A/N: Apologies in advance for those who don’t feel, as I do, that questions are usually far more interesting than their answers.
“Hey, babe, are you ready yet?” Kensi checked her watch for the umpteenth time. Also had the same thought for the umpteenth time.
I thought women were supposed to be the ones who always ran late. Maybe I spent too much of my childhood alone with my dad. And he spent his alone with his mom.
Sing-song-y response. “Coming, dear.” Sneaking up behind her and planting a kiss behind her ear.
“I will never understand what takes you so long. It’s not like you have to shave.” Or comb your hair.
“Maybe I don’t shave so I won’t blind you with the rosy glow of my youthful cheeks.” Displaying those cheeks six inches from her face. “Did you ever think of that? Huh?”
She laughed. “Can’t say that I have.” Pinching said cheeks. “I’m not complaining.”
“Good, because honestly, I lost my razor about fifteen years ago, and…” He stopped abruptly, just at the doorsill of their entryway. “Wait… were you trying to tell me I look too scruffy?”
Kensi pushed him the rest of the way out the door. “No, my love. I just don’t want to be late for brunch. Even if you might.”
Deeks opened the car door for his wife before moving around to the driver’s side. It wasn’t lost on him that they’d made this social concession to traditional roles on the way to meet with Kensi’s old friends and their husbands.
“What? I love having brunch with your friends… I mean, our friends.”
“I know you don’t, but I appreciate that you try. I’ll tell you what, let’s go surfing this afternoon.” Offering a reward for the sacrifice she knew he was making.
“Mmm… make it a sunset surf, and you’ve got a deal. But, for the record, I do like our friends, and I’m happy to spend time with them.”
“And I love you for saying that… and for a million other reasons.”
Deeks leaned over to kiss his wife before starting the car.
The waves called to him, as they always did, and he felt a certain calm returning to his body. Kensi, God bless her, seemed to realize how much he needed it, and moved swiftly to lift her board from the bed of the truck. They made their way silently across the sand, depositing a blanket and their footwear at a place beyond where the tide would reach, and then moving into the embrace of the sea.
Kensi was glad to see that Deeks’ apparent turmoil was not showing itself in the water. His strokes were deliberate, his choice of wave careful, no hint of recklessness in his ride. She rode alongside him for a while, then headed back to the sand, and simply watched her husband work out his tension in the surf.
When he finally joined her on the shore, Kensi was relieved to see that much of the tightness was gone from his shoulders, but keen enough to notice what remained.
“So… that was refreshing, right?”
She smiled. “You okay? I mean, I know they’re a bit much, especially when they’re all together. But…”
He pulled her in for a kiss. “They aren’t too much, and I love them, because you do. I think they might be growing on me.”
Kensi claimed his lips in return. “Really? Wow, that’s great! So… what, then? I can tell something’s still eating at you.” Before he could respond… and, mostly because she could see that he was not about to… she added, “Was it the baby stuff? Because I know Cat can get carried away when she’s talking about it. And if you’re worried about how it affected me, don’t be. I’m fine. Whatever happens, I’m fine.”
As she’d insisted for months now, despite the fact that both of them sincerely, deeply, desperately wanted to become parents. Maybe.
Kensi could tell she still hadn’t found the tender spot, so she probed again, mentally reviewing everything that had happened today when they’d met up with their – mostly ‘her’- friends. They’d talked about work, and kids, and their homes, and kids, and the bar, and kids, and…
“That Heritage website? Is that it?” Sounding incredulous, but noticing when the shadow came over his eyes.
“Really? Do you not want to do it? Because I thought it might be good for us, you know? I mean, we each really only know one side of our family. I lost my dad when I was young, and you might as well have. Neither of our moms is in a position to fill in the gaps, so I thought it would help.”
Deeks saved Kensi from having a completely one-sided conversation.
“Help what? I mean, you know that I want more than anything to have a baby with you. God, I can feel it in my bones, I want it so much. But what if we can’t? Or what if we decide to become parents a different way… what would be the point of digging into a family history that doesn’t even belong to our child?”
Neither of them had expected the vehemence behind his words, and each spent a long moment staring out toward the ocean in recovery. Once she could speak again, Kensi had a question for him.
“Are you afraid of what you might find?”
He knew exactly what she meant. His father had been a violent drunk, whose actions had driven his only son to shoot him, in defense of the child’s mother. What if that part of his family history ran much more deeply than he knew?
She asked again. “Is that it? Because if it is… or even if you’re just thinking about what you already know, I can tell you for a fact that you didn’t inherit any of that.”
“Any of what?”
“You know. You own a bar, but you barely drink. You get angry, but you’re never out of control. You would never hurt a child. And you would never hurt me.”
