The Night Before Christmas
Callen stared at the three Christmas cards standing on his mantle, and took another sip of scotch. Hetty had given him the expensive bottle of her favorite brand exactly one year ago, and being it was Christmas Eve, he decided to drink a toast to her. He missed her. She was family, the only one he’d had before Sam, and until he’d found his father and discovered he’d unexpectedly inherited a half-sister and a nephew. At times, like tonight, it was still a bit overwhelming, so he had excused himself from his sister’s invitation to dinner and retreated to the solitude of his little bungalow. Sam always accused him of becoming a hermit on holidays, especially Christmas, but he enjoyed his private time. It gave him time to think. Tomorrow he would attempt to become a conventional uncle and brother, but tonight was his alone to try and adjust to the changes in his life, especially the addition of one annoying person with an attitude.
That Hetty had gone off someplace without leaving a clue still bothered him, and he realized he was feeling slightly resentful that she hadn’t trusted him with what she was up to, because he knew she was up to something. She always was. Being left out was a feeling he didn’t like, especially by someone he cared about. He’d struggled to find a family for a long time, yet here he was drinking alone close to midnight on Christmas Eve. If he were being honest, he was feeling a little sorry for himself because he felt abandoned by the one person he thought would never do that to him.
“Sam would definitely have something to say about that,” he said, and downed the last of the scotch in his glass.
As he turned to go into the kitchen, he heard something or someone bump softly against his front door. He walked over to where he had placed his weapon and picked it up, holding it against the side of his leg as he moved silently toward the window. Before he had a chance to look outside a subtle knock surprised him, and he tucked the gun behind his back. Assailants never knocked, so he opened the door.
“Go for Santa,” Deeks said weakly, and stumbled unceremoniously inside.
Callen grabbed the front of his jacket as he struggled to stay on his feet. He had definitely been in a fight. His face was marred by cuts and bruises, the one around his eye already a dark purple, and his knuckles were bloody.
“What the hell happen?”
“Let’s just say things didn’t go so well with a little sting Whiting set up,” he said, walking gingerly as Callen helped him toward the kitchen.
“She ran an op on Christmas Eve?” Callen asked, noting how he was holding his ribs as he eased down in a chair at the table.
“Thought it might catch the bad guy off guard.”
“So much for Christmas spirit.”
“Whiting’s more of the bah humbug type,” Deeks said, huffing out a short laugh.
“She does kind of remind me of Scrooge.”
Deeks grabbed his ribs again as he hunched over the table, his breathing shallow as he dealt with the pain. Callen grabbed a med kit from one of the kitchen drawers, and pulled a chair around to sit down in front of him. He had numerous questions about the assignment he’d been on, but wanted to give him time to catch his breath first before getting into it.
“Where’s Kensi?” He asked as he poured antiseptic on a gauze pad.
“She’s at her mom’s with my mom and…” he began, but hissed when Callen started to clean the cut above his eye.
“She doesn’t know about this does she?” He asked.
“Some of it,” he replied. “Just not this part…”
“Deeks…She’s going to kill you,” Callen said with a warning smirk. “Now…about this part. Care to share?”
“I see you put up the Christmas lights I gave you,” Deeks said softly, as if his deflection would work. “They look nice…and straight.”
“Yeah…they are Christmassy,” he replied and sat back to watch him. “Deeks? Why’d you come here? You knew I’d ask questions.”
“I came here because…” he said and stopped. “I should go.”
“You just got here. But hey…If you want to walk around half beat to hell, be my guest,” he said, exasperated over his reluctance to tell him anything. “Didn’t hear your truck, so let me guess. It’s not close by.”
“Few streets over. Couldn’t risk a tail,” he replied.
“I’ll call Kensi for you. She can come take you home.”
“No…no, no,” he said with a weary grin. “She’ll go all ninja interrogator over the phone. Then my mom would know something was wrong, assume the worse…get hysterical, and then Guy would get involved…want to come over and treat me with some holistic shit…maybe even bring his sketch pad. So, no, Callen…not happening.”
