***S. Los Angeles***

Callen and Nell crept along the outside of the warehouse. Their intel had indicated that Arturo Hernandez, the drug lord whose infamy had risen in the last couple of years, was making a large deal here, trading Cocaine for stolen weaponry. The informant was a Navy Lieutenant who decided that the $25,000 offered to him in exchange for making sure the weapons and accompanying paperwork got "lost", was well-worth his career and freedom; he was, therefore, more than willing to offer information in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Sam had been assigned to work with Deeks, much to each other's' chagrin. Moseley seemed all too happy to slice and dice the usual teams, which prickled all of them deeply. However, Kensi may have had it the worst: she was stuck with Eric in OPS. Why Moseley had done that was beyond any of them, and of course, no amount of begging, pleading, reasoning, or otherwise had swayed her. It seemed she took special joy in watching them squirm…

As Callen and Nell took their positions, Sam and Deeks found theirs and indicated over the earcoms they were ready. On Callen's mark, they quietly breached the warehouse and made their way to where the deal was going down. As Eric had predicted, there were about 8 men; 4 from each side of the trade.

Stealthily, they took up defensive positions and prepared to do what they had come to do. Callen stepped out from his place behind a shelf full of boxes, MP5 shouldered.

"FEDERAL AGENTS! PUT YOUR HA-" Callen didn't get to finish the sentence as a hail of gunfire began from the dealers. He hastily retreated back behind the shelf as bullets pinged and thudded into the shelf and its contents. He desperately hoped that the boxes weren't too empty. Nell similarly took cover behind him.

Deeks and Sam had taken up positions on the other side of the deal, effectively boxing in the dealers. One of them moved in sight of Callen and Nell and took aim; Callen, focused on aiming his weapon at an exposed arm of a not-so-well-hidden dealer, did not see him. But Nell did; she stepped around Callen and fired off two quick shots before the man even aimed his weapon, and his shot went wild just before he dropped to the ground.

After a short firefight, with much shouting from the dealers as they were hit, the last two criminals surrendered, and Callen stood from his spot. Sam and Deeks moved in, and Sam covered Deeks as the junior agent secured them.

Callen spoke. "Nice work guys. Nell, way to keep us covered. I think I might've found my new part…..ner….NELL?" The concern in his voice ratcheted up several notches as he saw the analyst.

She was curled on her side on the ground, an ominously dark spot growing on the concrete beneath her, spreading away from her upper torso. Callen paled.

"NELL! Eric, we need EMS to our location, NOW!" He dropped to his knees beside her as Deeks and Sam came over. Deeks swore, his face a mix of despair and terror. Sam immediately rushed to help. Callen turned Nell onto her back to see the damage; one shot in her left shoulder, right where her protective vest ended.

"Must've been a ricochet, G. We gotta plug it with something-" Sam said, searching around for anything to use.

"Here!" Deeks disappeared for a moment and came back with a clean bandanna. "Got it off one of the Hernandez guys."

Sam took it and folded it quickly, then pressed it firmly to the wound. This was enough to make Nell gasp and open her eyes, then feebly try to wriggle away from the pain.

"No no, easy Nell! Easy!" Callen tried to comfort her, while holding her still. Her eyes found his, as she struggled and failed to hold back the tears of fear and pain as they spilled down her temples.

"Callen…." She whimpered, trying to breathe through the pain, her breath coming in shallow gasps.

"I know, I know it hurts, but we have to. We can't let you lose too much blood; you're already pale enough." He tried to calm her with a joke, but she was in too much pain to even smile. Without realizing it, he had taken her hand in his, and he now felt her squeeze his as waves of agony crashed over her.

In just mere moments (though it felt like forever to them), the paramedics arrived and took over. Callen allowed Deeks to ride with her to the hospital, and stayed behind with Sam to finish processing the scene. Once they were done, they raced to the hospital themselves. The drive was eerily quiet; neither man was ready to lose another person so close to them this soon after Michelle's loss.

Sam broke the silence. "It's not your fault, G. Could've happened to any of us. Hell, it HAS happened to most of us."

Callen, whose nerves were already stretched taut, was further annoyed at his partner's uncanny ability to read his thoughts. "It doesn't matter, Sam. She was my partner. She had my back, but I let her down."

"You can't blame yourself, though. This is what we do." Sam said gently.

Callen retorted angrily. "Yes, we! It's not what she does, Sam! She sits in OPS, safely ensconced in a probably bullet-proof room, well-protected from this stuff! If it weren't for Moseley, she would've have been here!"

Sam replied. "True, but she is trained to operate as an agent with us, G. I know you hate Moseley as much as the rest of us, but putting Nell out here with us is no different than Hetty's done."

Callen had no more to say after that, and returned to sitting and brooding in silence.

Luckily, he didn't have much time for it; they arrived at the hospital only a few minutes after Sam's final point was made. As they walked into the E.R., they were mildly relieved to see Deeks sitting outside her cubicle, posting guard.

"How is she?" Sam asked.

Deeks stuck his hands in his pockets. "Stable. They removed the slug and patched her up. They'll keep her overnight for observation and probably discharge her in the morning. They're just waiting for a bed upstairs to be open, and they'll move her."

Callen and Sam nodded, Callen's eyes fixed on her tiny form; the bed appeared gargantuan around her, making her seem smaller than usual. Her eyes were closed and several machines beeped as they kept track of her vital signs. She looked so vulnerable…

Just then the nurses arrived to move her to a room upstairs. The doctor confirmed that Nell would be discharged in the morning, barring any complications overnight. She also reassured them that complications were unlikely, as the bullet wasn't difficult to remove, nor was it splintered, giving no reason to suspect any. Callen made the unpleasant call to Moseley to update her on Nell's status.

"Very well, Agent Callen. I expect your report on the incident on my desk by tomorrow. Once I've reviewed it, we can discuss the obvious deficits in your ability to safely lead this team." She said icily, once he had finished his relay.

He gritted his teeth at her demeanor; how could this woman rub him the wrong way on so many levels? He had a number of angry, expletive-filled retorts come to mind before he shooed them away and simply said "We can discuss those now: there are none."

"I'm not having this discussion right now, Agent Callen. You don't get to decide when that happens, I do." And she hung up on him.

Callen resisted the urge the throw his phone, punch the nearest wall, and yell, all at once. Sam could feel the rage radiating off of his partner and immediately went over to talk to him. After Callen relayed the infuriating conversation with Moseley (weren't they all infuriating?), Sam suggested they take turns watching over her at the hospital.

"Kensi and Eric want to as well, so we can with her in 3-hour shifts, starting now."

Callen nodded and agreed to take the 3am-6am shift, since he was usually awake during those hours anyway. Deeks agreed to take first shift from now until 9pm, then Eric texted, saying he would come during the 9pm-12am shift. Sam took the 12am-3am, and Kensi, they agreed, could have the final shift and hopefully be there when Nell was discharged. Once they got it settled, Callen and Sam left.

***Callen's House***

Callen was upset. No, upset was an understatement; he was distraught. Over and over, the image of Nell replayed in his mind: laying on the ground in a pool of her own blood, her eyes, wide and pain-filled staring up at him, the sound of her voice as she said his name, as if pleading with him to make the pain go away….

It shouldn't have happened. If Hetty were here….

He remembered Sam's comment. His partner was right; Hetty had sent Nell out as an Agent before, on several occasions.

Just unlucky, right?

But not Nell…

Why not?

The thought made him stop for a moment. Why not Nell? They all trained, they all knew the risks, what made her so different?

The thought nagged at him as he tried to go to bed and sleep, but he just couldn't stop the images replaying…