Title: Turbulence
By:
Jessica
Pairing:
Kensi/Deeks
Rating:
T
Timeline:
Post 3x01: Lange, H.
Summary: All his turbulent thoughts aside, what Deeks really wants is just as clear as day.


Even Kensi Blye is not immune to everything.

And right now, she's falling victim to exhaustion. It claws at her, scraping at every frayed fiber of her being, and yet, despite that, all Kensi can seem to do is drift. Despite the fact that she's oh so desperate for sleep she hasn't found in days, she's only able to drift idly in and out of consciousness, never far enough in one direction to keep herself from being jolted rudely back the other way. And that, really, is doing nothing but adding to her overwhelming fatigue, fatigue that had caught her incredibly off-guard as she'd slowed down for the first time in days. It had crashed over her like a wave as her body had sunk into this much less than comfortable seat next to her partner on this small plane that was to take them all the way home.

It's a long flight back to Los Angeles, and like the rest of the team, Kensi had planned to use the time wisely – once they land, she knows they'll be expected to hit the ground running – they always are. This is their only chance for rest, and from the relative quiet that surrounds her, it seems she's the only one having trouble finding it. It should be easy, she thinks. In the past week, Kensi knows she's slept very little, and combined with the dim, near-darkness of the cabin and the low, white noise provided by the engines of the plane, it should be the trifecta that leads her into the blessed depths of sleep, but something within her resists the pull.

And really, there's no reason for any part of her to resist. Hetty will be fine, which is the greatest relief at all. The time for strength and fight and drive has passed for now, leaving them all with a few moments of quiet relaxation that even the most sleepless of their team, none other than Callen himself, was gladly taking advantage of. There's no reason to worry about what they're coming home to; Director Vance had all but assured them that their jobs were secure, calling their surrender of badges "accidental." And, perhaps most important of all, all four of them had come out of this unsanctioned mission completely unscathed.

All is, it seems, well.

But still, Kensi can't find sleep.

She tries for another hour, then finally gives up. Something's holding her back, unsettling her, and trying to ignore it is only exhausting her more. Sighing heavily, she stretches her aching legs as much as the space in front of her will allow; it's not much, but at least it's something. Other than that, she makes no effort to move, not even bothering to lift her head from her makeshift pillow – a makeshift pillow that, in actuality, turns out to be her partner's shoulder.

That same partner shifts slightly beside of her, and Kensi can't help but groan a bit as he jostles her. He doesn't apologize; instead, there's amusement clear in the soft rumble of his voice as he speaks, his words drifting just over the top of her head. "Hey there, sleepyhead…"

Kensi shakes her head, realizing too late that in their current position, it's almost as if she's nuzzling against him. She's too tired to let that bother her right now, though. "Wasn't asleep," she murmurs, her voice thick with fatigue. She tries, but fails to stifle a yawn then.

Deeks gives a contemplative hum. "You sure?" he teases, gently nudging her. "Because that was some pretty heavy-duty snoring you were doing."

"Oh please," she snorts. "You're the one who snores."

"Which means you're the one who watches me while I sleep," he tosses back effortlessly.

Kensi rolls her eyes, a retort ready at her lips as she shifts against him. But it's a groan that leaves her lips instead as a sharp ache shoots like lightning through her body. "Speaking of sleep, next time we decide to fly all the way across the world, remind me to bring a pillow," she says, wincing. "Your bony shoulder isn't doing a damn thing for my neck."

Deeks chuckles, initially surprised that she'd mention their current, rather cozy position at all. "I don't see you moving, Princess." With that, he stretches slightly, careful not to jostle Kensi again. "But I can understand that. This is very cozy, yeah? Feels very…post-honeymoon bliss if you ask me."

His teasing grin is audible in his voice and Kensi can't help but snort again. Lazily she lifts her left hand, waving it in the general direction of his face. "Funny that I'm still not seeing a ring here."

His reply is immediate. "Just wait til we land, sweetheart," he smirks. "I'll get you one out of one of those quarter games – you know, the ones with the spinning, clucking chicken and the plastic eggs with prizes inside. Might take a few tries to get one with a ring in it…but you're worth the extra quarters."

"Now that is romantic."

"What can I say? I'm a charmer."

"Uh-huh. How I ever managed to fight off all those other girls swooning over you is beyond me," she deadpans.

"Let's just say you're the lucky one, my sweet."

"Lucky. Right."

"You love me."

