Title: Marching On.
Timeline: Set after the events of season 4 finale, "Descent." Contains spoilers and major speculation about the aftermath of Deeks being tortured.
Summary: "And Kensi be damned if she doesn't do everything in her power to bring him back. Back home, back to her. Back to who he was before all of this happened."

Yeah, I know. A tag to an episode that hasn't aired yet. Again. This is my second story based on the finale, I really need to stop and wait to watch it. :) This story was born from a conversation with the awesome Jessica237 who just posted a just as awesome story, Sacrifice, also based on "Descent." Go read it, and don't forget to review! With that, on with the story. Hope you all enjoy.

The bedroom is cloaked in darkness, save for the soft light glowing from the lamp on the nightstand. It keeps her from dozing off but at this point Kensi doesn't really care anymore; she's not sleeping, anyway – hasn't been in more than two weeks, isn't planning to anytime soon.

He has his back to her, has had since they climbed in bed together hours ago after a quiet dinner and mindless TV that none of them really paid attention to in the companionable yet a bit tense silence they shared all evening; there's little that has gotten Kensi's attention lately but him, though.

She's curled on her side beside him, her head tucked on her propped hand as her free hand gently traces soothing patterns over his side. It's the only thing she can do to calm the storm raging within him at night; the tossing and turning subside a little when she's somewhat touching him, softly combing his hair or stroking his skin. They never talk about it come morning, despite the fact that they always inevitably wake up all tangled up in each other's warmth, arms and legs so intimately wrapped together that were the circumstances different, Kensi would probably blush and punch him before dismissing and denying the telling, growing intimacy it showed.

She never does, though. She doesn't, because if holding him can make the nightmares go away or if not completely stop them, at least make them easier to handle with someone right there with him, then Kensi will do it as long as he needs her to – as long as it takes. They barely touch anymore during daylight; she felt him flinch one time when she put a hand on his shoulder, and considering what he's been through, Kensi can't really blame him or be shocked by it. It hurt, though; irrationally, stupidly, it hurt, because they've always been right in each other's personal space, sharing innocent brush of fingers over a plate of fries, or more daring, playful touches as they'd dance around the line that got blurrier and blurrier as time passed by. And now, without that, Kensi feels like their thing is slipping away from her, slipping through her fingers like water she can never grasp but desperately needs after years of thirst. The mischievous spark in his eyes that was so him is gone; the care and concern, too. Whenever their eyes meet – and it doesn't happen a lot since Deeks averts his gaze as much as he can – Kensi feels her heart ache for the loss of life in those gorgeous ocean blues. He looks at her like nothing matters anymore, like what happened to him isn't such a big deal and like he doesn't understand what she's doing here.

And God, even if it's selfish, even if it shouldn't be her first concern or priority, Kensi just can't go on like this. She needs him to look at her like he used to; like he cared about her and them, like he wanted to be there with her. She wants her Deeks back. She wants devious, devilish, playful Marty Deeks back. She wants sweet, caring, kind Marty Deeks back. She wants him to tease her. She wants him to cuddle with her on the couch during movie night like he always did despite her weak, pointless protests. She wants him to scratch Monty behind the ears when the dog curls up to him.

She misses him, plain and simple.

And Kensi be damned if she doesn't do everything in her power to bring him back. Back home, back to her. Back to who he was before all of this happened.

So far, Deeks's been sleeping almost soundly, except for the occasional low whimpers Kensi could only hear due to how close they were. It never lasts too long, though; he only ever manages to get a couple hours of restful sleep before the thrashing starts, before nightmares hit with full force and crash him under. Tonight is no exception.

And it just utterly breaks Kensi's heart to hear him cry out as he tries to fight them off, but never quite succeeds. What completely undoes her are the words he whispers through gritted teeth, his eyes rolling under the lids as his hands clench around the sheets, desperately trying to find an anchor to reality that she tries to give him as she wraps her arms around him.

Don't hurt her.

It's the same words every night; breathy pleas that her life be spared, that he'd give them, whoever they are, anything they want if that means she'll be safe. It kills her to hear him say this because the images running around in his mind and plaguing him at night, she sees them all the time, too, even fully awake. She doesn't need to close her eyes for those vivid, gruesome images to take over; doesn't need to try too hard to guess what's happening in his nightmares.

Because his darkest, scariest fear is hers, too.

Kensi wraps her arms around him from behind, molding her body impossibly close to his, leaving no space between them in an attempt to bring him back and offer him all the strength she has left. Everything that she is, everything she has, she'd give it all to him in a heartbeat if it could help in any capacity. She nuzzles her face in the crook of his neck, peppering his skin with light, barely there kisses meant to soothe him; she doesn't know where the impulse is coming from, but she doesn't care in the slightest. All she cares about is him.

