Deeks stood sullenly in the waning light with hair dripping wet from a brief rainstorm, his anger fresh and brutal, crushing his usual easygoing nature beneath an overwhelming craving for revenge. He had tried to fight it, but coming back here to this almost deserted town, had enhanced the vivid memories and he felt the familiar churning in his stomach and bile rose in his throat. He knew he should have stayed away, but remaining at the hospital wasn't an option he could tolerate. There was nothing he could do now, nothing that would change what had happened, so he had come here once again to stare in the windows of the small yellow house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man responsible for the savage injuries to the three people he regarded as family.
He swallowed hard as images suddenly crowded his mind, causing him to shiver violently until he was able to get himself under control. It was becoming harder to do that, to control the anger and the desire to simply pull his gun, walk across the street and up to the door and wait until the man answered and then fire point blank into his chest until his gun was empty. That impulse rode eerily close to the surface now and he choked down a bitter curse as more images flashed through his mind. Images of the battered and bloody bodies of his friends and his lover caused him to tightly close his eyes as if that would block out the dark, gut wrenching visions. He could still hear himself screaming as he shouted their names and struggled to reach them in spite of a fear so overpowering he almost retched, unable to move fast enough, unable to believe that kind of horror had happened on such a warm, pleasant afternoon.
Dusk slowly settled over the old Delta town of Locke, almost obscuring the faded Chinese characters painted on the storefronts along the main street as the muted cries of thousands of Sandhill Cranes returning to their nesting grounds along the river filled the moist air and distracted him for a moment. Stepping back into the shadows of the overhang, he became aware of soft murmurs coming from the century-old houses as darkness fell and the Chinese families still living there prepared dinner and did normal things, unaware there was a monster living among them. He pressed his bruised body against the weather-beaten wall at the back of the Star Theatre and saw someone move in front of the now glowing window of the house he had come to know so intimately. His body stiffened as he heard the familiar voice of the suspect calling out to his parents in Chinese and a chill gripped him as he realized he had reached for his weapon without even thinking. He started forward toward the house, uncertain of any plan, but was stopped by the buzzing of his cell phone and he felt annoyed by the interruption.
"Yeah," he said roughly as though roused from a deep sleep.
"Mr. Deeks, where are you?" Hetty asked.
"Why?" He asked, steeling himself for bad news.
"Because I need to know," she replied.
"So there's no change?" He felt his breath flutter in his throat as a small gasp escaped and the fear he had been holding down resurfaced and paralyzed every part of his body.
"No, Mr. Deeks. No change." He could hear the deep sadness in her voice and it dragged him down even lower to a depth of sorrow he didn't think was possible.
"But it's been three days, Hetty," he heard the desperation in his own voice and he knew he was close to total collapse.
"Come back, Marty, please," she said softly. "I need you here with me."
She had never called him by his first name before and he began to realize how hard this was for her and how selfish he had been in his own grief. He looked over at the shadows moving in front of the muted lamplight in the house he had been watching for most of the day and he knew he had to go. He had to leave the vengeance for another day, but he wouldn't forget about it, ever. He knew that no matter what the cost to his own future, he would make this man pay for what he had done and he would have no regrets.
As he walked up the main street toward his car, his eyes roamed over the old wooden buildings and dirty glass storefronts, some of which had been empty for decades. It was eerily silent except for an occasional laugh and the music coming from the jukebox in Al's Place, locally known as Al the Wops. It was the place where everyone eventually ended up and it was where he and Kensi had met Sam and Callen when they came to get the intel from their undercover operation. His heart quickened as he walked past the open door to the place, recalling how happy he had been those first few days, drinking beer with the locals and telling them about his photography assignment, introducing them to his pretty assistant and asking their advice about good locations for shooting pictures. He had danced with Kensi to the raucous music last Saturday night and had eaten with some locals, including the suspect, sampling the specialty of the house, steak with peanut butter and marmalade. Kensi had loved it, but he'd had to endure enthusiastic ragging from some of the men for not taking to putting jam on his meat, let alone peanut butter. He'd wondered since then if that had been the night Lee Chao had become suspicious. If he thought he had been even partially responsible for what had happened to Sam and Callen and especially Kensi, he would never be able to live with it.