“Who’s Guy?” Callen had never heard of him.
“Not important. Really,” Deeks said and then tried to stand up, only to grab Callen’s arm to steady himself.
“Guy…huh? Sounds French,” Callen said, smirking when he saw Deeks’ reaction.
“He’s not. Probably grew up in Encino,” he grumped.
“Let me guess. He’s your mom’s boyfriend?” Callen couldn’t help but laugh at the surprise on Deeks’ face. “Not hard to guess that or that you don’t like him.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he replied as he pushed Callen’s hand away from his face.
Callen was growing irritated with him and was grateful when his phone buzzed. “It’s Sam.”
“Don’t tell ’im I’m here,” Deeks said quickly.
“Deeks is here. Somebody beat him up…No…He won’t tell me who.”
“Thanks for that,” Deeks said softly, leaning back in the chair and staring off into the living room.
“He’s on his way.”
“Better him than Guy…right?” Callen said. “Now let me clean you up a little before Sam gets here, or neither one of us will hear the end of it.”
By the time Sam arrived, Callen had given him a couple of aspirin, and had managed to wipe most of the blood off his face. There was still some remaining around his nose, and his swollen lip looked worse, but a Band-Aid now covered the cut above his black eye. Sam didn’t seem the least bit pleased by his efforts and stood over them both looking pissed and making Deeks stammer out an apology he’d never offered Callen.
“I don’t need an apology, Deeks,” he said gruffly. “We need to know who did this and why.”
“It’s classified,” he said with a cocky grin as if that would deter Sam.
“Fine. Let’s see if that flies when Kensi gets here,” he replied.
“You…you called Kensi?” Deeks looked stunned and Callen decided this was starting to get interesting.
“Is Guy coming?” Callen asked, trying to sound innocent.
“Who the hell is Guy?” Sam asked loudly.
“Callen,” Deeks warned and started to stand, but grabbed his ribs and grimaced.
“He do this to you, Deeks?” Sam asked as he put a hand on his shoulder to keep him in the chair.
“Guy? Seriously? No way,” protesting a little too much for Callen.
“Could he take you if he tried?” Callen asked, stirring the pot just a little.
“Anybody ever tell you you’re supposed to be nice this time of year?” Deeks said, gently touching a bruise on the side of his jaw.
“You ever get into with him?” Callen pressed.
“Why is it, Deeks…when we least want to hear it, you talk our leg off. But when you come looking for help because somebody beat the crap outa you, all of a sudden you have nothing to say?” Sam asked in that irritated voice that told Callen he was not having a good night before Christmas.
“The kids okay, Sam?” He asked, catching an understanding look from Deeks.
“They aren’t talking much either,” he replied softly. “Went off to be with their friends.”
“Not much of a Christmas Eve, yeah?” Deeks said quietly. “For any of us.”
“Hey! I’ll have you know I was doing just fine before you showed up,” Callen said lightly, pointing at Deeks.
“Yeah, right. You’re a regular Santa Claus,” Sam said, and Deeks laughed for the first time that night.
“Anything you want to tell us, Deeks? Before Kens gets here?” Callen asked, knowing it would be even harder to get Sam to share his feelings than to get Deeks to open up.
“Yeah, Deeks. Like who you lost a fight with?” Sam demanded.
“Whiting sent him on an op,” Callen said, and Deeks closed his eyes and shook his head.
“Didn’t think you still worked cases for LAPD,” Sam said, sitting down at the table across from him.
Deeks looked tired and unusually despondent. He was a man who seemed to be able to find something funny to say about most things. And as annoying as his comments could sometimes be, seeing him so distant and melancholy was hard to take and difficult to reconcile with his usual behavior.
“Deeks? Why are you holding out on us?” Callen asked. “If you don’t tell us, you know we’ll just figure it out on our own.”
“We’re good at it too,” Sam added.
After a long sigh, Deeks looked at each of them before dropping his head for a moment as if coming to a decision. He rose gingerly, using the table to push himself to his feet. He flinched, but put his hands up to show he wanted no help and slowly walked past them to the fireplace. With his back turned, he looked at Callen’s Christmas cards one by one, before holding up the last one.
