Final Note: The last rambling note you'll get from me! Thank you so very much if you have been reading and following along, probably often through delays in my posting, horrible cliffhangers, and frustrations you may have been too polite to express. When I think about how long I have been writing this story and the preceding two, it really amazes me that there has been such supportive and kind interest. Your encouragement in alerts, favorites, and reviews have always been appreciated. I'm thrilled those of you who caught the JAG reference in the last chapter enjoyed that. I felt it was fitting to bring it back to the original ship that sailed multiple spinoffs.
Any mistakes in continuity or technical errors in this chapter or any preceding are all mine. You'll have to forgive me after the 640,000 words that make up this series of stories for a few mistakes here and there, it's a lot to keep track of! I have benefitted greatly from the help of my friend and beta MioneAlterEgo who assisted me enormously in much of this series.
This is the end for this series of stories. I'm not sure I can say never again, but at least for now, and at least as far as I can see out into the future this is it. I have loved writing this possible future for Kensi and Deeks, and I have loved creating new characters, stories, and situations for them to become something different than what we see on the show. But I feel as though I've told the story I needed and wanted to. I'm not sure what I may write next. Maybe Kensi and Deeks, maybe something else.
This epilogue borders on extemely sappy and very exposition heavy, but I quickly found that tying up the futures of over a dozen characters was no easy task! Ultimately I hope you enjoy. Thank you for reading.
Four Years Later
Kensi arrived on the beach after the party was already in full swing. It was a mild fall afternoon, one of those days where the sun turned into burnt gold as the hours wore on and the warmth could trick you into thinking winter was still months away. But after two decades in Los Angeles Kensi could tell when southern California was trying to fool you into a false sense of security. Rain and cooler temperatures were just around the bend. But in the meantime, it was her daughter's birthday. And Kensi planned to enjoy the day and all the family, friends, and co-workers who had come to celebrate it.
Carrying the last few bags full of food and eating utensils looped over her arms, Kensi precariously balanced the cake between her hands. She smiled with gratitude when Chase, Cody and Rachel's fifteen-year-old son, bounded up to her. He wore his father's smile and relieved her of the cake, carrying it with the careless ease of a teenager.
Knowing boys and their appetites, Kensi called after him quickly. "There better not be any icing missing from that cake later when we go to cut it!"
Chase laughed and dutifully took the cake over to the table they'd set up on the beach. He put it down, turning to toss Kensi a salute, before yelling to Kyle that they were missing all the good waves. Kensi looked around, finding her twelve-year-old son kneeling on the sand next to his surfboard. Kyle looked up, his blue eyes bright as he peeked out beneath the long, shaggy brown hair that was in a perpetual state of disarray. The color of his hair might be closer to hers, but the rest of him was all Deeks.
Kyle's grin was wide as he shouted back to his cousin, picking up his surfboard and running towards the water with the speed and agility of the young. It warmed Kensi's heart to see Kyle carefree and having fun with Chase. Although Kyle had recovered well from his kidnapping, even to the point that he barely remembered it, Kensi didn't take it for granted. She'd seen PTSD up close and she still watched Kyle for it. She watched to see if he was hurting, but even more so that she could be there to get him help if he needed it.
"Let me help you with that."
Kensi looked up to find Rachel approaching, a smile and warm green eyes fixed on Kensi as her long blond hair lifted and twisted in the wind. They managed to secure plates, napkins, and utensils from flying away, preparing the tables for the food, which was being cooked a little further down the beach.
Unable to contain a smile at the group formed in a casual circle around the portable grill, Kensi took them in with a shake of her head. Callen had somehow wrestled control of the grilling away from Sam, who was grinning at his former partner, now boss, and clearly trying to cajole the tongs back. Holding his arms widely apart, Callen shot Sam a warning look with a raised eyebrow while holding the metal spatula up as a quasi weapon, which got a deep laugh from the man and woman standing around the grill, watching the show. Retired Marine Corps Generals Sarah MacKenzie Rabb and Robert Keppinger watched the former's employees joke with one another while the latter had become familiar with their escalating antics over the last fifteen years.
It wasn't every party that had the pedigree of this one. There were former Marine Corps generals, a former Navy SEAL, former NYPD, former LAPD, former CIA, former NCIS. Military, law enforcement, spies, and federal agents, they had it covered. Now nearly all were current DICIA, or very closely connected. But ultimately their connection stemmed from Kensi and Deeks' family, and the birthday they were celebrating.
