don't know, annually, I post 25 chapters in 25 days. It's a challenge I set myself many years ago and I've yet to miss a year. Quite obviously, it hasn't always been an NCIS LA fic, but apparently I'm either feeling like seriously challenging myself or suicidal. It has yet to be determined which I am.
A couple of quick warnings: I'm not always perfect about getting chapters up every day. This is my life. Having said that, I have never missed the deadline. Well, once, but it was my second run at this. I've learned. Also, any aired episode is fair game. I usually try and work within the context of airdates (so anything up to today is fair game and when the next episode airs, anything up to that is fair game, etc) and I will not go back and change things that I've already written to fit with canon.
Most importantly, however, I owe this fic, in its entirety to TwilightPony21, who has been my absolute unwavering support in dealing with this in the past month. It's not all written, but I've struggled with this idea. Darling, I cannot put into words what all of this support means to me. You are a godsend.
December 1, 2012
Kensi's the last one into the bullpen on December first. It's not a terribly odd occurrence, they're all late from time to time, but it does mean that she finds the entirety of her OSP team in various states of surprise and confusion over long, relatively thin, rectangular boxes.
"I don't trust anything wrapped up in bright packaging," Callen says as Kensi slips around her desk. They exchange greeting smiles.
"Everything comes in bright packaging this time of year," Deeks retaliates with a three-year-old's grin. "It's Christmas."
"It's December first," Sam counters with a roll of his eyes. "Christmas is still twenty-three days away."
"Says the last minute shopper," shoots Callen, a half-smirk playing about his mouth.
"Christmas is my favourite," Eric says with relish, holding his box tightly. "All the presents and decorations and lights and people are just nicer."
"It's a figment of your imagination," Nell responds.
Kensi's only half listening to the bickering. Her eyes are fixed on her own parcel, wrapped in bright red, festive, paper. And topped with a massive silver bow. It makes her smile gently. It's a weird feeling because Christmas has never really been her favourite holiday season. She doesn't like Easter either, and Thanksgiving irks her, but Christmas has usually depressed her. This year feels lighter, like something's changed, or maybe it's just that they all need the holiday season this year. They've been through a lot with the Chameleon and Jada Khalid, Director Granger, her father's case… They deserve a break and some light-hearted fun. Even as Special Agents.
"It's not like we can get outside mail in here," Deeks points out, even as he shakes his box again. "So let's open them."
"What if they're not for us?" Callen asks.
Sam rolls his eyes. "Even Hetty wouldn't pull a trick like that."
"Quite right, Mister Hanna." Hetty stands in the opening to the rest of the hacienda, her hands folded in front of her. Kensi smiles, just a little, because it seems Hetty's getting into the spirit of the season early. She's wearing bright red, a holly broach pinned on her lapel. "Well, go on now, open up."
Deeks tears into his with the glee of a child and Eric follows suit. Kensi prefers to take her time with her presents, but stops at Deeks' triumphant shout. However, when she looks up he's eyeing the thing like it's going to explode.
"Oh," Nell says softly as she drops her wrapping paper to the floor. "An advent calendar."
"Advent calendar?" Callen asks.
"It's a German Lutheran tradition," Nell says, "to count down the days until Christmas."
"Correct, Miss Jones," Hetty says with an approving smile. "It dates back to the early nineteenth century when a man by the name of Gerhard Lang produced the first advent calendar by hanging coloured pictures on a piece of cardboard. Today's calendars are much more elaborate than that."
"Lego makes one," Eric pipes up immediately. "You actually get to put together a little Lego thing every day."
"I had a cloth one," Nell adds. "My parents used to fill it with little presents from the dollar store."
"We're a strictly chocolate house," Sam agrees.
Hetty's face goes serious. "Well, these definitely do not have little sweets in them. I do believe it has been a rather difficult year for all of us. And the holiday season is the perfect time to… relax a little."
"Relax?" Callen asks cautiously. He's suspicious, not that it's new. Kensi can't help but be a little thrown herself.
"I don't get it, Hetty," she says. "What kind of advent calendars are these?"
That serious face turns into one that has them all catching their breath. Hetty's mysterious face is something to behold and one with the twinkle rarely boads well for any of them. "Open the first window."
Every head drops to a calendar and Kensi finds herself pausing to run her fingers over the decorated cardboard. It's a work of art to be sure, painted with brilliant silver snowflakes over a winter scene that belongs more in Montana or North Dakota than here in LA. The numbers are scattered so it takes her a moment to find the first window. She pries it open with her nail gently. Inside is a little piece of green paper. She pulls it out carefully, glancing up to see the team doing the same.
"Do something nice for someone," Deeks reads out loud. Then he smiles. "Well, good thing that's the first thing on my list every day."
"And how many days do you accomplish it?" Kensi asks with her own sweet smile. Needling Deeks is second nature now.
He just offers a waggle of eyebrows as he holds up his breakfast. "Want my last bacon?"
"That is not what that is meant to be about, Mister Deeks," Hetty reprimands. "You will need to do better than simply offering Miss Blye a piece of your breakfast. I mean really doing something nice, something unexpected. Tomorrow you will open the next window and so on and so forth."
"Until Christmas?" Callen asks skeptically. "Seriously Hetty?"
"Of course, Mister Callen. It's good to explore new traditions." There's a core of steel in the Operations Manager's voice that would rattle the cockiest of agents. "I will be watching."
"I thought it was supposed to be fun," Deeks murmurs as Hetty walks away.
"I heard that, Mister Deeks."
