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Dead, But Not Forgotten

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She fucked up. She fucked up bad.

She’d fucked up before, of course; God, her entire life was a series of stupid decisions, rash promises and complete and total, catastrophic screw-ups.

But this was far worse than mouthing off at her dad when she knew that his belt got loose quicker than his temper did. And it wasn’t nothing on the time when Jimmy Barnes had told her he had all the answers for the math test she was destined to fail, and he’d give them to her if she’d give him…something else. Which she had, only to find out the dumbass had stolen the answers to last semester’s test and now she had an F in math and a suspicious rash.

Weirdly enough, the best decision she had ever made was to join up; the recruiter in the mall had spotted her staring longingly at the windows of stores she could never afford to go in, and had started talking to her. He’d told her about the ways she’d better herself in the Marines, about the family she’d make for herself there. He told her about organisation, and routine. That had sounded good to her; Mom had disappeared years ago with the car and the family savings, leaving an angry alcoholic husband and four kids behind. She’d been the youngest, and the one that bore the brunt of living with a man who thought a punch to the face was appropriate discipline for a teenage daughter who stayed out beyond her curfew.

It had been hard, at first; boot camp was no fucking joke. But she was used to following orders, and this time she’d been praised for it, not sneered at by a fat man in a stained shirt who saw her as a combination housekeeper and punch bag. She’d never been the brightest, but hell, she was never going to be officer material anyway. She tried her hardest during basic training, listened to her instructors and worked her ass off. When she finished basic she was assigned to the Base Finance Office as Marine Base Quantico, which would have astonished her old math teacher. She handled the office admin and logged the cash that was delivered in and out of the base.

And for the first time in a long time, she was happy.

When she met Eddie, she honestly thought her life couldn’t get any better. PFC Edward Brown, tall, dark and if not handsome, exactly, then certainly interesting to look at, crashed into her one morning in the mess hall, sending her tray flying. When the usual jeers and catcalls started, he had apologised profusely, handed her his own tray and cleaned the mess up. When the senior officer in the room wanted to know what had happened, he took the blame and the punishment without blinking an eye.

She’d seen him later that day in the MCX when she went to pick up shampoo and toothpaste. He came over to her specially to apologise again, and she got lost in his dark eyes. Then she kept running into him on base until she joked that he was stalking her; he grinned and admitted that he was. Every time he meant to ask her to the movies on their next liberty weekend, but he kept chickening out. She’d been amazed that anyone had been nervous of asking her out, and told him so. They’d gone out that following Saturday night, and the seven weekends following. They’d had to be sneaky, because of the fraternization rules, but they’d managed it.

He treated her so well; she’d half expected an arm to drape over her shoulders in the movie theatre, a hand to fall across her breast like previous boyfriends had. But he’d been a gentleman the entire time, not even holding her hand. He opened doors for her and treated her like a real lady, nicer than anyone had before. She was so in love it was unreal, and he said he felt the same way. When they finally had sex, weeks later, in a little motel an hour away from base, it was the best she’d ever had. Nobody had ever taken the time to find out what she liked before, but Eddie did. If she’d thought she’d been in love before, it was nothing like she felt now.

Suddenly life on base was far more restricting than it had ever been before. She resented the fraternization rules that forbade her to sit with him at meals or even peck him on the cheek in greeting. Enforced celibacy made their weekends together all the more special. They’d been lying there in the afterglow one day when she first said how she wished they could be together properly. He said nothing for a while, played with her hair a little, then told her he had an idea about that, but he’d need her help.

Nobody had ever needed her before.

So, because of her, seven million, two hundred thousand and ninety eight dollars had been stolen from the supposedly secure finance office at the base in Quantico. Two Marines had been killed during the robbery, and from what her JAG lawyer had told her, the two others that had been with Eddie were dead too.

It hadn’t supposed to be that way, she told herself stubbornly. It was only supposed to be a few thousand, enough to get them to the border and set up in Mexico, that’s what he’s said. It wasn’t Eddie’s fault the plan had gone wrong. One of the others, the big guy with the shaved head, he’d probably forced Eddie to go all out, grab all the cash.

She wasn’t sorry he was dead, the guy with the shaved head. He’d looked at her with contempt in his eyes as she’d inputted the code that opened the safe, and barged past her, sending her slamming into the wall.

Asshole.

She hoped it was a stomach wound. One of her bunkmates back in boot camp had told her that was the worst place to get shot, because you took longer to die, and it hurt more.

They’d split up, not long after they left Quantico. She’d held her breath the entire time the guards on the exit checked their clearance and orders, but the other guy, the skinny one that worked in the Base Commander’s office, must have come through. They’d been allowed out without a hitch.

Eddie had warned her about having to split up. They’d be looking for three men and a woman, so they’d have to travel separately down to Mexico. He’d been so kind to her. He’d planned out the route she’d take, and even downloaded bus timetables for her so she knew where she had to be and when. One of his guys from back home had made her a new passport with a fake name. He gave her a bundle of notes from the stash they’d loaded the van with, kissed her hard and promised to meet her in ten days in Tijuana.

But because she was a fuck-up, she’d never made it there. She’d got close; California was just one state away from the border. But despite all the plans and everything she had done to change her appearance, she’d been made by an off-duty MP at a bus station while she waited for a connection to San Diego.

Now she was in the brig at Pendleton, waiting for her court-martial. Her JAG lawyer had warned her that things didn’t look good. She was guaranteed to be sent to Lejeune, where all the female detainees in the US military went. She’d been offered a deal; spill her guts about Eddie and get a reduced sentence, but she’d refused. Eddie would never rat her out, so she wouldn’t do it to him. She loved him, and he loved her.

Some things went deeper than yourself. Semper Fi, that was the motto. There hadn’t been much love around for her growing up, not until she met Eddie at Quantico. He had treated her so nice, so gentle. He hadn’t been like all the guys back home.

So she had kept her promise and kept her mouth shut. When she found out he had been captured long before she had, just a day and a half after the robbery, she’d wanted to scream and wail. All those days she’d spent holed up in crappy motels as she’d slunk across the country on night buses, and he’d already been rounded up by NCIS, locked in the brig back in Quantico.

But then he’d escaped again. That’s why her JAG lawyer was so desperate to get her to talk now. On the way to Fort Leavenworth his transport had skidded off the road. Black ice had caused the transport to tip, and he’d killed the guard and escaped.

Somewhere out there her man was healthy and safe, and sitting on their future nest-egg. She may well be sitting on her ass in Lejuene for the next seven to ten, but he’d be free. She knew where he was, too; one afternoon in one of those motels he’d told her about an old hunting cabin a neighbour of his kept up near Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. The neighbour was long dead, and nobody else knew he had the cabin. He didn’t say as much, but that’s where he’d be, out in the forest surrounding the mountain, safe and out of sight. She just knew it.

So, major league fuck-up as she may well be, there was no way she’d make the situation worse.

She was going to keep her mouth shut.

~~~~

Kensi woke up to the morning sunlight streaming relentlessly through blinds she had forgotten to close the night before. She hissed in pain and pulled herself back under the covers.

It had been so long since she’d had one, she’d forgotten what hangovers were like.

They’d finished a case – a big one, one that had solved the murder of a patrol of Marines, sealed up a major drug cartel’s access line over the border from Mexico and nailed nine heavy hitters on various charges including human trafficking and gun running. Director Vance had called to congratulate them personally, and had sanctioned a little after-hours celebration.

He probably hadn’t meant for them to go as crazy as they had, but when you told Henrietta Lang to throw a party, she threw a party. Kensi had no idea the club she had brought them to even existed, but on their entrance the staff couldn’t seem to do enough for them. Well, for Hetty, and by extension, them.

Memories flashed before her in disjointed snippets – had she really seen Sam get thrown around the dance floor by Hetty? And had Nell spent most of the evening perched on the knees of both Eric and Callen, flirting outrageously with both of them?

She groaned around the pounding in her head. Her mouth was dry and she felt like she’d been chewing on her pillow all night. She had started with champagne, but then Deeks had come back from the bar brandishing a bottle of Patron and a bowl of limes, and it had gone downhill from there.

Deeks. What few memories were coming through from last night were about him, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because she had found herself thinking of him more and more recently, and not just as her partner. They’d moved, with a few stumbles along the way, into the ‘friend’ category. She would walk Monty if he got called back to the LAPD Undercover Unit for a job, he gave her a hand picking up furniture from Ikea and getting it up the steps to her apartment . She kept quiet about the illicit surfing trips during slow days at work, he was developing a sixth sense about her junk food needs and kept a secret stash in his desk if she needed a quick fix.

That was all okay. You expected that level of friendship in a good partnership. That was why Callen and Sam worked as well as they did. But Kensi was pretty sure that Callen didn’t keep telling Sam how hot he looked when wearing evening wear on an op, and that Sam didn’t get mad when Callen flirted with other people directly in front of him.

At least, she really hoped they didn’t.

More memories came tumbling back from last night; why had nobody stepped on Nell when she grabbed the bottle of tequila and demanded they all do body shots? Why had nobody stopped Deeks when he sat back lazily in his seat, tugged at his shirt collar and exposed that length of tanned neck to her, grinning the whole time like he knew she wouldn’t do it? And good God, why had nobody taken her out with a tranq gun when she straddled - straddled - her partner, licked her way down the length of that neck, sprinkled the salt that someone had shoved into her hand, licked him again, oh God, then knocked back the shot he held in his hand? And seriously, what was her team thinking when they let Deeks just sit there with a lime slice between his teeth? Didn’t they know that was practically pornographic?

It was so not her fault.

Tequila was not her friend.

She remembered Sam grab a giggling Nell and perform the same action on her hand, turning the event into a courtly gesture. She remembered the terrified look on Eric’s face when Hetty had turned to him with an evil glint in her eye and a salt shaker in her hand. And she remembered the soft play of Deeks’ lips across her collarbone as he had taken his turn with her. His hair had smelled of the sea, salty and fresh, as it had gently tickled her neck, contrasting with the way his fingers had gripped her tightly around the waist to steady her as she had swayed, perched on his lap. He’d thrown the shot back so quickly she’d almost missed it, and then his lips were at hers, separated only by the lime wedge she held lightly with her teeth.

Kensi groaned at the memory. Sam had licked her hand, Callen the inside of her wrist. Eric had used her other hand. All innocent places, as body shots went. Why had Deeks licked his way delicately along the length of her collar bone? And when, incidentally, had that part of her body become an erogenous zone?

God, today was going to be mortifying. Not only was she going to have to try and shift her hangover as soon as possible, she was going to have to look her partner in the eye and pretend that none of last night happened.

She shut her eyes and rolled over, trying to find a cool pillow on the other side of the bed. What she found was a warm, masculine body.

She opened her eyes again, shocked, to see a very familiar blond head on her pillow, and a pair of bloodshot blue eyes stare at her uncomprehendingly.

“Am I dead?” he croaked. “Because I feel like I’m dead.”

“You’re not dead, Deeks,” she said, shutting her eyes again and wishing that he would disappear. “But pretty soon, you may wish you were.”

“Too late,” he said dismally.

The mature and sensible thing to do would be to hash out exactly what happened last night with her partner, deal with it, laugh about it and move on. Instead, Kensi rolled out of bed and staggered to the shower. She shut the door firmly behind her and winced when the lock clicked into place. It had never been that noisy before.

She started the shower running and took a look at herself in the mirror. She was horrified at the sight. Clearly she hadn’t washed her face last night, because the make-up smears there made her look like the Joker. Her hair was a bushy mess and her skin had an unhealthy green colour. There were some extra-strength painkillers in the medicine cabinet, and she swallowed a couple with a handful of cold water from the sink.

She looked down at herself; she had tripped over her dress on the way into the bathroom, and she was standing in her underwear. Maybe she had been trying to put her pyjamas on and had passed out? That was definitely the best option. But given that Deeks was in bed with her, and his pants had been next to her dress on the floor she suspected that whatever happened last night wasn’t nearly as innocent.

She stripped and got into the shower, leaning against the wall as the strong torrents of water blasted the remains of last night’s make-up away and drenched her hair.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. This was not good.

Not good that you might have slept with your partner? a traitorous little voice in her head asked, or that you don’t remember it?

She could remember the feeling of the smooth denim of his pants on her bare legs last night as she sat on his lap, a pair of jeans so old he’d washed them smooth. He’d worn her favourite of his shirts, not that she’d ever told him that; just a simple white button down that did amazing things to his eyes. She could remember clutching at his shoulders while he licked salt from her collarbones, feeling the soft cotton of the shirt beneath her palms as the firm muscles there moved and flexed with the dipping of his head. She remembered the heat of him, and the smell of him, salt and lime and some kind of spice that made her shiver when she inhaled.

So why didn’t she remember anything past stumbling out of the club and into a taxi?

Her memories were interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Kensi?” Deeks called weakly. “Please tell me you have something for my head. Advil, an axe. Anything.”

“In the medicine cabinet,” she called back, but before she could add “I’ll get them for you, hang on,” the bathroom door opened and Deeks came in.

He zeroed in on the medicine cabinet and flipped open the bottle of painkillers without even glancing in her direction.

“You could have waited,” she hissed, yanking the shower curtain firmly around her.

“Need pills now,” Deeks said around a swallow of mouthwash. He spat it back into the sink and rinsed it away. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a spare toothbrush?”

Kensi sighed. “Back of the cabinet.”

She could hear him root around in there, and realised in horror that he’d have to paw through her tampons and pads, as well as her birth control pills, to find it.

He already knows you’re a woman, idiot, she told herself as she worked shampoo through her hair. Nothing in there is going to surprise him.

She washed her hair in silence as she heard him brush his teeth. The noise of the water filled the small room. Once he’d finished she expected him to leave, but instead she heard the lid of the toilet clink shut and him sit on it.

“I think we need to talk,” he said quietly.

“I don’t think we do,” she said firmly. “Nothing happened.”

Maybe if she said it strongly enough, she’d believe it?

“You’re right,” he said. “Nothing did happen.” He paused, and then continued, a little less certainty in his voice. “At least, I don’t think anything happened.”

“There we are then,” Kensi said, aiming for a bright tone that she knew she just didn’t pull off right. “Nothing to talk about.”

“But something could have happened,” he argued. “My pants didn’t just fall off, Kensi. Neither did your dress. And what we did in the cab…”

His voice trailed off as he clearly replayed the cab ride in his head.

“What did we do in the cab?” she asked, not knowing whether she wanted the answer or not.

Deeks remained silent.

She poked her head around the side of the shower curtain. He was sitting on the toilet lid, his head in his hands. He’d put his pants on, but not his shirt. Through the steam in the room Kensi could see faint red lines on his back, each a finger-width apart.

Oh. It was entirely possible that they had done that in the cab.

“Deeks?” she said again, and she didn’t do a good job of hiding the uncertainty in her voice because he looked up at her and gave her his best reassuring smile.

“We didn’t give the driver a show, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he told her. “But we weren’t discussing the surf report either.”

“Right,” Kensi said numbly, ducking back into the shower.

“You know we’re gonna have to talk about this, don’t you?” he repeated.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “But does it have to be right now?”

There was a pause before he answered. She could tell by his voice that he felt let down by her, but she was too chicken to peek out of the shower curtain again.

“No,” he said eventually. “No, not right now. But soon,” he warned, and he left the room.

Kensi stayed in the shower for longer than was strictly necessary; partly, she was trying to remember what the hell had happened after they got in the cab, but most of it was pure cowardice. By the time she had found the courage to towel herself off and pull on some clothes, he was gone.

She found a cup of coffee, just as she liked it, on the counter in the kitchen. He’d even put a Pop-Tart in the toaster, ready to go. She knew that she’d told him about her old college hangover remedy before, on a long boring stake out that needed them both to be alert and watchful. Knowing that he remembered that piece of arcane trivia, and had been thoughtful enough to prepare it for her made her feel a little guilty for ducking out of his need to talk.

Alright, she amended. It made her feel incredibly guilty, and she wouldn’t put it past him to have done it on purpose to make her feel guilty. Her partner was not a stupid man.

She checked the time; 7.45am. Right about now she’d usually be getting back from one of the gyms she used, or if she felt like it, a run. Just about enough time for a quick shower and then into the car for the commute to work for 9.30. She probably shouldn’t be driving this morning, there was still more alcohol than blood in her body. But the one person she would call for a ride was just as badly off as she was, and she had just turned him out of her bed not an hour before.

She decided to eat her breakfast and let the caffeine and sugar do its job. And maybe after that she’d head into work early and stop off on the way to pick up some doughnuts and some of those ridiculously girly sweetened coffee drinks he liked so much.

After the train wreck of the morning, it was probably the least she could do.

