Outside, Connor suggested to Kensi they take a short walk to one of the nearby food trucks for a coffee, and eventually she agreed. They perched now on a rail at the edge of the marina, within sight but slightly distanced from the boatshed. Kensi couldn't take her eyes off the building, imagining Sam and Callen in there with the doctor, wondering what horrors Callen was hiding.

"You okay?" Connor asked, when after a while either of them had yet to speak. Kensi sipped her coffee to compose herself before replying.

"Did you see his hand?" she whispered.

Connor nodded. "Yeah. A bit." He paused. He was a man of few words anyway, not shy, but naturally quiet. After her partnership with Deeks, it had taken Kensi a bit of time to get used to, but had proved useful when talking to witnesses where Connor spoke little and simply listened. The two of them got on well, on the whole. "He'll…" he started to continue.

"Don't say it!" Kensi interrupted quickly, standing up and starting to pace. "Don't say 'he'll be okay'… you have no idea!"

"I'm sorry," Connor stumbled, taken aback by Kensi's sudden outburst. Although he had only been with the team a few weeks, he had never seen Kensi as anything other than calm, collected and assured. Rigidly in control of herself, too much, he privately thought at times, and he had wondered what would cause the walls she had built around herself to crack. Now, it seemed, he knew. She had put the walls up to protect herself after her team had been broken by a traumatic mission resulting in the death of a colleague and a rift between herself and her husband, and now they were crumbling following a horrific assault on her team lead who Connor was growing to understand was more than just a mentor and a friend, but a key figure in the weird sort of substitute family they were all part of.

After a while, Kensi sat down beside him again.

"What can I do?" Connor asked gently, and Kensi made an explosive little sound, a cross between a snort and a small laugh as she bestowed on him a quick apologetic smile. "What?" he pressed.

"I thought I was supposed to be mentoring you," Kensi replied.

"Only in the field," Connor responded with absolute seriousness. "This is…" he paused. "It's all more personal for you guys, isn't it?"

"I guess you could say that."

Nodding to himself, Connor stood up and stretched, and held his hand out to take Kensi's empty coffee cup along with his own. Walking away to the nearest trash can, he took out his phone and discreetly tapped a text to the newest number stored in it. He binned the cups and walked slowly back to Kensi, listening with satisfaction to her phone buzzing as he approached. By the time he drew level with her, Kensi had answered, and he continued to walk past her a few paces, in the direction of the boatshed, to give her some privacy.

"Deeks?" There was a faint tremor in Kensi's voice.

"Hey, Fern," Deeks greeted her. "I thought I'd just check in. You got back okay? How are things?"

"We're back," Kensi replied. "Callen… He and Sam are back too. He's in the boatshed… with your doctor friend."

Even over the phone, Deeks could hear the shakiness in Kensi's voice and he mentally thanked Connor for being so astute.

"Dr Laura… she's pretty sweet on me," he said teasingly. "Did I ever tell you how we met?"

"Do I want to know?" Kensi asked with a small laugh. That was better, Deeks thought.

"Maybe not… I know how jealous you can get, Fern."

"Oh please!" Kensi retorted. "Jealous of this thing you have for doctors and nurses? I bet you got banged up a little and hammed it up for her benefit… 'Oh Dr Laura, please treat me…' " she cooed mockingly, and Deeks gave a little laugh, for she was actually not too far from the truth. Not that he'd ever admit it.

"What can I say?" he responded. "Can I help it if I am just naturally irresistible?"

"Kittens are irresistible. You're like a shaggy great mutt who leaves a trail of sandy footprints and sleeps with wet hair on the sofa."

Deeks chuckled, and Kensi gave a little sigh. She knew what Deeks was trying to do, and belatedly she realised the timing of his phone call was no coincidence. She looked across to Connor with a grateful smile.

"How soon will you be back?" she asked quietly.

"On my way already," Deeks assured her. "I know you need me." Kensi couldn't work out if he was serious, or still teasing her. Either way, he was probably right. They all needed each other at the moment.

Having his hand and arm examined and treated was every bit as dreadful as Callen had feared. He shied away from recounting to Dr Laura exactly what had happened, finding it all as intolerable to describe as to live through. Mercifully, as a police doctor, Dr Laura had seen many times what one man was capable of inflicting on another, so she did not press him for details. Instead, she quietly examined Callen's injuries as best she could within the limited scope of the boat shed. Although she was gentle, the pain was immense, and Callen sweated.

"Without x-rays, I can't tell you exactly what's broken in your wrist and hand," she told him eventually. "Almost certainly a scaphoid fracture –the small bone in your wrist here – along with several metacarpals and possibly the end of the radius…" She paused but Callen made no comment. He knew the damage was bad and a list of the individual bones broken seemed immaterial at this stage. "You can see as well as I can these finger fractures and dislocations." Dr Laura continued, referring to the three grotesquely misshapen and swollen fingers that were the cause of so much upset to all who had seen his injuries. "I can inject your hand to numb it so I can reduce the dislocations, which should help with the pain. Ultimately, you need to get some proper scans once the swelling subsides a little, and I feel some sort of surgical intervention will be inevitable I'm afraid..." She hesitated again. Callen's face was grey and Dr Laura couldn't help a sidelong glance at Sam to get his read on her patient, but Sam simply nodded back to Callen. He knew the mention of surgery would have rattled his partner, but he also knew Callen wouldn't appreciate being treated with kid gloves. Callen was a realist and he'd handle anything that came his way, except being lied to.

