Callen looked at Deeks' concerned face, and down again at his hand. He was silent for a few moments, thinking things through.

"Okay, I guess," he finally agreed. "But strictly off the radar. We're gonna play our own game, Deeks, and we're gonna end this with Janvier for once and for all."


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Sam drove through the unfamiliar streets as if the hounds of hell were at his heels. He drove on auto-pilot, his mind racing with disjointed thoughts. Over-riding them all was his concern for Callen. Deeks had been unusually reticent on the phone: not a good sign.

Unwelcome memories of the torture he and Deeks had endured at the hands of Sidarov, directly caused by Janvier's desire to hurt Callen, played on Sam's mind as if on a loop. He thought he'd locked those memories away forever: but somehow there he still was, in the bright white garage, physically weak from the electric current jolted through his body and yet still all too aware mentally. Unable to do anything but watch while Deeks suffered an insufferable fate, because of him.

The burden of guilt Sam carried for that day was undiminished by time. It had made him realise how little respect he had had for the detective for so long. How wrong he had been. Deeks had single-handedly leapt in – literally leapt in, to the pool where he would have otherwise drowned – to save him, and in so doing he too had been captured. Sam was a strong person, physically, mentally, emotionally. But what he had witnessed those bastards do to Deeks that day…

And Sam knew the guilt he carried was nothing on how Callen felt. Tight-lipped about it all as always, Sam knew all too well that Callen blamed himself for everything that Deeks and Sam had suffered. After all, he had brought Janvier back, he had engineered the entire mission. No matter that the stakes for national security had been high, no matter that it had been Hetty and Granger that made the final call, none of these things mattered to Callen. He had been responsible for Janvier, not just for this operation, but for the very reason Janvier harboured such revenge against him in the first place, and therefore in Callen's eyes everything the man had done since they first crossed paths was on his head.

Whatever Janvier had done this time, it must have been bad, but at least Callen was still alive. Sam would be kidding himself if he told anyone he hadn't been worried about that. When the ship had blown, he had still been underwater, and he had been lucky to have been completely protected from the blast above the surface. Returning to the cruiser, he found Kensi and Connor both in a state of shock. It took a lot to rattle Kensi, and he knew she had believed he had been caught up in the explosion, quite possibly with Callen too. At the time he had felt pretty rattled about that himself. It probably explained why he felt so shaky now.

Pulling himself from the water onto the boat, it had taken a few moments before any of them began to speak. On the one hand there was relief that Sam had not boarded the ship and therefore had not been injured or killed in the blast. But on the other… Their fears for Callen exponentially grew. Eventually it had been Connor who had tried to remain optimistic.

"He wouldn't have blown the ship up if he was still on it," Connor had said, meaning Janvier, and they all hoped it included Callen too.

"The warehouse was just a trap to try and kill us," Kensi agreed, looking at Sam. Sam nodded heavily. "His M.O. might be the same," Kensi continued. Trying to convince Sam, to convince herself. "That whole video, the ship, letting us trace the location – it could all have been a trap. He didn't make it easy, sure, but he didn't make it impossible either… And hasn't that always been his game? To play us, throw us off balance, and to try and hurt anyone close to Callen to add to his mind games?"

"That could mean Callen is still alive," Sam said slowly, desperately wanting to believe it. "Janvier could have taken him off the ship, knowing we'd come to investigate, and boom! Win-win for him – all evidence destroyed, some of us injured or killed in the bargain, and Callen left to feel responsible." He paused. "But what if he no longer needed Callen? What if this was his way of getting rid of him? He's always wanted to kill him: he's threatened it before…"

"Sam…" Kensi interrupted, gently putting her hand on her senior colleague's wet elbow. "Just don't go there, okay? Not until we know for sure."

"I can't help it, Kens," Sam admitted. "I dread to think what that son of a bitch has done with Callen. He's had him for two days."

"I know," Kensi said quietly.

"Let's get this boat back to shore," Sam abruptly changed the subject. Silently obeying, Connor kept control of the wheel while Sam disappeared below deck to change back into his street clothes and stow his gear. Kensi rang Deeks to update him and let him know he no longer needed to join them. He was shocked to hear how close they had been to the explosion, and she knew he was remembering years back how the three of them had only just got out of the warehouse in time. She did her best to sound calm and reassuring, but she knew this case was too close to home for all of them.

