Apologies for posting this chapter twice. We had a bit of technical difficulty but caught it and fixed it. In any case, we really appreciate the support we got for chapter one and thank you all for your comments. We hope you continue to enjoy the story :)
The four men went outside and Callen and Sam proceeded to put their camping gear into the back of Deeks' truck. When they had finished, Deeks headed to the driver's side of the truck and Callen opened the door to the back seat, sitting behind him. Eric was already seated in the front passenger seat. Sam walked over to where Eric was sitting and knocked on the window.
"Can I help you?" Eric asked, rolling down the window about an inch as he looked at Sam warily.
"I call shotgun," Sam stated.
"Well… I'm already sitting here," Eric said. "Anyway, I figured you'd want to sit with your partner."
"Uh uh." Sam shook his head. "I'm a lot bigger than you and G. I'm sitting in the front. You, my friend, are sitting in the back."
Eric stubbornly turned his head away, deliberately avoiding Sam's gaze.
"Are you kidding me?" Sam asked, a hint of menace in his voice. "I think you may want to reconsider."
Eric stared back at Sam, trying to decide if it was worth it to continue this particular battle. In the end, he chose self preservation over the choice front seat. "Fine," he said, opening the door and getting out of the truck. "Just so you know, you owe me one."
"Yeah, right," Sam said, rolling his eyes. He brushed past Eric and got into the truck next to Deeks while Eric proceeded to get into the back seat.
"Big guy doesn't like the back seat," Callen said under his breath to Eric.
"I'm not deaf, G," Sam said.
"Didn't say you were," Callen said with a smirk. "Just stating a fact."
Deeks sighed wearily. Sam was awfully grumpy for a trip that had been his idea in the first place. Maybe he hadn't eaten breakfast. "Are we ready?"
"Yeah, let's go," Sam replied. "We have a long ride ahead of us."
"Yippee," Deeks muttered and with that, he started up the engine and they were finally on their way.
Hetty sat on her sofa, watching as the boys headed out of her home – towards a camping adventure where she wouldn't be able to protect them if anything went wrong. A sinking feeling sat in the pit of her stomach as she fought the urge to run after her team and force them to suspend the trip. Not for the first time, Hetty wished she had put a tracker on one of them, just to make sure they kept themselves out of trouble, she told herself.
Thinking back to the tracker idea, Hetty smiled mischievously, remembering that she had a tracker of her own, or at least someone able to keep an eye on them. Picking up the phone, an idea began to form on her mind, and she quickly dialed.
"Miss. Jones. No, everything is okay." She began to say to the person on the other end of the line. "I just wanted to invite you and Miss Blye to my home while the boys are away. My new house has quite the view, and I'm sure you will both love it." She continued to explain. "I have called off any cases coming our way and requested a week off for our staff. After all, there's not much we can do with two agents, and our detective and tech operator missing, and it's been a while since any of you have had a vacation," Hetty finished, leaving no room for argument, just directing everyone around her like she was used to doing.
A quick answer followed and Hetty's smile continued to spread as she gave Nell her new address. "I will see you this afternoon, then we can take it from there. You girls earned some fun too." She finished, as usual, pleased with her idea. She did believe the girls more than deserved a break, but the prospect of having them in one place in case anything did go wrong with the other part of the team was equally appealing. Nell's ability to keep an eye out on the boys, which she was sure her analyst would have still done with or without her requesting it, was the only thing that would keep her at peace for the next few days.
Taking a sip from her cup, Hetty then called Kensi and the conversation proceeded in a similar way. The agent's instinctual response also being one of worry and asking what was wrong. Does she always call to deliver bad news? Hetty thought grimly. She would have to do something to change that.
After finishing her tea, Hetty proceeded to make preparations for the arrival of Kensi and Nell, her worry only having dissipated a little after her idea. Hetty went into the kitchen and instructed her cook to prepare a nice meal for later that day. Then tomorrow, they could call Ms. Deeks and hit a bar and maybe enjoy some karaoke. She would just have to make sure there was no mechanical bull around.
"Uhhh, I need a restroom break," Eric piped up from the back seat. They'd been peacefully driving for almost three hours but he definitely needed to get out of the car.
"Yeah, I definitely could stretch my legs," Deeks said. He was tired and more than a little bit hungry, as well. "Maybe we could stop somewhere for lunch?" He shot Sam a hopeful look.
"Yeah, okay," Sam replied agreeably. "You up for that, G?"
"He's asleep," Eric stated, keeping his voice low. "I thought he didn't sleep?"
"He sleeps when we travel," Sam answered. "Cars, planes...maybe the motion soothes him. I don't know."
