Next of Kin
Maybe he’d been too critical, or maybe he’d not been there long enough before being medevacked out.
Or maybe it’s just not something they do there.
But they did ask at Balboa. Most admissions to the naval hospital were military, or their dependents. Most of them already had something on file. But Marty Deeks fit neither of those designations.
Not yet, anyway.
And so, they’d asked her for the information. And she’d been just as helpless to respond as she had all those years ago, when he’d been shot, back before they’d become who they’d become to one another.
He’d never actually said that he didn’t have a next of kin, but he’d implied as much when he’d allowed Hetty to fill that role. It had happened only moments after he’d found out he was actually fatherless, and not just functionally fatherless. He’d accepted Hetty’s offer, and given her name as though she was his mother. As though he didn’t have another mother, alive and well, and living only a few miles away.
For far too long a time, Kensi hadn’t known anything about Roberta Deeks, down to the very fact of her existence. Which was fair, she supposed, because she hadn’t exactly been forthcoming about her own mother. She’d assumed he no longer had either of his parents, and he’d assumed the same about her. Until suddenly, there had been Julia, and then seemingly just as suddenly, Roberta.
Unlike Kensi and Julia, Deeks and Roberta hadn’t been estranged. Not exactly. But he’d definitely kept her at arm’s length from much of his life, and from his relationships, for reasons Kensi had become determined to find out. She’d pushed and poked and prodded until, one day, he’d been vulnerable enough to react. But he hadn’t really told her anything. He’d just threatened to introduce the women to each other.
“Because, after you spend five minutes with her, you’ll understand.”
“Deeks, she can’t be that bad.”
“She’s not bad. She’s just…Roberta. She’s an acquired taste.”
“Well, I’m curious about the woman who raised my partner. I’ll look forward to meeting her.”
“If you’re wondering if she’s the source of my good looks and rapier wit, the answer is ‘yes’. I sure as hell didn’t inherit anything from my dad.”
Kensi responded to him primly.
“Well, I think I should meet her anyway. Honestly, Deeks, I didn’t even know you still had your mother. When you were shot, and the hospital asked me for your next of kin…I swear, I asked you, and Callen and Hetty, and all anyone would say was ‘That’s a good question.’ So I assumed you didn’t have any family.” Thinking back to that time, and how pathetic it had seemed. “It was so sad.”
“Is that why you were nice to me when I came back? Because you felt sorry for me?”
“No!” Pause. “Well, yes, probably.”
He laughed. “Not because I saved your life?”
She realized he was teasing her, and smiled back. “Okay, there was that, too.”
Six years later, and she still didn’t know how to answer the question. Who was his next of kin?
Legally, she knew it should be Roberta. But he’d been adamant before, and she still didn’t quite understand why. All she knew was that she wasn’t about to go against his wishes. Not now. Not again.
And, considering what had happened in the garage before the start of the unsanctioned mission, she didn’t feel privileged to give her own name, although she longed for the day when she might fill that role.
And so, she’d given the clerk the same answer Deeks had given her six years prior. “Good question.”
The question had gotten lost in the urgency of stabilizing him, and assessing him for brain damage, and the overwhelming relief of learning that he’d suffered nothing permanent, save for amnesia surrounding the events that had brought them there.
It had gotten buried completely as she’d tended to him at home, massaging his temples when his head ached, literally sitting on him when he wanted to do more than the doctors prescribed, and finally helping him to gradually regain his strength and agility when the all-clear was sounded.
But it presented itself once again, when he’d been ready to return to full active duty status. He’d had to provide proof of medical clearance, which had triggered the memory for Kensi. She approached him with it after they’d both collapsed on the sofa one night, celebrating the successful end to his first case back.
“You okay there, cowboy?”
She turned him to the side and started massaging his shoulders.
“It was a pretty tough case to come back on. And you should have let Sam do the heavy lifting on that car. I don’t want to be signing you back into the hospital.”
He leaned back into her, grateful for her ministrations at the same time that he denied needing them.
“No worries, darlin’. Old Marty here is as good as new. No hospitals for me, any time soon.”
“Please let that be true.”
He turned to face her, briefly serious.
“I’m not going anywhere, Princess. That’s a promise.”
She smiled, planting a kiss on his lips.
“I’ll accept it. But that reminds me…I never asked you this, and please God, maybe I’ll never need to know it, but…well…. when we were at Balboa, they asked me the same question they asked me back at Pacific Beach Medical, when you were shot. And I realized that I still don’t know the answer.”
He was puzzled. “What are we talking about? What, did they think you were a doctor, or a nurse?”
“No! No, they asked me for your next of kin. I couldn’t answer it the first time, because I didn’t even know about your mom. And I realized that I still don’t know how to answer it.”
He hadn’t been expecting the subject matter at all, and didn’t quite know what to do with it.
“Why are we talking about this?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I should know, because we’re about to get married. But I don’t even know why my fiancé doesn’t want to list his mother as his next of kin.”
“You’re kidding, right? I told you, you do not want to invite the tornado that is Roberta Deeks into the hospital when you’re trying to stay on the good side of the doctors and nurses.”