His mind returned to thoughts of revenge and his despondency deepened as he got in the car, his bruised ribs protesting as he sat down and stared out the window. He rested his forehead briefly on the backs of his hands as they gripped the steering wheel, exhaustion slowing the simple ability to move, but Hetty's voice reverberated in his mind and he forced himself to respond. As he drove out of town, he couldn't help but look in the rearview mirror and wish he'd never come near this place or heard of the man named Lee Chao and a sudden flush of hate surged through him. He gasped at the violence of it and he tried to get control over emotions so raw they threatened to blot out everything else in his mind. He reminded himself that Hetty needed him and it was the only thing that kept him on the road, heading back to Sacramento and the bedside vigils that lay ahead.
The river road was narrow and snaked darkly out ahead of him as the rain began again and caused his thoughts to turn to Kensi. It had been raining the day they'd staked out the rendezvous point for the weapons sale and she had been teasing him about looking like a drowned rat. He'd started to retort with one of his witty comments, but it had been cut off by Callen yelling in their comms that something wasn't right and that he needed them to split up to cover possible escape routes. The next time he saw her she was lying crumpled on the ground, covered by debris and he was screaming her name and pleading with her to wake up and say something as he pulled her into his arms and held her torn and bleeding body tightly against his chest.
His eyes misted as he drove beside the murky river trying to shake that image from his mind. If she didn't survive, he wanted to remember her as the strong, beautiful and vibrant woman he loved more than life itself; a woman who had brought him contentment and joy and who lit up his soul just by smiling. His mind became filled with a vision of her sleeping, spread out across the bed in wild abandon, her dark sensuous hair framing her serene face, her breathing disturbed only by an occasional snore that he always enjoyed teasing her about. He struggled to get a hold on his emotions as his memories of their life together ran like a movie through his head. He didn't know what he would do if she died. They had talked about the possibility that one or the other might be killed, so they weren't naive, but now that it was she who lay close to death, he couldn't imagine his life without her and his whole being raged against that possibility. He realized he had always thought of her as indestructible, his Wonder Woman, but on that horrific day his faith in everything had almost been destroyed, and the happiness he had finally found was shattered by a madman with a fondness for RPGs and blowing people up. Now her life was out of his hands and the only thing he knew for certain was that Lee Chao would regret ever having brought her to the brink of death.
When he walked into the UCD Med Center his nerves were fired with fear. He was afraid of what the doctors would tell him when he reached the ICU, afraid that he would find out that the world as he had known it for the last two years was gone, replaced by an emptiness he wouldn't know what to do with. He walked hesitantly through the busy halls with his head down and his hands stuffed in his pockets, his breathing growing ragged the closer he got to the intensive care unit. He stopped just outside the doors and would have turned around if he hadn't caught a glimpse of Hetty sitting calmly outside Callen's room. He watched her as she wiped tears from her eyes and he became agitated and his fear deepened and he steeled himself, pushing through the doors and walking quickly to her side.
"What happened, Hetty?" he asked, his voice raw and full of unshed tears. "I saw you crying."
"Mr. Callen woke up, Mr. Deeks," she said.
He felt himself begin to shake, but managed to brace himself against the nearest wall, sucking in air in great gasps as his heart pounded in his chest. He leaned his head against the wall and then felt Hetty's hand on his back and it calmed him.
"Come and sit down Mr. Deeks," she said softly, taking his arm and leading him to the small waiting area.
"Did he say anything, Hetty?" he asked. "What did the doctors say? Will he be all right?" The words rushed out of his mouth and there was nothing he could do to stop them. He clung to the first small glimmer of hope he'd had in three days and it made him weak, whatever strength he still possessed leaving his body and causing him to collapse against the back of the chair, struggling to control his raging emotions.
"Take your time, Marty," Hetty said patting his knee and watching him closely.
"Did he know you Hetty?" Deeks asked quietly, remembering that haunted and confused look in Callen's eyes when he'd pulled him free from the remnants of what was left of Sam's car. Callen had fought him, not knowing who he was, until finally passing out in his arms from blood loss and pain.
"They still have him intubated, so he couldn't speak, but he squeezed my hand and his eyes were clear," Hetty said. "The doctors are optimistic. Some of the swelling has gone down from the skull fracture and he has movement in his hands and feet."
"How's Sam?" he asked as he stared at the ceiling, afraid of what he would see if he looked at her.
"They took him back into surgery about an hour ago after his blood pressure dropped," Hetty answered and she took his hand. "They fear internal bleeding. We'll know more later tonight."
It had taken the tactical squad a long time to find Sam. The explosion had thrown him behind some equipment that had been damaged in the blast. He had joined briefly in the search, but when Kensi didn't respond to his repeated status calls, he had run to where he had last seen her, yelling her name.
"And Kensi?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"No change, Marty," she answered and took his hand as the tears he had fought for so long fell unchecked.