AN: Thanks to everyone who has read, reviewed, and favorite. A special thanks to my reviewers whose kind words and appreciation spurred me on this week.

Might be a fortnight till next update as I'm away and I'm not sure how much time I'll get to write

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Chapter 3 – A Button comes Undone

Some not so random bar, downtown LA

Friday 15th September 2017

He's been aware of the gaze on his back for the last 10 minutes or so. He's steadfastly kept his eyes forward nursing his bottle of Blue Moon, whilst equally as steadfastly ignoring the whisky chaser keeping it company on the tabletop.

He'd been taking a few days to do some research and recon on 'Project Witch' as he'd taken to referring to his off the books op for Whiting. He'd had a difficult conversation with Kensi when he'd told her what he planned; not that he had expected any different given she'd not yet been fully read in. He'd pled his case, explaining that what he was intending was low risk fact finding; re-iterating his promise to both stay safe and his commitment to share more info with her soon. The latter he intends to put right this weekend.

He takes his phone out of his pocket and fires off a quick text

Meet Idle Hour trailhead off Mount Wilson Toll Rd. Tomorrow 0700. My green rucksack is packed and already in the truck along with the bike ramp and tarp. Mrs W expecting Monty for weekend. We can talk where the walls don't have ears. X

The 'text sent' alert pings and he feels the air shift behind him as the watcher makes their way to the area immediately behind his booth. The fact that he can't see any hint of his observer in the mirror which is providing part of his 360 view of comings and goings in the bar combined with the faint scent of exotic tea confirms his suspicion about his visitors identity. He doesn't bother to turn round as he greets them.

"Are you planning on watching me drink all evening or joining me Hetty?"

"I didn't want to intrude Mr Deeks."

"Hetty if you really meant that, you wouldn't be here...just...just take a seat."

She noiselessly does so, on the opposite side of the booth. She simply sits without speaking, her hands outstretched on the table in front of her, her face impassive as if taking one of the many inventories that she had taken of him over the years - remaining silent on whether she had found him wanting.

To be honest it's a little old and he's a tiny bit sick of it and after the day - no week - he's had, his ability to hide his annoyance is at an historic low. No scratch that he thinks to himself I actually could do it but I don't think I want to.

"We've been here before Mr Deeks"

"Twice if memory serves, but only once by invitation."

"Quite, but nevertheless the outcome was mutually beneficial on both occasions."

He tips his bottle towards her in acknowledgement of her point before taking a swig. "Can I get you something?"

"I've already ordered, Bill will bring it across shortly" she briefly pauses before asking "Did I notice your motor bike outside Mr Deeks?"

"That you did" he bites down in annoyance at his slight cringe at having been found out. 'He's a grown man, he's about to get married, he gets paid to carry a gun for Pete's sake. It's his bike! Grow a pair Marty' his internal voice chides him.

"Mmm I hadn't realised I had returned it to you"

"You didn't"

"Ah"

He's getting better at not falling into her traps he thinks but it still takes a considerable force of will not to blab out a full confession and beg forgiveness. He's kind of glad that he's been using one of his more reticent alias' for the last few days - that definitely helped.

Bill arrives and deposits a tray with a beautiful tea service in front of Hetty. The steam rises in a thin tendril from the spout of the teapot. Deeks is little surprised as its not really what he expected from either this bar or Bill. He's not a regular here but he's been here often enough to know that it's not the norm. He channels his alias, no space for curiosity or chit-chat.

"Why are you here Hetty?"

"I'm here to see you Mr Deeks"

He bites back his snarky reply and instead decides to be more specific "What do you want to see me about and why?"

"I wanted to see if you needed my help"

Deciding to play dense with the second woman this month supposedly seeking to offer him help, he asks "Anything in particular you think I need help with?"

"Mr Deeks, you are being unnaturally coy. I mean with the IA investigation of course."

"No thank you Hetty" he says with deliberate formality. "Might I ask why you are only offering this help now? You shared the information with IA about my financial support for Tiffany some months ago." His years as a lawyer along with a lifetime spent trying to fit in – first with the neighbourhood kids, then college kids, law school and finally at the PD both under and out of cover mean that he effortlessly apes her more formal vocal delivery.

Hetty pauses a beat before answering. He's not sure whether she's working out how to answer or inwardly sighing and chastising him. When she opens her mouth it's clear she has chosen a third option, the moral - well in her eyes anyhow - high ground.

"Mr Deeks, I took the actions I did for sound operational reasons..."