Deeks would be forever grateful for this woman in his life, who so easily overlooked his faults and virtually willed him to reach his aspirations. But she was wrong. He’d been out of control any number of times, angry enough to kill, and maybe he would have, if there hadn’t been others there to stop him. And, ironically, each time… it had been for her.
What did I ever do to deserve someone so willing to be my champion?
He took her hand.
“Promise me, if ever I make it as far as the pearly gates, that you’ll plead my case. I think I might need it.”
She gave a small laugh. “Seriously, babe, please don’t worry about that. You’re not at all like him.”
He could only be honest with her.
“I choose not to drink a lot because of him. And I only wish I had as much control as you think I have.”
Kensi pulled up and sat on her knees, leaning forward in earnest. “And both of those things make you different from him. Seriously, though. Is that it? You’re worried about what you’ll find?”
He shrugged his indecision, prompting her to continue.
“Babe, I don’t know what I’ll find, either. I mean, I barely knew my father’s side of the family. I know it could be bad, but… what if it’s good?”
He couldn’t help but give her a wry smile. He was supposed to be the optimist in their relationship, and here she was taking over the role.
“Kens, your dad was a military hero. Mine was an abusive bastard. What are the odds I’m going to find something good in his family history? With my luck, a search would just attach me to a whole new brood of losers and latchers-on.”
She knew he had a point, but still…
“What if I did the search? I’m not a Deeks… well, I know, I am now, but… I could go in as ‘Blye’. No one would know, and I could at least see if your dad still has any extended family, and…”
Kensi was taken aback. “No?”
He saw her reaction. “Sorry.”
Deeks looked out toward the ocean depth that had always been able to absorb his angst, willing it to do so now. He blew out a breath and tried again.
“I just… can’t we just do your family history? Do we have to do both of them? I mean, it’s not an all-or-nothing deal, right?”
“No, of course it’s not. But I just thought…” Maybe I didn’t think enough. “Honey, are you afraid of what you’ll find? Or are you afraid your father’s family will find you?”
Deeks leaned his head back on his neck, allowing the rays of the waning sun to fall on his upturned face. He couldn’t have said if he was just taking a moment to collect his thoughts or if he was actually looking for wisdom in the photons. This morning’s conversation with Kensi’s friends hadn’t created his dilemma. It had simply brought forth something he’d been trying to ignore for a very long time. And he hadn’t shared any of it with his wife, for multiple reasons, but mostly because he didn’t have to. Now, it seemed, he did.
“You know, I don’t think I ever really considered that we might end up with a bunch of Brandels showing up at the door, but now that you mention it, yes, I guess I’m afraid of that.”
“The same could be true of the Blyes.”
“Doubtful. Besides which, they would have found you by now, if they were looking for you. You’re still a ‘Blye’. My guys? Hmph. They would have had to actually remember that my mother was a Deeks, and judging from the fact that I never laid an eye on a single one of them when I was a kid, I’m pretty sure they have no idea of her name, or mine. So I’m invisible to them, as long as I don’t put myself out there on Heritage.”
Which brought them to something Kensi had long wondered, but somehow never asked. He’d been ‘Deeks’ since the day she’d met him.
“Why don’t you have your dad’s last name, by the way? I mean, I assumed you and your mom had changed your names after… you know. But is that what happened?”
Deeks stretched himself out sideways on the blanket, propping his head on his hand, and Kensi mirrored him.
“I was always Martin Atticus Deeks. My parents weren’t married when I was born, and my dad… well, he wasn’t so sure about the whole thing. Guess that was a big clue, huh? So I’ve had my mom’s name for the whole of my life.”
She smiled at him. “It suits you. And me, too. Kensi Blye-Deeks sounds much better than Kensi Blye-Brandel. Too alliterative.”
He chuckled at that, mostly because the pre-Deeks version of Kensi would never have thought about alliteration.
She was glad to see that she’d alleviated some of his tension. “Okay, but seriously, you’re not worried about that, are you? I thought you might be afraid of finding out about your family, like maybe something genetic or, I don’t know, some bad piece of history.”
“You mean, besides… all of it?” Deeks shook his head. “It’s not the history, and it’s not the relatives. Correction. It’s not the other relatives.”
Kensi narrowed her eyes in confusion. “What does that mean?”
He sat up and took a long look at the sea before responding to her.
“How did I find out that my father was dead?”
Her eyes remained narrowed. “It was… it was that time you were shot. “When they shot you to get to me, and then you…”
Despite the gravity of their topic, Deeks grinned. “And then I saved your life. Yes, I did, didn’t I? Dragged myself out of my hospital bed, and I…”
“My hero.” Only slightly in jest. “That’s when, right? They needed a next of kin, so Hetty looked into it, and…”
“And Hetty told me he was dead. Some car accident.”