She laughed. “Seriously, though…why didn’t you tell me you still had your mother, back when you got shot?”
He sighed. “Until Hetty visited me that night, I thought I still had both of my parents. But I wasn’t about to admit that I was even related to my dad. And Mom…I just…I’m all she has, and I didn’t want her to worry about me.”
Kensi stared at him for a long moment, dissecting the logic of his statement, or lack thereof. But, logical or not, she could relate.
“I guess I get it. Not that I had any choice when I woke up in the hospital after the crash in Syria.”
He was puzzled. “But your military paperwork had your mother listed as your next of kin. You didn’t want her there?”
“I guess I’d forgotten that I’d put her name down. I hadn’t updated anything since first joining NCIS.”
“But…why then? You and your mother didn’t reconcile until after I joined NCIS. Why did you choose her?”
Kensi shrugged, averting her eyes, embarrassed about what she now saw as immaturity.
“I don’t know. Maybe I wanted her to go through something. I still blamed her for trying to take me from my dad. I guess I was still too bitter.”
He bent his head low, trying to capture her gaze.
“That’s over, Kens. You found out what really happened, and you fixed things. That’s what’s important.”
She threw him a grateful smile for his ever-present, unconditional support.
“Except that, once I put her name on that form, she did end up going through something.”
“Kens, she told me at least a hundred times how grateful she was that she could be there when you needed her. It’s part of the territory when you’re a parent.”
She gave him a look. “But not for Roberta Deeks?”
“Uh, yeah…no. There’s a big difference between Roberta Deeks and…well, and pretty much any other mother in the history of mothers.”
“You were in a coma. You didn’t see her in action. I thought she was gonna get both of us thrown out of the hospital.”
She laughed. “Stop it. She’s not that bad. Come on, tell me. Why?”
He flashed his gaze at her briefly, and then sighed, pulling her back against him. His eyes settled into that faraway look that always tugged at her heart, because it meant he was revisiting a place of pain. She felt the privilege of his trust each time he opened himself up to her like this, layer by layer.
“She went through a lot, Kens. My dad beat on her all the time, and when he wasn’t beating on her, he beat on me to up the ante…like he could hurt her more by hurting me. If she tried to stop him, he would just push her out of the way and go after me again, longer and harder. Sometimes I think seeing the look of helplessness in her eyes hurt as much as whatever he was hitting me with…the belt, or the shoe, or the electric cord. She couldn’t help me then, and I know it killed her. I don’t ever want her to feel something like that again.”
For all of his apparent love affair with the spoken word, Kensi realized, her fiancé had always managed to skirt the details of his early life. He’d never actually refused to share it with her, but his discomfort in discussing anything related to his father had always been obvious, and she’d shied away from pushing him. She wouldn’t have pushed this time either, if she’d known where they would end up. He’d told her before of Brandel’s drinking, and she’d long sensed the man’s capacity for violence. But she’d never quite heard it described so vividly.
And now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get it out of my mind.
It was now etched into her mind, the image of a miniature, white-blonde version of her fiancé, helpless at the alcohol-infused whim of his angry father. The image of the earliest version of Deeks’ sunny smile, morphed into a grimace of fear, and pain, and sorrow. Not for the first time, she wondered what well of humanity and resilience he’d dipped into to retain his sense of empathy and hope. She was determined to spend the rest of their life together plumbing those depths.
He felt a shiver run through her, and guessed at what had brought it on.
“It was a long time ago, Kens. And I’m still here.”
She reached up and caressed his face.
“Thank God. Oh, baby, I’m so sorry for what you went through all those years. I wish I could go back there and give him what for.”
He chuckled, far more inured to the subject matter than was the woman in his arms.
“I’d like to have seen that. Wonder Woman coming to my rescue.”
She let go of him and sat back. “I mean it. I’ve never even met the man, but I hate him for what he did to you. I don’t know how you survived all of that intact.”
He chortled. “Some would say that I didn’t. But if I did, I know exactly how it happened. Roberta Deeks.”
He nodded. “Yep. For all of her craziness, she kept me together. I was probably too young to appreciate everything she did, and all the things she hid from me. I do know she had to fight for me, after the shooting. They had me in juvie, but she battled them tooth and nail, and she won. For most of my childhood, she held two jobs at a time, just to make sure we had a roof over our heads and some food on the table, even if it sometimes wasn’t enough. If we had to rely on the kindness of strangers, she made it into an adventure, like a scavenger hunt. Later, when I was old enough to realize…well, I promised myself that I would save her from worry, just like she saved me.”
Kensi absorbed his words, understanding for the first time the depth of the relationship between her fiancé and his mother, the reciprocity of it. She felt perversely jealous of that aspect of his childhood, and guilty about her own.
At least he had his mom. I was too busy pushing mine away.
“That’s why you didn’t want her notified when you were hurt.”
“Still don’t. She’s in a good time of her life now, even if she’s spending it with ‘Guy’. I want her to enjoy it.”
“Your mother loved you pretty fiercely, didn’t she?”
Kensi’s tone was wistful, her mind still caught up in her early relationship with her own mother.