He holds up his hand to halt her words "Hetty, I'm not interested in your rationales and arguments, the time for them is long past. What's done is done. Your statement demonstrates that you simply don't understand what you've done. It's not about the what and why, it's about the how."

"The how Mr Deeks?"

Hetty seems genuinely perplexed as if she'd been asked to solve a differential equation after a bottle of Tequila whilst riding a mechanical bull. 'She probably has done that' he thinks 'and won the bar fight that legend says always follows 2 out of those 3 things'

He pauses and takes a deep calming breath. He doesn't want to say something he'll regret. She's a woman who has given him so much that was missing from his life and she's his boss for goodness sake (was my boss? he thinks. Wow that's gonna take some getting used to).

But now he has everything he ever wanted and is working towards even more than he ever thought he could have or dared dream of; She's also the one that has put that most at risk and even worse needlessly at risk. The decisions she continuously made about them seemed to be designed to deliberately damage their relationship or put them under pressure in a way that didn't improve the mission outcome, in fact had often put it at risk; Afghanistan being a prime example.

In any case letting it all out now probably won't achieve anything he thinks but make him feel temporarily better before he gets the sack and then has to go home to his soon-to-be-wife to explain why she's partner-less and that is a distinctly unappealing prospect.

Observing Hetty now, waiting for him to speak, he has a startling moment of pinpoint clarity. The conversation that were about to have and for months he'd been avoiding having whilst simultaneously believing it to be a necessity, is pointless. Hetty simply doesn't get it; it's outside of her life experience. After all she appears to have no family except for 'adopted orphans' or 'trainee agents' as they might better be labeled and nothing closer to an enduring relationship or real marriage than the sham of undercover. He doubts she even recognizes the difference between necessary and needless manipulation. She simply manipulates because she always has and she can.

He reflects on the irony that without her, that may have been his fate too. An army of one, manipulating everyone undercover to get the job done - the ends always justifying the means. That bleeding through to the little personal life you have because the behaviour becomes natural, ingrained and even if he'd remained self-aware enough to realise it, it'd probably be too hard to change, too easy to justify that the manipulation was needed to protect himself, his covers, his good work. At least now he can honestly be himself with one person on this planet. That was Hetty's greatest gift to him.

And just like that the remainder of his anger and bitterness leaves him and he feels a new level of peace & contentment. Finally he breaks the silence.

"I owe you a lot Hetty: my life - Lazik would have killed me if you hadn't got me out; my happiness and career - you gave me a job, a work family and Kensi as a partner. Those are debts I can't repay. I will always be grateful to you but I can't forget what you've repeatedly done to me and Kensi. I've accepted it, I've even forgiven it but I won't forget it and I won't allow me, her or us to be in that situation again."

He pauses and glances across at her. He's surprised to see a fleeting expression of hurt cross her features as his last words come out before she carefully schools her face back to its normally impassive blank. He feels like a bit of a heel but doesn't really regret his honesty.

He lets out another a breath and allows his voice to regain its normal gentler timbre. "Why now?" he asks.

"I shared at the team meal last week that I've decided it's time to move on and I'm planning on an fairly protracted overseas trip. Before I go I wanted to make sure my people, my family, are OK."

"I'm OK Hetty. I have Kensi. We're getting married. I have everything I ever wanted. I don't need anything else."

"I am very happy for you both. Is there anything that you will allow me to do for you Mr Deeks?"

He thinks for a moment before nodding his head. "There are a couple of things Hetty."

"Yes Mr Deeks?"

"Firstly I'd like you to do everything you can to protect Kensi and her career from any fallout from my IA investigation."

"Agreed and I hope you know that you didn't need to ask that. I look after my people and Ms Blye is very dear to me... And the second thing?"

His next words dash her hopes of a true full reconciliation. "If you get the urge to meddle in my case, don't."

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20 minutes later, Hetty has finished her tea and is preparing to leave. The talk has been small and incidental, pleasant and polite.

"Take care, Mr Deeks"

"Be safe Hetty, oh and Hetty ... don't be a stranger. We're expecting you at the wedding". They might have their differences but they are family after all.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world Mr Deeks." She smiles a warm twinkly smile before turning on her heel and leaving.

His phone buzzes in his pocket; his soon-to-be-wife confirming their meet. He feels a little jolt of excitement as he thinks about seeing her tomorrow. It's been too long.

He thinks ahead to what he still has to do before he meets Kensi as planned. At least the ride up into the forest will help clear his head. 'Time to work' he thinks, as he reluctantly downs the rest of his beer before getting up to leave. The whisky left untouched on the table along with a fresh $20 for Bill.

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