I know where I am before I even open my eyes. It's the smell that gives it away – the overpowering aroma of antiseptic and cleaning fluids. Plus the way you can hear people's feet squeaking off the well-polished floors. So I know instantly that I'm in hospital. Again. This is happening far too often for my liking. But at least there aren't any machines beeping this time, which has to be good news.
"How long was it this time?" I ask, and then struggle to open my eyes. It feels like someone hit me over the head. No, that's not right. It feels like I fell over backwards and cracked my head on concrete. Which is exactly what I did, after all.
"Six hours. You've been unconscious for just over six hours."
The room is dark, but that's because it is dusk outside, I realise. There are some dim lights around my bed, and I can just make out that over in the corner Hetty is sitting in the gloom.
That's a relief. Six hours is nothing. Well, it's not nothing, but it's an awful lot better than last time. "Better than two days." The familiar control is beside my right hand and I press the button so that the back-rest starts to move, raising me up into a semi-seated position.
"Much better." Hetty gets up stiffly and I wonder how long she's been sitting there. Probably since they brought me here, knowing her. "There's no need to worry, Mr Deeks. You're going to be fine."
"Thanks." Hetty's always had this ability to be able to read my mind. It comes in handy at times like these, because my head feels like it's stuffed with cotton wool and I'm finding it hard to concentrate.
"Your tests all came back clear – there's no major damage. But initially, I was slightly concerned about the possibility of second-impact syndrome," she continues, almost as if I hadn't spoken, "Which was why I arranged for you to be immediately airlifted back here to LA when Mr Callen informed me what had happened."
"I'm in LA?" Wow. I wasn't expecting that. What on earth is 'second-impact syndrome'? It sounds serious.
"Why, yes." She's standing at the side of the bed now, and reaches forward to pat my hand gently. "I wanted you to be treated at the best possible facility. And they were already familiar with your medical history. So it made sense."
"You had me med-evaced all the way back here?" That had to have been expensive. And kind of dramatic. She must have been really worried. I look more closely, and see that Hetty looks completely exhausted. I know how she feels.
"Sometimes cost is not a factor. Not when the welfare of one of my team is at stake. You matter to me, Mr Deeks – to all of us. Perhaps one day you will come to realise that."
There's a note of sadness in her voice that makes me feel really bad. "Sorry, Hetty. Really. It's just that I'm still getting used to it. Being part of a team, I mean." I've pretty much been on my own since I was a kid, after all, looking out for myself because there was no-one around who cared enough to bother. It still comes as kind of a shock to realise how tight-knit this team is.
"Don't blame yourself." This time Hetty actually picks up my hand and holds it very gently. "You're still feeling ill, and I shouldn't be upsetting you. But I do worry, you see."
I guess this is about as close as I'm ever going to get to knowing what it would be like to have a mother fussing over me. To tell you the truth, I kind of like it, although I will deny that to my dying day. "I'm okay though – aren't I?"
"You will be just fine," Hetty declares firmly, in that voice I know so well. "Just as long as you do exactly what you are told. There's always a danger that a second head injury in a short space of time can be extremely dangerous, which was why I was taking no chances. But you just have a concussion. Not that a concussion is a laughing matter."
"I'm not laughing." On the contrary, I'm finding it hard to keep my eyes open. Hetty keeps talking in a quiet voice, which is actually kind of soothing, and her thumb is gently stroking the back of my hand. I feel very tired and very safe and I'm just on the point of dropping back off to sleep when it suddenly strikes me. "Kensi?"
"She's on her way back to LA right now, with Mr Callen and Mr Hanna. And Monty, of course. I'm afraid it wasn't possible to for Ms Blye travel in the helicopter with you. There just wasn't enough room."
"She's going to be so worried." There's a lump in my throat and I can hear my voice start to break. Kensi must be climbing up the wall… and I just want her here, right now. All I can think about is how much I need her. I squeeze my eyes tight shut and concentrate very hard on not making a fool of myself.
"I've been keeping Ms Blye up to date with everything that's been happening. She knows you are not in any danger and she will be here soon. I promise you."
The bed starts to move back down again, and Hetty's hand strokes the hair back off my face. "Just go to sleep, Marty. And when you wake up, Kensi will be right here."
That sounds good. I'm so tired now and although I want to see Kensi, I can't actually force myself to stay awake any longer. Just as I am drifting off I can feel a tender touch on my cheek, and Hetty's voice talking quietly in the background, almost as if she is trying to lull me off to sleep.
"You have to start taking more care of yourself, because you really are terribly accident-prone, Marty. And you manage to scare me half-out of my wits today– but when I look at you lying there, I don't have it in my heart to scold you. I seem to be getting sentimental in my old age."
However, I'm pretty dopey right now, so I'm probably imagining all that. They do give the best meds when you're in hospital. It almost makes it worthwhile being here. Almost - but not quite. Given the choice, I'd rather be in Carmel, with Kensi. The last thing I remember before sleep grabs a hold of me is thinking that I never did get to buy her those earrings. I'm going to have to make this up to her somehow.
Swimming upwards through a thick bank of fog, my head begins to clear and voices start to penetrate my consciousness.
"…. and of course, we had to stop four times on the way back, on account of the fact that Monty kept needing to have a pee, which is why it took us so long. That dog's got worse bladder control than you have, Deeks."
"I thought we were supposed to be trying to encourage him to wake up, Sam?" Callen says. "Not tormenting him."
