A/N: This story was suggested by Karen following episode 13×04, “Sorry For Your Loss”. It takes place within a few weeks of the episode.
“Alright Fatima, what was so important to get us all up at 7 AM on a Friday?” Callen asked, walking into Ops with the rest of the team trickling in behind him.
Deeks took his usual place with Kensi farther back in the room. They’d been in the middle of an early-morning surf session when Fatima called so he was still in shorts and looking a bit windswept.
“LAPD has been tracking two arms dealers named Phil Armisen and Antoine Fredricks. LAPD reached out because they got word that Armisen is preparing to make a significant deal with Fredricks today,” Fatima explained, displaying the pictures of two men who appeared to be in their mid-40s.
“Did LAPD have anything else?” Deeks asked, leaning against the middle table as he quickly scanned the bio information on-screen.
“Not much. Over the last six months, they’ve had several undercover detectives attempt to get close, but Armisen is extremely paranoid. He only conducts business at various parks and every time someone gets too close, he leaves.” Fatima shrugged apologetically. “They were able to tell us that Fredricks is planning to meet Armisen in Grand Park at 10 AM today.”
“Mm, I could go in as a runner,” Kensi offered.
“You’ll never get close enough,” Sam disagreed. “Not if Armisen is as suspicious as LAPD believes.”
“I think this is a perfect time for Artie to make a reappearance,” Callen suggested with a mocking grin.
“Really, you’re making me go the homeless route again?” Deeks protested, settling one hand on his hip as he glared at Callen with an unimpressed expression.
It wasn’t that he absolutely hated playing Artie; he was actually proud of how well he’d crafted the character. It was more the principle of it.
“Why don’t you or Sam put on the smelly coat and hang around garbage cans?”
“Because you have skills that the rest of us just can’t even begin to fathom, Investigator Deeks,” Callen replied. The mocking tone, combined with his title instantly set Deeks on edge. Jaw clenched, he nodded tightly.
“Right, I am the only one around with such a prestigious title,” he said, giving his hair a shake and tilting his chin up as he sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“Yeah, that’s cause no one else wants it,” Sam commented with a smirk.
“Hey, he passed his FLETC courses with flying colors,” Kensi said, patting his chest in what she probably assumed was a supportive gesture, but ended up feeling incredibly patronizing instead.
Sam rolled his eyes, his dismissal adding to Deeks’ anger. It reminded him, however vaguely, of his first several years with the team. Before he’d earned his place and their trust.
Along with it came a wave of shame like he’d felt during his first days at FLETC and then again when he’d been unexpectedly sent home before being allowed finish. It was one of the single most humiliating times in his life and he shied away from the memory, which inevitably resurfaced every time someone used his full title.
Needing to gain some kind of control again, he tossed his head back once more and sighed, playing up his annoyance.
“Fine. I’ll do it. But know that it’s under protest and that I expect some form of compensation.”
“We’ll get you a lollipop,” Sam said dismissively. “Fredricks and Armisen are supposed to meet in an hour, so you and Kensi better get out to the park.”
Deeks sifted through the contents of a garbage can, putting a few random items in the pockets of his coat before he turned around. Fredricks left five minutes ago after making a deal with Armisen on a shipment of several thousand automatic weapons. Deeks had heard enough, and Kensi by extension, to stop the sale.
Moving casually, he walked past the table where Armisen was still sitting. He muttered to himself and fiddled with the end of a broken BIC lighter. Armisen didn’t even look his way as Deeks shuffled by, plastic bags rustling, being just noisy enough to blend in.
About five minutes later, he reached the deserted parking lot where Kensi parked. He glanced around one more time before approaching the SUV and climbing in. She smiled at him, reaching into the back to grab his go bag with spare clothes.
“Nice job. Do you think they suspected anything?” she asked as he shrugged out of the jacket, stuffing it into a plastic bag. He sighed and popped out Artie’s stained veneers.
“I don’t think so. They were too focused on the deal to pay attention to a crazy homeless guy. Like usual,” he replied, running his hand through his hair with a grimace.
