Deeks drove his fist into the bag, feeling morbid satisfaction with every sharp smack he elicited. It had been a while since he’d worked with a punching bag and he knew he’d be aching in the morning. He could already feel the skin on his knuckles beginning to break beneath the fabric he’d hastily wrapped around his palms.
Even if he regretted it tomorrow, it made him feel marginally better right now.
“I thought I told you to go home.” He hadn’t heard Nell come in behind him, but he didn’t break his rhythm, punching the bag several times in quick succession.
“Yeah, this doesn’t exactly look like you zoning out on bad reality TV with Kensi,” Nell pointed out. Steadying the bag for a second, Deeks looked over his shoulder and found her watching him with her arms crossed and an unamused expression. It was disturbingly un-Nell like.
“I was too restless, so I came back,” he answered, turning away. She made a frustrated sound and walked closer until she was right beside him. When he didn’t respond, she stuck an open hand in front of the still swinging punching bag and waited until he faced her again.
“Don’t you think Kensi’s going to be worried when she realizes you’re gone? She needs you right now.” That rekindled the anger that had been simmering in him all night long. He wiped a stream of sweat off his forehead and crossed his own arms.
“Nell, do you really think I’d leave Kensi all alone without saying anything?” He didn’t give her a chance to respond before he barreled on. “She was the one who suggested I come here and before you ask about her being all alone, the hormone shots make her pass out most nights so I doubt she’ll miss me for a couple hours. And, we upgraded our security on the house so I can monitor everything from my phone.”
Nell actually took a step back and he realized he’d come off harsher than he meant to.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you don’t care about Kensi,” she said quietly. “I know you do more than anything.”
Sighing, Deeks rubbed his hand over his face, the rough fabric of his wrist wraps scratching his skin. Nell was technically his boss right now and, more importantly, his friend. She didn’t deserve to be yelled at.
“And I shouldn’t have jumped at you like that. It’s just been a really tough day,” he explained with a tired sigh. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I think it’s been a ‘tough’ day all around.” She sounded just as tired and frustrated as he felt.
“So what are you still doing here?”
“Well, it turns out when you lose a person who was supposed to be in your custody, there’s a lot of calls to make and paperwork to do,” she said and any lingering anger Deeks felt drained from his body.
“Sounds like you could use a large drink.”
Nell’s upper lip lifted in the barest hint of a smile as she jerked her head towards the gym door.
“I like the way you think Agent Deeks. And I have the perfect solution.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to break into Hetty’s stash?” Deeks asked a couple minutes later as Nell poured an extremely generous amount of some vintage scotch that he knew cost upwards of $500. It might seem ridiculous and a little childish, but he still had the sense that Hetty was always watching them. “I mean, she’s going to come back at some point, right?”
“You know what, that’s just one of the things Hetty will have to deal with,” Nell said unapologetically, handing him a glass. She clinked her glass against his in a mock toast. Shrugging, he sat down with a sigh, exhaustion beginning to set in as he held the glass between two fingers.
“That seems like a loaded statement. I take it you’re not exactly happy with our absent leader right now.” He took a sip of scotch, feeling it burn down his throat and into his empty stomach. He hadn’t felt like eating earlier and would probably regret it in the morning.
“Oh no,” she answered, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “I just love it when she abandons us with absolutely no warning, leaving us to pick up the pieces.” Shaking her head, Nell took a long swallow of her drink, resting the glass against her cheek. She suddenly looked impossibly bewildered and tired. “I told her I didn’t want to do this, Deeks. You know? But she just doesn’t listen, does she?”
“No, no, our Hetty isn’t a big fan of that,” he commented neutrally. He had his own mixed and very complicated feelings about her. Like the stunt she’d pulled to give him his NCIS badge.
“I just keep thinking that if someone else was in charge today, Anna might still be here.”
“Oh Nell, no, what happened today was not your fault.” Deeks reached across the desk and grasped her hand. She started to pull away, but then stopped, letting him squeeze her much smaller fingers for a few seconds. “You are doing an incredible job. Losing Anna, that’s on the rest of us.”
“If it’s not my fault, then it’s not yours or any of the others’ either.” He scoffed at that and swallowed the rest of his drink.
“We were the ones right there with her. We watched Katya torture Joelle and then just let Anna walk into that van.” He sat up, his anger returning, and grabbed the bottle of scotch again, pouring out more than Nell had. She didn’t comment when he drink half of it in one gulp.
“I have no idea how Callen’s gonna tell Arkady.”