"He'd want to know Monty's alright and that there was no need to panic. I told you that you were over reacting. Monty was just fine – once he saw Deeks."
"He didn't eat a thing, Sam – nothing for nearly two days. Not even that fillet mignon, which cost a small fortune, by the way. And he kept whimpering, like he was in pain. Only the vet just said he was pining for Deeks. What else could I do? The animal looked like he was in pain."
"He was just fine, G," Sam repeats patiently. "The moment Monty saw Deeks he sprang into action. Literally. He knocked Deeks for six."
Wait a minute. They thought there was something wrong with Monty? There still could be, because what Callen and Sam know about dogs could fit into a matchbook with room to spare. No wonder they drove all the way down to Carmel. It's all starting to make sense, in a horrid sort of way.
"I didn't know that and I wasn't going to take any chances. You know how Deeks feels about that dog."
"What's wrong with Monty?" I ask, finally having worked out how to get my mouth moving properly. Whatever drugs they are giving me, they're kind of messing up my head. Or maybe that's the concussion?
"See? It worked. I knew talking about the pooch would do the trick." Sam sounds very pleased with himself. "Welcome back, Deeks. Nothing's wrong with Monty."
"How do you know?" I protest, pushing myself up onto my elbows and glaring at them accusingly.
"Because when we stopped for burgers on the way back to LA, he ate a whole one, and half of Kensi's fries," Callen informs me. "Only he spat out the pickle."
"Over the interior of my car." Sam doesn't sound too happy about that.
"So order him one without pickle next time. That's what I do. And don't put any salt on the fries, because that just makes him thirsty and then he drinks more, and when he drinks a lot…"
"He pees a lot." Sam finishes the sentence for me. "Yes, I worked that one out. Eventually."
"So he's okay? Really?"
"He's really okay. I was kind of worried, which was why we brought him down to Carmel – and the moment he saw you, he made a miraculous recovery. " Callen sits down on the side of the bed and surveys me critically. "You look a lot better too."
"He's shaved, that's why," Sam says, clearly subscribing to the view that now I am not in imminent danger of croaking he can revert to type. Which is basically to pretend he is as hard-nosed as they come. It doesn't fool me for one instant. "He looks almost human now. Apart from the hair, of course."
I'm not going to rise to that. "Where is Monty? And Kensi?"
"I was wondering when you'd get around to asking about Kensi."
Is it my imagination, or are they trading triumphant looks? "You had a bet, didn't you?"
"Yup. Sam reckoned your first words would be 'Kensi? Where are you?' But then he always was a hopeless romantic."
"Come on, G – after that little demonstration back in Carmel, I'm not the one you should be calling romantic." Is Sam blushing? It's hard to tell.
"Are you talking about Monty or Kensi? They both seem to have a thing for Deeks. One bowled him over and the other one kissed him so hard he passed out."
This well-honed double act could go on for hours, if I don't step in and put an end to it. "Would somebody tell me where Kensi is? Please?" I'm starting to get kid of anxious now.
Callen smirks. "He looks cute when he's worried, doesn't he, Sam?"
"He looks about six. Seven, on a good day."
Okay, that's it. The gloves are definitely coming off now. I lean back on the pillows, with a subdued sigh and concentrate on looking as weary and fragile as possible. I'm fairly hopeful that this, combined with the clean-shaven and undeniably youthful look, will tug appropriately at their heartstrings, but just to be sure I raise one hand up to my head and wince slightly, in a suitably brave fashion. It works a treat. All is fair in love and war, after all.
"Kensi's out giving Monty a trot round the grounds." Just as I thought, Sam was the one to break first. God, I am so good I'm bad. "It took us a long time to get back from Carmel, what with all the stops. And before we had to go back to the cottage before we left, to pick up all your stuff."
"Get her on her cell and tell her to bring him to the window."
"Deeks – you're on the second floor," Callen says patiently, but he hauls out his phone anyway and places the call.
"So? I can wave to him. If it was your kid down there and wasn't allowed to come in, wouldn't you do the same thing?"
"Deeks – Monty's a dog. Not a child." Sam gives me a worried look, like he thinks that I'm hallucinating or something.
"I know that. But it just makes it worse. It's not like he can understand what's going on, is it? He probably thinks it's all his fault. So he needs to know I'm okay." Monty's not only very sensitive, he's got a deep rooted insecurity complex. And right now all he knows is that I keep going away and leaving him.
"Kensi says she will personally kill you if you get out of bed," Callen announces, having finished the call, but I notice that he doesn't exactly try to stop me getting up. I might be injured (again) but I'm still bigger than him. Come to that, I'm bigger than Kensi too. And by the time she gets up here, I'll be back in bed anyway. What harm can it possibly do? No, don't bother answering that.
"Kensi is okay, isn't she?" My head starts swimming a bit as I sit up and swing my legs onto the floor, but I push that back.
"It depends what you mean by 'okay'" Sam says cautiously and then grabs my elbow as I start swaying. "And I really don't think this is a good idea."
I don't actually care. I want to see Monty and Kensi. "So what was she like?"
Callen gives me an appraising look and then shrugs in a resigned fashion. "He might as well know, Sam. She was terrified, Deeks. I've never seen her like that before."
It strikes me that going over to the window might just be signing my death warrant, but I figure that I owe it to Monty. And I hope that Kensi's going to understand. She'll see that I'm okay at any rate. What the heck. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was always great at futile gestures anyway.
Sometimes Deeks really doesn't have the sense he was born with, does he?