The DICIA was still a relatively new agency, born in the aftermath of the dismantling of the NCIS OSP in Los Angeles. They handled international and domestic cases where it was difficult to determine agency jurisdiction, and they'd done it well over the last four years. Callen worked directly for Sarah Rabb, who preferred to be called Mac, and Deeks and Sam worked directly for him. Their respective departments shared agents and technical staff which included former NCIS agents Cody Keppinger, David Westin, Liam Murphy, former NCIS Technical Operator Eric Beale, Eric's wife and former NCIS Intelligence Analyst Nell Jones, and former NCIS Office Manager Rachel Keppinger. Although Kensi had been busy over the last few years caring for the youngest members of her family, she occasionally worked for the DICIA as an information analyst, to provide language training, and hand-to-hand combat training. Callen had been true to his word in understanding Kensi's choice to be there for her family, but he provided her a connection to the past and professional world she'd known most of her life.
From conversations with Deeks, Kensi knew Mac was a demanding but fair director of the DICIA. Whether it was her military or legal background, her view of right and wrong when it came to how far she was willing to take a mission was distinctly different than Hetty's had been. And for Deeks, that and Callen's involvement had turned out to be exactly what he needed to return to the world of law enforcement and criminal investigation.
Even though Deeks still harbored apprehension about Hetty's methods, Kensi still couldn't fault Hetty entirely for her tactics since they had ultimately brought her family back to her. And Callen, with a lifetime of knowing and working in all the shadows of grey when it came to international and domestic crime, understood the value Hetty could bring. Although Hetty had officially retired from public service, Kensi knew Callen still used her as a resource. Just as Kensi knew Deeks and Callen had occasionally locked horns over Callen's involving Hetty in their missions in any way. The only way Deeks was appeased was knowing that Hetty did occasionally have information they needed, and she was not making decisions about agents or missions. Kensi knew Deeks was torn over being grateful for what Hetty had done for his family, his decades old loyalty to her, and the undeniable danger brought on the people he loved due to her decisions.
Even at nearly eighty years old Hetty still had a lifetime of experience and knowledge. But Callen was careful to keep her involvement off the books and away from prying eyes. From the outside Hetty appeared to be another retired old lady living in Pasadena who enjoyed water aerobics, gardening in her rare and dangerous plants garden, walking her very protective Akita who easily outweighed her, and knife throwing.
Her advancing years hadn't made Hetty's guard drop in the least and she was still someone Kensi admired and respected. Years before, when Kensi had first joined NCIS, she'd thought that becoming Hetty one day was a goal worth seeking. But time, experience, family, love, and Deeks had shifted her world view. And as a wife she was distinctly more at ease knowing Callen's and Mac's decisions when it came to her husband being put potentially in harm's way. Kensi knew the cost of Hetty's decisions, had witnessed it up close, and Katya was a daily reminder that not all good causes were free from collateral damage.
As often happened, even with four years of trying to not feel the regret, Kensi's gaze automatically sought out David. She couldn't think of losing Marina and gaining Katya without feeling for David and his loss. Kensi knew David felt like he hadn't deserved to mourn losing Marina, but she also knew he'd quietly suffered and dealt with his pain mostly internally. David had made attempts to date and move on, but the women he saw never seemed to last long. He let very few people in to see what he was feeling when it came to Marina, but Kensi knew Liam was in that circle. And the way David doted on Katya, who adored him in return, was a testament to his resolution to care for Marina's daughter in her absence.
David sat in a chair around the small bonfire with Eric and Nell, the latter on the former's lap, and Diane Keppinger next to Liam's mother Finola and brother Aiden. After John Keene had been arrested and incarcerated Liam had brought his family back to Los Angeles to live with him. The unraveling of the Murphy family had begun with Liam's father's death over ten years ago and it hadn't been fully knitted back together, not even after Liam got his family back. There was residual guilt Liam felt over leaving his family with Keene, Finola's persisting trauma from the abuse by Keene, and Aiden's anger towards his brother at being left behind. But Aiden had grown attached to David and looked up to him while Finola had grown closer to Diane.