Kensi laughs out loud, quickly lifting a hand to her mouth to stifle the sound. "Yeah, yeah," she forces out, hoping he doesn't realize his cocky proclamation caught her slightly off-guard. It doesn't take her long at all to recover though and then she's throwing a retort of her own back at him. "Same way I love Monty."

He's a step ahead of her. A devious grin on his lips, he turns his head just enough that his playful words dance just over her slightly tousled locks. "Is that so? Well, can't say it surprises me – I knew you wanted me in your bed."

"Uh, not quite," Kensi retorts, trying desperately not to envision the image of Marty Deeks in her bed – she blames her fatigue for the fact that such an image sends a shiver dancing down her spine. "I have a strict no-flea policy when it comes to my bed. Monty's fine, but you get the floor."

"Ouch," he grouses, laying a hand over his heart. "Now that hurts."

She just shrugs. "Well that's what they say about the truth, right?" Realizing that just stretching is doing nothing for her aching muscles, Kensi finally sighs and stands gingerly – maybe working the kinks out of her muscles will help her at least manage to doze a bit. "Besides," she continues, stretching lithely, pretending not to notice the way his eyes travel the length of her body, "you walked right into it."

A soft hum of pleasure slips from her lips as she stretches, her muscles protesting the movement yet appreciating it all the same. If there's one thing she should splurge on once they get home, she thinks, it's got to be a good massage. A good massage, a hot bubble bath, lots of chocolate…yeah, it's been a while since she's treated herself quite like that and after the past several months, Kensi thinks she deserves it.

It's that moment (of course it is, Kensi thinks) that the entire plane suddenly jolts in midair, throwing her momentarily off balance. She stumbles slightly, but ultimately keeps her footing and manages to slide carefully back into her seat, her fingers closing around the armrest as the plane continues to tremble. "Careful there," Deeks smirks, watching as Kensi settles back in. "That's why they say you should keep your seatbelt on for the whole flight. It's called turbulence. It can come on without warning and people have actually been injured by it before."

Kensi scowls slightly at his know-it-all tone – who's Wikipedia now? "I have flown before," she retorts. "I know what turbulence is."

"Uh-huh." He grins. "You sure about that? Because it kind of looked to me like you were surprised." Before Kensi can object, his eyes dart briefly to her fingers still lightly gripping the armrest. When he meets her gaze again, his gorgeous blues are filled with mischief. "Or maybe…" Deeks continues, his grin widening, "maybe you're scared."

That's the most ridiculous thing she's ever heard (and that's saying something, considering who's saying it) and Kensi's sure it shows on her face. "Yeah. Yeah, Deeks, that's it," she deadpans, rolling her eyes. "We just busted down doors in a foreign country, guns blazing, completely unsanctioned, not knowing what the consequences would be…and a little bit of turbulence is what I'm scared of."

Deeks gives a contemplative hum. "I'm just saying, it could get a lot worse before it gets better. Thousands of feet up in the air above the ocean, can't see anything but darkness outside, not knowing what we're flying into, knowing that the pilot could, you know, fall asleep in the cockpit." To anyone but his fearless partner, these would be cruel things to point out and he knows it. With Kensi…it's just their usual banter. "But it's okay if you get scared, Fern. If you want me to, I can, you know, hold you…"

He's reaching for her even as he speaks and Kensi can't help but snort as she slaps away his hand. "Please, Deeks. That little rambling spiel you went on right as we were taking off makes me think you're the one who wants to be held."

A devilish glint flickers through Deeks' eyes. "Maybe I do."

Kensi doesn't miss a beat. "Awesome," she replies with a bright smile. "I'll just go wake up Sam for you, then."

Deeks cringes, though it's more in response to her attempt at humor than at her suggestion itself. "Still needs work, but glad to see your humor isn't as quite as lame as it was."

Kensi grins sweetly. "Oh, that wasn't humor."

"Wasn't it? My bad, then. It's hard to tell with you, since everything sounds the same." Pausing, he tilts his head slightly, letting his eyes roam over her as if he's scrutinizing her. "Though, now that I think about it, you've got a point. Sam probably is a better cuddler than you are." He smirks.

She chuckles wryly. "Yeah. Why don't you go figure that out for yourself? I'm sure he'd love the company. He'll be so glad you woke him up for that." Her eyes sparkle playfully. "And while you're, uh, cuddling, he can give you a much-needed refresher on tradecraft."

