Okay, so this is only going to be a short story, just a couple of chapters, and is my take on the whole post Sidorov situation.
Many thanks to everyone who chooses to read and review, it really is appreciated. I hope you enjoy!
My eternal and biggest thanks go to Mel (AKA imahistorian) for every ounce of kindness and support in writing this. You are, as ever, my one gal cheering squad! I hope there are none among you who are missing out on her fantastic story Feel the Tide - get reading(after reading this!) if you are!
From high in the Los Angeles sky the golden sun shone warm and bright, igniting the sky and creating fresh colours within the rich blue immediately encompassing it. Without a cloud to cast shadow beneath its rays the temperature had climbed easily into the 80's, and as he stood still beneath its amazing glow Marty Deeks couldn't stop from shivering.
A chill had grasped at his chest sending a rash of goose bumps out across his body and he could hear the quickened rhythm of his heart beat loudly in his ears. Drawing in an almost desperate gasp of air he could feel the memories begin their assault once more.
He had flinched, he knew that. Physically flinched, and over nothing more than the noise emanating from a child's toy. And now as colours and sounds released into his senses he found himself rooted to the spot, unable to free himself from a swirling fog of memories so desperately unwanted.
It had been three months since he had suffered the actual event of those memories. Three months since he had burst into Sidorov's compound with neither thought nor consideration for anything other than Sam's immediate survival. Even thoughts of Kensi, the kiss he had just surprised them both with and the conversations that would need to follow, were pushed firmly from his mind by the desperate determination he felt in getting to his team mate.
Some might suggest his actions had bordered upon reckless, although there could be no doubt that they had prevented Sam from ending his life at the bottom of that swimming pool. However, those same actions had also exposed the increasingly fragile truth behind their identities, leaving neither of their lives certain of a future.
Acts of torture had soon followed in a brutal struggle for information. Sam and Deeks had fought hard, steadfast in their determination to protect the identities and lives of those most precious to them, whilst Sidorov had made increasingly desperate moves to extract anything tangible from them one way or another. The mental anguish of being forced to watch, to listen to each other was, in some ways, almost equal to the physical pain which Sidorov's men seemed highly proficient at applying. But only almost.
Forcibly transported in his mind, Deeks found himself back in that place and time once again. Without his consent, without knowing why, and without any ability to stop it.
It was the firm weight of Sam's hand upon his shoulder, a gentle squeeze of reassurance its accompaniment, which brought him back to the present, though more suddenly than he would have liked. Uncertain of his surroundings and unable to trust his senses through the thorough merging of past and present his mind was performing, Deeks stepped quickly and defensively from Sam's touch. Then, as if awakening, he slowly took in the street, the buildings, the beach, and the man standing beside him.
A determined shake of his fair hair, a double handed rub of his face, Sam watched the detective as the fingers on his right hand remained in place upon his jaw unconsciously running its length.
"Yeah," Deeks answered quickly, taking a second purposeful step away from the senior agent. "I'm fine."
"I never thought I'd say this, but you've spent too much time with Kensi. 'Fine'? Really?"
"What do you want, Sam?"
Sam didn't reply with any immediacy, taking a few moments to observe the man before him and choose the type of response he should offer. The tone behind the detective's question was hard to miss but this, it seemed, was the Deeks they all were having to deal with more recently. Defensive, quick tempered, increasingly without humour.
Sam nodded. "I was coming to get a sandwich," he answered evenly. "Same as you."
"You could have just rung me, Sam. I would have picked one up for you."
"Well maybe I was also looking for an excuse to get out for a bit," he suggested gently, the gaze of his dark eyes never wavering from the blue of Deeks'. "Away from the office, away from my partner." Pause. "Ten minutes in the day where I'm not trying to act like everything is back to normal, and I'm okay."
Averting his gaze to his feet, Deeks took in a deep breath, swallowed down the lump in his throat and let out a long sigh. Turning in place he began to walk away from Sam but without any visible intention of leaving him behind, and he felt a combination of both frustration and relief when he silently followed.
The streets of Santa Monica were busy as usual, and the opportunity for Deeks to simply become lost amongst the mass of strangers was tempting. But did he really want to become more lost than he already was?
Pulling open the door to the nearby deli a few minutes later, Deeks pulled two bottles of water from the chiller cabinet before he and Sam placed their orders at the counter. Taking a seat while they waited for their sandwiches Deeks passed one of the bottles of water to Sam, then opened his own and began to drink, the cool water quenching the dryness and washing away the bitter taste of adrenaline which had been left in his mouth from only minutes earlier.