Liam had been frustrated and uncertain how to help his family but he'd finally come around to the idea of accepting help from his partner and Kensi's family. He'd finally embraced the family who had accepted him, even though he hadn't asked for it, had never thought he wanted it. Kensi felt her chest swell with an odd sort of pride. For so long Liam had resisted connections to people, isolating himself and pushing people away. His walls had come crumbling down not long after he'd fallen in love with Hailey. It was something Kensi could relate to. Carefully constructed boundaries and walls, cracked and then split wide open by whatever was in the DNA and soul of a person with the last name of Deeks.
Thinking of her husband, Kensi instinctively turned her face towards the wind coming in from the ocean, taking a deep breath of the lightly salted air. However, instead of Deeks' familiar sea shaded eyes and cocky grin her gaze fell on a different, but still familiar face, also with a pair of deep blue eyes and a friendly smile. As a former Navy pilot and JAG, and with dark hair salted with gray, shortly cropped hair, and two inches on Deeks, it wasn't hard to see the differences between her husband and Harmon Rabb, former Navy Commander and Mac's husband of nearly twenty-five years.
"You put on a good party, Kensi," Harm observed, coming to stand next to her and survey the assorted guests. He raised an eyebrow and gave her a teasing grin. "It also seems like you could plan the military and political takeover of a number of small countries with this group."
Kensi's lips formed into a demure smile that she knew could be construed as sneaky, the thought similar to one she'd had on more than one occasion. Harm was silent next to her and Kensi looked at the direction of his gaze, finding that it rested on his wife. She smiled at the warmth and intimacy there, present even after over two decades together and two grown children.
"How are the kids, Harm?" Kensi asked. This caught his attention and Harm turned back to her, an enthusiastic and proud smile splitting his face. Harm and Mac had twins, a boy and a girl. They'd both followed in their parents' military footsteps, with one in the Navy and one in the Marine Corps. Their daughter was Navy pilot while their son was studying as a lawyer to one day join the JAG Corps.
"They're good, working hard and a bit too far away from home for our liking. We understand since that was our lives too, but we wish they could come back more often." Harm shrugged, then laughed with a sheepish smile. "I think Mac handles them being away better than I do. She says I worry too much."
Laughing, Kensi patted Harm's forearm before letting go after a quick squeeze. "I don't think it gets easier to not worry. We just try and get better at coping with it. And I think being away from the job and a little removed from the everyday action makes it easier to cope." She paused, her eyes flitting first to Kyle, then finding her other children. "Did you miss it when you retired and Mac stayed on?"
"I couldn't not miss it, at least a little," Harm said truthfully. "Being in the Navy was my whole world for a long time. But Mac and I agreed and I followed her to San Diego. Everything changed then, but it changed for the better."
Kensi nodded, knowing the history. Harm had retired from the Navy while Mac had stayed with the Marine Corps. They'd moved to San Diego and he'd started a private plane charter service. It turned out to be the perfect job for him with flexible hours and it was highly profitable. And then when the twins had come along a few years later, he'd stayed home with them while Mac kept working. They'd worked together, giving and taking, adjusting for each other and their family.
"Where is the birthday girl, anyway?" Harm asked, turning his head to look up and down the beach, squinting slightly into the sun.
Unworried, Kensi raised her hand and flattened her palm to shade her eyes, looking for and finding long and glossy dark brown hair pulled back in a long braid. Kensi finally saw the birthday girl standing next to Mac, who had leaned down to her level to talk. From a distance Kensi could read their lips enough to know they were speaking in Russian, using each other to occasionally practice the language skills neither used very frequently.
With Harm following her, Kensi approached the pair, giving Mac a quick and apologetic smile for interrupting before she turned to her daughter. It never failed to catch her attention that Katya was growing up to look just like her mother. She was seven years old now, her round face showing she was still a child while her high cheekbones and full lips indicated the beautiful woman she would become. Katya had a tendency towards seriousness, her grey eyes often silently assessing. But she'd also opened up over the last four years, brought out of her shell by her new family. She'd learned to laugh and she'd adjusted to her new life to the point that many of her early memories of her mother had faded.
Kensi slipped a hand around Katya's shoulders, smiling as her small arms came around Kensi's waist to hug her tight. Katya was her daughter now and Kensi had had the privilege of being Katya's mother longer than Marina had. Every sunset that passed the scale tipped more towards Kensi. It was something she never forgot. And the injustice of that scale was always in the back of her mind, which was why Kensi made sure to remember Marina for Katya.
