The Collector

Chapter 33

...

The chaos of the moment swirled around him, the babel of shouting reporters and police officers giving orders washed over him as they pushed Cortez toward the doors of the courthouse. No one seemed to see the knife the Russian held tightly against his leg, and there were milling officials and policemen moving between him and Cortez. Yet, they continued to stare at one another, and as he looked into the man's dark eyes, it wasn't just hatred and rage that he saw there, but also the distaste of betrayal. The arrogant bastard almost made him laugh. He couldn't have actually heard what he'd said in all the confusion, but he was pretty sure he could read his lips as he repeated it.

"You're fucked."

He turned his head to see where the Russian was, having lost sight of Bates who had never acknowledged he'd heard him, his gun now warm against the palm of his hand. He could just let the man come. No one had picked up the threat to Cortez. He could simply let the Russian do what he came to do and no one would know he could have stopped him. No one would know but him. His eyes sought out Cortez again, and the man spit on the floor in disgust as he approached just as Deeks broke in front of the men blocking his way. The Russian was moving between people now, closing in to intercept Cortez and Deeks had to decide. Did he do his duty as a cop and protect the sonofabitch who had sealed him in plastic to die, or did he plunge back into that dark part of his soul and smile as the man was gutted in front of him? His choice had to be made in mere seconds. Could he live with it? Would it change anything? Was that the kind of man he wanted to be? Was it the kind of cop he should be?

"Knife," Deeks yelled loudly, his voice cutting through the tumult around him.

He saw Cortez stiffen as the escorting officers pulled him back and he raised his gun and stepped in front of him, firing as he moved. The Russian looked surprised as blood blossomed high on his chest, and the knife dropped harmlessly from his hand as he collapsed to the ground. The crowd erupted in sporadic screams and shouted orders filled the air around him.

"Why did you do that, puta?" Cortez asked as Deeks turned to look at him.

"Because I'm not like you," he said, suddenly completely calm. "And I'm not your fuckin' puta, asshole. I'm a cop."

Cortez was hustled past him, but he smiled at the look of confusion that clouded the man's face as he looked back, finally losing sight of him when he was pushed through the doors of the courthouse. The din around him continued with cameramen jockeying for position to shoot photos of the wounded Russian who was now being tended by police shouting for medical aid.

"Deeks," Bates yelled as he struggled through the melee of police and detectives that were now surrounding him. "He's my officer. Now move."

"Hey Lieutenant," Deeks said quietly, as the adrenalin rush started to subside.

"Who the hell is this guy?" Bates demanded as he stared down at the wounded man.

"One of the Russian bodyguards with Arkady Kolcheck when he met with Cortez," he replied. "Guess the guy didn't like having his life threatened."

Bates stared at him without a word, but Deeks could see the question in his eyes, so he simply blew out his breath and looked down at the ground.

"I'm proud of you, kid," the lieutenant said softly. "But, there's gonna be a hell of a lot of paperwork."

"Sounds good, sir," he replied, as he shakily handed over his weapon.

Bates guided him through the crowd, keeping a firm grip on his shoulder until he was finally settled in the front seat of a patrol car. Deeks stared out the window as he was driven away, watching the chaotic scene until it disappeared, finally noticing that his hands were shaking.

"I lost my hat," he said.

"That's gonna cost you a little," the officer driving warned.

"Totally worth it, man," Deeks replied, feeling lighter and free of the hold Cortez had on him.

He found he couldn't keep a slight smile from his face as they drove through the city. He had done his job and that was all he'd ever wanted to do. He didn't know if he would ever work another undercover assignment, but if he did he would be prepared for it. He would guard his mind better and control the darkness inside, and he would do his job and take down the bad guys. Maybe he was naive that it could be that simple, but it was for him. He had always thought of himself as one of the good guys and making the worst of the worst pay for their crimes was what he had always wanted to do. Cortez would spend the rest of his life in a small, bare cell with no control over the people around him or even what he could have for dinner. He would be told when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat and when to shower. There would be no giant map on the wall to proclaim he came from Spanish royalty, and no expensive trappings or clothes to emphasize his power, because now he would have no power. Now he would be just one of thousands in a high security prison, surrounded by lowlifes and thugs who would remind him on a daily basis that he was no different than they were. That was all the revenge he needed, suddenly surprising the officer next to him by laughing out loud.

