"I still can't believe that Deeks is a millionaire!" A day later and Sam was still struggling to process the facts. "Deeks is an honest to goodness millionaire?" The team had done a little research of their own over the past twenty-four hours. It helped to pass the time while they waited for news.

"Don't forget the part about graduating from Harvard," Callen added. "He sure kept that quiet too. Seems there is a lot our Mr Deeks omitted to tell his co-workers."

"You sure that's fair, G? It's not as if we asked him or anything. Did you ever have a real conversation with him about anything except work?

Good question, Sam. Hit me with some more guilt when I already feel bad enough about things. "No, I didn't," he answered slowly, forcing each unpleasant truth out into the open. "I resented the fact Hetty brought him in. I didn't give him a fair chance. None of us did. We never included him, or made him a part of the team."

After all this time and Deeks is still the odd man out. This stranger who comes in every day to do his job and what does he get from us? Nothing. And he keeps on smiling. He doesn't have to work another day in his life, far less do a job like this, but he does. Seems like he's a pretty decent guy. So why did we make him an outsider?

It was time to change all that. Clearly, Hetty wasn't about to say any more, until she had discussed things with Deeks. And as he was still lying unconscious in hospital, that could take some time. But Callen knew a man who could help them with some valuable background information. If they asked nicely and were very persuasive.

"You guys want me to investigate Deeks?" Eric asked. "Isn't that a bit unethical?"

"Isn't that a bit rich coming from the guy who has never seen a system he can't hack into?" Sam gave a broad smile that showed all his excellent teeth. And made him looked rather like a Rottweiler getting ready to bite down on a piece of rump steak.

"Just satellite images of the Malibu estate," Callen said in a soothing tone of voice. "Most of those are public domain anyway."

"They just look better on the big screen, am I right? Otherwise you guys would have done it yourselves?" Eric typed rapidly for a few seconds. "Wow! That is one impressive spread."

"Extensive," Callen agreed, walking over to the screen and started pointing to things. "Main house: swimming pool, of course with Jacuzzi; guest cottage there and that looks like tennis courts. Very nice indeed."

"How come Deeks lives in a one-bed apartment when he's got that?"

"Maybe he's allergic to luxury? Those grounds are fabulous. Are the lawns lush enough for your taste, Sam?"

"Perfect. I might ask Deeks if he's got any tips."

"I hope you do just that." They started in a guilty manner as Hetty's voice suddenly joined in the conversation. "I'm sure he'd be very happy to help – if you asked him. If you gave him a chance."

"He's earned it."

Callen smiled at her. "How about we start off by calling him Marty?"

"I think that would be an excellent beginning."

I remember this pain. This is what it feels like when you've been shot, right? It feels like I've been shot again. How could I get shot again?

"Marty? Mr. Deeks?"

He doesn't recognize the voice, but it is very persistent. And it feels like someone is running their finger down his cheek.

"Marty? It's time to wake up. Can you open your eyes?"

Now, there's a good question? Can I open my eyes? Do I want to?

"Hello there! Welcome back." His head is fuzzy and Marty reckons they must be giving him very good drugs, because he can see a pretty face, but it's going in and out of focus in a fashion that makes him feel dizzy and sick. He tries to say something, but he can't.

What's wrong? I can't breathe. I can't talk. What's going on? Help me!

"It's alright, Marty. You're alright. You've got a tube in your throat that's helping you breathe." Her voice is reassuring. He can hear her moving around and then she places her hand on his cheek again. And he almost weeps at the tenderness of her touch and the memories it brings back. It's been a long time since anyone has made him feel so safe.

"Squeeze my hand if you can understand me."

Her hand is warm. It takes some effort to send the right message from his brain to his hand, but eventually he manages it and is able to press gently.

"Well done. Everything is alright. You are fine. Just go back to sleep now."

And Marty believes her. He closes his eyes and lets the drugs drift him away into a realm where there is no pain and there is nothing to worry about.

Once she is certain he is sleeping, the nurse hurries to the waiting room. She has grown accustomed to the policeman standing guard over this patient and gives him a quick smile as she passes. His presence is not unusual – the hospital receives its fair share of people under police guard, but this is different, this patient is a cop, wounded in the line of duty, who then risked his life to save his partner. There's a rumor that he is up for a commendation. All in all, he's made quite an impact on the medical staff. It doesn't hurt that he is, by common consensus, drop dead gorgeous.

ICU rules are strict – visitors are only allowed under exceptional circumstances, so his friends have been taking it in turns to stay at the hospital, waiting for news, practically grabbing any member of staff who happens to be passing and asking for news.

He must be a really popular guy. Everyone cares so much about him. I wonder if he's got a girlfriend?

A tall young woman, with long dark hair and a haggard expression looks up hopefully as she enters.

"Good news. Marty woke up and he's doing really well. He was able to respond to commands. He's sleeping now, but tomorrow we'll try to wean him off the ventilator." She smiles brightly and is taken by surprise when the woman's face crumples and she begins to sob uncontrollably.

