Waiting Until the Right One Comes Along
"Do you think it's real?"
Deeks, Kensi, Nell and Eric were standing together, regarding a painting in the dining room. It looked like a Monet. It was signed like a Monet. It definitely wasn't a print. But beyond that, it was anyone's guess.
"Seriously," Deeks repeated, to no one in particular. "That's not … I mean … an actual Monet, is it?"
"It most certainly is, Mr. Deeks," Hetty confirmed. "One of his lesser-known works, however. Le bateau atelier. Painted in 1876. It's always been one of my favorites."
And then she was gone again, just as quickly and mysteriously as she'd appeared. The four agents exchanged glances and regarded the painting again.
"How would he have gotten an authentic Monet?" Kensi asked, more to herself than anyone.
"The popular theory is that it was a housewarming present from Hetty," Sam said as he joined the group. "Either that, or I need to talk to Hetty about a pay raise."
"Now, Mr. Hanna," Hetty said, appearing once again, "Mr. Callen does not have to save his money to put his children through private school and college and piano lessons and soccer and … so forth." She waved her hand as she smiled up at him. "Mr. Callen is at his leisure to purchase ... well … anything he might enjoy."
She joined the group all looking up at the painting.
"You look like you're visiting a museum," Callen said with a chuckle as he walked into the dining room. "I thought you were all going to 'take the tour' and see the rest of the place."
"Yeah … we were," Eric said with a shrug. "But we all got sidetracked by your Monet."
The entire group turned to look at G, hoping for an explanation.
Callen laughed at their expressions. "Look … you guys have been bugging me for six months to see this place, and you're here now. So, go be nosey. I'll be downstairs." And with that, Callen turned and went back towards the kitchen. Hetty took a chair at the dining room table.
"Please, ladies and gentlemen, go … explore …" She took out her phone. "I have some calls to make."
"Don't you want to …" Kensi began.
A look from Hetty made it clear that she didn't need to "take the tour". She'd already seen it.
"Right," Kensi said. "Lead on, McDuff," she directed, slapping Deeks on the butt. Deeks jumped a bit – with the appropriate "ooh!" noise – and they all moved in a line as they left the dining room to explore the rest of the house.
It was really kind of remarkable. The place wasn't overstuffed, by any means – it was mostly essential pieces and basic decorating. But it was comfortable. There was an eclectic mix of styles and pieces – it reminded Sam of Hetty's house … the one they'd seen when she had disappeared. Every piece looked like it had a story. None of it was cookie-cutter.
"There's even furniture in the guest room," Nell said, almost in a whisper, as though it was a miraculous thing.
Deeks was checking out the master bath. "This subway tile is new … this bathroom has been totally redone."
Kensi looked at him quizzically.
"I did an undercover stint as a tub and tile man once," he said, by way of explanation.
"Of course you did," Kensi replied as she went back into the master.
"It's all very Callen, though, isn't it?" Eric observed.
They continued through the master suite, guest room, upstairs bath, then downstairs to the dining room, living room and kitchen. Everything was furnished. Every drawer was filled, every cabinet held the necessities of life. And everything looked … not perfect, really, but "just right".
The small gaggle of team members ended their tour in the kitchen, admiring the granite countertops and making comments about all of the natural light until Hetty called in from the dining room, "He's downstairs, you know."
Deeks smiled and shook his head. "Onward, adventurers." And the team headed downstairs.
"Now THIS is what I'm talkin' about!" Sam exclaimed with obvious admiration.
The basement was a total mancave. Comfortable broken-in leather couch, flatscreen television, surround sound. There was an office area with computers and workspace. Two locked filing cabinets and a small safe were built into the wall. The safe was particularly ingenious – it was painted as a trompe l'oeil painting and surrounded by a frame. You had to look at it closely to know that it was an actual working safe. There was a lot of that kind of subtle humor in the basement.
"Dude!" Deeks said, in obvious appreciation and delight. "You have an actual black velvet painting of dogs playing poker!"
"That would be the thing you're immediately drawn to," Kensi said, rolling her eyes at her partner.
Callen smiled. "It was a flea market find. I couldn't resist." Then a laugh. "I was going to give it to Sam for his birthday last year, but once I put it up on the wall, it just fit so perfectly." He looked at Sam, who was concentrating on a pair of lamps on the bookshelf. "Sorry buddy."
"Yeah … my loss," Sam said, sounding both amused and relieved. "Why do these look familiar?" he asked, pointing to the lamps. They were ceramic, with a Fiestaware look, and relatively plain shades. "I can't quite place …"
"They used to be yours," Callen said with a grin. "Michelle gave them to me."
"Why is my wife giving you furniture?"
"Not technically furniture," Eric injected, helpfully. "More like accessories."
Sam shot him a look and Eric and Nell went back to admiring the trompe l'oeil safe.
"Why is my wife giving you accessories?"
Callen raised his eyebrows and put on his most innocent look. "She likes me."
Sam gave him a look and a sigh, and Callen continued.
"I ran into her at a consignment shop in Beverly Hills. She was looking for a mirror for the living room, and I was looking for lamps. I was about to buy a pair that looked pretty close to these and she said you guys had these two that you hated and she had in storage. She said they came from your Aunt Velda or someone when you got married, and she'd love to get rid of them." He shrugged. "So … lamps."