"I'm here, Deeks," she whispers in his ear, dropping a gentle kiss to his temple. "I'm right here with you. Nothing happened to me. And I promise you, nothing will ever happen to you again. I won't let that happen."

She holds onto him as tightly as she can, never letting go for the rest of the night. And she keeps talking, saying all the things she should have said, all the things he needs to hear to get better, all the things that she hopes will help him.

She breathes him in, his dear scent the only thing that hasn't changed, and her eyes slowly flutter close at some point, the soft light bathing the room the last thing she sees before she surrenders to sleep.

He wakes up with Kensi in his arms, and every morning Deeks wonders how that happened. Every morning, he wonders why she's still here, or why she cares.

As far as he's concerned, she's safe and unharmed, and that's what's always mattered the most to him.

She's clinging to him, her grip never loosening through the night; somehow, he's rolled onto his back and Kensi's snuggled to his side, the fingers of one hand fisting the material of his shirt, her free hand laying flat over his heart beneath the fabric.

Her hand is touching his chest, but Deeks feels tingles on the skin of his neck, remnants of soothing kisses he's sure he imagined because there's just no way it really happened.

Everything else, though… He shudders hard, thanking God when it doesn't rouse her awake, when he thinks of everything else. If there's one thing Deeks prides himself in, it's his ability to get back on his feet after life knocked him out; it's what he's always done ever since he was a kid. It went on when he got into law school, and on when he joined the LAPD; working with the team hadn't been easy at first either. But that's what Deeks does. He's always taken punch after punch, grinning and throwing a joke to every hurtful barb he used to hear on a daily basis; Sam and Callen and Kensi, they tease him, mock him, and sometimes make him feel inferior, but overall they're the best thing he's ever had.

Kensi is the best thing he's ever had.

And even that he's managed to screw up. Because Kensi Blye is meant to be out there, doing what she does best, instead of trying to nurse him back to a sanity he's not sure he ever had in the first place. She's not supposed to take care of him. She's not supposed to care.

Because there's no getting back to how things used to be, and Deeks knows that. And more than that, he knows that it will break her once she realizes it; once she realizes that her best efforts can't do miracles. Once she realizes that she can't save him. God, how he wishes he could make her see that none of this is her fault, that it's not that she's not good enough, that she isn't doing enough, but that it's all him. His fault for getting caught. His fault for not being careful enough.

And if something had happened to her...

He tries to squirm his way out of the bed, but Kensi's not having any of it. She just nestles her face in deeper in his neck, her knuckles turned white from clenching her fingers around his shirt. Deeks takes her in for a moment, all tousled hair and pouty lips as she sleeps, and he has to fight off the urge to thread his fingers in those dark curls or touch her cheek.

He can't do that. He's not allowed to. Not allowed to want it, not allowed to do it.

She could be doing so many things, but here she is, stuck at home, stuck with him. And for that, Deeks will never forgive himself.

Gently, he reaches for her hand, slowly tugging at every finger to make her loosen her hold on him. It's as difficult as he thought it would be, but eventually he manages to do so and silently gets up, suddenly needing some space between them, a moment to collect his thoughts and calm his racing heart.

He's at the door when he turns around, and Deeks hates himself for doing so because seeing her looking beautiful and peaceful, already snuggling into his pillow, looking for the warmth he left behind him, only makes him want to crawl back in bed with her and never leave again. He can't do that, though; he knows she doesn't sleep at night, knows it's all because of him. So Deeks just makes his way back to the bed and gently tucks the blanket up to her chin before he switches off the light, plunging the bedroom in darkness, and he finally makes his way out.

He's flipping a pancake when he hears the door open behind him and quiet steps getting closer, but instead of turning around to greet her with a fake smile, Deeks just focuses on the simple things: making her breakfast, not burning the pancakes, drowning them under syrup and chocolate and everything that she loves so much. He started doing this after the first night she spent with him; it was his new routine. Routines were good, or so he'd been told; routines helped keep his mind off things, even if only for a moment. And making breakfast to Kensi after she spent another night waiting for any sign of distress from him and immediately doing her best to push it away is the least he can do.

He never expects the arms that slide around him from behind, though. And yet, here Kensi is, her chest pressed to his back, both her arms wrapped around his waist as she tiptoes, enough to almost lay her chin on his shoulder. He tenses, and wishes he had not because the last thing he wants to do is hurt Kensi and make her feel like he doesn't want her around; she doesn't let it faze her, though. Instead, she just hums quietly, her next words delivered just by his ear. "You should have woken me up. I would have helped you with that," she says, her voice soft as she lets go of him and settles at his side, looking for his favorite jam before spreading some on a pancake for him.

