Author's Notes – Not mine…unfortunately.
So here we are! Callen and Nell finally talking. It didn't play out exactly as I anticipated and I am not entirely sure this is the end. It feels like the end, but, in my head, I feel like I should add more. My writing never goes well when I ignore my gut feeling on a story though, so, for now anyway, I am calling it an end.
I hope you all enjoy this chapter and it gives closure to the story. Please read and review. Tell me your thoughts. Let me know if there are still questions that have been left unanswered. Tell me if you think more should be added or if this ending makes sense to you as well. Once again, if reviews aren't your thing, please feel free to send me a personal message. I will answer any questions you have via that method as well!
To the guest reviewer! Thanks for your kind words. I used your thoughts for the basis on how to handle the emotions of the story. I reminded myself just how strong Nell is and how strong she has become through the course of this journey. Using that as my base, I decided against pulling Nate or Mr. Simons into this chapter as a buffer or saving grace. I left it all up to Nell to show just how far she has come! Thank you!
As she pulls into the driveway, Nell sees his car settled in the spot where hers had been parked so many times before this night. She allows herself to take in the moment. Allows herself a few deep breaths before she gets out of her car. Moving towards the door, she pulls out the key Hetty had insisted she hold onto. Just in case, she had said. Nell didn't understand why at the time, but now she does. Now she can smile at the sentiment of the small woman who knew this moment would happen before even Nell did.
Crossing the threshold, Nell is met instantly with an overwhelming feeling of contentment. This house has become her sanctuary. Despite the events of the last time she was there with him, the house offers a safeness she has struggled to find since Herrold catapulted himself back into her world. Walking past the piano, she lets her fingers drag softly over the solid piece of wood covering the keys. Knowing he is attuned enough with his environment that her presence was known before the key ever found its place in the door, Nell decides it would be best to let him come to her.
Sitting down on the bench in front of the piano, she knows it's a risk. Knows he could just as easily slip through the door without a word. But she has to believe that he wants this conversation just as much as she does. She needs to believe he feels just as strongly about them as she does. Letting her fingers glide over the keys, she plays through two songs before she hears him enter the room behind her. She continues with another tune as she waits for him to find his place by her side. The place he spent hours while she lost herself in the music. Time spent attempting to stop the constant barrage of images and reminders of days she just wanted to forget.
It doesn't even take the completion of the third song before his frame is settled beside hers. She closes her eyes as she lets herself breathe in his scent. She needs to pull from his strength, even if he doesn't believe he has any to offer. That is the one thing Nell has learned through this whole experience. Callen's strength is there even when he doesn't know it is. Even in the moments when she seemed too far gone, Callen could reach her without saying a word. All it took was him being there and she could feel him pulling her towards him... The gentle brush of his thigh against hers. Their shoulders barely grazing each other. Any touch, no matter how light or brief, was all it took to give her access to his strength.
Settled beside her on the bench, Nell uses his strength to push forward as she finishes playing the piece of music flowing through her fingers without a second thought. As the last keys are struck, Nell finds her voice, "Hey, Callen." She doesn't look at him. Not yet. Even with the strength she feels from him, she is afraid. Of pretty much everything. The look in his eyes. The idea that this last effort will fail. The thought of talking to him about what happened to her. The thought of not talking about what happened. She briefly wonders if it would have been better to invite Nate or Mr. Simons along as a buffer of sorts. A voice in the background who could pull them out of themselves when they stopped listening to the other one.
Knowing it's too late for any change in course, Nell speaks before she loses what little nerve she has garnered. "I know you already said everything you wanted to say the other night. And I know you don't want me here. At least not here with you like this. With me hoping you only said those things because you are just as scared as I am right now." The words are flowing from her mouth and it's all she can do to continue speaking. She keeps coming back to the hope that he will change his mind. That he will pull her into his arms and tell her everything he said was a mistake. Except he isn't interrupting her. She turns her small frame slightly and faces him, "Anyway, I just need to clear the air. I need to say what I'm thinking. What I'm feeling, Callen." With those words, Callen pulls his body off the bench and walks across the small room.
She stands and follows him. Coming to a stop just behind him, "Callen, there are so many things I need you to know. And the only way I can walk away is if I know I did and said everything I need to say." Nell stops talking as her mind tries to find the right words to make him understand how important it is for her to say these things to him. "I know you don't want a relationship with me. I really do. I know it's too much. That I'm not what you need. That things are too hard. Too unstable for us to be happy." She fights back the tears as she lets the words really hit her for the first time. The fact that Callen doesn't want them to be together. "But Callen, please at least give me the chance to be as honest with you as you have been with me. It's only…"
Her words are interrupted by the timber of his voice. She watches the back of his head as he shakes it from side to side while speaking, "Damnit Nell! Why did you have to come back here?" He moves around her small frame and comes to a stop in front of the couch. "Why do you keep insisting on going through this with me?" She turns to see him running his hand through his short hair, "This would be so much easier if I could just shut down everything I feel for you. But, I swear, all you have to do is walk in the damn room and I can't stop myself. I feel like I have to put things out there I never intended on saying."
