Note: I feel a bit like a broken record, but thanks as always for the reviews, favorites, and alerts. It's great motivation! And thank you to my always capable beta, MioneAlterEgo for the careful read through. Just as a general disclaimer, there's a bit of talk about PTSD and psychological treatment in this and throughout this story. There's some truth to the treatment techniques and conditions mentioned in this story, but it is highly fictionalized. I do research and try to stay true to life in a general sense, but there is certainly dramatization. If you're itching to get to the undercover, that starts in earnest in the next chapter. Thank you for continuing to read, and for leaving a much appreciated review if you do!
Following Kensi into the bullpen, Deeks handed cups of coffee around to their grateful team members. The dark circles under Nate's eyes and the deeper than usual creases around Callen's mouth didn't escape his notice. Callen motioned to Sam to join him and then nodded to Nate.
"Fill Kensi and Deeks in on what you learned from Griffin's psychologist. By the time you guys are done and join us upstairs we should be ready to go over the rest."
Lifting a questioning eyebrow at the cryptic wording, Deeks merely took a long drag of his coffee and turned his attention to Nate. Kensi shifted next to him, her jerky movements giving away her distraction.
Deeks sighed, wishing she wasn't so worried about him. But then there was another part of him that was rather touched at her concern. After passing along the message that they would be going undercover again, and to a place that held a pretty charged memory from his life, Deeks noticed Kensi had been carefully watching him. He knew she was trying to gauge how bothered he was. Problem was he really didn't know how he felt.
On the one hand it was a place that represented a pretty painful childhood memory. But on the other hand it was just a place. A nice, somewhat small town by the ocean. And if Deeks never went places with painful memories then he would have had to move from southern California a long time ago. He wasn't big on running from his problems. And sometimes he wasn't big on confronting his problems either, but that was an issue for another day.
"So what did you find out from the doctor?" Deeks asked Nate pointedly, knowing that their case was something they all needed to pay attention to. It would give them focus. And focus was something Deeks was suddenly desperate to have. His problems and whatever he was thinking and feeling would still be there when their case was over.
Nate glanced at Kensi and Deeks, his shrewd eyes weighing and wondering. He seemed to pick up on the thread of unease in them both but he pushed that aside, answering Deeks' question. "Doctor Walter Stein is a retired Marine Colonel. He was Griffith's psychologist during his out-processing from the Corps. It took more than two years, from 2009 to 2011, to officially discharge Griffin. During that time Doctor Stein treated him for PTSD and he recommended continued treatment through the VA even after Griffin left the Marines."
"Two years for a medical discharge? That seems like a really long time," Deeks commented.
"Medical discharges take a notoriously long time to process. And it leaves soldiers in limbo while they await official recommendations on their benefits and care," Kensi said quietly, her careful words giving away her personal insight.
Now Deeks was watching Kensi closely, wondering at how close Griffin's situation mirrored Jack's, and what she'd gone through with her previous fiancé. Kensi studiously avoided his penetrating gaze, clearing her throat and keeping her eyes on Nate.
"Griffin didn't stay under Doctor Stein's care after he was discharged?" Kensi asked.
"No, Doctor Stein is based here in Los Angeles, which was where Griffin was during the processing of his medical discharge. Apparently right after Griffin was officially separated he moved north to Half Moon Bay as soon as he could. He grew up there, though all his family is gone. Doctor Stein retired from the Corps two years ago, and he has a private practice in Glenwood."
"So you talked to Stein? What did you say?" Deeks asked, curious how much Nate might have revealed in order to get information on Griffin. Doctors certainly knew about confidentiality, but NCIS and OSP operated at an incredibly high level of secrecy.
Nate gave Deeks a knowing grin, understanding Deeks' implied concern about what he might have revealed while also giving a hint at some of the more covert skills he'd learned over the past few years working on missions for Hetty. "I told Doctor Stein I was processing some paperwork for Griffin through the Veterans Affairs office in San Francisco. I checked and Griffin goes there once a month for checkups and to pick up his medications."
"Is he on antipsychotics?" Kensi asked softly. Deeks glanced at her, feeling a pang at the knowledge that swam deep in her brown eyes. She knew more than most people did about treatment for PTSD. Kensi stubbornly kept her eyes on Nate, resisting the pull of sympathy in Deeks' watchful blue eyes.
