Author's Note: Wow, I am blown away by all of the support I've gotten for this story so far! I didn't really expect people to read this, but now I have to try to make this good!
"So, are you going to tell me what's going on with you?" Kensi asked as soon as they got on the freeway on the way to their destination. She probably wanted to wait until it would be too dangerous for Deeks to fling himself out of the moving car. He was still tempted though, just so he could avoid having this conversation. What could he really say to her right now? Anything he said would probably be shared with the others as soon as the opportunity presented itself. That was why he always made everything sound like a joke. At least he could pretend to be in on it most of the time.
"Nothing's going on. I just had a long night," Deeks sighed. That wasn't a complete lie either. A man he'd worked with on a past case had come to him with some information and LAPD wanted him to check it out. There was an illegal gambling ring moving from place to place around downtown LA. Usually that wouldn't have been something Deeks would be assigned to, but the person running it had been suspected of killing a few of the patrons when they couldn't pay their losses.
His informant, Russ, swore that he'd been at one of the games and barely got away after being threatened with his life. Deeks went in to where he said the ring was going to be that night, but instead found a regular pissed off bookie Russ was trying to get off the street so he didn't have to pay his debt. If being lied to about the details didn't already piss him off, the bookie shooting at them sure did. Deeks had dressed down and definitely didn't look like a cop, but luckily he was still armed. No one had gotten hurt, but getting shot at still sucked. And it kind of annoyed him that Russ had gotten what he wanted after all.
"Right. Like I'm really going to believe this is just you being tired," Kensi scoffed. "You've never let an all nighter affect you like this before."
"Well, we don't really know each other, do we?" Deeks muttered, staring out the window. He really hoped Kensi would leave it now that he was sending out pretty clear "leave it alone" signals, but Kensi never let a chance to be stubborn pass by.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kensi snapped, cutting off a driver so she didn't miss their exit.
"Since when do we talk about anything real? How often do you offer up any personal information about yourself?" Deeks asked, looking over to gauge her reaction. She opened her mouth a few times before closing it again. There really was no argument that would prove him wrong. Besides knowing her dad had taught her a lot of skills growing up, he hadn't the slightest idea who Kensi Blye was. At least, not things she'd admitted to him out loud. Pretty much all of what he knew were things he'd found just by being able to read people. Obviously, none of the team had taken the time to do the same with him.
"Well, maybe we should change that?" Kensi suggested, turning into the missing man's neighborhood.
"Okay, you first. Tell me something personal," Deeks challenged, watching Kensi squirm a little under his scrutiny. He honestly wanted to form a bond with these people so badly, but he wasn't going to put himself out there if the effort wasn't going to be reciprocated. Deeks was already at a disadvantage without offering up more ammo that could be used against him.
"We're talking about you right now though," Kensi grumbled, pulling up to their destination.
"And now we're going to talk about work," Deeks said, refraining from calling out her hypocrisy. He might trust Kensi to have his back in a firefight, but he didn't trust her to know intimate details of his private life. He stepped out of the car, looking around for anything out of the ordinary. Now was the time for focus, so they could get the job done well. Deeks didn't want to give anyone reason to call his performance into question too.
Kensi brushed past him, heading directly to the front door. Deeks followed without comment, knowing she would be in a bad mood since he didn't immediately bend to her will. The stubborn tenacity was usually endearing, but right now it was just another landmine he wanted to avoid.
She was looking through the living room by the time he caught up with her, so he did the same. The room was destroyed, but it didn't look like anyone had been hurt. There was no blood, just a lot of broken and tossed items. More like someone was looking for something. What it was, was the question. What could a low ranking Navy officer really have worth all this? Probably not high security level information.
"Furniture looks secondhand. Everything looks well used and nothing really matches," Kensi noted, toeing at an overturned table. "Might make someone think he was more susceptible to selling information."
"True. But that would mean the person knew him well enough to see the inside of his place," Deeks pointed out. "Or found a way inside without Combs knowing. But how would they know to target him specifically?"
"It's pretty common knowledge that people with his ranking don't make a lot of money."
"But why Combs? Is he working on something special or headed to a higher title? Might be good to get in with him while he's just another face in the crowd."
"Or maybe he isn't the only one who was approached, just the only one who said anything?" Kensi offered.
"And if that person somehow found out, they wouldn't be very pleased," Deeks agreed. They really couldn't find out the answers to any of these questions without more information.
"Which way are you leaning?" Kensi asked, flipping through the few books that hadn't been thrown from the bookshelf. Deeks was checking the drawers of the desk that had been upturned in the corner.
"I don't know, I-" Deeks paused when he felt a seam in the bottom of one of the drawers that shouldn't have been there. He slid his finger along the edge, feeling for an opening.
"What is it?" Kensi asked, walking over to peek her head over his shoulder.