He shifts his frame to face her "I haven't been honest with you, Nell. At least not about everything. Not like you think I have anyway." Before she can process any of the words, he continues. "That night, Nell. In this room with you. Holding you in my arms. Feeling your body pressed against mine. The way your hands felt on my skin. The taste of your lips." Nell listens as he takes an unsteady breath in while she feels herself hold a breath of her own. "Jesus, Nell I have never wanted someone so much in my life." She dares a glance at him in time to see him raise his face towards the ceiling. "But as much as you insisted you were ready, I wasn't Nell."
Now she is confused. Nell can't even begin to process the revelation Callen just offered. It makes absolutely no sense to her. Even as much she thinks it would probably be better to just keep her mouth shut and let him continue uninterrupted, Nell hears her voice speaking of its own volition. "I don't understand. At the boatshed…" Callen makes eye contact with her for the first time since she arrived as his voice interrupts hers.
"You asked me if I would have stopped things if it hadn't been for what Herrold did to you. And I was being honest with you when I answered." Her eyes involuntarily fall from his face. The words shouldn't slice through her the way they do. Not after already having heard them. "But…," he pauses, "Look at me, Nell. We can't erase that. We can't pretend it never happened. That he didn't take something from you that night. It's not fair to ask what if Herrold had never done those things."
Nell takes a second, "Why, Callen. Why did you pull away?" She is completely confused. "I figured if I was ready, then you would be too. Especially with all the experience…," She feels his hands reach out and touch her arm as his words interrupt hers. The move is completely involuntary and Callen just lets the natural reaction stand.
"Don't do that Nell." He shakes his head as he speaks again, "Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Experience doesn't mean anything." When she looks at the floor, he bends his knees leaning down slightly to catch her eyes. "Look at me." He waits til her eyes meet his. "I have never felt that way before." He pulls her against his chest and hugs her tightly against himself as he places soft kisses along the top of her head. "I don't know how to make you understand, Nell." He pulls her away from his chest and waits until their eyes meet again, "I am so afraid something I do will bring you back to the night he attacked you, Nell. I never want something I'm doing, some way I'm touching you, to pull you back in time." He takes a breath before completing the thought. "I don't want your mind to confuse my touch with his."
She steps away from him ready to counter his fears, "Even if I do that, Callen. Even if I flash back to some moment from that night, it won't be because of anything you do. That is all about me. My mind." She reaches her hand towards his face and places her palm along his cheek silently urging him to look at her. "You could never be him. You have never made me feel like I was back in that room with him. Never."
His voice breaks as he speaks, "But it could happen."
Locking eyes with him, "I could, Callen. But even if it does, we handle it. We figure out what the trigger was. Talk it through. And we move past it." She pulls her hand away from his face and encases his hand in hers. Walking over to the couch, Nell pulls him along with her. Sitting down on the couch, she pats the seat beside her. She continues speaking after he sits, "But you can't keep going back to that moment. You can't keep anticipating a reaction from me. You can't pull away because something might trigger a flashback." Looking down at her hands, she picks a piece of skin that has come loose along her nail. "We need to talk about what happened to me that night Callen." She feels the cushion of the couch rise slightly and knows he has stood up, "Callen, please."
Nell looks up to see him shaking his head, "No. Nell, you have already talked about this with enough people. There is no reason for you to go through that again. Not for me." He turns to walk across the room in an attempt to regain control of his emotions. Before he can pull himself together, Nell appears directly in front of him.
"Callen look at me." He hesitates before locking eyes with the young woman. "Don't do that. I need you to stay here with me. Don't shut your emotions down like that in some misguided attempt to shield me." He can hear the agitation in her voice, but before he can speak her voice comes through strong and clear. "How many times have I watched you get into character? Become someone else? I know what it looks like, Callen." She reaches out and places her hand on his forearm, "You can't do that when things are heading somewhere that is hard for you."
He takes a moment to process the words and then slowly shakes his head, "I don't think I can listen to what he did to you." Pulling away from her touch, his voice comes through stronger and louder. "I don't want to know what he did, Nell. How he hurt you." Callen takes a breath, "How he touched you." Locking eyes with her, "What's the point Nell? I mean, in the end, what good will it do?"
