Marty Deeks promised himself that he wouldn’t let her get to him. Not ever again. Not after what they’d all just been through. He wouldn’t let Bertie derail every conversation with her chatter, and he wouldn’t get sucked into whatever was the most recent drama in her life.
I’m just going to appreciate her, for being who she is. Just for being. Period.
Just for being in his life. Just for being who she was to him. Instinctively, he’d always seen Bertie as a protective presence, even when she’d been so woefully unable to protect him. But until this case, he hadn’t been able to quite say why, or how. Now, he knew. It was because having Bertie made him a son, and not just an agent.
He took mental inventory of the others. Callen hadn’t known his mother since he’d been a young boy, and even then, he’d had to recover the memory. Kensi had known her mother, and outright rejected her, in a fit of adolescent pique. Their reconciliation had been healing, but it hadn’t plugged the holes in their history. And Sam. He realized that Sam had only ever spoken of his father, and wondered what that might mean about his unlikely friend’s relationship with his mother.
Martin Deeks had been raised by the woman who’d given him birth, and as much love as she’d known how to give. She’d made countless mistakes, as every parent does, and she’d even left him to the whims of his alcoholic father one time too many. He’d been traumatized, in more ways than one, and so had Bertie. Still, they’d found a way to move on together, even if it had required the interventions of social workers and the juvenile justice system.
At least I always knew she was there. I didn’t have to wonder who she was, or if she cared, or if she would just move on without me.
She’d been there every visitors’ hour, and she’d fought tooth and nail to get him out. No one knew better than Bertie what it had been like to live in the Brandel household. No one but Bertie had seen the blessing in what her son had done, in shooting his father.
Not that she could tell me that. She thought it would be wrong to celebrate my shooting him, even if we both felt like it. She thought I was supposed to regret it. But I didn’t. And I don’t think she did, either.
Their particular mother-son bond may not have been a traditional one, and maybe it hadn’t even been all that healthy. Still, he was grateful for it.
At least I never felt the need to hunt her down and punish her for how she raised me.
The events of this case had been revealing, and not just about Hetty. After what had happened, and after watching his team leader’s reaction, Deeks had come to see Callen in a new way. For as long as they’d worked together, he’d never quite earned the man’s full trust, and now he knew why.
It was never about me. Well, all right, maybe some of it was about me. Maybe a lot of it. But it was also about her. He didn’t trust me because he’s not sure he can completely trust her. It was Hetty who brought me on, and I think we all know it wasn’t by chance. It was Hetty he’d learned not to trust.
Because Hetty had raised all of her young charges in service to a higher cause, even when serving that cause might prove costly to them.
But what ‘higher cause’ is there, than loving your own kids?
Which thought made Deeks revisit his own relationship with the woman who’d changed his life by bringing him into her fold. Back at the beginning, and, and even to this day, if he was honest with himself, Henrietta Lange had seemed a little otherworldly to him, a little magical, and a lot mysterious. He’d been too intrigued, and maybe too enchanted, to say ‘no’ to her.
Very early on, he’d been a bit enamored of her. Seen her as benign, even a little maternal. Hell, he’d let her stand in as his own family when he’d been shot. He’d gone to her for life advice a time or two, and been the recipient of even more of it, unsolicited.
But then, he’d seen her maneuver a few things, of questionable ethics. Seen her maneuver people, seen her maneuver the truth. She’d even maneuvered both of those things to his benefit, when she’d realized that he actually had killed his murderous former partner, and helped him keep the secret.
In many ways, Hetty had been responsible for Deeks meeting the most important person in his life. At times, it had even seemed as though she was fostering their relationship. But she’d also been responsible for sending Kensi away on a potentially lethal mission to Afghanistan, a mission for which Kensi still paid a price, usually in the middle of the night. There had been nothing benign or maternal about that.
He’d been wary after that. Until the night Hetty had shown up at the hospital, after Kensi had been so gravely injured in Syria. She’d shooed him home, and stayed with her young female charge, and that had been entirely maternal in Deeks’ eyes. After that, he’d been confused.
