A/N: A quick little emotional character study about the nature of the partnership between Kensi and Deeks. This will be a three-parter that covers the Before (what you're about to read), the During and the After. I hope you enjoy, and thank you for any kind comments in advance.

Timeline: Third season. Likely post NW but before Sans Voir.

Content: Nothing big in this chapter but Chapter 2 will likely have some violence and drama, and possibly language. Warnings will follow for those as is appropriate.

Disclaimers: You know the drill. Don't own. There we go.

Again, thanks.


They both know that something is amiss when Hetty comes towards them (they're sitting across from each other in the bullpen, engaging in a rather spirited or perhaps more correctly a mean-spirited game of flick football), her lips pursed, and her her eyes intense and focused. "Mr. Deeks," she says, her tone low and serious. "Might I have a word with you, please? Alone?"

"Uh sure," he nods, giving his partner a look meant to ask her if she knows what this is about. She shrugs in response, acting as nonchalant as she can. Just the same, she watches Deeks disappear with Hetty off towards her desk.

Private talks with Hetty are never a good a thing. Something is always a bit screwy. She thinks back, reflects on their last case. It'd gone well, smooth even. Sure there'd been a little more damage to the company clothes than anyone would have liked (she'd torn her skirt almost all the way up the leg while chasing after a suspect – stupid bastard had gotten himself quite the eyeful as she'd been atop him handcuffing him), but other than that, all had gone well.

So what is this then? A year ago, this kind of conversation had occurred when Hetty had been on her way to Romania on a suicide mission. That case has nearly cost everyone on the team their careers. She'd really prefer not to go down that particular road again if at all possible.

She gets her answer ten minutes later when Deeks makes his way back over to her, and slides into the chair behind his desk. He looks quiet and thoughtful – things he rarely is – and she finds herself worried and confused.

"Deeks?" she asks. "What is it?"

He looks up at her and offers a small smile. Then, "LAPD is calling me back."

She reacts with surprise and more than a little anger. They've been down this road before and it had been pretty damned awful last time. She's in no real mood to repeat it anymore than she'd been in the mood to repeat the mess in Romania. "Are you serious? Again? Is this a joke?"

"No," he sighs. "And it's not an act. I swear, Kens. Not this time."

"It's also not permanent, Ms. Blye," Hetty says as she approaches, her footfalls almost silent. "The LAPD has requested Mr. Deeks to join them on an undercover assignment that is outside of our jurisdiction. As he is still an LAPD detective, his participation on this op is compulsory."

"What kind of case is it?" Kensi asks, her mind spinning.

"Local drug kingpin, operates out of a series of seedy nightclubs around the Los Angeles area," Deeks tells her, intentionally keeping the details as vague as possible. He knows his partner – she'll want to know everything, and she'll absolutely want be involved however she can.

But she can't be.

Because this is deep cover and it doesn't involve the NCIS team and having her on the periphery can only be dangerous and potentially deadly for both of them. No, this is old solitary Marty Deeks here, and not partnered up Deeks.

He's on his own, and maybe that's for the best.


He doubts it. He doubts that he's the Marty Deeks of before.

But maybe he needs Kensi to think he is that guy because he needs her to stay out of this for both of their sakes.

"Okay, then we can provide support, right?" Kensi presses. She looks from Hetty to Deeks, and then back to her boss. "Right?"

"I'm afraid not," Hetty tells her. "This is an LAPD only op. Lieutenant Bates is running this show. If we're called in, we will most certainly assist, but absent that, we will be in the dark on Mr. Deeks until he returns to us."

"So I will be coming back?" Deeks asks, more than a little hope in his voice. A year and a half ago, he'd have been happy to go undercover – as deep as possible even. Now, it means leaving the team.

Leaving Kensi.

No, can't think like that. It's dangerous. Too damned dangerous.

"Of course, Mr. Deeks. But we will need to…backfill you."

At the same time, the partners say, "Backfill?"

"Well that was cute," Callen chuckles as he enters the bullpen with Sam Hanna at his side. "Wasn't it Sam?"

"Very cute, G. What's going on here?"

"LAPD is calling Deeks back," Kensi tells them, her tone sharp.

"I'm guessing this isn't like the last time," Callen notes, thinking back to the mission a few months ago which had had Deeks pretending to have been fired. Kensi hadn't reacted well to that one, and judging behind the look on her face now – one of irritation and sheer displeasure – he's guessing she's not any happier about this situation.