~~~~

Kensi was gratified to see that Callen at least had the dignity to look hung over. Sam, due to his build, constitution and probably some freaky SEAL training, appeared to be none the worse for their night on the town. Deeks had obviously grabbed a shower and changed his clothes, but he still looked fragile.

Kensi delivered Deeks’ coffee directly to his desk, and put the rest on the table at the back of the bullpen. His fingers brushed hers as he took the cup, and he gave her a little nod to show that he understood the meaning behind the gesture.

There was a loud whistle from the upper balcony, followed by a pathetic sounding groan.

“We’ve got a case,” Eric said, looking marginally worse than Deeks did. “And I think my head is about to fall off.”

“You young people,” Sam mocked as he jogged up the stairs. “No stamina.”

“Agreed,” Hetty said, already waiting for them all in ops. “In my day we’d all be knocking back the hair of the dog and planning where we’d be going tonight. Lightweights, the lot of you.”

There wasn’t much difference in height between Nell and Hetty, but while the older woman looked as she ever did, Nell was pale and wrung-out and clinging onto a coffee cup the size of her head despite Hetty’s usual rule about no food or drink being allowed in the ops room. As Nell had been the instigator of the body shots, Kensi refused to feel sorry for her.

“I will shoot the next person that offers me alcohol,” Callen said flatly. “What have we got?”

“Not a new case, but one that demands our skills,” Hetty informed them as Eric brought up some photographs on the main screen. One was the standard Marine ID shot of a tall, dark haired man in his late twenties. The other was of the same man, in an orange prison jumpsuit with a prison ID number stamped across the bottom. The expression in his eyes was eerily similar in both shots, oddly dead, and he had the same faint sneer in both photographs.

Kensi immediately disliked him on sight.

“This was PFC Edward Brown, now just plain Mr Brown after his dishonourable discharge for theft, desertion and murder. He was caught after stealing over seven million dollars from the Base Finance Office at Marine Base Quantico.”

Deeks let out a low whistle.

“Seven million? Why is that sort of cash hanging around a Marine base, and not in a bank?”

“Probably gonna be shipped out to Afghanistan, used as sweetener money with the locals,” Sam said knowledgably. He shrugged his massive shoulders. “Money talks.”

“So do people,” Hetty said grimly. “The existence of the cash shipments was a very closely guarded secret. Only the commander of the camp and those working directly in the Finance Office knew about the shipments of money coming in and out.”

“Brown wasn’t based in the Finance Office,” Callen pointed out, as he scanned the information next to Brown’s picture. “He was a combat engineer.

“He had help,” Hetty said dryly.

Three more pictures popped up on the board. Two were male Marines, one a female.

“Oh God, let me guess,” Kensi said irritably. “Another stupid woman helped her boyfriend commit a crime.”

“Got it in one,” Eric told her, blowing up the female Marine’s picture. “This is Private Joanne Doyle, who was the most junior member of the team at the Finance Office at Quantico. She would have had knowledge of the dates of delivery, and access codes to the storage unit where the money was kept until transport.”

“Idiot,” Kensi said quietly, shaking her head.

“She wasn’t the only one,” Hetty said mildly. “Even with Private Doyle’s access codes, he still needed help getting the money off-base.”

“That’s where these other guys come in,” Sam said, bringing up the other two photos. “This guy, Stevenson, he worked in the Base Commander’s office. I bet that came in handy when it came to issuing passes off-base. And the other one, MacDonald, he was in the motor pool. He was the one that got them transport for the cash.”

“You’re right, Sam,” Hetty said. “But they didn’t get much chance to enjoy their money. Their bodies were found deep in the countryside face down, floating in a river six hours after the alert was raised at Quantico. They’d both been shot, presumably by Brown.”

“Presumably?” Callen asked.

Hetty shrugged.

“He was rounded up thirty four hours after the robbery was discovered, but he refused to say a word about the robbery, where he hid the money, or what happened to Stevens and MacDonald. Two guards were killed at Quantico, and he hasn’t said who murdered them, either. He was found guilty at a court-martial, given a dishonourable discharge and sent to Fort Leavenworth to start a life sentence, no parole.”

“What about Doyle?” Callen asked shrewdly.

“Brown never said a word about her either,” Hetty sighed. “But he didn’t kill her, like the others. She was found two days ago at a bus station in Sacramento, waiting for a connection to San Diego. She had a passport in the name of Emma Larsen and a few hundred dollars in cash. Serial numbers from the notes match to those stolen from Quantico.”

“She was heading to the border,” Deeks said. “Maybe she and Brown were supposed to meet up there, with the cash.”

“Where do we come in, Hetty?” Callen asked. “I’m not sure how we fit here.”

“Brown was sentenced three days ago and was on a transport to Leavenworth when the van taking him there lost control on the roads. It was snowing heavily and the crash investigators said it slipped on black ice. The driver was killed on impact. There were four transfers in the van; between them they got free and killed the two guards in the back. MPs have rounded up three of the four, but Brown is still out there.”

“With seven million of the government’s money,” Sam said flatly.

“So Doyle is our last chance at getting to Brown?” Deeks said, piecing the problem together and wishing he wasn’t doing this with a massive headache. The pills from Kensi’s medicine cabinet were helping, but not as much as he wished they were.

“It’s why we’ve been asked to take over this operation,” Hetty agreed. “Joanne Doyle is currently in the brig at Pendleton, awaiting her court-martial. With what she did – desertion, theft, possible murder charges – there’s no way she’d avoiding being sent to Camp Lejeune. It’s the only detention centre for female military inmates.”

“And that’s where I come in?” Kensi asked.

Hetty nodded.

“You’ll go undercover as another Marine who’s being imprisoned. You’ll be on the same military transport flight out to North Carolina with Doyle, and the same ground transport. Get to know her and gain her trust, but let slip that you’re not planning on serving your time.”

“I’m not?” Kensi said, surprised. She had been envisioning a week or more locked up with Doyle in Lejeune as her new bunkmate until the other woman cracked and spilled her guts about the robbery.

“No, the ground transport will be intercepted and the guards killed by your boyfriend, who has plans of escaping with you to Mexico,” Hetty said, scrutinising Sam and Callen as if she were fitting them up for the Combat Utility Uniforms they’d need as their roles as guards. “Your job will be to get Doyle to leave with you, and convince her to lead you to Brown’s current location.”

“What if she doesn’t know it?” Deeks asked.

“Oh, she knows it,” Hetty said firmly. “That’s why she’s not talking now. She probably thinks that they’re in love, and she’s protecting him.”

“Stupid,” Kensi said again, shaking her head.

“Where our feelings are involved, Miss Blye, we often make stupid decisions,” Hetty said blithely.

Kensi caught Deeks’ eye, felt a small blush start on her cheeks, and looked away.

“There are reports of the robbery and arrests in the system, and psychologists’ evaluations of Doyle and Brown waiting for you and Mr Deeks to read and analyse,” Hetty told her. “I want Mr Callen and Mr Hanna working on the logistics of your ground transport hijack. Eric will backstop you both and have details of your new identities ready in the next couple of hours.”

“Let’s get to work,” Callen announced, and they filed out of the ops room and back down to the bullpen. He and Sam immediately started discussing how would be the best way to take out an military transport vehicle, and Kensi was amused to discover that between them they could come up with five separate ways to do it. Kensi logged on to the NCIS secure server and downloaded the files on the heist, and set to understanding just how somebody like Brown could bring off the largest recorded theft of money from a military installation in US history.

She familiarised herself with photos of the crime scene and reports written by the commanding officers of Brown and Doyle, as well as witness statements from the guards on duty at the gate.

“That was very well planned,” Deeks said, coming to sit in Callen’s empty seat on her left hand side. “This was no spur of the moment smash and grab. He had to be planning this for months.”

Kensi hunted around for the right window on her laptop, and clicked the mouse.

“Some of the women billeted with Doyle said that they thought she started seeing somebody about four or five months ago,” she said, skimming through the statements taken by MPs on the base. “But she was secretive and didn’t say who.”

“How did they know that?” Deeks asked, leaning closer to her to peer at the screen.

“Her underwear,” Kensi said, scrolling down the page. “She came back from one liberty weekend with bags from a lingerie store. Until then she’d bought everything at the MCX.”

“Maybe she just wanted a change,” Deeks offered.

“No,” Kensi said decisively. “You don’t bother wearing your best underwear to do your day job, and anyway, spot checks would have meant that she would have been in trouble if she was wearing it on-duty.”

“You mean you’re not wearing that cute red and black polka dot bra you were last night?” Deeks said quietly, dropping his voice so that only she could hear. “You disappoint me.”

“Shut up,” she hissed, throwing him a quick glare.

“You wanna talk about what happened last night?” he shot back.

“No,” she said firmly.

“Then expect more of this,” Deeks said, grinning.

“You’re going to….flirt with me, badly, until I give in?” she said incredulously.

“And maybe a little afterwards, too,” Deeks revealed.

“Anyway,” Kensi said loudly, turning back to her screen. “I think it’s safe to assume that Doyle and Brown started a relationship at around that time.”

“I’ve got Brown’s financials,” Deeks said, pulling a piece of paper from a file. “Eight Saturdays in a row his debit card was used to pay for rooms at small hotels within an hour’s driving distance of the base.”

“So they were having a sexual relationship for at least two months, and had been seeing each other for longer,” Kensi said thoughtfully. “He was taking his time with her. Grooming her, maybe?”

Deeks pulled another file out from the assortment in front of him.

“I’ve got a psychological report on Joanna Doyle here,” he said, frowning slightly as he sorted the pages into order in front of him. “Average IQ, performed well enough on the entrance exams to pass but not well enough to make her stand out. Her recruiting officer mentioned that she was from a large family with an absent mother and an overbearing father.”

His handsome face showed signs of anger as he read on, but his voice was even-toned. Kensi wasn’t fooled; Deeks always reacted this way when an abusive father was in the picture on a case. His own history, to which she knew she hadn’t been told everything, often haunted him in cases like these. Her heart broke for him, although she’d never embarrass him by telling him so. Her own father had been perfect, with a heart full of love for his only child. She wished Deeks had been able to experience that kind of upbringing.

“The psychologist thought that the military lifestyle would be good for her,” he went on. “Clearly defined rules, positive praise, everything that her home life didn’t have. He was right too, her evaluations showed significant progress straight out of basic training up until five months ago.”

“When she took up with Brown,” Kensi sighed. “What is it with some women that turns them dumb when a man comes along?”

Deeks shrugged. “It’s not just women,” he pointed out. “It’s anybody who’s been denied love and affection. When they’re finally offered it, they’ll do anything to keep it coming. Sometimes it’s hard for them to distinguish between actual affection and somebody taking advantage of it.”

Kensi shot a quick look at her partner, who was studiously reading the file and avoiding her gaze. Again, she felt a pang of regret in her heart for her partner. She may not have had the easiest of lives, what with her father’s death and Jack’s illness, but she knew that she had been loved absolutely by both men, while they were capable of doing so. She had a sudden urge to hunt down Gordon John Brandel and introduce him to her Sig, and had to settle for the fact that somebody had already done her job for her.

“So Brown’s the real brains of the operation,” she mused. “What did the psychologist say about him?”

“He’s a real piece of work,” Deeks said, switching files. “Numerous write-ups for physical aggression and talking back to superior officers, the psychologist was on the verge of recommending his discharge from the Marines until…wanna take a guess here, Kensi?”

“Until five months ago,” she finished. “When all of a sudden he became the model Marine.”

“That’s right,” he said, smiling. “Clearly this plan was hatched a long time ago, and all his energy went into making it happen. No time to pick a fight when you’ve got a heist to pull off.”

“So, somehow he hears about the shipments of cash coming in and out of the base,” Kensi said thoughtfully. “And he realises that a few million dollars would be a lot better than a dishonourable discharge. But he’s not dumb, and figures out that getting his hands on it will be impossible without some inside help.”

“He’s really not dumb,” Deeks said, scanning the psychologist’s report. “His IQ is well above 150.”

“So he scopes out the Finance Office, sees Private Doyle and realises that she’s his way in. He engineers a meeting, they start spending time together off-base, and he manipulates her into falling in love with him.”

Kensi rifled through the statements from the women that shared a bunkroom with Doyle.

“The other women in her billet said that she never talked about a boyfriend from home,” she continued. “And when she talked about her life before joining up, she never mentioned a man other than her father. They got the idea he was pretty controlling.”

“And then another controlling man comes along and uses her to open the safe,” Deeks concluded. “Probably told her they were going to take enough to start themselves up on a beach somewhere in Mexico.”

“Instead he recruits two other men to get the money off base, sends Doyle off with enough cash to get her to the border and then takes the money someplace safe. He then kills both his collaborators, dumps their bodies in a river and is planning to sit tight on the money until the heat’s died down,” Kensi continued.

“But instead he gets caught, tried, almost put in jail and then escapes, probably right back to where he’s hidden the money. But now he’s gotta move seven million dollars alone,” Deeks said thoughtfully. “How much space does seven million dollars take up, anyway?”

“If it’s hundred dollar bills, you can fit a million dollars into a microwave,” Kensi said knowledgably.

“How do you know that?” Deeks asked, genuinely impressed.

“We found a lot of money stashed in a safe house once,” Kensi said airily. “Bundles of notes everywhere. All told, there was about forty eight million dollars stuffed into furniture all over the place.”

“Well, you don’t need three guys to move seven million,” Deeks said, thinking hard. “MacDonald and Stevens weren’t there for muscle.”

“You do if the money is in tens and twenties,” Kensi said, clicking open another window. “Cash sent out to Afghanistan is in small denominations. Easier to use as bribe money.”

“Then you’d need a truck to move it, which is why they got the guy from the motor pool and didn’t just bag it up and put it in the trunk of a car,” Deeks said, flipping through his pages. “Did they recover the truck they booked out?”

“No,” Kensi said, frowning. “It’s still out there somewhere.”

“I bet he ditched it after he stashed the cash,” Deeks muttered. “That’s what I would do. Kill off the competition – Stevens and MacDonald – get the cash hidden somewhere safe, then drive like hell in the very opposite direction to dump the truck. That way, when it gets found everybody starts to look in the wrong place for the money. He probably stole a car from the same place he left the truck.”

“Like you said, he’s not dumb,” Kensi said thoughtfully. “But what I don’t get is why he left Doyle alive. She’s the weak link here.”

“Maybe he started to develop feelings for her,” suggested Deeks. “Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to kill her.”

