A/N - I've mulled over this chapter for so long, tried it make it as perfect as I can because... we're here. It's the end.
It's taken me a while to settle on this being the final chapter. I always planned to finish like this but I wasn't sure if I needed to delve into more. But this ending still feels right to me even after all the thinking and agonising. I think I've done enough to these two and it's time to say goodbye. Poetic perhaps to have such a nice round number of chapters. I hope it doesn't disappoint.
When I started posting this, oh so long ago, after using the idea for NaNoWriMo that year, I had 60 chapters chapters drafted and thought I was close to being done. I figured maybe it might stretch to 70 or 80. I didn't dream it would get this long - 200 chapters and over 700,000 words, give a take an author note or two (hundred). Not to mention well over 1000 reviews.
Thank you to all who have read, reviewed, favourited and followed along with this journey. It's been an incredible ride, going on just over a year and a half of posting (more in my head) and I've appreciated the support and encouragement you've given. To those who bravely started after I tagged it complete and knew the length they were in for, thank you too.
Before we get to the final installment I have a few special shouts outs.
countrygirluk56 - thank you for being with me for every chapter, (in fact every chapter since I came back from a few years hiatus) for your thoughts and support, insights and the occasional prompting/request which added more chapters to the overall tally.
zielfanaat - Your reviews are such fun to read and give me a little recap of what came before and have prompted extra chapters as well. I look forward to our collaboration kicking in faster now this is done.
And finally altarp2480 - Thank you for the conversations we've had, for your comments that made me think and develop this well beyond the original plan of just Callen and Jessie's story. It became much more team/family orientated and a huge chunk of those extra chapters came from that. Hopefully that will carry though to any future fanfictions and my original works to make them deeper and richer as well.
I'm not sure when I'll be back with another story, aside from being in the background on the ones zielfanaat and I are working on (Callen pre series orientated and ultimate NCIS LA/NCIS/Stargate crossovers - follow z if you like the sound of that since that's the account they'll be on) or an odd one shot that comes out of the blue like Legends Never Die did. I do have a couple more Callen/OC ones that I want to take back from PND but I need some time and distance from Jessie and Callen. I suspect it's going to be rather hard to make an OC quite like Jessie. It's like she's been the culmination of all the good bits of my previous OC's, and everything I've learned so far about character creation, rolled into one, like I've been learning just who he needs.
Right, so enough chatter. Let's do this. (sniffs back tear and bravely hovers the mouse over the submit button... thinks should I do one more read through?... and press)
Enjoy and would love to hear from you one last time.
He'd been right — yet wrong.
Once, long ago, when he was trying to figure out Jessie, Callen told Sam she'd be the last one he'd fall for. He'd meant in terms of never going to happen. After all, him? A guy who hated talking about his feelings, emotions or his past, with a psychiatrist? Yeah. Not happening. If someone predicted this future for him he'd have placed a huge chunk of change on them being wrong, confident of a guaranteed win. His words to Sam came back to bite in the best possible way.
He'd been wrong — yet right.
He'd fallen for her; deeply and irrevocably. Stubborn, he'd fought against it but the outcome was one he couldn't regret. He regretted she'd been hurt in the process, both by him and because of him. Having her fight, get beneath the mask, beyond his barriers and make her way into his heart and soul? Yeah. No regrets there.
He'd found his home, found his heart too. No matter where he was, to be home, he simply needed her. The little boy who had been shoved around foster homes and orphanages during most of his childhood, who'd never thought he'd have a home or someone to truly love him, would consider his current life an outright miracle.
Those words changed to mean something different. She would be the last one he'd fall for because if he lost her how could he survive? Jessie had his heart, always would. She was his other half and she made him whole. Nobody else could hold his heart in their hands.
He was wrong.
When their son had been placed in his arms for the first time, Callen had tumbled, hard and fast; a different kind of love but he'd fallen all the same. This time, because he recognised it, there was no fighting; only the thrill of the ride.
Five weeks premature, Nikoli James Callen had protested, loudly, his displeasure at being removed from the warm, cozy place beneath his mother's heart. With Callen's hair and Jessie's brown eyes Nikoli was a perfect combination of them.
"You." Callen's finger brushed against the silky soft skin of a warm cheek. Blue eyes, so like his own, stared up at him. They were far more aware, he was sure, than they should be. "I fell even faster for you."
The opposite of her brother, yet just as perfect, with red hair from Jessie and his eyes, Valentina Rosemary Callen was much quieter than her twin, though she proved early on she could make noise when necessary.
Callen suspected the vibrant red hair would deepen to match Jessie's when she was older. Clear in his mind was a future filled with sleepless nights once boys discovered her existence. Thankfully Sam would have experience keeping them at bay by then.
Valentina blinked slowly and her head shifted, brushing against his fingertips. Her eyelids fluttered a few times before she lost the battle and they stayed closed, hiding the familiar blue from him. Her tiny mouth stretched wide with a yawn followed by a sigh and her breath whispered over his bare chest. As with her mother, he sensed the moment she slipped into sleep; safe and warm in his arms.
