"Then I got so tired and I wanted just to sleep
But I could not close my eyes for fear of what I might see"
Neil Finn: Widows Peak (Out of Silence, 2017)
It was an area he had never felt comfortable exploring. The deepest and darkest recesses of his mind were mired with false truths, repressed memories and an ever increasing pot of contradictions. He was inherently a good man, and there were times he genuinely believed that. Until the darkness lured him towards self-doubt and self-loathing. Those time were infrequent but usually followed an intense period of guilt and an explosion of emotion. His life's career was dedicated to protecting others and serving both his community and his country, yet his daily activities were full of violence and death. If he were to be honest with himself he seldom had issues in reconciling the paradox. In the line of duty he could easily live with taking the lives of those who sought to kill others. It was the blurring of the professional and the personal that troubled him. He felt the darkness slowly encroaching and understood it had been gaining momentum in recent years. Did history repeat itself? Was he destined to repeat the pattern of his abuse filled childhood? Domestic violence cases with LAPD and previous cases as a lawyer, together with information in the public domain meant he was well aware of the statistics. Marty Deeks' personal nightmare was that one day he would become his father, and he knew for a fact the odds were stacked against him.
Such introspection was not a common occurrence but this time there was an obvious trigger. Psychological evaluations were supposed to be mandatory after each case but from what Deeks could gather, ever since the NCIS Operational Psychologist had actually become operational and ventured in to the field, such assessments had been placed on the back burner. Sure the team were subject to the official semi-annual reviews and were debriefed after long term undercover operations or particularly stressful missions, but the return of structured psych evals worried him. He knew he was not the only one. No one in the team enjoyed these sessions. Sam and Kensi had been through so much over recent years, and Callen...That man had his own demons, some of which were similar to his own. He recalled the cold-hearted ruthlessness Callen had displayed in Romania and later, when Hetty's life had been threatened here in Los Angeles. Yes, he was pretty certain Callen shared the same dark core. He realised in that moment they were all just waiting for the day someone realised they were so screwed up they should be locked away from society. He really hoped that today would not be the day. Not wanting to psychoanalyse his team, his thoughts quickly turned to the wonder twins up in ops and he silently acknowledged that even Nell and Eric had experienced their share of trauma. Maybe they were all doomed.
Deeks was seated on the sofa towards the edge of the boat shed's main living area - should anyone ever decide to move in. As he had sat down, he considered his physical positioning. Should he sit back and relax, sinking in to the depths of the sofa or perch towards the front so he was leaning forward, giving at least the impression he was listening? He was pretty sure that however he sat his body language could be interpreted in any which way that suited. Words could be spun most persuasively dependent on who was doing the spinning and the end game. Today though, he was genuinely unsure and so in an instant, he decided to relax as he had no reason to feel nervous or intense about the ensuing conversation.
'So what can I do for you today Nate?' Deeks asked with a broad smile to hide his introspective thoughts.
Dr Nate Getz sat opposite Deeks in a hard backed chair that although upholstered, did not offer the same level of comfort as the sofa where Deeks languished. He offered a brief smile of his own.
'Er, Hetty asked me to catch up with you and the rest of the team. Y'know, to see how you're getting on. It's been a while...'
'Sure has doc. We've just been running around the streets of LA, saving the good citizens from evil and generally making sure the world is all good. How about you? Any more deep, dark and dangerous undercover assignments?'
Nate gave a short, almost nervous laugh. He should have realised that Deeks would be the one to brazenly put him on the back foot so early. Neither Kensi or Sam had alluded to his last escapade that almost went so disastrously wrong. He couldn't say the same about Callen though, who alternated between speaking his mind and playing his own mind games. He had that delight to look forward to later in the day.
'That is classified information. But I can say that-'
'What? If you told me then you'd have to kill me? Is that even a thing? I mean sometimes we reveal things that we shouldn't, like now when I'm being evaluated by you. Does that mean I can technically kill you? Or a bad guy if I had to tell him - or her - something? But y'know I don't think that would stand up in a court of law. It's a pretty poor defence don't you think? Oh sorry sir, I killed him as I'm a super spy and I didn't want my secrets being revealed to anyone. It's all very James Bond-ish and in reality, they'd just throw away the key.'