"Tradecraft?" he scoffs. "My tradecraft is extraordinary."

"Obviously."

Deeks shoots her a look of indignance, thinking back to the men who had chased him down earlier – they've been through this already, really. "Come on. If I hadn't lured those guys back –"

"Lured?" This time, Kensi doesn't even bother to stifle her laughter. "You got made, Deeks. You and your little all-you-can-eat gelato party."

"You're just mad that I didn't bring you any."

"Yeah. That's what I'm mad about, not that you couldn't pull off the world's simplest surveillance job. I told Callen it was a bad idea to send you to do it."

She's teasing; that much is clear in her voice. It's not unlike the banter they always share; at this point, it's almost like a sport to them. An unforgiving, no-holds-barred sport where the sharpest tongue always wins. In the end, though, it's all meant quite harmlessly.

It's the thoughts that have been plaguing Deeks' mind for the past several days though that are anything but harmless, and Kensi's playful barb inevitably reawakens them now. And Deeks, despite knowing better, allows them to take over. Truth is, he knows he got made – he'd even let the admission slip once from his lips. He knows that, on this team of strong, skilled individuals, he's the weakest link despite years upon years of undercover work for the LAPD. Deeks may be good, but he doesn't have the same training the agents have. He was trained as a cop and though he's gone through a handful of aliases and managed to pull himself out of a number of sticky situations over the years, it's more than just apparent that his abilities are of a completely different skillset than what this team of agents possesses.

Which brings him back to the question he's yet to find an answer to: why? Why him? He's been around long enough to know that Hetty had handpicked every single member of this particular team, and, as far as he's concerned, each choice makes sense. A former Navy SEAL; a man with the skills to go as far as to disappear completely from the edge of the earth if necessary, only to reappear later as a completely new person; his own partner, who could play the most tempting seductress one moment and then have her suspect bleeding on the ground before he even knew what hit him; an intelligence analyst with what he'd suspect to be the highest IQ in the entirety of NCIS; a computer guru who can hack his way into literally anything without leaving even the slightest trail…and then there's Deeks. Detective Marty Deeks, LAPD.

For now, anyway. A single swish of a pen could strip that title and all he's ever worked for right away from him. One more signature would bestow the title of Special Agent upon him (the application process, Hetty had given the impression, was more a formality than anything). It's all utterly inconceivable to him.

It's not something he's sure he wants.

He's spent his whole life trying to find something he's good at.

He might not have made many friends during his time on the force, but in the end, he's good at the job. And being asked to walk away from that…well, Deeks isn't sure it's something he can do.

He's a cop, not an agent. His lack of those advanced skills was what got him shot. The ease of going after him was what nearly got his partner killed that same day. Add to that all the quips about being a lousy liaison, the "best they could do," "the temp," all the teasing he endures when an op doesn't quite turn out the way he'd envisioned…all of those little comments he'd taken in stride (because that's what Marty Deeks does), they're coming back to him now as anything but playful and he'd be lying if he tried to say that's not playing a great deal into his hesitance.

In the end, he knows he's a damn good cop.

He's not sure he could ever be a good enough agent to compete with this team.

And he thinks with a choice between the two, the answer should be obvious, because he can't just throw away the one thing he's ever been good at.

But what should be such an easy choice is marred with complications…one of which is sitting right next to him now.

Their cozy little airplane isn't the only thing struggling with turbulence right now, suffice it to say.

His silence continues, and Kensi's teasing grin falters. She'd been prepared for a quick, witty comeback about how, between the two of them, he was obviously the better choice whenever sweets were involved because she would be far too easily distracted. She'd even had her own retort to that ready. She realizes soon, though, that she's not going to get to use it when a wave of concern floods her, as she watches her partner practically deflate beside of her. And this…this is truly the greatest problem they have as partners: the playful ridicule goes so far between them that neither of them realizes where the line is until it's already been crossed. And it seems Kensi's done exactly that, even if her words still seem nothing but harmless. "Hey," she says, shifting to the side, angling herself toward him as best she can in the small, uncomfortable seat. "You know I'm just teasing."

"I know." He pauses, and Kensi wishes he'd look at her again instead of staring into the night. "It's not that." Deeks doesn't elaborate, though. Instead, he rolls his jaw and for a moment, the distress is written on his face. Kensi doesn't know where it came from; just a moment before, they'd been teasing each other, just as they always do. But now…it's clear that something has crept its way to the forefront of his mind, something that isn't exactly welcome there.

