December 9, 2012

The little person behind Door Nine is the most unambiguous hint Hetty's dropped so far. But instead of taking the easy route and purchasing gingerbread like Deeks, she lets her mind percolate, trying to come up with a different idea.

It doesn't come to her until she's halfway home.

She changes direction, heading to the grocery store to pick up the necessary items. Then she's back in the car heading away from her own apartment. She stops in front of Callen's house and finds herself taking a deep breath. She feels like after the candy canes yesterday, it might be too presumptuous to be stopping by his house for the next tradition. It's not like she didn't have other options that were OSP friendly.

But she chose this.

She wants this.

She sucks in a deep breath as she kills the engine. It's not really the first time she's been by Callen's house, but no one really ever has a reason. He's kept this place separate from his work and while she admires it, she has to admit, even if it's just to herself, that there's nothing work-related about this particular trip. She figures, then, that she's still keeping within his desire to keep work out of his home.

She sits in his driveway for longer than she'd like to admit, second guessing her decision and her plan. She can't help but think that this is more intimate than their other days, that this goes beyond sharing traditions and having a laugh. This is new to her, something she's never done before and she thinks that maybe there's a bit more significance in this than their should be, that this is more than starting a tradition with a friend.

Her phone rings from her pocket and she jumps. She's not expecting a call and she's more than a little shocked when Callen's name comes up on her display.

"Are you in my driveway?"

She's suddenly very glad that he didn't come out to check. She can feel the heat infusing her skin as she scrambles for something to say. "Yes," she finally manages to squeak out.

She thinks she hears a breath of relief float down the line. Stupid, she realizes. Callen is ever vigilant and has an extremely long list of people that would like to see him dead. Sitting, unmoving, in his driveway is a stupid idea for some one who knows this.

"Why?"

Now there's the million dollar question. There are more than a handful of appropriate answers and she finds her brain short circuiting. There are cliched answers, sassy answers, bland answers, but eventually, her mouth kicks in before her brain. "Gingerbread."

"What?"

She's speaking like an idiot and she forces herself to take a breath. "I brought gingerbread."

"You can't bake," he says sounding more than a little suspicious.

"I can," she answers indignantly.

"Liar," but amusement is back in his voice and it drains some of the tension from her frame. "Deeks told us about your so-called snickerdoodles."

She makes a mental note to maim Deeks the next time they square off against each other. "I bought it," she says. "A house."

"A gingerbread house."

"I've never done one," she blurts.

There's silence on the other end of the phone and she hates it. She's already nervous and on edge, she doesn't need to add questionable silence to the mix. There's no subtext to the silence, nothing but the way her nerves are jangling. This is way more important to her than it probably should be.

"Kens?"

Oh. Oh! She's unbuckling her seatbelt and reaching over to the passenger's seat as everything clicks. She hangs up without a goodbye and he's standing in his open door as she makes her way up the walk.

"Hi'" she greets nervously.

He offers her a little smile and steps back.

. . . . .

They end up in the spartan living room. It has the most space to work around the surprising number of pieces they'd found in the box. It also takes them hours. Neither of them know what they're doing. She knows her lack of knowledge is a surprise to him. He's under the impression that she's done everything, experienced every tradition or activity related to Christmas. Or he was.

"That can't go there," he says, voice exasperated. "It doesn't fit with the other pieces."

"It's the only big piece we have left," she retorts, looking at their rather lopsided excuse for a house. "I told you this big one was a roof piece."

He lets out a frustrated noise. "Whose idea was this?"

She glares for a moment genuinely pissed off, but then she actually looks at him. He has icing smudged on his cheek and down the right side of his nose. His hands are a mess and she knows she doesn't look much better. So, instead of snapping at him, she bursts into laughter. He eyes her like she's lost the plot until she manages to calm herself down.

"This is ridiculous," she says when she catches her breath. "We're arguing over a gingerbread house."

He huffs again, but there's a reluctant smile tugging up at the corners of his mouth. "They need instructions in these things."

She releases a snort of amusement. "G, there's six pieces. Kids can do this."

He shoots her an irritated look and she rolls her eyes. Yeah, she gets it. If kids can do it, then why can't two highly trained federal agents. They should have been able to tell the roof from the side pieces on sight, rather than bickering over it like they are.

"It is a memory," she points out, voice suddenly soft. She's looking down at the pieces when she says it. She can hear an embarrassing amount of vulnerability in her tone and she has to swallow down the disgust she feels at herself. She's not a teenaged girl, for goodness sake, and Callen isn't the most popular jock on the football team. This means a lot to her, of course, but she definitely doesn't mean to make it bigger than it is.

No matter her own wishes.

"That you screwed up your very first gingerbread house?"

She wants to be offended because, well, ouch, but he's glossed over her embarrassment and slid straight to the comfort of teasing. She gives him the indignant response she knows he's looking for. "We screwed up our first gingerbread house."

"I told you they were the roof pieces."

"I told you!" she replies with an indignant laugh. She tries to tug at the gingerbread, but the cement-like icing refuses to budge. She is a little upset that they didn't build the perfect gingerbread house. She'd hoped it would be a happy memory. A good one. One that they could both carry forward and remember fondly. Instead, they have a ruined, half built house that she's not sure she wants to even attempt to finish.

She stays for another half hour as they eat all of the candies they should have used to decorate. She can't say she doesn't enjoy herself, but she can't rightly say she isn't disappointed either. She's not sure this has put either of them on the road to enjoying Christmas again.

But as he stands in the doorway to the living room, watching her slip on her boots, he says, "I had fun."

Her heart lifts - and maybe later she'll reflect on just how much his enjoyment matters to her - and she offers him a smile that's probably a little too blinding considering the simplicity of his statement.

"Good."

Maybe her Happy Christmas plan hasn't been so derailed after all.


I could write you a novel, but I've just replied to two messages with novels so I'm not going to. This is another one of those I'm not satisfied with. Forgive me.

And forgive me the typos. I don't think there are many, but I'm often wrong. They're mine. Sometimes my brain moves faster than my fingers and spellcheck doesn't catch them. Or my eyes.

I truly and totally appreciate your patience. More than I can actually put into words.