Epiphany

An NCIS:LA fanfiction

by

Maxie Kay


Just when life finally starts to make sense, it all goes terribly wrong...

Chapter One: The Water Is Wide

Prologue

"You said you would always be there for me, Deeks. Even when I couldn't see you – you said would be there. You promised me."

Kensi bit down on her lips in an attempt to stop herself saying anything more. What was the point, after all? Too much had happened and no there was no way Deeks would ever be able to hear all that she had to say. But she had to say it nevertheless, even if there was nobody be left to care, or to hear her words, save the wide ocean. She'd been a fool, Kensi knew that. Of course she had, because she should have known better than to trust him, let alone believe that this time things would be different. Because here she was, standing alone on deck of a ship, leaning on a rail and staring out blindly at the waves and the sky, alike in uniform shades of grey, all the while wondering why she had ever been so stupid as to believe in love. There was no-one else around though, there was only the cruel sea to hear her angry remonstrances, so Kensi felt it was safe to give full vent.

"You promised me, Deeks!" she shouted into the wind. "You promised me – and I believed you. And then you left me…"

The wind was strong, pulling away the words and sending them into oblivion, whipping her hair into a frenzy and it was surely the reason why her eyes were streaming. Kensi Blye never cried, after all. Especially over a man. What was the point in that? All men let you down in the end, she knew that from bitter experience. They either died on you, or walked out on you, and in the end it didn't matter which option they chose, because the end result was always the same: they left and in the process left her bereft. It was just that this time, Kensi had allowed herself to believe that things might be different. And with that believe had come the dreams, reluctant at first, but growing inexorably and gaining a compelling reality almost against her own volition. Over the months, Kensi had permitted herself to dream once more, to dream of a life with new meaning. Ah, such sweet dreams and such crazy folly, now coming back to haunt her. Those same dreams, so carefully hidden and so gently nurtured were shattered now, broken beyond all hope of repair. The time for dreaming was past, Kensi thought, because Deeks was gone, he was never coming back and so she was all alone, again. Whoever had said it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all was a fool. And worse that that – a cruel fool, for giving her hope only to dash it away.

It was starting to grow dark, and the winter's sky was leaden and heavy. Gradually Kensi became aware that she was freezing. She welcomed the cold permeating her body, hoping that it might make her numb. Anything was better that this pain. It had been so long since she had permitted herself to love that she had forgotten how all-consuming the pain of lost love could be.

"I thought you were different, Deeks. But you turned out to be just like all the others, didn't you?" This time, she shook her fist in impotent fury against the elements and the cruel vagaries of life.

All that mattered was that Deeks was gone. He had gone, just like every single man Kensi had ever loved had gone before him. She should have known better than to dare to dream. It was just that this time she had really thought things were going to be different and had willed them to be different with every ounce of prayer she had left in her. All to no avail. She should have known better, should have crushed those dreams before they ever assumed to the power to hurt her so much, because now these self-same dreams were threatening to crush her. Here she was, stuck on this stupid boat – and Deeks was gone. The reality hit her anew and Kensi wondered how she could ever live a life with no Deeks in it. No Deeks with his shaggy dark gold hair, and his tight ass and those eyes that seemed to be able to see into her soul. No Deeks to make her laugh or pull her out of danger or turn up at her door with beer and burgers. No Deeks at all. It didn't seem possible. Kensi didn't want to live in a world without Deeks.

The ship shifted underfoot and she staggered slightly, grabbing onto the railing just in time to stop herself slipping. The waves were growing higher now; the whole sea looked ominous and foreboding and the rain seemed to be coming in horizontally. The weather suited Kensi's mood perfectly. Any storm that now appeared was as nothing when compared with the turmoil inside her. There was only one thing for it, just one thing that was left to her now: drink. Lots and lots of drink. Kensi thought that is she could just drink enough, then she wouldn't have to think about how her whole world had come crashing down around her ears

"Happy New Year?" she shouted to the sea, which ignored her, and just kept whipping the waves ever higher. "Don't make me laugh."