Kensi pulled a face. “A psychopath with a heart of gold? I’m not sure I buy that. Maybe he honestly didn’t see her as a threat; she’s just a silly girl. What is she, eighteen, nineteen? He’s twenty seven? He gave her a chance to get out of the country because he honestly doesn’t care if she lives or dies. The other Marines, they stood a chance of taking his cash so he had to take them out. But Doyle’s just a love-struck little girl. No threat.”

“Even bad guys can fall in love, Kensi,” Deeks said softly.

His face was unreadable, his handsome, quirky features lacking their usual expression.

“Sex doesn’t automatically mean love, Deeks,” Kensi sighed, looking away. “You know that.”

“It’s a pretty good indicator,” Deeks said mildly.

Kensi whipped around to face him, but before either could say anything they were interrupted by Nell, who was still looking distinctly green.

“Here are your identities,” she said. “Deeks, Hetty wants you for a fitting. She thinks you’ve bulked up a little since the last time you needed the wardrobe.”

She placed the packets on their desks and retreated to the stairs, stopping by the coffee pot to refill her mug on the way.

“I bet Hetty’s gonna use the metal-tipped measuring tape,” Deeks said darkly. “She never warms it.”

“Suck it up, princess,” Kensi said, flipping through her packet. “You don’t have to spend the next god knows how many hours handcuffed to a felon while wearing an orange jumpsuit.”

“A pity I won’t be there to see it,” Deeks mused, already sliding out of punching distance. “Those girls in prison movies are my favourites.”

Kensi threw her stapler at him, and found pride in the fact that even with a hangover, she was able to find her target. He darted in close to grab his briefing packet and then danced away before she could throw anything else.

Kensi settled down to take in the facts of her new cover’s life, and immediately groaned when she saw the name she had been given. Deeks must have some secret surfer pact with Eric, because yet again she had been given one of his stupid names for her. Not Fern, this time, but Kiki instead. Kiki. As if a woman called Kiki would last ten minutes in the Marines.

Although, she allowed, the briefing pack made clear that Kiki was not a good fit for the Marines anyway. Offered the choice of service in the armed forces or incarceration, Kiki had chosen the Marines after a career in car theft, extortion and assault and battery. However, she had not settled well and butted heads repeatedly with other Marines and her superior officers. The last straw had been a physical attack on a training instructor which had left the other woman needing hospitalisation. Kiki was to be held at Pendleton brig until trial, found guilty of a variety of crimes and be sentenced to five years in Lejeune.

She’d be held in the same waiting area as Doyle, where she’d make first contact, and then again when they both got flown to Lejeune. She’d have maybe ten hours to get into the head of Doyle and convince her to escape with Kiki and Kiki’s ex-con boyfriend, who was set on busting his girlfriend out of the prison transport. Once out, Kensi then had to get Doyle to take them to the secret location where Brown was hiding with the stolen money.

Kensi shook her head. This was a risky op. It would have made more sense to let Kensi join Doyle in prison for a few weeks. But time was of the essence – the longer Brown was at large, the greater the risk that the money could be gone forever. They had to move quickly.

Movement across the bullpen drew Kensi’s eye; Hetty had released Deeks, dressed in his new, tough-guy ex-con clothes. And wow, she had done a great job. She’d put him in jeans, but these weren’t the usual casual ones that looked like they were a hundred years old. These ones clung to his ass in a very flattering way, and were tighter on the thigh, showing the lean muscle there. She’d also made his t-shirt tighter, framing his shoulders and clutching to his biceps. Hetty was right, Kensi realised. Deeks had bulked up, ever so slightly. He’d taken to training with them more often, and she knew that Sam had started to see him as his personal pet project after Deeks had been shot.

Hang around with Sam too much and you probably bulked up out of self-defence, Kensi thought with a smile.

Sturdy boots and a thick jacket completed the ensemble; a little much for LA, where even in winter the climate rarely dipped below moderate. But North Carolina was a different story, and he’d need that protection there. He had a small duffel bag with him, which probably contained more of the same clothes.

“Kensi!” he called. “Hetty wants you in for a fitting next.”

As Kensi disappeared through the curtains into Hetty’s dressing room area, she saw Callen and Sam grab Deeks and sweep him off to discuss the plan they had put together.

Kensi submitted to Hetty’s measuring tape, and found herself trying on Kiki’s dress uniform which she’d have to wear in the holding cell with Doyle. The less than flattering orange jumpsuit would be provided at Pendleton, Hetty assured her, and then she gave Kensi a variety of clothes to try on for Kiki’s ‘escape’.

“Uh, the necklines on these are pretty low, Hetty,” Kensi said dubiously. “And these jeans are practically skin-tight. They’re not really the best for a winter in North Carolina. I’ve lived at Lejeune before, it gets really cold there.”

“I know, but you must remember that it’s not Kensi choosing these clothes, but Kiki,” Hetty reminded her. “And in fact, it’s not even Kiki. These clothes would have been selected by her boyfriend and brought with him to the ambush. In my experience, men do not select clothing for their lovers based on its practicality.”

“Did Deeks pick these things out?” Kensi asked suspiciously.

“I thought it would help him get into character,” Hetty said blithely.

“Fine,” Kensi sighed, eyeing the push-up bra on top of the pile of clothes suspiciously. “But at least give me a decent jacket and pair of boots. It’s been snowing in the area around Camp Lejeune for the best part of a week.”

“Agreed,” Hetty said, her eyes twinkling with mischief. “Frostbite is not sexy, as I told dear Mikhail several times. I’ve also added a few things for Private Doyle. She’s not as tall as you, but you’re a similar size.”

“Mikhail?” Kensi said, pausing halfway though taking off the clingy magenta top she was wearing. “Hetty, do you mean Mikhail Gobachev?”

“Don’t forget a few pairs of warm socks, dear,” Hetty told her, and left the dressing room, leaving Kensi to wonder exactly how much of the truth Hetty was telling her.

~~~~
Once she was safely back into her own clothes she headed back up to ops, where the rest of the team were staring at the big board and planning out the route the prison transfer truck would take.

“You’ll throw the stinger across the road here,” Sam instructed, pointing to the map. “Callen will be going slowly, so the van should spin out but not flip over. We’ll be wearing squibs under the uniforms, over the vests, so when you shoot at us it’ll look like blood.”

“Take me out first,” Callen told Deeks. “Then move to the back for Sam. The doors will be unlocked, so just take three shots, centre mass. We’ll play dead while you unlock Kensi and Doyle.”

“Once you’ve busted her out, comms will be down,” warned Sam. “We can’t risk Brown catching either of you two with an earwig. He’s smart, he’d spot you in a second.”

“Hetty’s gonna put trackers in the clothes, and we’ll have our cell phones,” Deeks said grimly. “I’ve worked with less before.”

Eric peered at the map.

“I don’t like the look of the area,” he said doubtfully. “If Brown has gone to ground in a mountainous or heavily forested area, we could have problems receiving a cell phone signal from you.”

“We’ll be fine,” Kensi said confidently. “We’ll be armed, and there are two of us. Lejeune will have Marines on standby, ready to airdrop in to support us. The real hindrance will be Doyle. If she gives us bad intel, the whole operation will be ruined.”

Callen shrugged. “Those are the risks of the job,” he said.

“How will we get away from the ambush site?” Kensi asked.

“I’m going ahead to set that up,” Deeks told her. “I’ll have a truck hidden along the road. That should be able to handle the roads there or the terrain if Brown has gone deep into the countryside to hide. I’ll take clothes for you and Doyle, a gun for you, and a few other things that a couple on the run might need.”

“When do you leave?” Kensi asked.

Deeks checked his watch. “Hetty’s got me a seat on a transport flying out in two hours,” he told her. “We’d better get everything sorted out here quickly.”

Kensi hadn’t realised that he’d be gone so soon; as much as she wanted to pretend that the previous night hadn’t happened and forget all about it, she knew that he was right to want to discuss it. But now it seemed as if there would be no time before this op started. The time did fly; they hashed out the fine details of the plan, and two other scenarios in case things went wrong, as they had a habit of doing. Deeks made a series of phone calls to Lejeune to requisition the equipment he would need to ambush the truck, and then it was time for him to leave to catch his flight.

“Remember to be glad to see me, Kiki,” he teased as he left. “It’s gonna be sand, sea and tequila for us down in Mexico.”

He winked as he mentioned tequila, and stared at her knowingly, as if daring her to remember the night before. Sense memories bombarded her; the way his fingers had dug into her waist as he gripped her too hard, keeping her from tumbling to the floor, the wet heat of his mouth on her neck, the sharpness of the limes on his breath. At one point she had run her fingers through his hair; she remembered watching her fingers disappearing into the thick yellow mass.

“I’ll bring my best bikini,” she shot back, and had the pleasure of watching his eyes glaze over slightly and him miss a step on the stairs before he righted himself to disappear downstairs.

It was a petty thing to do, but it had been worth it, she decided. On turning back to the rest of the team, Sam and Callen looked at her questioningly.

“What?” she asked.

“Tequila?” Callen asked, pained.

“Bikini?” Sam said, eyebrow raised.

“It’s just…banter,” Kensi said, waving her hands in the air. “Workplace banter.”

“Right,” Sam said slowly. “Uh, Kensi, do you remember what happened last night?”

“Yes,” Kensi blustered.

Sam and Callen looked at her.

“Uh, most of it,” she amended under the weight of their gaze.

“’Cos we left the club before you and Deeks did last night,” Sam told her. “I knew my boy here was struggling after he had that long chat with the potted plant…”

“I was talking to Nell,” Callen interrupted defensively. “She was standing next to the plant.”

Sam shot him a dubious look, and continued.

“Anyway, we left you and Deeks dancing. At least, I thought you were dancing. A case could be argued for you two actually having sex with your clothes on.”

“We were not!” Kensi said belligerently, then a sense memory flashed of Deeks’ arm strong around her waist, the smooth denim of his jeans rubbing against her bare legs, the firmness of his chest as she leant back into him…

“Well you were doing something,” Callen argued.

“We were dancing,” Kensi argued. “Nothing more. Just letting off steam.”

“You were steamy all right,” Sam said, a note of playful teasing coming into voice.

“Anything you want to tell us?” Callen pressed. “There’s no fraternization problems for you and Deeks, you know. He’s still LAPD.”

“You two are the biggest gossips I know,” Kensi said flatly. “There’s nothing between me and Deeks.”

“You want there to be?” asked Sam.

“No! Shut up!” Kensi said, flushing.

“I think she does,” Callen said slyly.

“I think you’re right,” Sam said, grinning.

“I think you two should be careful I don’t swap Deeks’ blanks for real bullets in that prison transport,” Kensi said darkly.

“There’s a joke there about Deeks shooting blanks, but I’m still too hungover to make it,” Callen said, changing the subject.

“Well I’ll leave you to think of it while I go get into the head of Kiki,” Kensi said, unable to keep the scorn from her voice. “And Eric?”

Eric looked up from his keyboard.

“The next time I’m undercover, I get to pick the names, okay? No more Ferns, no more Kikis, you got it?”

Perhaps letting her hand stray to her holstered gun was mean, but it got the point across. Eric swallowed heavily and nodded.

Figuring that there was nothing more she could say in ops without making it sound like she was an even bigger idiot than she actually was, Kensi left to go back to her desk.

~~~~

Kensi only had the night to get into the head of Kiki, an angry, violent woman who took her aggression out on those around her. Hetty had even gone so far as to send her to a beauty salon that specialised in temporary tattooing to have a design carefully painted onto her lower back. As an undercover agent, tattoos were a problem, which was why Sam was careful to wear long sleeved shirts as much as possible on the job. The salon had given her hundreds of pictures to choose from, but somehow Kensi didn’t think that Kiki was a heart or butterfly sort of girl. She had been flipping through the fourth book of designs when one in particular caught her eye and she couldn’t help laughing. It was of a smiling, dancing tequila bottle, who was partnered by a cheeky lime wedge with a flirtatious grin. She got them to ink the name ‘Michael’ underneath it, the alias that Deeks had been given. If he was willing to bust you out of military prison, Kensi thought, he was probably worth a tattoo.

It would make Deeks laugh, if she got the chance to show it to him before it wore off.

The skin around his eyes would crinkle, and he’d smile, and his eyes would light up. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, which was odd when you considered that he worked undercover for a living. It showed how comfortable he was with her, she realised. Callen kept his emotions clamped deep below the surface, Sam still had secrets that nobody save Hetty knew, she was sure, but Deeks laid it all out there for her to see.

She sighed, and slumped back into her couch, playing with the label on the bottle of mineral water she was sipping in an effort to apologise to her liver for the excesses of the night before. She had to own up to the fact that she was beginning to see Deeks as more than her partner, and her friend. Yes, he got under her skin and wound her up and made her want to scream at least five times a day, but she couldn’t deny how he affected her. Alcohol may lower inhibitions, but it didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do already. She remembered the thrill of sitting on his lap, rocking her body into his as she took her shot. She remembered the electricity that seemed to flash through her body when he laved his way delicately along her collar bone. And somebody had run her fingernails down his back, and she was the only candidate. God, they’d ended up in bed together, and if they’d been a little less drunk there’s no way that they would have just fallen asleep.

Lust was one thing; she understood lust, and how it worked. The one-date rule helped her deal with that. One night meant that she had an explosive night with a guy, and didn’t have to worry about remembering which of her false identities she had given him, or wonder about how she was going to explain away the bumps and bruises that came with her job.

If she and Deeks only had to worry about lust, then they could probably just sleep together and move on, itch scratched. But Kensi had the worrisome thought that what she felt for Deeks was moving beyond lust and going to dangerous, uncharted territory.

Kensi wasn’t sure she could cope with that.