"Bingo!" Deeks grinned, lifting the flap of wood away to expose a hidden cubby. There was a bit of money stashed away and a small notebook. Deeks passed the drawer to Kensi to look through while he kept the notebook for himself. He opened up the front cover and immediately knew what he was looking at. Things were starting to make a bit more sense. "This might be a case for the LAPD after all."
"Why's that?" Kensi questioned. Deeks flipped the book toward her so she could see the inside.
"Someone has been doing a bit of gambling," Deeks replied, thumbing through a few of the pages. There was a definite downward trend in luck recently, if the numbers were accurate.
"Could be legit, but the hidden compartment could mean otherwise," Kensi commented.
"Believe me, I have recent experience telling me how serious this can get," Deeks scoffed, thinking back to the previous night. He was so burned out on the idea of gambling that he wouldn't even want to make a friendly wager on a coin toss.
"I'll have Eric and Nell take a closer look into his financials," Kensi said, pulling out her phone to make the call. Deeks kept looking through the book, cringing at the recent losses. He hoped the kid wasn't caught up with the ring he thought he'd been investigating last night, but this was looking more like a probability that he owed someone money and they came to collect. "They'll let us know if they find anything. They also said they'd pass the theory on to Callen and Sam."
"Sounds good," Deeks said, checking the other drawers for more hidden evidence.
"Who do you think it was that Combs told his superior about?" Kensi wondered aloud.
"Probably someone hired to collect the money he owed."
"But why would he tell anyone about it? Especially a person connected with his career. This could really destroy his future, especially if he's wrapped up in something illegal."
"Maybe Combs thought he could get the guy in trouble before he dealt with any repercussions he brought upon himself," Deeks snorted, reminded of how he dealt with almost the same scenario with Russ.
"Or maybe he was a scared kid who got in over his head and was reaching out for help?" Kensi proposed, giving him a look. "It's not like you to be so cynical."
"I guess this whole thing looks a bit too familiar right now," Deeks sighed, standing up when his latest search turned up nothing else.
"Speaking from personal experience?" Kensi asked, raising a curious eyebrow.
"Professional experience, not personal. Nice try though," Deeks scoffed, walking down the hall toward the bedroom. "We take enough risks on the job, I don't need to take more in my free time."
The rest of the search brought up nothing else useful, but Deeks was feeling fairly confident that their gambling theory was the most likely scenario. It didn't really get them any closer to finding Combs, but it gave them an angle to start at. Eric had found a few suspicious withdrawals from his bank account here and there, but nothing that would've looked strange without this new context. Sam and Callen hadn't found much either, hearing from everyone they'd talked to that Combs had been the nice, normal guy they'd known since they met him.
They all decided to reconvene at the mission, so they could go over everything in Ops. Kensi drove, as per usual, but she didn't pry like earlier. Deeks supposed that their ability to work together had made her forget her previous curiosity. He was glad, since he didn't want to get into another spat right before seeing everyone else. And his mood wasn't as sour as it had been, now that he was fully immersed in the investigation. There was nothing better to distract him from his own emotions than crime and mystery.
"Looks like you two had better luck than we did," Callen said as soon as they walked back into the bullpen.
"I told you we should've been the ones to check where Combs lived," Sam said, shaking his head at his partner.
"You said no such thing," Callen scoffed, leaning back in his chair. "As if you'd pass up an opportunity to throw your weight around in front of a bunch of sailors, Mr. Navy Seal."
"Who did you browbeat this time?" Kensi asked with a knowing grin.
"You would've done the same if you saw how dingy that man's uniform was," Sam defended, not looking guilty in the slightest.
"He'd just finished working under a truck," Callen laughed, tipping his head back in amusement.
"There were layers of dirt, G. You could tell some of the stains had been there already and had a chance to set in. Unacceptable," Sam said sternly. Deeks kept quiet, only nodding along every few moments. He didn't need to call attention to himself and have them start in on his wardrobe. There was nothing wrong with plaid.
"Maybe he was more focused on doing his job, rather than how he looked?" Callen suggested, purposefully egging him on.
"A good soldier can focus on everything. You never know when a high ranking individual will show up," Sam scoffed, waving away any other arguments. Sam had spoken and that was the end of it. Deeks sure wasn't going to argue with him about Navy politics.
"Look at what we found," Eric said brightly as he and Nell bounced into the middle of the bullpen. He tapped a few buttons on his tablet and brought up a video on the screen to the side of the desks. "I finally found a video of the confrontation Combs told his superior about. He hadn't been very specific about where it happened, so I had to backtrack his movements from his home." They watched as Combs was approached by the man, but instead of a brief meeting of strangers, there was a bit of an argument before Combs continued on his way.
"Combs knew him," Kensi commented.