Kensi had never felt less like laughing as she tried to imagine how things could possibly be worse, but soon gave it up as a bad job and went inside, soaked to the skin and shivering, her hair hanging in damp tendrils around her face. There was only one good thing to be said about this whole squalid farce – at least Deeks never knew. He had never had the faintest inkling of how Kensi had felt about him – of how she would always feel about him. You couldn't just switch your feelings off overnight, especially when those feelings had been developing over years. It just wasn't possible. Perhaps one day she would be able to feel differently, to be able to remember Deeks and not feel that visceral punch in her stomach as her memories conjured up a familiar image of him, striding nonchalantly along with that smile on his face, and all the while being completely impervious to the way he could manage to turn Kensi's whole world upside down and inside out just by walking into a room.

Damn. She kept forgetting, because the wound was so raw and so fresh. She wasn't ever going to see Deeks again. It was over: he was gone and all Kensi could think about was that he had promised her… she should have known better that to trust Deeks, because now he was gone and he'd taken her heart right along with him.

"Never again," Kensi vowed silently, as she made her way down the companion-way, unpleasantly aware that her shoes were making squelching sounds with each step she took. Love hurt too damned much. There wouldn't be a next time, because each time it hurt just that little bit worse than the time before. This time – this time it was as if part of her had died. There could be no worse than this, she thought as she finally reached her cabin, pulled of her clothes to crawl under the covers and lie shivering in the darkness, trying once again to comprehend the stark reality of a world without Deeks in it, before finally giving it up as impossible. Every single time she closed her eyes, there he was, standing in front of her and smiling that familiar smile, the one that was etched on her heart. The ship rolled and tossed and Kensi lay in the narrow bunk, pitched past pitch of grief, cold and utterly numb inside.

She would get over Deeks – one day. But not today. Today Kensi needed to mourn the loss of her partner.


Previously…

"We're stuck on this boat for Christmas? Really?" Of all the places, in all the world, this had to come right at the bottom of Deeks' list of all-time lows. It was so far below zero it was off the scale. It was so low it was subterranean. And then some.

"It is rather unfortunate, I agree," Hetty said implacably, proving once again that she had a Masters degree in understatement. It was only with some considerable difficulty that she refrained from reminding him that this as not a boat, but a ship. Somehow, she didn't think that particular piece of pedantry would go down terribly well right now. And besides which, she knew that Mr Deeks was well aware of the difference and was merely being ingenuous, as was his wont. Well, if he thought she would rise to the bait, then want must be his master. "Especially at this time of the year. But what else could I do?"

Unfortunate? Well, that was one way of putting it, Deeks supposed. "Bloody awful" might have been more appropriate though.

"You could give me your seat on the plane to Macau?" he suggested, demonstrating not only his eternal belief in the triumph of hope over experience but also his innate ability to ignore what was clearly a rhetorical question. Even a vain hope was better than no hope at all, Deeks thought. Anything would be better than being stuck here, with Kensi so tantalisingly within reach – and yet so far away in reality that she could have been on the dark side of the moon. So what if defeat was staring him in the face? Maybe if he assumed his most vulnerable look, then Hetty might take pity on him? Well it was worth a shot, because what did he have to lose? And besides which, he as good at futile gestures.

Carefully composing his features in an expression of soulful innocence, Deeks lowered his head slightly, tilted ever so slightly to one side and then shot Hetty a glance calculated to crack the hardest heart. There was a faint flicker of her eyes, a momentary softening of her face as sentiment battled briefly with pragmatism.

"In your dreams, Mr Deeks." Her lips snapped shut after this utterance, and Hetty folded her arms across her chest and favoured him with her most uncompromising stare, hoping he would not see what this gesture had cost her. Just for a moment, she had been wavering – until hard-hearted reality reasserted itself front and centre. It was just that he had looked so winsome and appealing. And so downright sexy at the same time. Except that therein lay madness, and Hetty was nobody's fool. She knew when she was being played, and when to play her own trump card. Hetty never trusted to a single ace up her sleeve when she could have all four. And both jokers.

