Deeks entered the boatshed an hour after the raid finished. He ran his fingers through his hair, ruffling the long fringe and brushing it out of his eyes. He felt nervous and was not sure why. He'd been read his rights at the scene and carted off individually, as they all had. In the car, his NCIS driver and escort confirmed he was not being taken to LAPD lock up in case someone inadvertently blew his cover. He was due to be debriefed quickly so he could assist in the interrogations, either by feeding information to the team or by speaking directly to the suspects whilst remaining in his alias. He'd been assured that Callen would follow soon, once he had worn down the medics and convinced them he was fine, but he guessed they would be kept separate until the post-mission interviews were complete. He wondered if it was a clue that something wasn't quite right. Jeez, he thought, it seems like Callen's paranoia really was contagious. An unsure smile crossed his lips as he saw the team for the first time in months. His gaze settled on Kensi and the smile broadened, reaching his eyes and without hesitation he moved to embrace his only real partner.
'I was so worried but they wouldn't let me speak to you.' Kensi breathed into his ear.
'I know. God I missed you so much,' Deeks murmured.
He moved his fingers so they were entwined in her long brown hair. He breathed in her fragrance and felt all his stress and anxiety start to ebb. He did not want this moment to end. The rest of the team turned away as the pair kissed, allowing them their moment before it had to be broken.
'Mr Deeks,' Hetty said gently, maintaining a respectful distance. 'This was a long undercover operation and we need to talk. Mr Callen will be here shortly and he will go through the same process.'
Deeks reluctantly pulled away from Kensi , mouthing I love you and only turning away when they could no longer reach to touch the others fingers.
'In here, if you would.' Hetty said.
Deeks followed Hetty back to the interrogation room by the entrance and was startled to see Nate there, sitting on the side of the law. He smiled and shook his head.
'Oh man, you're already trying to psyche me out. You sitting over there on the side of justice, and me expected to sit over here where we sit our criminals.' His face dropped and he became serious. 'So which am I then?'
'You can sit here if you want. Or stand, or sit on the chair at the side. Deeks it really doesn't matter. We just can't have you or Callen comfortable together out there as we need to debrief you individually as quickly as possible.' Nate spoke gently and with haste. 'We need to make sure your statement of events track with each other and then interrogate Lyneham, Ariel, Raider, Thomason and Stone. Time is of the essence.'
Everything Nate said was true and he needed Deeks to be onside. Whatever the quick-witted LAPD liaison might throw his way had to be nipped in bud early. The challenge would be Callen's interview and despite what he had just said to Deeks, he had to clear the detective before he could start on Callen.
'OK,' Deeks sighed. He sat down opposite Nate. Hetty took the chair by the door, the silent observer. 'All I want to do is get this part over with.'
'I understand. If you start with a summary of your time undercover, and then I want to focus on the last forty eight hours and the main players. But before we go any further I need to remind you that as protocol dictates, this session is being recorded.'
Deeks looked at the camera in the top corner of the room and saw the little red light flashing. He repressed an urge to smile, wink and wave, and instead turned his attention back to Nate. How fitting he thought, that the debrief should mirror the start - with some 'Nate time'.
Callen looked and felt positively exhausted. The cuts and bruises sustained less than twenty four hours earlier were already growing darker in colour, made worse by his pallor, unkempt hair and stubble. He walked into the boatshed and drank in the scene instantly. The entire team, with the exception of Nell and Eric were present and he was not surprised to see Hetty. And if he was honest, he was not surprised that Nate was there too. He'd been 'assessed' informally by Nate at the start of the operation and although it was too soon for the mandatory psychological review, he guessed the debrief was going to be a full-on affair. Nate was standing by the coffee machine, cradling a mug and chatting with Sam and Hetty, Kensi and Deeks were leaning against the table, heads close together as they shared a quiet moment, talking in low voices. They had all looked up the moment the boatshed door opened and saw Callen walk in.
'Oh wow,' Kensi reacted instinctively, moving towards Callen for an embrace which was reciprocated.
'Kens,' he said before breaking away to focus on Deeks.
'You good?' Deeks asked.
'Yeah, I am now,' Callen replied.
The two men pulled into each other, both relieved they had emerged from the long term undercover operation reasonably intact.
'Sam.' Callen turned his attention to his usual partner, a little tentative after seeing how Sam's eyes were still a sore and inflamed from the Pepper spray.
'G,' Sam smiled and any tension was immediately relieved. Another bear hug ensued and Sam took the opportunity to whisper, 'I'm glad you're back safe, but don't ever Pepper spray me again.'
'I hear you,' Callen said with a cheeky smile and Sam shook his head in exasperation.
'If you will Mr Callen, let's go upstairs so we can discuss in detail the operation and your part in it.'