"Kind of like rocking a baby?" Deeks asked, grinning at Sam.
"Something like that." Sam chuckled, seemingly in a much better mood than he'd been in at the beginning of the trip.
"He'd probably get a lot of rest on a boat trip then...Something to think about." Deeks still wished that was what they were doing. He got that Sam was into this whole male bonding thing, but they could have bonded just as well on a boat or in a comfortable hotel somewhere. Camping was never going to be up at the top of things he liked to do in life. Of course, if he and Kensi had kids and they wanted to experience the great outdoors, he'd be up for that. Camping out with Kensi and a couple of kids would be an entirely different experience, one that he was sure he'd enjoy. He had no idea what kind of experiences Sam might believe to be fun that would be the opposite of what he considered enjoyable.
"We'll do that, Deeks," Sam said. "I promise, we'll do a team trip out on the deep blue sea really soon. We can use my boat, and Hetty also offered hers."
"So, where should we eat?" Eric interrupted impatiently. He didn't particularly care about future trips at the moment. He only cared about the current trip and the fact that he really needed a bathroom.
There's a really good diner about 15 to 20 minutes away," Sam answered. "I'd planned for us to stop there anyway. You guys are in for a treat. The food there is out of this world."
"Sounds good to me," Deeks said. It definitely sounded better than anything he'd been expecting. Not to mention, it would probably be the best meal they'd have on this trip. Sam's idea of a good time was probably eating squirrel brains over an open fire. He knew those were considered a delicacy in parts of Kentucky but he didn't think it was his cup of tea. As a Navy seal, he imagined that Sam had survived on many of Mother Nature's offerings which wouldn't really appeal to him. He decided he'd better eat really well at the diner so he wouldn't starve over the next few days.
"Hey G, wake up!" Sam bellowed, a lot louder than necessary.
"What the hell, Sam?" Callen grumbled as he opened his eyes. "What are you screaming about?"
"Lunch time, sleeping beauty." Sam grinned at his partner. "Or we can just leave you here, if you'd rather."
"Ha, ha," Callen replied, still a bit grumpy from being abruptly awoken from a sound sleep.
Deeks pulled the truck into a parking spot and the four men headed into the diner. "Table for four?" an attractive, middle-aged waitress, whose name tag read Suzanne, asked when they entered.
"Can you tell me where the restroom is?" Eric asked, looking extremely uncomfortable.
"In the back to the left, darling," Suzanne answered with a chuckle. Eric scurried off in the direction of the bathrooms and she led the remaining three men to a table. "I'll be with you gentlemen shortly." She handed them menus and went off to help some other customers.
"You finally awake, partner?" Sam smiled over at Callen who was seated next to Deeks.
Callen ignored Sam as he picked up a menu and focused his attention on it. "This menu is huge," he said, impressed. "You name it, they have it."
"Do they have pad tai?" Deeks asked with an impish grin.
Callen chose to ignore Deeks, as well, as the three men turned their attention solely to their menus. A few minutes later, Eric returned, looking much more at ease. "What have they got here?" he asked, sitting down next to Sam. "I'm starved."
"There's plenty to choose from," Sam replied. I'm sure you'll be able to find something you like."
"How do you know this place anyhow?" Deeks asked, giving Sam a curious look.
"Michelle and I came out here a long time ago...before the kids were born..." Sam's eyes took on a faraway look as he thought back to a happier time when his wife had still been with him. "We had a great time. We'd always planned to go back here with the kids someday…" He trailed off then shrugged. "Anyhow...that never happened."
The other three men remained silent, unsure of what to say. Suddenly the trip somehow seemed more important than it had previously.
"Do you fellas know what you want?" Suzanne asked with a smile as she returned to the table and placed a glass of water in front of each of them. Callen decided on a hot turkey sandwich. Sam got a chicken Caesar salad and Eric ordered the meatloaf special. After hemming and hawing, Deeks finally chose the Italian trio, a combo which included lasagna, chicken parm and toasted ravioli.
"That's one of our most popular dishes," Suzanne said, batting her eyelashes and smiling suggestively at Deeks. "It has just the right amount of spiciness. The men especially seem to like it."
"Uh… that's nice," Deeks said, feeling the heat go to his cheeks as Sam and Eric smirked at him from across the table.
"Would you like some hot buttered rolls while you wait, darling?" she asked, her attention fully on Deeks. "They're so good they just melt in your mouth."
"You guys want any?" Deeks asked, trying to deflect Suzanne's focus away from him.
"I think we're good," Sam said, trying not to laugh.
"Okay, well let me know if you change your mind." With one more long look at Deeks, Suzanne strutted off towards the kitchen as Callen, Sam and Eric started laughing.