It stings her, just like it does every day, that no teasing comment about how pathetic her cooking skills are comes. But she shrugs it away – she has to. No matter how much it hurts and how much she wants her Deeks back, she can't rush him.

He finally turns to her, and this time Deeks can't look away. Instead, he allows himself the comfort of the warmth in her brown eyes as Kensi gives him an almost shy smile, taking the plate full of pancakes and putting it on the table before she takes a seat. He pours coffee in two cups and joins her, but barely eats; he can't really keep anything in his stomach, but feeling Kensi's gentle but insistent gaze, Deeks forces another piece of pancake in his mouth.

"How did you sleep ?" she asks him, trying to make conversation. There's nothing that Kensi hates more than this silence between them.

"Good, I guess," he lies. "You ?"

"Good," she lies, too. Like she does every morning. Like he does every morning. Her tongue darts out to lick syrup from her lips, and Kensi all but moans at the taste. "Those are delicious, Deeks. I'm gonna gain a hundred pounds if you do that every morning."

"Then maybe you should go home."

There's no coldness or harshness to his tone, but his voice sounds so hollow, his words lacking of any emotion. Kensi knows he's not trying to hurt her, but God, how his words do; she will never leave him and if there's anything she wishes more than him getting better, it's for him to know this. Believe it. "Deeks," she breathes, his name nothing more than a low whisper as it escapes her lips. Before she can second-guess it, she reaches for his hand, and she's surprised when he doesn't pull back. So Kensi laces their fingers together, squeezing his tightly. "Deeks, look at me," she asks him, and when he finally does after the longest moment, she goes on, her voice softer than ever. "I am not going anywhere, okay ? I am not leaving you again."

He bites the inside of his cheek then, and it definitely is a terrible idea when he feels the sharp pain reawaken inside his mouth. He tries to shrug it off but Kensi sees it, but before she can say anything he speaks. "It wasn't your call. Hetty split us up. So you can stop feeling guilty. I don't need you to force yourself to be here because you think it's your fault. It's not. It's no one's, really."

No one but mine.

His eyes, so blue and so haunted, don't reflect his words at all; neither does his tone – that's just proof of how wrong everything is, because he can't even bring himself to sound angry or annoyed or hurt. He's telling her to leave him but his fingers are still locked with hers; he's asking her to leave when at night, when nightmares are pulling him under, it's her name he whimpers, begging for her safety. He's asking her to leave when he would never do such a thing, had their positions been reversed.

Kensi sighs softly, gently running her thumb over the back of his palm, tilting her head to meet his eyes with hers again. "I'm not here because I'm feeling guilty," she finally says, "I'm here because you're my partner, and that's what partners do. We take care of each other."

"I don't need you to take care of me."

She forces a smile, squeezing his fingers even tighter. "Maybe you don't," she concedes bitterly, "but I do. I need to be here with you, because I… I just cannot not be," Kensi admits, biting on her lip. "I mean, I can't just go home and leave you alone. I can't. So if you really want me gone, you'll have to make me."

"I don't want you gone," Deeks replies immediately, shaking his head, and it's the first time that Kensi hears something in his voice, something that sounds like her Deeks. "But at the same time I can't help but feel like you should go," he finishes, briefly closing his eyes as the reality of his words sink into him. God, the things he's saying to her…how can she still want to help him and be there for him when he's treating her like that ? When he's all but pushing her away ?

"You never let me push you away," she says quietly, and for a second Deeks almost wonders if he said that out loud. He's sure he didn't, though, because his lips are firmly pressed together to the point of pain. "I'm not gonna let you do that. You hear me, Deeks ? I am not letting you push me away. I'm gonna be with you every step of the way. We're gonna go through this together, like we always do."

How can he let himself drown and burn and fall apart, when Kensi Blye is telling him that she'll never leave him ? When Kensi Blye is putting up so much energy and fight for him ?