“Janvier? Seriously?” He said and then turned, staring at a point somewhere over their heads as he began to speak quietly.
“Whiting was going after a dirty cop. And since I’m not around much, she thought she could get her suspect to buy the idea that I was dirty too. I was sent to offer him access to valuable information he wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.”
“She spread a rumor that you’re dirty?” Sam asked, his anger sharp. “What If Mosley hears that? She’ll fire you in a heartbeat.”
“And you didn’t tell me this because…? Wait. You don’t trust me?” Callen asked, surprised and a little hurt.
Deeks must have heard anger as well, and looked away from him. “Maybe I was afraid you might believe it.”
“You can really be a knucklehead sometimes, Deeks,” Sam said. “You know that’s not even remotely true. Callen stood up for you with Mosley. It’s the reason she let you back on the team.”
“Yeah, Deeks…really. I think you just ruined my Christmas,” Callen said, giving him his best wounded look.
“I can’t wait for this Christmas to be over,” Sam said, and Callen saw a look of pain cross Deeks’ face, but he knew it wasn’t anything physical.
“God, Sam…I’m so sorry, I…I shouldn’t have come,” Deeks stammered. “Neither one of you should have to deal with the stuff I got myself into. Especially not you, Sam.”
“Where else should I be, Deeks?” Sam said. “Callen’s got nothing going. You knew that. It’s why you came here. My kids are off trying to make things seem as normal as they can. And I’m here. With you. Because you need me. You need both of us. We’re on the same team, and that makes us brothers. We’re family, Deeks. Don’t you get that yet? Whatever you got yourself into, we’re in it, too.”
“He’s right. Whatever affects you, affects us…and Kensi,” Callen said. “We’d just like to know what it is.”
“Copy that,” he replied.
“We also know Whiting has something on you,” Sam said quietly.
“Otherwise you’d be with Kensi and the moms,” Callen said. “And Guy.”
“Is one of you going to tell me who Guy is?” Sam asked, glaring at them both. “Or do I have to take you off my Christmas list?”
“If I’m on your Christmas list, where are all my presents?” Callen asked, smiling, but quite serious.
“Forget about Guy. I know I’m trying to,” Deeks said. “Did Whiting tell you something? Because if she did, she might come looking for me here.”
“I didn’t tell her where I lived, Deeks, and there’s no way she finds this house. It’s listed under an alias,” Callen said.
“But if I was tailed…”
“Didn’t you hear what I said earlier? We’re in this together,” Sam said earnestly.
“Listen, dammit. I don’t want either one of you in the middle of this,” Deeks said and moved toward the door.
“That may be true, but here we are,” Sam said and stepped in front of him. “You’re not going anywhere in your condition. Now come sit down. And quit trying to pretend you’re ribs aren’t cracked.”
“They’re just bruised,” he insisted.
Sam put a hand on his shoulder, unmoving as he waited for him to give in. When he finally sighed with acceptance, Sam moved aside and guided him slowly back to the kitchen table.
“When Kensi gets here you’re telling all of us what happened.” Callen ordered.
“Whiting won’t like it,” Deeks replied, slumping back in the chair.
“You ditched her didn’t you?” Callen asked.
“More like she wasn’t around when I needed her,” he replied.
Callen looked at Sam and saw the same concern as his own. They knew Deeks wasn’t dirty, so what she was using to force him into doing her bidding had to be about his former LAPD partner. Hetty had told him it was over, but Callen knew some things can’t be swept under the rug so easily, especially a dead cop.
The soft knock on the door made Deeks jump and he bit his lip in pain. Callen once again picked up his gun, checking out the window before opening the door for Kensi.
“Sam said to meet him here,” she said. “What’s up?”
He stepped back so she could see Deeks, her eyes going wide when she saw the condition he was in. She brushed by Callen, sitting down in the chair in front of him and reaching up to gently touch his cheek.
“Hey, Kens. Did you eat all the lasagna?”