"No, this is for real," Hetty tells them. "And I was just telling Mr. Deeks and Ms. Blye that we will need to backfill his position in his absence."

"What does that mean?" Deeks presses, clearly worried. "Backfill?"

"It means in order to keep your position as LAPD liaison – a position that was created for you – open and available, we need to keep it occupied at all times. I've already made a few calls –"

"I don't want another partner," Kensi interrupts, her eyes darting up to Deeks.

"I understand that, Kensi," Hetty softens, "But this is a four man operational team. You must have a partner. That means we either backfill Mr. Deeks or we replace him with an actual NCIS agent. An agent who would then become a permanent member of this team, I should add."

And there it is; the inarguable truth of the matter.

"Understood," Kensi sighs.

"Good. Mr. Deeks wlll be reporting to his new assignment first thing tomorrow morning. I was thinking that maybe we'd send him off as a team tonight."

"I'm in," Callen nods.

"Sure, why not?" Sam agrees.

And suddenly everyone is looking at Kensi, waiting for her to reply. She forces a smile, then says, "Of course."

"I presume you have no problem with this, Mr. Deeks?"

"None at all. I like when Kensi pays."

She rolls her eyes at this, but says nothing else. Proof positive to Marty Deeks that his partner is more than a little upset by this turn of events. Of course, so is he. Right now, it's the very last thing he wants.

But he's LAPD not NCIS.

"All right then," Hetty says. "Then I'll leave all of you to your paperwork. Mr. Deeks, Lt. Bates would like to speak to you immediately so that you can go over the details of the operation, but once you're done, if you could kindly make sure that all your reports are in before you leave for the day, I would appreciate that."

"No problem, Hetty," Deeks replies. "And hey, if I don't finish a few, Kensi will be happy to –"

"I'd stop right there if I were you, Detective," Kensi cuts in. "You're not my partner anymore, buddy. Not my job to clean up after you. Not until you get back."

"Aww, you want me back."

At this, the old familiar back and forth teasing between the partners, Hetty flashes a quick amused smile, then turns and head back towards her desk.

"Only because I've finally gotten you trained to walk on a leash," Kensi shoots back. "Though, I think Monty still does it better."

"But I'm cuter," he grins, earning a loud snort of disgust from Sam.

"Don't know about that," Kensi replies. "But I admit, you do drool less."

"That's a ringing endorsement if I've ever heard one," Callen chuckles. "Come on, Sam, you owe me a game of Horse."

"We didn't finish the last one," Sam answers.

"Yes, we did. You lost."

"Did not."

"Did, too."

"Ladies," Deeks says. "Do you need a referee?"

"No," both men say at the same time, still remembering the last person who had referred a basketball game of theirs. Hetty had ended up calling twenty-two fouls, three technical and eventually had ejected Sam for arguing.

And with that (and one last glance from Callen towards Kensi) the two men walk away, towards the gym, still arguing about how the last game had ended.

"You okay?" Deeks asks once the two men have disappeared from sight.

"Yeah, good," she nods.


"I'm good."

"Well I guess that's better than fine," he sighs.

"Yep, now get to your paperwork. I'm not doing it for you."

"Even as a going away present?"

"Especially as a going away present. You're lucky if I buy you a beer for that."

"You really know how to make a guy feel special," Deeks cracks.

Her eyes flicker up at that, and for the briefest of moments, he thinks he sees something there, but it's gone almost as quickly as it appeared. Instead, she smirks at him and says, "Deeks, stop acting like a girl."

He feigns being insulted, and then tells her, "Yeah, keep fronting. You know you're going to miss me."

"Unless my new partner is all things you're not."

"Like what?"

"Responsible, professional, quiet." And then, her smirk turning into a full on grin, she adds, "Hot."

"You want a hot partner?"

"It'd be a first."

She says this with a wide smile, but he sees through the humorous front; he knows his partner too well by now not to. She's doing what she always does, putting walls up and hiding her feelings behind them.

He kind of hates that, but absent a way – especially here – to breach those walls, he simply plays along. "Well it wouldn't be a first for me, I mean I've had a ton of hot partners. Not you…"

"You've already called me hot before."

"Have I?"


"Was I drunk?"




"Trying to get in your pants?"

"Probably, but we've both seen how bad you are at that."

"Ah, what makes you think I've ever really tried?"

"Keep in mind, Deeks, I've seen you try your pickup lines on other women."

"And I'm sure you've noticed that I've never had any trouble picking anyone up. Even you, I think. You did, after all, say I was your type."