Everyone was quiet, having finished their inspection of G's house. They all stood in the basement, looking at each other, not knowing what to do next. Eric was the one holdout, his gaze still moving around the room.
"Looking for something, Eric?" Callen said.
"No secret room? Hidden gun range? Phantom control center? Magic bookcase?" He sounded disappointed.
"Nope, sorry," Callen said, as he turned and headed upstairs. "Just a house."
The rest of the team followed him back into the dining room, where Hetty sat, just ending a call. They all gazed back up at the Monet. They were right back where they started.
"So …," Callen began. "Questions?"
Hetty stifled a small laugh and did her best to look unaffected by the day's exercise. "I think I'll make some tea," she said as she exited.
Callen stood, leaning against the doorway that separated the living and dining rooms. His arms were folded; he was totally at ease.
"You were in this house for a year with nothing more than a leather chair, a lamp and a bedroll, and now you're in this fully-furnished place with all the comforts of home," Sam said, in an almost accusatory tone. "When did you hire a decorator?"
"No decorator," said Callen, not moving from his pose. "All me."
Kensi snorted a small laugh. "Really?"
"Is that so hard to believe?" Callen said.
"Well … yeah …" from Kensi. She looked at the rest of the team, hoping for help.
Nell came to her rescue. "It's just that you're kind of famous for spartan living and not owning more than you can carry …" Her voice trailed off.
Callen looked at his living room, with the mid-century modern light brown couch and leather chair, the tall Craftsman-style floor lamps, the hand-woven rug, and the tea tin of photos and memories on the fireplace mantle. He sighed, and took a few steps into the room.
"Look, you guys …" he began with a smile that was just a little bit sad. "I've lived all my life in other peoples' houses. Group homes, orphanages, foster homes, military barracks, hotels. I've had undercover addresses in pre-furnished, easy-to-bug-out-of apartments. I've never had a place of my own."
Hetty walked back into the room with her tea; she and Callen shared a look.
"And then, one day, Hetty very helpfully purchased me this place." She raised her teacup in toast. "And suddenly, I had a house. A home." He looked around the room. "And I didn't want to rush that."
He looked at Sam. "Yes … I could have bought a cheap bedroom set and a second-hand couch and bookshelves made of crates. But I was afraid that if I did that, then I'd settle for that. I'd be living with a cheap bedroom set and someone's hand-me-downs for the rest of my life."
"So," he continued, "I shopped. And I searched. I went to consignment shops and flea markets and combed the Internet. And eventually, I discovered my style." He waved his arms to encompass the rooms. "And it was this."
The team considered what he'd said, and started looking at the furnishings and accessories again, through a different filter.
"Every single piece is something that … fit. It's like assembling a team." He looked at the people standing and sitting around the room. "You don't just take the first one that comes along …", he shot a glance to the side, "… except, y'know, for Deeks."
Kensi let out a laugh, and Deeks added, "Yeah … it's always the new guy …"
Callen continued, "You don't just take the first one … you search and you try things out and you spend the time to turn it into what you need it to be."
He sat on the arm of the couch. "And that's what I did. Anything less would have been cheating. It would have been furniture for the sake of furniture. I didn't need that."
"Would've been a lot more comfortable though," Sam said, not quite buying it.
"Not really." G looked at his partner. "I can pretty much sleep anywhere, so why pay money for something cheap. I could wait for the right piece. And we were traveling a lot for a while. I didn't need furniture here – I was never here to use it."
He walked around the room, surveying the pieces collected there. "Plus … if I'd had a cheap coffee table, I probably wouldn't have bought these" – he indicated the two ottomans in front of the couch – "that last time we were in Afghanistan."
"Wait – THAT's why you disappeared the last morning we were there? You were furniture shopping?" Sam spun around. "I thought you were dead on a roadside or something. You were haggling in some market?"
Callen shrugged, with a grin.
"All right, everyone," Hetty said as she handed her empty teacup to Callen to take to the kitchen. "Unfortunately, the tour is over. We have a case."
She turned to Eric and Nell, who were sitting in chairs at the dining room table. "Miss Jones, Mr. Beale – to your computers please. We will all be along shortly and will meet you in Ops."
Nell and Eric stood and saluted as they made their way out the door. Eric stopped and turned in the doorway, looking at Callen. "Nice house … needs more media." On the porch, the team could hear Nell as the two headed to the car.
"Definitely … but the safe was awesome!"
Hetty took a satisfied look around the living room. "It all came together quite well, Mr. Callen," she said, nodding her head. "Nicely done."
G bowed slightly in thanks for the complement.
"I will expect you all in ops … twenty minutes or less, everyone." And Hetty was gone.
Kensi and Deeks were the next to head out. "See you there," Kensi said. Deeks waved as they walked out.
As the pair headed to their car, Callen and Sam could hear Deeks' voice. "Seriously? A housewarming gift? Who gives a priceless painting as a housewarming gift?"
The men laughed as Callen turned off lights, locked the back door, and turned on the alarm. As they walked towards the car, Sam turned back to look at the house.
"Hetty was right, G," he said. "You did good. It's a nice house."
"It is," Callen said with satisfaction.
The partners settled in the car, and Sam put it in gear and they pulled into traffic. He looked at G.
"I want my lamps back," he said.
"Not your lamps anymore," Callen replied. "Take it up with your wife."
The banter continued as they headed off to work.
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