What Lies Between
An NCIS: Los Angeles Fanfiction
Inspired by the season 3 episode Neighbourhood Watch.
Part I: The Bed's Too Big Without You
After days of sleeping in newly-purchased pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt, it should be a relief for Deeks to be able to revert back to type and slide naked in between the sheets, feeling the familiar comfort of crisp, cool cotton glide against skin. The simple pleasure of sleeping on the right side of the bed, rather than the alien left (which is disconcertingly wrong somehow) should be a welcome return to normality. The absence of petty arguments about whether or not the bedroom door should be left open(his preference) or firmly closed (Kensi's demand, as she has this thing about possible intruders watching her sleep) should definitely be a huge relief. And yet none of these things occur to Deeks tonight, because he is back in his own apartment and all he can think about is that the bed is too big without her. Try as he might, he cannot escape that simple reality and despite the late hour, sleep has never seemed less possible, so Deeks rolls onto his back and stares up at the ceiling, watching the reflection of clouds drifting across the moon, hearing the waves pound relentlessly against the far-distant shore of his mind, like an elegy of what could have been and yet was not, which was pretty much the story of his life, when all was said and done, after all.
Sharing a bed should imply something, he muses, and then idly stretches, so that his arm reaches across the endless empty space. Kensi sleeps like a starfish, he remembers, and in heedless slumber all her pretences and defences are abandoned as she automatically occupies the entire bed, her limbs unconsciously seeking out the maximum amount of space, encroaching far beyond the bounds of what would be deemed decorous, were she awake. And each time her hand or leg encountered a part of him, Kensi would make a small sound of contentment, deep in her throat and Deeks would turn his head and watch as a smile instanted on her face for a brief moment before she would creep nearer towards him, instinctively seeking the succour of his body before curving instinctively around him.
The simple fact is that now the bed is too big without Kensi. Despite the warmth of the night a cold wind blows through the open door and Deeks sighs deeply, knowing it is impossible to sleep with only a memory, the merest hint of what might have been, were the world different. He lies and tries to summon back the memory of her sleepy embrace, but it is like lying in the arms of a ghost.
It would have been so easy to reach out to return that unconscious gesture and slip seamlessly into an effortless embrace, an endless remembrance of all that lay between them, all the unspoken words, where the real meaning lay not in what was said but in the spaces in between the words, each one pregnant with meaning and expectation. Except that is their dilemma, he thinks: it is what lies between them. Distilled down into an essence and put quite simply there is too much space between them now and he does not think that can ever be breached; there are too many barriers that have never been conquered and which must necessarily remain forever inviolate; there are too many things that are only unvoiced memories that jibber in the dark recesses of the soul, mocking at his cowardice, his lack of impetus. He could have done something, could have made it real: only he did nothing.
"You're a fool, Deeks. You had your chance and you blew it."
Nobody is there to contradict this statement. Kensi would have nodded sagely, and then told him she was glad he'd finally achieved self-realisation. Or perhaps she would have remained cocooned in dreams, and merely continued with the small snuffling noises that counterpointed the deep, relaxed breathing that he knows punctuates her sleep. Deeks moves across the mattress and finds that he misses the way Kensi occupies as much of the bed as possible, stretching out like a compass in an attempt to occupy all four points of the mattress simultaneously and wonders if that is what she is doing right now, in her own bed, far away across the city.
It is crazy the way he aches for the familiar presence of her body beside his. Just knowing that she is not there engenders a feeling of dissonance, as if the world has been turned upside down and his guiding star has disappeared, winking out of sight and leaving an empty void . And yet it was so easy to become accustomed to her presence, so terribly easy to be a couple, sharing everything – right down to a bed. He is vaguely aware that nothing is ever going to be the same again and tries to work out if that is a good thing, or if it will continue haunt him. All the times when just one word, one gesture could have made the difference rush forth to mock him, and Deeks rolls over, grabbing a pillow for solace, but it is no good, for it only recollects the sensation of her body and the aroma of soap that is imbedded in the cotton is nothing like the sweet scent of her body, spicy and yet sultry at the same time, tempting him as it weaved around the bed in an intoxicating miasma he had no defence against.
