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Lost and Found

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Deeks was very seriously contemplating the six-pack of beer in his refrigerator and all the enticing numbness it could provide when his cell phone rang, the sound piercing the lonely silence of his apartment. Closing the refrigerator with a regretful sigh, Deeks went to pick up the phone, wanting to ignore it and the world at large. But there were phone calls from a few people, an important select few, that he couldn’t ignore.

Frowning at the number, which he recognized from the area code as coming from somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, he considered letting it roll over to voice mail. It had been a bad couple of days. Today especially. If he couldn’t be wallowing in misery drowning beers with Kensi then he just wanted to be left alone. And Kensi had made is abundantly clear she didn’t want company. Her quickly retreating figure from the funeral and her steady refusal to answer his calls and texts had given him all the answer he needed.

Leave me alone.

And he got it. Really. The last week had been the hardest he could remember in a long time. Maybe not the hardest physically, though almost getting blown up in that warehouse fire was right up there. He had the bruises and still healing gash on his arm to remind him how close he, Sam, and Kensi had come to joining Hunter and Renko.

Deeks gritted his teeth, thinking of their lost comrades. He hadn’t particularly cared for Hunter. She’d separated him from Kensi and had manipulated the team for her own means. In hindsight they’d all come to understand why she’d done it. But her methods had been calculating and without acknowledgement of the bonds the team had. They could have been an asset to her but instead she’d considered them a liability that needed to be handled.

Renko was a different story altogether. Deeks had known the agent only casually. But he’d gathered enough to know that in some ways Renko had been like his equivalent at NCIS. He often worked alone and deeply undercover for months on end. Deeks knew what that was like. He’d spent a great deal of his years before NCIS living that life. He knew how hard it was, even though while you were doing it that kind of life was easy to accept as normal even as it wore you down.

And Deeks had seen how Renko’s death especially had hit Kensi hard. She’d been right there when he was shot. Deeks had been a distance away, had seen Kensi’s lilting smile as she’d talked with Renko. He’d been a little jealous of Renko in that moment, had been curious about their history and what made the smile come so easily to her as she talked with him.

Any curious or jealous thoughts had disappeared in the aftermath of the shooting. Although she’d been almost frantic in her cries for help and her attempts to stop the flow of blood from Renko’s cheek, in the ride to the hospital she’d quickly bottled up her emotions. Kensi’s reaction had been to close herself off, the only indication of her distress her absolute insistence that she stay with Renko in the hospital.

After Renko died Deeks thought he might have managed to put a crack in Kensi’s defenses. But at the funeral this afternoon she’d been impossible to reach.

Not at first. At first he’d been allowed to come up next to her, allowed to brush his arm against hers, allowed the back of his hand to touch hers. And for a brief few moments during the funeral Kensi’s hand had turned and her fingers had found his, locking and gripping so tight that his eyes had watered. But he’d held on, held fast, and refused to let go.

Until she did. Towards the end of the funeral, as the casket was lowered into the ground, Kensi had ripped her hand from his and turned and run. They’d been standing towards the back of the crowd of mourners so she’d been able to slip away without notice from anyone but the NCIS team. Which had been missing a few key members with both Callen and Hetty absent.

Deeks had looked at Sam briefly, taking in the quick affirmative nod from the man, and he’d taken off after Kensi. But she’d run fast and had clearly strategically parked for a quick getaway. Even calling her name she hadn’t stopped for him and Deeks had been forced to watch her drive away, his frustration at her reaction mounting.

She’d disappeared the rest of the afternoon. Granted, there hadn’t been much to stick around for. The NCIS team hadn’t attended the reception after the funeral. Too many questions from close family and friends of Renko’s that they didn’t want to and couldn’t answer. Finding a quiet corner at a bar, Deeks, Sam, Eric, and Nell had quietly drunk away the afternoon, trying not to think about the daunting problems they were all facing.

Two agents lost. Callen imprisoned, no visitors allowed. Hetty resigned. Granger in charge. Their team was fractured and felt as thought it had been scattered to the winds and Deeks had watched as Sam did his best to fill the leadership void left behind with Callen and Hetty gone. And in that afternoon, watching as Eric struggled to keep it together and as Nell silently worried over Callen, Deeks had felt a spark of anger towards Kensi.