Oh God, how he wishes it could be this simple, that he could just smile at her and nod his head and pretend that everything is okay. That's not what she's asking from him and he knows it, but it doesn't keep Deeks from wishing he could do just that and make the sadness clouding her beautiful eyes go away. He hates himself for doing that to her, putting her in that position again: having to take care of the shadow of someone she knew and cared about and

"I'm sorry, Kens," he manages to force out, the lump in his throat making it hard to speak. "God, I'm so sorry…"

She's standing beside him, her hands cradling his jaw before he can even feel the absence of her warm fingers locked with his. "Look at me," she tells him, her voice incredibly soft but firm. She tilts his chin up, her thumbs stroking at his cheeks much like Deeks had done before things went downhill and she'd had to leave him behind. "You did nothing wrong, Deeks. Bad things happen, even when you're careful. Even when your partner is having your back. Even when you have the best plan ever. It wasn't your fault. So you have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing. You hear me ?"

"But I've been horrible to you and –"

She silences him with a gentle fingertip on his lips. "You've been hurt. You've been taken, and they…" Her voice wavers and Kensi bites her lip, trying to keep the tears gathering at the corners of her eyes from falling. She knows that when Deeks is ready to talk, she will be there to listen; but right now, it's just too much, too soon. It's not even been four weeks since they found him, just barely over two weeks since he was released from the hospital; and since then, Deeks has said nothing about it, nothing but empty reassurances that he was fine whenever someone asked him how he was doing.

She lifts one of her hands to brush away messy curls from his forehead, before gently sifting her fingers through his hair. She remembers hearing Monica Davis, Max Gentry's girlfriend or whatever, telling him that he needed to let someone take care of him, and Kensi feels like it probably was the one thing she was right about. But right now, it's protectiveness and care that overwhelm her, instead of the sheer fury and, dare she call it as it is, jealousy that had raced through her veins upon hearing the implications behind her words. Her fingers find the nape of his neck and Kensi strokes his skin, her voice barely above a whisper as she speaks again. "You just let me take care of you for a little while, okay ?"

Deeks wraps his arms around her waist then, and the gesture surprises Kensi so much that she actually gasps a little; it's the first time that Deeks has initiated something like that with her since he was taken. She sees the wetness welling in his eyes, but before she can wipe off a tear with her thumb, Deeks buries his face against her stomach, holding onto her even tighter.

Kensi just stands there for a moment that feels like forever, softly combing his hair with her fingers as he says no word, only looking for strength in the feel and scent of her. When he pulls back eventually, his eyes find hers, stormy, dark ocean blue looking just the slightest bit more serene.

"Why don't you go take a shower while I clean this up, huh ?" she asks him, her fingers brushing his jaw before settling on his shoulders that she gently squeezes. Deeks winces then, and Kensi pulls back just a bit, horrified. "Oh God, Deeks, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to –"

He raises a hand between them, stopping her. "Don't worry, Kens, it's okay. Just a bit sore there, nothing to worry about."

There's plenty to worry about. He may have tried to keep his injuries from her, but they're all etched in her memory forever; after all, nothing could ever make her forget about finding him in that dark, filthy room, all bruised and bloody…

Nothing. No amount of drugs or alcohol or time spent beating the punching bag or even sessions with Nate could do that.

She takes his hands in hers, her thumbs gently tracing the red marks on his wrists from the zip ties that bound him when they found him; they left deep cuts that are yet to fully heal. Gently, she tugs them until he's standing up, and silently, she guides him over to the bathroom. He looks up at her as she sits him on the edge of the bathtub, confusion clear in his eyes, but nothing beats the way his eyes widen when her hands brush the skin of his stomach as they push his shirt up.

And once his chest is revealed to her, for the first time since that day, she barely manages to fight the knot in her stomach and the wave of nausea that almost make her stomach lurch violently. She falls to her knees before him, her fingers clenching around his knees. "Oh God, Deeks," she murmurs, taking in all the bruises and burns covering his damaged skin.

She had tried not to think of what instrument could have broken his jaw, tried not to focus on the scratches and bruises on his face or how much he had had to fight against the ties binding his hands to pierce the skin so deeply.

But it's all coming back to her now as she stares at the burn marks littering his torso.

"It doesn't really hurt anymore," he whispers, trying to reassure her, and maybe she'd believe him if there weren't so many of them, some no bigger than cigarette marks, others so huge she trembles just upon thinking of what made them. She reaches out to grab a wet cloth and ever so gently, Kensi rubs it over his skin. She feels warm air fanning over her face as Deeks inhales sharply and she looks up at him, an apology in her eyes. "Sorry," she says softly, but Deeks just clenches his hands over the edge of the bathtub, shaking his head.

"You don't need to do that, I can do it, Kens."

