Title: Feel the Tide
Rating: T for language and adult situations
Disclaimer: Surprise, surprise, if you recognize them, they don't belong to me. But the Keppingers are all mine :)
Note: In the interest of just getting to the story I'll keep future notes very brief or nonexistent. This is a sequel to Truth Be Told, a rather long story I finished in March. Since it's a sequel there are situations, characters, and events that occurred in that story that have bearing on this one. That said, I don't think you HAVE to read TBT to get what's going on here since there is an overarching case they'll be solving. Just be aware that this takes place three years in the future from that story, Kensi and Deeks are an established couple, he's an NCIS agent, there might be a few characters you don't recognize, and if anyone strikes you as behaving a little different than you might expect, well, that's probably because of things that happened in TBT. If I haven't scared you away with all that, thank you for reading and reviewing if you do! My everlasting thanks goes to my awesome beta, MioneAlterEgo, who always catches so much, and is annoyingly good at pointing out the things I need to work on.
Her lungs were on fire, the burning a slow building pulse that she refused to acknowledge. Instead, Kensi internalized the fire, used it as fuel to run faster, increasing her pace as she ran east on Hollywood Boulevard.
She and Deeks were in pursuit of a possible suicide bomber and had been chasing the man for over a mile since he'd abandoned his car for the heavily populated street. Their case, the seemingly random death of a Marine, had split wide open earlier that day when Eric uncovered a video in the man's personal cloud account that detailed the deaths of multiple civilians in a suicide bombing as a response to the United States' involvement in Syria.
The team had quickly realized the Marine had been involved in a planned suicide bombing that hadn't even occurred yet. The video had been taped and uploaded so it would be posted immediately after the bombing. They'd gathered enough clues to track down the other two men involved in planning and executing the bombing. Across town Callen and Sam were chasing one of the men down, while Kensi and Deeks had been driving to the second suspect's home when Eric had traced his cell phone to a car nearby. They'd followed the suspect, seemingly nothing more than a frightened college kid, until he figured out he was being followed and he'd raced from the car.
Passing by Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Kensi glanced over at Deeks, catching his eye with a grim smile as they both concluded this aspect of the operation had gone down about as badly as it could. She knew they would eventually catch up with their suspect but Hollywood Boulevard was an area heavily populated with tourists and innocent civilians. And they had no idea if their suspect was armed with the bomb.
Kensi narrowed her eyes as she saw their target cut to the left and into the shopping center around the Kodak Theatre. With a quick gesture of his hand, Deeks followed the man, indicating she should continue along the sidewalk and move to intercept from the other entrance to the mall, several hundred feet down the street.
"Kensi, Callen and Sam say they should have their suspect in five minutes."
"Copy that, Eric," Kensi managed to gasp out from her burning lungs. Dodging women with strollers, packs of teenagers, and a few slower moving senior citizens, Kensi entered the circular outdoor plaza at the east end of the mall at Hollywood and Highland. She calculated quickly in her head, concluding that even if their suspect took a longer route through the multiple levels of the mall, he would likely exit from her left in a few minutes, Deeks in hot pursuit.
Kensi stood in the center of the plaza, the pounding of her heart nearly drowning out the sounds of people shopping, eating lunch, and living their normal lives on a sunny Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon.
"Where are you?" Kensi murmured to herself, letting her eyes scan the levels around her, looking for the hurried signs of their suspect trying to flee. As if hearing her question, Deeks' breathless voice came over her comm.
"We're on the second level. No clear shot. Coming around to the plaza in less than a minute."
Kensi confirmed his transmission, then turned in the direction she expected the suspect to appear, taking note that there were an uncomfortable number of civilians in the area. They had no time and they didn't want to risk trying to evacuate the mall since their suspect could have been lost in the confusion. But the sheer number of small children, teenagers, and young families made Kensi's stomach twist with uncertainty.
Her gaze drifted over the crowd, pausing briefly on a small grouping of young girls eating ice cream and laughing near the second level escalator, when a commotion and shouting caught the attention of nearby shoppers and people began to turn, curiosity getting the better of them. Kensi positioned herself for a clear view when the man broke from the crowd, coming to a panicked stop at the top of the escalator, his desperate eyes sweeping across the plaza.
Kensi weighed her options quickly, knowing she couldn't take the risk of trying to shoot the man. He was moving too fast and there were too many people around. She could only hope Deeks would catch up and tackle him, or he would come down to the plaza and she would have a clear enough shot. Not wanting to scare him off, she attempted to move out of his line of sight, cursing when she saw his eyes come to rest on her and then widen in fear.
