A serene silence fell over the Spanish style building the NCIS LA team called home. It had been a quiet day work wise and the rest of the team had left over two hours ago. Only Callen remained seated at his desk. He was gently tapping away on his laptop, writing up the case reports that had somehow been neglected - until Hetty had rather brutally reminded him that as team leader, he should be setting an example with his paperwork, not demonstrating to the others how to avoid it. He still had three left to write and was plotting how to con Sam into doing the work for him, when he heard footsteps approach. The fact that he heard them meant it wasn't Hetty, and he breathed a sigh of relief. No, these belonged to a man. And since pretty much everyone had left, he knew exactly who was waiting patiently for him to look up.
'Nate.' Callen continued to stare at his screen and typed a few more words. He was well aware that he was the only one of the team who had not been subject to a psych evaluation in the past few days.
'Callen, I was er, wondering if I could speak with you. Catch up?'
Callen stopped typing. He slowly raised his hands to the laptop and closed the screen. He looked up, tilting his head slightly. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth.
'Sure. Need more advise on undercover work?'
'Um well, no.' Damn it, Nate thought. He could tell instantly Callen was not in the mood to play nice. If he wasn't careful, he would be the one needing therapy, not Callen. 'I need to speak to you in my official capacity as Operational Psychologist. Hetty's orders.'
Callen maintained his posture and kept the smirk on his face.
'Hetty's order? I wondered when you'd get round to me.' Callen leaned back in his chair. 'You've seen everyone else and even though I've technically finished for the day...here you are.'
'You have a tendency to be just as elusive as Hetty when it comes to psych evals.'
'So what, you wait until late and then talk to me in the bull pen, not knowing who is still in the building? You're slipping Nate.'
Nate pursed his lips at the slight barb from Callen.
'I was going to ask you to step in to Hetty's office. But if you rather, I'll chase everyone out of the building and you can lie down on the couch?'
Callen's smirk became a smile and he refrained from utilising one of Deeks' favourite expressions, touché.
'Nice comeback. We'll use Hetty's office but we're the last two in the building.' Callen stood and followed Nate who, rather than sit in Hetty's chair and risk her wrath by lowering it, grabbed a spare chair and positioned it next to Callen in front of the desk. All they needed was Hetty to appear and it would seem that she would be briefing them both.
'I'm all yours.'
'So, how are you getting on with the team?'
'Fine. Just fine Nate.'
Nate sighed inwardly. This was the first session held with Callen since the water boarding incident a few years ago and not surprisingly it looked like he was going to be even less forthcoming than usual.
'Good. You've had a rough ride with Joelle's betrayal, finding your father, half sister and nephew. Plus some tough operations, some undercover.'
Callen nodded in agreement and paused, waiting for Nate to continue, knowing full well he was expected to elaborate.
'Um, tell me how you feel now you've found your family.'
'I feel fine Nate. But I'm sure Hetty's shared my records with you on everything confidential.'
The sarcasm was not lost on Nate, however he decided the best course was to ignore it.
'She has Callen, it's part of her role and my duty of care to know. You've kept your sister and her son at a distance and you've got a lot of reconnecting to do with your father. But I'd like to hear it from you. You know exactly how these meetings work and what I have to report, so you could at least try to play ball.'
Callen raised his eyebrows at the barely concealed threat that if he wanted, Nate could turn in an unfavourable report which would lead to further psychological assessments and even temporarily remove him from the field.
'My father is - a complicated man. Thinks he can still use KGB ways in the States.'
'And how has that made you feel?'
'Confused. Neither of us are finding it easy, learning to be father and son after so long.'
'And how does your father interact with his daughter and grandson?'
'Fine. No problem there.'
Nate detected a hint of resentment.
'You must remember that you've grown up thinking your parents abandoned you, in and out of care homes...'
'Yeah, thanks Nate.'
'What I mean is your sister didn't have the same upbringing as you, and your - her - father risked his life to make sure she was safe. Again, it's easier for your father to connect with a five year old with no preconceived notions, but that makes it even tougher on you. You're struggling to establish a relationship with your dad and you're witnessing him connecting with his grandson when you never had that opportunity.'
'Yes.' Callen said, not wanting to verbalise just how challenging he was finding family life. 'But it doesn't interfere with my job.'
'You're very good - maybe too good at separating the personal from the professional.' Nate leaned forward in his chair, hoping it would convey to Callen the seriousness of their conversation. 'Look Hetty's planning a long term undercover mission and whoever goes under has to be more than one hundred percent solid psychologically. So I need you go back over two old cases to understand their impact on you; the child suicide bomber & the white supremacist operation.'
Nate observed Callen stiffen slightly before relaxing his pose and he realised he'd hit a nerve. He knew Callen became emotionally involved in cases that were personal to him, those concerning his past and Hetty and it was unusual for him to allow his feelings to affect other, more standard missions. Nate then recalled the John Donnelly case where Callen had developed a sexual relationship with his sister and at one point thought he may have fathered her son.
