“Michelle’s taking the kids to the midnight service at the little Baptist Church in the neighborhood,” Sam said wistfully. “They serve hot chocolate and everybody sings Christmas carols by candlelight. It’s nice, you know. Real homey.”
Neither Deeks nor Callen made a comment, or even looked at him. Callen picked up the binoculars again and Deeks said he was going to do another recon and got up and left.
“I was going to invite you both over for Christmas dinner if this op hadn’t come up,” Sam said quietly. “Deeks seems pretty lonely without Kensi around.”
“I think this is the longest conversation we’ve had with him since she left,” Callen said.
“He should have brought that Slankit she gave him,” Sam laughed quietly.
“Our boy doesn’t do well in the wild,” Callen said.
“You didn’t exactly welcome him back with open arms, G.”
“I didn’t think he was ready,” Callen said a little defensively. “You saw how tentative he was on his first op back. He was avoiding taking shots and joking around like a goofball.”
“A little support from his team leader might have helped,” Sam muttered.
“Are you mad at me?”
When Sam didn’t answer, Callen looked surprised.
“You are. I can’t believe you’re still pissed that I called him on it,” Callen said in amazement.
The arrival at the ranch of two trucks broke their confrontation, and both grabbed their binoculars and watched as three men exited one and four jumped out of the other. A couple of them pulled large duffle bags out of the back of one truck and swung open the doors of the barn. One of the trucks backed in and the doors were closed, leaving Callen and Sam with no visual on their suspects.
“Where the hell is Deeks?” Callen groused.
“Next to the barn,” Sam whispered. “See him?”
“What the hell is he doing?”
“Surveillance would be my guess,” Sam said a little sarcastically, causing Callen to glare at him.
“He’s being reckless,” Callen complained.
“He’s doing his job, G.”
“Lights just came on in the barn,” Callen noted.
“There’s an SUV coming,” Sam said quietly.
“He should have put in his earwig before he left,” Callen moved his binoculars, trying to find where Deeks had gotten to.
“He’s just to the right of the barn, over by that big oak tree,” Sam whispered, as he watched Deeks moving through the tall grasses.
Suddenly he disappeared from view.
“Did you hear that?” Sam asked. “He’s down.”
“Those men heard something too,” Callen said as he stood up. “They’re headed in his direction. Come on Sam, he’s in trouble.”
“Wait G,” Sam said, grabbing his arm. “We’ll never get there in time.”
Sam watched intently as the men began using flashlights to search the area where Deeks was last seen, while Callen checked his weapons before pulling a vest from his bag and hurriedly strapping it on.
“G, look,” Sam said quietly. “He’s being carried toward the barn. Looks like he’s unconscious.”
Both men rapidly prepared their gear and moved swiftly down the ridge toward the barn, not stopping until they heard approaching vehicles. They hid quickly behind a small shed as the sound of multiple muted voices floated on the cold night air, quieting as they entered the barn.
“How many people are in on this deal?” Callen whispered fiercely.
“I don’t care. Deeks is in there,” Sam said as he skirted the edge of the shed and moved swiftly toward the side of the barn with Callen on his tail.
They had scouted the property for two days and knew there was a small side door and a window that would give them a visual on Deeks before they breeched. Callen reached it first and peered inside. Deeks was lying on hay bales surrounded by at least twelve men, who as far as Callen could see, didn’t appear to be armed. He saw Deeks try to sit up, only to be held down by two men. They heard him cry out, but Callen couldn’t see why, so he tapped Sam’s arm and they yanked the door open, charging in as they yelled out “federal agents”.
The men around Deeks looked stunned and most immediately put their hands up and moved away from him. The man wrapping a bandage around Deeks’ head continued and Deeks blinked slowly as he looked over at them. Sam could see no weapons as he moved toward Deeks, but stopped when he noticed the Christmas tree just behind him, partially decorated with tiny lights.
“Hey guys,” Deeks said weakly with a smile. “Tried to get back to tell you about these guys, but I stepped in a hole and fell. Hit my head on a rock. These guys found me. Meet the local church choir.”
“Half the choir,” the old man at Deeks’ feet explained. “The ladies will be here in a bit. Are we under arrest?”
“No,” Sam said, slightly embarrassed as he lowered his gun.
“We think his ankle might be broken,” another man said nervously, eyeing the guns that Callen and Sam still held.
“What are you people doing here?” Callen demanded, suddenly worried that their suspects would show up and make things even more interesting.
“What we do every Christmas Eve,” the old man said. “We put up a Christmas tree and lights and hold a service to celebrate the nativity. Our choir sings carols and then we serve hot apple cider and cocoa with pies and cakes and Christmas cookies.”
Sam had walked off to phone Hetty, coming back looking somewhere between sheepish and disgruntled. He whispered something to Callen who slowly holstered his gun and shook his head.
“Sorry. We got bad intel about a possible arms deal that was supposed to take place here,” Callen said quietly. “We apologize if we scared you.”
“I’ll be fine as soon as my heart rate goes down. Glad you’re looking out for our country though, we appreciate your service. I’m Doc Peters,” he said. “This old guy is Matthew and these two men found your friend. That’s Mark and this is my son Luke.