Sighing, she decided to turn in for the night, to get some sleep while she could. The next few days were going to be tiring and unpredictable, and she could use all the rest she could get. In her bedroom she saw that she hadn’t made the bed that morning, or changed the sheets. She picked up one of the pillows and began to strip it of the pillowcase when the smell of salt and lime and spice filled her nose. She breathed the scent in deeply, and decided not to bother changing the linen. She threw her clothes into the hamper and got under the covers. The scent from the sheets, of salt and lime and man, filled her nose as she slipped into sleep.

~~~~

“Wait here until your name is called,” the stern guard said to Kensi as he opened the cell door. “Your JAG lawyer will meet you outside the court room.”

She flipped him off as he locked the cell door behind him, and strolled into the room as if she owned it. She looked about and spotted Doyle in the corner of the room, sitting hunched up as not to take up space. The woman’s dress uniform hung loosely from her frame; she had clearly lost weight that her body needed. She looked gaunt.

Kensi removed her cover and flung it down carelessly on the bench before throwing herself down after it.

“They got you too?” she said to Doyle, peering in to squint at her name badge. “Doyle?”

Doyle cast a scared glance at her, and then looked away again.

Great, Kensi thought. A frightened rabbit..

“Hey, I’m talking to you,” Kensi said pointedly. “What’s the matter? Cat got your fucking tongue?”

Doyle sent her a sharp, scared look.

Kensi snorted with laughter.

“It better not have,” she warned. “Some big bad mamma at Lejeune will need that tongue of yours.”

She flicked her tongue obscenely at Doyle, who flinched in understanding.

“You’re prettier than me,” Doyle said suddenly, a burst of courage taking her. “You’re not worried?”

Kensi laughed again.

“Not me, sweet cheeks,” she said, full of confidence. “That ain’t something I need to worry about.”

She patted the pockets of her jacket, and pulled out a pack of gum. A quick check of Doyle’s Eagle Cash records showed that it was the brand she bought most often at the MCX in Quantico, so Kensi had asked for it specifically to be in the pocket of her uniform.

“You want some?” she asked casually, selecting a stick, unwrapping it and throwing the wrappers onto the floor of the cell.

“We’re not supposed to chew gum when we’re in these uniforms,” Doyle said, scandalised. She kept looking at the discarded wrappers and then at the cell door, as if she expected MPs to come barrelling in to bust the other woman for littering.

Kensi hooted with laughter.

“I don’t know about you, honey,” she said, “but my ass is gonna be in a skanky orange jumpsuit in about ninety minutes. So I really don’t give a flying fuck about what I can or can’t do in this uniform.”

She blew a big bubble, and popped it in as obnoxious manner as she could.

Against her will, Doyle gave a small smile.

“I guess you’re right,” she said. “Alright. Thanks.”

Kensi tossed her the gum, and watched as Doyle carefully unwrapped a stick and popped it into her mouth. She rolled the papers up into a tiny ball and moved to put it into her pocket. Then she caught Kensi’s watchful eye, and flicked the paper ball onto the floor instead.

“Atta girl,” Kensi said cheerfully. “We’ll make a real criminal out of you yet, Doyle. First step littering, next jaywalking.”

Doyle let out a long breath.

“I’m up for something a lot more serious than jaywalking,” she admitted.

“What?” Kensi demanded, leaning forward to show interest.

“You first,” Doyle demanded, and Kensi grinned.

“I couldn’t take my bitch of a CO yelling in my face any more,” she said. “I put her in the hospital, and they put me in here. My shitty lawyer says it’s Lejeune for certain.”

She made sure to shrug nonchalantly at the mention of the prison, as if serving time in a military prison was something of no concern to her.

“Your turn,” Kensi went on. “Spill. What did a good little girl like you do, Doyle?”

“I stole seven million dollars from Quantico,” Doyle replied, with only the slightest waver in her voice.

“No shit!” Kensi said, faking excitement. She got up and went to sit next to Doyle. “I heard about that! That was you?”

She paused, taking in Doyle’s body language. God, no wonder that MP at the bus station had clocked her. She was telegraphing everything. All her facial signals, the way she held herself, everything was screaming that she was lying to Kensi, but guilt was there too.

“Yeah,” Doyle said, clearly lying.

“I thought they got someone for that already,” Kensi said, frowning. “Some guy.”

“Eddie,” Doyle told her. “And they don’t have him. He escaped.”

She looked away from Kensi then, down at the floor.

“Eddie your man?” Kensi asked. “He the one that did the job with you?”

Kensi risked another bubble pop here, as if they were girlfriends gossiping instead of two Marines waiting to be court-martialed.

“Yeah,” Doyle said proudly. “He’s my boyfriend. He loves me,” she added hurriedly, looking intently at Kensi.

“Damn straight he does,” Kensi told her. “You don’t pull a job like that with someone you don’t trust.”

Doyle nodded, obviously reassured by Kensi’s validation.

“So your Eddie’s out there with the cash, and you’re on your way to Lejeune?” Kensi shook her head and whistled softly. “You sure caught the shitty end of the stick there, Doyle.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Doyle said stubbornly. “He’ll wait for me. He loves me.”

“Sure he does,” Kensi said, letting a little doubt creep into her voice. “But shit, seven million?”

Doyle’s face grew hard and she slammed her walls back up.

“He loves me,” she growled, the noise sounding strange from such a young, scared looking girl. “He said so, and Eddie doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean.”

“Okay, okay,” Kensi said, holding her hands up. “I believe you. I love my guy, too, but I’m not sure I’d trust him alone with seven million, you know?”

Silence fell in the cell, the only noise the sound of two women chewing and Kensi’s bubble-pops. The guard returned and called for Doyle, and she stood and put on her cover. She swallowed audibly to get rid of the gum and followed the guard meekly out of the room. Kensi waved from her position lounging on the hard bench, but Doyle didn’t respond.

The guard locked the cell behind him, for show, but as soon as Doyle had disappeared down the corridor another guard appeared and unlocked it, handing her an orange jumpsuit and a cell phone.

“Ms Lang on the phone for you, ma’am,” he said respectfully, and left her to change in privacy.

Kensi reported on her first session with Doyle, mentioning the woman’s obvious struggle between her nerves and her determination to shield Brown. Kensi learned that Deeks had reported in, and that everything was in place on his end for the ambush. Hetty left her with good wishes, and Kensi hung up to change into her jumpsuit.

The next time she saw Doyle, the woman was also dressed in orange. Their ankles were shackled and their wrists in heavy cuffs, and they were being escorted by Callen and Sam away from the brig down to the van that would take them to Pendleton’s airstrip and the small Navy plane that would carry them to the airstrip that served Camp Lejeune, some thirty miles away from the base.

“Doyle!” Kensi said cheerfully. “What was the damage?”

“Shut up, DiMarco,” growled Sam, clearly enjoying his role as Evil Prison Guard #1.

“Bite me, sasquatch,” Kensi shot back. “Whatcha gonna do?”

“She can’t turn up at Lejeune with bruises,” Callen warned Sam.

Sam muttered under his breath and gripped Kensi’s arm more firmly as he escorted her to the truck.

“So how long?” Kensi said again as Callen and Sam helped them into the truck and began the laborious process of attaching the ankle shackles to the prison van interior. “I got five.”

“Twenty two,” Doyle said numbly.

Kensi let out a long whistle.

“Twenty two years?” she said in astonishment. “Shit, that’s forever.”

Doyle nodded, still blank faced.

She’s in shock, Kensi thought. That has to be longer than she thought it would be.

“Why so long?” she pressed as Callen clambered up into the van and locked the doors behind him. The driver’s door opened and closed, and the engine rumbled into life.

“There were two guards on duty at the finance office,” Doyle said quietly. “Eddie told me he was gonna knock them out.”

She lapsed into silence again.

“And he killed them?” Kensi pressed.

Doyle flicked her eyes over at Callen, who was doing his best eyes-ahead, bored jarhead routine. She shrugged one shoulder slightly at Kensi, but didn’t say anything. Kensi was annoyed; that wasn’t good enough as an answer. The transmitters in her orange jumpsuit, Callen’s uniform and the truck itself needed Doyle to say the words herself.

Kensi shook her head.

“I get you being loyal to your man, Doyle, but taking the rap for something he did? That’s pretty fucked up.”

“That’s loyalty,” Doyle spat back. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

And that was all she said for the rest of their ride to the airstrip.

~~~~

Their plane was a small one, used by the military to transport essential personnel between bases along with cargo. Callen and Sam secured them into their seats, and then left them alone and went to talk to the crew of the plane up at the front.

Doyle said nothing during takeoff or for the first hour of the flight. She stared at the bulkhead in front of her and did nothing but blink and breathe quietly. It was an eerie experience for Kensi to watch.

Sometime during the second hour, Kensi decided to try again.

“So what’s your guy like?” she said.

Doyle turned to look at her, but didn’t speak.

“I mean, I know he’s smart, because he managed to pull off stealing seven mill, and I know he’s loyal, because otherwise you’d be shitting yourself about doing twenty two years, but what’s he like?” Kensi pressed. “Is he big?”

She grinned salaciously at the other woman.

“I bet he’s big,” she went on. “I hate the whole fucking Marine corps, but one thing you have to give them is that it makes the guys ripped as hell.”

“He’s tall,” Doyle said quietly, after a minute.

Kensi nodded. “I like ‘em tall,” she confided in Doyle. “My guy’s tall.”

Kensi waited to see if Doyle would take the bait.

“You’ve got a guy?” Doyle asked cautiously.

“Oh yeah,” Kensi said happily. “Tall, great arms. Big too, in all the right places. Michael’s blond, which is odd, cause I never usually go for blonds.”

She remembered Doyle’s file, and added “My dick of a step-dad was blond.” For good measure, she spat on the floor of the plane.

A look of understanding passed fleetingly on Doyle’s face, and deep inside Kensi, a spark of embarrassment shot through her at manipulating the other woman in this way. Then Kensi firmly doused that spark of sentiment in cool professionalism. This was her job, and she’d get it done any way she could.

“You’ll see him soon,” Doyle said, with a note of pity in her voice. “Five years will go by quick.”

Kensi made a show of looking to see where Callen and Sam were, then dropped her voice.

“Ain’t no way I’m waiting five years to see my guy again,” she told a shocked Doyle.

“You mean, you’re gonna…break out?” asked Doyle, in disbelief. “Of the brig in Camp Lejeune?”

“Nah,” Kensi said, grinning. “Michael’s gonna do it all for me before we even get there.”

She sat back in her seat, watching as Doyle processed that nugget of information.

“I know you trust your Eddie,” Kensi whispered to her. “And I love Michael, I do. But I’m not letting him run about for five years without me. God knows where he’d end up sticking his dick.”

She scowled at the thought of her imaginary boyfriend having sex with somebody else. Then, unbidden, the thought of Deeks in the arms of another woman hit her and she felt a real rush of anger flow through her.

“What will you do?” Doyle asked, her voice barely audible over the loud drone of the plane’s engines.

Kensi shook her head.

“Sorry Doyle,” she said decisively. “I’ve probably said too much as it is. But it’s been so damn long since I’ve seen him, you know?”

She let out a small moan of anticipation.

“Let’s just say that I’m really looking forward to tonight,” she finished. “I’m not gonna be warming the bunk of any of the bitches in Lejeune.”

She cast a look of apology at Doyle.
“Sorry,” she added, and then lapsed into silence herself, leaving Doyle alone with her own thoughts.

The next time Callen came back to check on them, she demanded a bathroom break and they both crammed themselves into the tiny head at the front of the plane.

“She biting yet?” Callen asked, unlocking her cuffs.

“She’s definitely getting twitchy,” Kensi reported. “If she initiates a conversation when I get back, I’ll know that I’ve got through.”

As Doyle was out of sight and the pilot and co-pilot were safely in the cockpit, Callen was able to step out of the head and let Kensi actually use it in privacy, which was more than Doyle would get. Poor Callen would be stuck on pee duty, as there was no way you could cram Sam and another person in a space that small, even if that person was as skinny as Doyle was.

She stepped out of the room and held her wrists out to Callen, signalling that she was ready to start becoming Kiki again.

“Hold up,” Callen said softly. “I’ve got something for you.”

He pulled a slightly battered chocolate bar out of a pocket of his trousers.

“Deeks asked me to give it to you,” he sad pointedly. “He said that you’d be jonesing for some refined sugar about now.”

Kensi snatched it out of his hands, quickly unwrapped it and took a large bite.

Callen grinned at her.

“He knows you well,” he said mildly.

“Everyone knows I like chocolate, Callen,” Kensi said around the bar.

“Yeah, but as much as we love you, neither Sam nor I would have thought to have done this,” Callen said, tapping the remains of the bar.

“He’s my partner,” Kensi told Callen, trying to sound firm.

“He is,” Callen agreed. “But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be more, if you let him.”

He held out his hand for the wrapper, which she felt oddly reluctant to hand over. She had to, though; if Doyle caught her with it she’d want to know how Kensi got it.

“I don’t get why you’re playing yenta,” Kensi told him, shaking her head. “Shouldn’t you want to maintain the status quo, as our team leader?”

Callen barked out a short laugh, which was lost to the drone of the engines.

“As team leader, I’d prefer it if you and Deeks didn’t have stand up-knock down fights in the middle of the bullpen,” he told Kensi.

“And you think we wouldn’t fight if we were dating?” Kensi demanded.

“Oh, I think you’d fight,” Callen said, grinning. “But then you’d make up, and Deeks wouldn’t spend so much time pouting.”

“He is a pouter,” Kensi agreed.

“I know we’re in the middle of an op, but think about it when we get back to LA,” Callen said, suddenly sounding a lot older than his years. “This job…it’ll chew you up and spit you out. You know that. I just think you need to grab your happiness where you can find it.”

“You’re telling me to grab Deeks?” Kensi teased, as he reattached her wrist restraints.

“I’m telling you I think you already have,” he told her as they started off back down the aisle to Doyle. “Tell me, just how did you get home the other night, Kensi?”