Within twenty minutes they were back in the harbour, and disembarking Sam gave the glossy little boat an affectionate pat. There wasn't a mark on her, he thought with relief, pocketing the keys to return to his seal buddy.

It was as they were walking together back to their cars, discussing what to do next, that Kensi's phone rang.

"It's Deeks again," she said, pulling the phone from her pocket and answering quickly. "Everything okay?"

"Too little, too late," Sam said grumpily. Kensi held her finger up to him in annoyance.

"Hang on a minute Deeks," she said incredulously, and Sam raised his eyebrows quizzically at her tone. "Let me put you on speaker, say that again?"

"I'm at Hetty's beach house with Callen," Deeks repeated.

"You're WHAT?" Sam all but exploded, and at the same time Connor whispered to Kensi, "Are we supposed to know where that is?"

"Calm down…" Deeks began, but Sam interrupted him.

"Is he okay? How did he get there? Is he hurt? What did Janvier do with him?"

"Maybe it's best if he tells you himself," Deeks answered uncomfortably. "You're not all that far from us." He gave Sam the address, and rang off. Reeling from the new twist in this emotional rollercoaster, Sam hoarsely directed Kensi and Connor to drive back to Ops. He could tell Kensi was also stunned, and reluctant to be excluded, but for reasons he couldn't verbalise Sam wanted to see Callen on his own first and so without another word he fired up the Challenger and sped away.


The hot water running over his head and down his back was soothing, easing muscles he hadn't realised were quite so tense. Callen had resisted Deeks imploring him to take a shower for a long time, fearing the effort required would be more than his over-taxed body could handle. He just wanted some peace and quiet so he could rest. But in the end, Deeks's clear concern, coupled with his worsening chills had won out and he had allowed himself to be shepherded up the stairs and into the bathroom where the detective had already sought out a towel and some fresh clothes that should fit him, from Hetty's extensive wardrobes.

Watching the water swirl away down the plughole, he wished he could rinse off the memories of the past few days as easily as the salty water and grime off his body. Sam was on his way, and would bring with him the first of many questions. Callen didn't want to answer any of them, didn't want to be the focus of everyone's attention, didn't want to be still in the thick of this mess.

Most of all, he didn't want to be beaten by Janvier. He smiled ironically to himself at the double meaning of the word. He could handle the physical blows – just about – but knowing Janvier had the upper hand on him this time destroyed him in a way he knew he would not overcome if he was unable to swing the game the other way.

Maybe Hetty was right. Maybe the obsession had grown too strong. Why this criminal over and above any other? Why did Janvier get to him so much?

He could answer that to a degree. Janvier had hit the nail on the head when he likened them both to chess pieces that belonged together. A set. One playing for good, the other for evil. Janvier knew how to get to him, because he knew what Callen knew, could do the same things Callen could do. He had the skills to manipulate people, situations, to his advantage. He could detach himself from the world, could take on any identity, could become whoever he needed to be.

He could kill.

All these skills were rooted deep in Callen too, and sometimes it seemed like only a very fine line kept good and evil apart.

Janvier knew his strengths… and his weaknesses.

Shivering slightly despite the hot water, Callen reluctantly turned off the shower. Almost immediately, there was a knock on the door.

"Don't get dressed," Deeks' voice called quietly through from the hallway. Callen bit back a cross remark, looking down at the wound on his leg which was irritatingly still seeping blood. He knew he needed help wrapping it – he had already tried unsuccessfully with one hand and he couldn't get the bandage to stay tight enough to stem the flow. He cursed the humiliation of it all and after pulling the towel awkwardly round himself he opened the door to allow Deeks in.


Sam pulled up outside the address Deeks had given him and remained hesitantly in the Challenger for a few moments. Taking a deep breath to gather himself after the frenzied journey, he slowly got out and walked up the path to the door. He checked carefully around him as he did so, although it was more through habit than expecting anyone to be following him. He knocked gently on the door, and Deeks had clearly been waiting for him as he opened it almost immediately, a look of pure relief on his face when he saw Sam on the doorstep. Sam didn't waste time on pleasantries, striding through the door and into the long hallway. He faltered only when he realised he had no idea of the layout of the place.

"Second doorway on your left," Deeks informed him with a degree of amusement, as he secured the front door and followed close behind Sam.