'Upstairs? That room has a cot which is pretty comfy.'
'Yes I do. And I also know on numerous occasions you have used it as your own personal bedroom and the boatshed as your place of residence, against my direct orders. You are the lead undercover operative on this case and we need to corroborate your events with Deeks and drill down into every piece of information we can get. Once we have your statement and consolidated our intelligence, Lyneham and Ariel will be brought here for interrogation. I don't want any surprises when it comes to interrogating the suspects or during the prosecution. Now get upstairs.' Hetty sounded like she was scolding a seven year old. 'Chop, chop.'
Instructions like that were not to be disobeyed and Callen turned to his team with a wry smile before leading the way upstairs. He had been through many such meetings over the years with various agencies, although the majority of his undercover operations were with this specialised NCIS office. It had been a long time since Nate had been in attendance and Callen had to consider the implications. It was not a psychological assessment, as they were strictly confidential but Callen had his suspicions this was either connected to Joshua Lyneham and the concerns Hetty and Anna had that he had formed too close a bond, or about the death of Anton DuValle. Either way he figured he was in for a long and intense debrief. He sat down in his usual place of interrogator and waited for Nate and Hetty to enter and sit. He knew full well his positioning was strategic, placing himself mentally on the front foot. Neither colleague made a comment as they sat, although Nate exchanged a less than covert glance with Hetty. The meeting followed the same structure as Deeks' and from Callen's point of view there were no surprises. He was truthful, included suppositions and made it clear they were such. He detailed facts which he could back up with evidence and filled in the blanks Deeks could not, when the younger man had not been present. At various points, Hetty and Nate interrupted, asking probing questions particularly around his attack on DuValle and events directly before the explosion and review of events afterwards, at the ranch. He concluded with the confrontation that he had killed DuValle just before the raid.
'Why did Lyneham and Ariel think you killed DuValle?' Nate asked, gently tapping his pen on the notepad in front of him.
'They saw me threaten him in the early hours and there's an unaccounted period of time around sunrise.'
'And they think you killed him during that time?'
'Yes,' Callen said, unsure why Nate was challenging his logic.
'So he was alive when you last saw him, which is when he left the ranch and was escorted to the barn.'
'Yes,' Callen repeated.
Nate leaned back on his chair and folded his arms. He knew Callen very well and had no doubt the man was telling the truth. He was concerned about the violence Callen had displayed with DuValle. He admitted he attacked DuValle and held a knife tightly to his throat which corroborated the visual evidence Nate had viewed. Callen stated the actions were part of his alias, which Nate only partially believed. Deeks commented he was shocked when he arrived on the scene but also stated it was in line with the legend Callen had embellished during their time undercover. He let the moment go, knowing Hetty would return to this when she revealed the allegations made against Callen.
'You embedded yourself very well in this operation. Maybe a bit too well...'
Nate's words were chosen deliberately. He wanted to play on Callen's visible exhaustion, anticipating he could become defensive and struggle to keep his emotions in check. It was a basic and easy method to ascertain a degree of truth.
Callen tilted his head at Nate's words. He was not surprised to hear them; Anna had said something similar when they met earlier in the op. He leaned back in his chair and adopted a relaxed pose. He knew exactly what Nate was doing and felt cheated that he would stoop to such basic efforts.
'Define a bit too well?' Callen said.
'You got too close to Joshua Lyneham. You spent many hours alone in his company, bonding over stories about your shared childhood experiences. You allowed yourself to become emotionally involved in this case.'
'That was a main part of my brief, Nate,' he said, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice. 'I was chosen for that very reason, to bond with Joshua Lyneham and become trusted with the leaders. Remember you tried to have that one on one session with me pre-op?'
Nate pursed his lips. He knew Callen was speaking the truth. He was convinced that as much as Callen was playing Lyneham, Lyneham had been doing exactly the same. His effort to prepare Callen for that fact had clearly been a little too subtle.
'You made yourself indispensable to the top dogs and instead of going along with their campaign you took the lead and created detailed strategies for successful attacks.'
'The attacks were going to take place regardless. The changes I suggested were to ensure minimum risk to people's lives. I had no idea about the explosives and I was seconds away from being blown up.' Callen leaned back and crossed his arms, deliberately mimicking Nate's posture. Keeping his voice calm he continued. 'Do you think I planned that for myself? It sounds to me Nate, that you're trying to squeeze in a shrink session. What do you think I've done?'
'Mr Callen,' Hetty stood up and moved besides Nate in what Callen could only interpret as a show of solidarity with the operational psychologist. That was not a good sign. 'The DOD received several video clips showing you leading this merry band of domestic terrorists. The most disturbing one shows you pressing a knife tightly against DuValle's throat and there is audio which implies you paid DuValle a private visit and finished what you started. His body was found during the raid.'