“What happened?” She demanded. “You said it was just a meeting. Who did this?”
“He’s just about to tell us that,” Callen said.
“Don’t you get it Callen?” He snapped angrily. “It doesn’t matter what I tell you. It won’t change a thing. She’ll charge me with murdering my old partner if I don’t help her get these guys, and any other dirty cops she wants to take down. And there’s not a damn thing any of you can do about it. I’m on my own.”
“No you’re not, baby” Kensi said.
“Tell us what you can, Deeks,” Sam said and squeezed his shoulder.
Callen watched him silently struggle whether to involve them or not, and he understood exactly how he felt. Maybe they weren’t that different from one another, except Callen didn’t mind going it alone. It appeared to him that Deeks did, even though dealing with things alone wasn’t new to him. He’d come here in desperation, hurting, but knowing he’d find the help he needed. With Kensi gone for the evening, he’d had no one else to turn to. That he’d come here made him feel protective of the younger man. He understood that kind of isolation and loneliness. But tonight those feelings were replaced by camaraderie, a sense of family that had been there for some time, but rarely acknowledged unless something like this came up.
“We’ll protect you, Deeks,” Callen said. “No matter what happens.”
“Yeah…we’re the only ones allowed to kick your butt,” Sam laughed.
“You know I love you, right?” Kensi asked, leaning closer to him. “And you know you can trust Callen and Sam. So just tell us what happened. If you’re still in danger we need to know.”
“Okay,” he whispered, holding Kensi’s hands as he began.
“After Bates was cleared, Whiting started focusing on one particular guy from the GND…Gangs and Narcotics. She pulled me in when she discovered I knew the guy. We were never friends, but we’d work together and she’d heard some things she thought she could use.”
“Like what?” Callen asked.
“That I didn’t always play by the rules when I was undercover,” he replied. “Especially with drug dealers.”
“Was this guy undercover with you?” Sam asked.
“And?” Kensi asked, gripping his hands tightly.
“Let’s just say he got into the life,” Deeks replied. “He was in pretty deep with the cartel, so it wasn’t surprising he’d had to do a few things that weren’t exactly kosher. I think he liked it.”
“And you?” Sam asked.
“I was sent in to get him out before he got himself killed,” Deeks replied.
“What happened?” Callen asked.
“He saved my life.”
“And Whiting wants you to bring him down,” Kensi said, her sympathy warming the stark words.
“I know he’s dirty, Kens, but…” he said haltingly. “If it hadn’t been for that guy, I never would have met you.”
“Whiting is cold for sending you in knowing that,” Sam added. “He buy that you’re dirty?”
“He was suspicious right from the beginning,” Deeks continued. “Took a lot of talking, which as you know I’m very good at, but he finally bought the bogus intel I was selling. Even gave up one his partners.”
“So he was taken into custody?” Callen asked, and Deeks nodded. “Then who was the fight with?”
“Whiting had SWAT take him down. She told me I could do the paperwork after Christmas. Even thanked me,” Deeks said with a bitter laugh. “And then she left me there like the Grinch she is.”
“Someone had the whole meet under surveillance,” Callen said, and looked quickly at Sam.
“They jumped me a couple of blocks from the scene,” Deeks said, nervously brushing the hair out of his eyes. “Three of ’em. Don’t think they were cops, but I could be wrong. Didn’t recognize ’em.”
“Cartel, maybe?” Sam asked.
“Maybe. Or a crew he was running,” Deeks said softly.
“Why not kill you?” Callen asked. “They obviously had the chance. Why let you live?”
“Wondered the same thing,” Deeks replied. “Which is why I didn’t call Whiting, and came here instead. I was afraid somebody might be tracking my phone.”
“You could have called me,” Kensi said softly.
“And have you deal with my mom going completely crackers?” Deeks said quickly, looking slightly hysterical himself.
“And don’t forget about Guy,” Callen added with a smirk.
“Kensi…please tell me who Guy is,” Sam pleaded.
“He’s a sweet man who’s very interested in Deeks’ mom,” she said, smiling at Deeks along with Sam and Callen.