Reassured, Dr Laura carried on. "In the meantime, we'll do a temporary cast to prevent any further damage to the broken bones and make you more comfortable," she said. "You'll need to get your arm x-rayed too, to rule out any hairline fractures from all this blunt force trauma, and there's considerable soft tissue damage." She gestured to the many wounds and abrasions on Callen's forearm, all of which were surrounded with varying shades of purple as the heavy bruising started to come out.

Callen worked some saliva into his dry mouth.

"Will you sign me off to go back to work?" he said in a low voice.

"You've got to be kidding, G!" Sam exclaimed heatedly. "It's your right hand…!"

"You'd sit out too, would you?" Callen demanded. "If it was Tahir…?" As soon as he said it, Callen regretted mentioning Tahir Kahled's name. Sam turned away, pushing the chair he'd been sitting in violently to one side as he struggled to keep a lid on a tidal wave of anger, grief, and, though he hated to admit it, fear. Indifferent though he might have appeared in recent months, Sam's greatest fear still was (and if he was honest with himself, always had been) the loss of his partner. He understood, he knew, why Callen wouldn't sit this one out, and he would go along with it: but he didn't have to like it.

Studying the two men carefully before she answered, Dr Laura gave a small sigh. "It's very much against my better judgement," she said. "Even without the damage to your hand, you're exhausted, I'm pretty sure there's some injuries you're not telling me about, and you likely have a concussion from that head wound. But Marty has given me the gist, and I do understand. This is all unofficial anyway, so there's not much I can do to actually stop you… Just promise me that you will get to a hospital and have your hand dealt with properly as soon as you are able to? I'm serious about that…"

"He will," Sam confirmed with a growl. Callen shot an annoyed look at his partner, who had been pacing the boatshed with his hands curling and uncurling into angry fists, but he nodded his agreement.

Dr Laura rose, excusing herself to go out to her car and get the supplies she would need to treat and cast Callen's hand. Sam eventually stopped pacing, and came to sit again on the chair nearest Callen.

"You okay?" he asked softly after a while.

"What do you think, Sam?" Colour was returning to Callen's face, and a flash of fire burned in his eyes as he spoke.

"I'm sorry," Sam said quietly, looking away from Callen to the floor.

"Sorry for what?" Callen demanded. "None of this was on you. It was all a goddam stupid idea in the first place and now because of me Joelle is dead and Janvier is walking free again…" His voice rose angrily, but Sam was quick to interrupt him.

"I very much doubt it was anything you did," he said. "And besides, that wasn't what I meant." Callen looked at him in confusion. "I'm sorry I haven't been there for you," Sam explained, struggling to face Callen directly in his embarrassment and guilt. "For a long time now… Since Michelle died. I've pushed you away, and I'm sorry."

"I get it…" Callen began awkwardly. He felt uncomfortable in the face of Sam's obvious emotion.

"I don't think you do," Sam hurriedly continued. "It was all so normal, for a while. You and me. Partners. Hell, family. You know you're like a brother to me… And for a while, we carried on, saving the world…" He looked up, and gave Callen a faint smile. Callen raised his left hand placatingly, trying again to reassure Sam that he didn't have to carry on. "No, let me explain, G. You deserve that, at least." Sam paused and once again wouldn't meet Callen's eyes, but he'd been building this conversation up in his head for a long time and he was too far down the line to stop now. "So much changed. Aiden and Kam moved on, living their lives. Their mom would be proud… And I felt, I don't know, different. Drifting. Like I'd lost my roots. Lost who I was. I know you don't get what I see in Katherine, that she's not right for me after Michelle, but I'm not the same man anymore. She's different too. What we have together is different. And it began to, I don't know, bug me… all these changes, and yet day in, day out, you and I are on the streets, risking our lives just the same as always and I started to feel, I don't know G, mad I guess…"

"That Michelle died, and I didn't?" Callen finished gently.

"I hope you don't believe I meant it like that," Sam looked at Callen guiltily. "But yeah, Michelle was dead, not me, not you… You were still around and every time I saw you it reminded me of what we had together, what a family we were. And dammit G, you are my family, you'll always be my family… so, I'm sorry."

There was a long pause, and into the quiet Dr Laura returned. Callen couldn't wholly suppress a shudder and Sam, biting back his own doubts and fears, leant forward and placed a calming hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Let's get this sorted out," he said, gesturing to Callen's arm. "And then… then we'll sort out this mess with Janvier. Together."

A/N: I am so so sorry for the delay in this story! I have had All The Guilt - but the chunk I lost completely was a pivotal chapter in the middle and it has been So Hard to re-write especially as I haven't had much time free so every time I have settled down to write I've had to re-read and catch up with my own story lol! I am almost there... and I know with this being a fairly long and intricate story it will read better if there is not a massive gap between chapters, so rest assured it will be my aim to post weekly from now on!

Please remember that I started writing this story back in 2019 while Season 11 was in progress, and it was initially set a little in the future after Season 11, but before Season 12 took place. It's my first time going 'off canon' which has been a bit daunting, although I have still tried to keep most facts as close to those in the show as we know them - with my own perspective on 'what might have been'...

This chapter was a long time coming, as it finally repairs that rift we saw between Sam and Callen after Michelle died...