When no one said anything, Bates got up to leave, but paused near the door.
“I learned early on that he doesn’t let people get too close,” he offered. “But he did with all of you. Like I said, he was different when he came back. Wanted an undercover assignment right away. You won’t tell me what happened either, but I can tell that one of you, or maybe all of you, wounded him in some way and that’s tough to carry around when you’re undercover.”
“It was his decision to leave,” Callen said, standing suddenly and sounding angry.
“We tried to get him to stay,” Sam said sadly. “He thought going back to you was the best solution.”
“It’s complicated, Lieutenant,” Hetty said.
“It’s Kensi, isn’t it?” Bates said with a smirk. “I knew something was going on there. Sorry it cost you a good man. A word of advice. He’s been under as Max Gentry for a long time and he’s real close to the edge. Don’t let her anywhere near that meet. He might not be able to control his response if he sees her, and that could get him killed and all of you, too.”
His fingers twitched as he sat bleary-eyed on the stack of boxed weapons. The op was finally close to the end and he felt anxious, his skin crawling with the need to be free of the person he’d become. He hadn’t slept since the night he’d slammed Callen against that wall and almost choked him out. He’d gotten blind drunk afterwards, cursing himself and ranting until the guy in the room next door pounded on the wall and yelled for him to shut up. He had finally passed out and when he woke he’d been completely disoriented, confused as to why he was twisted up in sheets on a ratty bed in a seedy hotel room that smelled like body odor and rotten food. He had known then what Hetty had meant. It was cold out here. Cold and lonely. No one to care what happens to you, no one to joke with to ease the tension when things get bad, or to comfort you when your mind goes numb with guilt and fear. It was the future he’d sentenced himself to and the realization had made him crazy and he had methodically destroyed that cheap, grubby, little hotel room.
Now he needed to be back in character, back to being the hard ass Max Gentry, because he was close to the end, with nothing to look forward to when this assignment was over except more of the same. He ran his fidgeting fingers through his unwashed hair, and looked longingly at the loading dock, realizing just how desperate he was to see Callen and Sam one more time. He swallowed down the bitter taste in his mouth, and tried to distract himself when his mind wandered through his memories of the ops he had worked with them and with Kensi. He hurriedly pulled his weapon and checked it, noticing that his hands were trembling and it scared him. He wouldn’t be here if they didn’t need him, so he slammed his fist into the side of the nearest packing crate, welcoming the pain that cut through his anxiety, and making him focus as he struggled to let Max Gentry’s strength take over. He needed to be that man now or he wouldn’t make it through the day.
“Max, they’re here,” Salazar shouted. “I want you close by, man, in case something goes sideways.”
“Don’t get your dick all twisted, Ricky,” Max called out as he sauntered over to him. “It’s just a million dollar arms deal, amigo. What could possibly go wrong?”
“You’re an asshole, Max,” Ricky laughed.
“Yeah, but I’m your asshole,” Max said as he slapped him on the back.
“Ricky likes you, Gentry. Says you trust these guys. That true?” Alejandro Munoz said as he joined them.
“As much as I trust anyone,” Max answered.
“If they pull anything squirrelly, you take ‘em down. Got it?” Munoz ordered.
“Never liked squirrels, boss,” Max said. “Or raccoons either. Always poking their nose in where nobody wants ‘em.”
“You’re a weird guy, Max,” Munoz laughed.
Max almost smiled when he saw Sam’s Challenger drive up, letting out a long breath as he readied himself, taking a few steps away from the two arms dealers. He wanted this to be over so badly, to be himself for even a short time, to surf and let the cold ocean wash away the bad taste of his days and weeks and months as Max Gentry. Maybe he would call Kensi and meet her for coffee, the thought pulling him off his game, his mind wandering when it should be focused. Shit! He was losing it right now and it was Callen who brought him back.
“You look like bad crap, Max,” Yuri Kulish called out in what Deeks thought was a hilarious accent.
“Sounds like you need another lesson in manners, Yuri,” he shot back coldly, watching the subtle shift to concern in Callen’s eyes.
“Keep your private feud to yourselves, gentlemen,” Munoz interjected. “Did you bring the money, Mr. Kulish?”
“You are very formal,” Yuri said. “I like that. Now, please show Terrell the merchandise and then I will show you my money.”
Munoz swept his arm out, inviting them over to the stack of crates containing the weapons, nodding at Max to open one. When he did, he saw the slight change in Sam’s body language and the quick look from Callen and his hand moved toward his gun.
“I believe these are just the weapons we are looking for,” Yuri said warmly as he pulled his gun and pointed it at Munoz.
“Federal agents,” Sam said, his gun now pointing at Salazar.
“Sonofabitch,” Salazar swore, looking quickly at Max, who had taken a few steps back, his face showing surprise before settling into resignation and then anger.