"I was the one drunk there."

"You were only on your first drink. And don't tell me you're a lightweight because I've seen you down a six pack without even blinking."

"Deeks," she growls.

"The winner," he announces, then points at himself.

She snorts in reply to that. "Do your paperwork, Deeks."

"You're going to miss me, Kens."

"Like Monty misses his fleas."

"Sometimes an itch is a good thing," he counters.

"Sometimes it is," she admits, then after a moment of eye contact that implies something far more serious than the conversation they're having suggests, she puts her head down and focuses on her laptop. He watches her for a moment, trying to come up with a reply to that, but for once, nothing comes.

So instead, he picks up the discarded triangle of paper that they'd been using for flick football and he tosses it at her. It bounces in front of her, causing her to look up questioningly. He just smiles, as impishly as he can.

She chuckles, shakes her head and then returns to her work.

Around three that afternoon, Hetty makes her way over to the bullpen. The three agents and one cop gathered there are – for once – quietly working, each of them pushing through a thick stack of long-neglected after action reports and requisition forms. Every now and again, a joke is tossed out, but they seem focused. This fact alone tells Hetty all she needs to know – they're not pleased about the decision to have Deeks leave the team on another assignment, but professionals that they are, they will accept it and go with it.

Most of them will anyway.

Now comes the hard part.

"Agent Blye," Hetty says.

The younger woman looks up, tilting her head. Her dark hair is down, cascading carelessly over her sweatshirt-covered shoulders. "Everything okay?" she asks.

"It is. I wanted to let you know that I just spoke to the LAPD. They have agreed to loan us Detective Alex Lewis until Mr. Deeks returns from his assignment." She hands Kensi an LAPD folder with Lewis' name on it.

Kensi looks across at Deeks, eyebrow lifted. "You know Lewis?"

"By name only. Never heard anything bad," Deeks tells her. Then to Hetty, "Someone else you have an eye on?"

Hetty chuckles at that. "No, Mr. Deeks. Detective Lewis was a recommendation from Lieutenant Bates. He believes that he'll be a good temporary replacement, and that in turn, this will be a good assignment for him."

"He understands it's just temporary, right?" Kensi queries.

"He does," Hetty nods, then turns and glides away.

"Well, we'll welcome him with open arms," Callen says after a beat.

"Just like you did me?" Deeks asks.

"Just like we did you," Sam confirms with a grin.

"Uh huh. Awesome. Poor bastard has no idea what he's about to get himself into," Deeks chuckles. "He's going to be begging me to take my spot back."

"I think he just said we're hard to work with," Callen notes.

"I think he did," Sam nods. "Is that what you said, Deeks?"

"That's what I said."

"Not nice, Deeks," Sam says with a mock indignant shake of his head.

"Uh huh." Then, looking at Kensi, who is flipping through Lewis' personnel file, he asks, "See anything you like?"

She shrugs. "He has a big boys' haircut. I suppose that's a start."

"Lies. You love my hair."

"Absolutely right, Deeks; if you were my six year old son, I'd adore your hair."

"If I was your six year old son, Freud would have a field day with me." He winks at her when he says this, drawing looks of amusement from Sam and Callen.


"You should talk."

"Yeah, I think I'm really going to enjoy this Lewis guy."

"Enjoy away, partner. Just remember, I'm coming back."

"That sounds like a threat," Callen notes.

He looks right at Kensi when he answers, his tone light but his brilliant blue eyes saying something else entirely. "A guarantee."

She does what she's supposed to do with others watching; she snorts. Then picks up a crumpled piece of paper and tosses it at him. "Finish your paperwork," she tells him with a smile.

"Can't," he says with a massive grin. "I have to go meet Bates at the station, and then I have some errands to run."

"Deeks, don't you dare," she says as she notices the pile of unfinished reports.

"I'll see you in a couple hours at the bar," he answers. "And thank you."


He answers her with one last grin, and then is down the hallway.

"I'm going to kill him," she says to the others.

The boys chuckle in response. That is until Hetty says, "Oh I don't know what you two are laughing about. Seems there's enough reports for all of you to lend a hand, no? Just make sure they're done by the end of the day."

And with that said and a wink at Kensi, she walks away, hands folded behind her.

"I'm going to kill him," Sam growls as he drops himself down into his chair.

To that, Kensi just grins.

Though Deeks does return to the Mission at just before five in the afternoon to collect some of his belongings, the soon to be former partners end up arriving separately to the little drinking hole in North Hollywood.