Deeks gestured as though he were throwing away a key and then instinctively swiped his hair from his eyes before resting his right arm along the back of the sofa.
'What I was about to say, was that it gave me first hand insight as to the personal dilemma the team might experience when undercover, especially during long term missions.'
'You probably want to be having that conversation with someone else then. It's been a while since I was under that long. I just get the short term stuff. A day here, a night there. Last week I was undercover for literally twenty two minutes. At least I wasn't a janitor, that's what usually happens. But I guess there has to be someone on the team who's not afraid of getting their hands dirty. Or of course there's Artie - you know, homeless Artie, with the jacket..?'
'Ah yes, we all know Artie. Maybe some of us better than others.'
Deeks narrowed his eyes slightly, trying to work out if there was a hidden meaning in Nate's response. He quickly came to the conclusion that he had no idea and pressed ahead.
'I would say you can get to know Artie better if you wanted, but even Callen doesn't appreciate how method Artie is. Reckons he got so close he got a rash. And I thought he was the one person who would have an appreciation for the commitment and connection I have with Artie.'
'Deeks, I don't want to get to know Artie per se, and I'm not here to talk about how Callen got a rash from Artie.'
'Well that's pretty handy as Artie isn't even here. I think he's buried deep in the chest freezer out in my garage. But don't tell Kens that. She still thinks I threw him out. I like to think his time spent below zero will kill any bugs living in the jacket.'
Nate place his hands together and offered a silent prayer to whoever may be listening, that Deeks would actually remain silent long enough for him to do his job. He visually assessed the man sitting in front of him. LAPD Liaison Detective Marty Deeks was the personification of an LA surfer. His blonde hair was long and unkempt, matching his unruly stubble that probably hadn't seen a razor in at least a week. His white t-shirt was stretched across his body, just tight enough to reveal a toned six pack and strong tanned arms. The look was completed with blue denim jeans and a pair of boots. Nate was convinced the man would have been more comfortable had he been in board shorts and flip flops. A native of Los Angeles, Deeks had a casual and laid back air which Nate knew had irritated the team for quite a while. He shook his head imperceptibly. He was secretly envious of Deeks and the rest of the team. Their relaxed attire was a contradiction to the formalities that a career as a federal agent usually entailed. As the team's operational psychologist he had always liked to maintained an invisible line between him and his 'clients' through his own choice of clothing; shirt, open at the collar with no tie, pressed trousers and shoes that required and received a regular polish. It worked but on the flip side meant he sometimes found it difficult to connect on a more personal level.
'Deeks, the team have been through tough times over recent years, you included. I need to assess your suitability and readiness for a case Hetty feels will require a long term undercover presence.'
Undercover operations came with an adrenaline rush and a sense of freedom that he loved and Deeks' heart surged with an excitement that was quenched almost immediately. Kensi. He no longer had just himself to think about. Kensi was his partner in love and life, as well as work.
'How long is long term?' Deeks asked, knowing that whatever answer Nate gave would always be subject to change. The length of undercover operations had a tendency to be fluid with a dependence on how the case was progressing and what else was discovered.
'I don't have any of the details Deeks. Hetty asked me to touch base with each of you to report on your mental health. Last month's physical assessments are already with Hetty and she will use both reports to make her decision. How do you feel about the prospect of going under for what could be a number of months?'
'It sounds great but would it just be me or do I have my partner for back up. And what about the rest of the team?'
'I'm not here to discuss the rest of the team and I really don't have any details. Are you worried about being separated from Kensi?'
'That's not what I said.' Deeks shook his head and then brushed his hair out of his eyes with his fingers. It might not have been what he said but it was certainly what he meant. 'I mean that we work as a team and the last undercover op that lasted more than a week was when Callen went under with the white supremacists. He had no partner, no back up, no comms and that didn't turn out too well for him. And look what happened to you when you went under. I know it's sometimes better to go under on your own, but we work best as a team and when we can have each other's back.'