And she felt her heart leap into her throat, nearly cutting off her ability to breathe, as the man made a desperate grab for one of the teenage girls Kensi had spotted earlier. The girl shrieked and tried to struggle but the man was clearly bigger and stronger, his arm a tight vise around her waist as he lifted her from the ground and in a fluid movement, pulled out a small handgun to press under her chin, causing her to freeze.
Kensi could only watch, lifting her gun to train on the man, as he stepped onto the escalator, the crowds of people in the area finally catching on and giving him a wide berth. Kensi allowed a quick glance at the girl, realizing her earlier assessment hadn't concluded how young she was, and how small and easy to handle. The girl was no older than twelve and maybe eighty pounds if she were soaking wet. Their bomb suspect had chosen his hostage well.
Deeks came to a stop on the upper level where the suspect had been moments before, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath, his head quickly swiveling around the area to take in Kensi and the clear standoff between her and the bomb suspect. The man was at the foot of the escalator and carefully positioning himself away from Kensi as Deeks took the escalator steps quickly, coming around to try and flank the suspect.
"Stop! I will shoot her!"
Kensi and Deeks took automatic half steps backwards, allowing the man to think he had some ability to keep them back. All the while, Kensi kept her eyes trained on the suspect, Deeks visible at the corner of her eye as he moved so they formed an impenetrable wall between the man and Hollywood Boulevard behind them. There was the immediate concern of the hostage, but Kensi thought they could probably talk the man down. He looked as though he was nothing more than a frightened kid, maybe mixed up in more than he'd realized.
"Okay, okay. You're in control, man. We don't want anyone to get hurt," Deeks soothed, keeping his voice calm even while his gun was aimed directly at the man's head.
"You haven't done anything yet," Kensi countered, holding out a hand in a conciliatory gesture. "If you just let her go and turn yourself in this will go much better for you."
For the briefest of seconds Kensi thought they might be reaching the man. But beneath the veil of fear and panic, she saw the light of crazed desperation rise and dominate his dark eyes. And his laughter, maniacal and high, confirmed they were dealing with more than just a confused kid.
"You think if you manage to take me out that this is over? This girl—" He shook the girl roughly as she choked back a frightened sob. "—means nothing. I mean nothing. Both of you? Mean nothing."
Still holding the young girl close, the man reached around to the zipper of his jacket, fumbling with the catch and then pulling it down. Kensi's eyes widened as she caught sight of the explosives strapped to the man's chest. She allowed a quick glance at Deeks, needing his strength and steadiness to calm her. In the background she registered the sounds of hurried panic around her as shoppers and people around the plaza stumbled to get away.
Kensi knew that might only hasten the man's plan. If his goal was to take out civilians as had been detailed in the video, the plaza was the perfect place. And the more people that left, the fewer casualties could be claimed by a suicide bomb.
Forcing her gaze back to the man, she knew she had to concentrate. But there was the wildly fearful part of her that also wished Deeks was far, far away. But as she and Deeks shifted quickly, not needing to communicate, their movements choreographed by five years of partnership, they attempted to flank the bomber, to find a weakness or some way they could stop him.
Although she was out of earshot, Kensi heard Deeks' quiet voice in her ear. "Kens, can you take the shot?"
With a quick shake of her head, Kensi replied back with an angry mutter. "No, not without maybe shooting the girl. He's moving too much."
Deeks was silent and she allowed another quick glance at him, seeing the weighted understanding she knew she would find in his face, worriedly set with concern. She knew they'd already both come to the same conclusion. In a few minutes she might not have the option of choosing between saving the girl and shooting the man. They could not allow a bomb to explode in an area as populated as the plaza.
Still wanting to try and talk the man down, Kensi returned her eyes to the bomber, adopting a relaxed posture and keeping her voice quiet. "Look, you don't want to do this. There are people here who have no part of this conflict. That girl you're holding is innocent. Please, let her go."
It wasn't hard to plead for the young girl. Kensi felt her chest tighten as she took in her wide brown eyes, silent tears tracking down her face. It was always when the young and innocent were involved that it hit the hardest. And Kensi couldn't deny, even as she tried to shove the feelings aside and focus on the situation in front of her, that in the last few years it had become increasingly harder to stomach watching children hurt.
As she and Deeks had grown closer, had become a family of two, the ever present question in the background was if and when they would have children of their own. The blue topaz ring on a silver chain around her neck was the symbol of Deeks' question and her answer to the most permanent kind of bond they could share. They still had things to figure out together. But she knew their futures would always be wrapped up in each other.