"Remember when I got hit on the head ?" she asks him, purposely being vague as not to say Lance Talbot's name; she knows Deeks gets what she's referring to, though. "You made sure I didn't spend Christmas alone and then you held an icepack to my forehead all night. And when I took that bullet in the ribs…"

She needs to say no more to prove her point, but that's a truth that Deeks still has trouble comprehending; that what he feels for her, the lengths he'd go to for her, Kensi would too for him. She resumes her task of cleaning his wounds, trying to be as gentle as possible, and for long minutes the only sounds in the bathroom are muffled whimpers and quiet apologies.

Her hands still as he speaks up, breaking the silence. "They tried to break me," he starts in a low voice, "telling me I'd never go home to my girl if I didn't talk. Funny thing, 'cause I knew that the moment I'd open my mouth and tell them what they wanted, they'd kill me. So I spat on the guy." He brushes a hand over his jaw, his eyes fluttering close as another wave of pain hits him. "Didn't like it. That's when he broke my jaw, I think."


"I knew you'd find me," he continues, reaching over to put a hand over the one laying over his heart. "Guess I've always been pretty optimistic, but… I just knew it." He gives her a sad look then, tenderly brushing a stray curl behind her ear – God, how she's missed little touches like that. "I didn't want to break my promise…"

Promise me you'll never do that…get yourself killed.

Okay, he'd said.

And now here he is telling her that he went through hell and provoked people who were ready to kill him within the blink of an eye to come back to her like he promised he always would.

"I wasn't ready to lose you yet," he says after a moment, staring back into her beautiful brown eyes; his have not looked so alive since they got him back, sparking with a flame so intense that Kensi can't help but squirm under his gaze. "So maybe provoking them wasn't very clever, but I wasn't gonna spit it out and get killed so easily."

"Deeks…" she repeats, his name nothing but a breathy plea, for what, she doesn't know. It kills her to hear about this, but if Deeks finally needs to talk she can't really stop him just because it makes her sick, shaking her to the very core. Having to separate had terrified her, but almost losing him ? Finding out that he was missing, finding blood where he was last seen, his blood, so much of it pooling on the ground…

She wishes she could be brave enough and look him in the eye as she tells him how she sank to her knees and cried on the floor for what felt like hours before Callen had knelt beside her, cupping her face and telling her that they didn't have time for this, that Deeks didn't have time… She can utter the words when he's asleep as she holds him, but this, the fear and despair and anguish and ache, she just can't tell him. She can't. Not when he's telling her that she's the one thing he held onto to keep himself from losing it.

"They… They told me all the things they'd do to you if I didn't talk," he continues, his voice steadier than before. "But by then I had kind of stopped feeling anything at all because of the blood loss and… I just told them that they'd be missing a finger or two or something else before they could ever get near you. Because that's how my girl operates.

"And I wasn't scared. Whether it be because I was feeling so light-headed or for whatever else reason, but I wasn't. I knew Callen wouldn't let anything happen to you. I knew you were perfectly able to take care of yourself. And…" He smiles then, a small, proud smile stretching his lips, "I was smiling, just thinking of you, and they got so mad… They thought they could break me but they were just giving me a reason to fight…"

He flicks his tongue over chapped lips, clearing his throat, and he laces his fingers with hers over his heart. Her other hand is gripping his knee so tightly it should hurt, but Deeks doesn't seem to register the pain. He owes her the truth after shutting her out for so long. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you, Princess," he says, offering her a smile as the cheesy nickname escapes his lips.

Lips that she covers with her own, the pressure ever so light as she rises to her feet and cradles his face in her hands again. She leans into him, gently deepening the kiss despite how superficial it remains because of his sore jaw, and he wraps an arm around her waist, guiding her to sit on the leg she'd been gripping so tightly. And suddenly it's all coming back to her, his words before she'd taken off on her motorbike, the look in his eyes telling her that he meant every single one of them, the way he'd held her face, his thumbs stroking her skin… How he'd almost kissed her then, and how she had been about to dive in herself, desperately needing something to hold onto before they'd part, scared of the outcome of the most dangerous mission they'd ever been on.

"Couldn't die before doing that," he breathes in between two slow, soft kisses, "God, you don't know how much I hated myself for not –"

She shushes him by claiming his lips again, pouring into that one kiss everything she feels for him, everything that's driven her the past few weeks, the past three years; the paralyzing fear that had overwhelmed her replaced by the sheer relief as the tears rolled down her cheeks, happy tears as she could feel his pulse beat under her fingertips. Attraction, tension, infatuation.

And God, he'd said he couldn't live without her, the underlying message oh so clear in his gorgeous blue eyes as he'd stared at her, that admiring, soulful look saying so much…that he loved her.

Kensi pulls back, enough to lose herself in the most perfect shade of blue, and then, gently, she murmurs, "Me too."

the end