Where was she when her team needed her? She and Nell were something close to friends. Eric and Sam were watching out for Nell, but even Deeks knew female friendship often trumped that overly protective instinct men had. And Eric and Sam didn’t perhaps need Kensi to be there but it felt a little like abandonment that she wasn’t.

And he couldn’t deny he felt adrift without Kensi there. Partly, he wished she were there because he’d come to rely on her presence, the strength and stubbornness of her that she carried in her posture and every move she made. And selfishly he wanted her there because he needed to know she was okay. And the fact that she wasn’t, and that she was avoiding him, told him everything he needed to know. She wasn’t okay, but she didn’t want his help.

Curiosity getting the better of him, Deeks answered the call. “Detective Marty Deeks.”

“Detective, this is Julia Feldman. Kensi’s mom.”

Decidedly shocked, Deeks struggled to respond. Of all the people he’d expected to be on the other side of the phone call, Kensi’s mother had been decidedly low on his list.

“Mrs. Feldman. What can I do for you?” Deeks finally managed to say.

“I’m worried about Kensi. She showed up here a few hours ago, clearly upset. She wouldn’t talk about whatever was bothering her. All she wanted to talk about was her father and what happened after he died,” Julia’s voice quieted almost to a murmur, the emotions of almost fifteen years ago rising to the surface. “I’m not proud of what I did after Kensi’s father died, but I had to be honest with her. And I think I just ended up hurting her more.”

Confused, Deeks interrupted Julia. “I’m sorry, I’m not following.”

“I’m sorry, Detective, I thought you knew,” Julia replied, taking a deep breath before she continued. “After Don died, Kensi went to stay with some friends of her father’s until she turned eighteen and went to college. They were wonderful people, the best family she could have asked for. I could have come for her but I chose to stay away. I knew she would just be angry with me and what she thought I’d done. And she’d already lost so much. I didn’t want her to lose the memory of her father, too.”

Realization flashed uncomfortably through Deeks at Julia’s words. He wondered why he hadn’t made the connection before. Kensi had been only fifteen when her father died. She’d parted from her mother on bad terms, believing Julia had left her father for another man. And Julia had stayed away to preserve Kensi’s memory of her father. But it had only further solidified the feelings of resentment Kensi had towards her mother.

He made the easy leap to the conclusion Kensi had undoubtedly made in the last few months since finding out the truth about why Julia had left Kensi’s father. Julia hadn’t stayed away because of a new family or other demands. She’d stayed away because she wanted to. To Kensi, having lived a life since she was fifteen in which she’d been left behind by nearly everyone she cared about, it had to smack of yet another abandonment.

And although Kensi had been somewhat tightlipped about her newly forming relationship with her mother, Deeks had noticed she seemed a little happier, a little more complete and a little more optimistic since she’d reconnected with Julia. But it bore all the signs of a tenuous relationship, fragile and easily broken. Deeks had worried that it wouldn’t take much for Kensi to close herself off and he had a feeling that this latest realization, coupled with the losses of the last few days, might have been the last straw.

“I see. So what happened this afternoon?” Deeks finally asked.

“We talked a little. Kensi seemed to grow more and more agitated. I got up to get us some drinks from the kitchen and when I came back she was gone. She won’t answer my calls. I know she’s angry with me and has every right to be, but I’m worried about her,” Julia said, her voice filling with sincere concern Deeks couldn’t help but be sympathetic of.

Even though he easily understood what had Kensi angry, it was impossible to ignore that Julia was regretful and she was trying with her daughter. But even Deeks could admit that as amazing and complicated a woman as Kensi was, she sometimes made herself purposefully hard to care for. A person had to be tenacious and willing to put up with a fair amount of resistance when it came to breaking through Kensi’s defenses. He’d long ago concluded they were very strategic defenses, prickly and difficult, designed to protect herself and keep away anyone who might hurt her. Only the very determined could possibly make an attempt to reach her.

It was a good thing that when it came to Kensi he was doggedly persistent. Even when she didn’t want him to be. Especially when she didn’t want him to be.

Knowing he’d reached the point where passively allowing Kensi to keep him away was no longer an option he could go along with, Deeks immediately headed for his bedroom, pulling on jeans over his boxers.

