They’d been driving each other, and everyone around them crazy with their inability to decide on the details of their wedding. It had been a year and a half, and the only thing they’d actually determined had been the fact that it would take place… sometime, somewhere, with some people in attendance, followed by a celebration of some sort.
“I don’t know, maybe we should just elope,” said Kensi, over a very late dinner following a very late case.
The words were music to Marty Deeks’ ears. Or so they would have been, once upon a time. But they’d acquired some dissonance along the way.
“If you had said that six months ago, or a year ago, or a year and a half ago, I would have been right with you. But I don’t think we can.”
“Why not? Think about it. Just you, and me…”
“And some Elvis impersonator, presiding.”
She laughed. “I didn’t say I wanted to get married in Vegas. Seriously, sweetheart, aren’t you exhausted from all of this planning?”
He smiled sardonically. “Or lack thereof. Yes, I am. But I can’t ignore the fact that we’ve been planning this in front of our friends, who would feel left out if we eloped now.”
“Touché. But what about ‘The Moms’? Huh? Do you want to deal with the aftermath of not having them at our wedding?”
She conceded the point. “Alright, you’re right. We can’t elope. But we can’t live in this planning limbo forever, either. So, what should we do?”
“Honestly, I think we should just stop overthinking it.”
“Not so easy to do, when it’s supposed to be the most important day of our lives.”
Deeks gave his fiancé his trademark squint. The accompanying tilt of his head transmitted his skepticism.
“Is it, though?”
“What does that mean?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve been looking at it as a formality. A ‘legal’ formality, mind you, so I get it. But I don’t expect anything to change about ‘us’ because of it.”
She thought about that for a moment. “So what’s all the fuss about then?”
He smiled at her. “I think you’re going to have to ask Kat, Mandy, Mindy, Tiffany and Tiffani.”
She smiled, as he’d hoped she would. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and told him.
“Even if you don’t think our wedding day is important, I do love you, Martin Deeks.”
She’d expected him to reply with the same, or a kiss, or pretty much anything but a question.
At first, she thought he was teasing her, trying to force her to enumerate his good qualities. But a quick look in his eyes, and she could see that he wasn’t teasing at all.
His face bore the look of gravity that she’d seen only in rare circumstances, and virtually never, when they were at home.
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
“No, I mean, why are you asking me? Why now?”
“Are you saying you don’t know?”
“Why are you answering a question with a question?”
“Why are you answering a question with a question?”
She rolled her eyes. “We’re not going to get out of this are we?”
“What, you mean the question for question thing?”
He smiled. “Okay, I give up. On the question thing, I mean. Well, not really, because I still have my original one.”
“What?” Purposely pretending to have lost track.
“Why do you love me?” That unexpected intensity back in his voice. It must have shaken him, because he immediately tried to insert his usual levity back into the exchange. “I mean, apart from the obvious. You know, the good looks and manliness, and my unparalleled sense of humor.”
She laughed, as he’d intended. But she’d also heard the intensity of a moment ago, the need to know. She heard it as the uncertainty remaining in him, the remnant of the child he’d been, so often told he was unlovable. The need for assurance, and to know that what they had between them was real.
As uncomfortable as it made her to put her feelings into words… hell, who was she kidding, it was uncomfortable for her to examine her own feelings, period… Kensi loved him too much to deny him. Now, all she had to do was to say why.
“Okay, you know what? Let’s make this a two-way thing. You’ll tell me, and then I’ll tell you.”
He wasn’t falling for it. “Fair enough. But I asked you first.”
Kensi tried to stare him down, but even her mismatched eyes weren’t enough to accomplish the task. She gave up, with a sigh.
“Alright. But I still want to know… why now?”
A look came over his face, one that was eerily reminiscent of the one he’d worn when she’d confronted him in the non-taco restaurant. The one he’d worn the night they’d first made love. It unsettled her now, as it had then, because it carried a gravitas she’d rarely known him to display.
She’d accused him that night of his failure to communicate, his seeming propensity for avoiding saying what he meant, lest he should inadvertently reveal something he would rather not reveal. As she looked at him now, Kensi narrowed her eyes. Was he still unwilling to reveal himself?
Just as he’d done that night a few years ago, Deeks blew off a deep breath, steeling himself.
“I just…. I think we should know, shouldn’t we? I mean, we’re talking about standing up in front of people and vowing to love one another through thick and thin, and I think we should know what that means. Don’t you?”
Kensi could only shake her head in confusion.
“Baby, don’t you think we’ve already done that? I’m not talking about the words. I’m talking about the deeds. The things we’ve done. If you didn’t show me what it looks like to love me for worse back when I was recovering from my spinal injury, then what was that? And I hope to God I showed you how much I love you when I was dragging you through that Mexican desert.”
“Of course you did! I’m not talking about what it looks like. I want to know why. What could you possibly see in me that would make you do what you did?”
She stared at him for a long time after that, dumbfounded.
Does he really not see himself the way I see him?
Then, realizing the task before her, thinking again. How do I see him?