...

Hetty watched the footage Mr. Beale had put together once again with a small smile on her face. It had come from the security cameras at the courthouse and although it was in grainy black and white, she had no trouble recognizing the young cop she had been keeping an eye on. She had noticed the hesitation before he shot the assailant, but he made the right decision in the end, one she wasn't sure she would have made herself if she had endured what he had.

"Archive this for me, Mr. Beale," she ordered. "For my eyes only."

"Yes ma'am," he quickly responded and wiped it from the screen.

"Now, get me Mr. Callen," she said. "He'll want to know about the attempt on Cortez's life."

It was unfortunate for Arkady that Deeks hadn't killed the man, but he was still in surgery and hadn't been questioned yet. With the raid on Volkov about to go down, the man would have no one to protect or to fear when he woke up.

"Where are you Mr. Callen?" She asked when his face appeared on the big board in Ops.

"Outside Volkov's base of operations," he replied, looking distracted. "What's this about Hetty?"

"Someone attempted to kill Raul Cortez at his arraignment today," she informed him. "He was a Russian recognized by Lieutenant Bates' undercover officer. The assailant was previously seen with Arkady at Cortez's place."

"I warned him," Callen said, his blue eyes intense and angry.

"Yes you did, Mr. Callen," she replied. "Is he there?"

"He's not that stupid, Hetty."

"He is if he sent that Russian assassin," she replied.

"Is the guy dead?"

"Wounded and in surgery," she told him.

"I'll deal with Arkady after this raid," he snapped. "Just get me permission to talk to the Russian. I'll get to the truth."

"He'll have no reason to lie," she said. "He'll be out to save his own neck."

"Pretty brazen place to attempt a hit," Callen mused. "It doesn't sound like Arkady. He's more of a cloak and dagger guy. Nothing in the open like that."

"You don't think he did this," she said.

"It's possible he might have been lurking in the shadows behind the scene, but I'm not sure we'll be able to prove a connection. He's too smart for that."

"I agree Mr. Callen," she said. "He didn't survive in the KGB that long without knowing how to avoid blame. We could all learn a few things from Arkady."

"I doubt you need any lessons, Hetty."

"One is never too old to learn, Mr. Callen."

"How's Bates' undercover operative?" He asked. "Did he get out okay?"

"He's dealing with the aftereffects, and I don't think he's quite sure how to navigate them just yet, but he took down the Russian before he had a chance to kill Cortez, and that's a good sign," she replied. "He's strong. A survivor like you."

"I'll have to take your word for it," he answered.

"Yes you will, Mr. Callen."

"I assume you'll be monitoring this raid," he said.

"Of course," she smiled. "I like to keep an eye on my people."

"Does that mean you think of Bates' undercover officer as one of your people?" Callen's voice holding a hint of mischief.

"We'll just have to see how it all plays out, Mr. Callen," she replied. "I like to plan for the future. One never knows when a particular player might be needed."

"Taking the long view," he said softly. "Like a master chess player planning many moves ahead, or just another piece of the puzzle in your head?"

"A little of both, I think, Mr. Callen," she remarked. "I've always been a collector of rare pieces. Some you just have to wait to acquire, but you never lose sight of them until you can."

"How long did you wait to 'acquire' me?" His voice betraying some irritation.

"I thought you had a raid to conduct, Mr. Callen."

"I think I can learn more from you than from Arkady," he said in resignation.

"I should hope so," she replied with an enigmatic smile.

"But you keep your secrets well hidden," he said.

"And well protected. My assets too."