He loved her, in a strange way. But he also kept a healthy distance, because he could. Not so with Callen. Not so with Hunter. Not so with Akhos Laos.
If they’d turned away from her, who would they have turned to? I keep a distance, because I can. Because I have a mother who loves me, and whom I love. Even when she drives me crazy.
Which thought brought him back to a conversation he’d had just a few weeks ago, with the other woman he loved.
. . .
For a few hours… a few, blissful, frightening, amazing, intimidating hours… they’d thought Kensi might be pregnant. They’d thought they might be about to bring a new life into a world fraught with danger and filled with possibilities.
She hadn’t wanted to talk about it, when she’d finally admitted to him what had caused her to behave so differently on the case. And so, they’d each had a singular experience of wishing, and hoping, and fearing. Maybe they’d wished for it not to be true, or maybe they’d wished for the child who might await them. Maybe they’d hoped in the same converse ways. Maybe they’d feared it was true, or feared it was not.
The case had been the kind to precipitate an existential crisis, independent of the state of their family. But the state of their family had been paramount in each of their minds. Without the space, and permission, to talk about it, they’d each had their own internal monologue, and then conjured the voice of the other to transform it into dialogue. But it had been far from enough.
Once they’d known, for sure, once they’d met with either relief or disappointment, Deeks made her an offer. How could he do otherwise, seeing the turmoil on her face?
“We don’t have to talk about it. We don’t ever have to talk about it.”
Giving his wife the concession he thought she would want. But he was wrong.
“I want to talk about it. I’m done not talking about it.”
His gaze remained steady on her face. “All right, we’ll talk about it.”
And so, they had, later that night, over a bottle of wine. The fact that Kensi could drink it was lost on neither of them.
“Okay,” he said. “You already know how I feel about it. Are you saying you feel differently now?”
She’d told him, repeatedly, that she wasn’t ready, which he’d taken as a good sign. Readiness could change, with time. At least she hadn’t said she didn’t want children at all.
His question struck a chord with Kensi. From the look on her face, it appeared to be a dissonant one, and he steeled himself for disappointment.
“I don’t know. I mean, it was so real, you know? It wasn’t just a theoretical thing. I guess it turned out to be one, but it didn’t feel like it at the time.”
Deeks studied the features of the woman he loved so very deeply, trying to read her, not quite certain she was ready for this particular conversation. But it was one they’d needed to have, for a very long time. All they’d managed, so far, was a detente of sorts. Not a real understanding. Definitely not an agreement.
I’m not supposed to have to negotiate a treaty with my wife about this, am I?
Aloud, he asked her, “Did that change how you feel about it? When you thought it might be real, did you feel happy?”
It was, they both realized, the critical question. Kensi might not have felt ready to have a child. But, faced with the very real possibility of a pregnancy, faced with the option of a real child, and not the ignoring of a theoretical one, might she have changed her mind?
“I… I… I don’t…” She shook her head, unable to find the right words, and Deeks reached out in sympathy, pulling her back against him, wrapping his arms across her chest.
“We don’t have to do this, Kens.”
Being able to direct her gaze toward the fire burning in the hearth, and not into the unmasked hope in her husband’s eyes, seemed to loosen something within Kensi, and the words came.
“I felt scared. I felt responsible. It made me too cautious. And it almost made me sloppy.”
He knew exactly what she meant. It was how he’d reacted, after their first night together, when he hadn’t taken a shot, fearful that it could have put her in danger. She’d been mightily angry with him then. At first, he’d taken it concretely, and thought that she’d been angry about how he’d handled the situation. Then he’d realized that she was angry because she was afraid that their new situation had been handling him.
“I get that. I mean, you thought you had another life to look out for.”
Her hands went up in a flight of frustration.
“That’s just the thing! We have thousands of lives to look out for, maybe millions! How can I… How can I let this one life put all those others at risk? But how can I not?”