"How many times has that happened?"
Deeks paused, stopping himself from allowing the attitude-filled reply of, "Has what happened?" to pass his lips. Sam had offered up a piece of himself in open honesty, and although Deeks was fully aware of the undercurrent of expectation which accompanied this sharing, he still found himself grateful for it.
"That was the fourth," he admitted, unable to meet the agent's gaze.
Sam gave a brief nod, sipping at his own water. "This a recent thing?"
"Last couple of weeks," he murmured, scratching at his cheek before taking another mouthful of water.
"Any idea what might have triggered it?"
Deeks nodded, his eyes shifting to the large window at the front of the deli and the Pacific Ocean which filled and consumed the furthest point away from them.
"Couple of kids were throwing one of those footballs with the holes in the side. You throw it hard enough and high enough and it makes this high-pitched whistle. Kind of sounds like-"
"Yeah, I have a pretty good idea of what it sounds like," Sam interrupted, shifting uncomfortably in his seat and taking a longer drink from his bottle. That noise was one he would forever have seared into his own memory. "I hear it too sometimes," he admitted softly. "Hidden in the everyday things."
Deeks paused, digesting and accepting these fresh admissions, then with a small smile he responded.
"Well that's not good for a man who loves his smoothies."
A smile stretched at Sam's lips, mirroring the one produce by the LAPD detective. "And believe me I've been cursing you for it daily."
"Why now, Sam?" he asked, his eyes now willingly focused on those of the agent sat opposite him, almost searching him in hope of an answer to what was happening to him. "It's been three months and I was doing okay. I got left with a few bad dreams and an eternal hatred of dentists, but I was doing okay. And now..." he let the sentence trail away momentarily as he considered the truth behind his words. 'Okay' was such a pejorative term, no different than the 'fine' which Kensi often used. He always knew the truth behind that 'fine', and perhaps it was the same truth behind his 'okay'.
"And now... I really don't know. I wanted to be okay, I thought I was okay," he continued, a steady stream of emotion seeping through into his words. "I really want to be okay, Sam."
"But you're not, man," Sam told him softly, his voice hovering barely above a whisper. "Haven't been for a while. And that actually is okay."
The delivery of their lunch orders to the table brought temporary halt to their conversation. Moving from the cool interior of the deli back into the bright rays of the mid-day sunshine, Deeks could feel his skin begin to warm, drawing heat back into his body and allowing him to shake the slightly haunted feeling he had been left with. Not yet ready to make an immediate return to the office Deeks wondered towards a nearby bench and sat down. Watching as Sam followed suit, he couldn't help but feel, perhaps for the first time in their relationship, fully understood by the senior agent. Sam wasn't pushing him, wasn't judging him, wasn't asking for anything in return other than that which he had offered up himself. Honesty.
"It doesn't make you weak, you know?" Sam told him, his voice and tone remaining calm in his suggestion.
"It doesn't feel that way."
"You're not less of a detective, less of a man, or less a part of our team because you're going through this, Deeks."
"No, I'm less because of what I feel like I lost when this started," he replied, leaning forward until his forearms rested atop his legs. "Because of what I feel like it's taking from me."
"And what's that?"
"Me," he responded simply. "And the more time passes, the less of me I think there is to find. And I don't know where to start looking."
Sam swallowed hard at the open, honest words he had just been presented with, hearing the despair and fear laced amongst them. It was a tone, a sentiment he had never wanted to hear from any of his friends and team mates, that feeling of being so irrevocably lost inside the darkness of your own head, unable to find a way back into the light.
There were some in life who suited the darkness, who could embrace and take comfort from all it touched, but that wasn't Deeks. Deeks was someone who thrived in the light, to the point where it almost seemed as if he could produce it for others to bask in. It was the reason he worked so well as part of their team, it was the reason he worked so well with Kensi. He balanced them. And for some time now they had all felt the scales tipping and the light gradually dimming. Particularly Kensi.
"Start by looking at me," he offered, noting as Deeks turned his head towards him in curiosity. "Look at Callen and Hetty, Eric and Nell. Look at Kensi and see how she looks at you. We know who you are and none of us are going to let you just slip away."