The children were named after the tradition Jessie loved. Nikoli for Callen and Garrison — that relationship was continuing to strengthen with time — and James for Jessie's father. Valentina for Jessie and Rosemary for two of her grandmothers — Rose and Maria, after Callen had discovered his mother's middle name.
Callen adjusted the blanket and brought the soft material back over Valentina's shoulder to keep her warm. Skin to skin contact helped maintain the twins body temperatures, necessary with them being premature. He was more than happy to be a heater for them anytime. To sit and hold them, feel their hearts beating under his hand and hear their soft breathing and little sounds was one of the most calming things Callen had ever done.
His gaze shifted from one beautiful sight to another — from his daughter to his wife, who slept peacefully in the bed next to the crib and their son.
The pregnancy hadn't been easy, expected considering the situation. At two months Jessie stopped work at the hospital, by choice not necessity, though she continued working with OSP as her role there was less physically demanding. A cervical stitch placed as early as the doctor would allow helped stop history repeating itself. Partial bed rest followed at three and a half months, full at five. The last six weeks Jessie spent in hospital, constantly monitored as she fought for one more day — each and every day.
They'd made it to thirty-five weeks and three days, just shy of the thirty-six they'd been aiming for as the best case scenario. There had been uneasy moments when their luck almost ran out but the medical team's expertise and Jessie's determination — something Callen knew was powerful all on its own — managed to pull things back from the brink.
That extra time gave the twins lungs the chance to develop enough to enable them to breathe on their own. How their development progressed over the next week would determine when they could leave the hospital. All in all it was an amazing outcome.
Jessie hadn't complained once ... well not exactly. A smile lifted the corners of Callen's mouth. She had 'complained' just a little. Given the circumstances the physical side of their relationship had taken a backseat; neither of them minded given the why for it. This was a small portion of their lives and a price they were both willing to pay. The rewards far outweighed the cost.
The birth had gone smoothly, all involved grateful for no complications. Trevor and Hetty were the only ones who had met the twins in person so far. Jessie hadn't wanted the babies to be left alone and, given the possibility of complications, having two extra trusted bodies in the waiting room, on hand in case, had been important for her peace of mind. Trevor would stay with Jessie leaving Callen and Hetty available to follow the babies if necessary. That unwanted scenario hadn't emerged and everyone came through safe, sound and perfect. The rest of the family had been introduced via video calls and would, over the next few days and in small doses, meet them in person. This would protect the twins and make sure none of them were overwhelmed.
The soft click of the door drew Callen's attention. His gaze fell on one of the nurses assigned to care forJessie and the twins. She smiled and proceeded to check on Nikoli. Callen rose, Valentina still safe against his chest, and joined her. He reluctantly handed over his daughter for her check up before she was placed in the crib, still sleeping, beside her brother.
Callen watched, amazed as much now as the first time he'd witnessed both turn their heads toward one another the moment Valentina was put down. It was as if they sensed the other's presence even in sleep — very similar to the way Jessie tended to face him no matter what side he was on and the way Callen knew where Jessie was in a room, even without seeing her.
The heart-warming sight was too appealing to give up so he continued watching his children sleep while the nurse checked Jessie's vital signs before she left. His children? A concept so hard to believe even with proof right in front of his eyes. A shiver danced over his skin, the absence of the blanket and small warm bundle of his daughter now noticeable.
He moved to the double bed, slipped between the sheets and settled in beside Jessie, the warmth of her body chasing the slight chill from his. She turned her head, opened her eyes and smiled.
"Go back to sleep Doc," Callen whispered. His lips brushed her temple, her familiar vanilla scent filled his nose. "Not feeding time yet."
"It feels weird," Jessie said, "them not being inside." Her head turned toward the crib, the bed at the perfect height allowing Jessie to see straight in.
"You were amazing," Callen told her. "You gave them the best chance possible. They're perfect."
"A few more days -"
Her head rolled toward him on the pillow, a twinkle of most welcome mischief sparkled in her tired eyes. She hadn't slept well these last few weeks. It had been difficult for her to get comfortable.
"Are you sure you knew what I was going to say?"
Callen chuckled. He knew what she was going to say, and he knew what he could read in her eyes now. "Pretty sure it will be a lot more than a few days before that," he said referring to what he'd seen in her eyes. "I know what you are trying to do." Deflect from herself. A habit he was still working on breaking. "Not happening Doc. Without you," he stroked a wayward strand of hair off her cheek and tucked it behind her ear. "Without your determination and your strength, they wouldn't be where they are now. Safe, sound and strong. That's because of you."
"I couldn't have done it without you." Jessie shifted, a wince flashed across her face and she stilled. Callen reprimanded her with a look. She really shouldn't be trying to move yet. Knowing what she'd been doing he moved closer and slipped his arm around her, careful not to cause her discomfort and keeping well away from the stitches on her stomach from the necessary cesarean.