And she couldn't quite deny the increasingly loud ticking of time. She was thirty-three years old now. Deeks was thirty-six. They still had time to have children, if they wanted them. But it was always in the back of Kensi's mind, and she suspected in the back of Deeks' as well, that their jobs weren't the kind that were the best for raising a family. They worked in jobs that had risks above and beyond a normal couple. And Kensi knew with certainty as solid as bedrock that she was safer with Deeks as her partner, just as she knew she kept him safe by watching his back. But she couldn't argue that their jobs put them both squarely at risk. And there were a million possible outcomes that they couldn't predict.
And Kensi felt the inevitable dread as one of those outcomes materialized in front of her. A suicide bomber, unstable as this man was, posed a risk to everyone around them. Kensi couldn't get a clear view of the explosives strapped to his chest, but she had a feeling the bomb fallout would claim significant casualties. And as they stood as close to ground zero as was possible, the outlook for them didn't look promising.
But Kensi didn't even have to glance at Deeks to know he was as determined as her not to allow the bomb to go off. If they could just get the man to calm down, give up his hostage, even disarm him, the situation could be resolved. Kensi's hopes were dashed with the man's next babbling, desperate words.
"It doesn't matter, you know. None of it. Even if I don't detonate it, there's a remote detonation. There's nothing you can do to stop it."
Deeks' eyes flicked to hers and Kensi gave a quick nod. Their options narrowed down to just one. Kensi quickly took in the man's grip on the girl as he shifted his weight, one hand holding her close while the other held the gun under her chin. No detonator in his hands. But they had no idea when and if the remote detonator might go off.
Kensi took the shot, adjusting her aim and trying to predict the man's movements. The girl's scream as the man collapsed, pulling her down with him, had Kensi fearful she'd miscalculated. But as she and Deeks rushed forward, Deeks kicking the man's gun away and lifting the girl away, Kensi was relieved to see the girl was uninjured.
In the background Kensi heard Deeks trying to reassure the girl, handing her off to her friends and then returning to her side as she leaned over the bomber. He was still alive, his expression stunned as he stared up at the sky. As Kensi reached forward, parting his jacket to get a better look at the bomb, he began to struggle, his hands fumbling in his pockets.
Guessing his intent, Kensi weighed down one of his arms with her knee while Deeks kneeled down on the bomber's opposite side, pinning the man to the ground. His struggles continued and Kensi tried to hold him down, his movements fueled by fear and adrenaline. Deeks muttered a frustrated curse, then leaned forward, punching the bomber across the jaw, knocking him unconscious.
Deeks winced and flexed the fingers of his hand, turning back to Kensi with concerned eyes. "What have we got, Kens? Please tell me I'm not going to miss the awesome waves the tide chart promised me this weekend."
Kensi took a deep breath, as always admiring the way Deeks would attempt to diffuse a situation. There was calm under pressure and then there was Deeks. On their team, none of them were the type to panic in difficult situations. But Deeks was the one who practically thrived when their lives were on the line. It was as though he were coated in Teflon, his natural humor and calm demeanor relaxing even further when things looked dire.
Finding the attached detonator, Kensi did a quick check and removed it, wanting to eliminate one possible avenue for the bomb to go off. Even with the detonator removed, Kensi gingerly inspected the dozens of wires looping around the outside of the vest and into hidden compartments. The bomber had been wearing a backpack, which Kensi carefully removed from his shoulders, but left alone the wires that connected the backpack to the bomber's vest, passing it to Deeks to hold as she continued her inspection. There was a transmitter located at the bomber's back but Kensi left it alone, not wanting to tamper with it and possibly activate the bomb.
Hesitantly, Kensi ran a prodding touch along one of the rounded cylinders lining the vest in vertical lines from the front of the vest and all the way to the back. The lack of give under her fingers told her the cylinders were solid. Sliding a knife from her boot, Kensi gently sliced through the fabric of the vest, finding a crudely cut 2-inch PVC pipe embedded in the fabric of the vest, the ends sealed with caulk. Tallying quickly, Kensi counted eighteen pipes in the vest. She looked up at Deeks, seeing him study her with a mixture of anxiety and trust as he waited for her assessment.
"They're like mini pipe bombs," Kensi explained, pointing to the one she'd cut free. "The PVC is probably packed full of ball bearings, nails, screws, bolts, and other sharp metal objects that act like shrapnel when the explosives detonate. Like a shotgun blast it causes the most damage to people who are close by. But something tells me some of these pipes are packed with C4, making this a deadlier bomb with a larger blast radius."
"Is there any way you can tell which pipes have more of the explosives? Can you deactivate the transmitter?" Deeks asked calmly. Kensi knew he asked as a means to walk her through their options even though she'd already thought through what he asked.