Nodding his acceptance briefly before lowering his head into his hands, Deeks remained silent as the words of support settled deep within him. In some ways he felt the urge to fight against Sam, to roughly push away his reassurances and hand out blame for all that had happened to bring him to this point right now. But to what end? By pointing fingers at others, by yelling, by shouting, by throwing his badge on Hetty's desk and running away, the facts would still remain as they currently were. He couldn't erase the past, he knew that better than anyone.
At seeing Deeks' head lower, sensing the surge and swirl of emotions playing out within him, Sam sat back on the bench and purposely focused his attention on anything but the man beside him. Remembering the freshly made sandwich sitting next to him he opened it up and began to eat, content to allow his friend all the time he required.
It was several more minutes before the LAPD detective lifted his head, followed by the rest of his upper body and cautiously took in and reminded himself of his surroundings. A glance over at Sam as he worked his way through his turkey salad sub reminded Deeks of his own food and he too began to eat, watching as the world around them simply carried on.
"I feel like I should be stronger."
Sam swallowed roughly, his eyebrows rising, surprised by the detective's words. Spoken quietly, spoken thoughtfully, they carried a small measure of defeat about them and an even greater one of guilt.
"Than what?" Sam asked incredulously, turning his head towards the younger man. "Than who?"
Deeks opened his mouth to reply, but no words immediately offered themselves to him as an uneven shrug rippled across his shoulders.
"Than this," he managed, the emotion returning to his voice. "I think about what you went through, I think about everything that... everything that happened," he paused momentarily, his food taking on a less palatable taste as the memories seemed to surge and recede like the single lap of a wave. Looking over at his friend he couldn't help but put voice to a particular question, because right now he felt like he needed the answer. "How are you still standing?"
A smile stretched wide on Sam's face, a mirthless chuckle quickly following as he lowered his sandwich back down onto the bench beside him and leaned forward onto his legs mirroring Deeks' earlier position.
"I'm on my feet, Deeks," he began, all humour gently fading. "But I'm not sure it's the same as still being standing."
Sam paused, rubbing a large hand over his mouth and jaw as Deeks remained quiet, offering back the same patience and time his friend had given to him. He couldn't help but notice the tension across Sam's shoulders, the small, sharp shifts in his posture indicating his discomfort as well as the frown he now turned to him with.
"I still have nightmares," he continued, his voice low, his gaze losing most of its earlier confidence and conviction. "And when they happen they're powerful and consuming... and they leave me feeling scared. They're just rarely about me."
Sam nodded. "Michelle, my kids... what would have happened if he'd gotten to them instead?" Pause. "Every time it happens I end up spending the next two nights sleeping on the floor of my kids' room, just so I can convince myself that they're safe. And to remind me in the morning why I keep going back to work when I know I might be in the same position again some time."
"You know you're making me look pretty shallow and self-absorbed right about now."
"If you were that shallow and self-absorbed, Deeks, I'd have drowned in the bottom of that swimming pool and you'd still have all your teeth."
Deeks couldn't help it. Despite the swirl of un-tempered emotions and the seriousness of their conversation, he laughed. Emanating from deep within him, he could feel it gently shake at his shoulders and vibrate through his chest, and it felt good. Looking over at Sam he could see the former SEAL's expression alter and warm until the edges of his eyes crinkled and he too released a much needed laugh of his own.
"I didn't mean it to sound quite like that," Sam tried to explain, his hands roughly gesturing, but his smile still firmly in place.
"Don't worry about it," Deeks responded, shaking his head in amusement, before reaching over and patting his team mate on the shoulder. "And thank you. I appreciate it."
Time passed in companionable silence as Sam and Deeks finished their lunch, each man happy to remain within their own thoughts for a short while.
Standing from the bench, and with a short roll of one shoulder then the other, Sam deposited his rubbish in the bin just a few feet away before turning back to the detective.
Deeks nodded slowly, accepting with a frown what was surely due to come next.
"Do they know?" he asked as he stood, apprehension clear in his voice.
"They know you're not you, but after that?" Sam completed the sentence with a shrug. "They're worried about you." Pause. "Especially Kensi."
"Yeah," he responded softly, his eyes narrowing as his gaze searched the horizon. "Yeah, I know."
"You're not protecting her by pushing her away."
Deeks looked around sharply at Sam's words. Although his voice had remained soft and even, no different from the rest of their conversation, Deeks detected an undercurrent of warning in his tone.
"You're not protecting either of you," he added more pointedly. "All it's going to lead to is more hurt, and after everything you two have been through together, I don't think either of you need or deserve that."