“She did. And, for what it’s worth, I think Julia loved you the same way. I think she’s loved you that way your whole life.”
“Even if I didn’t deserve it?”
Deeks smiled to himself, shaking his head. For all of her assertiveness and confidence in the field, Kensi was still that lost little girl, deep inside. He’d made it his personal quest to help her realize she’d been found, and cherished. He reached out to her, cupping her cheek with his hand.
“Deserving has nothing to do with it. It’s just how we love. It’s how I love you, too. And how we’ll both love our kids. Just like our mothers loved us.”
They were at a subject they’d both left unresolved since that awful argument in the garage. Each had known they would have to come back to it, one day. They’d each softened on it, the frightening proposition of permanent loss having made them reset their priorities. First, each other. Then, to Deeks’ mind, the celebration of each other in the creation of their child. Whom he already loved.
Kensi shook her head. “I don’t know how.”
“Are you kidding? Of course you do. Remember, I’ve been on the receiving end of it. I know what it feels like to be loved fiercely. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve been blessed to be loved that way by two women in my life. My mom, and you. It’s not a method, Kensi. It’s just who you are. You love fiercely.”
Grateful for his words, praying they were true, Kensi reached her arms around him.
“Maybe it’s who you are. Maybe you just bring it out in us.”
“If you’re referring to my pathetic little boy face…” pointing to the same, “…it’s copyright protected, but I’d be willing to pass it on to Little Deeks, for a percentage”
“Ha! Thanks for the warning.”
His brows went up. “Does that mean what I think it does?”
She looked away, and then back again.
“Do you remember that day I asked you to be patient with me?”
How could he ever forget? The day they’d finally admitted their feelings for one another, and then been unceremoniously ripped apart.
There was no humor behind his gaze at the reminder of that excruciating day, when he’d been found, and then lost again, and left bereft. All he could do was nod.
“Well,” she said, “I still need you to be patient. I know we don’t have unlimited time for it. Believe me, I am painfully aware of that. But I get it. I get why you want it so much. I’m just afraid…”
He risked putting his fingers to her lips, despite knowing how much she hated it.
“Shhhh. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re in this together. When I have a bad day, you’ll be there. When you have a bad day, I’ll be there.”
She tried to smile through her uncertainty.
“And when we both have a bad day….”
They finished it together. “The grandmothers will be there.”
Which made Deeks laugh out loud. “Oh, God, can you just see Roberta Deeks as a grandmother? I’ll have to have the precinct on speed-dial.” Then another thought occurred to him. “Wait…would that make ‘Guy’ a step-grandfather? A ‘grand-Guy’? You know, maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all.”
Kensi grinned. “I don’t know about Guy, but Roberta will be an amazing grandmother, and our kids will be lucky kids. My mom will be great, too.”
He agreed. “She will.”
Marty Deeks settled a happy gaze upon his fiancée. There were still a thousand things they could disagree on about their future together, but at least it sounded like both of them saw little mutant ninja assassins in it.
Kensi noticed new light in her lover’s eyes. “What?”
“Nothin’. I’m just happy. I don’t know how we got into this conversation, but I’m glad we did.”
“To tell you the truth, so am I. But I do remember how we got into it. It was the next of kin question and the fact that I still don’t know how to answer it.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, amused. “You don’t?”
“No. I mean…what?”
“Let’s put the question to rest, shall we?” Deeks pulled her up and held her hands. “Kensi Marie Blye, will you be my official next of kin?”
Her brow furrowed. “We’re not married yet. Is that even legal?”
“I will remind you that I am a lawyer. I know all the loopholes. So…will you?”
His eyes lasered into hers, and she couldn’t look away. There was something about this that felt nearly as intimate as any of their marriage proposals. The intimacy of becoming family to one another.
She swallowed back an unexpected surge of emotion.
“Yes. Yes, of course I will.”
Starting to lift her arms to embrace him. But he wasn’t done yet, and he held her hands in place.
“And will you promise to consider working with me to create a new generation of ‘kin’ to be ‘next of’?”
One brow went up. “Consider?” Knowing he’d tempered his words, respecting her request for patience.
“Okay, will you promise to work with me on it?”
“Work with you?” Teasing him now. “I don’t know. That sounds like a whole lot of effort. What’s my incentive?”
He grinned. “A lifetime of Deeks and mini-Deeks, and mini-mini-Deeks.”
That precious, familiar smile, and the delight in his tone…and suddenly the image of the white-blonde boy he’d been, flashed into her mind once again, and she couldn’t speak. She looked up at the man that little boy had grown into, grateful to Roberta for having kept his heart whole.
She realized that, no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t go back and love the hurt out of the young Marty Deeks. Couldn’t comfort him, couldn’t protect him. But she could cherish the person he’d become. And she could see to it that the next little white-blonde boy in her life felt nothing but loved and treasured by both of his parents. And, just maybe, she could do the same for a little dark-haired girl, too.
So she blinked away her tears, and smiled at the man she loved. She trusted him without reservation. If he believed she could do it, then she would believe it, too.
“Okay. Good incentive. You’ve got yourself a deal. And an official next of kin.”