Paying it Forward?
An NCIS fanfiction for Christmas
Ever wondered why Deeks took Kensi to the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve in 2010? Or why he was greeted quite so enthusiastically? Was he "paying it forward" – or was there some other reason? And what happened in 2011, after Kensi left for Hawaii? Here's my take on things…
Part 1: Deeks
"Paying it forward again, Marty?" Angela says brightly, and I cringe inwardly. That particular phrase has never sat easily with me. No, scrub that thought. If you really want to know, the mere mention sets the hairs on the back of my neck standing up on end. It's kind of like when I'm playing the violin and suddenly morph into entirely the wrong key, so the resulting cacophony sounds like someone's murdering a cat in the next-door yard. But Angela's a nice lady, she's always smiling and cheerful, she was there for me when it counted, and I really don't want to offend her, so somehow I manage to swallow down the witty retort that comes to my lips. See, sometimes I do think before I speak, contrary to what Sam Hanna might tell you. It doesn't happen that often though, so you might want to note this day down in your diary for future reference.
"Something like that," I agree and look around at the hall. It's still in a state of chaos and we've got to be ready to serve Christmas dinner to the hungry hoards in a few hours time. It's hard not to notice the decided lack of helpers this year. "Looks like we're going to have our work cut out for us."
The enthusiastic look slides off her face and just for a moment, Angela looks downcast. "We were hoping for more volunteers – but I guess people are busy," she admits ruefully. Like she's not busy herself, what with her full-time job, a husband who has a fondness for the ponies and a mother-in-law who lives with them and makes Angela's life pretty miserable. But somehow Angela manages to make time for other people. That's the thing about her – she reaches out and helps, without ever having to be asked. It's hard not to like her. I love her and you don't hear me say that about many people. But you see, long ago Angela saved me. I wouldn't be who I am today, and I certainly wouldn't be standing here, if it wasn't for Angela. So what if she has a corny turn of phrase?
"Probably." I reach out and clasp her shoulder. "But we'll manage. We always do." She's taught me that much at any rate – that you do your best, whatever the circumstances. And you do it with a smile on your face. Only right now, I don't feel much like smiling.
I've been coming here for more years than I care to recall, since I was just a kid, so it's kind of become a habit. You see, there are so many people who have nowhere else to go at Christmas and not enough to eat. And there are even more people who don't have a single soul who cares about them enough to invite them to come to dinner for one lousy day in the year. Christmas can be the loneliest day of the year. Believe me on that.
"What about that young lady you brought with you last year? Your girlfriend?" Angela gives me a knowing look, which I pretend not to see. She is fishing: she knows it and I know it too. Only I'm not about to bite that juicy piece of bait.
"Kensi? Oh, she had other plans. And she's not my girlfriend. She's just…" My voice trails into nothing, because what is Kensi? That's the $64,000 question. I know what I'd like her to be. Obviously. I'm not dead from the neck down – thank God. Anyway - what about Kensi? Now that is a really great question. It's one I'd love to know the answer to. Only there are no answers as far as I can tell – just endless frustrating rebuffs, and then all of a sudden Kensi will let me in, drawing me in so that I'm hopelessly entangled in her fine spider-web, just before she fastens my ankles to a stone and I go plummeting down once again. No, there are no answers and there will be no "happily ever after" for Kensi and me, because this isn't a fairy tale, this is real life, more's the pity.
"Kensi's just a work colleague", I say lamely, aware that it makes me sound like I'm about 16 again.
"What a pity." And to her eternal credit, Angela looks genuinely upset. Last year, she kept engineering situations so that Kensi and I were never more than about three feet apart. I think she had high hopes of romance blossoming over the potato peelings, or something. As if. If only… Kensi and I - we're work colleagues, that's all we are. The more I think about it, the more I realise we probably aren't even friends. Because friends give each other presents at Christmas, don't they? Friends tell you about their vacation plans – and I don't mean springing it on you at the very last minute.