“Right. I remember.”
“Yeah, so do I. Hetty told me. Hetty.”
It took a full twenty seconds for her to realize the meaning of his emphasis. “Hetty… Are you saying you think she didn’t tell you the truth?”
The face he turned to her was serious and full of… something.
“Have you ever known Hetty to lie?”
She took in both the question and its implications. And they both knew the answer.
“She doesn’t… not outright. Not without a reason…”
“I agree with that. She always has a reason. But…”
Kensi shifted into an upright position, matching her husband’s.
“But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t lying to you then.” Working it out aloud. “Because she might have thought she had a good reason.”
He looked his response at her. Exactly.
The two sat in silence while Kensi took it in.
Hetty might have lied to Deeks about his father being dead. Which means that Gordon Brandel might still be out there somewhere. Maybe still drinking or maybe recovered. Maybe needy. Maybe vengeful. But it also means that Deeks might have been betrayed by someone very important to him. To both of us.
The first of a thousand questions came to her.
“How long have you been thinking about this?”
Deeks squinted into the distance and spotted a pod of dolphins playfully jumping out beyond a line of surfers.
“I don’t know when it first occurred to me. I just remember learning about some of what had happened to Callen, some of the ways she’d manipulated his life, and how he’d just been finding out about it, and I wondered. And then it made me wonder something else.”
“What?” Kensi held her breath.
“I wondered why she chose me. I mean, I’m not crazy enough to think she somehow got LAPD to assign me to that undercover job in the gym, but there had to have been a reason she picked me as liaison, after.”
Kensi was quick to remind her husband. “It was because she was impressed with how deeply you’d penetrated them. Not to mention that you did pretty much save Sam’s life.” Hoping for a smile.
She got a small one. “Yeah, but her excuse was that NCIS and LAPD kept getting in each other’s way. Which means she’d met plenty of other cops before me. Why wasn’t it one of them?”
He’d made Kensi curious. “Well, why do you think she chose you?”
Deeks reached down and started doodling in the sand. “I was a loner. Even within the department, I was a loner. That’s why I was so good at undercover. And my file confirmed it. I hadn’t listed any family, no one as next of kin. I told you before, I didn’t want my mom to get the kind of news that ‘next of kin’ gets. It wouldn’t have been hard for Hetty to find out about what happened when I was a kid. And she probably wouldn’t have had any trouble getting into my sealed juvenile records, either.”
Kensi was beginning to understand. “You think Hetty saw you the same way she saw G, and all the others we’ve encountered over the years. Somebody she could save by bringing you into her fold.”
He gave her a lopsided smile. “When you put it like that, she wasn’t wrong.”
He brushed the sand from his fingers. “Look, I love Hetty, and I’m grateful beyond what I can say for how my life has changed since I met her.” Reaching over to squeeze the hand of his number one reason for gratitude. “I’m not saying she had any nefarious intent. I’m just saying that, when I was in the hospital, when she had to consider that I might actually have family, she might have taken steps to make sure that I didn’t. For my sake, and maybe for hers.”
Kensi gradually came to a slow nod. All of them, each member of the team, had been manipulated by Hetty, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. She herself had nearly been killed in Afghanistan because of some well-intentioned but covert machinations by Hetty. But she still loved the woman, and she understood how Deeks could say he did as well. Still, if Deeks was right…
“So you think your father might still be alive.”
He took a long time to raise and lower his shoulders in a shrug. “Maybe.”
Wow. What a burden you’ve been bearing, my love. Kensi spent a moment gathering both her thoughts and her words. This conversation felt too weighty to get them wrong. So she chose to be brief.
“Okay. So. Does ‘maybe’ mean you haven’t looked into it?”
“It means I’m not sure I want to.”
“Are you saying you haven’t even, like, Googled?” Reaching for her phone.
He laid a hand on her arm to stop her. “I’ve looked. There’s nothing.”
Kensi’s brow furrowed. “Nothing? As in…”
“Nothing, as in nothing. Not even a mention of a car accident that might have taken his life, not an obituary, not a police record beyond what he already had.”
“But I thought Nell researched him for Hetty?”
“She did. Or so she and Hetty told me. I can’t bring myself to believe the Nellster would have lied to me about something like that, but it doesn’t mean she didn’t find something she was meant to find.”
Kensi understood. “Something Hetty might have planted.” She thought a moment longer. “Have you asked her?”
“Hetty? No.” Not having to say aloud that it would probably have been futile. Still, Kensi responded as though she’d heard the words.
“A lot’s happened between then and now. Circumstances are different. She might tell you the truth.”