"Not anymore. He was at first, for some severe emotional outbursts and anxiety. He saw some pretty intense combat during his tours of duty. Doctor Stein spent two years doing various kinds of talk therapy with Griffin, while weaning him off the antipsychotics and getting him on a pretty standard regimen of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications."
"Were you able to get an idea if Stein thought Griffin might be capable of murder?" Deeks asked pointedly.
"Everything his doctor told me indicates that Griffin is genuinely haunted and traumatized by his tours of duty. Reading through the notes from four years ago he was definitely capable, especially if he was put in a situation that caused him to relive any of his experience while not in a safe environment," Nate said grimly.
"A 'safe environment'?" Deeks prompted.
"It's one method of treatment for PTSD, especially with soldiers. Exposure therapy is behavior treatment that allows the patient to experience what has caused their PTSD, and in soldiers it sometimes means bringing them back to those moments in combat. But it does need to be in a controlled or 'safe' environment; otherwise it's possible the patient could react violently. They use virtual reality programs, hypnosis, and other one-on-one methods," Nate explained. Holding up a hand to forestall questions, Nate flipped through the file in his hands.
"But from Doctor Stein's notes and the follow up information I got from the VA in San Francisco, he's much more stable now. He's been on a regular and effective dose of medication and his psychologist there noted that he's made excellent progress."
"Right," Kensi scoffed, anger flaring in her eyes and evident in the set line of her mouth. "And how often does the doctor at the VA even meet with him? Once a year for five minutes? The VA is always understaffed. Especially with all the PTSD cases in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan."
Deeks watched Kensi closely, feeling the anger practically radiating from her. He knew very little about Jack but what he did know of Kensi's experience with PTSD, and in light of her reactions, Deeks had a feeling that her opinion of the medical and psychological treatment for soldiers in a post-war world were decidedly low. And just as significant was the deep well of empathy she had for the soldiers who suffered from PTSD.
Nate nodded once, reluctantly conceding her point. "Griffin is evaluated by a psychologist every six months. And the notes for the last year's worth of evaluations have been a bit sparse. There's no reason to suspect a problem, but a case like Griffin, in which he could be a slow burning problem waiting to break, could easily slip through the cracks."
Deeks opened his mouth to ask if there was anything else Griffin's former psychologist had been able to share, when Nate stopped him.
"But that's not even the part that changes everything."
Nate paused then and Deeks traded glances with Kensi, seeing that curiosity had replaced the anger in her eyes. Nate sighed in frustration, running a hand through his already tousled hair.
"This is where it gets strange. After talking with Doctor Stein I was ready to concede we could very well have a serial killer on our hands and that despite the different methods to the murders, they could have both been committed by Griffin. I couldn't come out and ask Stein if he thought Griffin could be responsible for multiple murders. Not without a little more to go on, and not without tipping Stein off about the investigation, which is unnecessary. But as I was looking through Griffin's file from the VA I noticed something," Nate said, handing the folder to Kensi. She took it, feeling Deeks come up behind her, his chest brushing her shoulder as he stood close.
Kensi glanced through the last several months of entries in Griffin's file, confused until her eyes fell on the list of dates for his last visit to the VA. Looking up at Nate, Kensi saw the answer in his eyes.
"He couldn't have killed Benning," Kensi whispered. Deeks exhaled in surprise in her ear.
Kensi pointed to an entry in Griffin's file from a month before. "Right here. While he was at the VA a month ago for his medications he was also treated for an infection in his hand from some kind of work injury. He had a bad reaction to the antibiotics and was hospitalized for three days. Look at the dates."
Deeks squinted, then awareness dawned and he grimly met Nate's eyes. "He was in the hospital at the same time that Benning was killed. Which means what, exactly?"
"He may have killed Callahan. The premeditation that might have caused him to travel all the way to Los Angeles to kill that specific Marine officer is a mystery at this point, but he's probably capable of the violence of the murder. We have him near the scene, but nothing conclusive." Nate recited in confirmation. "But it means we're back to two murderers. And two murderers that are somehow connected. But that's not all. Eric and Nell's searching have picked up some other suspicious cases. It's starting to look like we might have serial killers working together."