Hetty had plans, after all. There was a time and a place for all things, and Macau was definitely the place to be at Christmas. All the high-stakes gamers would be there and Hetty had plans that involved relieving them of as much money as she possibly could in the shortest space of time. Afterwards, there would be time for a trip to Hong Kong and a visit to her favourite tailor. LA might be one of the fashion capitals of the world, but it did not cater for those of shorter stature and yet wished to look dignified. Hetty resolutely refused to use the term "petite" – she was short, and that was all there was to it. And short of frequenting the juvenile departments, the only possible way to look business-like was to invest in custom tailoring. Over the years, and with a little help from her tailor, Hetty had developed her own signature style, and now she saw no reason to depart from it. After all, it would cause a sensation in the Mission, were she to appear in a skirt, rather than her normal smartly pants. It was a rather tempting thought though, because more than one person had told Hetty that she had amazing legs. On second thoughts, she decided that it was probably best that she kept her legs concealed, so as not to create too much distraction for her staff. Until the right time came along. And then she would proudly display her knockout pins to the world. Always keep them wanting more: Hetty had learnt that lesson a long time ago. She just hoped she had not left it too late.

"So – we're stuck here, Sam's on his way home and you're off to Macau?" Kensi just wanted to make sure that she had things perfectly straight. Because that really didn't seem fair… She had plans too. Important plans. Along with one or two long-held dreams which were so close to becoming reality she could almost touch them. Chief among these dreams was the prospect of spending the holiday with her mother. In a cabin up in Tahoe. With Deeks. She pushed away that last thought, not wanting to think too deeply about that for fear the dream but dissipate in the cold, hard light of reality. Only a small voice kept asking her what she was afraid of, why she was so scared to even think about what might transpire? This was Deeks after all, and Kensi knew him inside out.

"That's about it," Callen affirmed in a flat tone that brooked no debate. There was no point in going on about it, he thought. They were here and they were staying here over Christmas. That was all there was to it. Only, they weren't all stuck here, were they? Oh no, Sam had managed to get himself a free pass. Sam was going home – to his wife and family. Good for Sam. Bad for the rest of the team. If this was a movie, then "I'll be Home For Christmas" would start playing in the background, Hetty would confess to a merry little prank and they would be out of here. Only real life was nothing like the movies. Real life sucked and there was rarely a happy ending. Callen knew that much from bitter experience.

Having said his piece, Callen sat back down at the table, pulled out a pack of cards from his pocket and began to lay out a game of patience. Over the years he had learned not to rail against the seeming vagaries of life, but just to go with the flow. Sooner or later there would be an opportunity, and he would seize it with both hands. Right now, he recognised the inevitability of the current situation and that it would be futile to protest. Not that he wasn't pissed-off with stuck here on the Van Buren over Christmas, because he was. Really, really pissed off, if the truth be told. The difference was that he could hide his feelings, hide them so well that nobody would ever guess at the anger inside. Well, he'd had years in which to practice this art, going right back to when he was a little kid and walking into his first foster home. It was a long time since Callen had allowed his honest emotions to come to the surface. Sometimes he wasn't even sure if he could allow himself to react instinctively to love or even friendship, because he had learnt not to trust his feelings so long ago. Later on, it seemed like the only way he could survive was to repress his emotions, because that was his inner defence against hurt, buffering himself off, cocooning himself and yet isolating himself further in the process. And yet, there was still a part of Callen that wanted to behave like a little kid, to stamp his feet and proclaim that this wasn't fair. He had somewhere to be too, and people he cared about and wanted to be with. People who mattered to him.

Over the years, Sam's family had become like his own – they were the nearest thing Callen had ever had to a real family. And yet, when it came right down to it, that didn't matter at all. He didn't matter, Callen realised. His heart had sunk into his boots when Sam had rushed off to the waiting plane without a second glance back at his partner. It was almost like a betrayal, Callen mused. Only that was being melodramatic. He had known all along that he wasn't actually a part of the family – he was a brevet uncle at best, this guy who turned up on the holidays, but who was always on the outside, never really part of the family. He registered the hurt, almost automatically, in the way that one who has suffered numerous such injuries throughout his life does, namely in a resigned manner. The ready acceptance did not lessen the hurt though. It rankled, even as he tried to focus all his attention on the card game.

