When Martin Deeks stepped out of The Bar with No Name, the cool night air felt refreshing and upon taking a deep breath, he allowed his overheated body to cool down. It wasn’t really that hot on the inside where his friends and even a few family members were gathered, it had just become a bit uncomfortable and he simply needed some fresh air. The sidewalk grew much quieter when the door swung closed behind him; the laughter and conversations all faded with a soft thump as the wooden door swung shut.
Glancing up at the night sky, the lanky detective took a second or two to enjoy the quiet moment and the soft California breeze that moved the palmettos that bracketed the front walkway. He was tired but he was still having a wonderful time at his “surprise” bachelor party. It hadn’t really been much of a surprise, he was a detective after all. But the notion that his teammates, both at NCIS and LAPD, had put their heads together and come up with a fun-filled night that had involved his new bar, lots of good food, some righteously vintage alcohol and lots of friends telling old stories, had touched him deeply.
Deeks was sure that Callen and Sam had been the main instigators of the evening’s festivities and he would be thanking them profusely once they all recovered in a few days. They were very good agents but there had been a few moments back in the Mission that had revealed that they had had something up their sleeves involving the sendoff to his bachelorhood. There had been a rather heated conversation between the older men that he had walked in on over in the gym that had come to an abrupt halt… something to do with hot salsa and flavored nacho chips.
Sam had been saying something about if the salsa was good, then the chips needed to be plain so the flavors would be more tasteable and Callen, after stating that tasteable was not a real word, had begun to argue that flavored chips would only add to the eating experience. They both had stopped speaking the moment Deeks had walked through the doors but he had still overheard some of what they had been discussing even though he was not in the room.
There had also been the afternoon he had returned from a briefing at LAPD when, as he walked into the bullpen, he swore he heard Kensi laying down a hard and fast rule about “absolutely no strippers!” But when he came into the room, they all gave conflicting responses about what the conversation was about. Sam said it was about a new wood stripper he had been using on his boat, Callen said something about a new laser wire stripper that prevented any damage to sensitive fiber-optic cables, and Kensi had simply looked like he had caught her with her hand in the cookie jar (one he was familiar with because from all the times he had literally caught her with her hand in the cookie jar) before she mumbled something about needing to get up to Operations.
Deeks was also sure that Eric and Nell were in on it as well. He had walked up behind them in Ops as they were furiously typing away on their keyboards on what he thought was information pertinent to their current case. When he eased up behind them, he found their computer screens were filled with fancy drink mixes that originated in many of the faraway locations that they had traveled through since he came to work with the Office of Special Projects. Before Eric could minimize his screen, the detective had seen the ingredients for a Flaming Lamborghini among several others and then Deeks had to listen to the two techs babble on about some weird twist in the case. If they hadn’t been so cute in their efforts to hide what they had really been up to, it might have been a little frustrating, but these were his closest friends and he was touched.
Now, as he stood outside his bar with Ricky Martin’s, Livin’ La Vida Loca thumping through the walls, Deeks finally had a peaceful moment to really contemplate what the party symbolized. He was about to be married. Married to the best, bravest, strongest, most beautiful woman he had ever known. The last few hours were beginning to tick down to the moment he would pledge his love, his life… his very soul… to her and her alone.
He was both ecstatic and terrified at the same time. This was his dream, and yet he felt a sense of dread at the very thought of what he and Kensi were about to do. So many questions had plagued him over the past few weeks and they were only growing in intensity now that their wedding day was actually here.
Would he make a good husband to the woman who deserved only the very best? Was he going to be able to give her all of himself, even the dark parts? Would they be able to handle all that their jobs were going to demand of them without fracturing what they were together? Could he go day in and day out watching her put her life in jeopardy and not lose his mind? Would he be able to forgive himself if anything tragic happened to Kensi while she was in his care? Would…
“Don’t do that.”
Sam’s deep voice from just behind him almost made Deeks jump out of his skin. “Holy Bat Crap! You nearly scared the piss out of me!”
The big Navy SEAL emerged from the shadows underneath the large neon sign that was flashing the bar’s name. He dropped his head as he tried in vain to hide his grin. “I had to stop you before that overactive brain of yours carried you down the path to a place called Cold Feet.”