Deeks looked at Nate, speechless and more than a little confused. Nate gave him an understanding smile. "I can see this is a lot to take in—"
"Hang on a second. I thought serial killers worked alone," Deeks insisted.
"Not necessarily," Kensi interjected before Nate could speak. "There have been a lot of serial killer teams. The Lonely Heart Killers, the Hillside Stranglers, the Moors Murderers . . ."
Kensi's voice slowly trailed off as she realized the silence in the wake of her words. Deeks looked at her oddly, as if he was seeing a side of her for the first time. Squaring her shoulders back, she crossed her arms over her chest.
"What? I read!"
"Yeah, maybe you shouldn't. Or pick up a Cosmo now and then. Better yet, try those Twilight books or some chick lit."
"Vampires and werewolves sound like a great alternative to serial killers."
"At least vampires and werewolves aren't real, Kensi! Try a little escapism. We deal enough with bad stuff every day. You want to read about it too?"
"I'll have you know the forensic science in some of those books is very interesting. Besides, at least I read."
"The sports section of the LA Times and your comic book collection barely count."
"But they do count," Deeks said triumphantly. Internally he was pleased at her shift from testy to playful. Despite Kensi's earlier concern about him and her irritation about the treatment of PTSD patients, he could still bring out that teasing side of her. He'd always been proud of his ability to distract her and he knew it was something she depended on him for, even if she had never admitted it. He smiled a wide and knowing grin. "Besides, you love reading comic books with me."
Kensi felt her cheeks grow warm, thinking of their ritual following the release of any of the comics they both followed. They always bought two copies. One pristine copy to go in their vastly growing collection, a compilation born out of the marrying of their two libraries of comic books, and one to read together. As long as it wasn't too cold, they always read in the hammock in their backyard, limbs tangled together, the pages usually getting smudged or torn as they jockeyed for who would turn the page and who read faster than the other. It usually ended in tickling and wrestling, with a comic torn in two but thoroughly enjoyed.
"So anyway," Nate interrupted loudly, obviously trying to bring the attention back to their case. Kensi and Deeks swiveled their eyes back to him and he continued. "Kensi's right in that serial killers can and do work together. It's not very common, but it has happened. Problem is, we can't find any connection between Griffin and whoever he might be working with."
"How many other suspicious murders are we talking about?" Deeks asked. "What did Nell and Eric find?"
Nate looked troubled then, and stood from where he'd been leaning against the desk to gesture for them to follow him upstairs. "It looks like at least three more Marines."
Deeks nearly stumbled as he followed Kensi and Nate, taking the first step leading to the second level and Ops. "Three more? That seems like an awful lot to have slipped unnoticed through the cracks of NCIS."
"There are a lot of unsolved cases in the NCIS backlog. And there are plenty of cases that are ruled accidental that we're looking at again. The link appears to be the missing coins. And that's such a small detail that doesn't always stand out and we don't know if it would have been noted as missing in every case. We could be talking about even more murders than the three more we think we know about—"
"Make that four more," Eric interrupted Nate as they passed through the sliding doors into Ops. Stunned, Deeks could only watch as Eric pulled up numerous photos of uniformed Marines, the computer screens beginning to resemble some kind of horrifyingly exclusive Jarhead club.
"Aside from Brigadier General Benning and Lieutenant Colonel Callahan, our data mining indicates four other cases of unsolved murders, or accidental murders that came up with the new parameters: A Major General in Fort Worth, a Captain in Quantico, a Second Lieutenant in New York City, and a Major in Beaufort, South Carolina," Eric started off. Nell stepped forward, gesturing to the photos as she spoke.
"It's almost a completely random cross section of Marines. All men, but some were active duty, some retired. Two of them are unsolved murders, two were ruled accidental. All in the last six months. The one connection appears to be the missing coins, which we are trying to confirm as missing in each case," Nell paused for a moment, glancing back at the screen, her eyes narrowing as she considered her next words, spoken carefully. "They're almost too random."
"What do you mean, Nell?" Callen asked curiously, leaning forward on his arms against the center console.