The logic for this is simple: he'll likely need to leave and head home well before she will. That said, he finds that he's oddly unsettled to be going somewhere – anywhere - without her. For much of the last eighteen months, the beginning and end of every day has involved her to some degree or another.

It's going to be weird not racing through his post-surf shower a couple mornings a week just so that he'll be ready when she arrives to carpool with him into work. It's going to be even weirder not seeing her wave him goodnight as she pulls away from the front of his apartment building after dropping him off.

Even worse, it's going to be strange as hell not to "randomly" drop by her place once or twice a week with a six pack of beer and a pizza box just so they can kick back and hang together. They've been doing this for over a year now, this little "unscheduled and completely not at all regular" bi-weekly get-together thing of theirs. They never talk about it, never plan it (only they kind of do, he muses).

They're both pretty sure that doing – or admitting to doing - either of those things would ruin their little thing, make them have to be aware of it (not that they're not already, but both are great at pretending thanks to the lives they lead and the jobs they have), and really, that's the very last thing either of them wants.

They like their little arrangement, and it's going to be goddamned weird to not have it around during however long he's undercover.

He likes to think that losing it will be as hard on her as it will be on him. He likes to think that their get-togethers are as important to her as they are to him. He, of course, will never verbalize these thoughts because he's pretty sure that doing so would go against the code of comfortable silence and friendship that they have established. This (platonic, he's sure she'd insist) companionable thing of theirs, well it could be a lot more if either of them had the courage to make it more, but for now, it's a good thing – a great thing. And it's their thing.

He kind of hates that he's about to lose it. If only for a few weeks. Or months. Or hell, years. He knows how deep cover works. His longest job with the LAPD was sixteen months, his shortest was three days. According to Bates, they're expecting somewhere around six months or so for this one.

Too long away.

But they're both going to have to deal with his absence and he's going to have to handle the fact that for the next six months, she's going to have someone else covering her back and watching out for her. Someone else to get close to and bond with. And maybe, just maybe (and really, if he's honest, this is one of his biggest fears of all) she'll end up preferring Lewis to him.

He knows only a little bit about Detective Lewis. What he does know is that Lewis is a fellow whom the brass has high hopes for. Disciplined and logical. The reason they want him to take this gig? They want him to get some out of the box experience and learn how to think in a way that isn't necessarily linear. Which is all fine and dandy except he's going to be doing all of this at Kensi's side.

Which is scary and a bit concerning. Not that he'd ever express these things to her. He knows how she's react; she'd accuse him of worrying too much, and then she'd likely get indignant about him maybe thinking she couldn't take care of herself. Which would totally not be what he was saying, but he knows how she thinks and can pretty much already write the argument they'd have in advance.

So why even bother?


He turns, sees her standing in the doorway of the bar, wearing the same outfit she'd left work in (jeans and her black button-down shirt, the one that he finds unbelievably sexy on her just because it brings out the glow of her skin tone).

"You thinking?" she asks.

"I try not to," he answers with a lazy grin. He's sure she sees right through him, but equally sure that she's not going to push. Not here at least. Not where the others could walk out and actually see a deep conversation between them.

"Attaboy," she replies, then motion towards the bar. "We're drinking."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Always a good thing, Deeks. And yes, I'm buying."

"Really?" He lifts an eyebrow at that.

She laughs. "Okay, no, not really. Hetty's buying."

"Couldn't even buy your partner a beer on his last day." He shakes his head.

"Last day? I thought you told me you'd be back," she counters.

"I'm always back, Sunshine."

"I suppose that's better than Fern," she chuckles, remembering when he'd said almost these exact same words to her a few years earlier. She's hoping that this time doesn't bring with it the heart-pounding drama of the previous LAPD undercover op. That one had involved a dirty cop and a human trafficking ring.

That one had almost gotten Marty Deeks killed.

She hates to think where she'd be if that'd happened. Though she's loath to admit it – either to him or herself – she's better with him at her back. A better person and a better agent. With him there, she feels stronger and like she can take the risks she needs to in order to do this job as it should be done.

With him behind her, she feels like she can be brave and courageous.

Even before him, she'd always been the type to take chances and risks, the one who would always throw herself in the middle of danger in order to bring the bad guys down. Having Deeks behind and beside her has made that a little easier.

The man drives her absolutely insane at times and he's obnoxious and irritating and annoying, but he's her partner, and with him there, she feels safe.