"Happy Birthday, baby girl," Kensi murmured, leaning down to press a kiss to Katya's head. And Kensi grinned as Katya squirmed a little against her, could practically picture Katya's blushing and rolling eyes. But it must have been Marina's earlier influence, because Katya was a very obedient, uncomplaining child. Even when her parents embarrassed her.
"Thanks, Mom," Katya replied, quickly continuing. "Thank you for my party."
Smoothing back the wisps of hair that had escaped Katya's long braid, Kensi smiled in response. When they'd returned to Los Angeles after retrieving Hailey in Moscow the adoption of Katya had been smooth and without incident. It grated on Deeks a little because he thought it was a kind of buy off for their silence. A no questions, quick adoption of Katya for no further investigation into the events that led to Hailey and Kyle's kidnapping. Deep down Kensi knew Deeks was right. But she'd had her family back and she'd had the ability to do what was right by Marina. She couldn't look further than that.
His arm going around Mac, Harm gave his wife a quick smile, which she returned. "What were you two talking about?"
Mac shrugged. "Girl stuff. School. Her birthday presents." Winking at Kensi, Mac then looked down at Katya. "This crazy, huge family of Katya's."
And it was a crazy, huge family. The younger children really didn't know the details of the work they were all involved in. And they couldn't be bothered to discern the differences between blood family and family of choice. It was a blurring of the line that Kensi was glad for. She loved that it didn't matter that they were or weren't biological family. Family meant something different to them and it was a tradition they passed to the next generation.
"What's your favorite birthday present?" Harm asked.
"My books. The surfboard so I can learn to surf with Papa and Kyle," Katya said softly. Kensi shook her head, knowing Deeks had been almost as excited for the present from Cody and Rachel as Katya had been. Since his sister didn't surf as often right now it seemed to be Deeks' goal in life to get the rest of his family out on the ocean with him. And little gave him as much of a thrill as teaching his children to love the waves as he did.
Out of the corner of her eye Kensi saw Callen approaching behind Katya with a last present in his arms. Steering Katya around, Kensi whispered in her ear. "I think there's one more gift, though this one's already open."
Katya's eyebrows knit in confusion until she looked towards Callen, her eyes widening and her mouth falling open at the fluffy golden bundle wiggling against Callen, demanding to be set free. Giving up, Callen leaned down and put the puppy on the sand, releasing him so that he immediately ran towards Katya. Even though he nearly knocked her over, Katya was laughing as the puppy licked her face, and in between her peals of laughter she was thanking Callen with her beaming smile.
Callen came up to Kensi, who shook her head in amusement. He attempted to look sheepish, but failed miserably. And Kensi couldn't be too mad since Callen had asked her and Deeks for permission before getting the puppy for Katya. But Katya had always loved animals and with three rambunctious kids in the house it seemed like adding a dog would barely register.
"Buying my daughter's love with a puppy. Shameless, Callen, absolutely shameless," Kensi said, her grin contrary to the teasing note in her voice. Callen shrugged, his eyes softening as he watch Katya playing on the sand with the puppy.
"Everybody has a soft spot, a weakness for something," Callen admitted, his eyes locked on Katya showing exactly who his soft spot was.
"You finally let Sam have control of the grilling back?" Kensi asked.
"I thought I'd throw him a bone," Callen replied, continuing on to admit. "And I had to go up to the road to meet the groomer who was bringing the puppy. Though with all the sand he's rolling around in I'm not sure I should have bothered getting him shampooed."
They watched Katya for a few minutes before Kensi turned to Callen, curiosity getting the better of her. She wasn't sure why she was so reflective of the last few years on that day, but questions about decisions and the paths they'd all chosen seemed to continue bubbling to the surface of her mind, insisting to be answered and explained.
"Are you happy, Callen? Happy about coming home for good, about not being a lone wolf any more?" Kensi asked, the words far more blunt than she'd intended. But Callen was someone she couldn't really faze and he didn't startle from her question.
"A lone wolf can only last so long on his own, Kensi. Wolves work stronger and better in packs. And I found mine."
Callen's simple response was enough to banish any other questions she might have had for him. It filled her heart and lifted her lips in a wide and amazed smile. Love and family. So hard to quantify or qualify. Especially in her case. She knew it didn't help to wallow in regret or the choices that had been made that resulted in collateral damage. And even though Kensi had her regrets, she wouldn't wish them away. Not when they'd brought her the imperfectly perfect life she and Deeks had.