Deeks sighed deeply, a frown only adding further creases to the skin around his eyes where they remained narrowed in thought.
"There's more to it than just this," he began firmly, almost defensively, as he tried to explain without actually having to explain. "It's-"
"Complicated?" Sam suggested dryly, his eyebrow hooked in emphasis. "Tell me something I don't already-"
"I kissed her, Sam."
Everything that was Sam Hanna stilled in that moment. So stunned by the detective's sudden announcement his only movement came from a second eyebrow rising high upon his forehead in utter surprise to join the first.
Rubbing his face once more and pushing his long fingers through his messy hair, Deeks turned away from his friend before stepping in a short circle around to his left before coming to a halt in his original position. He'd said it now. It was out in the open, and like the kiss itself, there was no taking it back.
"We were all dealing with the Sidorov situation," he started softly, bringing his arms in from their comparatively satellite position and crossing them firmly, protectively, about his chest. "Kensi and I were running surveillance on you and Michelle, and when Michelle left the compound Kensi went to follow. As she left she made some comment about me having poor communication skills, about me never saying what I really mean." Pause. "And I reacted."
"Damn!" Sam murmured, lingering surprise still evident in his tone.
"Damn?" Deeks asked incredulously. "I tell you I kissed my partner and all you got for me is, 'Damn'?"
"Well that and, 'Your timing sucks'."
Closing his eyes and releasing a brief breath of hollow laughter, Deeks couldn't help but agree.
"Tell me about it. Kensi left to follow Michelle and five minutes later I was fishing you out of the swimming pool," he continued, his fingers reaching up once more to rub at his jaw. "We never talked about it. Not properly. And now I feel like the guy who did that isn't even here any more, that maybe he got left behind in that chair." Pause. "I'm not him any more. I hate that she sees that so clearly and I don't know how to stop pushing her away from it all."
Nodding slowly Sam's own eyes narrowed and his gaze shifted along with his feet. Memories buried deep within him stirred and stretched, gently tugging at wounds long thought healed and forgotten. He recognised so clearly what Deeks was describing. He could feel it tighten his chest and prickle at his skin, so versed was he in the power of those feelings. Those feelings so strong, that urge so compelling, to push away the one person who means the most, for fear of them having to witness the tattered remains of who you'd become.
"You talk to her," he told him simply. "You talk to her just like you're talking to me. Instead of pushing her away you pull her close, and you put your trust in the strength of everything you have together. Whatever that is. If anyone really knows who you are, knows the man beneath all the layers, then it's her." Pause. "And believe me, having someone who loves you, someone who can see through all the darkness... into the heart of the man you feel nothing but an echo of... and can show you your true self," Pause. "That's like..." Sam swallowed noticeably, a rare show of emotion flowing steadily into his words as he turned to Deeks and held firm his gaze. "That's your anchor right there. That's what can make you whole again."
Deeks remained quiet, his blue eyes intense, entranced by all that Sam had just told him. It hadn't just been words, spoken idly and without care, or non-specific sentiment simply moulded and shaped to fit the occasion. It had been neither presumption nor supposition, but rather the deep and honest sharing of memories. Memories which clearly still had the power to evoke a potent mix of thoughts and feelings.
As he took in and appreciated all that he and Sam had entrusted to each other in the previous hour, Deeks found himself gently nodding, though more to himself than his team mate. They had been through so much together at the hands of Isaak Sidorov, whereupon they had been forced into sharing the most harrowing of experiences. Choice had not been an option, it had been taken away and destroyed in those moments leaving both of them bare and exposed. But here that wasn't the case, and the decision to share now lay firmly within their own grasp. They only had to hear what the other allowed, and if there was ever a time to stop and listen to each other then they had found it here together.
"So where do I go from here? What comes next?"
"Next comes Hetty," Sam answered, a small crease forming between his dark eyes. "I wouldn't be surprised if she pulls some strings and gets you in to see someone straight away, so you might want to be prepared for that."
Running a hand up into his hair, Deeks idly scratched the side of his head. "Yeah, well I think we both know what they're going to tell me when I get there."
"Maybe. But the diagnosis isn't what matters." Sam returned, his tone gently emphatic. "It's about how you turn it all around. It's about how you recover."
Nodding slowly, the beginnings of a smile stretching at his lips, Deeks released a long breath.
"Yeah. Yeah, it is," he agreed, and with long, purposeful strides and his friend at his side, he made his way back to the office.