Deeks was intimately familiar with how well Hetty could guard the truth. Many years ago, after she’d drawn him into the circle of her team, he’s shared a secret with Hetty… or, more correctly, she had discerned his secret and shared it back with him. It had taken him a much longer time to share that same secret with the woman he would love into eternity. Martin Deeks would not cast stones about secret-keeping and untruths. Not at Henrietta Lange.
“She might. Or she might not. Either way, I’m not sure it matters.”
Kensi spent a moment considering where that left them.
“So, you don’t think we can rely on Hetty.” Purposely using ‘we’ to remind him that, whatever happened, they would go through it together. “But you might find him through the Heritage site. Or he might find you.”
“If he’s looking. Which is doubtful. I mean, I haven’t exactly been in hiding, and he’s not reached out to me in thirty years. And he does know my name.”
It had become obvious to Kensi, through the course of this conversation, that Deeks had been pondering all of this for a long time, and she was now trying to catch up with him.
“But you might find him, right? If he’s submitted his information.”
Deeks shrugged again. “I can’t think of why he would, if he couldn’t even be bothered to Google me.”
This response drew an eyeroll. “Deeks, have you ever tried to Google you?”
“You’re part of an elite team that does undercover work. Even with LAPD you worked under cover. Your public profile has probably been wiped.”
He retorted, “But what about that dating app you were on? What about that nerdy kid I had to mentor through that site?” After he’d thought he’d been matched with a kid with a much more palatable profile.
“Yeah, I think that’s about the time Hetty told Eric and Nell to make all of us ‘disappear’. So, if your dad had been looking for you, he would have run into a wall.”
Deeks had to think about what it all might mean. Was his father alive? Had he actually been looking for his son? Had he not looked ten years ago, or even twenty? If he’d tried in recent years, had he failed? Would the fact that he’d tried mean that he’d somehow reformed? Or would it mean he wanted something?
Would he want me to forgive him? Could I? If I can’t, or won’t… what does that mean about me?
He did some of his thinking aloud.
“If he’s alive, what do I gain by connecting with him, or letting him connect with me? I mean, he can’t undo the past.”
Kensi was too well acquainted with regret not to play devil’s advocate. Hoping that it wasn’t actually the devil she was advocating for.
“Well, what if he’s gotten sober? What if he regrets what he did to you and your mom? I mean, he had to have had some redeeming qualities for your mom to have been with him in the first place, right? Maybe he’s come back to them.”
Deeks knew she was providing one side of the argument, so he could give the other.
“What if he hasn’t? What kind of can of worms would I be opening to invite a brutal alcoholic back into my life? And what if we have kids, you and I? I’m not going to subject them to what I went through.”
Although she’d had her own tragedies of childhood, Kensi had never had to worry about being hurt or killed by someone she loved. She had no real frame of reference to answer Deeks’ question. But she had her own for him.
“Couldn’t you just walk away, then? Or would he come after you?”
Would you want him to?
Deeks had to shake his head. “I don’t know. He was more an abuser-of-convenience when I was a kid. If I wasn’t in arms’ reach, he wasn’t going to get up to chase me. So maybe I could walk away. Or maybe he would decide he wants whatever we have, like the roof over our heads.”
“We wouldn’t have to give him anything we don’t want to give him, including access to our kids, or our home. Even if he didn’t want to leave us alone, we are highly trained agents. That has to give us an advantage, doesn’t it?” Smiling once again.
It was contagious, and he grinned back at her. “It does. And it has occurred to me that I might have a half-sibling or two out there as well. Not that I could guarantee that either of us would want to meet them.”
“Aw, babe, that would mean our kids could have an aunt or an uncle. That’s worth it, isn’t it?”
He heard the tinge of excitement in her voice at the prospect of providing the children they didn’t have with an extended family they also didn’t have, and had to smile. Because it really might be kind of cool.
“Okay. But only if you promise that you’ll let me say “I told you so” if it turns out that I told you so.”
“Promise. So, are you really saying that you think your father is alive?”
He heaved a sigh that had been years in coming.
“I don’t know. I think so. Maybe. Or maybe not. And I’m not sure I really want to know. But if you do…”
“I only want what you want, babe.”
I just think I know what you want a little better than you do, right now. Because maybe you’ve only ever seen yourself dealing with this uncertain future alone. But you won’t be. Never again.
Deeks stared another few moments at that pod of dolphins, not really seeing, not thinking. Just feeling. And what he felt, was supported.
He stood, decision made.
“I don’t know what we’re getting into with this, not with the families we came from, and not with the one we want to make. But, as long as I’m on this journey with my ladybird beside me, I guess I’m game.”
He reached down for her hand, and pulled her up.
“One more run?”
She grinned, drawing him into her arms.
“Many more runs. Side by side. Until the sun goes down.”