Deeks wasn't about to give up quite so easily. That was the thing about Deeks, Callen thought – he could always be relied to say the things everyone else was thinking, but had too much tact to put into words. Deeks had no such inhibitions. Sometimes Callen wished he could be a little more like Deeks…

"Great. Just great. I had plans." Oh God, he had such great plans, Deeks thought mournfully, and all so carefully laid. And now Hetty was trampling all over them, with her tiny little feet, grinding them into dust. He'd spent months making sure this was going to be the best Christmas ever, when he was finally going to speak honestly to Kensi. And now it was all ruined, his perfect plans shattered into a myriad of pieces.

"We all had plans, Deeks." Just to make the point, Kensi dug him in the ribs with her elbow. "I'm sure the soup kitchen will manage just fine without you."

"Nobody's indispensable," Callen said, and then played his last card: a black eight which went perfectly on top of a red nine. He surveyed the finished game with little pleasure, and then collected all the cards back in and began to shuffle them neatly.

"Thanks for understanding. And for re-arranging my ribs in the process." Deeks rubbed his side with an aggrieved air. "I was just saying, that's all."

Kensi grabbed hold of his arm and swung him around. "You were just thinking you could get me with my defences down, up in Tahoe, weren't you? Well, even if I had gone – and I'm not saying I would have – it would be so I could get some time with my mother. The woman I've hardly seen in the last twenty years. Remember?"

"How could I forget?" He returned her glare. Kensi had asked him to look after Julia – because he was the one person she trusted. At the time, Deeks had thought the defences Kensi had so carefully erected around herself were finally starting to crumble. He should have known better.

"This was never about you, Deeks. Not for one moment. It was all about me and my mom." Behind her back, Kensi crossed her fingers.

He leant in close, so that his mouth was almost touching her ear. "That's why I suggested it. So you two could have some time together. Alone and away from LA. On neutral territory, with no memories nagging at you both."

There was a lot more he could have said, but Deeks only bit the words back. It was safest that way. He had so much practice in keeping his inner self secret and remote, and presenting a carefree exterior to the world that it was almost automatic now. There were so many things that could never be said, not without ruining everything; things he could only ever think, because if he said them, it would ruin everything…

So forgive me for caring, Kensi, he thought. How mad of me to want to do something nice for you. You can't help yourself, can you? Every single time I try to show that I really care about you, you just have to fling it back in my face, don't you? Sometimes I don't know why I bother. Only I do. Guess I just can't help it. I just look at you and all my good intentions go out of the window.

No matter how hard he tried, Deeks couldn't forget the evidence presented in Julia's house: it contained many mementoes of her daughter, but they all harked back to a time when Kensi was a little girl. There was no trace of a teenage daughter, or of a young woman, because their lives had been fractured by time. Tahoe was his way of trying to give them a little bit of that lost time back. Only, of course the gesture had back-fired, had been turned around to bite him on the butt.

"And what would you be doing while Mom and I were busy getting to know one another and making new memories? Played Scrabble by yourself?" Kensi retorted, in a tone of utter disbelief, trying to get her head around things. Since when was Deeks so sweet and considerate? Since always, her conscience replied. Listen to him, Kensi – really listen to all the things he is saying. And listen to the spaces in between the words and hear all the things he cannot say, but which are there, just the same. They are no less real for being unspoken. And then listen to your own heart.

"Snow-boarding. Ski-ing. Sitting in the hot tub drinking beer?" Or even puttering around in the kitchen making dinner, maybe watching some TV with you and your mom in the evenings? Hey – here's an idea: we could have all played some stupid board game together – and just acted like people who actually enjoying spending time together. Deeks knew better than to say any of these things. In general, people expected him to behave in a certain way, and to say certain things, and usually he was happy to oblige. It was just easier that way.

A look of utter disbelief greeted that statement. "By yourself?" Kensi allowed incredulity to colour each syllable. Didn't she feature in his plans at all?

Deeks looked at her blandly. "Why not?"