Kensi said nothing, but she could just feel the force of Callen’s grin burning into the back of her neck.

~~~~

Kensi forced herself to sit back in her seat, close her eyes and act as if nothing was wrong. Kiki DiMarco would be supremely confident that her boyfriend could pull the ambush off, and she’d be anticipating the passion-fuelled night ahead of her as they made for the border. She let herself grin and wriggle slightly in her chair.

Next to her she could hear Doyle’s foot tapping against the floor in a hurried, off-tempo rhythm. Nerves were finally getting to her.

After another half an hour, Doyle leant over and whispered to her, careful not to catch the eye of Callen and Sam.

“You really think your guy can pull it off?”

Kensi opened one eye and peered at her.

“Sure,” she said dismissively. “Michael’s the best at what he does, and he does this sort of thing a lot.”

“He’s done this before?” Doyle asked urgently.

“Not this precise scenario,” Kensi allowed, “but he put a crew together that took out armoured vans a hell of a lot more secure than a prison transport. You didn’t hear about the diamond robberies in New York last year? Over two million in uncut stones taken from a high-security van while it was travelling in New York traffic? That was Michael. Cops never got him, never got the diamonds.”

“You’re rich then,” Doyle said carefully.

Kensi snorted.

“Rich? Hardly. Two mill split five ways is four hundred thousand, which don’t buy you as much as you think it would. Michael and me, we got expensive tastes. That money’s pretty much gone. We got enough to get us to Mexico, and that’s about it.”

Doyle fell silent again, but it was a thoughtful silence. The foot tapping started up again, but this time it was a far more rhythmical noise, as if Doyle was puzzling something through in her mind.

The aeroplane touched down at the airstrip that served Camp Lejeune not long afterwards, and Callen and Sam escorted them, hobbled by their ankle shackles, to a small prisoner transport van that was waiting for them at the airstrip. Sam made a show of locking down their ankle shackles to the central ring in the floor of the van, then settled down at the back, facing the doors. When it was time for Deeks to break them out, he’d be sitting in exactly the right position to take the blanks in the centre of his chest.

The van started up and made its way off the base. Already Kensi could sense the difference in temperature between North Carolina and California. The brief amount of time spent getting off the plane and into the van had made her shudder as the bitter winter wind cut through her orange jumpsuit. The runway had recently been snow ploughed, and banks of dirty grey snow and ice had been sitting along its edge.

The last time Kensi had been at Lejeune she’d been twelve, while her father was stationed there. She’d arrived in mid-winter, straight from San Diego, and the climate change had been immense.
She couldn’t get over the amount of snow that regularly fell during the winter months, and the novelty of building snowmen had never quite worn off despite the amount of yelling her dad would do about the snow that got tracked into the house.

Somehow, she thought wryly, she didn’t think that making snowmen would be high on her agenda for this trip.

Callen was going slowly, due to the terrain and the condition of the roads. It was an hour into their trip when they hit the fake ambush site. There was a muffled yell from the front cab, which had Sam stand up in alarm, and then the van swerved hard to the right as all four tyres burst simultaneously. The women, chained in place, merely slid a little up and down the bench. Sam got thrown backwards against the wall of the truck and took a nasty knock to the back of his head. Kensi fought hard against the urge to help him; a prisoner wouldn’t care less if a guard was injured.

Gunshots rang out through the air, then stilled. There was a brief pause, then the doors to the van were pulled open. Sam, still groggy from his abrupt introduction to the wall, fumbled for his weapon but a grim-faced Deeks hopped up into the van, pulled his weapon out and calmly shot him in the chest three times.

The squibs under Sam’s uniform jacket exploded on cue, and he slumped backwards. Deeks came further into the van and scrabbled in Sam’s pocket for the keys.

“Hey, baby doll,” he said to Kensi, grinning. “You miss me?”

“You know it,” Kensi purred, holding up her wrists to be released.

Deeks unlocked her ankle shackles so she could stand, then before she had time to react, lifted her in the air. She quickly wound her legs around his waist and slipped her handcuffed wrists over his head so they sat neatly around his neck. He pressed her up against the wall and grabbed her ass with his hands, squeezing firmly.

“Who’s the man?” he asked, rotating his hips lazily

Inwardly, Kensi rolled her eyes. However, she had to keep up the pretence of the besotted girlfriend in front of Doyle.

“You’re the man, baby,” she purred, before pouncing on his mouth and kissing him soundly. He was taken off-guard for a split second, but then returned the kiss with force. He moved one hand to her hair and yanked her head back to allow him access to the slender column of her neck, where he sucked bruising kisses into the tender skin.

She groaned with a pleasure that was only half-faked; the weight of his body against hers, the friction of his hips, the heat of his kisses all jogged half-forgotten memories of that drunken night.

It was only when his other hand slid upwards over her body, towards her breasts, that she called time on this part of selling their cover.

“Later, baby,” she said breathlessly. “We gotta go.”

“Yeah,” he said, stepping away from her with an obvious reluctance. “Later,” he repeated, pulling her flush against him for one last hard, bruising kiss.

“What about her?” he said roughly, pointing at Doyle with his gun while keeping one arm looped around Kensi’s waist.

Kensi, her wrists still locked around his neck by the handcuffs, shrugged her shoulders.

“She’s nobody. On her way to do twenty two at Lejeune. Leave her.”

“She’s seen my face,” Deeks said, in a low, menacing tone that was at the same time completely convincing and yet a million miles away from his usual casual demeanour.

“Baby!” Kensi protested, tugged along as Deeks raised his gun and took a few steps towards Doyle.

“I can give you money!” Doyle said, cowering in the corner of the van.

“Bullshit,” Deeks said dismissively, clicking the safety off.

“She can,” Kensi said quickly. “Her guy’s a con, he’s sitting on seven million somewhere.”

“Seven million?” Deeks said, clearly tempted by the money.

Doyle nodded quickly. “He’ll pay you,” she stammered out. “If you help me get to him, he’ll pay you. He loves me.”

Deeks stared at her unwaveringly for a few seconds, the gun still firmly pointed at Doyle’s head.

“This wasn’t the plan,” he said to Kensi quietly. “Get you, get over the border, that’s the plan.”

“But just think, baby,” Kensi pleaded, resting her head against Deeks’ shoulder and looking up at him with her best doe-eyes. “We’ve got no money. Think how much sweeter Mexico’s gonna be if we’re millionaires.”

“You could buy an awful lot of bikinis with a million dollars,” he said, looking down at her while keeping the gun level on Doyle.

“We could buy our own beach and I wouldn’t have to wear anything,” Kensi whispered, pleased to see Deeks’ pupils dilate slightly and his breath hitch as he contemplated the image she created. He deserved it; she was going to have hickeys on her neck, she knew, and Callen and Sam were never going to let her forget it.

“Okay,” he said softly, then cleared his throat and repeated himself, fierce criminal tone of voice back in place. “Okay,” he said, turning to Doyle. “We get you to your boyfriend, he gives us a million dollars. Deal?”

“Deal,” Doyle said hurriedly.

“We need to move quickly,” Kensi said, her tone suddenly snapping into business-like again. “Unlock us.”

Deeks quickly snapped open her handcuffs, and Kensi jumped down onto the snowy road as Deeks unlocked Doyle inside the van.

It was freezing cold, and she could see why Callen had been driving so slowly. The road had been ploughed earlier, judging by the snowbanks on the side of the road, but snow was already falling quickly. They were on a quiet back road, away from traffic and the sky was an ominous steel grey. Deeks’ truck was sitting off the road, half-hidden by trees, and she headed over to it to find clothes. Doyle, shivering in the cold, soon joined her.

“He packed me a bag,” Kensi said, rummaging through the clothes Deeks and Hetty had chosen. “You may have to roll the legs of the pants up a bit, but they should fit.”

They quickly stripped off the orange jumpsuits and changed into clothes from the bag. Kensi’s jeans were as skin-tight as they had been in the Mission, and the green sweater she grabbed had a very deep neckline. Doyle had to wear the prison-issue sneakers that she had been given at Pendleton, but she fit into the spare pair of jeans well enough. The blue sweater she selected was decorated with sequins and fake rhinestones, and was baggy across Doyle’s chest.

“Sorry,” Kensi said apologetically. “I’m a bit bigger than you are.”

“It’s fine,” Doyle said, stamping her feet and hugging her arms to her chest. She looked down at the sweater and touched the rhinestones carefully. “It’s nice,” she said quietly. “I’ve never worn anything like this before.”

“Pretty soon you’ll be dripping in the real thing,” Kensi said cheerfully. “All that cash, your Eddie is bound to buy you something pretty.”

“I don’t need jewellery,” Doyle shrugged, looking away from Kensi. “I just want him.”

Kensi held back a frown, and passed her the bulkier of the two coats as Deeks arrived back at the car.

“I’ve hidden the van as best I could,” he told them as they got in. “This snow should cover our tracks some. Where we headed?”

“Mount Mitchell National Park,” Doyle said, as she settled into the back of the truck.

“Yeah?” Deeks asked as he swung the car out onto the road and accelerated. “What’s he doing there?”

“Not getting caught by the police,” Doyle said sharply.

Deeks shrugged and glanced at Kensi who grinned at him. Against her better judgement, she was beginning to like Doyle, ever so slightly. She’d been quick to call her stupid back in ops, and yeah, she was pretty dumb to think that she could get away with stealing that much cash from the Marine Corps. But she was stubborn, and loyal, and clearly not interested in the criminal lifestyle. Perhaps, Kensi allowed, she was just like Deeks had said, love-starved and confused.

The front of the truck had a bench seat, and she clicked off her seatbelt and slid along it. Deeks draped an arm over her shoulders and dropped a kiss on her forehead, and began to talk about the best places to surf in Mexico. Kensi kept a careful eye on Doyle in the back seat, who was looking out of the window nervously and nibbling at the edge of her thumb.

The distance between the ambush site and the Mount Mitchell National Park wasn’t immense, and in any other weather they could have probably made it by nightfall. But the winter sky got dark easily, and the roads were treacherous. Several times the tyres of the truck slipped slightly on the snowy road, and Kensi had to fight the urge to take over the wheel. It was her control freak nature coming into play again, and she knew she had to try and ignore it. Deeks was supposed to be the professional driver here, and they had agreed that Kensi would try and bond with Doyle by letting him be the dominant personality in their relationship, as Brown was to Doyle.

That was probably the hardest thing to do, Kensi thought irritably. Whenever he made a lewd comment she had to bat her eyelashes and coo at him instead of delivering a hearty punch to the shoulder like she wanted to. What was worse, he knew it too, and was clearly making the most of his license. She spent her time reviewing their plan, making idle small talk with Doyle in an attempt to draw more information out from her and dreaming up devious punishments for Deeks once they were back in LA.

After their wheels slipped for the fifth time, Kensi couldn’t take it any more.

“Baby,” she cooed. “I’m worried that the snow is gonna make us crash. We should find somewhere to stay.”

That was the code they’d worked out; he was to find the next available hotel or bed and breakfast and pull over.

“I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully. “I say we press on, get the money faster.”

Kensi stared at him blankly. This was not part of the plan. Then he grinned and winked at her and she had to struggle to keep her face blank of the annoyance that filled her. The bastard wanted her to beg him. Oh, he was so dead. Just wait until she got her electric zapper knife in her hand, he wouldn’t be able to sit down for weeks.

Gritting her teeth, she leant forward until her cleavage was given full prominence.

“Please, baby?” she begged. “I’m worried about you driving in such nasty conditions.”

She extended a hand and ran it suggestively up his thigh, stopping just short of cupping his genitals. His leg twitched under her hand, and she actually batted her eyelashes at him.

“It’s been an awfully long time since you and I got to be…alone,” she breathed. “There are so many things I want to do to you,” she said honestly. She squeezed his thigh a little more firmly, enough for it to hurt, and he winced.

“I guess something could be arranged,” he said, grinning through the pain, “Can’t deny you anything, sweetness, you know that.”

Kensi settled back in her seat and began to scan the surroundings for any sign of a hotel.

“Maybe they’ll have tequila,” he said cheerfully, sending her a sly look sideways. “You know how much you love that.”

They grinned at each other for the sake of Doyle, and continued on into the darkness.

They found a bed and breakfast twenty minutes later, who were incredibly happy to have out-of-season guests. They were so happy that they even offered to drive down to their local pizzeria to fetch something for their new guests to eat.

The motherly older woman who ran the place showed them to their room – one twin with two double beds - and fussed about showing them the en suite bathrooms and where they could find more blankets if they needed them. It was only the arrival of her husband with their meal that forced her to leave the large, two-bedded room.

Doyle picked up one of the smaller boxes and retreated to one of the beds, kicking off her sneakers and tucking her legs under her as she nibbled carefully at the slice of pizza she pulled from the box. Kensi watched her as she delicately picked the olives off before eating.

“If you didn’t want olives, why didn’t you say so?” she asked as Deeks grabbed the largest box and scrambled onto the other bed. She ignored him as he patted the space next to him, indicating that she should join him.

“I didn’t want to make a fuss,” Doyle said quietly, shrugging. “Not a big deal.”

Kensi found her gaze slipping over to the quiet woman as she took her place next to Deeks, who proceeded to feed her pizza in the obnoxiously sickening way that couples did sometimes. It was too much for Kensi, who even in the throws of a love affair was capable of feeding herself. But it was necessary to sell the cover of a couple deeply in love, so she steeled herself to smile every time
Deeks popped a morsel of food in her mouth and resisted the urge to cram an entire pizza slice into his mouth and watch him choke on it.

Thankfully the owners of the bed and breakfast didn’t bat an eyelid at them all sharing a room; this way they could keep an eye on Doyle and ensure that she didn’t try to skip out in the middle of the night. They offered her the bathroom first, after Deeks did a quick check to make sure that she couldn’t wriggle out of the tiny window. She disappeared inside gratefully, intent on soaking in the tub.

“I can spend a long time in there,” she said quietly to Kensi. “It’ll give you some privacy.”

“Thanks,” Kensi said gratefully. “That’s good of you, Doyle.”

The other woman nodded and disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind her. She had taken the little transistor radio in with her, and within seconds, noisy music bled through the door.