"Real funny, guys," Deeks said.
"I actually wanted some of those hot, buttered rolls," Callen said, "but I don't think Suzanne would have cared."
"No, she wanted to hand deliver those rolls to Deeks," Eric chimed in.
"Man, what happened to the flirtatious Marty Deeks?" Sam asked. "Kensi would be proud. Marriage has really changed you."
"It hasn't," Deeks protested. "I just...it just… " He shook his head then abruptly changed the subject. "So, how long before we get where we're going?"
"We'll be there before dark," Sam stated, deciding to cut Deeks a break. "We'll set up a temporary campsite for the night and then hike to where we're going tomorrow."
"Wouldn't it make more sense to just stay in a motel tonight?" Callen asked. It seemed counterproductive to have to set up the campsite twice. Not to mention, the air had definitely changed and he wasn't a fan of late afternoon hiking in the cold. He was glad he'd brought a warm jacket.
Sam considered what Callen said then finally nodded. "Yeah, okay. We can do that. We'll leave early tomorrow."
"Woot!" Eric said, his cheeks reddening when the other men looked at him. "I mean, that's good news, I mean, one more night in a soft bed…I...uh..." He quickly changed the subject. "So, anyway...when you say hike...how difficult a hike are you talking?"
Sam smiled soothingly. "Don't worry, Eric. It's nothing you can't handle. We're not going to be climbing up into the mountains or anything like that."
Eric nodded but he didn't seem particularly calmed by Sam's words.
"Just how far are we talking, Sam?" Callen asked. He'd been okay with this idea when Sam had first brought it up, especially with the surprise at the end for the two younger men, but now Eric's concerns were starting to rub off on him and he was beginning to worry as well.
Sam looked at his partner speculatively. He'd thought he had been onboard with this idea. "Come on, G. It's going to be fine. I promise."
"Okay." Callen nodded. He trusted his partner with his life and knew Sam wasn't going to lead them into any kind of dangerous situation. Like Sam said, everything would be fine.
"Would you ladies like any more beef wellington?" Hetty asked. "I know there is more in the kitchen."
"I really couldn't eat another bite, Hetty," Kensi huffed out.
"Me either," Nell added with a shake of her head.
"Well, that's too bad," Hetty said. "There are some delicious-looking chocolate mousse parfaits in the refrigerator."
Kensi and Nell shared a smile. "Maybe after we give our stomachs a rest," Kensi said, eyes sparkling as she imagined the sweet treat.
"Very well. Let's go relax in the sitting room for a bit and then you can see about dessert a little later."
The three women walked to the sitting room and made themselves comfortable. "So, Miss Blye…" Hetty looked at Kensi expectantly. "How are you enjoying married life?"
Kensi smiled happily. "I love it. Every day with Deeks is an adventure. You never know exactly what you're going to get."
Hetty nodded approvingly. "I can well imagine. Mr. Deeks is certainly never boring."
"No, he's certainly not."
"And things are going well with Mr. Beale?" Hetty asked, turning her attention to Nell.
Nell smiled as her cheeks turned pink. "Things are going very nicely between me and Eric."
"I'm happy to hear that, Ms. Jones." Hetty said sincerely, secretly proud that she had sort of played matchmaker with both of these couples.
There was a brief silence before Nell gazed at Hetty. "I have a question…"
"Well, ask away dear. I can't answer it if you don't ask."
"I was wondering, what was Callen like as a boy?" Nell eventually asked, as she stared at a picture of a young Hetty and Callen that sat on the living room table.
Hetty smiled fondly. "When I first took him in, he was suspicious of everything. He certainly didn't trust me at all, but over time, he warmed to me and the rest, as they say, is history."
Nell and Kensi both nodded, both silently hoping for more stories about young Callen.
The women chatted some more and a half hour later, the cook entered the room with the three chocolate parfaits. "Oh those look so good!" Kensi exclaimed.
"I don't think I've ever tasted anything so delicious." Nell added after taking her first bite.
The women enjoyed the desserts and Hetty smiled to herself in satisfaction. The evening had definitely been a success and no worries had been voiced about the men, which she was pleased about. Perhaps all her worries were just the paranoia of an old woman and she was totally overreacting to Mr Hanna's plan, which she hoped to be the case.
It had been about three hours since the boys had left the city of angels, and Sam kept noticing Deeks glancing out of the window every few minutes. His demeanor stranger than usual, if that was even possible. "What's going on Deeks? Are we being followed, and you haven't said anything?" Sam asked eventually, uncharacteristically trying to make a joke.
"No… it's just that. Where exactly are we going, Sam?" Deeks answered with another question.
"Camping. You already know that." Sam said, ignoring the real inquiry.