So yeah, it's going to be weird having to adjust to someone else being there.

But adjust, she knows she must.

"Come on, Deeks, come drink with us." She throws an arm around him as she says this, her hand settling lightly on his back. He doesn't tell her how much he enjoys the light touch of her palm against him, and she doesn't tell him how good it is to feel the muscles of his back rippling beneath her fingertips.

"Just promise me you won't get me so drunk I can't say no," he quips. "I'd hate to be taken advantage of."

She snorts at that, "You only wish I'd take advantage of you."

He shrugs, doesn't deny it. Then grins at her as impishly as he can. It brings a bark of laughter from her, in spite of the fact that she's rolling her eyes as well.

Yeah, she thinks to herself, the man may drive her crazy at times, but she's going to miss him like crazy.

It's just a few ticks after two in the morning when – leaning back on his couch wearing old worn-out baggy sweatpants and a white tee-shirt - he hears a tentative knock at his door. Instinctively, his hand goes to his Beretta, which is sitting a couple inches away from him, on the end table.

It's late, crazy late, and he can't really imagine who would be here at this absurd hour. Then again, it's a bit insane that he's still up and awake himself.

The team had been at the club until almost midnight, knocking back beers and playing pool. Now, at home, he finds that he can't sleep.

He's been here before, he knows this drill.

He also knows that he's never quite capable of sleep the night before beginning a new op. Too many thoughts, too many concerns.

Now add in the fact that he's leaving the people he considers his team and the person he considers his…partner? Best friend? Something. She's something important to him. And he's leaving her with someone he barely knows.

That troubles him more than he cares to admit.

He rises from his couch gun in hand, checks the peephole and reacts with some surprise when he sees his partner standing on the other side. She's wearing a leather jacket now, to protect against the chill of the early morning. In her hand, he sees a six-pack of beer.

He opens the door, and immediately says, "What, couldn't sleep, figured you'd make your way over to here to try to have your evil wicked with me, and then realized you hadn't gotten me drunk enough for that?"

"Evil wicked way? Really, Deeks?"

He just wiggles his eyebrows suggestively at that.

"Uh huh. No, I just thought we should say goodbye properly."

"Properly, huh? I like that sound of that."

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Deeks. I just figured that since it's going to be a little while before our next…you know…"


"Whatever," she shrugs, resisting even that label for their bi-weekly outings at her house (never his, he thinks, realizing that her being here with beer is something of a new thing for them, and that alone speaks volumes as to her current thoughts and mind-set). "So beer. Unless you want to crash out instead."

"No chance of that," he admits as he steps back to allow her entrance. She sees the gun in his hand, but thinks nothing of it. Answering the door with your firearm is a creepy, but necessary habit created by the job they do.

"Yeah, I didn't think so," she says as she puts the six-pack down on the table in front of his couch (one which she notes is devoid of any degree of clutter – but then, much of his apartment is). She twists off the cap on one of the bottles and hands it to him, then does the same for her and sits down. After a few moments, she asks, "So are you going to tell me anything about your assignment?"


"Why not?"

"Because if I do, you'll get involved."


"I would. Get involved, I mean. If our places were reversed, and you were undercover away from me, I'd try to check in on you and make sure you were okay. More than I should."

He's looking at her with so much sincerity in his eyes, and his voice is so soft and calm. Sometimes, when he's his normal goofy self, it's so easy to forget that beneath the cover of the lovable idiot is a consummate professional who knows his job better than most undercover operators ever will.

The truth of the matter is very simple: Deeks is good at his job. Very good.

"Right," she says with a sharp nod.

"I need to not worry about you while I'm doing this, and you need to not worry about me," he tells her.

"Not worry," she repeats.


"I get it, Deeks, but you're still my partner, and I'm still entitled to worry about you when I can't have your back."

"As am I," he tells her.

"But we're both better of not doing that is what you're saying."

"I think it becomes a distraction neither of us can afford," he admits.

"Yeah, I know," she answers. She then lifts the bottle up to her lips and takes a hefty swig from it, her dark eyes staring ahead at his wall. She's been here many a time, usually to pick him up or drop him off. For some reason or another, her house has become their typical hang-out. Looking around, she knows why.

His place is orderly and neat. There are signs of his personality around, but there's also a sense that he doesn't necessarily like to spend a lot of time alone here. Normally, it's just he and…Monty.

Wait, where's Monty?

"Where's your dog?"

"With a buddy of mine from the LAPD. And yes, believe it or not, there are still some people there who don't curse when they say my name."