"They're from all over the country. Various officer ranks, different ages, different ethnicities. Combined with the latest two murders there isn't a single repeat in the method of death whether it's an accident or more intentional. Between all six we have a home invasion, an accidental drug overdose and fall, a carjacking, a mugging, an accidental drowning, and a hunting accident," Nell rattled off.
"And Justin Griffin is out of the running for at least four of the six murders," Eric replied, gesturing to a file listing the records of Griffin's movements the last several months. "We tracked him going back six months and his whereabouts are accounted for when four of the possible murders took place. He's a possibility for two of them, including Lieutenant Colonel Callahan's, but not the others."
"So that leaves us with what? Griffin has a partner in crime?" Sam asked from his vantage point next to Callen. All eyes turned to Nate, who crossed his arms over his chest as he considered his words.
"It certainly seems possible. If he is working with a partner then their lives should have crossed at some point. And with six murders already this pattern isn't likely to slow down," Nate said uneasily.
"Which means we have a month until the next murder," Callen concluded, turning to Kensi and Deeks. "Which is where you two come in."
"You want us to go to Half Moon Bay and try and figure out if Griffin is connected to the murders and who he might be working with," Kensi concluded easily. Callen nodded once, then gestured to Eric, who began pulling up photos and documents that outlined every detail of Griffin's life.
"On the surface Justin Griffin leads a pretty quiet life. He rents a small one-bedroom house in town and owns his own business, a handyman repair company. He works alone, doesn't seem to have friends or a girlfriend and he's lived in the same house and had the same job since he returned to Half Moon Bay after his medical discharge," Eric rattled off, flipping through documents on the display. "Pays all his bills on time, doesn't have a lot of money in the bank. Not even a speeding ticket to his name. He seems to keep to himself mostly. The one thing that makes him stick out a little is that locally he's a somewhat well known musician. Mostly he plays acoustic guitar at bars, local brewery, the coffee shop, that sort of thing."
Nodding thoughtfully, Deeks categorized the information on Griffin away, knowing they would also get a full file on him to review later. But they needed some kind of in with the guy, some way to get close to him. Turning towards Nell, who had come up next to Eric, Deeks had a feeling she would provide them that access in with their covers. Meeting Nell's sharp hazel eyes, Deeks tilted his head towards her in a silent query.
Nell's lips lifted in a small smile as she took over from Eric, pulling up the new driver's licenses for Kensi and Deeks and began to outline their aliases.
"You'll be Angela and Chris Coleman. Married five years and just moved to Half Moon Bay from New York City. In order to give Deeks a chance to get close to Griffin he'll be an aspiring musician," Nell started off.
Sam shot Deeks a grin and gave him a good-natured shove in the shoulder. "'Aspiring musician,' huh? Think you can handle that, Deeks?"
"Hey, I used to play the violin. The guitar is a piece of cake in comparison," Deeks protested. The surprised silence that fell over the room at this latest revelation, known only to Kensi, had Deeks shrugging defensively. "What? I have hidden talents."
"Of course you do, Mr. Deeks," Hetty replied dryly, a hint of laughter in her tone.
Nell continued on, turning her attention to Kensi's alias. "Angela Coleman is a music executive, recently left a major east coast label to start her own small start up company on the west coast. We needed something that would allow you both to work at home. Eric?"
Eric stepped forward, pulling up a street map and photos of a house. "We found this house not too far from the marina in Half Moon Bay and it's a major fixer upper in need of a kitchen and bathroom remodel, new roof, backyard landscaping. It's a prime opportunity for the Colemans to hire Griffin to do the work while Angela works from home on her business, and Chris on his music."
"Your backstory is that Angela discovers musical talent and she found Chris a several years ago and signed him to her old label. Higher ups in the company above Angela decided not to keep him and they dropped his contract. In protest Angela quit and started a new label, deciding to try her luck closer to the music industry in San Francisco and Los Angeles. And Chris has been working on material for an album since. Angela's the breadwinner in the family right now," Nell supplied.
"Sounds like someone caught himself a sugar mama," Cody interjected, giving Deeks a wink. Deeks laughed and shook his head, while Kensi straightened up and put her hands on her hips.