When Kensi looked over to Deeks, he was busy with his phone, texting the ops centre.

“Just keeping Hetty up to speed,” he told her over the noise of pouring water from the other room.

“So far, so good.”

“She’s fallen into place neatly,” Kensi said thoughtfully, gathering up the empty pizza boxes and sucking up the last of her drink through the obnoxiously pink straw Deeks had selected for her.

“She’s easy to manipulate.”

“An easy mark for someone like Brown,” Deeks replied, scanning through his message from Hetty.

“Hetty says to keep on with the plan, and keep working on Doyle.”

Kensi wrapped the detritus of their meal up in a plastic bag and put it outside their door, just as the owner had told them to. Doyle was in the bathroom, it was snowing outside and the TV reception was awful, due to their location and the bad weather.

“There’s nowhere to run, Kensi,” Deeks said lazily, reclining on the bed. “Nothing to do but come and join me up here.”

That was true; the room wasn’t big enough for an extra armchair. She rejoined Deeks on the bed, careful to sit further away from him now that Doyle was busy splashing around in the bathtub.

He pouted, giving her the full puppy dog eyes routine.

“Have I done something to upset you, sweetness?” he asked.

“Shut up,” Kensi said, rolling her eyes. “Doyle’s not around, you don’t have to play the loved-up boyfriend now.”

He shook his head apologetically.

“Sorry sweetheart, but the first rule of deep cover is never to drop it, not for an instant,” he said quietly. “Even when she’s in there, we’re still Kiki and Michael in here.”

Kensi reluctantly nodded. She understood what was necessary, and if this op had happened a week ago, she wouldn’t have had a problem with it. But after waking next to him, knowing that if it hadn’t been for the alcohol they would have crossed the line between partners and lovers, it made this whole situation just that more awkward.

“We need to talk. We should have talked already,” Kensi said slowly, settling herself closer to Deeks on the bed. His arm draped over her shoulders and she reclined further back into the piles of pillows on the bed. “I’m sorry I stalled.”

“That’s okay,” he replied, squeezing her shoulder gently. “I should have picked my moment better. If you were as hung over as I was, it was definitely not the right time to bring it up.”

“Oh God, my head was killing me,” Kensi confessed. “I haven’t drunk like that since I was in college.”

“I can remember a time when I could party like that and be up again at six the next morning to surf,” Deeks said miserably. “I’m old.”

“You’re not old,” Kensi said reassuringly. “You’re just…slowing down a little.”

“Hey!” Deeks said aggrieved. He reached about for one of the pillows behind his head and whacked her with it. Never one to hold back, Kensi grabbed a pillow of her own and whacked him back. She shrieked as he launched into a sneaky, two-handed pillow attack that knocked her on her back. As he crowed in victory above her, she hooked her leg around his and brought him crashing down on top of her. A quick twist and flip had him on his back and her straddling him. NCIS training kicked in and before she knew it she had his wrists pinned above his head, affording a stunned Deeks an up close and personal view right down the front of the deep v-neck of her sweater.

“Wow,” he said breathlessly, shamelessly staring at her breasts.

Shocked, Kensi let go of his wrists and leant backwards, but before she could apologise or clear the air Deeks pulled the same reverse twist on her and had her pinned to the bed with his hips. She felt her legs open instinctively, offering his body a cradle. He slid effortlessly into place, bracing his weight with his elbows.

Kensi gasped with the sensation of his body laying flush against hers. It triggered half-forgotten memories, and pleasure washed over her like a rolling wave. She tentatively let the palms of her hands skate over the firm muscles in his arms, up towards his shoulders. She was not the only one affected by their contact; as she began her careful exploration of his body he groaned, and rocked his hips forward a little. She let her fingertips drift carefully over the tense muscles in his neck, and then over the planes and angles of his face. As she touched his lips he kissed her fingers carefully, little soft nibbling kisses that made her breath come in hitches and starts.

She moved her hands upwards and let her fingers drift through his hair, careful not to scratch his scalp with her nails. He let out a noise that was practically a purr, and he rocked his hips again. This time she felt a distinct hardness there, and the knowledge thrilled her. She hooked one of her long legs around his lower back and rocked back, the pressure from his body hitting her in almost the perfect spot. She gasped as he shifted his weight to one elbow, freeing one hand to trail down her body. Everywhere he touched seemed to burn with heat, and that was just through her clothes. When he tugged the neckline of her sweater to one side and ducked his head to kiss the exposed flesh of the top of her breast, the sensation tripled. The gentle touch of his lips contrasted pleasurably with the scratch of his stubble as he searched out every available centimetre of skin to worship.

She couldn’t help the pants and moans that escaped her lips. They seemed to egg him on to further explorations, and she couldn’t let him have all the fun. She abandoned his hair to search out the hem of his t-shirt. She pulled at it until she could feel the smooth, broad expanse of his back under her fingertips. She smoothed her hands over the firm muscle there, letting them drift down to the waistband of his jeans.

His free hand went roaming, down underneath the hem of her sweater, which he quickly tugged up over her breasts, exposing the ridiculously garish purple satin push-up bra that had been in the change of clothes bag.

Kensi just knew that Kiki was a purple satin push-up bra kind of girl.

Now with more skin to work with Deeks returned to business, using his free hand to tug the bra cup down a little. Her nipple, standing erect and firm, popped free and he immediately latched onto it, licking his way around it until he sucked hard at it.

Kensi let out a small scream and bucked up against him, hard. Pleased with the reaction, Deeks did it again.

“Harder,” Kensi panted, rocking her hips against hers. “Fuck, do it harder,”

Deeks raised his head long enough to grin at her. “Relax,” he told her. “I remember this part just fine.”

Then he very carefully, and with the precise amount of force, bit down onto her nipple.

Kensi howled. She writhed and bucked beneath him, something that increased the pressure of the erection that was laying heavy against her, two layers of denim the only thing stopping it from being buried deeply in her.

Deeks released his hold on her with one final heavy suck at the abused nipple, then promptly turned his attention to the other one, also pulled free of the bra. Kensi didn’t know how long he spent kissing, nibbling and sucking there; time seemed to slow down, and she counted it in the thrusts of his hips, the deep thunder of her pulse in her ears and the low moans they both made.

Pressure built deep down low in her belly, small shocks of pleasure ripping through her whenever she pushed up against his body. It wasn’t enough, though, she knew that, and abandoned her grasp on the deliciously firm muscle of his backside to pull at the fastening of her jeans. She was able to slip them down over her hips, and her underwear too, before Deeks took over and ran two fingers through her wet folds. He rubbed them back and forth, spreading the slick wetness all over before he finally moved them upwards to where she needed them the most.

She was nearly crying with relief as the pressure in her began to build beyond the small shocks. She bucked her hips against his hand quickly, spurring him on. He rubbed her gently but firmly, increasing his speed as she frantically writhed under him.

“C’mon Kensi,” he growled, his voice low and rough in her ear as he bent over her to suck and nip on her earlobe. “Come for me. Let me see you.”

It didn’t take long; his voice, deep and masculine and so intent, more focused than she’d ever heard him before, was almost enough to push her over the edge as it was. His voice combined with the expert attention of his fingers made the dam inside her burst and let the pleasure flood through her, whiting her out until she was nothing but a sodden, sweaty, shaking mass.

She felt him move, sit back on his heels. She moved too, in protest at the loss of him, and she watched blearily as he fumbled with the button on his jeans. She reached forward and slapped his hands away, intent on freeing him herself. She pulled the zipper down carefully, and he groaned in relief as she snaked a hand inside his boxer shorts and gently freed him from the pressure of his jeans.

She sat up more firmly, and pushed him back so he was sitting properly. She pressed herself along his side as she gripped him carefully. Pre-cum was starting to bead at the tip, and she caught it on a fingertip before smoothing it over the head. She moved her hand gently at first, unsure as to what he preferred, but he covered her hand in his own and taught her the technique that made him shake and pant.

“C’mon Deeks,” she purred into his ear. “You saw me, let me see you.”

He panted at the sound of her voice, and sent her an impassioned look. She grinned. It turned out that motor-mouth Deeks liked it when other people talked during sex. That was definitely something she could work with.

“Is this how you always pictured it?” she asked, moving her hand firmly over the length of him. “Me and you in some little bed and breakfast, a criminal in the bathroom?”

“God, no,” he panted, his head rolling backwards.

“Maybe you saw us at the beach?” Kensi said wickedly. “I’d be wearing that pink bikini from the beach op, do you remember it?”

“Can’t…forget it…,” he panted, then shook his head. “Not the beach.”

“Where then?” Kensi said, feigning puzzlement. She switched hands, allowing the other to trail down to his sac. He practically sobbed when she rubbed gently there as she squeezed firmly with her other hand. “Not a bed and breakfast, not the beach…oh Deeks. Not the office surely?” she asked delightedly.

His response, a half-strangled groan was all she needed.

“You bad boy,” she teased. “Where? We could put some mats down in the gym, have a soft surface. Or do you want to fuck me against the big board in ops?”

He was beyond speech now. She could tell that he was incredibly close, and decided to take pity on him. She leaned closer and whispered directly into his ear.

“I’ve got it. Right in the middle of the bullpen. You want to bend me over your desk and the bullpen and fuck me until I scream, don’t you, Deeks? Right there in front of everyone. No hiding, no covers. Just you buried inside me as deep as you can go.”

That was enough. He came copiously, clinging to her as he jerked four or five times into her hand. Some of the pearly-white liquid missed her hand, landing on the bedspread, but there was enough on her fingers for her to slowly lick them clean. That sight clearly short-circuited what was left of his functioning brain cells, as he collapsed back onto the bed, dragging her down with him.

They lay there panting together as they struggled to find the words to say to each other.

“So,” Deeks said eventually, turning his face to her. “You wanted to talk about something?”

His hair was a mess, he was red in the face, his lips were swollen with kisses and his jeans and boxer shorts were halfway down his legs, but his face had an air of innocent enquiry. Kensi couldn’t help but laugh, especially when she looked down to see her jeans in much the same state, and her breasts pulled out of her clothing.

“I think we answered one of my questions,” she said dryly.

Deeks lifted the hand that had become entwined with his hand dropped a kiss on the back of it.

“We may have to wait for a little while before we can answer any more,” he warned.

From the bathroom, they heard the radio click off and the splashes that announced somebody getting out of the tub.

“We have the best timing,” Kensi sighed in agreement.

They quickly adjusted their own clothing, then moved from the bed. Kensi cracked the window open a little; the unmistakable smell of sex was in the air, and although it kill off any doubts Doyle may have about the authenticity of their story, it wasn’t something that Kensi really cherished hanging about. Behind her she could hear Deeks scrubbing at the comforter with some tissues from the side of the bed. A little investigating found a spare in one of the room’s wardrobes, and they quickly made the switch.

They had just settled back on the bed and clicked on the television again, in the hope that the reception had cleared up, when Doyle emerged from the bathroom.

“I cleaned the tub out,” she said quietly. “You can use it if you want.”

There had been a few pairs of sweat pants in the bag, and Kensi had donated one of those and a large t-shirt for Doyle to sleep in. Doyle pulled back the covers and hopped into bed. Kensi watched as she carefully tucked into a small ball on the right side of the bed, the one against the wall, furthest away from the other bed. When she slept alone in a double bed, she slept starfish-like right in the middle of the bed but Doyle took up less than half of the space.

Another difference between them, she supposed.

Kensi used the bathroom and changed into her own pyjamas, a short set in red satin that was completely and totally not her style at all. She scowled at Deeks as she came back into the room, but couldn’t help but feel a little smug at how his eyes popped at the sight of her and how he stumbled slightly in the doorway to the bathroom.

“You buy me the nicest things, baby,” she told him solemnly.

“Plenty more where they came from,” he managed, then grinned at her before giving her a firm swat to her backside. She jumped and squealed in shock and he winked at her before disappearing into the bathroom. Vowing revenge at the next opportunity, she got into bed and huddled under the covers.

He chose to sleep only in his boxer shorts, which he gave both Doyle and herself a good view of as he strutted around the room closing the blinds and re-packing the duffle bag. Kensi rolled her eyes at his show-off behaviour, but she couldn’t help but watch him as he peacocked his way around the room.

There was no denying it now; the chemistry that had been there since the very start, back when he was Jason Wyler. She’d done her best to keep it down, but she just couldn’t help it; she wanted him. They’d now gone some way to finishing what they had drunkenly started, but even after one of the most spectacular orgasms of her life, she still felt like they had unfinished business. She wanted him inside her; on top of her, beneath her, behind her, she didn’t care, she just needed that connection with him.

What that meant for their professional partnership, she didn’t know. She didn’t know if it would be a one-time deal, a partnership with benefits, as he had crudely put it, or something a little more serious. She wasn’t sure what she wanted, other than she wanted him. And she wanted him soon.

He set the alarm on the bedside table, and switched off the light. She had moved herself to one distinct side of the bed, offering him as much space as was practical – she had no idea what he was thinking about what had just happened, and she didn’t want to him to think that she was clingy, or wanted to spend the night cuddling.

However, she hadn’t banked on him being a cuddler. An arm snaked across her waist and dragged her towards the centre of the bed, her satin pyjamas sliding easily over the sheets. It took them a moment to sort out arms and legs, but she drifted off to sleep with his warm body pressed fully against hers, one hand cupping a breast. He didn’t ask permission; Kiki’s boyfriend wouldn’t, just as he wouldn’t leave a decent space between them. But the three light kisses he pressed to the side of her neck weren’t for Kiki, they were for her, and it was Deeks who let out a little sigh of pleasure as she let one of her hands cover his.

Oh, she was so screwed.