When he finally speaks again, Deeks sounds a little too much like Kensi – his voice is far too practiced, almost as if he's rehearsed the words in his mind…just as she's been known to do. "It's nothing," he says evenly. "I'm fine."

It's her line and they both know it. "Come on, now," she coaxes softly, gently touching a knuckle to his elbow. "If it was me, you wouldn't let me get away with that."

That's enough to elicit the tiniest of smiles from her partner. It's slight, just a tiny, upward curve at the corner of his lips, but it's there nonetheless. To anyone else, it might be mean nothing; to Kensi, though, it's at least a sign that he's hearing her. He's not entirely tuning her out…not like she might do, were the situations reversed. "Talk to me, Deeks."

He finally glances to her again, the slight smile lingering just a moment more as he makes her words his own. "And you wouldn't let me get away with that."

He's got a point. "Touché," Kensi accedes, nodding slightly.

Deeks meets her gaze for only a second longer before he shifts his eyes downward, suddenly rather interested in his hands. "It's nothing," he sighs, knowing the odds of Kensi believing that are slim to none – she knows him far too well for that. To her credit, she doesn't press – not yet, at least. "I've just got a few things…things I need to think about, you know?"

Kensi nods again, but still says nothing. Without even realizing it, she lets her touch drift absently to his arm once more – this time, instead of her knuckle, it's the tips of her fingers that she lets drift along his skin. It's just…natural. Instinctual. She doesn't even realize she's doing it. If she did, Kensi would also realize that she's easily crossing one of the many boundaries they've spent so damn much time dancing back and forth over through the past several months.

Perhaps it's the altitude, or the exhaustion, or the cover of near-darkness and near-silence that lulls her into this state where her head is a few steps behind her senses. And maybe, just maybe, that's how she'll explain it later. In this moment, though, her focus is solely upon him. "Does it, uh, have anything to do with why Hetty wanted to talk to you before she left?" she asks quietly, remembering her own rather cryptic conversation with their operations manager.

It's all she can pick out from her admittedly jumbled memory of the past week, but if the way Deeks tenses at her inquiry is any indication, it's all she needs. He recovers quickly, though not quickly enough to hide it. "What?"

Kensi shrugs. "I don't know. Just…trying to put the pieces together," she explains quietly. "Hetty wanted to talk to you. You thought you were in trouble. And then you wouldn't tell me what she wanted to talk to you about. If it was something good…" She pauses briefly, tugging at her lower lip with her teeth. If it was something good, she's certain she would have heard all about it – Deeks has never been shy when it comes to bragging. But instead of following that train of thought (she doesn't want to think that it could be something bad), she approaches differently. "I mean, you just said it was paperwork about your, uh, position with us. You're not…"

The word there is leaving, and it's just on the tip of Kensi's tongue. It never hits the air, though, because even though her mind may be mildly clouded with exhaustion, she still knows just how it would sound – maybe not to Deeks, but certainly to her. It speaks of desperation, of fear. But more than that, it speaks of a need that she feels bubbling up within her, one she doesn't like at all because it makes her feel more than just a little bit weak. It's a need for him to prove her wrong here, because she's not ready to give up yet another partner.

No, she corrects herself forcefully. She's just not ready to deal with another new partner.

That's all it is.

She pointedly ignores the voice that tells her she was right the first time; that the uncorrected statement is the one she actually means.

"I'm not what?" he probes, drawing her (thankfully) away from those thoughts. "Being fired?" Deeks smiles then, his gaze dropping to her fingers as they continue to dance along his arm, slowly, soothingly. It's…nice; he has to admit.

It's that moment, though, that Kensi finally realizes what she's been doing for…she has no idea just how long. Somewhat embarrassedly (and already putting her mind through hoops for things to blame it on should he question her), she pulls back and instead clasps her hands together on the armrest between them. She murmurs a quiet apology, forcing herself to shrug as if it were nothing.

He doesn't question her, though; he does, however, silently muse on just how much of their relationship – partnership – seems to be based on touch. It's oddly intimate, he thinks, but at the same time, it feels right. Of course, that's nothing he'd ever dare admit because that's the point, he thinks with a smirk, where touch becomes a punch to the shoulder.

She's watching him again, her dark eyes filling with questions as his silence continues. He can tell that she's dying to ask them all, but instead she remains quiet, not even answering either way to his previous inquiry. She's simply waiting for him.