"And what's the problem with that? Men are attracted to powerful, successful women all the time," Kensi replied hotly. Deeks laid a hand on the back of Kensi's neck, squeezing gently.
"I've got no problem with you playing the high powered, wealthy executive while I'm the laid back, lazy musician, Angel baby," Deeks said teasingly, to which Kensi turned her head slow to fix him with a silent glare at the nickname.
Refusing to wither under her stare, but wanting to divert attention, Deeks coughed uncomfortably, raising his hand to interrupt. "This isn't going to require me to sing, is it? Because that might not be one of my hidden talents."
"We'll leave the particulars up to you, Mr. Deeks. But I have no doubt you'll rise to the occasion, should the situation require it," Hetty replied. Deeks put his hand down and tried not to frown as Kensi glanced at him, biting her lip to try and hide the sudden grin the threatened to break free.
"We've acquired the house and Eric and I are setting up all the necessary paperwork for your aliases. Since it's Friday that'll give us the weekend to make arrangement to move in all the equipment you guys will need in the house. Rachel's working on pulling together furnishings and home office stuff and scheduling the movers. We've already set up an appointment on Monday morning for Griffin to come to the house to give the Colemans an estimate on the work they want him to do," Nell said.
"And while I'm pretending to write music and Kensi's pretending to know anything about music, what are you boys going to be doing?" Deeks asked curiously, pointing at Cody, Callen, and Sam in turn.
"Cody will run background surveillance in Half Moon Bay for you two, keep an eye on Griffin when you can't," Callen replied. "And Sam and I will be checking out the other potential murders, and try and determine the connection to Griffin, as well as try and identify if there are other murders we still don't know about."
Hetty clapped her hands together once, drawing the team's attention to her. "I think everyone knows what they should be doing. Mr. Deeks, Ms. Blye, please follow me to wardrobe."
It was over an hour later before Kensi was able to escape from Hetty and the wardrobe area. She had to grin to herself as she allowed one last glance back, seeing Hetty still sorting through racks of clothes, pulling shirts and pants free and holding them up to Deeks to compare to his coloring. Deeks had started fidgeting well over thirty minutes earlier but he suffered mostly in silence. Which even Kensi had to admit was uncharacteristically gracious of him.
Kensi had gotten away with Hetty taking her measurements, pulling several outfits quickly, and passing them along to one of the wardrobe staff to alter. Hetty had also sent another employee off to buy a few things at the store and had supplied Kensi with a list of general things she and Deeks would be allowed to bring. Kensi had been dispatched to go to their house and pack those items and then return to Ops for the afternoon's departure to Half Moon Bay.
Passing by her desk, Kensi retrieved her bag and keys, her eyes sweeping across the open courtyard towards Rachel's desk. And Kensi had to smile at the organized chaos of Rachel's normally pristine desk, no doubt caused by the tall order of arranging for a deep undercover on a moment's notice. Seeing that Rachel was finishing up her call, Kensi walked over, smiling at the messy desk and the mirrored disarray of Rachel's hair, strands of blond hair escaping from her ponytail, which Rachel blew impatiently out of her face.
Seeing Kensi approach, Rachel gave her a bright and triumphant smile. "Just finished the last arrangements for all the furnishings and computer equipment. It'll all be delivered Sunday afternoon. I know you guys are heading north today, so you'll need to find a hotel or rough it without a bed until then."
"Yeah, Hetty thought we should get up there and start getting the lay of the land sooner rather than later. I'll add sleeping bags to the list of things I'm going home to pick up," Kensi replied. Rachel raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"You've actually got a sleeping bag for Marty? I'm surprised he would agree to sleep in one," Rachel replied dryly. Kensi had to laugh, knowing Rachel was right. She nodded, conceding the point.
"He does have one, even if he's never slept in it. If I want my camping fix I know who to call," Kensi replied with a grin. Rachel returned the laughter.
"That's right, please take my husband whenever you get the urge. Besides, then it gives me and Marty the chance to have fun together. Last time he took me and Chase to Disneyland and I got to watch as all the teenage girls and moms stared at him longingly wherever we went," Rachel said with a wink. "Don't worry, I glared back."