"Does the rookie undercover know he's being watched?"

"Did you?"

"You're scary, you know that?" Callen laughed. "One of these days we're going to have a very long conversation."

"I like your optimism, Mr. Callen," she laughed in return. "Now go get the bad guys. I'll be watching."

"Didn't doubt that you would be," smirking at her before turning to signal the raid.

...

It was his fifth day at the safe house and he had spent most of the evening on the water, keeping his distance from other surfers, floating alone as the sun disappeared behind the glowing cloudbank above the ridge. His wounded arm was healing, but was still weak, making him compensate when he made certain moves while riding a wave. Pete had threatened to ground him after he wiped out the day after the shooting at the courthouse and aggravated his cracked ribs. His scolding had made Deeks laugh and offer several smart remarks regarding his parenting skills, calling him Mommy Dearest at one point and then settling on Mother Goose, because it got a rise out of him. From then on he never called him anything but Goose, and it never failed to piss off the tough detective.

The wind began to pick up and without a wetsuit he started feeling the cold, so he let a small wave carry him into shore, noting that Bates was standing with Pete at the edge of the beach. Deeks immediately picked up on the agitation in his partner's body movements so he quickly undid his leash and grabbed his towel, jogging up the beach when their voices began to rise above the pounding of the surf. When he reached them, Pete's face looked murderous, and he tried to tamp down the sudden flush of fear he was experiencing.

"Tell me," he snapped out. "Did something happen to Rafferty? His family?"

"No, kid. Nothing like that. They're all fine," Bates said quickly, and Deeks let out a long sigh of relief.

"Cortez wants to see you," Pete spat out the man's name as if it were putrid.

"What the hell for?" Deeks was completely stunned.

"His lawyer didn't know," Bates said.

"He's playing some angle, Lieutenant," Pete was hot and for some reason that calmed Deeks. "I thought you arrested his lawyer for conspiracy after the attempt at Rafferty's house."

"We did. This is a new lawyer," Bates said.

"Goose has been very protective lately, Lieutenant," Deeks said with a cocky grin, trying to lighten the mood.

"Goose?"

"As in Mother Goose," Deeks laughed. "He takes his babysitting very seriously."

"Or mother hen," Bates quipped, but neither one got a smile out of the fuming detective.

"I drove Tyler home from the hospital yesterday," Pete said solemnly, staring out at the darkening ocean. "He has to have reconstructive surgery on his face. So tell me why we would do anything that bastard Cortez wants?"

Deeks wasn't sure if it was the rising wind that instantly chilled him or his memory of what Chaco had looked like after Cortez and Solano were finished with him. He reached out and gripped Pete's shoulder, his grin gone as he bit his bottom lip.

"I'm sorry, man," he whispered, deeply regretting how easily he had forgotten the man who had saved his life.

"You ever think he might be setting Deeks up for a hit?" Pete asked as he turned angrily to face Bates.

"I'm not a fool, Detective Archuleta. Of course I thought of it," the lieutenant growled.

"You're curious," Deeks blurted out.

"Aren't you?" The lieutenant asked, his expression intense as he turned his gaze on Deeks.

"Maybe he wants to make a deal," Deeks reasoned as he tried to get Pete to look at him.

"For what?" Pete practically shouted. "The Feds shut down Volkov's operation and we arrested over a dozen major dealers. What's he got to offer we don't already have?"

"We won't know unless Deeks goes to see him," Bates said.

"Don't make him do this, Bates," Pete pleaded angrily.

"Do I get a vote?" Deeks chimed in. "Cause it's my ass if it is a hit."

"Does the LAPD look like a democracy to you kid?" Bates shot back.

"Are you ordering me to go?" Deeks voice was flat as he stood his ground, his body stiffening with attitude.

"What if he's offering up Solano?" Bates asked.

"Why would he do that?" Pete asked.

"To save his own ass," Deeks said thoughtfully. "And because Solano killed Krista, who he thought of as his property."