He glanced out the passenger window, mind wandering as Kensi called Fatima with an update. She asked a question‒he could tell by the rise and fall of her voice‒and he responded automatically, eyes focused on the buildings rushing past.
“Great. I’m thinking of quitting NCIS and becoming a burlesque dancer.”
“Mm,” Deeks muttered, a finger pressed to his lips.
“Alright, babe, what is going on?” Kensi demanded, abruptly pulling to a stop. Deeks turned to face her, surprised by the concern he saw in her eyes. “You’ve been acting broody since we left the mission. Are you still annoyed that Callen made you go undercover as Artie?”
“Kensi, I told you it’s nothing. Can you just leave it alone?” He had a building headache, desperately wanted a shower, and didn’t feel like talking, no matter how well she meant it.
“Deeks, we promised to be honest with each other and if this is something that’s going to affect you in the field‒”
“I’m just tired of the jokes,” he cut in sharply, rubbing his closed eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
“What jokes?” Kensi asked, sounding confused.
“The ones that have been floating around since I returned from FLETC. Look, I know that I’m not the same as anyone else on the team, but it would be nice if you didn’t rub it in my face every damn day.” He glanced down at his hands, afraid that he would see confirmation in Kensi’s eyes.
“Deeks, we don’t think less of you.”
He huffed out a laugh, pure bitterness in the sound.
“Then why does everyone find the idea of me being an investigator so amusing?” he asked, finally glancing at her. Kensi’s eyes were wide with apparent shock and she shifted uncomfortably. “You guys take every opportunity there is to throw my failure in my face.”
“That is not true,” Kensi said firmly, earnestly. He could tell she really believed it. Which somehow made it even worse.
“Kensi, I’ve always been different than the rest of you. And I recognize that I still might not be on the same level, but I’d like to think that I’m capable of more than this.” Lifting a hand, he gestured to the dirty coat and hat.
“You are. We rely on you every single day.”
“We both know that’s not true,” Deeks said, giving Kensi a dejected smile. “I thought that might change with FLETC but it turns out that I couldn’t even do that right. I knew that as soon as I saw I didn’t merit a fancy Special Agent badge. Which, is fine, you know ‘cause I did screw up at FLETC.” He paused to swallow, regret entering his voice. “I made mistakes.”
“Deeks, I don’t know why the academy decided to give you a different designation, but I know for certain that it wasn’t a reflection of your skills.” Kensi took his hand, forcing him to look her in the eye. “You are great at what you do. One of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and if I haven’t made that clear, I’m sorry.”
“You’re seriously telling me that you never think about it?” he asked softly. Kensi started to frown in confusion, so he clarified. “When everyone is making those jokes, you don’t instinctively think that I’m not quite as good? That you have to make up for my deficits in some way.”
“No,” Kensi said immediately, defensively. “Never.” She started to speak, cut herself off, and then offered, “I can talk to Callen and Sam. You know they don’t mean anything by it. It’s just the way we’ve always done things.”
He shook his head, imagining his teammates’ expressions if Kensi mentioned his insecurities.
“We should get back to the mission.”
“This isn’t the kind of case we can screw up,” he added, ignoring Kensi’s eyes again. She watched him for several seconds before starting the SUV and pulling back onto the street. They drove in silence for several minutes.
“I meant what I said,” she said quietly. “You are one of the best, otherwise you wouldn’t be on the team. It doesn’t matter what title you have or what anyone else says.”
At one point, Deeks might have believed her. Now, he wasn’t confident in anything. His role, his skills, his future. It was all gone.
Editor’s Note: In honor of Homeless Deeks’ appearance, we’re making another $150 contribution to Pets of the Homeless, a great charity that provides food and veterinary care to the animals that sometimes provide a homeless person’s one source of love and companionship. It brings the total we’ve raised to date to $4680. Our latest donations have been made and we invite you, if you’re able, to join us in supporting this wonderful cause.