Deeks closed his apartment door behind him and leaned heavily against it, too mentally and physically drained to do more than bend over to greet Monty.
It had been a long day; a hell of a lot longer than Deeks had anticipated thanks to Ray’s impromptu Houdini act, which necessitated a hunt for his friend followed by his second staged demise. Nelson Sanders, the Southland Kings, and everyone else who wanted Ray Martindale dead were now confident that he was no longer among the living. The man formerly-known-as Ray and the woman soon-to-be-known-as something other than Jenna were safely on a plane for Oregon to meet their assigned federal marshal and then onto a destination Deeks would never know. He wouldn’t see his childhood friend again, and Deeks was fine with that if it meant Ray was safe with the woman he loved, preparing to be a better father than his own.
Too many ghosts of his past had visited Marty Deeks today and he wanted nothing more than to shower and wash the remnants of Max Gentry off him, but he felt tension thrumming through him that even the hottest water wouldn’t relieve. Heading into the kitchen and freshening Monty’s water, he considered his options.
“How about we head to the beach, buddy?” Deeks said to the dog as he pulled his phone from his pocket to check a couple of surf reports. “Or not,” he muttered upon viewing the currently less than stellar conditions. “A run it is, then.”
Hearing one of his favorite words, Monty trotted back and forth between Deeks and his leash hanging on the wall next to the front door, repeatedly looking back to his human in anticipation. “Sorry boy, but Daddy needs a long run to get all this crap out of his head.”
Deeks crossed the apartment to his bedroom to secure his gun and change clothes, Monty following. “In fact, I think I’ll head toward Kensi’s neighborhood so if I’m too tired to run anymore she can drive me back. Top it off with some take-out spent watching whatever inane TV show she wants, and you have the perfect Deeks’ Night of Distraction.”
Deeks’ unexpected arrival at Kensi’s place after she’d been punched in the jaw not too long ago had subsequently been declared their first partner bonding event, along with the intention of repeating it or something similar, on a monthly basis. They were just a little overdue, so if Deeks showed up at her apartment tonight, it would hardly seem as if he had an ulterior motive.
He yanked off his shirt, unbuttoned his jeans, and sat on the edge of his bed to remove his boots, considering his canine friend again. “Maybe you can sad-puppy-dog-eye her into taking you for a W-A-L-K.”
At that, Monty ran out of the room and barked. It sounded to Deeks like he was near the front door. He got up to investigate, calling out, “Okay, there’s no way you know what that spells, no matter how smart I keep telling everyone you are.” As he approached the door Deeks heard a knock. He smirked at the dog, “At least I can still pretend to be the more intelligent of the two of us.”
Deeks’ heart sank a little when he peered through the peephole and saw Kensi standing there, arms full. He was looking forward to maybe hanging out with her later, but didn’t know if he would be very good company until he’d gotten rid of some of his edginess.
He opened the door. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Kensi smiled sympathetically. “Thought you might be up for a partner bonding night after the day you had, so I brought fish tacos and cervezas.”
Deeks’ scratched the back of his neck, unsure what he should do now “Uh, wow…umm, this is great, really…but I, uh…”
Kensi frowned, “Sorry, is this not a good time?” She looked him up and down as if noticing his bare chest and feet for the first time. “Wait, do you have company?” When he didn’t answer right away, Kensi scowled and demanded on a whisper, “Deeks, is Ray’s ex here?”
“What?! No, of course not.”
“Then why am I still outside?”
“Oh, sorry,” Deeks said as he took a step back. He watched as his partner headed straight into the kitchen to offload the bags of food and drink.
Kensi turned with a hand on a hip, “Why are you acting so weird tonight? I mean weirder than I was expecting given the events of the day.”
“Yeah, no, sorry. I was actually just thinking a little mindless time in front of the TV with you later tonight might be a good distraction.”
“I’ll try not to take offense that you’d describe any time with me as mindless. But why later? You have something going on right now?”
“Not really, I just thought I’d blow off some steam by myself first, you know?”