Sam stopped dead when he entered the lounge area. Callan was lying on one of the sofas, eyes shut, looking pale and exhausted. Sam's worried eyes scanned his partner from head to toe, taking in the cut on his head and the split lip they'd seen on the video, but his relief to see no other obvious signs of injury was almost certainly premature. Amidst his apprehension Sam felt an immense rush of gratitude to see Callen alive and away from Janvier's clutches, and a lump formed at the back of his throat, choking him. When he'd first seen the video, and later learnt of the covert mission from Vance, Sam had seriously doubted he would ever see his partner again.

"You gonna stand there all day?" Callen's voice was weary and quiet. Sam watched silently as Callen opened his eyes and struggled to move up into a seated position.

"Shit," Sam said, finding his voice at last. "What did that bastard do to you, G?" He crossed hurriedly over to offer Callen some help, and it was only as he moved round that Sam saw with sickened horror the state of his friend's right hand and arm. Looking down from his great height to his partner, he swallowed hard, finding himself once again unable to speak.

"Be thankful he didn't have time to cut it off," Callen said quietly, with the very faintest of smiles.

"Dammit, G!" Sam swore, and tried to compose himself. He didn't think he would ever get used to how Callen always downplayed anything that happened to him, always showed such little regard for himself. Taking a seat on the same sofa, he could hardly bring himself to look at his ex-partner sat beside him, but when he eventually did, Callen had his head rested back, eyes half shut, seemingly unaware of the colossal turmoil of feelings overwhelming the man next to him. Sam tamped down hard on the guilt he felt, and tried to be practical. "Did he hurt you anywhere else?"

After a pause Callen turned to Sam, scrutinising him intently. "You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Sam responded dismissively. Callen quirked an eyebrow, barely noticeable, but Sam answered the unspoken question. "The bomb took out the ship almost completely, but the blast was all above water. I'm fine." He paused. "I don't think the same can be said for you…"

"A few scrapes," Callen said, equally dismissively.

"I know your sort of scrapes…" Worry returned instantly to Sam's eyes as well as his voice, but having reassured himself that Sam was indeed unharmed Callen had tired of the conversation and let his head fall back to the sofa, his eyelids once again heavy. "G…" Sam pressed.

"Deeks patched me up."

"Deeks…?" Sam hesitated. "He did?"

Deeks was still loitering in the doorway and he chose to intervene, sensing that Sam wasn't going to get the truth out of Callen any time soon.

"I may not have been to Seal School," he said teasingly, "But I have my Boy Scouts First Aid…"

"Deeks…" Sam uttered warningly in his throat, pent up energy forcing him to rise from the sofa and pace the room in irritation.

"Yeah, I patched him up. Sort of. But he needs a doctor…"

"What do you mean, sort of? What have you done?" Sam demanded.

"You both do know I am still right here?" Callen interrupted tiredly. "Haven't you got better things to do than stand around discussing who is the best Florence Nightingale?" Both men stopped short, and Callen opened his eyes, forcing himself to take control. "Deeks… Can you stay here with Nick and Peter? We'll get someone sent to relieve you… Let them sleep while we work out someplace better to take them… It's safe enough here for now."

"Nick and Peter?" Sam asked in confusion.

"I'll fill you in later," Callen said as he unenthusiastically began to get up. "We need to get back to Ops…"

"The only place you need to go is a hospital!" Sam interrupted agitatedly.

"That's not an option right now." Deeks backed up Callen's decision, and the team leader shot him a grateful glance as Deeks outlined briefly to Sam what Callen had reasoned with him earlier. Sam visibly paled as he comprehended that whilst Callen had managed to escape, he had not yet defeated Janvier. The idea of the psychopath being anything but in prison or dead made him feel physically sick. He hardly felt it when Deeks squeezed his shoulder understandingly. "I've arranged for a doctor I know to meet you at the boatshed in a couple of hours. She'll take care of it." Deeks spoke more convincingly than he felt, secretly agreeing with Sam that Callen needed proper hospital treatment: but they all knew the threat Janvier posed to each and every one of them, and allowing him to believe Callen was lost to the sea was safest for all of them at least for the moment.

"Thanks, Deeks." Callen spoke with reluctant gratitude. He turned back to Sam. "See, all under control. So… are you going to take me back to LA?"


A/N: I apologise profusely for the delay in posting. Callen and Sam back together - I have edited, re-edited, edited again, and I am sure next time I read this chapter there will still be changes I want to make... At some point you just have to call it done...

PS. 'MSWord' tells me 'my reader may take offence' at two words used in this chapter... I am sure you will see which two they are, and hopefully agree the use of them is warranted!