'OK. I spent hours in a cold water tank on top of a hotel trying to talk an eleven year old out of releasing the dead man switch and blowing us both to kingdom come.'
'You usually let Sam interact and bond with children. What made this one different?'
Callen hesitated before responding.
'Because I couldn't risk Sam failing and leaving his own kids without a father.'
Nate nodded. He knew Callen didn't have a death wish or think he life was worse less than Sam's. One of the many things Nate admired about Callen was that he always considered the wider picture and considered all angles. In this instance he was thinking of Sam's children.
'How did you get through to the boy?'
'I didn't. It was proof via a live video feed from Israel that made him want to live.'
'What changed his mind?'
'Nadir saw his triplet and his birth parents. The twin brother he grew up died earlier that day when his vest exploded.'
'That's pretty powerful stuff, finding your family.'
'Yes it is.' Callen agreed. The sarcasm disappeared and his tone was now serious. Callen was also mentally kicking himself for allowing Nate to easily manipulate the conversation back round to family.
'You stayed with Nadir until his real family arrived. How did you feel, observing that first encounter with his parents and brother?'
'I was pleased for him. He was the first person to call me Grisha. You were the second.'
The following silence cut through the air like a knife. Callen stared at Nate. It was a hard stare but not icy cold, which was a small mercy Nate gladly took. He might have to suggest to Hetty that another psychologist evaluates Callen in the future, although he was sure their next meeting would not be quite as challenging. Callen had coped admirably with Nadir and although he did not ask the questions, he knew Callen would have shared any of his own childhood experiences to help the boy. It must have brought back mixed memories, Nate thought.
'I've read reports you were pretty torn up when a young criminal member of the Aryan Supreme Alliance was shot dead by FBI Agent Rand. You tried to revive him and then immediately walked away from the scene and your team. I'm interested to know what made this undercover operation different from so many others, where you could easily maintain emotional distance - at least after the case.'
Callen folded his arms and again held Nate's stare. He had no intention of revealing his past or even telling him how he felt after the operation. It was a subject he tried not to think about at all. Charlie had been an alternate, albeit older version of himself and in a similar situation. Callen too had been living a bad life as a teenager, becoming immersed in crime. His robbery of the storage locker had been the final straw for the police when he was arrested. The fact he had later chosen to escape from juvie, steal a car and deliberately drive it at two LAPD vehicles meant he would have been sent to an adult prison at the age of fifteen. From there he would have continued to spiral in to an ever increasing life of crime. His instinct and ability to lie and to become other people had developed naturally as a child. Petty theft, breaking and entering and hotwiring cars had been learnt on the streets. It was Hetty's home education and later, federal training which had lifted those base skills to a higher level and for the greater good. Callen sighed audibly. He knew damn well he would have excelled at a life of crime, probably interspersed with jail time had Hetty not intervened in his life at such a pivotal point.
'Callen,' Nate said gently. The man may never trust him again but here and now there was really little choice. 'This undercover case Hetty's prepping for, it'll involve you embracing your past. I'm not privy to any of your juvenile records but I know something must have happened which made you turn your life around. Maybe it was a bad experience in a foster home, or a choice between breaking the law or saying no. I don't know. What I do need is the reassurance that you are mentally prepared for any eventuality, that you can remain undercover and still cope with anything from witnessing abuse to plotting away with the rest of the bad guys.'
Callen jutted his chin out slightly and slowly nodded his head.
'You know how it is Nate, you play a part too well, pal up with a bad guy and then reality bites. Just needed a while to decompress after that case.'
'I think it was more than that Callen.'
Callen decided to shut Nate down. He knew and appreciated the reasons why specialist undercover agents had to be evaluated but he'd had enough of Nate's bull for one evening.
'Think what you like. You can report back to Hetty that I'm good, screwed up or just plain refused to cooperate. The one thing I can say is that I've never tortured a colleague when I've been undercover.'
Callen stood up and walked away from Nate. He knew he wanted to make a difference in people's lives, to save them from bad situations, bad people or even from themselves. There were just times when he still questioned why he had been saved. He hadn't wanted to be at the time. All he wanted was to avoid jail and social services and he'd seen Hetty as an easy ticket out of hell. He knew he could have saved Charlie. His words had made a difference and Charlie said he couldn't...Charlie couldn't shoot him but Rand pulled the trigger anyway. Callen thought about his final words to Nate, recognising all too well they were a defence mechanism. By throwing the light back to Nate he could avoid conversations about himself. Callen ran his hand over his stubbly hair and absentmindedly thought it needed a trim. If Hetty wanted him undercover as an adult version of his fifteen year old self before meeting Hetty, then all she had to do was instruct him. He didn't need Nate tiptoeing around. He would cope. He always did.