Again Kensi took in his appearance before her face took on a horrified expression, “Whoa, TMI there, Deeks. I so did not need to know that!”
“Wait what? What do you think I’m talking about?”
Flustered, Kensi tossed back, “What are you talking about?”
“I was getting changed for a run when you knocked.”
“Oh! Okay, yeah, that makes sense.” Kensi said, her face turning red.
“What did you think I was talking about?” Deeks was suspicious; it was difficult to embarrass his partner.
“Nothing! Never mind, it doesn’t matter. You go get changed and take that run and I’m just going to head home. I’ll leave the tacos and you can reheat them when you get back.”
“Kennnsiiii,” he whined. “You have to tell me. I had a rough day, remember?”
She huffed out a quick breath. “Fine. You answer the door in only your jeans, which are unbuttoned by the way, and tell me you were about to ‘blow off some steam’ alone, after a day in which you lip-locked with someone who was clearly attracted to you for some crazy reason. I figured you meant you were about to…‘take care of things’ for yourself.”
He smiled wickedly, “You thought I was going to tickle my—” Deeks burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. When he was finally able to draw a deep breath a full minute later, he brushed away the tears that had also fallen. “Oh man, I needed that, thanks”
“We will never speak of this again. When I walk out the door, we will both forget that exchange ever happened, got it?”
Deeks held back another laugh, knowing if he started again he wouldn’t easily stop, and Kensi would surely be gone before he regained control. “Got it. But you don’t have to leave. Reheated fish tacos are an affront to the food truck gods, so let’s eat now.”
“What about your run?”
“Believe it or not, I feel much better. Who knew a good belly-laugh worked as well as a hard run for taking the edge off?”
Kensi shrugged, “I’ll get the tacos, you open the beers.”
“I’m just going to put a shirt on. Lord knows we don’t need any reminders of the conversation-that-did-not-happen,” Deeks said with a wink and left the room at Kensi’s annoyed look.
What the laughter started, fish tacos, a couple bottles of Modelo Negra and an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians accompanied by Kensi’s observations finished.
Deeks wiped his mouth and hands on a paper napkin that he then crumpled and tossed on the pile of debris on his coffee table. “That really hit the spot, thanks partner.”
“You’re welcome. I thought you might be missing Ray, or feeling particularly nostalgic, and would rather not be alone.”
“It was a day for the books, that’s for sure.”
Kensi nodded. “I got the impression you weren’t thrilled to have to be Max Gentry again.”
Deeks knew Kensi wasn’t going to let go of her desire to learn about Max easily but he recognized her comment as an invitation rather than a demand. He’d probably tell her about his least favorite alias eventually but wasn’t about to walk through that door tonight, especially since the evening had helped him finally feel clean of that particular persona.
“Can’t pull one over on you, Special Agent Blye.”
“Still don’t want to talk about him, huh?”
“I just don’t want to ruin what’s been a really nice partner bonding night. And Max most definitely ruins good things.”
“Fair enough. So what about your relationship with Nicole Martindale? It seemed like it hurt you both to tell her the truth. For what it’s worth I think you did the right thing.”
Deeks released a humorless chuckle, “Not sure Nicole would agree with you. But she knew Max, not me. And again, Max knows how to bring a party down.”
“You know, Deeks, I don’t think I’ve ever had to work this hard to get you to talk.” She narrowed her eyes at him playfully, “Who is it that Ray thinks I look like?”
Now his laugh was sincere, “I’ll need a lot more than two beers in me to share that story. And even then it might be better if I take it to my grave.”
“Really?” said Kensi, clearly intrigued.
“Such a shame the only other person who knows is now officially in WITSEC and is no longer accessible to either of us,” Deeks reminded her.
“Speaking of Ray, I have to say it was odd to hear him call you Marty all day. You think it was weird for him to hear us calling you Deeks?”
“Probably, especially since when he knew me my last name was Brandel.”
“Right, your father’s name. Gordon John Brandel, wasn’t it?”