Another moment passes before he exhales deeply, his smile fading as his thoughts begin to drift again. "It was paperwork about my position here…but I'm not being fired or anything like that. Hetty just…wants me to resign."

Deeks stops there, allowing Kensi's mind to play with that revelation. And sure enough, her brow furrows and Deeks can just about see the thoughts speeding through her head. "What do you mean…resign?" she asks slowly, unsure if she'd heard him correctly or not.

He grins a bit. "From LAPD," he finishes finally, once he decides that Kensi's mind has raced enough.

"Oh." She won't lie; she kind of hates herself for the sheer amount of relief that floods her at his clarification. His words had left her heart pounding and it's only now that she realizes she's drawn in a breath and had yet to exhale. So she does, slowly, and it's then that the true weight of his words clicks for her. "Oh."

"Oh, indeed."

She ignores that. Interest suddenly brimming in her dark eyes, Kensi leans closer. "She wants you to become an agent."

He could tease her about being a bit slow on the uptake, but in the end, Deeks figures he'll cut her some slack. She's exhausted, he's exhausted, and truthfully he's not sure he could find the energy right now. "Yeah…she wants me to join NCIS. Without the liaison title. A, uh, a full agent."

And that is where he runs into trouble. Until now, he hasn't had the time to linger on it – this is truly the first quiet moment he's had since that conversation with Hetty. It had all been shoved to the back of his mind to make room for much more important matters – the whys of Hetty's own resignation, the chase to Prague and then Romania, the search for Hetty and the reasons behind Operation Comescu.

But now that Hetty is safe and sound and he's left with nothing else to occupy his mind, Deeks' thoughts had quickly returned to that rather ominous folder, a simple manila envelope with pages that would bring one chapter of his life to a close with just his signature.

And that leaves him doing nothing more than hesitating. He still has no clue just how Hetty stumbled upon him, or why she felt the need to draw him into her team. He's not sure he'll ever have the answers to most of those questions…but that's not the problem. The problem…that would be the questions he does have the answers to.

He knows why he became a cop.

He knows exactly why that particular badge is so very important to him.

For so long, it's been the only thing that's grounded him. The reasons behind why he became a cop are simple – he'd wanted to help people. He'd wanted to bring the innocent justice. Those were the reasons behind his brief stint in law as well, though quickly Deeks had grown weary of the unscrupulous side of it all. It'd been too much money and bribery, and not enough actual justice, and that…that hadn't been good enough for him.

So he'd left behind his stellar law school grades and his mastery of the state bar exam for the less glamorous life of an undercover cop. And that…that's where he'd found his niche. For the first time in his life, Deeks had felt as if he'd belonged to something. He might not have made many friends on the force, but that matters very little to him.

What matters is that he gets the job done. What matters is that he's good at it.

What matters is that, for the first time in his life, he feels as if he's making a difference.

And, for someone who's spent all of his life fighting the odds, struggling to prove that he's good enough…well, it's not that easy to surrender it all. It's not that easy to walk away.

He doesn't know if he can walk away.

He thinks of his mom, standing between he and his angry, drunk father, taking the beating that was destined for him. He thinks of himself at five, at seven, at ten, cowering in his room at night, too terrified to fall asleep lest he be woken in the night by his father's fury. He thinks of his teenage self – lost, alone, clinging to jokes and sarcasm to hide the darkness within, the scars of his childhood that would never quite fade.

And then he thinks of the hundreds, thousands, maybe millions just like he and his mom, the ones not quite strong enough or brave enough to fight back. He thinks of all the lives broken by all the same things that had broken his own family...

And those are the reasons he became a cop.

If he can do anything to save any of them, to stop any of them from living the horrors he'd lived as a child, then he can sleep at night knowing he's made a difference.

If he didn't have that…if he was no longer Detective Marty Deeks, LAPD, he's not sure who he would be.

It's not everything that he is.

But at times, it's been everything he's had. The only thing he's had.

Deeks isn't sure how long the silence goes on; eventually, he's drawn from his thoughts by Kensi gently nudging his side, concern in her dark eyes. She doesn't question where he'd disappeared to in his mind; she doesn't question why he's seemingly unable to make what she likely thinks should be a simple decision. Instead, what leaves her lips is nothing more than a quiet, gentle murmur of his name. "Deeks?"