Kensi shrugged, not at all concerned. And she liked that her two best friends were such good friends. Considering she and Deeks had started out their association with Rachel while lying to her and by accidentally pulling her into their undercover assignment to the point that she'd been kidnapped and shot, Kensi considered it lucky Rachel was so resilient and forgiving.
Thinking back to the conversation she'd had with Rachel two days earlier, Kensi had the urge to fill her friend in on what had happened since. Glancing at the piles of paperwork, she gestured with one hand. "Hey, I have to head to the house to pick up some stuff for the undercover. Want to come with me?"
Nodding enthusiastically, Rachel stood and grabbed her purse. "Yes, please get me out of here for a little while. I've done everything I can for now anyway. Let me just go tell Hetty."
Kensi waited as Rachel walked over to wardrobe, peeking her head through the curtain. And after exchanging a few words, Rachel returned, taking Kensi's arm and leading her towards the parking area. She gave Kensi a sympathetic glance.
"Poor Marty. Hetty was making him try on the same shirt in about four different colors. She seems very intent on getting his clothing just right. He looked like he wanted to make a run for it."
Kensi smiled to herself, knowing Deeks was not very big into trying on clothes. Just as she also knew it was partially Hetty's way of checking on Deeks' mental state in advance of their undercover. Kensi had no doubt that Hetty probably picked up on his discomfort the previous day at the mention of the town where they would be going undercover. Hetty probably wouldn't ask him outright, but time spent with Deeks, helping him get ready for the undercover, would ease her mind.
As she and Rachel drove towards Malibu, Kensi tried to think about how to bring up the subject of their earlier conversation. She should have realized Rachel would beat her to it.
"Did you and Marty get to talk about the family and job situation and what you were worried about?"
Kensi gave Rachel a grateful smile, glad to have the opening. "We did. And it turns out it has been on his mind, too. Not to mention there are other considerations now."
As they arrived at the house and began packing items for the undercover Kensi filled Rachel in on Hetty's offer to make her an intelligence analyst or forensics specialist, and on Deeks' college friend's offer at his law firm. They were finishing in the house and heading to the garage when Kensi finished, turning to see the dazed look on Rachel's face.
"Wow, that's a lot to consider. Do you guys know what you're going to do?" Rachel asked, concern lighting her green eyes. Kensi shrugged.
"Not really. We kind of just deferred a decision because neither of us wanted to deal with it. And now, with the case . . ."
"It gives you even more of an opportunity to procrastinate," Rachel supplied. She gentled her tone and gaze, giving Kensi a sympathetic smile. "Not that I blame you. It has to be hard to know what to do, especially with both of you tripping over yourselves to sacrifice for each other."
"How did you—"
"Please, Kensi. I know you guys. Both together and separately. I have no doubt you were both mutually going down the separate paths of you taking over a desk job and Marty going back to being a lawyer by the time you actually talked about it together. He would do anything for you, anything to make you happy. Or at least what he thinks would make you happy. And you would do the same for him. All before you actually talked to each other about what that might be."
Kensi ignored the uncomfortable awareness in Rachel's words by throwing the sleeping bags in the back of the SUV, then adding some blankets for good measure. It got cold along the northern California coast at night.
Feeling the previously ignored uncertainty like a weight on her shoulders, Kensi sighed and sat on the edge of the car's bumper, Rachel following her movements.
"You're right," Kensi said softly, casting a helpless glance towards Rachel. "But that doesn't change anything. Neither of us knows what the right thing to do is. And we're both more than willing to give up being an agent, even while neither of us really wants to do it. We don't want to not be partners anymore."
Kensi couldn't quite keep the desperate note from her voice. She really couldn't quite imagine not having Deeks to watch her back. And something deep in her chest reacted violently at the thought of someone else looking out for him. She knew nobody else could possibly live up to her standards in keeping him safe. But once again, staying partners didn't solve their problem. Putting themselves both in the line of fire, especially if they had a family at home, was a risk that just seemed too great, too selfish.
"You'll still be partners," Rachel said confidently. Kensi fixed her with a confused glance and Rachel smiled widely. "You'll be husband and wife. I don't know if there's any partnership as difficult as that. Wait, scratch that. Once you factor kids in that's enough to challenge any partnership."