“The first person I ever shot.” Deeks’ tone was surprisingly self-recriminating.
“The first person you used a gun against in defense of yourself and another,” Kensi corrected.
Deeks rolled his eyes, “I knew I shouldn’t have told you about that.”
Kensi was confused, “Why not, you did nothing wrong.”
“Maybe not, but it’s still not my proudest moment.”
“It should be; you saved two lives that night, including your own. And you can blame me for asking while you were doped up in the hospital after your shooting, having just saved my life.”
When Deeks didn’t respond regarding what was clearly still a sensitive subject for her partner, Kensi changed tact slightly and asked, “So where’d Deeks come from?”
“It’s my mother’s maiden name.”
“You took it when they divorced?”
“Nah, my mother could barely afford the divorce, there was no way she could pay the additional fees to have my name legally changed too.”
“Was this soon after that night?”
“Yeah, it didn’t take long for the truth to come out afterward and she was hooked up with an advocate for victims of domestic violence pretty quickly. Anyway, my mother desperately wanted to be rid of him and any other crap he could try to pull from behind bars, like fighting for custody or visitation.”
“He wanted that?”
“Only as a means to continue to torment both of us, I’m sure.”
“Bastard,” Kensi muttered.
“Yeah. So she put all of her focus and most of the money into getting a divorce and custody agreement as fast as possible.”
“I guess it makes sense that was her first priority.”
“It does, especially when you consider that I didn’t really even think about changing my name until the following year.”
“Because that was when I started junior high, and it was obvious the upperclassmen knew what my father had done and what I’d done. Let’s just say the name Brandel wasn’t exactly synonymous with safe or ethical behavior.” Deeks sighed, “So you had roughly a third the student body afraid I was going to shoot them and another third thinking I’d made the whole story up and that it was their responsibility to show everyone how pathetic I really was. The rest just avoided me because they assumed I was a bad seed since my father was in jail.”
“That’s horrible, Deeks. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“The fact that I had any friends at all, beyond Ray, could only be attributed to my beach boy good looks, charm, and quick wit,” he said with a grin.
Kensi lightly smacked his arm, mostly for form, but said nothing to contradict his description.
He continued, “And that was just the people who had some version of the facts. You should have heard the rumors.”
“They couldn’t have been worse than the truth,” Kensi said.
Deeks shrugged, “Maybe not worse, but definitely not helpful. Instead of being in jail, ‘No Good Brandel’ was accused by my peers of running off with, kidnapping, or murdering no less than three of their mothers, who’d probably only had the good sense to leave their own personal hells. He also became the scapegoat for every break-in, stolen car, and missing pet that plagued Reseda for months.”
“And you were guilty by association,” Kensi shook her head in sympathy. “Kids that age can be cruel.” Neither spoke for several moments that were surprisingly not awkward. Finally Kensi asked, “What about high school?”
“My father’s supposed exploits were old news by then, and I was able to reap the benefits of being a bad boy, even if by reputation only.” Kensi’s look of confusion prompted Deeks to explain further, “All the good girls who wanted to piss off their parents made their way to me,” he wiggled his eyebrows.
“Hey, I didn’t seek out any of them.”
“But you didn’t turn them away either, did you?”
“I was a red-blooded, heterosexual, teenage male, not an idiot.”
“Whatever,” Kensi rolled her eyes. “So you obviously had no interest in changing your last name in high school.”
“Not true. Even though the worst of it finally died down by the end of junior high I contacted the advocate who had helped my mom and asked her how to go about it. I wanted it done before I graduated high school because I didn’t want his name on my diploma. And I really didn’t want to hear his last name announced at graduation. But I figured he wouldn’t give consent, which was required until I turned 18, so I didn’t pursue it then.”
“So your diploma says Martin Brandel on it?”
“It would if it still existed. I burned it pretty much as soon as I got accepted into college.”
“What did you do about graduation?”