His gaze was vigilant as he waited her out.
“Why do I love you. That’s what you want to know.”
“All right, let me see. I guess it doesn’t hurt that you’ve saved my life a few times.”
“More than a few,” he corrected, still not smiling.
She tried to keep it light. “Okay, more than a few. But I’ve returned the favor, so you’ve probably only saved my life a few times more than I’ve saved yours.”
That got a small smile.
“So, one, you’ve saved my life. Two….” She hesitated.
“Kensi, you can’t marry me because I’m a good partner.”
“Hey, don’t underestimate the value of that. But… just let me think, okay?”
He did. For a full minute.
“Two, you make me laugh. In case you hadn’t noticed, that’s hard to do.”
“Tell me about it.”
Which made her laugh. “Touché. Aha!”
Pointing at him, having seen that he was about to correct her, and stopping him with his mouth open.
“You taught me about ‘touché’!”
“Stop, you’re making me laugh again. Okay, three….”
She stopped abruptly, caught up short by her own emotion. She’d been treating the whole thing as a joke but, as she’d been speaking, one thing after another had raced into her mind, filling her with both too many words to say, and too many feelings to feel.
“Kens…” Solicitous now. Apparently he’d seen her internal struggle.
“No, let me. Okay, three. I love how you defend the defenseless. I love your empathy. I love how you are with kids. You have such a way of drawing them out, and you get them to relate to you, and talk to you. I love how genuinely happy you are when you play with them.”
Deeks smiled, remembering exactly the incidents she was talking about.
“I love it when you get righteously indignant about something, because I know you won’t let it go. Whatever it is, I know you’ll follow it to the end.”
“That might not always be such an endearing trait, you know.”
She smiled. “I’ll let you know when you’re bugging me, don’t worry about that.”
He chuckled, as she continued.
“I love your loyalty. I love how you take care of people who need a hand up. I love how intelligent you are, even when you go out of your way to hide it.”
He blushed at that, having cultivated a persona that encouraged others to feel superior to him. He’d found people more likely to confide information to those they didn’t think would know how to use it.
“And, even though it kills me to admit this, I love that you don’t let me get away with anything. You call me out, when I need to be called out. I need that. I need you.”
“You’ve got that all wrong. It’s me who needs you.”
She smiled. “It’s both of us, then. I can barely remember what my life was like before you were in it, Martin Deeks. And I simply can’t imagine the rest of my life without you in it.”
He took her hand then, caressing it in both of his, staring down at the two of them, joined together. Kensi studied him in profile, noticing the tell-tale clenching of his jaw.
“Huh?” Pulled out of whatever moment he’d been in.
“Are you okay?” Still wondering how they’d gotten into this conversation. Why they’d gotten into it. Kensi reached her free hand over and rubbed his shoulder solicitously. “Tell me?”
It took him a long minute to respond to her. Before he did, he raised her hand to his lips, and kissed it.
“If I am any of those things you just described, it’s because of you. Honestly, Kensi, I don’t know if you would have even liked me if you’d known me before… well, before you knew me.”
He looked over long enough to see her raised brow, and smiled to himself.
“Yes, I know. Circular. That’s me. I can talk circles around pretty much anything.”
Kensi took both of his hands in hers and turned them to face one another.
“Yes, you can. And you usually do. But you’re not going to do that right now. You started this, remember. I just went first. It’s your turn now.”
A momentary look of fright was replaced by an expression of amusement, and affection, and acquiescence. She’d virtually just shown him all the reasons why he loved her. Now he had to find a way to articulate them.
He took a deep breath, and blew it out.
“Okay. Why do I love my beautiful Kensalina? Apart from the fact that she’s beautiful? Because that’s a given.”
He gave her a look as if to say, ‘How am I doing?’
“You’re really gonna make this happen, aren’t you?”
“Partners, Deeks. What’s good for the goose…”
“Okay, okay.” Pausing a moment, to gather himself. “Okay.”
For all of his constant chatter, Marty Deeks still found it hard to open himself, for fear of being found wanting. It had been a long time before he’d even been able to understand that, let alone acknowledge it. He’d been berated for so much of his childhood that, no matter the consolation of his mother, he’d incorporated it. But the deep love of the woman in front of him had done much to change that. And he wanted her to know that. He needed to tell her. Even if it killed him.
He heaved another breath, and Kensi almost relented, seeing how hard it was for him. Almost. Because she sensed that they were at a pivotal moment in their relationship.
“Well, for starters, it’s what I just told you. Not about being beautiful. I mean, you are, that’s undeniable. But I mean about how I’ve changed since you’ve known me. Or since I’ve known you, I guess.”
Kensi’s gaze narrowed, as she thought, ‘No, my love. I may have helped you get more in touch with your good self, but I didn’t create it. You did that.’
Deeks was still searching for the words. “Before we met, before I joined NCIS, I was kind of a lone wolf. You already know what happened when I first partnered up inside LAPD. It was disastrous, and I was persona non grata there. The only thing really left for me was undercover work. So, that’s what I did.”