Kensi nodded reluctantly, knowing Rachel was telling the truth. But at the same time it didn't really give her much comfort.
"It won't be the same," Kensi replied sadly, hoping Rachel caught the deeper meaning of her words. If anyone understood her connection to Deeks, had seen it up close and personal while they were undercover, and then later as a close friend in their lives, it was Rachel. And as usual, Rachel didn't disappoint.
She reached out, gently clasping Kensi's hand in hers and squeezing it gently. "I know it won't be the same, sweetie. It'll be different because that's just what happens in life. Things change, even when we don't want them to. Especially when we don't want them to. But you have to go with it, adjust, and move forward. Nobody does that better than you and Marty. You guys are kind of trained for that."
Kensi nodded, silently agreeing even while the stubborn side of her, the side that was so happy with her current life, objected strongly to possible changes. It was the kind of happiness she'd long thought she would never have and she was fiercely protective of anything threatening that.
The ghosts of her past, of her life when changes had meant her father's death, Jack leaving to fight a war and returning never quite the same man, getting NCIS partners and losing them, reared up even despite the several years of Deeks proving to her that changes since his appearance in her life hadn't been all bad.
"But what if the things that change aren't good? What if he hates being a lawyer? What if I hate being a forensics specialist?" Kensi paused, taking a shaky breath, finally allowing the one fear she hadn't voice to burst free. "What if I'm a bad mother?"
Rachel startled, blinking rapidly as she took in Kensi's words with amused awareness. She seemed to adjust quickly, leaning in to look Kensi in the eye.
"Is that what you're worried about? Kensi, that's not going to be an issue for you or for Marty as a father. You two are going to be great parents," Rachel said, pausing to hold up a hand at the question she saw in Kensi's eyes. "Don't ask me how I know. I just do."
Kensi smiled, wishing she had Rachel's confidence in this one thing. Rachel gently tugged on Kensi's hand, still held in hers.
"You're not the type to usually have any kind of confidence issues. And you and Marty are a great team. Why would you think you guys can't conquer parenthood?" Rachel asked curiously.
"Probably because it's bigger than anything else I've ever done. And if I don't do it right it isn't just me, it's him, it's our son or daughter. I just can't do it wrong," Kensi trailed off quietly, a little desperation seeping into her voice.
"If you do it right, being a parent is both the most selfish and most selfless thing a person can do," Rachel said softly. "But the risks of that on either side shouldn't make you not do it. It's something you both want, right?"
Kensi nodded hurriedly, knowing that even with all the uncertainties swirling around her and Deeks, they knew they wanted children.
"Then you guys will figure it out, I promise. Have faith in each other. That's one thing you two are not lacking in any way. And I really think the right answer for your professional futures will somehow become clear," Rachel said strongly. Kensi shot her a somewhat dubious glance.
"How is it that you can be so optimistic, especially when there's no way to know the outcome?" Kensi asked. Rachel patted her on the arm before standing.
"I don't really know. There's just some stuff I believe. It was part of what got me through being kidnapped three years ago," Rachel said, her tone becoming self-critical. "Not that my belief has always come through for me. There's a long line of exes pre-Cody that proves just how misguided my Pollyanna view can be sometimes."
Kensi allowed a chuckle along with Rachel's, standing to get back to the task at hand. She checked her watch, noting that they needed to get back to Ops soon so she and Deeks could start heading north.
"Rachel, can you grab Deeks' surfboard, the green shortboard with three fins? Hetty did allow that he could surf, provided our assignment gives him the time."
Rachel nodded, leaving the garage for the side yard but stopping at the door to throw back a question. "Do you want me to grab your board too?"
"Angela Coleman doesn't strike me as the surfing time so I'll have to sit this one out," Kensi replied, a little regretfully. Although she didn't quite feel the same call of the waves that Deeks did, she found she did love surfing with him and seeing the ocean through his eyes. But she could just as easily enjoy watching him surf for the next few weeks, or however long their undercover lasted.