"The question is, what does he want in return?" Bates questioned.

"Guess I'll just have to ask him," Deeks said as he brushed past both men and headed for the car.

"Deeks," Pete called after him.

"You'll have my back, right Goose?" Deeks responded.

"Not if you keep calling me that," Pete growled.

Deeks smiled cockily for a brief moment, but then grew serious as he looked back out at the ocean, wondering if he would ever see it again. He wanted nothing more to do with Cortez, but he had to play this last hand whether he wanted to or not, and it was unsettling. He grabbed his cell when he sat down in the front seat of the car, punching in Rafferty's number, needing to hear his voice and find out how his family was.

"Hey Raffy," his voice fading as he struggled for what to say next.

"Are ya all right, lad?" The tension and concern in his voice touching him deeply.

"I'm good. How about you and that crazy family of yours?" He laughed out softly, memories warming him.

"Granny's complainin' about the safe house and I think Isabel has cleaned it about fourteen times," he rushed out. "And don't even get me started on Erin. It was like being cooped up with a hyperactive monkey."

"What do you mean? Isn't she still there?" Deeks asked nervously.

"She went back ta work after the first day," Rafferty said. "There's no stoppin' her when she gets somethin' in her head, lad. She's stayin' with a friend."

"Is she mad at me?" He asked.

"Worried about ya mostly, lad. We all are," he replied. "Heard ya saved the bastard's life."

"I'm a cop. I just acted like one," he said quietly.

"What's goin' on, Marty?" His voice filled with sudden suspicion. "Somethin's wrong. I can hear it in your voice."

"Cortez wants to see me," he answered. "I'm going tonight."

"Fuck," Rafferty spit out. "It could be a set up, lad. Is Bates makin' ya do this?"

"Slow down, Raffy. You know I don't have a choice," he replied. "I just needed to talk to you before I go. I want to make sure everything's okay between us."

"Now ya are scarin' the crap outa me, Marty," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "Ya sound like ya don't think you'll be coming back."

"Pete will be watching out for me," Deeks replied, trying to maintain his composure. "You didn't answer my question. Are we good?"

"Hell yes, Marty," he said quietly. "Ya are like the brother I wish I'd had instead of all the domineerin' sisters I got stuck with."

"I'm gonna tell 'em you said that, Raff," he laughed. "Then I'll have to come and rescue you."

"Ya stay safe, lad. Ya hear me?" His voice rising as he choked out the words. "I'm bound and determined ta teach ya how ta drink a decent beer."

"Can't think of anyone else I'd do it for," Deeks said. "If Cortez doesn't have me killed, you and that nasty black stuff you drink will."

His joke was met with silence and he didn't know what else to say, his feeling for the man silencing his voice for fear of losing his composure.

"Ya call me when ya get home safe, lad, or I'll track ya down," Rafferty said, clearing the roughness from his throat.

"You'll be the first one I call," Deeks promised.

"Good. I won't tell Erin," he replied.

"Thanks, brother."

Deeks blinked back gathering tears, unwilling to succumb to his emotions. Instead, he searched down deep for the strength he knew he would need to face Cortez. He said nothing as Pete slipped behind the wheel, still glaring at Bates. The trip back up to the safe house was made in silence until they stopped.

"Meet him on your terms, Marty," Pete advised. "He doesn't have control now. You do. He'll be shackled. Don't let him forget it."

"Do you really think it's a set up?" He asked flatly.

"I know a couple of the officers working down there tonight," he said as the headed into the house. "They'll be able to get us in through the back. We'll keep an eye on you, kid. No way I let that asshole get to you. I owe you that."

"You don't owe me anything, Goose."

"I owe you a kick in the pants for calling me that," Pete grinned. "Now get changed into civies. If there is a sniper waiting, no reason to help them out by wearing a uniform."

...