Which was the crux of the matter, after all. They put their lives at risk every day, for the sake of a host of people they didn’t know, and would never meet. They even took lives, much more often than either of them tolerated without considerable cost to their sleep and peace of mind, also for the greater good. How was it that this one, microscopic, not-even-really-there life had so completely turned that upside down?
Both of them were silent for a long time, contemplating. Feeling. Worrying. Hoping. Imagining. Yearning.
Kensi felt the rise and fall of his chest as Deeks heaved a huge sigh. She lifted herself up, and turned to face him. Her husband, and the man who would one day be the father of her child.
“What are you thinking?”
His eyes went to hers, and then away again, gathering courage. Then back, because she loved him, and there was no need for fear.
“I think that no one person can be responsible for the whole world. No two people, either. I mean, we both know someone who kind of does seem to feel that way, and look what it’s done to her.”
“But she also took care of all those children…”
“Yeah, and look what happened with that. Listen, you know I love Hetty, but I’m also not looking at her through rose-colored glasses. She raised those kids to follow in her footsteps. She raised them all to save the world.”
Kensi was defensive of the woman she’d so long admired, even if she’d occasionally wanted to throttle her.
“Is there something wrong with that? Isn’t it noble to raise your kids to care?”
Deeks waved down the flare of anger.
“Whoa, hold on. I’m not saying that. I just think there are a whole lot of other ways to make a difference. You, me, Sam… we ended up here, for a lot of different reasons. But we weren’t bred to it, like Callen. I guess I’m just saying that I don’t want our kids to think they have to be in the fight, all the time. They don’t have to put their souls at risk, every day. They can save the world another way.”
“Is that what you think we’re doing? Putting our souls at risk?”
“We’ve killed people, Kens. A lot of them. Maybe they had families. Maybe they had reasons why they were doing what they were doing. Listen, I’m not saying we’re wrong to do the work. If I thought that, I would quit tomorrow. But I am also fully aware that every time I take a kill shot, I have caused another human being to cease to exist. I carry the weight of that with me. And I don’t want it for our child.”
His wife was well acquainted with the sentiment. The people who fell at the far end of her long-range scope usually didn’t even realize their danger. There was no time for decision-making, or regret, or remorse, on either end of a sniper’s weapon.
“Who said we were going to push our kids to do what we do? I thought we were talking about whether we continue to do what we do, when I’m pregnant.”
“I’ve thought about this a lot. I mean, really a lot, because I knew you weren’t ready, and I didn’t want to push you. But… do you want me to be honest?”
Kensi nodded, silently.
“Okay. Well, if I’m honest, I think… I know you might not feel ready, but I think we have to consider getting out. I mean, we’ve done our turn. I won’t have any regrets. We’ve carried the baton, and it will be time to hand it over to someone else. It’s not like we’re going to be able to handle the physical stuff forever, anyway. We can fight the good fight, but not from the front lines. Not these front lines.”
What he’d said made sense, and although she’d gotten there reluctantly, and after an hours-long debate with herself, Kensi agreed with him. But was she ready?
“I think I just don’t like change…” she started.
He interrupted her. “I was a pretty big change, wasn’t I? You got used to me.”
She flashed a smile at him. “I’m still working on that.”
“Ha! Seriously, Kens, I told you I wouldn’t push, and I won’t. This conversation was your idea.”
“I know. And I get it, maybe I just have to rip the Band-Aid off, and move on.”
“When the time comes, yes, I think so. But the time hasn’t come yet.”
Kensi Blye Deeks trusted her husband implicitly, and had, for nearly a decade. She’d trusted him enough to make a public vow to be with him until the end of their days. She could trust him in this as well.
“Okay, then. When the time comes. And when our little mutant ninja assassin arrives…” grinning as she invoked an appellation he’d created, “…we’ll downsize.”
Deeks was confused. “Downsize?”
“Yes. We’ll save the world, one kid at a time.”