"You know, Kensi, I'm not the only lone wolf who found a pack," Callen said pointedly, sweeping a hand around the assembled family and friends on the beach. "You were on your own for a long time. Until about twenty years ago. Until you met Deeks."
"You're right," Kensi murmured, the revelation not new to her. "He started something. With me when we were partners, with Hailey when we found her, and with us when we became a family."
Her attention caught on Hailey and Kensi looked towards the beach, finding Deeks' sister standing halfway to where the ocean met the sand, the tide beginning to come in. Flashing Callen a parting smile, Kensi came up behind Hailey, watching as the wind tugged at her diaphanous sundress, the light blue fabric plastering against her tall, willowy body. And Kensi put her arms around Hailey's shoulders from behind, hugging Hailey's back to her front. Hailey leaned back against her, reaching up to squeeze Kensi's arm with one hand while her other hand smoothed over her rounded stomach. From the back it was impossible to tell that Hailey was eight months pregnant. From the side or front it was impossible to miss.
"Hey, Little Sister," Kensi said, using Deeks' nickname for his sister. Hailey turned her head to look at Kensi, her face inches from hers, the sparkling light in her eyes and the gleam of her smile threatening to blind Kensi with her happiness. Hailey's smile faltered for just a second and she gasped, her hands smoothing over her stomach.
"Is he kicking?" Kensi asked.
Hailey nodded, reaching for Kensi's hand to flatten her palm against her stomach. It only took a second, and then Kensi felt the sharp jab of a tiny foot meeting her palm. Hailey's smile was wry as she shrugged. "Sometimes I think he's practicing for the World Cup in there."
"Or he's just really anxious to come out and meet us all," Kensi noted, tentatively soothing away the second jab from the baby with the rub of her fingers. She raised an eyebrow at Hailey. "This is Liam's son. And you know your husband can't sit still."
The two women shared a silent smile before Hailey's eyes broke away and found Liam. He'd fallen to his knees in the sand, one arm around Katya while the other was trying to hold the new puppy at bay with the promise of the treat held between his fingers. He was whispering in Katya's ear and Kensi watched as he instructed Katya in trying to teach her puppy how to sit. Ignoring the lesson, the puppy leapt on Liam, surprising him enough that he fell backwards in the sand. Katya fell onto his chest, her eruptions of laughter proving she wasn't hurt, and the puppy followed, wriggling up Liam's body to get at the treat he surrendered.
The humor infectious, Kensi heard the soft chorus of Hailey's laughter. The contentment and happiness in Hailey's face, so hard fought for and a struggle for four years, it made Kensi breathe a deep sigh of contentment. She thought she managed to hide her obvious relief, the hope that bloomed within her to see Hailey healthy and whole again.
After Russia they'd all watched Hailey. Working in law enforcement for several decades left them sensitive to the fallout that could follow from traumatic experiences. The depression had seemed sadly inevitable but what had probably saved Hailey more than anything else was the family that surrounded her, took her to doctors to help her heal and helped her regain her confidence and strength. Initially Kensi had been worried that Liam's guilt over how Hailey had been taken from him would alienate him and pull him away from her. She'd never been more glad to be wrong.
Somehow Liam knew exactly what she needed. He saw the signs before the rest of them. He recognized when Hailey needed time and space to herself and gave it to her. When she needed him close he couldn't be pried away. And when Hailey needed to feel strong again and less like a victim, he and David had organized training sessions in self defense. Hailey had benefitted from the expertise of ex military and former law enforcement to the point that she was confident enough in her ability to take care of herself. And Kensi had admired Liam for realizing that Hailey needed more than to be protected. She needed to know she could protect herself.
It was one of the many reasons they made a good couple. Despite her experience Hailey hadn't lost her kindness and gentleness. She'd started painting, as one of her doctor's suggested, using it as a form of therapy. But instead of paintings expressing dark anger or residual pain, Hailey's paintings celebrated the beauty she saw around them. The bend of a blooming magnolia tree, the dancing clouds in the sky, a mother holding her child, the bright and starry lights of the Santa Monica pier and ferris wheel. Truth be told, Kensi hadn't been surprised. Hailey's paintings had been precisely representative of who she was. The paintings had multiplied and the owner of the art gallery where Hailey had started working after college took notice and held a show of Hailey's work. Hailey's paintings had flown off the gallery walls.