Sleep is elusive, but then Deeks does not want to sleep with her memory, he does not want to dream about what used to be. And yet he knows that is all there is, and the knowledge creeps coldly upon him, chilling in its simplicity: it was a job. They were doing a job, nothing more. There was nothing more than two people assuming roles. Justin and Melissa never existed: they were a fantasy, created for the sole purpose of uncovering a sleeper cell. It was mere co-incidence that the looked exactly like Kensi and Deeks, that was all. It is his private tragedy that the job transmuted across into his alternative reality, the one where he and Kensi actually are a couple and it is his determination that will ensure nobody ever even guesses how he feels.
Deeks prides himself on being able to detach at the end of a mission, to switch off, slough off the stranger's skin he's been inhabiting and pick up the pieces of real life once again, leaving aside any regrets, because what is the point? What is, is – it is that simple. Where is the sense in beating yourself up about the myriad of possibilities opened up by the posing of that age-old question 'what if?', because therein lies madness. Deeks knows this only too well, and he's been down the road where a cover started to leech into his own being, so that for a while it was not quite clear where Max Gentry ended and Marty Deeks began, He is not going back down that road again. And yet the lingering regret will not allow him to shift his mind away from Kensi: she has created a sea change, or perhaps the change is within himself, and she is merely the catalyst? It is not important, he realises, all that matters is that once they lay together and now there is only empty space.
There should be no regrets, because everything worked out perfectly and the situation was resolved successfully. Surely that is what really matters – that a crisis was averted? Deeks tries to convince himself of this, and almost succeeds, until he remembers the way Kensi's hair would wave across the pillows, like fronds of seaweed dancing in the water. And the taste of her invades him without warning, so that once again he relives the way her mouth felt as they kissed, the exact sensation of her lips pressed frantically against his own, the overwhelming arousal as her tongue slipped forward and the taste of wild strawberries, sugar and mint: all these thoughts coming flooding back and the memories nearly unman him. Under other circumstances, that kiss would have been the perfect culmination of what seems like a lifetime of half-uttered confidences that have gradually drawn them together, weaving a web that binds them inexorably together, uniting them in the same way that Kensi would do during the night, gradually wrapping herself around his body. Oh yes, that kiss would have been perfect, if not for the small fact that it was all only a pretence, an occasional dream that will only live in his memory, his cursed memory that will not let him forget.
Until now, Deeks has never regretted living alone, feeling that it suited him. Now he knows that was a foolish deception, and the cognisance is made concrete by the ocean of room in the bed, space that should rightly be occupied by Kensi, were the world beautiful and perfect and just. It isn't, of course. The world throws him a chance to have everything he ever wanted and then it takes it away again. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Deeks has never felt less like blessing the name of the Lord in his entire life. He was coping just fine until this operation, because it was easy to turn off at the end of the day, to slip back into bachelor mode and convince himself that this was the hedonistic, heedless life every man dreams of. Everything has changed now, and he has changed too. With a groan, Deeks realises that nothing can ever be the same again and he wonders how he is going to cope with that.
The rules have changed and all of a sudden Deeks is tired of playing this game. He wonders if he made the biggest mistake of his life, that day he agreed to join NCIS as their LAPD liaison. Of course, there was the small matter that Hetty did not give him much of a choice, but he vaguely considers the possibility of re-running events back in time, of giving her a firm rejection and walking out of the bar into the sunlight a free man. Only it is too late to even contemplate that possibility, too much has happened and he is bound to Kensi as surely as if they were really married. It is almost a shock to realise that he is still wearing the wedding band on the fourth finger of his left hand. Why didn't he take it off, Deeks wonders, and turns the golden circle absently around, rotating it as his mind runs back, remembering how alien it had felt at first. Now it feels like a part of him and he does not want to take it off, because that would be akin to breaking the spell, to admitting everything was just an elaborate game of 'let's pretend' that was never rooted in reality.
In just a few hours Deeks has to go back in to work, to walk into the Mission and see Kensi again and he has to pretend that nothing has happened. He has to forget the past few days: of waking up to find Kensi snuggled up next to him, of seeing her clothes lying strewn across the bedroom floor and the way her toothpaste always ended up smeared across half of the bathroom sink. God help him, because right now he'd give anything to get up and find dirty dishes piled up in the sink and the kitchen full of smoke because she'd burnt the toast again. More than anything, Deeks wants to be able to close his eyes, reach out and find Kensi lying beside him once again, just like it used to be, eyes meeting in the instant before the light is switched off, so that the image of her is seared into his memory, huge dark eyes made mysterious by the possibility of… what? That is the thing that haunts him, along with the way her lips curve into a smile that temps him endlessly, day or night, night and day. It's just the thought of her, you see. The very thought of her that will not leave Deeks, no matter how hard he tries. The thing is that he doesn't want to try to forget her. He just wants her so much there is a physical ache.