“Thanks for calling me, Mrs. Feldman. I’ll find Kensi.”

Julia’s relieved sigh filled his ear. “Thank you, Detective. I had a feeling you’d know what to do. Please take care of her.”

“Always,” Deeks replied, the response instant and sure. He might spend the rest of his life proving it to Kensi, but he would never abandon her. He couldn’t imagine it, even if Kensi felt it was as eventually inevitable that he would do the same as every other person who disappointed her.

Hanging up with Julia and promising to contact her when he found Kensi, Deeks left his apartment and began the search for his partner. He tried all the usual haunts. His favorite bar, her favorite bar. The cupcake shop that had the raspberry lemonade cupcakes she loved. Finding the shop about to close, Deeks bought a cupcake for Kensi, settling it on the dashboard of his car so he could give it to her when he found her.

A few hours later he still came up empty. She wasn’t at her apartment. He’d tried the beach. The coffee shop Kensi liked. He’d even ventured back to the cemetery and Renko’s grave, finding the abundance of flowers overwhelming in a way that brought a hard lump to throat. Night was beginning to settle over Los Angeles and Deeks couldn’t deny he was starting to get worried.

Finally giving in, Deeks pulled out his phone and called in the cavalry. Even from home Eric was able remotely access the NCIS tracking software and he easily pinpointed Kensi’s location in seconds. And Deeks wanted to smack his own forehead for not thinking of it sooner.

Arriving at OSP, he parked next to Kensi’s car, getting out and feeling the hood. The metal was cool beneath his touch, indicating Kensi had been there quite awhile. Deeks entered the quiet building, trying not to shiver at the lonely silence. He’d rarely been there when it wasn’t bustling with life, the hint of danger, stress mixed with a little desperation, or a tinge of playfulness and humor. It was a place almost like a home, certainly one of the few homes he’d ever really known. And it reflected the people who spent time there, which was why the echoing silence was uncomfortable.

Deeks made a quick sweep of OSP, checking the locker rooms, the gym, the gun range, and the bullpen. He frowned, knowing Eric had zeroed in on Kensi’s phone. She was there somewhere. Or at least her phone was.

He stood near Hetty’s desk, trying not to look at her empty desk and the walls and shelves achingly vacant of her photographs and the various mementos of her life that had become part of the very physical fabric of the office, when he heard the barely audible sound of heavy glass sliding across stone.

Following the sound easily, Deeks took the stairs to the second floor two at a time, turning towards the corner of the building and finally finding his partner. He sent Julia a quick text to assure her that Kensi was fine, knowing it wouldn’t be enough for a worried mother, but had to suffice for now. Kensi was his main concern at the moment.

She was practically the physical description of a hot mess and if Deeks hadn’t been so concerned he might have made a crack about it. Or at least smiled to himself.

Kensi sat on the ledge of one of the large, arched windows. She had an open bottle of scotch in her hand, half of the honey colored liquid already gone. One leg swung loosely over the ledge, the other leg rested on the ledge and was bent so she could rest her forehead against her knee. She was wearing her workout clothes, skintight black leggings and a tank top that did everything to show off her gorgeous curves.

Her hair was piled in a tangled knot on top of her head, the loose strands sticking to her sweaty neck telling him she’d worked herself hard. As she lifted the bottle, taking a long swig of scotch, Deeks watched her throat heartily swallow the liquid. His eyes drifted to her hands as she wiped her mouth. One hand was still covered in tape but the other bore the beginning signs of angry bruises from a punishing beating. Deeks wasn’t sure if she’d been trying to punish the bag or herself. Either way, it had to hurt.

Deeks ambled over, making enough noise as he shuffled his feet so she knew he was coming. Kensi looked up with a wary eye, her expression seeming to lighten just a little before she scowled at him. It didn’t dissuade him as he settled down on the ground below Kensi, bending his knees to rest his forearms on them. Kensi was in his peripheral vision and he kept his gaze fixed straight ahead, leaning his head back against the wall.