Hailey's initial blush of success had corresponded with Liam's proposal and their wedding just a few months later. A big wedding wasn't for them, and their desire to be married far outweighed the need for an elaborate ceremony. They'd learned a powerful lesson when Hailey had been taken. Delaying happiness was pointless. Not long after their wedding, Hailey was pregnant. And with the joyful hope of their growing family, Hailey had begun painting again, her focus on the future and the unknown surprises it would bring.
One of those unknown surprises had been how well Liam took to children. They helped smooth out his harsh edges and seemed to give him back some of the lightness he'd lost when his father had died. As Katya and Liam's laughter mixed in the air, hers becoming a delighted shriek as he picked her up in the sand and swung her upside down, Kensi shook her head in amazement while Hailey merely smiled. She hadn't been surprised to see Liam grow naturally into the role of impending fatherhood. Losing his anger and holding onto the love and hope Hailey represented had seemed like a natural transition.
Thinking of surprises, it made Kensi think of her youngest child, who had been welcome surprise. Kensi looked up and down the beach, her eyes searching before she turned to Hailey. "Have you seen Nadia?"
Her eyebrows gently furrowing in concentration, Hailey's warm brown eyes suddenly lit with knowledge and she nodded rapidly, pointing out to the ocean. "She's out with Marty, look."
The waves were gentle, lapping close to the shore now. Deeks, Kyle, and Cody were just past the break, their surfboards forming a circle as they faced each other. Even with competition from the sound of the ocean and the whistling wind, Kensi could hear their voices and laughter. Straining on the tips of her toes, Kensi searched and finally caught sight of her daughter, sitting in front of Deeks on his surfboard.
Nadia's blonde hair fell in thick loops and curls like golden ribbons down her back, the color like her father's hair but thick like her mother's. Nadia shared her brother's and father's eyes, the deep and clear blue a bright and brilliant reminder every time Kensi looked in her eyes. Three years old, Nadia was rambunctious and active to the point that keeping up with her daughter was a full time job for Kensi. Not to mention Kyle and Katya, who also kept her plenty busy.
As it turned out, Nadia had come at just the right time. Katya had struggled sometimes with feeling like she belonged in the family but the arrival of Nadia had eased the way. Kensi and Deeks had struggled with what to name their daughter. They'd thought of naming her for Marina as a kind of tribute to their fallen friend, but the history of that name wasn't something they wanted to burden their daughter with. It had been Cody who had offered a fitting alternative.
"Why don't you call her Nadia? It's short for Nadyezhda, which means 'hope' in Russian."
It had given their daughter a name all her own, while nodding to the history of how she'd been brought into the world and acknowledging the heritage of both Marina and Katya. That connection to a familiar name from her childhood had proven to be just the answer for Katya to feel as though she belonged. Nadia had been a newer member and Katya had taken her little sister under her protection. Their personalities were quite different, with Katya more quiet and watchful and Nadia immensely curious and loud, but there was no one more protective of Nadia than Katya, and no one looked up to her big sister more than Nadia did. Kensi had encouraged that bond, keeping the girls together until Katya had formally started school, because she'd known the value of gaining a sibling late in life. Even though she and Cody weren't related by blood, they were brother and sister in every way that mattered. Kensi wanted the same for Nadia and Katya.
Out on the ocean, Deeks had turned his board towards shore, beginning to paddle towards Kensi with Nadia perched at the front, the water lapping at her legs. Kensi could hear her giggles as Deeks told Nadia to hold on tight, his strong arms scooping at the water to propel them forward. The rode the crest of a small wave, the warm and salty water washing over them but the buoyancy of the board keeping them at the surface.
Kensi took a few steps towards the water's edge, the pull of the waves, the blowing wind and the sound of the tide mingled with the joyful sounds of her family pulling her to them like gravity. Hopping off the surfboard and splashing through the waves, Nadia ran to Kensi, who swooped her up in her arms, ignoring how her clothes were soaked. It was a worthwhile price to pay for the ecstatic babbling of Nadia's voice in her ear, and her small hands holding Kensi tight around her neck.