“I offered to do it, but he said it should come from him,” Nell said, shaking her head a little. “I really hate this part of the job.” She leaned back in her chair, staring up at the ceiling with a distant look. “When I first started here, I was so in awe of Hetty. I wanted to be like her, and I thought everything she said was magical. It seemed like she always had all the answers, knew a solution to every problem. I don’t know when that started to change.”
She flicked a glance at him and shrugged before continuing.
“Maybe it was the first time I had to shoot somebody. Did you know I nearly quit after that?” Deeks shook his head even though he didn’t think she expected an answer. “Or maybe it was last year when I finally got to experience the culmination of all her manipulation for myself.” Her voice was dark now and she whispered, “I don’t think I’ll ever forgive her for asking Eric to go undercover or for nearly getting you and Kensi killed.”
Deeks was vaguely surprised by the vehemence in her voice. He hadn’t fully realized how much lingering anger, even hurt, she’d harbored from Hetty’s decision to keep them all in the dark once again.
“I became a cop when I realized that I was just helping criminals get back on the street as a lawyer,” he told her after a couple minutes of silence, remembering how disillusioned he’d felt at that period in his life. “I thought that I could really change things, help the people like my mom, like Tiffany. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was just another corrupt institution. Then Hetty swooped in and offered me the liaison position… it seemed like she was some kind of savior.”
He groaned, feeling some of the desperation, the hopelessness that had plagued him for the past few years.
“Now I think no matter what we do in this job, we’re going to be disappointed.” He tossed back his second drink. “I’m just so damn sick of people getting hurt and not being able to do anything about it. I mean, Joelle lost her freaking leg. No matter what we might think of her, she didn’t deserve that.”
“No, she did not.” Nell gave a deep sigh and threw a defeated look at all the paperwork on her desk. “And it never ends.”
“Nope.” They were quiet for a few minutes, consumed with their own thoughts.
Deeks kept thinking of Callen, trying to convince everyone, including himself, that Anna being taken wasn’t killing him. And Arkady, who would likely do just about anything to get her back. Anna, Joelle. It was too much. He glanced at Nell again and watched her distractedly tip her glass to her mouth, eyes distant.
“So what do we do now?” she asked. It was a loaded question and Deeks gave her a sympathetic grimace. Right now he knew the question wasn’t coming from his boss or even a colleague, but from his friend.
“We get up tomorrow and do it all over again. Try to do better. Just like we always do,” he replied, knowing it wasn’t much consolation. He wished he could tell her that they’d find Anna and everything would turn out fine, but he didn’t have the energy or desire to be blindly optimistic tonight.
“Right.” Nell smiled, somehow managing to look bitter and sad at the same time. “Well, I have more people to call. Have a good night, Deeks.”
That was a dismissal if he ever heard one, oddly Hetty-like, but he didn’t think she’d appreciate the comparison right now.
“Night.” He got up, setting his empty glass next to Nell’s and then added, “You know, we’re always here for you. If you ever need to talk, or rage, or drink all Hetty’s scotch, I’m always here. We all are.”
“Thanks, Deeks,” Nell muttered, looking down quickly. “I appreciate that. You’re a really good friend.”
“You are.” Reaching across the desk, Nell gripped his hand this time. Her fingers were slightly chilled, but firm. “And the same applies. Don’t try to be strong and silent, OK? ‘Cause we both know you’re not very good at the silent part.”
Deeks snorted, surprising both of them and shook his head. It likely had something to do with the two glasses of scotch in his empty stomach.
“I’m going to take that as a very backhanded compliment,” he decided, which earned a slightly more authentic smile from Nell.
“Good. Now go home to your wife,” Nell ordered, trying to look severe, but failing miserably. “I don’t want her getting mad at me for keeping you out all night.”
“Yeah, that would probably be a good idea. She does get cold feet when I’m not there.” Even if she wasn’t letting it show, Kensi was probably feeling the same sense of failure and potential loss that they all were. He wouldn’t be surprised if they both had an extremely restless night.
Before he headed for the door, he added, “Hey, if you’re going to stay here tonight at least grab a power nap on the couch. You need sleep just as much as we do.”
He saw her glance at the stacks of paper and knew she was calculating how much time it would take. The time a nap would take away from searching for Anna.
“I will make a concerted effort to get some sleep.” It wasn’t the answer he’d been hoping for, but he knew it was the best he would get.
As he slowly walked out to his truck, letting the night air revive him, Deeks wondered just how much fallout this mission would have. And what state the team would be in whenever Hetty decided to return.
A/N: I’d like to take a moment to thank the ever lovely and helpful Lyssa for her assistance with this story.