"I can't inspect the bomb closer without cutting into a pipe. And if the material is volatile that would be a very bad idea. I don't want to disconnect the transmitter because I don't know if the bomb has a failsafe to go off if the signal is lost," Kensi replied, frustration creeping into her voice. She nodded to the backpack on the ground next to the bomber. "What about in there? Good news or bad news?"
"It's not great news, that's for sure," Deeks replied, carefully pulling open the backpack so she could see inside to the bricks of C4 filling the compartment. Unprotected and attached to the transmitter, she could only guess at how unstable the explosives were. But she wasn't a bomb expert and the rest of the bomb was beyond her skill. Fixing her eyes on Deeks' calm face, she activated her comm.
"Sam, Callen, we have the suicide bomber down but he has enough explosives on him to take out a couple blocks. He claimed there was a remote detonator. It's probably your guy. Do you have him?"
Sam's voice was quiet and controlled as he answered. "We're outside his house now. The bomb may be triggered by a cell phone. Eric?"
"On it." Eric's confident voice filled Kensi's ear, as did the rapid clicking of keys in the background. "I'm scrambling cell phone signals in the area around the mall. Some of the cell phone towers have firewalls so it's going to take me a few minutes."
"You better hurry up, Eric. I have a wedding in two months I'd really like to be alive for." Deeks' voice was joking, but also with an underlying tension that was the only indication of how unsettled he was. Kensi allowed a small smile at Deeks, reaching forward for his hand to squeeze tight for just a second before she turned back to the unconscious bomber.
Seconds passed as Deeks communicated with the local police to evacuate the area and Kensi tried to work with Nell over her comm to see if there was a way to defuse the vest bomb or the C4 in the backpack. The photos of the bombs Kensi sent were enough for Nell to calculate and confirm that the blast from the bomb would take out areas still heavily populated with people. Although Kensi had deactivated the attached trigger, the remote detonator was still a question.
Deeks hung up his phone, pocketing it as he glanced at Kensi. "Bomb Squad is on the way. Ten minutes out."
Kensi let her eyes settle on Deeks, seeing the grim line of his lips and noting how he ran a hand worriedly over the scruff of his jaw. She recognized the gesture as one he did when he was trying to disguise his worry. It was one of the few tells Deeks had. She knew ten minutes was like a lifetime. Especially when they were at ground zero for a bomb explosion.
"Kensi, you should go. I'll stay and Nell can try and walk me through disarming the bomb."
Kensi looked up at Deeks with incredulous surprise, reading the resigned acceptance in Deeks' eyes, knowing as well as he did what he was asking her to do. She shook her head resolutely, stubbornly refusing to verbally acknowledge his words. Deeks reached forward, gripping her shoulders with his hands, trying to make her stand and leave. Kensi twisted out of his hands, laying a firm hand flat on his chest, over his heart.
"No. Marty, listen to me." Kensi held up a hand to stop the protest she could see forming from his lips. "I'm not going to leave you. If anyone is leaving, it should be you. I've actually had some training with explosives and you're the one who wanted to take that class on covert infiltration rather than explosive ordnance disposal."
"No." Kensi cut off Deeks' worried protest, fixing her fierce gaze on Deeks' face. She saw every emotion he was trying so desperately to hide from her. She saw his need to protect her, to shield her from harm. She saw how he wanted to take care of her, even when she clearly didn't want to let him. And she saw his anger that she would allow herself to stay in a dangerous situation.
Before she could silence him again, Deeks finally managed to force the words out. "One of us could get away and make it out of here. Please go. For me."
Kensi knew what he was doing and it tore at her heart. She knew he was right. If she left now she might be able to run and make it clear of the bomb blast radius. But she would never be able to forgive herself if she did. She couldn't let him stay on his own and she knew she would never convince him to go. Not if she stayed behind.
"I can't. You know I can't." Kensi replied quietly. The seconds stretched on and Kensi tried to ignore the irrational tide of her emotions. It would have been better for both of them to leave the area, take the risk that the bomb would explode. But neither of them wanted to give up and put nearby civilians at risk if they hadn't done everything possible to disarm the bomb. It would have been smarter for one of them to get away. They both had people to live for, family or friends who would miss them if one of them was gone. But Kensi knew she would never voluntarily leave Deeks. Not as long as he was the most important thing in her life.
Even though he clearly struggled with his desire to make her leave, to make her live at all costs, even if it meant he didn't, a resigned and exasperated smile lifted Deeks' lips. He shook his head, muttering quietly to himself. "Damn fool woman."