He sensed that Kensi was waiting for him to speak. So for once he did the opposite of what she expected. He stayed silent, letting the minutes pass and the night settle over the building. He watched as the shadows lengthened and disappeared into night, the only light coming in through the windows and skylights. He sensed more than saw as Kensi took the occasional drink from the bottle. And he let time pass, let Kensi grow used to him being there, let her understand that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Any angry indignation she might have felt as his presence, any rejection she might have snapped at him when she’d so clearly been silently telling him to leave her alone all afternoon faded haltingly away to acceptance at him being there.

Kensi took the first hesitant step when she reached out and rested the bottle of scotch over his shoulder and on his chest, releasing it when he took it from her grasp. He took a long drag from the bottle, lifting it back up for her to take. Kensi took it back but didn’t drink, her heavy sigh pulling his attention. Deeks turned his head to look at Kensi straight on, surprised to see the bright sheen of unshed tears in her eyes.

She was clearly more than a little drunk. And he’d become used to, even fond, of an inebriated Kensi Blye. She was usually a little looser, more prone to laughter, more likely to flirt, and her inhibitions when it came to touching were nearly nonexistent. He’d become used to, even proud, of the fact that sober Kensi was more hands on and touchy with him that he’d seen her be with anyone else. But a drunk Kensi seemed to just magnify that trait. It wasn’t something he would ever point out to her. He enjoyed it too much.

He’d also been with Kensi when she was drunk and angry. Many a time after a bad day or a bad case, or after an op gone wrong they’d wallowed in their individual or shared dissatisfaction. But even angry drunk there was a fire to her, an undeniable shock of refusal to let the unfairness of the world win.

This version of drunk Kensi wasn’t one he was familiar with. She was almost dejected, despair radiating from her even while she seemed to want to fight a losing battle and ward it off. And even though she’d drunk more than two thirds of the bottle and had probably started off dehydrated from her workout, her gaze was steady and she didn’t sway at all. If he hadn’t know better he would have said she was stone cold sober.

“It’s like I can’t even get drunk. I keep trying but all this does is seem to make everything clearer in a way I don’t want things to be,” Kensi said, as if hearing his thoughts.

Deeks tried to choose his words carefully, knowing that there was a good chance something he said could set her off. And he didn’t want to chase her further down the dark hole she seemed to be descending.

“Kensi, you know that we’ll figure all this out, right? Sam hasn’t given up. Eric and Nell are trying to find answers. Hetty and Callen—“

“Don’t try to give me that ‘Everything is going to be fine’ bullshit, Deeks,” Kensi said angrily, swinging her hand around to indicate the building. “Callen is gone. Arrested and we can’t even get in to see him or try to understand what’s going on and what he did. Hetty quit and no one can find her. She left us, she left Callen. Granger and Vance have plans that none of us have any control over. Hunter is dead. Renko is dead—“

Kensi’s voice cracked at the end of her angry tirade and she breathed deeply, clearly trying to rein in her emotions. Deeks let her pull herself together, let her take another drink from the bottle even as he deeply wanted to tell her the alcohol wouldn’t work, wouldn’t provide her the solace she was desperately searching for.

When Kensi finally spoke again her voice was quiet and contemplative. “Did you see his daughter at the funeral?”

Surprised, Deeks stared at Kensi. “Renko had a daughter? I didn’t know.”

Kensi nodded. “She’s only fourteen. Apparently she was something of a surprise to Renko and a girlfriend when he was twenty. They weren’t together long after Katie was born, but he spent as much time with her as his job allowed. He adored her.”

Deeks thought back to the funeral, tried to remember the many faces of the mourners. He wished he could recall seeing a young girl, Renko’s daughter, but he couldn’t. He’d been entirely focused on Kensi’s hand, tightly gripping his.

“And she has no idea what he did. The brave man he was, the sacrifices he made for his country. Why he really died,” Kensi continued, angry loss filling her voice. And Deeks knew it wasn’t just Katie Renko that Kensi was hurting for. She could have just as easily been describing herself. Or at least the person she’d been for almost fifteen years, fighting to find out the truth about her father. Nobody but Kensi knew the burden of not knowing, of constantly wondering and feeling the weight of unexplained loss.

“But it sounds like she knew her father, knew that he loved her. If he spent so much time with her she had to know. And that’s something,” Deeks said softly. Kensi shook her head in refusal.