Nell feels herself getting more frustrated and tries to reign herself in. Tries to tell herself that he just doesn't understand her point of view. It's not like she has been all that vocal about why she feels so strongly about him hearing everything. But for the life of her though, Nell just doesn't understand why he keeps making this about himself. "It will be good for me, Callen!" And there goes the notion of reigning herself in. "Did you ever stop to think about that? God, how the hell does this keep coming back to you? I don't get that, Callen." Her voices rises as she continues to speak in frustration. "Stop making this about you, Callen! You weren't there! None of this even happened to you!"
The words break the calm demeanor he had worked to keep in control. "Like hell this didn't happen to me!" He struggles to lower his voice, but knows he is failing. "Jesus, Nell. I may not have been there all those years ago. Not when he attacked you in college. But everything else, Nell. Everything else, I was right in the middle of all of it." His voice raises as his irritation does, "I was the one you called. I was the one who had to listen to the chaos as I drove to your house that night not knowing what I was going to find. I'm the one who couldn't drive fast enough. Couldn't get there in time to protect you. I have had to come to grips with the fact that when you put your trust in me, I couldn't get there fast enough."
Callen tries to steady his voice as he continues saying things he had kept close at bay before this moment, "I found you, Nell. Me. I walked in that room and it was like I couldn't even breathe. I had to force myself to detach long enough to even begin to help you. Even with all my years in the field, I have never felt the way I did when I saw you in that room." He knows his voice is still much higher in volume than it needs to be, but he can't seem to get his brain to process the need to quiet down. "I may not have been there the first time he attacked you Nell, but I have been just as much a part of this as you were from the moment you made that call. And it seems like at each fork in the road, I choose the wrong way to go. Looking into your past, pushing you to talk when you aren't ready, stopping at the coffee shop instead of coming straight back here, and so many more moments that I was completely wrong. Jesus, Nell. How can you not see any of that!?"
He finally takes a chance and looks in her direction taking in her expression as he does. Between the stunned silence and the tears spilling down her cheeks, Callen know he went too far. Knows he lost his temper. Knows he shouldn't have said what he had. Things that he never intended to ever say to her. Or anyone for that matter. And all he can see is that, once again, he has only succeeded in hurting her.
Callen turns to walk towards the door only to realize Nell has moved her body to block his, "Quit walking away every time things get too real. Or every time you think you screwed something up." Wiping the tears from her face, "Quit treating me like some helpless girl who can't handle hearing what is going on in that head of yours. And in answer to your question, how was I supposed to see any of that if you were never willing to show me." Nell takes a step closer to him, "And how can you expect me to understand any of it if you keep walking away instead of explaining.
Callen lets himself breathe for a moment before continuing in a much calmer tone, "I know you were the one attacked that night, Nell. And I know you were the one he raped all those years ago. But these last several weeks, I have been in this just as deep as you have been. I listened to you cry out in fear during the little sleep you managed to get. And I was there listening to you cry on the nights you wouldn't sleep because you knew the nightmares would come again. I watched you play that piano for hours every day as you struggled to stay in the present. I was the one who couldn't reach you. Couldn't take any of this from you."
Closing the small distance between them, Callen places his hands along her arms. "I watched you sink so far into yourself that I didn't know if you would ever recover. Then, after I thought I had finally reached you, I watched as you fell into another crisis. And every time, it seemed like I was the reason. Like something I did caused you to slip even further away. I couldn't see any other solution than to walk away. To convince myself you would be happier without me around to screw things up at every other turn." Moving his hand along her cheek, "I know you want to talk about what happened when Herrold raped you. But you have already lived through that so many times. I just can't see how telling me the details will do any good."
Nell locks eyes with Callen, "It will be good for me." Her voice is so small and he mentally kicks himself for not seeing what was right in front of him the whole time. It never dawned on Callen her telling him was more for herself than for him. "I need to tell you because I need you to know everything. I need you to be the person I can give one look to and know you will understand. The person who knows, without words, why I am saying and doing the things I am doing. I don't want any part of myself to be hidden. I have done that for too many years, Callen. I can't keep doing it."
Gathering her small frame into his arms, Callen pulls her against his chest, "God, I suck at this relationship thing. You have no idea what you are getting yourself into with me, Nell. None at all. I'm going to screw up more times than I get it right. You know that, right?"
He feels her laugh against his chest, "Don't make me out to be some perfect person who isn't going to mess up just as much as you. You remember all my quirks, don't you? By the end of the first week, you are going to be begging Hetty to send you on a long-term mission." She allows herself to feel the secureness of his arms for another moment before pulling from his grasp and moving back to the couch. Motioning with her head for him to join her, "Before we can get there though, I have to do this with you."