It wasn't as if Kensi would have been joining him on the slopes, Deeks though, was it? Despite her rather hollow claims to be an expert skier, Deeks was almost positive she was a complete novice. Or even a virgin… Okay, not a virgin. In all the time they had worked together, Kensi had never once vacationed in the mountains and had looked bored rigid each time he'd returned from a skiing trip and raved about the runs. Only, there was a small kernel of doubt in his mind, because there was so much about Kensi that she hid from sight. Deeks still hadn't worked out how long Kensi had known Julia was living in LA, far less how many times she had driven by that house. Would she ever have made contact if her hand was not forced in such a dramatic fashion? And then there was the fact that Kensi was ultra-competitive – she simply had to be the best at everything she did. Her one weak spot was her driving, and Deeks took every opportunity to remind her about that. So there was an outside chance she might be able to ski – and even ski well. And it would have been so cool to go skiing with Kensi, just the two of them, pitting themselves against the mountain. Not to mention the après ski, of course. Kensi in a hot tub, now there was an image to conjure with. It was the sort of fantasy that made grown men weep.

"I'm sure Deeks would have found himself a ski-bunny from somewhere," Callen interjected. "To share the hot tub with, if nothing else."

"I still could." Suddenly, Deeks looked much more animated. All was not lost after all. And if that ski-bunny answered to the name of Kensi Marie Blye, then so much the better. A plan was beginning to formulate itself. "You said you'd have us back in LA by the 27th, didn't you Hetty?"

"And my word is my bond, as you very well know."

Deeks sat down beside Callen and let a smile break slowly. "In which case, I'll be in Tahoe by the evening. Like I said, I had plans. And while I was willing to share the cabin with you and your mom, well – let's just say I had other plans for myself and leave it at that." He knew his partner, and that dropping sly hints was the surest way to get her to come along with him. With or without her mother. So what were a couple of missed days? Deeks was sure they could make up for lost time, one way or another.

"I should have known better." Kensi sat down opposite him and kicked his ankle gently. "There I was, thinking you were being all kind and considerate – and all you were thinking about was sex." And of course, that had never once entered her mind. No, Kensi's thoughts were as pure as the snowflakes she could see gently drifting down from a velvet sky, as Deeks lay staring up at the stars in a hot tub half-way up a mountain, his bare skin gleaming gold in the moonlight... It was with some considerable difficulty that she jerked herself back to the present.

"I'm a guy," Deeks protested, slipping back effortlessly into his habitual banter. "It's what we do. That's pretty much the job description of being alive, male and over the age of 14, isn't it, Callen?"

"Leave me out of this." Wanting no part of this madness, or indeed to recall the sheer hell of being fourteen and the smallest boy in school, Callen stood up. "How about I escort you up to the flight deck, Hetty?" He picked up her helmet with one hand and looped the other through her elbow.

"Just remember – Santa only comes to good boys and girls," Hetty said archly, before letting herself be lead away.

"So – how about it? You, me and Tahoe?" Deeks wasn't letting go of what seemed like a great idea. "And your mom, of course. The cabin's near Kirkwood – doesn't that tempt you?" He gave her an ingenuous smile, pouring every ounce of persuasion into his voice.

The idea of lying in a hot tub underneath a starry sky certainly appealed to Kensi. As did the idea of Deeks in that tub. Try as she might, it was impossible to deny the frisson of energy that surged through her body every time that image popped into her mind, which it had been doing at the most inopportune times ever since Deeks had first mentioned it, back in LA. "It sounds alright, I suppose." She wasn't about to give anything away. Not yet, at any rate.

"And you know what Kirkwood's like, don't you?" Deeks was good at wheedling.

"Well yes, obviously." Kirkwood? What the heck was Kirkwood? That beginner's guide to skiing Kensi had flicked through in the dentist's waiting room had concentrated on European resorts.

"Lots of black diamond runs – double black diamonds too. And some sweet snowboarding too. Doesn't that sound amazing?"

"Mind blowing." What the hell had she been thinking of when she'd fired off that smart one-liner back at the Mission? Well, the answer was simple – she'd been thinking about Deeks in the hot tub and consequently her brain was not fully engaged in the present. "Only I don't think I could leave my mom for a whole day. It wouldn't be fair." Just like it wouldn't be fair, spending what was left of her vacation in hospital with two broken legs, Kensi thought.

"Don't worry about that – there's loads of great shopping at Tahoe. And don't forget about the casinos. Your mom will have a ball." At last, Deeks was genuinely beginning to enjoy himself. It would be very interesting to see how Kensi wriggled out of this one. And besides, he could see that she was weakening.