Kensi allowed a shaky smile, knowing that while his words were slightly angry and she was figuratively, if not actually, giving up the sure chance of her living, that she couldn't and wouldn't make a different decision. And even if part of Deeks was angry that she wouldn't leave him, it was the touch of amazement in his eyes, the awestruck love, that kept her feet firmly planted next to him.
She had to have faith that Callen and Sam would come through in the end. And deep down she knew her decision was already made. Neither of them would be able to get far enough away in the next few minutes to escape harm. Although it felt like hours had passed since she'd begun inspecting the bomb, in reality it had been only a few scarce minutes. And it would all be over one way or another, in what amounted to practically the blink of an eye, depending on if Sam and Callen could stop their second suspect.
Both Eric and Nell's voices in the background of the comm, previously rising in urgency as they tried to coordinate communication amongst the team, fell silent as Callen and Sam positioned themselves to enter the second suspect's house. Without thinking, Kensi reached for Deeks' hand, lacing her fingers with his. Mere seconds went by and Kensi heard the sounds of Callen and Sam forcing their way into the house, heard their shouts as they identified who they were and demanded their suspect surrender.
"Put the phone down! Do it!"
Kensi closed her eyes for a second, letting the darkness behind her eyelids replace her view of Deeks, his gentle eyes and fond smile swimming in front of her mind. She felt his hand cupping her face, his thumb brushing across her jaw, and then his lips touching hers. She didn't question the touch of surrender behind his kiss. She knew the motivation behind it. If she had a choice about how she wanted to exit the world it would always be with Deeks holding her, touching her, reminding her of how much he loved her. And how much she loved him.
The noise of the world around them melted away as Deeks pulled her close and she brought her arms around his waist. She turned her head and rested her ear over Deeks' heart, hearing the slow and steady beat thrumming with life. His heartbeat was steady and strong, whatever fear he'd previously felt under control as his hands stroked up and down her back.
It was Callen's rushed words, finally firm and reassuring, that brought on the tide of relief Kensi felt washing over her. "We got him. The suspect is contained."
Kensi allowed a deep breath to shake a shiver loose from her body as she stepped back from Deeks, giving him a slightly wobbly grin. She saw how his shrewd eyes narrowed on her face, seeing past her bravado.
"See, and you wanted me to leave? Nothing to worry about," Kensi said confidently. Although she was trying to maintain her carefree exterior, Kensi could internally admit she was shaken by how close they might have come to death that afternoon.
Deeks looked as though he wanted to respond, wanted to call her out on the fact that she was much more upset than she was admitting, the LAPD Bomb Squad chose that moment to appear on scene, escorting them away as they confirmed the bomb was inert and took the would-be bomber into custody.
And Kensi was able to avoid Deeks' pointed questions for at least a little while as they spoke with police and helped contain the scene and their suspect. Kensi struggled with the roiling feelings that seemed to have taken up residence in her stomach. The danger has passed and they were safe. It wasn't the first time that year, let alone that month, where their lives had been in danger. And they always came out on the other side, together and alive.
But something was different now. Kensi thought it might have been triggered by the young girl who had been held hostage. When it was just Kensi's choice she would never leave Deeks' side. And she knew it was the same for him. But what if they had children? Would she be able to make the same decision, risking her life and the life of her children's father? Would she be able to take the chance of leaving her own children as orphans?
Although the possibility had always existed, Kensi had never thought about the specifics before. Years before, when they'd first become a couple, she and Deeks had talked about having kids. In fact, their mutual understanding of their differently fractured upbringings had prompted the conversation in the first place. Beyond knowing they wanted children and they wanted them together the conversation had never gone much further than that. She hadn't really wanted to consider the specifics of what having kids could mean even though they'd always lurked at the back of her mind.
She and Deeks had weathered many storms and hard decisions as partners. They'd proven their ability to remain objective as a couple, putting their assignments and the needs of the mission before their emotional response as a couple during the Derek Smith case three years earlier. Nobody at NCIS had reason to question their objectivity as partners despite their status as a couple. But as much as she might want to suggest the difficult decisions they had to make as NCIS agents had proven they could function as partners in a romantic relationship, Kensi knew it would be a whole different situation if they had children.
Kensi wasn't used to being slightly off balance or uncertain. The confidence in knowing she was one of the best at her job made her a better agent. The way Deeks looked at her, confided in her, smiled at her, and touched her told her she was every bit his match as a lover and friend. The way her friends and co-workers trusted her and sought her out filled her with the knowledge that she was a good friend.
But there was the possibility that much of her life could change in the future. And it scared her that she had no idea how to resolve the disparate possibilities of being a partner, friend, wife, and mother.
To be continued