“He is not sweet. He’s…He’s a lothario,” Deeks ranted. “He’s taking advantage of my mom.”
“He calls her Bertie, Sweetheart,” Kensi said, laying her hand on his cheek to try and calm him down.
“I’m pretty sure your mom can take care of herself, Deeks,” Sam said, still smiling. “You, on the other hand, just got yourself beaten up on Christmas Eve by some guys you don’t even know. Now who’s in more trouble? You or your mom?”
“Call Whiting. Tell her what happened,” Callen ordered. “She can lean on the suspect and find out who those guys were. If she wants to use you again, she’ll track them down. Then we are going to salvage Christmas Eve.”
“And how do you purpose we do that, G?” Sam was smiling widely now. “You don’t even have a Christmas tree.”
“You don’t either,” he shot back.
“Wrong. The kids helped me put one up on the stern today,” he said proudly. “Lights and everything. It’s pretty.”
“Sounds awesome, Sam,” Deeks said as he got up and pulled his phone.
He walked back out into the living room with Kensi by his side. Callen and Sam watched as he made the call to Whiting. He sounded testy, and Callen was tempted to yank the phone out of his hand and tear the woman a new one like Hetty would have done, but he decided to let it go. Deeks did a pretty good job himself, raising his voice enough so they could hear him cuss a few times and refuse to tell her where he was. When the call ended Kensi hugged him carefully, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him. Deeks pulled her close and blew out a couple of breaths before whispering something in her ear they couldn’t hear. They held each other, and Callen envied them for the comfort they found in one another.
“He was lucky you were here,” Sam said.
“Thought you said I turn into a hermit on Christmas, and that Deeks knew I’d be here.”
“You know what I mean,” Sam replied quietly. “Three guys? He’s lucky he made it this far, the shape he’s in.”
“You sound impressed.”
“Yeah, I am a little,” Sam said. “But, I taught him a few things.”
“Oh, so now you’re taking credit for him fighting off three guys?” Callen giggled. “Deeks could handle himself before he met you. I remember that MMA match where he held his own pretty good against you.”
“Come on G. I was pulling my punches and I won anyway,” Sam said, puffing out his chest and shadow boxing.
“Won what, Sam?” Deeks asked as they joined them in the kitchen.
“Doesn’t matter. How you feelin’?” He asked.
“Pissed off, sore, and tired,” he replied quietly. “But happy to be here.”
“Glad you came, Deeks,” Callen said.
“You promised we’d salvage Christmas, Callen,” Kensi asked. “How do you suggest we do that?”
“We can start by finishing off the bottle of scotch Hetty gave me,” Callen said, stepping over to the counter and raising the bottle high.
“I’ll drink to that,” Sam said.
“We can sing Christmas carols,” Deeks suggested, laughing as Callen frowned.
“No…you can sing carols,” Callen said firmly. “I provided the scotch.”
“Thought it came from Hetty?” Sam said.
“It’s mine now,” Callen replied as he grabbed some glasses. “And if you start being nice instead of naughty I might let you have some.”
“Mom and Dad are fighting, Kens,” Deeks said with a grin. “It’s Christmas, guys. Let’s keep things peaceful. I could use a little bit of that tonight.”
“Yeah…His halls have been decked,” Kensi cackled.
“Really, Kens? Unkind, but sort of funny,” Deeks said. “Yeah, no…nothing but coal in your stocking in the morning.”
“You got a shiny red nose too, Deeks,” Sam added. “I’m calling you Rudolph for the rest of the night.”
“Okay, I get it. Callen? Whatcha got? Come on…let’s hear it,” Deeks said grinning easily now.
Callen looked back at him and handed him a glass of scotch, unable to think of anything funny to say. It felt good to know they had survived a rough year, and that Deeks was safe, surrounded by this makeshift family of theirs. So he raised his glass in an age-old toast.
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
“Sounded a little bit like Santa Claus, G,” Sam said. “But you left out the ho, ho, ho’s.”
“That’s your job, big guy.”