There are a million and one ways he can reply to that. A million and one ways to let her see what's plaguing his mind, to let her in where he's never before let anyone else. But for every reason he has to let her in, there's also a reason not to. He may already be closer to her than he's been to anyone else for quite some time, but that doesn't mean he's ready for her to see all of his scars. He's not ready for her to see the shame, the pain, the secrets he carries with him day in and day out. The last thing he wants is to give her a reason to pull away.

In the end, he lets his mind drift back to the folder Hetty had presented him with. "You know," he begins quietly, shaking his head, "she had everything already filled out. Every line on the application, all the references, everything. It was all there. Ready for me. All that was missing was my signature."

With that, Deeks gives a heavy sigh, plucking at a loose strand on the hem of his shirt. "It's like I really don't even have a choice."

"You always have a choice," Kensi points out softly.

"Sure doesn't feel like it." He scoffs lightly, turning his eyes to the small window again. It's still too dark to see anything in the sky, but he can make out Kensi's reflection faintly in the glass, just enough to see the worry in her eyes, the slight frown at her lips. "But then again, maybe that's the point," he says, his voice tinged by a minor note of bitterness – he's not quite able to conceal it. "I've never been in charge of anything; why would anybody start letting me make my own decisions now?"

She doesn't really have an answer for that. Instead, she shrugs and points out the obvious. "You chose to come with us, didn't you?" Her mind drifts back to that one moment back at the mission, just the four of them facing Director Vance. "You're not NCIS, Deeks. You could have walked away when the rest of us laid down our badges," she says, and by the way Deeks stiffens next to her, she's certain he knows exactly what she's talking about. "That move that made so much sense at the time? It was actually pretty reckless, and it could have ended all of our careers. It could have ended with any of us not making it home alive."

Pausing, Kensi shifts even closer to him, pulling her legs into her seat and tucking them beneath her body. She's not sure if he's aware of just how minute the space between them has become, but she certainly is. Tells herself, though, that it's because of the need for quiet in such a conversation – not only are the other members of her team enjoying some much needed rest, but this is a conversation that, were it Kensi, she wouldn't want it broadcast loudly to the world.

She adamantly refuses to believe it could possibly be anything else, least of all that she enjoys this proximity to him. And she refuses to let the thought even cross her mind that the idea of him not choosing to stay with NCIS fills her with dread. It's not something she even wants to think about. "I guess what I'm saying is," she continues cautiously, feeling her stomach twist in an inexplicable knot, "is that I think maybe you've already made your choice. You chose to follow your team leader. You chose to lay everything down to bring Hetty back home. You chose to back up your team. Those are some pretty big decisions for someone who doesn't plan to stay with that team."

A wry chuckle escapes his lips at her words. He sees her point, certainly. After all, Deeks had watched them all, one by one, as they'd laid down their badges and guns in front of the director of NCIS. He'd watched them all choose to put their careers and lives on the line for the sake of their missing operations manager. They'd all walked out of the mission that day with absolutely no guarantee of coming back to a job…or coming back at all.

They all knew the risks. And yet, they'd all done it.

And Deeks had followed without a second thought.

"I would if I could," he'd said to Vance, conviction ringing in his every word. And he'd do it again and again and again, should the choice be presented to him once more. The reasoning behind his choice, though…that's what shoves such a decision into the unknown; that's what colors it in shades of grey rather than in a simple black or white.

And Kensi…he's mildly astounded that she doesn't see it. She's the most astute person he knows; sometimes he thinks she can read his thoughts as well as she can read lips, but this…this seems to slip right over her head. He debates whether or not he should let it out into the open, but in the end, Deeks thinks he has to. Otherwise, he's not sure she'll ever understand why he can't make a decision that it seems to her he's already made. "I…didn't exactly do it for the good of NCIS, Kens," he admits softly, and for the first time, he meets her gaze completely. His ocean blue eyes lock with her dark ones, and when he sees hers widen with realization, he knows he need not say anything more.

It wasn't for them.

I did it for you, Kensi.

That knot in her stomach suddenly twists so tightly that it almost hurts as the weight of what he's saying crashes into her. And it should scare her. It should terrify her. It should have her throwing her walls up and locking every possible way in. It should serve as a warning to her that, for at least one of them, that line between them is growing more and more blurred. It should be a warning that, all teasing aside, this thing they have is turning into something they can't just ignore, and that's something Kensi can see in his blue eyes. She can see it there, and feel it in the pounding of her own heart. "So – so if I'd put my foot down and refused to go," she begins quietly, slowly so as to better control her voice because otherwise she's certain it would wobble, "you wouldn't have followed your team leader?"