"That's what we think as well," Nell agreed, pausing the video on a blurry still of the other man's face. "This picture wasn't good enough to get a positive I.D., but we're still looking. He took off into an area without cameras and we haven't been able to pick up his trail since."
"Looks like Deeks' theory might be right," Callen said, tilting his head in contemplation.
"First time for everything," Sam laughed, giving him a friendly slap on the shoulder. "Probably shouldn't get used to it though."
"No, probably not," Deeks agreed, sliding out of his chair and walking toward the locker rooms. He'd let them think he was joking with them about his lack of skills, when in reality he meant they might not want to get used to him being around at all. Going back to LAPD was starting to look more appealing by the second.
Deeks took a few minutes alone in the locker room to just breathe without an audience. He splashed some water on his face and stared at himself in the mirror, contemplating life as one tended to do while mere feet from a toilet. Was this really how he wanted to spend the next years of his life? He wanted to believe it had to get better after he settled in, but it never had in LAPD. Every choice he'd made had left him feeling unfulfilled, from becoming a lawyer, to becoming a cop, and now to a liaison. Deeks just wanted to be somewhere that he felt he belonged and have people to share it with.
He dried his face off, resignedly walking back to the door to join the rest of the team again. If he was away too long, that would just invite more teasing. Deeks was already planning on setting up a weak bladder joke they could use against him, just so they would be distracted enough not to pry.
"Everything alright?" Kensi asked, startling him as he walked out of the locker room door. She was standing just to the side, lying in wait apparently. Deeks was actually impressed she had enough restraint to not just barge in.
"Oh, you know how my bladder is," Deeks chuckled, thinking back to their time in the desert. That had been a fun day. Happy endings mostly, but he didn't like to think about what happened after that last minute rescue. That had probably been the beginning of the end of his time with NCIS, if he was being honest. Not that he would tell anyone that. It sounded painfully pathetic.
"That's funny, since I haven't seen you drink anything since you came in this morning," Kensi pointed out. Deeks stifled his groan. She could be observant in the most inopportune situations.
"Guess I had to hold it longer than I thought. Couldn't exactly use the bathroom at Combs', could I?" Deeks brushed off, walking back to the bullpen.
"Why do you always get to go in as the high roller, G?" Sam asked, pointing his pen in his partner's direction.
"Because you're much more believable as the hired muscle, for obvious reasons," Callen chuckled.
"It's not my fault you don't hit the gym. I shouldn't be pigeonholed into that role just because you can't do it. I exude an air of high quality," Sam bragged, as if he didn't pretty much wear the same style shirt in different colors every day.
"How about you figure that part out on the way? Mr. Combs may not have the time to wait for you two to argue over things like this," Hetty said sternly, standing in front of the group.
"What's going on?" Kensi asked.
"We're going to go talk to a few of the bookies around town and see if anyone's talking. You and Deeks should do the same," Callen directed, shrugging on a sport coat that was draped over the back of his chair.
"Actually, I might have a contact that I could go to for this. He's got his ear to the ground when it comes to this world," Deeks said, drawing everyone's attention onto him.
"Okay, let's go," Kensi shrugged, going over to her desk to grab her bag.
"Actually, I should go alone," Deeks said, wincing at the scornful look Kensi immediately shot him. "It's nothing personal, it's just this guy is kind of strange."
"Strange how?" Kensi asked, crossing her arms in annoyance.
"Well, he tried to set me up with his sister right after I arrested him," Deeks snorted, shaking his head at the memory. He'd been there when Russ' sister came to bail him out and she'd taken a liking to him. Russ had talked them both up, trying to convince Deeks to take her out on a date. He'd politely declined, but Russ would still bring up how she was single and desperate on occasion whenever they crossed paths.
"So, what does that have to do with me coming along?" Kensi questioned.
"He doesn't really trust other law enforcement and I can't risk pissing him off. He may be important in a LAPD case and I can't mess that up for something like this," Deeks explained. And he really didn't want to cross his LAPD and NCIS worlds together too much. It was bad enough when he had to liaise during the normal cases.
"That's fine, Mr. Deeks. Ms. Blye can join Mr. Callen and Mr. Hanna for today, until you get back," Hetty said, giving him her blessing.
"I think your high roller spot just got stolen, G," Sam laughed, watching his partner strip off his nice jacket.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come?" Kensi asked, eyeing him a little warily. "I guess I can wait in the car."
"Nah, I got this," Deeks assured her, walking backwards out of the mission. "I'll probably be back before you guys are." Deeks pushed his way through the outer doors and trotted to his car. Russ would probably be more than willing to help him after the stunt he pulled last night. He'd just talk to him quickly and hopefully get a good lead on someone who might know Combs. Deeks had gone alone to talk to informants countless times and this time would be no different.
He had no idea how much he was going to regret this decision.