“But she’s never going to know everything. She thinks he died from a random carjacking. She thinks he was a real estate agent. How is that fair?” Kensi asked, looking at Deeks, her dark eyes filled with a desperate need for answers.

Deeks tried not to be overwhelmed by the ferocity of her need. He wanted to tell her he didn’t have the answers, he wasn’t that guy. He wanted to be there for her but he couldn’t change the past, couldn’t make it better for her.

Deeks felt a brief flicker of a wish for escape. Having people depend on you made you responsible. Most of his life nobody had really depended on him. It hadn’t been a bad way to live. In moments like these, with Kensi looking to him for answers he couldn’t give her, he wondered if that hadn’t been an easier life.

But then he remembered her hand in his, the tightening of her fingers around his hand, and he knew it hadn’t been a better life. Easier wasn’t better. Better meant Kensi needing him. Better meant he had a hand to hold, that she had his hand to hold. Better meant caring for someone, taking care of someone. And when you took care of someone you became attached to them.

And really, there was no way to deny he was attached to Kensi. There was attachment in ways and on levels that he didn’t even fully understand. There were aspects to his attachment to her he wasn’t comfortable thinking about. There was so much they hadn’t said even though they’d proven the strength their connection time and again.

He didn’t have all the answers. He couldn’t give Kensi the peace she was looking for. Not about Katie Renko’s loss, not about Callen locked away and out of their reach, and not about Hetty’s departure. But he thought he could give her some safety in knowing she wouldn’t have to face the future alone.

“It isn’t fair. Nothing you or I can say makes it fair. But Renko made his choices. He was a damn good agent, and it was probably in part because he believed what he was doing made the world safer for his daughter. It doesn’t make it alright for her future, but nothing is going to do that,” Deeks said, staring into Kensi’s eyes as he spoke. He told her the truth that she feared and maybe didn’t want to hear. But he saw that she was listening, probably because he didn’t try to bolster her with false optimism.

Taking his life into his hands, Deeks took a deep breath and steered the conversation towards the outer edge of what she’d hinted at before, at the heartbreaking similarities she’d obviously drawn between what Katie Renko had lost and what Kensi had lost at fifteen.

“Kens, why did you just leave your mom like that? You really worried her.”

Kensi’s chin lifted in angry defiance and her eyes flashed. “How do you know that? Did she call you?”

Her voice was incredulous and, Deeks thought, also laced with a little embarrassment. With a wide grin he offered up humor for her to latch onto.

“She did. She wanted me to see if I could find you. Or maybe she has a crush on me. She’s definitely got that cougar thing going on—“

“Oh my God, no Deeks, stop. Or I’m going to throw up all over you.”

“Somehow I don’t think you can blame me for feeling sick. You have drunk more than half that bottle of scotch. And that’s pretty impressive considering what a lightweight you are.”

“I’m not a lightweight!”

“Are you kidding? Two beers and you’re practically dancing on the table. A couple margaritas and I have to drive you home and pour you into bed. I won’t even mention that time we did shots at Alley Katz.”

“Except you just did.” Kensi said dryly, to which Deeks just offered up an innocent smile. Kensi chuckled a little, willing to allow his teasing and he thought, if the brightness in her eyes was any indication, maybe even willing to allow herself to appreciate it a little.

Thinking about the worried tone in Julia’s voice, Deeks couldn’t let it go altogether. He reached up, tugged on the shoelace of her shoe where her foot still swung freely, and waited for her to turn her attention back to him.

“Seriously, though, Kens. I’d be freaking out if you just took off like that on me. You can’t just run out and disappear on your mom. You can’t do that to people who care about you,” Deeks said quietly, gently chiding her.

“But I did do that to you, Deeks. I left you at the funeral, ignored all your calls, let you wonder, let you worry,” Kensi said bluntly, her voice wavering a little on the word worry. They might blatantly show how much their concern for each other was their driving force when one of their lives was on the line, but they didn’t actually talk about it, didn’t allow the emotions to form into words that could become declarations that once said could never be taken back.

“Doesn’t that bother you? That I just pushed you aside. Don’t you think you deserve more than that? More than me?” Kensi asked, her voice rising in anger and accusation. Deeks looked Kensi over carefully, hearing the undercurrent present in her desperate words. She seemed bound and determined to scare him away.