“I asked my guidance counselor if it was possible to use my mother’s name instead, and when she said no I pled my case to the principal and then the board of education. I mean, I got that they couldn’t put a different name on the diploma since that was the name I was registered under, but who would it hurt to call ‘Martin Deeks’ during the ceremony, right?” He let out a humorless laugh, “I even argued that hearing ‘Brandel’ would be traumatic for me and my mother, given all we were put through by the bastard.”
“And my principal was sympathetic and told me I should consider a career in law because my arguments were very compelling, but his hands were tied.” Deeks shrugged, “So I didn’t go.”
Kensi’s mouth fell open, “Seriously?”
“Picked up a double-shift at work and reminded myself that I would use the extra money to change my name before I graduated college.”
“Which I’m sure you did,” Kensi said confidently.
“Would you believe I actually didn’t? College was like a new life—all of a sudden I was a small anonymous fish in a big pond full of fishes who couldn’t care less about my background. Without the specter of negativity the Brandel name had brought me, changing it really didn’t matter as much. Plus I took a linguistics elective and learned about reclamation, and realized I had the opportunity to change the connotation of Brandel to a positive one that I could be proud of. Or at least a neutral one that I didn’t have to be ashamed of.”
Kensi squinted her eyes in confusion, “And yet here I sit next to Marty Deeks.”
He nodded, “My law school Civil Procedures prof was big on practical application as well as understanding the theories and statutes behind them, and one of our long-term assignments was to file, and ideally have granted, a petition to the California Civil Court. He had a whole bulletin board full of requests from people who needed help with the paperwork and the whole process for all kinds of petitions–”
“Like your mother.”
“Yeah, except she had the help of someone with a hell of a lot more experience than a bunch of first-year law students. But we were probably more motivated, since it was worth a huge portion of our grade. Instead of picking from the board I decided it was as good a time as any to finally change my name.”
“Wait, you’re telling me you were so desperate to be rid of Brandel as a teenager that you didn’t attend your high school graduation, kept the name through college to redefine it, and then only changed it in law school to complete an assignment?”
“That about sums it up,” Deeks said, popping the final consonant.
“No offense Deeks, but that’s kind of anticlimactic.”
He swallowed the remains of his now warm beer, grimaced at the taste, and admitted, “Honestly, making something good of the name wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean yeah, I was glad I was able to move beyond what the name Brandel meant to me, and to some extent others. By the time I finished college, I was happy to hear Martin Brandel announced at graduation because I knew my louse of a father had never accomplished anything worthwhile in his entire life.”
Kensi spoke her disagreement carefully. “Well he did father you. And he was somewhat responsible, for better or worse, for the person you became, don’t you think? Even if his primary influence on you was to push you to be nothing like him.”
“Exactly—he showed me what not to do. But what about the person who gave me something to aspire to? My mother worked hard to provide us with the necessities, she told me and showed me that she loved me, she always found the humor in life, and she reminded me that things could be and had been worse. Sure, she made her fair share of mistakes, but she never blamed them on other people, and always tried to fix them. So why should I continue to credit my father, even in name only, with anything else I accomplished? Instead I decided to honor Roberta Deeks because she was the real reason I was able to have any kind of success.”
“That was a wonderful idea, Deeks,” Kensi said, voice only slightly rough with emotion. “And a much better reason for changing your name than a class assignment.”
“We couldn’t have the night end on an anticlimactic note, could we?”
Kensi looked at her watch, “And end it must. I can’t believe how late it is.” She started putting her shoes on while Deeks quickly cleaned up their mess and brought it into the kitchen.
“Thanks for dinner, Kens. And the company. Oh, and that laugh,” he chuckled just thinking about it again. “It was just what I needed,” Deeks said as he walked back into the living room.
She nodded, “Another successful partner bonding night on the books.” At the apartment door, Kensi paused with her hand on the knob and turned to her partner, “I bet your mom is really proud of what you’ve done with your life so far, no matter what your name is.”
He responded with a quick, but somewhat embarrassed smile, “Thanks. I think so too.”