~~~~

The owners of the bed and breakfast had done themselves proud, and the two agents and the escaped convict practically rolled out of the front door towards their truck.

“Pity we won’t go there again,” Deeks said as he opened the door. “Great food.”

“You should know, you put away a ton of if,” Kensi sniped.

“Oh, and you’re known for your bird-like appetite,” he snorted, turning the engine over.

“I work out!” Kensi snapped, glaring at him. “A lot!”

“How long have you two been together?” Doyle asked suddenly, from the back seat.

“Two years,” Deeks said happily. “Two long, ballbusting – ah!”

Kensi jabbed him in the ribs with a sharp elbow.

“Two years,” she said, turning back to Doyle. “It’s longer than some jail sentences.”

“But you’re still together,” Doyle said quietly. “After all that time. It’s nice.”

“Yeah,” Deeks said, holding out one of his hands to Kensi. “It is nice.”

His voice held a trace of softness that did not fit the hardened career criminal that he was pretending to be, a trace that she knew was Marty Deeks, not Michael Summers.

“You’re so sappy,” she muttered, but the mutter hid a small smile as she placed her hand in his and was pulled across the bench seat of the truck to cuddle up against him.

~~~~

The day was sharp and clear, bitterly cold but thankfully, not snowing despite the ominously heavy, dark clouds on the horizon. The ploughs had been out already clearing the roads that they took towards Mount Mitchell National Park, but the thick layer of snow sitting on the farmland to the side of the road told them just how deep it was.

“Do you know where he is, exactly?” Deeks called back to Doyle, who was staring out of the window in the back of the truck. “It’s a wilderness out here.”

Deeks was right. They had passed through some very small towns, but they had left any major population centres behind a long time ago. There was a lot of pasture land with some disgruntled looking cows, more trees than Kensi had ever seen in one place at one time and not much else except miles of road and the giant Mount Mitchell looming in the distance.

If somebody wanted to hide, this was the place to do it.

“I don’t have a map or anything,” Doyle said, turning her attention away from the window. “But he told me about this place up here, how his neighbour had owned it, a little hunting cabin. He left it to Eddie in his will, because Eddie liked guns. He thought he could use it. It’s not much, Eddie says, just four walls and a roof. But nobody else knows about it.”

“How’d you know about it?” Deeks asked, one eye on Doyle in the rear view mirror. “If he never told anybody else about it, how come he told you?”

Doyle stiffened, and a faint red blush spread on her cheeks.

“Sometimes he would tell me things,” she said delicately. “You know. After.”

“I got ya,” Kensi reassured her. “Your Eddie’s a talker? Michael’s a talker. Never shuts up usually. Except in bed.”

She elbowed Deeks in the ribs playfully.

“You like it when I talk then, don’t you baby?” she teased, and a hot red flush started on the back of Deeks’ neck that she thought was perfectly adorable.

“Not long before we enter the park,” he said gruffly. “Where do we go then?”

“He said it was on the eastern ridge,” Doyle told him. “You can only take the road so far though. The rest of the way’s on foot. That’s all I know.”

They all remained silent as they covered the last few miles to the entrance to the national park. During the summer it would be beautiful, Kensi could tell, but now in dark and dreary November the whole place was deserted. There were no park rangers in the booths at the entrance, and no cars in the car parks surrounding the closed visitors’ centre. Kensi hopped out to grab a map from one of the plastic tubs attached to the wall of the kiosk that would sell ice cream in the summer, and quickly got back in the truck again. She’d been a California girl for too long, the temperature was far too cold for her comfort.

Together they traced out a route on the trails for vehicles that would get them close to the eastern ridge. The map held a few vague locations of private cabins, and all they could do was hope that Brown’s cabin was one of those marked.

Twenty minutes of careful driving had got them to the end of their road, an old logging route that had tested the truck’s suspension to the limit. There the road simply stopped, and the dense forest started.

“He didn’t say anything about where the cabin was located?” Kensi asked as they piled out of the truck. She kept Doyle talking while Deeks dug about in their bags in the trunk. When he returned he silently handed Kensi her Sig, which she tucked into the back of her jeans. Doyle didn’t know about her gun, which was exactly the way they wanted it. If she tried to turn against them and inform Brown, there would be an extra gun in play that neither of them expected.

Doyle shrugged, turning back to Kensi from scanning the ridge line.

“He said that it was made of oak, because there were oak trees all around it,” she said, screwing up her face in an effort to think.

Kensi glanced around at the trees surrounding them.

“None of these are oaks,” she said decisively. “There’s a hunter’s trail marked on the map, let’s follow that until we see something.”

It was hard going through the snow on the ground; Kensi needed all of her tracking skills to follow the hidden trail through the covered ground. Her jeans immediately became soaking wet, and she spared a thought for Doyle, who was walking in sneakers. Her feet must be wet and frozen, while Kensi’s were warm and snug in her boots. Deeks was obviously thinking along the same lines, because he’d frequently look back over his shoulder and help Doyle over difficult terrain.

Doyle herself was scanning the horizon nervously, intent on spotting the cabin where she thought Brown would be hiding out.

If Brown wasn’t there, Kensi realised grimly, then the whole op was a bust and it was likely that Brown would be successful in escaping with at least part of the money he had stolen from Quantico.

They made slow, plodding progress, not even sure that they were heading in the right direction. Deeks had pulled his phone out at various points, but shook his head each time. Eric had been right; cell service this far into the national park was zero. They were well and truly cut off from backup.

After about an hour, Kensi began to pick out oak trees in the groves around them. On a hunch she followed them and was rewarded with more and more of them in great stands all around her. A little further along the trail and they began to smell the welcome, familiar smell of wood smoke.

“Fire means people,” Deeks said quietly, unholstering his gun.

“It had to be Eddie,” Doyle said, with the first proper smile on her face that Kensi had witnessed yet. “Nobody else would be around here right now.”

She was right; they were miles and miles from anywhere, and there had been no sight of any humans, either hunters, hikers or park rangers.

“You go ahead of us a little,” Deeks said to her. “He’ll be less likely to shoot first and ask questions later if his girl appears before the strangers do.”

“Okay,” Doyle said eagerly, and set off at a quickened pace towards the smell of smoke.

Five minutes later and they came into a clearing. A small hunting cabin sat nestled into a curved rock wall, protecting it from the worst of the weather. It was clearly basic in its provisions, but it was shelter. In front of the cabin was a large campfire, the source of the smoke. A tall man, dressed in a thick coat, jeans and good boots stood next to it, his shotgun raised and pointing in the direction of the intruders.

“Eddie!” Doyle shouted, her joy at seeing her beloved all too clear in her voice, which carried well across the clearing. “Eddie!”

Ignoring the shocked look on the man’s face, she ran across the packed snow and threw herself into his arms. He was forced to drop the shotgun down onto the snow with the force of her arrival.

“Jo?” he said, disbelief evident in his voice. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

He scowled, grabbing her wrist tight with one hand and squeezing.

“How did you find me?” he demanded. “Tell me, how did you know I was here?”

“You told me,” Doyle stammered, pulling slightly at his grip. “Eddie, do you remember, that time in the motel, the one with the red curtains, you said you had a hunting cabin here. When I found out you escaped, I knew you’d come here. It’s safe.”

“It’s very safe,” Deeks said loudly, announcing their presence. “Nobody around here for miles.”

Brown acted instinctively, shoving Doyle away from himself and producing a handgun from a pocket of his coat. Doyle landed awkwardly in the snow, further hurting the arm that her lover had just yanked so hard on.

“No, Eddie,” she said, scrambling to her feet. “They’re friends.”

Deeks had pulled his gun out, and had it levelled on Brown, whose gun was moving steadily between Deeks and Kensi.

“That’s right, buddy,” Deeks said coolly. “We’re all friends here.”

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Brown demanded. His body language hadn’t changed; he was still tense, and Kensi easily read fear and anger in his eyes.

She shifted uncomfortably, wishing she had the comfort of her Sig in her hand. She could feel the reassuring weight of it at the small of her back, but she’d be happier with it trained on Brown, covering her partner.

“I’m Michael, and this is my girl, Kiki. We’re the ones who bust your girl out of a military transport, so maybe you want to take the gun out of my face, what do you say?” Deeks told Brown, a faint veneer of his usual charm over the steely composure that the Michael character would have in a situation like this.

Brown frowned, and his gun shifted position towards Kensi. He lifted an eyebrow at Deeks, challenging him to respond to this power play. Deeks responded by loudly clicking the safety off his gun, and keeping it firmly on Brown.

Kensi eyed the two men warily. This pissing competition was necessary for the cover, and to ensure that Brown respected Michael, but it put her in the role of damsel in distress, and that was one that she hated. She would much rather be the cause of distress, if given the option.

Keeping his attention firmly on Deeks, Brown addressed Doyle.

“That true, Jo?” he asked gruffly. “They break you out?”

Doyle nodded furiously. “He was gonna just break her out,” she told Brown. “He shot the guards, I saw him. He was gonna leave me there, but I couldn’t do twenty years, baby, I couldn’t. So I told them…”

Brown’s head whipped sideways. Kensi edged closer to Deeks, who reached out and pulled her behind him.

“You told them what?” he asked menacingly.

“I said…I said….” Doyle began.

“She said that you’d pay us if we got her back to you,” Deeks called out. “Said you’d come into some money recently and you could pay.”

“She did, did she?” Brown asked quietly.

“It’s not that much,” Doyle pleaded. “You got seven million, Eddie. You said we weren’t gonna take much, you said just enough to set us up in Mexico. We don’t need all that money, baby. Give some to them, then we can all just disappear.”

Brown’s face was expressionless, except for his eyes. Kensi knew as soon as she saw them that this was not going to end well. There was hatred there, and it was all aimed at Doyle.

“Go stand over there, Jo,” he said eventually. “Go stand next to the fire. You must be frozen.”

“I am,” she said, “Thanks, Eddie. You always take good care of me.”

 

He remained silent and stoic as she pressed a kiss to his lips, and went to stand next to the large campfire, warming her reddened hands at it. It started to snow, the heavy grey clouds overhead finally releasing their cargo. Large flakes landed on her hair and shoulders, but she paid them no attention. All of her focus was on her lover.

Gun still trained, unmoving, on Kensi and Deeks, Brown turned his attention back to them.

“I’m only going to say this once,” Brown told them, his voice hard and uncompromising. “I don’t share. That’s my money.”

“Come on, man,” Deeks said expansively. “We gave you your girl back! I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t imagine life without my little sugar plum. She’s gotta be worth something to you, right?”

Brown raised an eyebrow, and smiled. It was the nastiest smile Kensi had ever seen, and she’d been on the receiving end of many smirks from villains. She stiffened, and began to reach behind her slowly.

“You want to know what she means to me?” Brown asked.

Before either Deeks or Kensi could react, Brown spun around and fired his gun directly at Doyle. Kensi watched in horror as the bullet hit the centre of her forehead with precision. The force of the bullet knocked the small woman backwards, and her body fell, lifeless, into the campfire.

At the sound of the shot Kensi was already stumbling backwards, reaching for her gun. Deeks started firing at Brown, but he’d dived for cover behind a snow-covered boulder.

“Run!” Kensi ordered.

There was no cover for them in the clearing; the boulder was the only big rock around, and they were too far away from the shelter to make it there before they got shot. Both Kensi and Deeks let out shots to cover their retreat among the trees.

Their winter weather gear wasn’t camouflaged; their jeans and brightly coloured jackets stood out like sore thumbs against the white snow and dark brown of the trees. Climbing the trees wouldn’t help either; they had all lost their leaves for the winter, and their visibility would outweigh any tactical advantage height would give them.

Despite the snow that was falling more heavily now, they could still see their tracks ahead of them. They ran as fast as they could through the snow-covered ground, shots whistling overhead. They returned fire, trying to keep Brown at bay until they reached their truck.

“Well,” panted Deeks. “This plan has gone as well as they usually do.”

“Shut up and keep moving,” Kensi ordered, firing backwards at their unseen enemy.

Slipping and sliding over the snowy ground, they followed the trail backwards until they found the road again. The shots following them had tailed off, which worried Kensi. Either Brown had run out of ammo, which meant he was reloading in order to come after them again, or he had somehow got ahead of them, and was waiting for them. Brown would have a much better grasp of the terrain than they did, and had better camo gear. In their guise as fun loving criminals on the run, neither Deeks nor Kensi really fit into the landscape.

As the truck came in sight, Deeks heaved a sigh of relief and put on an extra burst of speed. Kensi’s gut instinct raged at her, and she caught up with him and tackled him to the floor behind the stand of trees that separated them from the road.

“What the hell…” he began , but Kensi clapped a hand over his mouth and hissed at him to be quiet.

“We’re not being followed,” she told him hurriedly.

She could see the understanding dawn on his face immediately. Marty Deeks was many things, but stupid just wasn’t one of them.

Deeks peered through the treeline at the truck and swore angrily.

“He’s been here,” he said grimly. “Check the truck.”

Kensi looked hard at the truck and swore as well. She could see two tyres with massive holes blown in them, and the bags containing their clothes and extra ammo had been strewn all over the floor. She’d bet any amount of money that all their ammo and tactical resources were gone.

“Ok,” she said, breathing out hard through her nose in a vain attempt to generate some calm. “Let’s think this through. What have we got?”

The answer was disheartening. Between them they had two handguns, each with less than half a clip of ammo left. They both had cell phones, but there was still no signal this far into the park. Deeks had a wallet with some petty cash and the Hetty-approved credit card in it, with a tiny limit. Kensi had a knife tucked into her boot and the map of the park from the tourist information centre folded in her pocket.

That was all.

“We need to get out of the park as soon as possible,” Kensi said decisively. “We need to get to a phone and call Lejeune to get search teams out here.”

“And call Hetty,” Deeks added. “Maybe Eric can hijack a satellite or two to help.”

“The quickest and easiest way out is by road,” Kensi said, staring at the map. “But he’ll expect us to do that.”

“He’s probably sitting in wait a couple of hundred feet down the road,” Deeks agreed. He traced a line on the map with the tip of his finger. “This river flows out of the park,” he pointed out. “It goes in the opposite direction to the road, and according to this, goes right through a couple of small towns.”

“It’s a lot longer,” Kensi agreed. “But it’s the better plan.”

“There are more buildings marked in that direction,” Deeks said, tapping the map. “Could make for shelter and cover if we need it.”

He looked up at the steel-grey, heavy sky above him, and shivered. “I don’t like the look of those clouds,” he said darkly.

“We should get moving,” Kensi said. “If we push, we can get a good amount of distance covered by nightfall.”

“If the scary psycho marine doesn’t shoot us first,” Deeks said, scrambling to his feet.

“Yeah,” Kensi sighed, the image of Doyle’s body crumpling gracelessly into the fire. She shook her head. Now was not the time to think about that.

They moved as quickly as they could over the snow-covered ground. The clouds above them released showers of fresh snow throughout the day. On one hand, that was helpful as it disguised their trail and would slow Brown down. On the other hand, it impeded their progress too. It was cold, they were in unfamiliar terrain without backup, and a highly trained and motivated killer was somewhere behind them.

Try as hard as she could, Kensi couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched by someone. She doubled back several times to check out their trail, but there was no sign of Brown anywhere. It didn’t reassure her, though and the beginnings of what promised to be a huge tension headache was sitting right behind her temples.

Any breaks they took were short, just long enough to catch their breath, check their trail, consult the map and check they were still on the right path. The river was on their right, and they had to keep it there. It moved quickly, despite the large chunks of ice bobbing along on the top of it; the water looked dark and dangerous and Kensi was in no hurry to go anywhere near it.

They had been walking for hours, and she knew that they weren’t going to make it out of the park by nightfall. Despite it being the late afternoon, it was incredibly dark. There were no lights in the forest, and the thick canopy of the trees blocked out most of the dim light available.

“We should be looking for somewhere to spend the night,” Kensi told Deeks.

They hadn’t talked much during their long trek through the park. Deeks’ natural exuberance was cut short by the stark reality of their situation, and his mouth had been a thin, grim line for most of the walk. Kensi knew he was thinking about Doyle; if they hadn’t used her as part of the plan, she would still be alive right now, sitting behind bars at Lejeune. Kensi knew Deeks would blame himself for her death. She knew it because she blamed herself, too.

It had been one of the contentious parts of the plan. Hetty had signed off on it, but it had never really sat well with Kensi. They had all assumed that Brown would have been delighted to see Doyle; they never really considered the possibility that Brown had already discarded her. They had brought her back to him so he could do the job permanently, and on realising that, Kensi felt sick to the stomach.

Joanna Doyle deserved a better life, and a better death, Kensi thought bitterly.

Deeks stopped and gestured for the map. After scrutinising it for a while, he pointed out two locations.

“There are some more hunting lodges marked here,” he said, pointing to a location fairly close to their current one. “Or there’s a camp site over on the other side of the river, a few miles in.”

Kensi looked at him, amused.

“I’m sorry Deeks, but I think I must have left my tent in my other jeans,” she said dryly.

Deeks shook his head. “Look at the back of the map,” he urged.

Kensi flipped it over and read the information for tourists printed there.

 

“So?” she said eventually. “It’s about the campsite. I still maintain we’re lacking a few important items.”

Deeks shook his head. “Right here,” he said pointing to one of the paragraphs. “Come on, Kensi, keep up.”

He grinned at her, and she rolled her eyes as she scanned the document again. That time, she spotted it.

“Staff live on site twenty four hours a day, seven days a week during high season to ensure the comfort of all our guests…they live there all summer? There must be staff cabins.”

“Any shelter is better than none, even if the cabins have been abandoned for the winter,” Deeks pointed out. “Brown will expect us to head for the hunting cabins. They’re nearer, and probably have better provisions.”

“We still have to cross the river,” Kensi said dubiously. “I don’t see a bridge marked anywhere on the map.”

“There must be something,” Deeks said stubbornly.

Kensi sighed. The camp site made more sense, tactically, but the river was wide and flowing strongly.

“You’d better be right about there being a bridge,” she warned, stuffing the map back in her pocket. “I don’t feel like swimming today.”

~~~~

They trudged on through the snowy ground, keeping alert for both traces of Brown, and a bridge over the river. Neither were apparent, and the tense atmosphere was making Kensi’s head pound.

“It’s not too late to double back and head for the hunting cabins,” she pointed out. “There’s no bridge, Deeks.”

“What do you call that then?” he asked triumphantly, picking his way down the bank of the river valley towards a jumble of rotten wood that lay across the river.

“A death trap,” Kensi said flatly. “Deeks, that bridge is out.”

“We can still use it,” he said stubbornly. “It’s mostly intact.”

Kensi opened her mouth to argue, when a shot whistled past her head and burrowed itself into a nearby tree. Deeks reached for her hand and yanked her forwards and together they ran for the mass of wood that spanned the river.

“If I die crossing the river I swear to all that’s holy I am haunting your ass,” Kensi warned Deeks fiercely as they threw themselves behind the remains of a pylon and returned fire at where they thought Brown was taking cover.

“It’s a great ass,” Deeks assured her. “I can totally see why you’d want to do that.”

Kensi fired grimly at the stand of trees where Brown must be hiding and thought evil thoughts about her partner, who had apparently added mind reading to his repertoire, as he snickered quietly under his breath.

The combined fire of the agents was enough to drive Brown out of his hiding place and force him back further up the river valley. Kensi caught Brown squarely between the sights of her Sig, and couldn’t help but let out a happy exclamation when one of her shots got him in the shoulder, making him fall to the ground.

“Nice shooting,” Deeks told her. “Wanna go in for the kill?”

Kensi checked her ammo level and frowned.

“I’m out,” she said. “You?”

The empty click of his Beretta told her all she needed to know.

“He’s wounded, that should slow him down,” she said decisively. “We’re at a disadvantage with no ammo. He’s a Marine; even with a bullet in him he’d still pick us off if we tried to ambush him. We need to get over the river while we still can.”

Deeks nodded in agreement.

Keeping as low to the ground as possible, Deeks and Kensi made their way to the jumble of rotten logs that had once been a bridge over the river. There was still a semblance of a working bridge, but the supports had given way on one side. They were going to have to pick their way across the remaining bridge carefully as the whole thing was tilted at a crazy angle. It was doable, Kensi decided, but it would be far easier if the whole structure wasn’t covered in a layer of snow, and if there wasn’t an angry, wounded murderer on their tail.

Deeks insisted on going first, arguing that he was heavier and could test whether the boards of the bridge would hold their weight better. Kensi nodded impatiently, and let him move slowly across the boards ahead of her.

It seemed to take forever, but slowly they made their progress across the bridge. The ropes used to bind the footboards together were now angled above their heads, and they used them to steady themselves as they clambered over the remains of the bridge supports. Below them the river flowed quickly, its waters dark and deep, and the noise of the fast flowing water spurred them both on. Neither wanted to end up falling in.