"I haven't even spoken to my mom about it. She might have other plans," Kensi prevaricated, hoping she didn't sound as desperately out of her depth as she felt.

"And she might have always wanted to spend the holidays up at Tahoe. I'll tell her it's a Christmas present from me. Sorted." Deeks sat back with evident pleasure.

"What a pity we can't get in touch with anyone." Kensi also leant back in her seat, wearing the slightly smug expression of one who has just played a trump card and knows it is unbeatable. "All our equipment was packed up, remember? It's on that flight back home with Sam right now."

Every single time he thought he had finally cracked it with Kensi, something happened to ruin everything, Deeks thought. He really should have known better than to think that things would be different this time –Christmas or no Christmas.

"You don't know what you're missing." The statement was accompanied by what could only be described as a leer.

"I don't want to know either," Kensi assured him and then gave him another kick. This one was slightly harder and connected painfully with Deeks' ankle bone.

"Hey! What was that for?"

"For jumping to conclusions. I haven't said "no" yet, have I?"

A faint glimmer of hope began to burn, but Deeks wasn't about to give in so easily. "You haven't said "yes" yet either," he reminded her.

"Stop being so impatient. You're just like a little kid sometimes, Deeks." And who could resist a little boy with big blue eyes, looking at you so beseechingly?

"Just sometimes?" Well, that was an improvement, wasn't it? Maybe one day Kensi might come to see him as a man – with all the assorted baggage that went along with that.

"Don't tempt fate, Kensi." Callen slid down into a seat beside her. "If you think Deeks is bad just now, just wait till he hits puberty."

Not particularly liking the turn this conversation was taking, Deeks decided to change the subject. "Hetty get off okay then? She didn't insist on taking the controls, or anything like that?" As far as he could make out, in her time, Hetty appeared to have been everywhere and done everything. There were even rumours that she had carried out a successful undercover operation in India for a mind-boggling six months, all the while disguised as Mother Theresa, but Deeks wasn't buying that. His money was on four months tops, four and a half at the absolute outside. Even Hetty wasn't that good. Was she?

"She gave me one piece of good news before they took off – somehow she's managed to swing it so we can all make a five minute call home tomorrow. It's the best she could manage, at short notice."

"Better than nothing, I suppose. "Kensi sighed. "At least this way I can talk to Mom."

"I guess I'll speak to Sam."

They both turned to Deeks, who was uncharacteristically silent.

"Well?" Kensi managed to restrain herself from kicking him again, but only just. Where were all the smart remarks, the loaded questions about Tahoe?

"Well what?" Deeks had that bland face on, she realised. The one where everything closed down and a mask slipped into place. It made her uneasy, because normally he was so open and easy to read – just like the kid she'd accused him of being. But every so often, that changed, and a different man emerged, one with a set expression on his face, whose mood was impossible to read. It was unsettling, Kensi thought. Just when you really believed you knew someone, they threw you this curveball out of nowhere and you were left wondering what had just happened and who they really were underneath the surface.

"So - who are you calling, Deeks?" Callen asked. Somebody had to, because Kensi and Deeks were sitting on opposite sides of the table and staring at one another, for all the world as if they were in the boat shed in full interrogation mood. Only this time, they weren't working as a team – it was as if they were on opposite sides. And that set warning bells ringing in Callen's head, ones that were chiming so loudly it was difficult to hear himself think.

"How about I give you each half of my call? Call it my Christmas present to you." He got up hurriedly, pushing the chair aside so hard and so fast that it skidded backwards.

Those damned bells got louder, imploring him to stop, but Callen ignored them. This was his team, there was an obvious problem and it was his responsibility to find out what it was and then sort it. Besides which, his curiosity was piqued "Deeks? You must have someone you want to speak to on Christmas day?"

"Must I?" He glared belligerently at them both, standing on the balls of his feet like a man ready to fight with his own shadow and not willing to concede an inch.

That didn't sound like Deeks at all, Callen realised. Yes, that was still Deeks standing there, but he looked and sounded like a completely different man – one who had closed himself off, and with an unfamiliar sense of barely-controlled anger about him, rather than the characteristic levity that was practically Deeks' hallmark.