“Do you think I deserve more than that?” Deeks asked softly, slowly getting to his feet and sitting next to her on the window ledge. She shifted uncomfortably, the ledge a little narrow for both of them. And he tried to ignore how she seemed to shy away from him, seemed to not want him close.

“More than me? Yes, I think you do,” Kensi replied, the firmness in her tone breaking his heart a little. He hated the idea that Kensi thought so lowly of herself, even if it was probably a culmination of the last week, the funeral, and more than her fair share of scotch. Her confidence was normally one of the unfailing parts of her that could never seem to be tempered.

Acting on instinct alone, Deeks reached for the bottle in Kensi’s hand, easily taking it from her loose fingers and leaning over to set in on the ground at his feet. And as he straightened up he circled her wrist with his hand, passing his fingers over the sensitive pulse point of her wrist and turning his palm towards hers and easily lacing his fingers with hers. He brushed the tips of his fingers against the back of her hand, taking note of the quick and barely noticeable shiver that shook her for a brief second.

“Well, how about you let me be the judge of what I deserve, okay? There’s nowhere I’d rather be, no job I’d rather do, and nobody I’d rather spend most of my days with,” Deeks said, keeping his gaze steady on hers and his voice strong.

Kensi had a tendency to disbelieve anything in life that suggested the deeper connections between people in relationships. But he’d seen glimpses of how she wanted to believe. And belief was like faith. Sometimes you had it and sometimes you didn’t. And sometimes you needed a little proof to help you along.

“I’m here, Kensi. Whether you want me here or not. I’m not going anywhere. And the fact that you represent the longest female relationship I’ve had with anyone, except my mother, ought to count for some kind of proof,” Deeks said dryly. Kensi finally smiled and Deeks watcher her warily. “What?”

“Did you say ‘relationship’?” Kensi teased. Deeks rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, okay, I did. Don’t try to change the subject, Blye. We were talking about your mother. What’s going on there? I thought you two were working through your issues,” Deeks said. Kensi looked away from him and down at their joined hands, seeming to contemplate pulling her hand away. To dissuade her, Deeks tightened his hold briefly, then allowed a light and warm caress over the soft skin of the back of her hand. To his delight and surprise instead of pulling away Kensi brought her other hand around, laying it on top of his, effectively surrounding his hand between hers.

“We are. We were. Seeing Katie at the funeral, it just reminded me of what happened when I was fifteen. And I remember feeling so lost and alone in the world. My dad’s friend and his family were wonderful people. But my father was everything to me. I didn’t even really think about my mom at the time, I was still so mad for what I thought she’d done years before,” Kensi said, drifting into the silence of her own thoughts for a minute. When she spoke again her voice was firm in a way that told him she was struggling to keep her emotions in check.

“But then it occurred to me that from her point of view my father was dead. She didn’t have to keep the secrets of their breakup secret any longer. She didn’t have to stay away from me. She could have explained. She could have come for me,” Kensi said angrily, her voice giving way to almost fifteen years of feeling alone. “But she didn’t try to explain. She kept her distance.”

When Deeks ducked his head so he could see Kensi’s downturned face he saw the tears tracking down her face. He silently reached out, gently swiping them away and making no comment on what she would undoubtedly think of was a weakness that she hated him seeing.

“I even get why she stayed away. She didn’t want to tarnish the memory of my father. But even then, even back when I was fifteen and I missed him so much it physically ached, I still wanted the truth. And I needed my mother. But she couldn’t be bothered to deal with my anger. I wasn’t even important enough for her to try.”

Kensi’s words rushed out and she angrily wiped at her eyes, straightening her spine and seeming to refuse to allow the surge of emotions that brought on her tears. She sucked in a deep and wavering breath, her gulp of air turning to another, then another, as she couldn’t seem to stop. Her grip on his hand tightened to pain that nearly made his eyes cross but Deeks could see Kensi was on the verge of a breakdown she neither wanted nor knew how to physically handle.

Releasing her hand, Deeks did the only thing he could think of. He pulled Kensi close, circling his arms around her shoulders and back, bodily lifting her into his lap and pinning her against his chest. He wasn’t sure what he expected, maybe a shove of indignation, but when Kensi’s hands snuck up between their bodies, gripping his shirt tightly in her grasp, and then her arms lifted to go around his neck, her nose burrowing to press against his neck, he realized with his pounding heart that that hadn’t been what he expected.