It had been awhile since he'd been to the LA County Central Jail, and the stark cement structure looked even colder and more intimidating at night, looming up in the darkness as they approached the brightly lit loading dock at the back. Three well armed officers were waiting for them, scanning the area before nodding silently when they stepped quickly out of the car, closing in around them as they made their way up the steps and inside. They moved swiftly through the hallways to the check-in area, the guards with their automatic weapons causing anyone they passed to give them a wide berth, making Deeks feel a bit calmer. After signing in, they thanked the guards, electing to stand after eyeing the uncomfortable looking orange plastic chairs in the waiting area. When he was called to one of the private visitor rooms, Pete slapped him firmly on the back, and he felt his mouth go dry. He had no idea what to expect, and the thought of sitting across the table from Cortez and talking to the man had his stomach in knots. He reminded himself that their roles were now reversed, but that did nothing to erase his uneasiness.

The room was bare, the concrete walls painted a sickly pale green and lit with disturbingly bright fluorescents. There was a metal table anchored to the floor and two chairs and as he sat down, he heard the dull jingle of chains and the soft shuffling of feet as Cortez was ushered into the room. His hands were cuffed tightly to a chain around his waist and his feet were cuffed as well, and he was wearing a jarring orange jumpsuit that did him no favors. His face was drawn, his jaw tight, flexing with barely contained anger, which made Deeks suddenly grin. The guards cuffed him to the table and left to stand outside, closing him in with a man who had tried to break him by terrorizing him because he enjoyed doing it.

"Orange isn't your color, Raul" Deeks stated. "But then I guess you don't have a choice of clothing in here."

"I should have let Solano kill you," he whispered harshly.

"Yeah, big mistake on your part," Deeks said. "I'd love to reminisce, Raul, but I don't want to miss my dinner. Rack of lamb. Oh yeah. That was your favorite wasn't it? Now what the fuck do you want?"

"Why didn't you let that punk kill me, puta?" His eyes questioning, and openly curious.

"Guard, I'm leaving," he called out loudly as he stood up.

"Will you answer if I don't call you a whore?" He asked.

"We have nothing to talk about," Deeks said, trying to keep his tone even.

"You thought about letting him kill me, didn't you?" Cortez said with a smirk. "And you thought about killing me before this, too."

"All the time, after you left me to die," Deeks admitted. "Solano too."

"Ah yes. When I wrapped you in plastic," Cortez seemed to enjoy the memory and Deeks' stomach began to churn. "Lucky for you that Purcell wanted you dead."

"None of that was true," Deeks said, watching for the man's reaction at being played so easily.

The expression on Cortez's face went from surprise to sheer rage and hatred before settling into that calculating look he knew well. He didn't want to give the man anymore reasons to want him dead, and had probably said too much already, but it felt good to let the man know he'd been fooled by a man he'd thought of as his own personal whore.

"You thought about killing me and then you save my life. Why?" Cortez actually looked confused, as if the thought was completely foreign to him.

"I already told you. I'm a cop," he replied. "I went into this to stop you from putting that killer ecstasy on the street. And I did my job. Enjoy the rest of your life."

Deeks turned to leave, but Cortez snorted out a laugh and that stopped him.

"I enjoyed watching you and Krista make love," he told him, licking his lips as if savoring the thought. "She was incredibly beautiful, wasn't she? Sexy. Smart. A fantastic lover. I saw the way you caressed her. I envied her. You cared about her."

"Yeah, I did, you bastard," he replied sadly, barely able to keep his revulsion for the man out of his voice. "Why did you let Solano kill her like that? She didn't deserve that. She was loyal to you in spite of everything."

"He wasn't supposed to kill her, he went there to kill you," Raul said. "But when he got there she was alone and he couldn't resist his urge to see her suffer. Javier is a jealous man. He was jealous of you, puta, of both of you. He knew I wanted you closer and he was willing to do anything to keep that from happening."

"You didn't know," Deeks stated, sitting back down in front of the man.