“That’s how we met. We were both undercover at that MMA gym.”
He nodded. “But you were only undercover for a few minutes. I’d already been there for almost a month. That was the nature of my beast. I’d go in for a few weeks, or a few months, live life as someone else for that time. Make friends, get myself a girlfriend. And then I’d walk away from it. From all of it.”
She’d known of his undercover work, of course. But, until he’d had to bring Max Gentry back to life, she’d never really thought about how different it must have been for him, from the kind of undercover work she’d done. She’d seen the toll it had taken on him, even seen some of the heartbreak, in the severing of a relationship. Their own relationship hadn’t yet been in a place where she could draw him out about it, or even bring herself to want to try. But they were there now.
“Must have been lonely.”
“It was. Well, except for Monty. And… and I guess I didn’t spend too many weekends alone. But that didn’t make it any less lonely. It just wasn’t… it wasn’t real, you know? I’d forgotten how to be real.”
Kensi leaned forward and cupped his cheek.
“Well, you’re real now.”
He nodded. “Because of you. All those things you saw in me… I’d lost track of them. I’d look in the mirror, and I wouldn’t even know who was looking back. But then, one day, my partner… my partner put herself into the hands of some bad guys, because she was that certain that I would be able to get her back.”
She smiled. “You did. I was right.”
He returned the look. “You don’t know how big that was, Kens. I mean, I’d spent almost a decade winning people’s trust, for the sole purpose of betraying them. But you…. You just gave it to me. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I wanted it.” He looked down at his hands. “I had to live up to it. And I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to always be that guy that Kensi Blye can trust.”
She tilted her head, studying him. “It’s not just me whose trust you have, Baby. Hetty trusts you. Sam trusts you. And, believe it or not, I think even Callen trusts you. More than that, I think you’ve even gotten Whiting to trust you.”
He snorted. “I don’t know about Callen. But I gotta tell you, it feels good to be trusted and know I’ve earned it.”
“Okay,” sounding not at all certain that she’d heard all she needed to hear. “You love me because I trust you. Is that it?”
“Pretty much.” Waiting for her eyes to widen. “No, of course not.” Leaning forward, and taking her hands in his. “I love that you can do pretty much everything, and most of it better than I can. I love that you’re strong, inside and out. I even love that you’re stubborn, because it’s part of what makes you so strong.”
Once upon a time, he’d wondered if he’d been attracted to her precisely because of her strength. Because, should Gordon Brandel’s genes begin to show themselves in his son, Kensi would be able take him down. But he wasn’t about to tell her that. Not now, and maybe not ever.
“I love how you seem so surprised every time something gets to you, every time you bond with a kid or a victim, like you didn’t realize you’re also soft on the inside. And I do love that you’re soft on the inside. I love that I can make you laugh, and I especially love it when I make you giggle.”
Which he did, in the moment. He grinned to hear it.
“I love that you are a complete paradox to me, sometimes. That you can take down a bad guy singlehandedly one day, and be out cup-caking with the Fearsome Five the next day. I love that I’ll have the rest of my life to figure out exactly how that works.”
She laughed. “Good luck to you. I’m living it, and I don’t know even how it works.”
He squeezed the hands he was holding. “I love that we’re about to start an amazing adventure together, and that, no matter what happens, no matter how good or bad life is for us, we’ll be in it together, forever. I love that we know we can lean on one another, and count on one another. It makes me happy to think I’ll share the good things with you. And it makes me less afraid of the bad things.”
His words found their way to that surprising soft spot inside Kensi, and brought her nearly to tears. She moved into his arms, and they held one another for a long time, loving one another, celebrating, hoping, wishing, dreaming, clinging to the words they’d just shared. As she sat back, Kensi emitted a tell-tale sniffle, prompting him to caress her face.
“I love you. I guess I just wanted you to know that.”
“I do know it. And I love you, and you know that. So, why? Why… this whole thing?”
He wrestled with his words, until he’d found the right ones.
“When we get married, whenever or wherever that is, we’ll be asked a bunch of questions. Things like, will you take her, or him, richer, poorer, better, worse, yadda, yadda, yadda. Things that are easy to answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
She cleared her throat. “I believe it’s usually, ‘I will’ or ‘I do’.”
“That’s not the point. The point is, I can answer a yes or no question. But that’s not much of a vow, is it? The vow comes from the ‘why’. And I sure as hell won’t be able to say what I just said to you In front of our friends, or even just our moms. So, I guess I just wanted to tell you ‘why’. And that made me wonder…”
“Why I love you.”
Kensi’s dark eyes bored into his deep blue.
“Do you feel like we just got married?”
“So, maybe we don’t need….”
“Oh, no. Don’t even think about it. I can already feel the wrath of the moms, not to mention the Fearsome Five.”
“Okay. I was just thinking that, if we were already married, maybe it would be time to start the honeymoon.”
Blonde brows went up as the eyes beneath them widened.
“On second thought, I’m in.”