They were about three quarters of the way across the bridge when shots began to ring out across the valley. A large chunk of wood inches from Kensi’s hand suddenly splintered and she jerked away from it instinctively. The sudden movement was enough to make her lose her footing, and no amount of desperate scrambling from her or Deeks was enough to stop her falling from the bridge and plunging into the dark water below.

~~~~

Thirty seconds Kensi thought, her mind surprisingly calm. Once you’ve fallen into freezing cold water, you have thirty seconds before your body starts to shut down.

She was a good swimmer, but even the best of swimmer would be challenged by such freezing conditions and weighed down by clothes. She immediately began to strike out towards the shore, but the current of the river was strong, and before she knew it she was being swept around the bend and away from the bridge. She heard Deeks shout her name, and she spared a quick hope that he wouldn’t be stupid enough to jump in the river after her.

She heard a loud splash, the sort of splash that the sound of an adult male with more hair than sense would make if he decided to jump into a raging river, and she felt a bolt of pure anger run through her body.

How dare he risk his life in such a stupid manner? Didn’t he know how special he was? Didn’t he know how many people out there depended on his being alive? And now she not only had to rescue herself, she had to get him out of the water too! That was it, she was so ratting him out to Hetty when they got back to LA.

Her brain practically boiling with anger, she struck out with renewed vigour. A large log, one of the fallen bridge supports by the look of it, had become wedged between some boulders. The current helped her, and she grabbed onto the log. Using almost the very last of her energy, Kensi pulled herself up out of the water and onto the log. She gripped it between her thighs, and scanned the water anxiously. Deeks soon appeared, grimly fighting the current as her scanned the water around him.

“Over here!” she yelled, and the look of relief on his face when he saw her perched precariously on the log was almost enough to melt her heart a little towards him. Almost.

Deeks ploughed his way through the water towards her. Gripping the log even tighter with her thighs, Kensi leaned towards Deeks and extended her hands. She caught one of his icy-cold hands with hers, and pulled with all her might, dragging him towards the log. He too clambered up on it.

She gripped his face with her hands, scanning it anxiously.

“Are you hurt?” she shouted above the noise of the raging water. “Did he get you?”

“No,” Deeks shouted back. “Are you hurt?”

Her whole body ached with the force the water had used to batter her about, but she would never tell him that.

“I’m fine,” she yelled.

Then she slapped him. The red imprint of her hand lasted on his pale cheek as she yelled at him about his stupidity, and his casual disregard for his life, and how he wasn’t behaving like an NCIS agent should.

He just smiled, took her frozen hands in his, and kissed them.

“Oh Kiki,” he said happily. “You do love me, after all.”

Kensi shrieked, an angry, wordless noise of disbelief, affront and indignation, slapped his other cheek and kissed him, hard.

“We need to find shelter,” Deeks told her. “Before some very important parts of my anatomy drop off.”

“It’s not that important,” Kensi said darkly, shuddering with the cold as they splashed their way from the log to the bank of the river. The cold was turning painful now, ice needles of agony shooting through her limbs.

“I think you have a vested interest in it now,” Deeks said, his teasing apparently not even cowed by a dip in a freezing cold river.

“Shut up,” Kensi said through chattering teeth. “The camp site must be up there.”

~~~~

Clinging to each other, they managed to drag themselves up the river bank and towards the camp site area. There were sturdy cabins built there, just as they hoped there would be, and it was the matter of seconds for them to break the padlock off the door of one of them with a rock from the ground. Although the cabin was chilly, it was still a lot warmer than the outside thanks to its strong construction.

“Strip,” Kensi ordered, pulling open doors of cupboards and sideboards until she found what she was looking for.

“Want to check if it’s still attached?” Deeks joked, but Kensi could see the blue tinge to his lips and the way his body was shaking.

“Take off your clothes, and wrap yourself in these,” she said, her own hands shaking. She threw a bundle of blankets at him.

She began to strip off her own clothes, her fingers having problems with some of the buttons as they were shaking so hard. She managed though, and immediately cocooned herself in the layers of light blankets she had found in the storage cupboards.

“Bed,” Deeks said, taking her by the elbow and guiding her towards the back of the cabin.

“Body heat,” Kensi agreed, stumbling after him.

 

At the back of the cabin were small, private bedrooms and in one of them was a heating unit that ran on bottled gas. Thanking whomever had left the unit behind, Kensi switched it on and watched the bars on the front of it glow red with heat. Together she and Deeks collapsed onto the bed, and with some quick rearranging they soon ended up clasped together, skin to skin. They lay huddled together, shaking with cold and adrenaline, under a mound of blankets.

Kensi couldn’t hold him tight enough. She was still angry with him for risking his own life, but what kept her arms folded around his neck and a leg wrapped around his waist wasn’t anger. At least, she amended, not totally anger. It was fear.

She wasn’t so much scared of Brown as she was scared that she could have died today without ever admitting to Deeks that what she felt for him went deeper than a need for sex. If she had ever needed a wake-up call, then the river was it. Kensi Blye was not a coward. She could do this.

“Deeks,” she said quietly, directly into his ear. “Deeks, are you listening to me?”

“I’m always listening to you,” he said blearily. “Even when you’re yelling at me.”

His hands were on her back, stroking softly. One hand moved down to cup her backside, the thumb tracing over the spot where her fake tattoo had been painted on. She didn’t think he had seen it, not back at the bed and breakfast, but he might have caught a glimpse when she had pulled off her wet clothes.

“Well, sometimes you need to be yelled at,” she grumbled, planting a kiss on his collarbone. “Like when you do stupid stunts like throw yourself into freezing cold rivers.”

“I saw bullets slam into the bridge either side of you, and then you fall into the river,” he said, an undertone of steel in his voice that wasn’t usually there.

His grip on her tightened, as if by remembering the incident he was moved to try and keep her close now. If Kensi wasn’t so tired, or cold, she would have found that sexy.

“I’m your partner, Kensi,” he went on. “If you think for one second that I’d let you get hurt when there’s a chance that I could stop it, you need to seriously rethink what you know about me, and what I’m capable of.”

They lay in silence for a while. Deeks continued to stroke and caress the skin on her back. Kensi laid small kisses down on the side of his neck.

“What would you have done?” he asked eventually.

“Hmm?” Kensi asked, lulled into a calm state by the gentle touches. She was beginning to warm up now, and Deeks’ skin was also starting to feel a little warmer.

“If it had been me who had fallen off the bridge,” he said, kissing her gently at her temple. “What would you have done?”

“NCIS protocols…,” Kensi began, but Deeks shook his head.

“I don’t want to know about what an NCIS agent would do in these circumstances,” he said, “although I think it’s highly unlikely that there is a scenario exactly like this in the training manual anyway. I want to know what you, Kensi Blye, would do.”

Kensi huffed a breath of warm air, annoyed. She knew damn well what she would have done.

“I’d have jumped into the river after you,” she admitted.

“Yeah?” he asked, grinning at her. “And why is that, Agent Blye? After all, the training manual says that…”

Kensi groaned, and kissed him to shut him up. He laughed around the kiss, and returned it.

“I’d have jumped in the river because…” she admitted after the kiss had finished.

“Because….” he prompted, his eyes twinkling with suppressed laughter.

Kensi sighed. “Because I’m in love with you, you giant jerk, and I was trying to tell you that nicely, and now I’m just yelling at you again!”

Deeks laughed and kissed her annoyance away.

“I love it when you yell at me,” he told her, rolling her underneath him. “Your eyes get full of fire and you stick your chest out…”

“I do not stick my chest out!” she interrupted.

“You stick your chest out,” Deeks went on calmly, as if she hadn’t spoken. “And you look alive, Kensi. And I love that I rattle your cage. I love that I’m the one that makes you lose control.”

“Yeah?” she asked, wrapping both of her legs around his waist. “You love that?”

“I love the way that you treat life as a challenge,” he continued, kissing the side of her neck. “I love the way you’re determined to be the best in the room, no matter who’s in there. I love the way you’re smarter than just about everybody I know.”

“What else do you love?” she asked, twining her fingers in his damp hair and tugging.

“I love your tits,” he said in a voice of complete honesty, and she lost all control and laughed out loud.

“Seriously, they’re awesome,” he said, his voice muffled as he bent his head to kiss them directly. “I could spend hours here. In fact, I’m spending my next vacation right here, with my head between them.”

Kensi laughed again, and swatted him on the shoulder.

“Oh, and I love you, I guess,” he added.

“Oh, you guess,” she scoffed.

He looked up from between her breasts and shrugged.

“I thought you knew that. Everyone else knows that.”

“You thought I…what do you mean, everybody else knows?”

Kensi tried to sit up but Deeks tugged her back down again.

“Kensi, I do everything but pull your pigtails. Sam and Callen have both come to have The Talk with me, separately, and if that wasn’t terrifying enough, Hetty said…”

Deeks trailed off, a distant look in his eyes, then he shuddered.

“No, I’m not telling you what she said,” he said before Kensi could open her mouth. “I’m trying really hard to repress that particular memory. Plus, there’s the book that Nell’s been running.”

“Nell’s been running a book on us? How much is it up to?”

“A couple of hundred dollars, I think.”

Kensi pulled a face. “There’s got to be a way to get in on that,” she said thoughtfully.

“You’re not angry that our colleagues have been betting on us?” he asked, amused.

“I’m angry that we haven’t thought of a way to benefit from it,” she admitted.

“I really, really love you,” he said solemnly.

They kissed for a while longer, but neither of them had the energy to do more than hold and caress.

“So far we’ve been so drunk we passed out before having sex, had to stop because we had a convicted felon in the bathroom, and now we’re naked but trying to stave off hypothermia,” Deeks muttered in her ear. “Do you think we’re ever going to have a normal sex life?”

“I don’t think we’re ever going to do anythingnormally,” Kensi replied, yawning, then fell asleep. Chuckling his agreement, Deeks followed soon afterwards.

~~~~

They were woken later by the sound of helicopters buzzing loudly over the camp site.

“Wake up,” Kensi said, shaking him. The light from outside was different, brighter, not so dark. They must have slept through the night.

“No,” he groaned into her shoulder. “It’s cold.”

“Wake up,” hissed Kensi. “I think the Marines are here.”

“That’s a new one,” he said blearily. “Never heard that one before.”

 

She got out of bed and bundled herself up in blankets, leaving Deeks to do the same. The front door to the cabin burst open and Sam and Callen came in, guns ready and levelled. Kensi threw her hands up and prayed that the blankets would stay in place.

“Don’t shoot!” Deeks called from the other room. “I’m naked!”

Kensi sighed as Sam and Callen started to laugh.

“We fell into the river,” she stressed, putting her hands down and rearranging the blankets so they covered more skin. “It was body heat or hypothermia.”

“Sure,” Sam laughed, but Callen prodded the pile of wet clothes still on the floor with his foot and frowned.

“You two okay?” he asked seriously. “No frostbite?”

“We’re toasty warm,” Deeks said, coming out from the bedroom in a makeshift blanket toga. “Or at least, we were until somebody came along and let the cold air in.”

He draped another blanket around Kensi’s shoulders and glared at Sam and Callen.

“A change of clothes would be nice too,” he said meaningfully, and Sam disappeared to track down one of the squad of Marines they had brought with them and find something suitable. He arrived back with some spare combat utility uniforms as Callen was filling Kensi and Deeks in on what had happened.

“As soon as you missed your first check in, Hetty got straight on the phone to Lejeune. They’ve had dog teams out through the park, but until they found your truck all shot up, there was no way of finding you.”

“Did you find Brown?” Kensi asked.

“Got him an hour ago, sheltering in an empty hunting cabin the other side of the river,” Callen told them. He’s lost a lot of blood from a shoulder wound, and the combat medic thinks he’s going to lose a few extremities to frostbite.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Deeks said, his tone harsh.

“We found Doyle’s body,” Sam said quietly. “Brown do that?”

Kensi left Deeks to fill in the team on what happened as she went back into the bedroom to change into the spare uniform. She still felt bad about what had happened to Doyle. Even with a sentence of twenty two years, she still would have had a long life ahead of her after she came out of prison. And if they had managed to catch Brown, there would have been a good case for having her sentence reduced once the real story was known.

There were always casualties, she knew; life wasn’t like the movies where everything always gets wrapped up neatly at the end. Joanna Doyle had been a victim for her entire life; she had died the way she had lived, at the mercy of somebody else’s whims. She felt her eyes tear up when she thought of her, and she wiped them away hurriedly. Now was not the time or the place to give in to these feelings of pity. Later, when she was back home and alone, she’d cry her tears for Joanna Doyle, before putting thoughts of her away. The dead could haunt you, in this job, and you couldn’t let them weigh you down.

“Hey,” Deeks said softly. “You okay?”

He stood at the doorway, watching her carefully.

“I’m good,” she assured him.

When he stared at her, a frown marring his handsome face, she sighed.

“I was thinking about Doyle,” she confessed. “And about what a shitty life she had.”

“And a shitty death,” he said, nodding his understanding. “We didn’t make her life any better, did we?”

“We made it shorter,” Kensi said, sitting on the bed to pull on the thick socks that Sam had produced from his own pack for her to wear. “She should be sitting safe in a cell in Lejeune, not on a slab somewhere.”

Deeks sat next to her, and draped his arm around her shoulders. He didn’t try to take her pain away with platitudes; he knew only too well what she was feeling, because he was feeling it too.

“All we can do is learn from this,” he said eventually. “Not fuck it up the next time.”

“Yeah,” Kensi said, sighing. “I think…”

She stopped, unsure.

“Go on,” he encouraged.

“I think the next time we’re undercover, I want to use her name.”

Deeks tightened his grip on her shoulder for an instant, and then kissed her on the cheek.

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said, breathing out heavily. “It’s…fitting.”

They sat there silently for a while, until Callen stuck his head around the door.

“You two ready to go?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Kensi said, standing. “Where are we going?”

“Back to Lejeune to check on Brown’s condition, and to report in to Hetty on a secure line. We’ll get you two seen by doctors there as well. Then Sam and I get to hang around and escort Brown to Leavenworth, and you two get to start your mandatory forty eight hours R and R on a flight back to LA.”

“We should get to start it when we touch down in LA,” Deeks complained as they made their way from the cabin to a waiting helicopter. “I don’t want to waste precious hours crammed like cattle into a commercial flight.”

“No commercial flights for you two,” Sam said, shaking his head as he strapped himself into the chopper. “Sec Nav’s private jet is waiting at the airfield after being overhauled, and is needed in LA to fly him back to a conference somewhere classified. Hetty’s got you two a ride on that, as it has to go to the West Coast anyway.”

“Seriously?” Deeks said, catching Kensi’s eye. “A private jet? Just for us?”

His grin was full of promise, and Kensi felt a shiver run down her back that had nothing to do with the cold and everything to do with sex.

“Yeah,” Sam grumbled. “It’s not fair.”

“Hey, we got shot at!” Kensi yelled over the noise of the helicopter lifting off.

“Chased!” Deeks added.

“I fell into a freezing cold river!” Kensi went on.

“Alright, alright,” Sam said as the helicopter rose up and away into the air. “I still don’t see why Hetty’s making us deliver Brown to Leavenworth, though. We could have all have flown back together.”

“Callen shrugged. “She’s got her reasons,” he said. “You want to know so bad, you ask her.”

Sam looked at his partner in disbelief.

“Do I look stupid to you?” he demanded. “Do I?”

As their teammates settled into a comfortable bickering session, Deeks’ hand sought out Kensi’s and squeezed. She squeezed back, and counted down the minutes until they were alone. They may have been interrupted by alcohol, by the job and by the risk of frostbite, but she was willing to bet that at 30000 feet, there’d be nothing stopping them.

~~~~

 

“…four hundred and sixty, four hundred and eighty, five hundred.”

Nell counted out the last of the crisp green banknotes into Hetty’s waiting palm.

“There we go, Hetty, that’s all of it.”

“Thank you, Miss Jones,” Hetty said, clearly pleased with her winnings.

“I still say that arranging for them to be alone in a private jet isn’t keeping to the spirit of the bet,” Nell complained.

“Do you want me to put the feed from the jet’s internal camera system back on the main board?” Hetty enquired.

“No, God, no,” Nell said hurriedly. “I’ve seen more of Deeks than I care to.”

“Then let’s hear no more about the bet, shall we?” Hetty said, with the very slightest edge to her voice.

“Let’s not,” Nell agreed, and left Hetty’s small office are to rejoin Eric in ops.

Hetty watched her go, before carefully putting the money in a small, white envelope and locking it in her desk. There were any number of things she could do with it, but an intriguing thought had her access the internal NCIS email system, carefully blocking Nell and Eric from receiving her latest communication.

After all, the Mission would need a new couple to focus on now that the book on Kensi and Deeks was closed. And a $500 bet would recoup a great deal more once everybody else was playing along. Her thoughts running to a beautiful diamond and sapphire pin she had seen in the window of Tiffany’s only the day before, Hetty sent her email and watched with a smile on her face as her inbox filled up almost immediately with bets on when the two techs would get together.

Hmm. Maybe there’d be enough for the pin and the matching bracelet…