"I'll agree, at least in the beginning."
Callen grinned when Jessie couldn't hold back her smile or the roll of her eyes. He kissed her shoulder, her skin warm and soft under the touch of his lips. "It was my pleasure Doc. All of it."
Jessie's attention returned to the two little people who had come into the world and their arms barely twelve hours ago. "Guess we need to expand the cabin," she said.
Callen kept his voice low, he could hear sleep pulling at Jessie in her voice. "Not too much. Love how it is."
A small loft would work creating a second sleeping area and was something he could handle with Mac and Sam. He hoped they wouldn't need to run there again; that it could remain their secret getaway by choice, not necessity.
"Memories there are pretty special," he added. There had been so many moments of coming together, more than just physical ones. Their visits appeared to coincide with their relationship deepening. Considering it was the cabin they tended to escape to following difficult or complicated times it made sense.
"They are," Jessie replied. "We made them there."
Callen glanced at the crib. Two soft toys hovered above, secured safely out of the way yet close enough to watch over the occupants. A raccoon and a sheep — Trevor and Alex's first gift.
"Sleep Doc." Callen settled his head on the pillow beside hers. "The sooner you all get better the sooner we go home."
"Love you," she whispered.
"Love you too."
Jessie drifted back to sleep, her breathing shifting quickly to the familiar rhythm he'd discovered long ago. He savoured having her in his arms and couldn't wait to take his family home.
They loved the home they'd shared together but knew it wouldn't suit a young family of four. With Jessie on bed rest house hunting wasn't doable so they worked out a plan, not ideal but doable, until they could find something better. A couple of weeks before Jessie was admitted to hospital Hetty had approached them with a solution. A temporary one but one that spoke volumes regarding Hetty's healing and thoughts for her future.
For them to move into Dovecote when Jessie and the twins left the hospital.
Hetty's therapy sessions had continued, his wife not letting a little detail like bed rest interfere with her plans for Hetty's recovery. As Callen had predicted, Hetty had trusted Jessie to be the one to guide her out of the darkness and the pair of them made quite a team. There was still plenty of time remaining but Hetty had recovered enough to make a decision Jessie was happy to sign off.
Hetty would return to the office and join forces with A.J for the paternity and annual leave Callen planned to take after the twins arrival. When he returned she would start the recruitment process for someone to compliment Callen's skills paving the way for her eventual retirement. She was ready but wanted to ensure OSP was in good hands before she left. Her retirement, she told them, was looking much brighter with lots of mischief now she had two little grandchildren to spoil. This was, no doubt, part of the reason behind Hetty's solution.
The hope Callen had witnessed in Hetty's eyes had been all he'd needed to know his answer. The darkness she'd been fighting since her rescue had slowly eased but it had been far too long since he'd seen such light and brightness there. Of course Jessie had needed to agree too. It hadn't taken much. He'd seen the answer in her eyes, her emotions as clear as Hetty's at the suggestion and her quick agreement confirmed it. Jessie wanted this too. Callen knew she missed the kind of relationship she'd had with her own grandmother, Rosita, before she'd died. It was obvious Jessie wanted a chance to build something similar with Hetty. After all, Hetty would be such a big part of their lives, the only grandmother their children would know and this seemed the perfect opportunity to enhance what was already in place. It wasn't a permanent move but it was what they all needed at that point in their lives. It gave Hetty something to look forward to and a wonderful support network for Jessie and Callen.
Therefore Hetty's guest rooms had been, temporarily, remodeled into a small apartment for Callen, Jessie and the twins, complete with what furniture of their own they needed; the rest stored for their future home. With Hetty and Duke available to help when needed, along with Trevor and Alex for the first few weeks, not to mention the rest of the aunts and uncles, the transition to active parenthood would be full of love and support - and hopefully a reasonable amount of sleep. Callen was particularly looking forward to taking Deeks up on his diaper duty offer which was, surprisingly, still on the table. He'd anticipated a strategic retreat when they'd revealed there were two but Deeks hadn't taken the opportunity. If anything he looked more eager to fulfill his duties.
They'd left most of the details of the transformation to Hetty. Jessie had assured Callen that she had complete faith in Hetty's ability to make it suitable. She had, after all, remodeled Jessie's office so perfectly.
Callen had taken one task for himself though. He'd made sure in the nursery a certain otter was located in prime position to watch over both cribs. Given the miracles in Callen's life he felt it was entirely possible a certain angelic older sister would be watching over them as well.
His life was so different from before that rather wet introduction courtesy of Hetty's punishment. Jessie had opened his heart to love, not only receiving but giving it. He was still himself, just a better version and he couldn't, didn't want to imagine where his life might be if they'd never met.
He knew better than to use the phrase 'the last one he'd fall for'.
There were no plans for more children but Callen knew if, one day, they were blessed with grandchildren he'd fall hard and fast.
But then again...
If life went as Callen hoped, it would be a very, very long time before he eventually met...
The last one he'd fall for.