Being surrounded by laughter felt good, the camaraderie a welcome distraction, easing some of the earlier tension he felt when Sam prodded him about his feelings. The simple, but unbelievably spicy Jamaican fare and teasing Callen about Legoland after the long day cleared his mind of the questions still bothering him, but only briefly. Listening to Callen and Anna flirt the way he and Kensi used to made him miss her, and he retreated into silence as those troublesome questions rose to the forefront once again. Was she trying to push him away? Why didn’t she want him to work out with her or even go on runs with her? What was he doing wrong? Sam advised him not to bring it up, but he wasn’t sure he would be able to do that much longer.
“Yeah?” He was startled as Nell poked an elbow into his ribs, making him look up into quizzical looks from his friends.
“Weren’t you listening? They don’t believe your story about working with a Japanese master gardener,” she said with a wide grin.
“You don’t seem like the gardening type, Deeks,” Sam sniped.
“Couple of the trees in my yard need trimming,” Callen said with his signature smirk. “I might even pay you, although you do owe me for dinner.”
“Yeah, sure,” he mumbled. “Listen…this has been fun, but I need to get home and see how Kensi’s doing. ”
“Remember what I said this morning, Deeks,” Sam said as the group stood up and got ready to leave. “It’s good advice and believe me when I say I learned it the hard way.”
“Sam loves to give advice,” Callen said. “If I did everything he told me I should do…let’s just say I wouldn’t be the man I am now.”
“And that would be a bad thing?” Sam asked with a smirk of his own.
“Thanks for dinner,” Deeks quickly said as he backed away. “Enjoy Legoland, brother.”
Before they could draw him back into the conversation he turned and strode away, the pounding drums and rhythmic sounds from the street musicians following him into the night. He hadn’t gotten far before he realized there was someone following him and he instinctively reached back for his gun, aware that they all still had targets on their backs. He stepped quickly behind the trunk of a tree and turned to see Nell stop suddenly, shock on her face when she noticed the gun in his hands.
“Dammit, Nell. I could have shot you,” he snapped out. “Why the hell are you following me?”
“I drove. Remember?”
He ran his hand nervously through his hair after holstering his weapon, finally grinning sheepishly at his sometimes partner.
“Sorry, Velma. Just a little jumpy tonight,” he said as she came up to walk beside him.
“I’m the one who should apologize. The mole has us all on guard,” she offered as they headed for the car.
They walked on, the silence awkward, but his thoughts had turned back to Kensi.
“You can talk to me you know,” Nell said softly, bumping into him to get his attention.
“Just not while you’re driving,” he replied with a grin. “You definitely need to keep your eyes on the road. No distractions while Nellosaurus is behind the wheel.”
“It’s Kensi isn’t it?”
“What makes you say that?”
“You do know my IQ, don’t you?”
“Doesn’t make you a mind reader,” he murmured, suddenly irritated by everyone trying to give him advice.
“It doesn’t take one to see your mind wasn’t here tonight,” Nell said softly, as she put a hand on his arm to make him stop. “She’s doing really well, Deeks.”
“Yeah, she is, but…”
“She loves you. You know that right?”
“Of course, but she’s…she’s pulling away from me Nell,” he replied. “Why is she doing that?”
“Do you want me to try and find out?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Is that what Sam told you? Not to bring it up?”
“You don’t agree,” he stated softly, crossing his arms as he leaned his long frame against the side of the car.
“Girls like to talk about their feelings more than guys do,” she said with that perky smile of hers. “Kensi and I used to talk about you all the time, before your thing became…well, a real thing.”
“Seriously?” He laughed nervously, but her comment made him hopeful.
“I think she’s scared, Deeks,” she replied.
“No. Uh-uh. You’re wrong. Kens isn’t afraid of anything,” he said, falsely protesting even though he had harbored the same thoughts himself at different times.
“She doesn’t want to disappoint you,” she said.
“She could never do that.”
“You know how competitive she is. She used to beat you at a lot of things, didn’t she?” Nell asked quietly, making him nod and smile at the memories. “I’ve seen her take you down to the mat when you were sparring. Always wanting to shoot better, run faster…right?”
“Yeah, she did enjoy beating the crap out of me.”
“I think she’s afraid she won’t be able to do that right now,” Nell said. “She’s not ready to compete with you and deep down she knows that. If you go on a run, she would make it a competition and if she couldn’t beat you to the finish line it would just reinforce what she’s afraid of…that she may never get back to being the person she was before the crash. That’s what scares her, Deeks, and I think you know that.”
“What’s that IQ of yours again?”
“You know her better than anyone,” she said. “You can find a way to get her to open up, just don’t make her mad.”
“Good point,” he laughed softly. “Thanks, Nell.”