"Yeah. One or two," he laughs. Then he adds, "My buddy is a beat cop I went through the Academy with. He's watched Monty a few times for me."


"Oh?" He's confused now, not entirely sure what he's done to upset her. Usually, it's his mouth that gets him in trouble, but right now, he can't imagine anything he's said that would bother her or get this response from her.

"I would have watched him for you."

Ah, okay, well that makes sense. Kind of. In a Kensi way.

"I know," he answers. "I didn't want to inconvenience you."

"Deeks, we're friends, right?"

"Yeah," he says with a nod, thinking how weird this conversation is. They rarely get deep and serious with each other, mostly because they both know that beneath the jokes and barbs that they throw at each other, there's a lot of emotion and well…pain.

They've both lost so much over the years. Family, friends, partners. They both know how hard it is to connect with anyone. Or to trust.

To call anyone a friend these days, well it actually means something pretty damned big, and both of them realize it.

"Then it's not an inconvenience."

"I appreciate that. Will you check in on him then from time to time? He knows Joey pretty well, but I think he's sweet on you."

She snorts at that.

"Something you want to say there, partner?" he asks, somewhat happy to have the lighter moment come upon them, if only for a few seconds.

"Just thinking how it's just my luck to only have the mutts of the world attracted to me," she answers with a wry smile.

He shrugs his shoulders, then looks down at his beer bottle, running a thumb over the top of it as he speaks, his voice suddenly quiet again. "Sometimes the mutts are the prized stock when it's all said and done."

"Sometimes," she agrees. A moment passes, and then she says, her voice just as quiet as his had been (apparently, the lightness that they'd both been happy to see come back has slipped away again), "You're going to be careful, right?"

He looks up at her and smiles at her. For a brief moment, a thousand jokes – some of them pretty goddamned funny if he's honest with himself - go through his mind, but he has the sense to realize that right now, she wants – and even needs – a serious answer. She needs him to put her mind at ease. So he does.

"I meant what I said earlier, I'll be back."


Another moment passes, and then she pushes herself up and off the couch. "I should go. I know you're not going to sleep, but you need to rest."

He simply nods at this. Not because he agrees, but because they've reached the awkward point in this conversation. If they continue down this path, there's a lot more that could be said – things they're not yet ready to say.

And so she chooses to leave instead, not further complicate things.

It's the right choice, but he wishes she would stay.

Instead, he walks her to his door and holds it open.

"Be safe, Kens," he tells her.

"You, too," she replies. And then she leans up as if to hug him, but somehow, she badly miscalculates the space between them and ends up pressing her cheek to his. Or maybe, she'd done it intentionally. Hard to say, really.

It's an insanely intense moment. For a second, he can practically taste her breath as it whispers across his cheeks, and he's sure that he can smell the light mingling of peppermint (she'd been chewing on mints at the bar) and beer.

Neither moves, they just stand there, both realizing that it would be so easy – so very easy – to just slide half an inch towards the other and then see what happens next. It'd be so easy to just allow something – anything - to happen.

"Kensi," he whispers, realizing that he has to be the one to stop this, because even though something happening might make a hell of a memory to hold close during the shadowy nights ahead, it will also complicate things even worse.

And that's just no way to start an undercover op.

Or for her to begin with a new partner.

He feels her nod her head in agreement, and then the soft press of her lips against his bearded cheek. She holds them there for perhaps a moment too long, but he's sure as hell not going to push her away.

Not when this is all they're allowed to give each other.

"Come back," she says to him, her lips continuing to graze his cheek.

"Be here," he replies.

And somehow, that says everything for them.

They part, she touches his shoulder and gives it a squeeze, and then she turns and leaves. He watches her walk away, stares down the hallway until she's gone, and then reluctantly, shuts the door and locks it.

He makes his way back over to his couch, drops down on it, and then reaches for another beer. He's not going to sleep tonight, and this beer is too light to get him drunk, but he realizes that he needs to get his mind off of her.

He needs to focus, not think about her. Not worry.

He needs to trust that Lewis will keep her safe.

He needs to believe that she'll be there when he gets back.

And he needs to focus on getting back.

He takes another swig, and then closes his eyes. As of tomorrow, he's Nathaniel Madison, a former cop wanna-be who wants to be a whole lot meaner.

As of tomorrow, NCIS and Kensi are just dreams he has from time to time.

Good dreams, great dreams.

Nothing he can have.

Not until the case is over.

Not until he comes home.