That's not Deeks, Kensi thought, taken aback at the sudden change. All the light just seemed to have drained out of him, to be replaced by something much darker, almost sinister. He sounded like a total stranger. Kensi had never seen Deeks quite like this before, and it scared her. She had thought she knew her partner in all his moods, both good and bad, but this was like being confronted by a total stranger. There was a look in his eyes that unsettled her, more so because it was darkly familiar. "What about your mom? Or your uncles?"

"What about them? There's nobody I want to call, okay? So take the offer - or don't. It makes no odds to me." And with that, Deeks strode out.

"You want to tell me what that was about, Kensi?" He was struggling to make some sense of it all. For years Callen had thought he was the only person who felt alone at Christmas, but now he realised how misguided he had been – and how blind. Was that the reason why Deeks went to the soup kitchen – because he had nowhere else to go and no-one to be with?

"I wish I could." Kensi shook her head, thinking of the few times Deeks had mentioned his family. Each time had been light-hearted, mentioning a humorous anecdote, usually at his own expense. It just didn't add up, unless… No, Deeks wouldn't have lied to her – wouldn't he? He wouldn't have made up those stories – would he? Why would anybody do something like that? Her conscience prickled uncomfortably, as Kensi acknowledge she had been somewhat economical with the actualité of her own family situation, right up to the point where her hand was forced and she had to ask Deeks for help. Help that was gladly and freely given, with no strings attached, just like she had known it would be. She'd never loved Deeks quite so much as in that moment.

"I really wish I could, Callen", she added, giving him a pleading look, hoping he could make some sense of all this, and then could help her to put it right. "But I haven't the faintest idea."

"Something's bothering him. That wasn't Deeks."

Suddenly, all the pieces slid into place and Kensi hated the picture they created. "No, you're right – it wasn't Deeks. That was Max Gentry."

Callen digested the news slowly, in the manner of something intrinsically unpalatable. A burning taste of acid insinuated itself into his mouth and he swallowed hard, trying to push down the latent fear that asserted itself without bidding. He knew all about the dangers of assuming an alter ego and then maintaining that persona for a sustained period of time. Only too well did he know how your own personality could be leeched slowly away, so that you forgot who you really were and became subsumed by an imaginary person that assumed its own reality and began to dominate your life, until you eventually reached the stage where it was almost impossible to separate fact from fantasy. Callen knew all about this, because he had been there, and with catastrophic results. He'd made the cardinal mistake and had crossed over that thin dividing line, had gone so far over to the other side that he'd even allowed himself to fall in love with his partner, to believe that their fake marriage had a true basis on which they could build upon. Of course, he had been wrong, and the memories of that mistake still haunted him to this day. She had betrayed him three times: by the original leaving; by coming back and once again invoking his former feelings and of course by instigating these feelings in the first place and not returning them. It was the third betrayal he could never forgive, nor the way she had gambled upon his feeling, had even gone so far as to give him a Judas kiss. The memory still seered his heart and soul.

"Max Gentry? Are you sure about that?"

He knew the name only too well, and his heart sank. Max was the dark side of Deeks, the person who indulged in mindless violence and brutality. Max never held onto his anger, he just gave full vent to it. Max Gentry and Marty Deeks were two sides of the same coin – and if Deeks was positive, then Max was negative. Callen wondered what the hell had just happened to bring Max back onto the scene – and he dreaded what might be about to happen next. The only predictable thing about Max Gentry was that he was unpredictable.

Kensi nodded unhappily. She hated Max. He seemed to kill everything she loved about Deeks, and that frightened her, as much for the hollow feeling of dread that engendered as anything else. Because she didn't really love Deeks, not like that. He was her partner and that was all he was. That was all he would ever be. Maybe if she kept on telling herself that, then one day Kensi might come to believe it?

"Great." Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, they went and surprised you by taking a header downwards. Callen really should have been used to that by now, but each time he thought life was getting better, it turned out that the fates had yet another nasty surprise in store for him.

Merry Christmas? Callen shook his head in disbelief. In the words of Henrietta Lang: bugger to that, with bells on.


What better way to see the Old Year out that by begining a new story?

Wishing you all happy and healthy New Year, filled with love and laughter.