She REALLY likes him! Can't say I blame her.

Hetty had barely slept for days. She had tried every remedy she knew, and had a whole new collection of herbal teas, none of which had worked. The reports from the hospital were encouraging, with Marty's condition moving from "critical" to "holding his own" and finally "stable and making satisfactory progress", which meant that he had been moved out of ICU. And that meant that the rules on visitors had been relaxed considerably. And, in Hetty's case, relaxed all together. It had only taken a five minute appointment with the Director of Medical Services to achieve that concession. And she wasn't sleeping anyway, and the hospital wasn't too far out of her way home, only ten miles in the opposite direction, plus the roads were quiet at this time of night. And she really didn't have anything else to do, because that stack of reports could wait until tomorrow, as could the briefing for SecNav, so it seemed logical to just pop in and see for herself how her agent was doing. That was what any boss would do, wasn't it?

Who are you kidding, Hetty Lang? You need to see exactly how Marty is doing with your own eyes. And once you are convinced he is alright, perhaps you will be able to sleep. Because right now you are so tired you're thinking of yourself in the second person and that is never a good sign!

"Stable and making satisfactory progress" meant that Marty was breathing unaided and that he was no longer lying flat on his back, but was propped up with pillows. It meant that he looked shattered and that there were lines of pain on his face. It meant that he was still on high doses of painkillers and antibiotics to prevent infection and that tubes carried fluids in and out of his body. It meant that to a layperson he was in one hell of a state. But it also meant that he was alive and talking and, for that, Hetty was grateful beyond words.

"How long have you been there?" Marty's voice was weak and he sounded tired.

"Long enough." Too long. I've waited far too long, my dear.

He gave a slight grunt and closed his eyes briefly, trying to remember. There was something important, only he couldn't remember what it was.

"You should rest," Hetty suggested.

"I've done nothing but rest for days. I think… It's all a bit vague." He tried to raise himself up on his elbows, but a sharp piercing pain caught him by surprise.

Hetty could move with considerable speed. In an instant she was by his side, one hand pressing him back down, the other pressing the pain button. "You are under orders to rest, Mr. Deeks. My orders."

Marty subsided onto his pillows, trying to give up graciously.

"It occurred to me that my records require to be updated and that there were some things we should discuss."

"I figured you always knew." He refused to meet her eyes.

"You figured correctly." Hetty sat back down and reached into her briefcase. "Gordon John Brandel. Your father."

"You found him?" He'd never even tried to find his father, too afraid at what he might say, terrified he might be rejected again.

"I found him." She laid the folder down on the bed and Marty stared at it blankly. "He served five years of a seven year sentence and was released in 1996. He died two years later, in an auto accident."

The silence last for several minutes as he absorbed the contents of the folder. At the back was a photograph he had not seen for years, showing a young boy sitting on a porch.

"I recognize that – it's the house in the Hamptons. I must have been about four or five years old?"

Hetty smiled. "You were four. It was the summer of 1984 and you had just learned to swim. Do you remember? And you had a puppy called Deeks. Your mother's maiden name."

His head snapped up. "How do you know that?"

"Because I was there." She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out some more photographs, showing a whole host of people: smiling, tanned and relaxed. "This was taken on the same day. Your mother and father, Maryanne and Jack. And here's your brother Chris. He had his twelfth birthday that summer and we had fireworks on the beach in the evening. And here you are, with your aunt. Do you remember now?"

He held out his hand and took the last picture, studying it intently, looking at the little boy with blond hair who held the hand of a small woman with bobbed hair. And the memories came flooding back, fresh and clean and wonderful. "Now I remember. I remember you were there that summer."

Hetty smiled. "I think about it often. It was a lovely summer, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was." He was still looking at the photograph. "I never realized…"

"I know. I never expected you to make the connection. It was a long time ago and we were different people then. But it was such a wonderful summer. You were part of such a happy family. Your parents loved each other very much. And they adored you and your brother. No matter what happened later, these were good times. Never forget how much you were loved. You keep those photographs and remember the happy times."

"It was difficult after Dad… after that night. I didn't know what to think, for a long time. This helps. It helps a lot." Leaning back on his pillows, Marty braced himself mentally. This wasn't easy, but it had to be done. "I have a favor to ask. My next of kin – who should I put down?"

She allowed herself the luxury of a small, knowing smile. "Lang. Henrietta Lang. That might not be the name you remember me by, but it is the truth after all, if not exactly the whole truth. And, in return, may I request the same favor? I too am in need of someone to put down as my next of kin. So we can help one another out."

"My pleasure." He was feeling tired and he couldn't hide it. But at least he didn't have to pretend any more. At last there was someone who understood, who knew who he really was. It was so tiring having to pretend all the time. He was glad of a chance to be himself again.