"Yeah." Ain't that the truth? Stupidly, I'd kind of been hoping Kensi and I would come here together today, because last year had been fun. We'd worked together, and then we'd eaten together. It had been a good day and I'd been planning for an even better day this year. I had this dumb idea that we might even have made it our kind of tradition, in the same way that Callen always spends the holidays over at Sam's. More fool me. Today, during the enforced jollity of the office party, Kensi told me she had plans for the holidays. Plans which she made clear did not involve me in any way, shape or form. Which kind of bummed me out, if you want the truth. I thought things were going well, that we were finally getting somewhere, but it turned out that I was going precisely nowhere all on my lonesome, while Kensi was jetting off to Hawaii. Go figure.
Now, at the risk of sounding immodest, I'm a great travel companion. And an even better surfer. So who wouldn't want me to chum along on a trip to the islands; to the sun, surf and hula dancers? You really want the answer to that? Okay, I'll give it to you in one word: Kensi Blye. Only that's two words. See, that's the effect she has on me, she's got me so that I can't even think straight, far less count. It's either that or the early onset of senile dementia. Great. Sometimes I think someone up there has it in for me, no matter what I do. Pay it forward? Give me a break. Next thing you'll be suggesting I actually watch that awful movie of the same name, only I've never been into emotional blackmail, if it's all the same to you. If I want to watch something life-affirming and actually believe that one person can make a difference, then I'll watch It's A Wonderful Life, thank you very much. Only I always feel the prickle of tears right at the beginning, where the boy who grows up to be Jimmy Stewart pleads with the druggist not to hit him, so I only ever watch that movie if I'm in an especially masochistic mood.
"Maybe Kensi might come along later?" Angela is doing a fine job of demonstrating the triumph of hope over experience. Only I'm all out of hope right now, so I just shake my head and then slope off into the kitchens, where I put on a great show of having fun while scrubbing countertops before we actually start cooking. I'm the life and soul of the place and nobody would possibly guess how empty I feel inside. The great pretender, that's me.
Throughout the evening, I look up every single time the doors open and each time I do so my treacherous heart misses a beat, because I'm hoping it will be Kensi coming in. And there are times when I could swear I catch the scent of jojoba oil and I look up, excepting to see her standing behind me with that wicked grin on her face that seems to promise so much. Or is that one of my fantasies intruding into reality? Probably, but it's such a good one, I think we'll let it slide, don't you? Only she doesn't come. Kensi has better things to do, after all. Who am I kidding, thinking she might turn up? Heck, she didn't even give me a Christmas card. I mean, how much effort does it take to write a card? Don't answer that, because I don't want to hear. And in the meantime there is work to be done. I'm grateful for that, and for the company, if you want the truth. It's not only the homeless who have nowhere to go at Christmas: it's people like me. But I don't want to make a big deal about that, okay? There are plenty of people just like me and I'm used to it. Most of the time. It's just the way things are, and it's the way they've been for a long time. Only sometimes, it's kind of hard. We all know that Callen is all alone in the world – well guess what? He's not the only one. Only some of us keep it quiet. Which is possibly a mistake and is probably the reason why I'm standing here in a steamy kitchen, instead of relaxing with a cold beer over at Sam's place. I never learn, do I? Even though I'm old enough to know better, I just keep hoping that things might be different. Only they aren't. I'm still me and Kensi's still Kensi and never the twain shall meet. More's the pity.
"Merry Christmas, Marty!" It's just after midnight, and Angela envelops me in a bear-hug that threatens to crack my ribs. It feels good, despite the momentary pain and I hug her back fiercely. For a brief second I drop my head onto her shoulder and let myself imagine that she is my mother, and it feels so damned good. All of a sudden this crummy kitchen feels like home. The only problem is that I don't exactly feel like celebrating, because my stupid heart is on a plane, flying towards Hawaii for Christmas with Kensi by my side. And I'm stuck in LA. Go figure that one out, and if you can make any sense of it, do me a favour and let me know. I need all the help I can get here.