His answer is immediate. "He's not my team leader."

"Deeks."

"What do you want me to say, Kensi?" he asks, an unmistakable note of exasperation in his voice. He knows damn well what she's asking for, but he also knows that the moment he says it, that's the moment she pulls away from him. He's learned that about her by now – get too close, and she closes down. Distances herself. So he's been keeping some small measure of distance between them himself – toning down his flirting with her while turning it up with other women in front of her, spending less time with her off the clock, not sharing why Hetty had wanted to speak to him (until now). As it is, he feels as if he's shared too much anyway and he can't figure out why she's still pushing.

He reaches up, rakes a hand through his messy hair. "At the end of the day," he says finally, realizing she's not going to break the silence herself anytime soon, "you're my partner. You're the one I look out for. If I'd stayed behind, and something had happened to you over there…" Deeks trails off, shaking his head. "I went for every reason that all the rest of you went, sure. But mostly…mostly I did it for you, Kens. I did it for you."

"Then do something else for me," she says quietly, her dark eyes suddenly wild. She knows what she's about to ask him is more than just a little bit selfish of her; knows she's taking his words and using them to manipulate what seems to be a very personal decision for him, but right now, that's not what she's worried about. Right now, she's worried about landing back in LA and losing her partner, the first person in a damn long time that she's trusted this much. "Pick NCIS, Deeks," she breathes, and damn if it doesn't sound like she's almost begging him to stay. "Pick NCIS."

He turns to her, his eyes as blue as the sea. "Why?"

"Because you know we'd do the same for you." She swallows hard, struggling not to lose herself in his eyes. That, she quickly finds, is a battle she's going to lose, especially as the heat begins to crackle in the air between them, a full year's worth of tension and flirting and badly hidden feelings floating to the surface. The pounding of her heart echoes in her ears with a warning - this is getting too dangerous too fast, but Kensi can't stop. She's not going to let him add himself to the list of people she's lost. "Because we'd fight for you."

"Would you?"

She looks him right in the eye, fighting the urge to break the intense bond currently between them. "What do you think I'm doing right now?" she breathes. "Look, Deeks, you've been with us for over a year now – we're the ones who had your back when everything went south with Lasik." He flinches, recalling that whole human trafficking op, but Kensi doesn't stop. "LAPD pulled out. We didn't. We're the ones who trusted you when it came to Ray. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but I didn't see anybody from the LAPD sitting by your bedside when you got shot."

"You would know, wouldn't you," he murmurs. It's not a question; rather, it's the first time either of them has acknowledged the night he spent in the hospital. The night that Kensi had sat by his side until the early morning hours…early morning hours when Hetty had appeared and demanded that she go. She's never admitted to staying with him…and he's never admitted to knowing that she'd stayed with him. At least, not until now.

And really, she's got a point. Deeks can't look her in the eye and deny that. Instead, he closes his eyes but briefly, exhaling a deep sigh before turning to words similar to the explanation he'd offered Hetty. "It's not that simple, Kens. I'm not an agent; I'm a cop. That – that's who I am."

Kensi shakes her head. "No, it's not." She waits for him to meet her eyes before adding to that. "At least, not just that. You know you're more than that."

"Am I? Because sometimes I wonder."

"If you were just a cop, you wouldn't be sitting here now," Kensi says simply. "Hetty would have never sought you out; she would have never made up that ridiculous liaison position – which is only ridiculous because every one of us knows what she's wants, and it's not for you to keep that title. I think she always meant for you to become one of us."

"What about what I want?"

His words are strained, and as Kensi looks into his eyes, she can't deny that he's got a point there. It's just that she can't imagine him wanting something other than this – she's seen how the rest of the LAPD looks at him, how they speak to him, how they act around him. It's not something that she would want, if offered something else. It baffles her, truly. "What do you want?" she asks quietly.

It's a loaded question with a dangerous answer, and as he's looking into her dark eyes, there's only one way he can think of to fully answer that, and it really has nothing to do with the conundrum he's currently faced with. He knows what answer she's looking for; knows she's asking whether he wants NCIS or LAPD, but right now, as he holds her gaze, both of those choices fall by the wayside as what he really wants claws its way to the surface.

He wants her.

He wants to kiss her, right now.

He wants more than this partnership.