Callen's eyes narrowed as he processed the information. He was glad his paranoia had won out for this mission and was pretty pissed about the hidden recording devices apparently planted everywhere. Much worse though, was the realisation that at least one person at the ranch had used and doctored those recordings to implicate him in the murder - and sent them to a federal agency.
'No,' he muttered, shaking his head, even though he knew the wonder twins would prove the last recording was a fake.
'We believe you played your undercover role too well and became a threat to their organisation.' Hetty explained.
'Callen', Nate said gently. 'Joshua Lyneham played you better than you played him.'
Callen looked up at Nate. He felt totally deflated. How could this even be possible? How could any of them have known he was a fed?
'You know we're still collecting evidence from the compound. Your knife was bagged by LAPD when your alias was arrested, and all the clothes in your room are now with forensics. You need to understand this is just a formality and we must be seen to follow due process. You're not under arrest or under investigation and Hetty has cleared this with SECNAV.'
'I think DuValle and Thomason knew I was NCIS. If they told Lyneham and Ariel it would have been on the night I fought DuValle, maybe after he was taken to the cell in the barn. But there was no way the attack on Ariel was staged. None at all.' Callen tracked back through his recollection of events and even as he uttered the words, he did not believe Lyneham or Ariel knew he was undercover - certainly not at that point, if at all.
'But why else were there cameras in Ariel's bedroom or in the kitchen if not to record a staged event for future blackmail or passing the blame to another, like you?' Nate asked.
'Ariel was scared of DuValle,' Callen pondered as he spoke out loud. 'She had evidence that she was using to blackmail DuValle. She could have known and agreed to the cameras in case he tried to attack or kill her.' Callen glanced between Nate and Hetty. 'What has she said so far? And what about Josh, Thomason and the others?'
Nate noted Callen had reverted to using Lyneham's first name. His psychological assessment in a few days time was not going to be a fun task for either of them.
'Mr Callen,' Hetty interjected. 'Ariel has a history of blackmail as you have just stated. It's not outside the realms of possibility they planned for accepting an undercover operative into their inner circle and most likely had cameras placed in numerous strategic locations.'
Nate continued. 'We need to remember that these men and women are domestic terrorists and someone or a group of people were serious enough to place explosive devices in a social services building. And they had enough foresight to record and edit video surveillance in such a way to shift the blame away from themselves. In this case it makes an undercover agent complicit at the minimum. It doesn't really matter if they knew whether you're a fed. When this goes to trial, you may have to answer some difficult questions so your statement has to be watertight.'
'I'm an undercover federal agent. I've been on cases where my aliases work with arms dealers, war criminals, mercenaries and fanatics - left wing, right wing, Christian, Muslim. I've even been a double agent. You know that if I have to testify it will be a closed courtroom, maybe via video-link with no visual and my voice changed. My career depends on me knowing the law and the responsibilities I have, to make sure we can get the bad guys off the streets and in prison. To keep myself sane, I have to have morals. My life and career depends on you keeping me anonymous. Do you really think I would jeopardise any of that?'
Callen was now on his feet, his voice had taken on a steely tone. He was pissed and he was tired. Worst of all, he knew he had just failed in his personal mission to never let Nate best him. He stared at Nate, not to make him feel uncomfortable - although that was a bonus - but really to avoid looking at Hetty. He could already feel her eyes boring into his soul, making him feel guilty for taking his frustrations out on Nate. Still, he waited until Nate broke away first; a small, hollow and pathetic victory, Callen thought with a hint of bitterness. Hetty cleared her throat, a sure sign he must allow himself to look in her direction, an unwritten order he obeyed.
'Daniel Joshua Miller, AKA Josh Lyneham is scheduled to arrive in ten minutes. He will be taken to the ground floor interrogation room. You and Detective Deeks will make your way to Ops where you can observe but you need to remain dressed as you are in case you're needed as your aliases.'
Callen nodded. 'But what about all this..?'
'We both think you became too involved in this case, too close to Lyneham -' Nate said.
'But it is clear you did not cross any lines or indeed commit murder.' Hetty interrupted Nate, shooting him a quick look. 'And Mr Callen, your post mission psych evaluation will take place in two days time. I've booked you in for the early morning slot with Nate. You will attend this mandatory review. Nate will be delving deeply into your behaviour during this operation, and into many of the comments you've just made...'
Callen nodded again and headed for the door. He suddenly felt like a teenager, being told off by Hetty and he knew that if he failed to show for that appointment, he would be on restricted duties, or even worse, suspended without pay. He sighed audibly, leaving the door open and made his way downstairs. The case wasn't quite over yet and he needed his head to still be in the game, just in case.