“Another thing you should know…” she said, hesitating only briefly. “Hetty called Nate in.”
“She’s worried too.”
Nell dropped him at home after another adventurous trip through the streets of Los Angeles. He was grateful for her advice and for being alive. Hurrying up the walk to the front door, he slowed and then stopped, needing to reflect on all the advice he’d received before going in. Maybe he was feeling sorry for himself, and expecting too much from her just like she was of herself. Their conversations of late hadn’t been very honest or very deep and he wasn’t sure how to change that. He didn’t want to upset her or to complain, so maybe he should just be ‘granite’ like Sam advised. But then again, Nell had a point. He knew Kensi was afraid she wouldn’t completely heal or return. Every time she had voiced that fear he had tried to dissuade her, but now he realized he should encourage her to talk about that, let her vent her fears, so they were all out in the open and could be dealt with. Neither one of them had been very good at doing that, but he hoped he could get her to be honest with him now. If not, he wasn’t sure what to do except be the rock her emotions could beat against.
“Hey,” Kensi said from behind him. “What’s wrong?”
He turned to face her and saw her lips tremble, and his love for her surged through him like electricity.
“Just processing the day’s events,” he said, forcing himself to smile.
“You good?” She asked, as she looked him over with a critical eye.
“Other than missing you today…I’m good,” he said as he reached for her.
She pulled away and stepped back inside and he took a deep breath and followed her in.
“I brought some take out home,” she said, sounding distant.
“The team ate Jamaican from one of the food trucks in Leimert Park,” he said without thinking.
“The team?” She asked, her eyes suddenly glistening with tears. “You mean with Anna?”
Realizing his mistake he took a step toward her, but she held up her hands as she backed away.
“She’s just a temp, baby,” he said gently. “She worked with Callen today.”
“You don’t need to explain, Deeks,” she said, her eyes bright with sudden anger. “I get it.”
“What? What do you get Kens?”
“I’m not part of the team anymore,” she replied. “And I won’t be for some time if Nate has anything to say about it…which apparently he does.”
“You talked to Nate?” He moved slowly toward her, wanting and needing to hold her.
“Apparently Hetty thinks I need a shrink,” she said, wiping at her tears. “And that shrink doesn’t think I’m ready to be back on the team. Not that that bothers anybody.”
“That’s not true, Kens,” he said softly as he pulled her to him.
He could feel her tremble, but he wasn’t sure if it was from sadness or anger or both.
“Do you know how left out I feel when I see you guys working a case without me? Having dinner together after you wrap a case?” She asked, breaking his heart as the words slammed into him. “I get these pity hugs from everyone, but then they just leave and go about their business as if I was never there and never will be again. I feel like a ghost, Deeks. Like no one can see me anymore.”
“I see you, baby,” he said urgently. “Please don’t pull away from me. I don’t want to be left out either.”
“What are you talking about? You get to work with the team everyday. You just had dinner with them.”
“I’m not talking about work. I’m talking about you and me. I don’t want to be left out of your life, Kens,” he said softly. “I want to know what you’re feeling. I want to know when you’re down or pissed or when you want to kick somebody’s ass. Or when you want to cry. I don’t want to be left out of any of that. I’m all in, baby. Remember?”
She wrapped her arms around him and snuggled against his chest and he held her as tightly as he could.
“I love you.”
She whispered the words he’d been longing to hear and tears started in his eyes.
“I love you too, baby,” he said, softly kissing the top of her head. “We’re partners. Always will be, and like I’ve always said…partners can tell each other anything.”
“I want to kick Anna’s ass,” she mumbled against his shoulder, and he laughed out loud.
“Can I watch?” He asked, and felt her tense up.
“Do you think I can take her?” She asked, staring up at him with dark questioning eyes.
He knew it was a test and he hesitated to answer too quickly, afraid if he said the wrong thing he might lose the ground they’d just gained.
“Bet against Wonder Woman? I know I’m crazy sometimes, but I’m not that crazy.”
“Is she good?”
“For Callen…maybe,” he said, raising an eyebrow and squinting as if he wasn’t sure.
“They’re seeing each other?” She seemed startled by the information and he saw the concern in her eyes.
“He actually agreed to go to Legoland with her,” he replied, grinning and hoping she would see the humor in it.
“He must really like her to do that,” she said, flashing a quick smile.
“I’m thinking of getting him his own set so they can build things together.”
Her laugh was honest and he saw the worry leave her face and felt her body relax. He kissed her lightly on the lips and she smiled and kissed him back and he struggled to hold in his emotions. This was one of their up times, but he knew the down times would come and he was determined to be ready for that.
“Don’t tell Callen what I said,” she asked. “He’ll think I don’t like her.”
“Let’s just keep that between us, partner.”