Out of the corner of her eye Kensi saw as Deeks trotted up to his sister, enthusiastically picking her up in his arms even as she protested getting wet. Hailey's voice, slightly above a whine, only seemed to urge Deeks on. But Kensi saw through his annoying older brother act, saw how gentle Deeks was with his sister, and how he hugged her tight but handled her with care as he set her back on the sand and on her feet. And when Liam came up next to Hailey, laughing at her dampened state, both men could not be cowed by the flustered glares Hailey gave them. Though Hailey was appeased when Liam took her hand and lifted it, curling his fingers around hers and kissing the back of her hand. This all happened in the few seconds that Kensi held Nadia, listening to her daughter's effusions about surfing with her father. But it was over quickly and Nadia's attention was gone as soon as Nadia caught sight of Katya playing with her new puppy. Squealing, Nadia wiggled until Kensi put her down, and then she was jumping over the sand to join her sister.
"Thrown overboard and rejected without a second glance. All for a puppy," Deeks said, amusement making him grin as he approached Kensi. He shoved his surfboard into the sand to stand upright next to him, reaching for Kensi with a sly grin. "Three-year-olds are harsh. Come here, I'll make it better."
Kensi laughed loudly, letting Deeks pull her towards him until her hands flattened over his chest. His smile deepened as his hands moved lower to her hips, maneuvering her flush up against him. She smoothed her hands up to his shoulders, taking a deep breath of the delicious scent that was the salt water and Deeks. She closed her eyes and was rewarded when Deeks lowered his head to kiss her, his lips claiming what had been his for a very long time. When he tilted his head to nuzzle her neck, Kensi stroked a hand over the back of his head, her fingers tangling in his still long, slightly damp hair. They were older now, with fifty just around the corner for Deeks. But to Kensi, she couldn't see or count the years when she looked at Deeks. Time felt fluid and contradictory. Sometimes it seemed like they'd only just met and other times it felt as though they'd been married for a lifetime.
Kensi couldn't count the number of ways she'd changed since meeting Deeks. And he'd come a long way from his bachelor days as an LAPD detective, a lone wolf in his own right. They'd both been been lone wolves, searching for the right pack.
It wasn't perfect. They were all a bit bent, a little damaged from battle scars, and occasionally weary of weathering the storms of life. But because it wasn't perfect, because they didn't need it to be, it was perfect for them.
Deeks threaded a hand into Kensi's hair, his touch gentle on her neck. "I was watching you from out there. You looked almost thoughtful, or sad. You okay?"
Kensi nodded quickly, trying to clear the lump in her throat as she spoke. "I'm good. I've just been thinking. About us. How we got here."
Understanding lit Deeks' eyes and he leaned closer to her, facing towards the impromptu party and bonfire on the beach with his arm around Kensi's shoulders.
"I think I've finally gotten to the point where the reality of our life doesn't surprise me," Deeks murmured in her ear, pleasure warming his voice. Kensi pulled back enough so she could follow his gaze as it shifted, alighting on the family and friends all around them. "I never really thought this could be my life. Not in a million years. Hoped for it, even dreamed. Never thought it would be mine. And I couldn't have guessed how it was all going to change that day when you walked in that gym. When Jason met Tracey and we were forced to work that first case together."
"Back when we were just partners?" Kensi teased with a smile. Deeks' returning smile was knowing as he slowly shook his head.
"Kensi, we were never going to be just partners. Not from the second you looked at me and I looked at you."
It was true. Their partnership was always destined to be so much bigger than what it seemed like at the start. Bigger than just them, expanded to fill their hearts and souls to beyond brimming. They'd always been inevitable.
Partners in everything. In life, friendship, family, and love. Deeks held Kensi's eyes with his and she stared right back, her heart so full it threatened to crack open. Kensi felt Deeks' hand in hers, the pads of his fingers and his thumb on the back of her hand gently pressing her palm tightly to his. Holding on and holding fast.
"I wouldn't change a thing. Would you?"
Kensi was shaking her head before she had the conscious thought to do so. And she realized instinct had spoken for her, answering Deeks. There had been pain and difficulty, bad decisions mixed with the good, but happiness and joy overwhelmingly shined through.
"No, not a thing."
The mirror of their smiles was broken only when the voices of their daughters called them over. And when Kensi followed Deeks, letting him tug her alongside him, they returned to their family, their pack.
Always stronger together.