Kensi smirks at her partner. "Serves you right."
"I think it's cool," Eric says. "Makes you pay more attention to people you care about." His eyes dart to Nell adorably.
Nell blushes, just a little. "Exactly. It's the perfect time for it." She turns to Deeks. "Somewhere in that pile of chaos that is your desk are your time sheets. You have a twenty-four hour reprieve before I bring Hetty in." She offers him her sweetest of smiles. "I think that counts as a nice thing for the day."
She strolled primly out of the bullpen, leaving Deeks spluttering in her wake.
The advent calendars turn out to be the only real shocking part of the day. They all spend the day monitoring other cases, watching out for forensic reports, singing off on briefings from older cases, and generally spending their time floating in and out of the bullpen. As the day comes to a close, Kensi leans back, her eyes moving to her advent calendar. She can't help the spark of anticipation that lights in her gut. She's always been a fan of the secrets. It's half the fun of the job she's currently doing. The puzzles, trying to work it all out, digging deeper, asking the right questions, it's all what drives her on from day to day.
"What's got you so wistful?"
She looks up to find Callen strolling back in, two take out containers in his hands. She expects him to set one down on Sam's desk, but he brings them both around to his desk, settling in his chair as he waits for her answer.
"Nothing," she answers, even as her cheeks heat just slightly.
He arches an eyebrow, but says nothing. She likes that about Callen. He doesn't push, even if he does know that sitting there, looking so infuriatingly smug, is likely to send her spilling her secrets anyway. She holds her ground and sees something akin to admiration in his eyes as he slides the second container towards her.
He shrugs. "You haven't eaten."
She blinks in surprise and looks down. He's stopped at a food truck, of course, but it's one that she loves. It's one she's been to enough that the guy who runs in has her meal ready to go when he sees her at the corner of the street. And sure enough, her favourite is in that box, a steaming heap of creamy mac and cheese. She's not sure if it's the fact that he knows her favourite that has her stomach flipping over or the idea that she's the only one he's brought a meal back for when Sam and Deeks are floating around somewhere. She hadn't even asked. He's right, of course, she hasn't eaten all day, and her stomach reminds her quite brutally of this fact as she inhales the enticing aroma of her dinner.
"Thanks," she says quietly, unsure of how to respond. She's not entirely sure this is what Hetty meant when she said do something nice either. Still, she takes the fork when he offers it and they fall into a comfortable silence as they both eat. They've done it relatively often and Kensi has to admit, it's one of her favourite things about Callen. Sometimes, she just needs some quiet, and unlike Deeks, he knows when to talk and when to keep his mouth shut. She's glad for it today.
"Did you have an advent calendar growing up?"
She's surprised at the question. "Like Nell's," she says carefully. It's not that she has trouble talking about her childhood, per se, she just knows that they all have their sore spots. She tries not to talk about things like family around Callen, not that she has much family to speak of. She's reconnected with her mother, sure, but it's nothing like what it had been when she'd been with her father. But he seems genuinely interested, so she goes on.
"He used to put candy in there mostly, little things that you couldn't get through the rest of the year. Sometimes they were things he picked up while he was overseas. When we were together he made a big production of it, opening the present, counting the days, watching me… I think it was as big of a deal to him as it was to me."
He nods and there's something in his eyes that's lighter when he looks at his own calendar. "Do you miss it?"
She shrugs. "I miss my dad more, I think." It doesn't mean she doesn't like Hetty's idea. She more than likes it. She's hoping for some fun ones, like tree hunting – even if it is a palm tree – or cookie baking; things she would do with her dad, with Jack, even if the memories sting a little. If the last year has taught her anything it's that sometimes you have to just move forward and create new memories instead of clinging to old painful ones.
"I never had one," he admits, not that it takes a genius to come to that conclusion.
"There's a first time for everything," she offers, unsure of what she's supposed to say.
Something's in his eyes when he looks at her and she doesn't know what it is. She's seen it before, when he looked at her so intently just a couple of weeks ago when he'd turned to her, his eyes chaotic in the midst of a string of sleeper agent deaths and months ago when they'd traded Callen for Janvier.
Then he offers her one of his half smirks. "Tis the season, then."
I'm not sure how I feel about this chapter, as may have been obvious in the first couple of notes above. I'd love some feedback because I feel like this chapter juggles way too much and I have to start being picky about what the goal of each day is.
This will probably (read: most likely) end up being a Callen/Kensi fic. I ship them. Hard. IF THIS IS NOT YOUR PREFERRED SHIP that is more than okay, and you are still welcome to read it. Having said that, I do hope you respect my personal pairing choice if you choose to leave a review. Everyone is different, everyone feels differently about pairings, etc, and this is my choice. You are welcome to stop reading if you so choose, but I hope there are those of you out there who are able to review on the merits of the plotline and general work without necessarily getting defensive of other choices I have made/will make.
Okay, that's my soapbox and PSA for the day. Tomorrow's should be up in time, but that depends on how good I am giving a time crunch.
Oh! I almost forgot! My favourite part of writing this annual fic is seeing the holiday traditions of different people. Some I even include in the story itself since there are 25 days and thinking up 25 unique activities to do during the season is difficult. So! What traditions do you have around this time of year to celebrate the season? They can be religious or nonreligious, I'm not picky (though note, I may not include much in the way of the religious aspect of the Christmas season because, well, do we even know if the characters have particular religions?) I'd just like to hear from you!
Thanks to everyone who reads this (and the rest) and a special pre-thanks to those of you who choose to review!