Once there were no guns pointed at them, the other men relaxed, coming up to shake their hands and introduce themselves, before returning to the task of decorating the barn.
“Come on Deeks,” Sam said as he walked over to his side. “Let’s get you home.”
“I really don’t think you should move him just yet,” Doc Peters said. “I’d like to monitor him for a possible concussion and I haven’t finished wrapping his ankle yet. Probably just a bad sprain. Besides, it’s Christmas Eve and you might as well join us for the festivities. Hot cider should sound pretty good on a cold night like this.”
“The singing ain’t bad either,” Matthew said.
“You up for that Deeks?” Callen asked.
“You’re asking me?” Deeks looked a little uncertain and surprised to be asked and quickly glanced at Sam.
“Don’t look at me, Rudolph. It’s your decision,” Sam laughed.
“Sounds better than freezing my nose off walking back to the car,” Deeks said cheerfully.
“You mean limping, don’t you?” Callen said evenly.
“Yeah, sorry,” Deeks said, looking slightly embarrassed as he watched the doctor finish wrapping his ankle.
“You three should be part of the nativity scene,” Luke said as he gave Deeks a hand sitting up.
“How’s that?” Deeks asked.
“You can portray The Three Kings. You know, the Wise Men,” Mark told them. “They came from a faraway land bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
“Well, Sam is always sharing his wisdom,” Deeks said with a crooked grin. “Whether we want to hear it or not.”
“And you’re a wiseass,” Callen smirked.
“And you eat at Burger King all the time,” Deeks sniped.
“And I guess LALA Land could be considered a faraway land,” Sam laughed. “A very weird, faraway land.”
“What is myrrh, anyway?” Callen asked as a group of women came bustling into the barn, carrying plates of cookies and cakes and sweet smelling pies.
For the next half hour the three agents watched as the beams of the old barn were draped with strings of tiny lights, and the tree was decorated and covered in multicolored lights that blinked on and off. A manger was set up next to it and a woman carrying her young baby settled into the straw as her husband, dressed in coveralls and a baseball cap stood talking to a couple of young girls wearing handmade angel wings.
Callen saw Deeks staring at the tree with a childlike grin on his face and walked over to join him, handing him a cup of steaming hot cocoa topped with marshmallows.
“Ever seen anything like this before?” he asked as he sat down next to him.
“Once,” Deeks answered. “Just not in a barn or during a blown op.”
“When you were a kid?”
“Yeah. My fifth grade teacher invited me over for Christmas dinner,” his smile disappeared and he looked melancholy as he spoke. “The tree she had was magical and she gave me the book, Treasure Island. Best Christmas I can remember.”
“Christmases were always hard,” Callen murmured.
“Yeah. Most of the ones when I was a kid I’d just sooner forget,” Deeks said tonelessly.
They became silent as they drank their cocoa, each one lost in thought and distant memories.
“Did you and Kens make any plans for Christmas before she left?” Callen asked as he stared at the tree.
“Why do you need to know that?” Deeks instantly became surly and stood up and limped a couple of steps away.
“I’m asking as a friend, Deeks.” Callen said, slightly exasperated as he stood up uncertainly behind him.
“Really? A friend? And why do you think I would be making plans with Kensi?”
“You’re seriously asking me that?” Callen said in amazement as he took a step toward him. “I’m not blind, man.”
“Me either, Deeks,” Sam said as he came up between the two men and draped his arms over their shoulders. “You look at her like she’s all you want for Christmas.”
“That obvious, huh?” Deeks softened his stance a little, smiling again as he looked up at the sparkling tree.
“She’ll be alright, Deeks,” Callen said softly. “And I’m sure she’s missing you too.”
“You’re lucky Deeks. She has to spend Christmas with Granger and you get to spend it with us,” Sam laughed.
“You mean two old wise guys?” Deeks quipped.
“Come on, you gotta admit we’re a lot more fun than Granger,” Callen said lightly.
“The Grinch is a lot more fun than Granger,” Deeks said, flashing back a quick grin.
“He does remind me of the Grinch,” Sam laughed and squeezed the two men’s shoulders.
“Yeah, well he stole my Christmas,” Deeks said, his smile fading.
The soft harmonious strains of “Silent Night” suddenly rose and filled the barn, the choir members singing as they gathered around the manger. Sam’s deep voice joined them as they sang and eventually Deeks’ sweet tenor lofted above the others in the chorus.
Mark and Luke came up and placed golden paper crowns on each of their heads, making them laugh at each other as the choir sang “We Three Kings” behind them. The two angel girls beckoned them forward and with embarrassed grins they walked toward the manger, where Sam knelt down on one knee and pulled the other two men down with him.
“I forgot my frankincense,” Deeks whispered.
“I don’t even know what myrrh is?” Callen whispered back.
“It’s not about the gifts, guys,” Sam said. “It’s about love and family.”
“You’re wiser than you look, Sam.”
“Shut up, Deeks. Just enjoy the moment. It’s Christmas.”