Next year will be different, I vow silently, when we've eventually finished for the night. Next year I'll book a vacation and I'll damn well go to Hawaii myself, where I can surf all day and drink all night. Or part of the night: the rest can be occupied by some beach bunny. After all, there's nothing like some mindless sex after a day spent chasing waves. Only I know I'm not going to do that. And I also know that I probably should, but I'm not going to. Next year I'll be here – again – and Kensi will be somewhere else – again. Do you really want to know why I spend my Christmas vacation helping out in a food kitchen? I'm not some selfless good Samaritan, for crying out loud and I'm certainly not paying anything forward. I'm here because I've got nowhere else to be and nobody to be there with. Plus, I owe Angela. So I might as well be miserable in LA and save some money. And with that cheery thought, I go home.
When I get to my apartment, Monty is there waiting for me, tail thudding off the floor and a familiar expression on his dopey face.
"You want to go out?"
Stupid question: of course he does, Deeks. He's been cooped up in here for hours, just waiting patiently for me. And when I eventually roll in, there's no recriminations, quite the contrary: it's like he couldn't ask for anything more. Monty is probably the only living creature who can put up with me and still love me - unconditionally. Go figure. So, even though I'm fit to drop, I grab his lead and see his eyes light up with joy as he almost skips to the door. It takes so little to make a dog happy. But hey, it wouldn't have taken a whole lot to make me happy either. Just a card would have done. That would have been enough – to start with at any rate. You see, I could never have enough of Kensi, and that's all there is to it.
Outside and Monty is in his element. He's sniffing the night air like a demented a vacuum cleaner on overdrive, dragging me along from street corner to kerb in a crazy fashion that presumably makes sense to his brain, but nearly manages to dislocate my shoulder in the process. On our chaotic travels we encounter this couple, arm in arm, full of the joys of the season and patently in love. The streets are almost deserted – it's just love's young dream, plus me and my mutt. Great. Much as I love Monty, I'd much rather have a hot girl on my arm. More precisely, I'd rather have Kensi on my arm – or even better, in my bed. Or in hers. I'm not picky. Exactly what did I do that was so bad that Kensi has to go all the way to Hawaii for Christmas? Only that's not fair – Kensi's vacation is about her and this is about me. I've probably only got myself to blame. Like I said, Monty's probably about the only living creature who would put up with me.
You know, it's probably a good thing that all the bars around here are shut or I'd be tempted to drown my sorrows. Only right now, the way I feel right now, there isn't enough booze in California that would make me feel better. Then I see this old guy, who has all his possessions in a shopping cart, sitting slouched in a shop doorway. You can smell the stench of cheap, rotgut whiskey from ten paces, but that barely masks the sour, unwashed smell of that's coming from him. The clothes I use for my undercover ops as a down-and-out are positively fragrant by comparison. For a moment I consider making his day, giving him a hundred bucks and tell him to go wild – that would really be paying it forward with a vengeance, and I'd avoid a hangover into the bargain. Only I don't do that. What kind of warped sadist do you think I am? The only person I beat up is myself. No, I just tell him about the soup kitchen and how he can go to get a hot meal in the morning, and he looks at me bleary-eyed.
"That ain't much of a dog you've got there, buddy." His breath is enough to knock a man out and close-up I see he isn't nearly as old as I'd thought. In fact, he's probably not even forty. I should feel sorry for him, but I don't. Taking a cheap crack like that about Monty is a low shot, even for a guy in his condition.
Now, say what you like about Monty (and most people do) but he's actually highly intelligent and from the look of disgust that creep across his furry face you can tell he knows when he's been insulted. There's a brief moment when it looks as if Monty is considering cocking his leg once more, only I tug his leash and get him out of the immediate vicinity of our less-than-savoury companion.
"It takes all kinds," I say. "And he's one of the best." And for some reason, knowing how Monty's looks are the least part of who he is, I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of crumpled notes and hand them over. "Merry Christmas. From me and the mutt." The look of surprise on his face is priceless.
We walk on, me and Monty, along the empty streets and I try not to look out across the ocean. I try, but I don't succeed. Because somewhere out there, winging across the wine-dark waters and out on to the edge of time, far beyond my reach is sunshine and Kensi. She's there and I'm here and quite frankly it sucks. There's nothing here for me and nothing else to do but go back home and try to work out where things went so wrong with Kensi and if I can ever do anything to make things right between us. And once I've solved that, I'll go on to cure world poverty as an encore.