She wasn’t crying, just breathing deeply, lungs heaving and her breasts rising and falling against his chest, her hot exhalations against his neck almost making him shiver at the closeness and the contact. But she held on as if he were her lifeline, her connection to safety, and the very thing she needed in order to keep breathing. And he held on just as tightly, knowing without a doubt how essential she was to him, how attached he was to her. Even if he hadn’t suspected before, he knew now.

Kensi’s breaths finally evened out and Deeks ran soothing hands up and down her back, murmuring quietly in her ear. “Your mom made mistakes. She knows that. And she’s probably never going to forgive herself for what she did to you. But you can choose to help her with that. Maybe you could try and forgive her?”

Kensi was quiet and Deeks smiled, practically hearing the gears in her head turning from where his ear was pressed against her temple.

“Not all in one day and I’m sure it will take time, but maybe try. I think you need it almost as much as she does. And give her a chance to prove you wrong, to prove she’s there for you. People will surprise you sometimes,” Deeks said, fervently wishing he could give Kensi some optimistic hope, but knowing her couldn’t give her false hope.

Kensi nodded, the movement causing her lips to graze against the side of his neck. Deeks stayed very still, feeling his heart pound as Kensi slowly pulled back, seemingly realizing how intimately pressed against him she was. But she stayed in his lap and he let one hand fall to her forearm, squeezing warmly before he took her hand back in his.

“You surprise me all the time,” Kensi said softly, her eyes fixed away from him, back on their joined hands. He reveled in the words, heard them for what they actually meant. She believed in him, had faith in him. Nothing could have made him feel stronger or stand taller.

“I have another surprise for you,” Deeks replied, reaching up to push a loose strand of her hair behind her ear. At Kensi’s curious look, he smiled softly. “When I was looking for you I went to all the places I thought you might be. One of those was that little cupcake shop in Santa Monica you’re addicted to. They were just closing up when I got there but I did pick something up for you.”

Kensi’s eyes lit with anticipation and she scrambled from his lap, the scotch on the floor forgotten. And she surprised him once again when she turned back to grab his arm to yank him towards the stairs, her grip surprisingly strong and her stride steady considering the amount of alcohol in her system.

“You brought me a raspberry lemonade cupcake and that wasn’t the first thing you told me?” Kensi said, shaking her head in disappointment. Deeks laughed, happy to have a little of the playful Kensi he recognized back. And all it had cost him was $2.75 for the cupcake.

Deeks followed Kensi from Ops after she grabbed her bag and they walked to his car, where Kensi nearly bounced on her feet as she spotted the cupcake on his dashboard. He opened the door and leaned in, then straightened up to offer her the yellow and pink confection, which she quickly grabbed, her index finger swiping some of the sprinkles and frosting directly into her mouth. He watched her eat, enjoying her murmurs of delight, glad he could bring her a small bit of joy. Even if it came from sugar and a thousand calories.

Halfway through her cupcake, Kensi paused, glancing back at the entrance to Ops, then swiveling her gaze back to him. Her eyes had filled again with sober concern, with the weight of what they were facing in the aftermath of Hunter and Renko’s deaths, Callen’s arrest, and Hetty’s resignation.

“We have to figure out what to do. How to help Callen. How to bring him back. And how to make Granger answer for what he did and whatever part he played,” Kensi said, her voice both a statement of her intentions and an uncertain question to him. Her journey was set, her determination solid. But she was asking him if he wanted in on it, wanted to follow her down the same path.

Deeks resisted the urge to smile at the hesitation in her voice. His path had long been planned and plotted. Where Kensi went, he went.

“And we will. I don’t know how, but we will.”

Watching Kensi as he spoke, he saw the hint of belief in her eyes, the strength of faith that he’d never seen before plain in her steady gaze on him. And for once she didn’t question, didn’t expect to know the plan all the way to its endgame. She just trusted that they would get there, one way or another, together.

He didn’t take that trust lightly. And he knew that he do everything he could, would fight for everything in him to be worthy of her belief.

There really was no other option when you were in as deep as he was. Always and forever.

END