Nate leaned back in his chair and made a mental note to ask Callen about the after effects of the white supremacist operation. Deeks believed in the team, which was certainly a positive. He no longer considered himself to be an outsider and Sam in particular had stopped treating him as one. Nate had no idea how long term the LAPD liaison position was, but eight years was pushing it and he wondered why Deeks was not pressing to be an NCIS Special Agent. It was not part of his remit from Hetty but a natural curiosity overtook him.
'You've been on this team for many years now yet you're still with LAPD. I know Hetty has approached you about becoming an agent. What's stopping you?'
Deeks steepled his fingers together and leaned forward. That was the sixty four thousand dollar question. What was it that was stopping him? Was it the get out clause that if everything went to hell he could retreat back to a job he knew? What he liked best about LAPD and being a detective was the freedom undercover work had given him, however NCIS had provided him with structure, a partner, a team and a safety net during such operations, something that was severely lacking from the police.
'I just like things the way they are. I mean it's what I am, who I am. And I have contacts at LAPD, our cases often overlap, so I guess that means my liaising is still needed.'
'Do you think you'll ever become an agent?'
'Never say never.'
Deeks' non-answer was met with a wry smile from Nate who let the point drop.
'How would you feel if you were asked to go undercover to infiltrate a ring of child abusers?'
Deeks' eyes widened slightly and he looked slightly taken aback. This was certainly not the type of question he expected. If he was still with LAPD then possibly but NCIS worked naval crimes and their unit in particular specialised in infiltrating counter-terrorism and larger scale intelligence leaks.
'Is that the case?'
'Would you decline it if it was?'
'No. It's just sounds more LAPD. Unless the ring is made up of marines or navy officers..?'
'This is a theoretical question. It is not the mission. So how would you manage your emotions?'
'Same way as I always do. Remember it's only an alias and at the end I get to arrest the bad guys.'
'That sounds very simplistic.'
'Does it need to be complicated?'
'No it does not. I guess the bigger question is how you would react if you heard the bad guys describing the abuse or if you witnessed it?'
Deeks remained silent, contemplating firstly how he thought he should answer and secondly how he would really react. He held Nate's gaze.
'That's a difficult question as it would depend on the situation. Could I stop it without revealing my identity? It might depend on how severe the abuse is.'
'And what if you have to embrace your childhood? You've clearly made life and career choices for the greater good but what if you never had those opportunities? Could you go undercover as an alternative version of yourself? Drawing on the bad instead of the good?'
Deeks nodded slowly, glancing at his hands before switching his gaze back to Nate.
'I can do that. I've done that before.'
'Ah yes, Max Gentry. An alias that troubles you.'
'Yeah he troubles me but I can manage Max Gentry.'
Nate read between the lines and heard the slight hesitation, quickly followed by the resolute confidence in his voice. If Deeks were to be sent under as Max Gentry for a prolonged period of time, he could struggle to readjust. Hetty had already spoken to him about the time Deeks had become Gentry for an early case involving a childhood friend. He had lied to Deeks earlier; Hetty had fully briefed him on the undercover mission she was anticipating and he knew that Max Gentry was not an alias due to be recycled. Neither was any member of the team about to covertly join a ring of child abusers. Emotional fragility was however, a major concern.
'Thank you Deeks. I appreciate your honesty.'
'Is that it?' Deeks said, taken aback at how short the conversation had been. He had been expecting Nate to challenge his state of mind after the numerous traumatic events he had suffered second hand due to Kensi's Afghanistan experience and more recently with the injury she incurred in Syria. Or even further back to the nightmares he still occasionally experienced after being tortured himself. Still, he was good to go with the flow.
'Sure is.' Nate said. 'You can head back to ops now.'
'Ah, OK. You want me to send anyone over?'
Deeks hesitantly stood up. He had no clue whether he had provided the answers Hetty and Nate were looking for and in all honesty was feeling rather confused about the whole situation.
'There is one thing though.' Nate said as Deeks began walking towards the exit.
'This is a confidential conversation, between me as Operational Psychologist and you as liaison officer to NCIS. Please remember that and resist any temptation to discuss a possible long term undercover operation to the rest of the team.'
Deeks turned to look at Nate and nodded a silent agreement. He had no intention of discussing anything with anyone, although at a higher level he would of course mention it to Kensi. There were no secrets between them anymore. Well, hardly any.