The tactical squad flooded into the warehouse, firing a few shots as they yelled out orders and moved swiftly to subdue the rest of the gang. Suddenly Kensi and another guy charged onto the loading dock as Max pulled his weapon. The shock of seeing her again made him hesitate, the weapon in his hand forgotten.
“Gun,” Jensen shouted and brought his weapon up to fire.
Kensi spun and tackled her partner to the ground, knocking him off aim as he fired. Deeks dropped his gun and put his hands up, shocked to see Kensi hit the guy and yank the gun out of his hand. She was on her feet quickly, looking fiercely at him before she pulled his hands behind his back and cuffed him, while Callen did the same to Munoz.
“Why didn’t you let your partner shoot him?” Salazar called out as he and Munoz were being led away by the tactical squad.
“He’s wanted for questioning in an ongoing investigation,” Kensi answered.
“You’re a lucky sonofabitch, Max,” Salazar yelled back as he was being pushed into a car. “Only you would have your sorry ass saved by a hot looking federal agent.”
“She is hot,” Max said, smiling softly at his old partner.
“Shut up,” she snapped with a smile as she moved to uncuff him.
“Why the hell did you hit me?” Jensen asked loudly as he jerked her around and got in her face.
Max exploded in anger and grabbed him, shoving him violently up against the nearest packing crate and would have hit him if Sam hadn’t stopped him. Callen got between the two men and then put his hand on Deeks’ chest, a warning look in his eye.
“Let it go, Deeks,” he said.
“This bastard tried to shoot me,” he roared, losing whatever bit of self-control he had left. “Weren’t you briefed, asshole? Did you forget there was an undercover cop at this little shindig? Or are you just a dumb, fuckin’ hotshot with something to prove?”
He was almost hyperventilating by the time he was done shouting. Sam finally pulled him away and walked him over and sat him down on the box of weapons. The others, except for Jensen, followed them.
“Did you just call this a shindig, Deeks?” Sam laughed. “You been watching old TV shows while you’ve been undercover?”
“Nothing else to do when you can’t sleep,” he whispered, staring down at his trembling hands. “It’s been a long couple of months.”
“Deeks, it’s been five months,” Callen said.
“Seriously?” He said, surprised and shaken at the same time.
“Let us take you home, man,” Sam said.
“No. No, no. I gotta report to Bates,” he said, shaking his head. “Need to be debriefed, write up my report, you know the usual stuff.”
He knew he was babbling, but couldn’t seem to stop himself. He felt it when they stepped away from him, and he was saddened that they would leave and he would be alone again, trying to shake the lasting effects Max Gentry always had on him. Kensi’s soft hand on his cheek made him look up and he started to shake. She stepped between his legs and pulled him to her, wrapping him in her arms, holding him as he lost it, her hands stroking his hair. He felt embarrassed that she had to see him this way, to be this close to Max Gentry and all the darkness that part of him was filled with.
“God, I’ve missed you,” he choked out.
“Then come home, Deeks,” she whispered as she kissed the top of his head. “Come back with us. With me. We’ll work it out. We need each other. We’re better together.”
“She’ll probably end up killing Jensen if you don’t,” Callen said as he squeezed his shoulder.
“She called him a blithering idiot, Deeks,” Sam chimed in.
“That’s what she used to call me,” Deeks said with a fleeting smile.
“But I said it with love,” she said. “And you never blithered.”
“Is that even a word?” Callen asked.
“It is, in Kensi language,” Deeks quipped, feeling a calmness come over him as he bantered with his old team.
“She has her own language?” Sam asked as he helped Deeks to his feet.
“You all do,” he said.
“Yeah, but we don’t drawl when we talk,” Callen said with a smirk.
“At least that’s authentic,” Deeks laughed. “That accent you were using for Yuri sounded like you got it off the Cartoon Network.”
“How would you know? You learn Ukrainian while you been gone?” Sam added, pushing Deeks ahead of him as they headed out.
The gentle teasing left him so nostalgic that he stopped, looking from one to the other, his eyes finally coming to rest on Kensi. He saw the tears shimmering in her eyes and he reached out and took her hand.
“Do you think Hetty would let me come back?” He asked quietly as he looked off into the distance, slightly afraid to hear the answer.
Callen handed him an earwig and he put it in, hearing Hetty’s affirmation loud and clearly spoken and he dropped his head, finding it hard to believe his lonely nightmare was over. Sam placed his hands on his shoulders and Kensi’s face broke into a brilliant smile as Callen handed him his gun. He had no sense of Max Gentry now, just a feeling of camaraderie and peace.
“Come on, partner,” Kensi said. “You can buy me a donut on the way back to OSP. I’m starving.”
“Didn’t your new partner buy you breakfast?” He asked.
“His idea of breakfast is a whole wheat energy bar,” she made a face and dramatically shivered.
“Dude. Really?” Deeks looked over at a glowering Jensen. “Come on, man, I know where they keep the cold packs for that black eye she gave you.”
Jensen reluctantly followed as the team walked out.