"Guess I can't live without you, Kensi."
And the fact is that Deeks realises he no longer wants to live alone, if that means living without Kensi, because it seems pointless. Knowing that she is out there, and he is here alone - somehow that makes things worse. Perhaps it would have been easier if they had never met? At least then he would not know what he was missing. But the thought of not having Kensi in his life is beyond comprehension, and Deeks pushes the mere thought aside impatiently as she invades his mind once again. The truth is that Kensi is always in his thoughts and there is no escape. He is a happy prisoner, caught in her thrall and willingly subjecting himself to the bittersweet memories. While life might have been simpler if they had never met, it would not have been nearly so much fun.
Sugarbear. That was what he'd called her on this job and Kensi had never even enquired at the meaning behind the nickname. It was quite simple: the sweetness he saw with her, and the fierce protectiveness, all wrapped up in the most perfect package. According to Native American beliefs the bear symbolised strength, family, vitality, courage and health and it made the lonely periods of life easier to endure. Well, that was the truth, Deeks thinks. Independent, self-contained and strong-willed, Kensi also embodied the contradictory nature of the bear and somehow made his life more real by the simple fact of her very existence.
As he lies on his back, Deeks tries to reconcile the harsh reality that their closeness was prescribed only by circumstance, rather than by mutual desire, even as an innate longing pulsates through his body, multiplied by a desperate wish to manipulate facts to achieve the desired outcome. Eventually Deeks gives up the struggle to even attempt to deal with this conundrum in a rational fashion, because he knows that he cannot forget the way they once were, the fact that once upon a time they shared a life, a bed and that they slept together. It is not something he can ever forget, nor would he want to.
It would have been so easy to love her, so terribly, terrifyingly easy to love her. It's just that Deeks doesn't do love, he never has, because love means commitment and he avoids that at all costs. For his entire adult life Deeks has embraced his single status and the fact that he is beholden to no-one except himself. It was easier that way, less constricting and the freedom it gave him was akin to euphoria. Until now. Now his past life and attitudes seem immature, and Deeks tries to push aside the thought that by purposefully isolating himself from emotion he was perhaps trying to avoid being hurt again. Well, that worked out well, because now he knows just how much love hurts. It invades your entire body and mind, never letting go its pincer-hold that tears into the essence of your being, consuming everything in its wake. The irony is that this realisation also makes him feel amazing, incredible, like the whole world is just waiting there, fresh and bright, newly sprung and full of possibilities. Love. It's such a small word for such a big thing.
Deeks shudders as he thinks of how he had it all, just waiting for him, had he been brave enough to be honest and simply reach out to Kensi. It is too late now though, that time has gone and forever it must remain in the past, one of a whole pantheon of missed opportunities that seem to punctuate his existence. With a sigh, he concludes ruefully that their one brief moment has gone, disappearing so that only the faintest trace remains, elusive and ephemeral, floating away of its own volition. Soon, even the memory will start to blur and become unreal. If all he has to sleep with is the dreams of what used to be, then Deeks decides that is better than nothing. The fruitless yearning is worth it, because of what once was, even if that was just an illusion, because at the time it felt right to be two people sharing a bed, and a life. Somehow, they fitted together despite all the disparities, which became as nothing when the whole was considered, minor flaws that were swept aside as inconsequential trivia as the coherent unity was finally revealed. However, all but that is cold comfort now, as Deeks stares up sightlessly upwards, seeing only the dark beauty of Kensi's eyes emblazoned forever in his remembrance, always with him, always there, even when she is not. She is long gone now, the moment has passed and now all he can do is to go forward, blundering sightlessly in a world that has grown dark and cold.
It occurs to Deeks that the empty side of the bed is symbolic of the void Kensi has left in his heart. The bed is, quite simply, too big without her and the crushing reality is that it always will be. The memory of her is both a blessing and a curse.
"Bugger, as Hetty would say," Deeks announces to the empty room. "Bugger, bugger, bugger." It doesn't help much, but anything is better than just lying here in bed, missing Kensi so much that it hurts.