"I watched her last moments...when you held her," Cortez choked on the words and it surprised him. "That's when I decided I wanted you to replace Solano. The man is unstable."

"What if Solano had won our little fight to the death?" Deeks asked, amazed at his characterization.

"I would have killed him," Cortez replied simply.

"Why did you want to see me?" Deeks asked, not even vaguely surprised by what Cortez had told him.

"We would have made a good team, you and me," Cortez said. "Too bad you turned out to be a cop."

"It was for you," Deeks said. "We done with this little trip down memory lane?"

"You saved my life, so I will take that as a sign of loyalty, even though you put me here," he replied solemnly. "So Ruben will be the only one. There will be no one else coming for you."

"I don't know what to say," Deeks was stunned by the man's sudden change of heart.

"I wanted you to kill Solano," he said, his eyes sharp and rage once again darkening his eyes. "But you are a cop and you can't do that now. You respect the law, but I never have. Never. Solano will pay for what he did to Krista. I will see to that."

"How?"

"You are funny, puta, and still naive," Cortez laughed harshly. "Now get out, cop. I am done with you."

Deeks said nothing as he stood up and walked over, tapping the glass to be let out. Cortez was no longer looking at him, his head down and Deeks realized his threat to Solano was the man's last power play. He had no idea how he would get to Solano, but he had no doubt that he would find a way and that way would be violent.

Pete was waiting for him, his fists tightly clinched beneath his crossed arms as he leaned against the wall. Deeks was smiling as he approached and the detective couldn't help smiling in return.

"What'd the fuck want?" He asked.

"He wanted to reward me for saving his pathetic life," Deeks said, blowing out his breath as the tension in his muscles finally eased. "He won't be sending anymore hit men after me. I'm free, Pete. You don't have to babysit me anymore and the Rafferty's can go home."

Pete's hug was powerful, almost squeezing the air completely out of his lungs, and pounded his back before letting him catch his breath. Deeks immediately pulled his cell to call Rafferty, smiling widely as he gave him the news, laughing at the man's quiet relief. When he ended the call, the two signed out and Pete slung his arm over his shoulder and they walked back out the way they had come, forever connected by the man they left behind.

...

Deeks was giggling as Rafferty approached shaking his head. Abby was sitting above him on top of the picnic table tying a colored ribbon around another clump of his hair. Laughter floated on the soft summer air as the Rafferty family gathered in small groups to gossip and the kids roared around the back yard screaming as they roughhoused together.

"Ya should a been a clown, lad," Rafferty said as he handed him a beer.

"He's Prince Charming, Uncle Mick," Abby said very seriously.

"Yeah, Raffy. I'm charming," Deeks laughed.

"You're full of it, is what ya are," Rafferty said, smiling as he sat down next to his partner. "Could ya give us a minute alone, Abby dear? I need ta talk ta Prince Charming about castle business."

"What's up?" Deeks' smile suddenly gone as Abby jumped down and skipped away.

"Bates just called. Solano was found stabbed ta death in the shower about an hour ago," Mick informed him. "It was pretty brutal. The guy was literally cut ta shreds."

"He did it. Cortez got to him in maximum security," Deeks said, standing suddenly as he tried to catch his breath.

"You okay, lad?" Rafferty asked, laying a hand on the back of his neck as he stood staring down at the pile of colored ribbons.

"He could get to me if he wanted to, Raffy," Deeks whispered.

"It's been almost two months since he said he was done with ya, lad," he said. "Ya think he lied?"

"Maybe," Deeks said, as he slowly pulled Abby's ribbons from his hair.. "But I don't think so. He would have taunted me. He got off on other people's fear. Loved toying with you as he threatened you. No. If he was gonna have me killed, he would have let me know it just to watch my reaction."

"Then it's really over," Rafferty said, squeezing his shoulder gently.

"Yeah. I think it is."

"Good. Then come inside, lad. Isabel and I want ta talk to ya," Wrapping and arm around his shoulder and walking him toward the house.

"What's wrong?"