“I guess that means you’ve finally perfected your Jedi mind tricks?” Deeks stuffed his hands into his pockets as his friend and teammate stepped up beside him to gaze up into the starry sky.
“No, I’ve just seen that look before and wanted to break in before you really got carried away.” Sam folded his thick arms across his wide chest and took a deep breath of the night air.
Deeks let out a huff. “So, there was some other poor soul that felt like he was making the biggest mistake of his life?”
If Sam had not known the man standing beside him the way that he did, he would have knocked him into next Tuesday. He knew that the words spoken were not an indication that Deeks was not completely devoted to Kensi; it was just that there were still some lingering mental obstacles for the younger man to overcome. Glancing back down at the ground, Sam let out a soft sigh of his own.
“Yeah, that poor soul… was me.”
Deeks knew the story of how Sam and Michelle’s partnership had grown into a relationship, one that predated his and Kensi’s by several years, but this confession of doubt was something new. There had been discussions about some of the trials the couple had faced, but this revelation about a weakness was something that had never been alluded to in any of their previous conversations. That only added more questions to the already immense pile. But, before Deeks could make a quip or even think of anything to say, his friend was speaking in a low and serious tone.
“I know you love Kensi and that she loves you… and that’s what will get you started.”
The first part of that statement was easy for Deeks to understand, but the last bit threw him a curve. “What do you mean ‘get us started’?”
Sam’s eyebrows scrunched together for a moment, as if he was contemplating how to say what he felt he needed to say. When conversations like this came along, everything usually sounded good inside your head but then when the actual words were spoken, it tended to sound like nonsensical ramblings. This was important; this man beside him was about to marry the woman who he considered to be his little sister and that made them some of the most important people on the planet to the agent. He only wanted the best for them, so it was paramount that he got this big-brother-talk right.
Taking a deep breath, he jumped in.
“Love is what gets you started on the path of your life together, but it isn’t what always holds you together.”
When he saw that Deeks’ expression only grew more confused, he offered his friend his own admission of uncertainty. “This isn’t some speech I rehearsed, so you’re going to have to give me a little leeway in how I present this.”
Deeks took a second to contemplate his response before offering a simple shrug. “As long as you don’t break into song… it’s cool.”
Sam shook his head, thankful that his friend, even at this pivotal and confusing time, could still maintain his sense of humor. “Yeah, I promise. No songs… unless I can remember a Stevie Wonder song that’s relevant, then I might let it fly.”
“I’m good with that… just no Lady Gaga.”
Sam nodded. “Deal.”
After that, a silence fell between them, but it was far from uncomfortable. They were just two friends standing on a sidewalk listening to the soft breeze of muffled laughter and music coming from the building at their backs. It was actually very peaceful while Deeks waited on Sam to finish gathering his thoughts and it was not too long before the man was speaking.
“What will bind you two together is more than just love. Like I said… that’s just the beginning. What truly makes a relationship last is a combination of many things: devotion… trust… honesty… self-sacrifice… patience…”
“Should I be writing all of this down?” Deeks tried for some humor as this talk started to get serious, and he felt a little unprepared for it.
Sam quickly shut down the little attempt at a diversion. “Shut it, I’m trying to help you out.”
When Deeks nodded solemnly, he continued. “People want love to be the be-all-end-all of the relationship, but then, a little down the road, they wonder why the relationship falls apart when it’s tested for the first time. It’s during those moments when your bond is being forged in the heat of this life… and how it comes out on the other side is totally up to you.”
Deeks let the words soak into his mind but found that, even though he knew his friend meant well, he now felt more confused than before they had started. He felt that he and Kensi had already developed the traits that Sam had mentioned… trust, love, patience and the rest. So, what else could there be? What other attribute would give him the confidence to say his vows with the surety that ten… twenty… fifty years down the road, he and Kensi would still be as strong as they were when their journey had started?
“I know you’re trying to wax philosophical… but I still can’t wrap my brain around what you’re trying to say.”
Sam almost came back with a smart retort about too much time spent in the sun and baked brain cells, but they had already spent the better part of an hour giving Deeks a hard time when the party first started. This was not the time to poke fun at the man who was in desperate need of some good old reassurance.