And that…that's what is truly dangerous about it all. That's what makes everything just a bit more complicated, because rather than thinking through all the pros and cons of leaving the LAPD behind for NCIS, he's instead much more preoccupied with thoughts of her. Her lips on his, his fingers in her hair, her hands clasped in his shirt as they kiss and kiss and kiss….

His stomach tightens at the thought, and that's the moment he knows he's failed: he's got it bad. On one side, he's got the LAPD and everything he'd always aspired to do, all the good he'd always wanted to bring to those growing up as he had; but on the other side, there's NCIS, there's something more, and then there's her. And that…that's truly what complicates everything.

It's only the strength of her walls that keeps him from seeing that she's just as far gone. But Kensi…she blames it on the altitude. The altitude and the exhaustion; the thinness of the air several thousand feet up; the quiet darkness filling the cabin around them, making them feel as if they're the only ones in the plane despite Callen and Sam both dozing just mere feet behind them. The combination of all that has to be what's dizzying her, clouding her mind, making her desires scream so much louder than her much more rational thoughts.

It has to be the altitude, because it can't – can't – be the realization that he might actually choose to go back to the LAPD that's making her want to take hold of him and refuse to let go. It can't be that, because that would mean that Kensi's broken one of her simplest rules: never get attached.

She's certainly not attached to Marty Deeks.

And she's sure as hell not attracted to him.

Not one bit.

No way.

It has to be the altitude that's making his eyes look so damn blue, turbulent as a stormy sea that she can't help but want to drown in. It has to be, because she's just about certain that, were they secure on the ground, her fingers wouldn't be itching to sift through his messy blonde hair, tousling it even more; she's certain her lips wouldn't be tingling with the desire to feel his mouth against hers, kissing her even as he whispers that he couldn't possibly walk away from this.

That's it, she reasons. It has to be the altitude and the exhaustion and the utter stress that's got ice water pulsing through her veins at the thought of losing him.

It has to be, because nothing else is acceptable.

It's just not.

Eventually, he's the one who finally tears his gaze away. Heaving a sigh, Deeks rests his head against the back of the seat, closing his weary eyes. "What I want is complicated," he replies finally, only once he's certain he's got a handle on the emotions ravaging him from the inside out. This…it's not something he's ever really felt before. He doesn't really know what to do with it; doesn't think he'll ever really know what to do with it.

For all of her pushing before, Kensi quietly accepts his answer. "We're complicated," she murmurs.

It's the understatement of the century, and the sideways glance her partner shoots her way lets her know exactly just how much. "Complicated is simple compared to us," he quips, grateful for even the slightest break in the tension between them. "We're more like…impossible, I think."

Kensi chuckles softly, then draws in a deep breath, still waiting for her heartbeat to settle. Once it does, she shuffles closer to him, adopting the position she'd awoken from earlier – gingerly, she lays her head on his shoulder, feeling him stiffen for merely a second before relaxing once more. "I don't know if it means anything," she begins, her voice no more than a mere murmur, "but, uh, I want you to stay. With us."

He sighs. "Kensi…"

"No. Don't," she says, closing her eyes. "I – I'll let it go. It's just…that's what I want, okay? I want you to stay. I don't…I don't want another new partner."

I want you.

She doesn't have to say it for him to hear it loud and clear.

He wishes he could give her the answer she wants to hear.

He wishes this decision was truly as simple as choosing what he wants, because what he wants is undeniably this. Her. Them.

He wants this so badly that it hurts.

It's just…not all he wants, and he's never really been good at making sacrifices.

For now, though, Deeks forces all thoughts of decisions and loose ends from his mind, choosing instead to enjoy the moment for what it is. He'll have plenty of time to think it over back in Los Angeles; plenty of time to ponder the pros and cons of each side. For now, he loosely drapes his arm around Kensi's shoulders and gently rests his head atop hers, both of them giving into the exhaustion and finally, finally drifting into sleep for the final hours of their flight.

When they land, they wake together to merciless teasing from the other two members of their team. Her head still foggy with sleep, Kensi can't answer with any more than a coy smile and the slightest blush in her cheeks.

And when she turns to him, her hair tousled and dark eyes sparkling, he knows that's it for him.

He may not turn those papers over to Hetty right away. He might not even be consciously certain yet of which side he wants to be part of in the end.

But then, on some level, his decision is made before his feet even touch the pavement.

All his turbulent thoughts aside, what Deeks really wants is just as clear as day.