Soon afterwards, Hetty left. She slept that soundly that night. It turned out that she had never needed revenge after all. The only thing she needed was to reconnect with her family and to bring the past into the present. It was soothing to know she was not alone any more.

If Kensi had a weakness, it was for Jell-O. The more virulently colored, the more she craved it. This particular pot was day-glo orange and it looked even more delicious than yesterday's green variety. She did a quick check: Deeks was still asleep. He'd been asleep for hours and she beginning to wonder if he would ever wake up. Her hand crept out and snagged the pudding.

"You don't actually come here to see me at all, do you? You just come to eat my Jell-O."

She started guiltily and a spoonful of Jell-O tumbled onto her top. "It was just sitting there… I figured you didn't want it and I was doing you a favor."

"Some favor. That's all they give me in the way of solid food at the moment. I was really looking forward to it. I've been saving it all day, and now you've eaten it." Deeks managed to keep a straight face as he watched Kensi blush.

"I thought you were asleep." I'm sorry.

"I was resting my eyes." I was sleeping, so that makes it all right?

"For two hours?" It's only a pot of Jell-O. Why the big deal?

He shrugged nonchalantly. "I sleep a lot because I'm ill. Or had you forgotten?"

"I'll never forget." This wasn't the time for joking; she had been bottling things up for too long. "I need to tell you something…" I need to tell you how sorry I am. I need to tell you that you are a great partner.

He cut her off. "Not now, Kensi. I'm too tired for this. Really. You can tell me later how I messed up again. I'm not going anywhere." Deeks glared at her and Kensi realized it was the first time she had ever seen him angry, really angry. There was a cold fury in his eyes that scared her.

"That's not what I'm talking about! I wanted to thank you for saving my life. You didn't have to do what you did."

He was still angry. "No, I didn't. But do you know what, Kensi? I did it. I did it without thinking because you were my partner. And these past few days, I've been lying here wondering if any one of you guys would have done the same for me. Well? Would you?"

"In an instant." Kensi couldn't believe what she was hearing. Is that what you think of me? That I'm completely heartless? "You're my partner. That's what we do – we look after each other. And I'm going to keep on looking after you, whether you like it or not." She sat down again and picked up the empty Jell-O pot. "And if that means I have to watch you eat my favorite dessert, then that's what I'll do."

"Why are we talking about Jell-O?" Deeks had never met such an infuriating woman.

"Why not?" Because it's easier than saying what's really on our minds, you idiot. You stupid, gorgeous idiot. Lying there looking all vulnerable and totally hot. Just give me a chance to make it up to you.

"Kensi – I'm tired of this. Really tired. I don't want to do this anymore, do you understand? I can't joke about things today. So please, just for once would you do as I ask and just go? Please."

He does look tired. And maybe he's right, maybe this isn't the best time. Only I need to tell him what he really means to me. "You can't get rid of me that easily, Marty Deeks. I'm your partner and you're stuck with me. Have you never heard of that saying: save a person life and you are responsible for them forever? Well, you saved me by shooting the Chechen in the parking lot. And then…"

This was hard. This was the hardest thing she'd ever done. She had tried to repress that memory, the blood covering her hands, the dreadful fear that Deeks was going to die like a dog on the sidewalk. Kensi took a deep breath and managed to continue.

"And then I saved your life. You'd ruptured an artery. I managed to slow the bleeding down, just enough so that you didn't bleed out. And now, whether you like it or not, we are tied together, forever. You are responsible for me and I am responsible for you. So you'd better get used to that, because I'm going to be right here when you wake up again."

"I give up." He closed his eyes. "I know when I'm beaten." Please stay. I don't want to be alone anymore.

Kensi listened to his breathing until the subtle changes told her Deeks was finally asleep. He muttered fitfully for a while and then settled down. Outside, darkness was falling and the air had started to get chilly, so she moved over to the bed and carefully pulled the covers up around his shoulders. It wouldn't do for him to catch a chill on top of everything else. He was her partner and she had to take care of him.

"Good night, Marty," Kensi whispered softly, her mouth close to his ear. She moved her head slightly, fully intending to kiss him on the forehead, or perhaps on the cheek. So it was strange that she found herself kissing him on the lips. But that was alright, because he was asleep and he would never know. Besides which, it just felt right. It felt damn fine.

Some scars are visible, like those on the right side of Marty's chest. Still fresh, still in the process of healing, they will fade. In time they will be almost invisible. But there are other scars, invisible scars deep within his soul. They never completely heal and their pain is something he has lived with for too many years. But he has come to realize the shooting has been cathartic and finally he has given himself permission to move on, to put the past behind him and to live freely, without regrets. It's been a long road, but finally the path ahead seems clear and the next part of his journey is something to savour. He's come a long way. And for the first time in years, Marty Deeks feels genuinely happy.

Marty stares at himself in the mirror for a long time and wonders what others see when they look at him. And he asks himself if it really matters what they think after all. Finally he grins, realizing that he doesn't really care. Finally, he can be himself and that's all that matters.

The End