“Yeah… it sounded better in my head,” He said and took another deep breath. “But listen… I could go on and on about how great it’s going to be between you two, about how waking up next to the woman you love is the best thing in life, or how growing together can’t be compared to anything else… but I won’t.”
Deeks ran a hand around the back of his neck in an attempt to rub out some of the tension that was building in his muscles. “Maybe you should rethink this whole pep-talk, cause right now, it sucks.”
“I’m not giving you a pep talk, I’m trying to make you see that the honeymoon ends pretty quickly and you had better be ready for that when it happens. You and Kensi are two very different people taking your first steps in becoming one entity. It won’t be easy and lots of times, it won’t be fun.”
Sam turned so he was facing Deeks head-on and tried to put on his most serious expression. “It will take hard work, sacrifice and most of all, you will have to make a promise… a vow… not to Kensi but to yourself.”
When the big man did not elaborate, Deeks could not stay quiet. “A vow… to do what?”
Taking a short step, Sam moved right up into Deeks’ space and pointed one thick finger directly into the center of the man’s chest and with every ounce of sincerity and honesty he could muster, answered the question. “That no matter what, no matter how much she gets on your nerves, how often the two of you do not see eye-to-eye, how many times you want to just call it quits… that you will never, ever quit.”
Deeks simply shrugged. “Quit what?”
Sam smiled. “Quit loving her… quit putting her first… quit swallowing your pride… quit being her husband… quit being the man that she loves more than any other.”
The words were simple, but honest, and they struck into the center of his heart as if he had been punched there. “That’s what I want, Sam… more than anything on this earth. I just don’t know if I can.”
“Sure you can.” Sam’s hand moved from the center of his friend’s chest to rest reassuringly on his shoulder. “You already are… you just have to make it a priority every single day.”
“To never quit.”
“Right.” Sam gave him a gentle squeeze before dropping his hand away. “Michelle and I had a great life together, but we also had our dark times.” A shadow passed between them, Deeks, for the friend he had lost and Sam for the wife he could no longer hold. “Did I ever tell you about when we almost got divorced?”
If lightning had struck him at that moment, Deeks would not have been more stunned. “What?”
Sam’s face broke into a crooked grin as he glanced down at the sidewalk. “Yeah, I guess it’s not something I really talk about. Callen knows and Hetty probably does too, but that’s about it.”
“Man, I had no idea.”
The big man nodded. “It’s not something you want to shout from the rooftops but it taught us a lot about ourselves, each other, and what it really means to be in a marriage.”
“Can I ask what happened?” Deeks thought that Sam would not have brought it up if they were not going to talk about it. At least, he hoped that was the case.
“We’d been together for about twenty years, married for 18, when it started to feel like we were just going through the motions. I had my thing and she had hers; always busy with the kids at school or soccer, work and training… assignments that put us on opposite sides of the planet sometimes.”
Sam turned away, looking off into the distance but his eyes were not focused on anything that his vision could see, only his memory. “Pretty soon, we were two strangers who shared a last name, a couple of kids and a house, not much more than roommates. And when you’re supposed to be really close and you’re not, well, you find out just how comfortable the couch really is cause you spend an awful lot of nights sleeping on it.”
A very dark expression came over his face, something that was a reflection of anger mixed with hopelessness, and it was one of the saddest things Deeks had ever witnessed. It was there for a moment and then it slowly faded away, replaced by one of longing and remembrance for what once was, but now was lost. The detective felt a tugging of loss for his friend, but before he could utter a word of sympathy, Sam shook it off and turned back to him with glistening eyes.
“I came home one night and the kids were gone. Michelle told me that she had dropped them over at a friend’s house… cause we needed to talk.” Sam swallowed the lump in his throat so he could get out the words that threatened to steal his voice. “My wife sat there on our couch and told me that she wanted a divorce. That there was no need for us to stay married if this was how we were going to live.”
Deeks could not believe what he had just heard and was too stunned to make a sound as Sam shrugged his large shoulders.
“I was devastated… angry… hurt… pissed off beyond belief…” The muscles in his arms flexed, like he was remembering the rage to the point where he could rip the treads off a tank, but then he calmed and gave Deeks a quick shake of his head. “ …and for a few days, I was miserable as I thought about all that I was about to lose. Then a friend of mine taught me something that made all the difference. First, he asked me if I still loved Michelle. I told him, of course I did. Then he asked me ‘How much?’ I told him, with everything that I was. Then he said the words that changed everything. He said then love her, even if she wants to leave you.”