Later on today, I'll go back to the hall and I'll serve up meals with a smile on my face, because these people have got enough problems of their own without me adding to them. And Monty will trot around happily with a Santa hat on his head and a collar of bells around his neck, looking so dopey that you just can't help but laugh. Monty's good at making people forget they're miserable for a few seconds. He even manages to make me smile when I'm feeling like crap – which I am right now, incidentally – and it's not even like I've got the excuse of a hangover to blame it on.
I am going to make it my mission in life to find out who came up with that stupid phrase "paying it forward", if it's the last thing I do. Because we all have our reasons for doing things, and very few of them are altruistic. Sometimes we do things because the alternatives are unthinkable, or because we owe someone and sometimes we do things for the simple reason that we've got nothing else to do. And then there are the times when we just do things because – because life doesn't give you a choice and your heart propels you forward, despite all your best intentions. I guess that's why I keep trying with Kensi and why I didn't let her see that I felt like she'd kicked me in the guts when I gave her that present and she gave me precisely nothing, literally and metaphorically.
You see, I'd stupidly expected something from her. Anything would have done, if you really want the truth – because I thought we had this "thing", me and Kensi. God help me, I don't quite know what it is, but I do know what I'd like it to be. If there was any justice in the world, if this "paying it forward" crap really existed, then why isn't Kensi in LA right now and why aren't we spending the day together? (That's a rhetorical question, just in case you were wondering.) We might be partners, but I'm here and Kensi's there and there's this whole damn ocean between us. End of story, roll credits and leave the movie theatre. Even when we're together there are times when it feels like Kensi is putting up the mental equivalent of the Berlin Wall around herself. That "thing" we've got? It's probably nothing. Which is pretty much the story of my life and why at the end of the day it's just me and Monty. And yet, there are times when I think there we might have something, that Kensi might just learn to trust me one day and that's what keeps me going. She guards her heart so closely, but I'm hoping I might just sneak in under the radar when she's not looking. So I'm a dreamer? So what. Let me keep my dreams, they keep me going. Just don't trample them all underfoot, because they're kind of fragile.
So, it's the early hours of Christmas morning and I'm kind of morose, sitting in my empty apartment just staring into space when there is a clatter of claws on the wooden floor and then a cold, wet nose is thrust into my hand. Monty gives me one of his adoring looks, like I'm the only person in his world and as he rests his head in my lap things slide into place and start to make sense. The best day's work I ever did was rescuing Monty from the pound after he didn't make the grade in the K9 unit and was looking death in the face. And he's repaid me every single day since with his unquestioning love. So maybe there is something in this whole "paying it forward" thing after all? Maybe. The jury's still out on that one. But (and it's a big "but", so big it really should be in block capitals) if there is some vague hope, then maybe next Christmas Kensi and I might actually be in the same city. Hell, we might even be together. Whatever "together" means… I mean, I'm not too fussy right now, in fact I'll take whatever I can get and be grateful. But if we're together, then anything could happen. Couldn't it? Just to be with Kensi for Christmas – that's all I want. Surely it's not too much to ask for – is it? I mean, this is Christmas, the time of hope, miracles and goodwill to all men – which has to include Marty Deeks, doesn't it?
But it's late and I'm not thinking straight because I'm exhausted. Really, I should be in bed and dreaming. Only I know I'm not going to dream about sugarplums but about Kensi. No change there then. She haunts my dreams just as much as she inhabits my day. Why does it always come back to Kensi? Once I figure that one out, everything else will be easy. Well, in my dreams, at any rate. And I'm not about to stop dreaming any time soon.
And in the meantime there's always Jimmy Stewart and It's A Wonderful Life.
Due to illness, I've been absent from here for far too long. Here's the first part of my Christmas story for this year – I hope you enjoy it. I'll be updating this story weekly.
Rest assured, my unfinished stories will be updated soon!
So many thanks to everyone who has been reading and reviewing – it has meant more to me than you could ever know. And I'd love to hear what you think about this latest story too.
Until next week – Maxie Kay.