"I mean, where?" Deeks was beginning to get frustrated. "I keep seeing signs for this place Death Valley. And it doesn't sound like the happiest place on earth." He added half-jokingly.
"It's a National Park." Sam said, rolling his eyes. "Anyhow, we're not going there. You are supposed to take a left onto the 395, Death Valley is to the right. And it's a desert, Deeks, we're going… more to the forest."
"Hmm… I've heard they do raves in that place and people get drugged and butchered, and lone survivors end up wandering onto the road with their injured girlfriends." Deeks rambled, earning frustrated groans from his teammates.
"I think you've been driving for too long, man. You're starting to sound worse than usual." Callen added from the backseat, remembering times when Deeks had just joined the team and he used to get on rambles about sitting being the silent killer and mercury in retrograde. "If you want to pull into the next gas station, we can switch so you can rest."
"I'm fine, Callen." Deeks grunted, secretly feeling better just as he took the 395 and the signs pointing to Death Valley National Park became less frequent.
"We're less than two hours away." Sam said reassuringly, not wanting any tension to start building so early into the trip. "There's a few campgrounds in that area and various peaks we can choose to hike."
"Great." Deeks muttered, not sounding particularly excited.
"We will have fun, Deeks. I promise." Sam said, still trying to make his teammates as excited as he was about this trip. "We're not gonna find a five-star hotel to stay tonight, but there's a few inns on the main road and I'm sure we can find one that we all like. There's restaurants too, so we can have dinner when we get there."
Everyone nodded after that, Deeks and Eric managing a half-smile, not out of hope that this trip would turn out to be something fun for them, but also not wanting to discourage Sam when he evidently was trying very hard to make this a good experience for all of them.
"Are we there yet?" Eric whined like a little boy after another hour had passed. "I need to go again."
"We're 20 minutes away, and there's not much on the way so you're gonna have to hold it in." Sam said as calmly as possible. "Or we can always park on the shoulder of the road and you can go in some bushes, just make sure to stay away from the poisonous ivy." He then chuckled at the way Eric's face quickly blanched.
"He's just messing with you, man. We've come this way and we have never had any trouble with that." Callen added, sending a dark look Sam's way. They didn't need to freak out Eric anymore, or he was sure to rat them out to Nell when they go back, and they would have to answer to her.
"No, thank you. I'm okay. I don't need to go so badly." Eric said softly, regretting at that moment the last soda he had drank when they last stopped for food.
Deeks just laughed at the antics of his teammates and kept driving until Sam told him to stop at a place that couldn't really be called a small town. Lone Pine, California, being just a main street that ran on the same 395 they had been on for the last few hours, with smaller streets going left and right. The place did in fact had some inns to offer so that part at least had been a relief.
"Let's pick a place first and drop our gear, then we can go have dinner." Sam pointed out as Deeks parked on a church's parking lot as he waited for directions.
"There's no signal." Eric grumbled, as he took his iPhone out but promptly threw it back onto the seat a few minutes later.
"We don't need signal, Eric. Just pick a place and let's go ask if they have availability." Sam said with a tone that sounded more frustrated by the second.
"But I wanted to check reviews." Eric said shyly, earning himself a laugh from Callen.
Sam ran his palm up and down his face, why had he thought this was a good idea. "Eric…" He began softly, as if speaking to his kids. "We don't need reviews. That's how we used to do it in the good, old days. Just a map, and the open road." He explained.
Eric just frowned and stayed quiet.
"What about that one?" Callen asked, pointing to a place called the Dow Villa Motel. "It says it has a hot tub," he added, trying to make the typical highway motel look more appealing.
"That would be great if Kensi was here." Deeks spoke out loud without thinking.
"Yeah…" Eric said softly, his mind going to Nell.
Sam just rolled his eyes and nodded. The motel seemed to be a good a place as any.
As Deeks drove to their destination, he silently took notice of the small town. It had a lot of churches, possibly even more than commercial establishments, a high school, a small market that he mentally saved for future reference, and some other places that they wouldn't care about. He also saw signs for a general hospital, a very small airport, and a funeral home. All places he sincerely hoped they wouldn't need to visit.
The next couple of hours went by quick, with the boys renting two rooms, before they got their bags out of the car, then proceeded to have dinner, upon Sam's insistence at seemingly the most expensive restaurant in town. But the steaks had been great and the ample beer selection even better, so the team had managed to relax and enjoy some lighthearted conversation before Callen and Sam retreated to their room, while Deeks and Eric moved to the other. With the first part of their trip completed, and it being too late to back down now, each team member went to bed nervously awaiting the next morning when the real fun was sure to begin.