"Not all news is bad, Marty," Rafferty laughed.

They found Isabel in the kitchen with Erin, finishing up the last of the dishes. Both women smiled at him, but he couldn't shake the feeling of regret he experienced every time he walked into their kitchen, recalling the look on Isabel's face when Ruben pointed a gun at her. Even though she had talked to him about it, he couldn't shed the guilt he felt. Didn't think he ever would.

Erin's touch drew him back, looking at him with that knowing look that kept him on his toes. He had spent a couple of weeks at her place after he moved out of the safe house, so he was familiar with her many ways of eliciting information. He told her one night she would have made a great detective and she had laughed, proceeding to demonstrate various intimate ways she had developed for getting someone to talk. He liked them all very much, except for the tickling part.

Isabel took his hand and led him into the living room, and he was surprised when the Rafferty sisters and their husbands wandered in along with the rambunctious gaggle of kids who were soon shushed by Moira's loud voice. The last to enter was Granny, who was carrying an envelope, which she handed to Mick before she sat down in her favorite chair.

"Now you're really scaring me," Deeks said nervously smiling at the serious faces surrounding him. "What's this about?"

"We still have a few cousins in Ireland, and one of the youngest, a teenager named Triona, recently died," Isabel said softly. "She died giving birth to a baby boy. No one in her family is able to take on another child, so they contacted Granny to see if one of us might take him."

Deeks looked quickly between Isabel and Mick, his smile tentative until he saw their own begin to broaden.

"He's gonna be our son, Marty," Rafferty said, his tough partner's eyes shiny with tears.

"I'm so happy for you," Deeks said, choking up as he looked at Isabel. "He's gonna love you both so much. He's a lucky kid."

Mick opened the envelope and pulled out a photo of a bald headed newborn, his face scrunched up and blotchy with his little hands pressed into his mouth. Deeks had never seen such an ugly baby in his life.

"He's beautiful," Deeks said.

"Go on wid ya, boyo," Granny said. "He looks like a rotten apple in that picture."

The room exploded in laughter and Deeks didn't know what to say, handing the photo to Isabel, who just smiled, lightly touching the photo with the tips of her fingers. Deeks was so happy for her, knowing how much she wanted a child.

"We want ta name him after ya, lad," Rafferty said. "If you're okay with that."

"You're gonna call the kid Deeks?" He quipped, overwhelmed by their gesture.

"No smart ass. We were hoping ya had a decent middle name we could use," Rafferty said, giving Deeks a shove. "I yell Marty enough durin' the day."

"Andrew," he said softly. "My middle name is Andrew."

"Andrew Martin Rafferty it is then," Isabel said, placing a light kiss on his cheek.

...

Hetty closed the file folder gently and placed her hand on top, walking purposefully through the dark halls of the mission to her private storage room. Taking a key from her pocket she entered, setting the file folder down on the table inside before closing the door and shooting the deadbolt home. Although it was well past two in the morning, she was always careful not to tempt fate. Returning to the file, she opened it for one last time, smiling slightly at the picture of the young cop clipped inside. She had yet to meet the young man, but she had no doubt she would at some point, when the time was right.

Picking up another folder she had set aside to read, she flipped it open, checking the latest intel on the young dark hair woman she had been watching for some time. She certainly had skills, and she was almost as driven as Callen, striving to be the best at whatever she set her mind to.

But there was plenty of time to gather more intel on both of these potential assets, and it was late, so she picked up both files, slipping them into the cabinet along with all the other multicolored folders. So many lives to follow. So many potential agents for her to watch and cultivate, to continually protect and nurture that rare combination of skills and determination that was needed for success in this field. She was a patient woman and was content to watch and wait for that singular moment when she would make herself known to them and personally guide them toward their future.

...

the end

...

Thanks to all who joined me on this trip back in time. Thanks to those who sent along their thoughts and to those who found it one of their favorites. Your enthusiasm was inspiring.

Until next time...