“That must have been hard.” Deeks felt his own heart thumping in his chest, thick with the thought of what he would feel if Kensi ever spoke those words to him.
Sam nodded in agreement. “Yeah, sounds totally illogical. How can you love someone who’s ripping your heart out? But I did. And at that very moment, loving her became the hardest and easiest thing in the world for me, and that made all the difference. You see, I had begun to take everything I had for granted and didn’t appreciate the gift that I had been given in my wife… and she began to sense that, which is what led to her trying to get my attention. Months and months of effort had proved fruitless and telling me that she wanted a divorce was the last thing she wanted, but the only thing left that would finally get my attention… and it worked.”
Turning back to face his friend, Sam pointed a thumb back to himself. “I had to swallow my pride and admit to myself that I was the one letting my marriage fail. I had to show my wife, who wasn’t so sure that I meant it when I just said it, that I loved her no matter what… even if she still wanted to leave me… and then I spent every moment after that proving it.”
Deeks chuckled a little before he asked a rhetorical question. “And I guess it worked?”
Rolling his eyes, Sam did not punch him in the arm the way he really wanted to. “Yeesssss… it worked. It was like we had just gotten married all over again. The magic came back when I stopped trying to be everything that this world was telling me to be, and I simply focused on loving my wife the way she deserved for just being who she was.”
For a moment, the two men just stood there, side by side, letting the words fade into the night sky but the echo in their hearts remained. It was a lot for Deeks to take in all at once, but there were nuggets that stood out and would remain, probably forever.
Put her first.
Swallow your pride.
Be the man that she loves.
Love your wife.
And never quit.
Yeah, he could do that.
He never thought he would find a woman like Kensi, much less fall in love with her, but what was truly amazing- what still took his breath away- was the fact that she loved him back and was about to promise her life to him. That was the miracle that caused his heart to swell in his chest that made his mind reel at the very notion, and made his life worthwhile. He used to think of himself as a troubled kid, then a better than average student, a lawyer who was trying to do some good, and then a cop who wanted to make a difference. He had classified his life in those ways, but now, he saw that he was about to transition into an entirely new level. He was about to be the husband of Kensi Marie Blye… and he suddenly found himself not dreading the prospect of failing, but of not giving her every bit of the devotion that she deserved.
At that moment, he solemnly swore to love her with everything he had until he left this life. The questions that had been plaguing him as he watched his friends at his bachelor party throwing darts and playing pool were all gone now. All he wanted to do was be the man that Kensi loved, and love her tomorrow more than he did today.
He laid a firm hand on his friend’s shoulder and gave him a thankful squeeze. “Thanks, Sam. You don’t know how much that meant to me.”
“Yeah… I do.” He gave the blonde a shrug of his wide shoulders before thumbing back toward the bar. “But if anyone inside asks… I just came out here and threatened you with severe bodily harm if you didn’t get back to your own party.”
Chuckling to himself, Deeks turned toward where the jukebox was pounding out the muffled sounds of Pat Benatar’s, Love is a Battlefield. “Who put that on?”
“Probably Callen. He gets mopey whenever he drinks cognac. That bottle that Hetty sent over is absolutely wonderful… says it reminds him of Joelle for some reason.”
Deeks held the door open so Sam could enter first. “Great. Nothing livens up a great bachelor party than a sad-sack listening to sad love songs while drowning his tears in very expensive alcohol.”
Sam had to speak a little louder as the noise returned with a crescendo. “Shall we join him?”
With a shake of his blonde mane, Deeks nodded to the end of the bar where Callen was belting out the line…Searching our hearts for so long…both of us knowing…love is a battlefield…while holding onto a swaying Eric Beale.
“Yeah, once more unto the breach.”
Deeks found his confidence had returned, and it was not that he still would not worry about the future, but now he was ready for whatever the fates had in store for him and Kensi. He would meet the challenges head-on, knowing in his heart that no matter the good or the bad that would come, he would devote everything he was to loving Kensi until the stars fell from the sky.
Yeah, he could do that.