After finishing with the packing, including strapping down Deeks' board and loading Monty into the car, Kensi and Rachel returned to Ops. Rachel took Monty, having volunteered to keep him while Kensi and Deeks were undercover, and Kensi looked around for Deeks and was nearly knocked over when he practically tackled her near the couch.
"Thank God you're back. Please, Kensi, save me from Hetty and her pins and the What Not to Wear episode that has been my life the last few hours," Deeks pleaded, his arms going around her shoulders. Kensi laughed quietly, letting her hand skim over his back as she hugged him back briefly, then stepped out of his embrace to take in the slight desperation in his eyes and the even more disorderly than usual state of his hair.
"Poor baby," Kensi murmured gently, then allowed a predatory smile. "But at least it sounds like Hetty's making sure you'll be well dressed for your sugar mama."
Deeks exhaled the long suffering sigh of the extremely put-upon. "You know, you've never complained about my clothes before. And I thought you liked how my jeans emphasized—"
"Nobody needs you to finish that sentence, Deeks," Callen said dryly, coming up behind Deeks from the bullpen. Kensi traded glances with Deeks, who simply smirked but managed to keep his mouth shut.
Callen handed a well-stuffed envelope to Kensi, then passed them both new phones, his blue eyes turned serious. "Everything on your aliases and Justin Griffin is in there. The car is loaded and whatever you need that isn't going with you today will be there by Sunday afternoon. Cody is going to arrive on Sunday and he'll set up shop on a boat in the marina. Check in protocol is once a week, and Eric set up secure accounts on your laptops."
Always examining every side of the situation, Callen gave them each careful looks before he continued. "Sam and I are heading to the east coast to check out the cases in Quantico, New York City, and Beaufort. We'll make sure we keep you updated if there's anything you need to know as you're investigating Griffin. You guys good?"
"We're good," Deeks insisted, draping an arm over Kensi's shoulders. With one last nod goodbye, Callen turned to join Sam to depart for the airport.
Deeks turned towards Kensi, picking up her left hand and fingering her engagement ring. Before she could ask what he was doing, he lifted his other hand and she caught the flash of the wedding band held between his thumb and forefinger. He was about to slip the band on when Kensi stopped him.
"Wait, wait," she murmured, quickly removing the engagement band from her ring finger. At Deeks confused look, she held her hand out for him. "Wedding bands go on first, then the engagement ring. Because you're never supposed to take off the wedding ring."
"You learn something new every day," Deeks said quietly in response, slipping the wedding band on her finger and then taking her engagement ring from her hand to pair them together. Kensi admired the rings for a moment, a little surprised at the sentimental lump that formed in her throat.
"Hetty said I could keep my ring?" Kensi asked. Deeks lifted a shoulder in acknowledgement.
"Yeah, well, they're both yours, really." At the widening of Kensi's eyes, Deeks continued. "The wedding band is yours, too. It's just on your finger two months early."
Speechless, Kensi shifted her eyes to look back at the band, realizing it was the one she and Deeks had picked out months ago. Turning back to Deeks, she smiled as she saw he'd anticipated her next question, his wedding band held up for her to take.
Wordlessly, she took it, trying to ignore the pounding of her heart as she pushed the band over his knuckle, the ring of metal coming to rest on his finger. She looked up and found Deeks' eyes with her own, seeing the unspoken words and the layers of understanding and deep adoration in his gaze on her.
"Can I kiss the bride?" Deeks whispered, to which she nodded quickly, for once not caring about the busy and crowded Ops around them. Deeks grinned and tilted her chin up with his hands, grazing his lips lightly against hers. Kensi closed her eyes so she could feel the sweetness of his touch, the warmth of him holding her close, the promise of so much more in the brush of his sigh against her mouth.
He kept the kiss quick, then took a deep steadying breath and a forceful step back. With a nod of his head towards the window, Deeks gave her a reassuring smile. "You ready?"
Kensi felt her breath catch, knowing it was a simple question but layered with potentially so much more. She reminded herself this was about their undercover assignment. Not about their impending wedding, their job changes, or the possibility of becoming parents. She could handle the question about their assignment. The rest was a blank white page that she had no clue how to fill.
Squaring her shoulders, Kensi nodded firmly. "Yes. Let's go."
To be continued