It took Sam a long time to run Callen to earth. Callen's inclination to disappear was strong, and he'd had to fight against the long-buried instincts to tackle his problems on his own that had increasingly become his modus operandi once again over the past couple of years. He was torn between wanting to place his trust in his team, in Sam, as he had done in the past, and wanting to isolate himself in order to protect them all. To add to his indecision, no matter how hard he tried to put it behind him, no matter how much he chided himself for not being able to let go of the same feeling of abandonment he had felt so often as a kid, he found he was still wary of the repaired relationship between himself and the closest person he had ever had to a brother.

That he had tried to tackle this mission on his own, and failed – there, he had admitted it – left him unsure of how to proceed. He had placed his trust in Vance, and in Joelle, and look where that had gotten them. Turning back to his team, for help that he'd hated to admit he couldn't have managed without: that too had gone wrong, and now Connor was paying the price for his failings. The boatshed bomb had been designed for Sam, who had been lucky to escape uninjured from it. Callen feared for who would be next, and the fear was paralysing him.

And so, he ran. Disabling the sensor over the rear door, he quietly snuck out of the building and walked down the street without looking back. Losing himself in the throng of people in the morning rush hour, he made his way down to Venice Beach and allowed the noise, the hustle, the thrums of everyday life down there on the busy boardwalk to wash over him. He found it both calming and stimulating in equal amounts. If ever asked, as he sometimes was, why he liked Venice so much, he would say seeing all those people, the variety of them, the different lives they were all busy living, reminded him of why he did what he did. But deep down he knew it was more than that. He'd grown up having to fight his way through troubled home after troubled home, seen innocent kids abused, been one of those kids himself. He'd fallen into a life that strove to protect the innocent, and it often felt like the weight of that responsibility dragged him down. Lost here amongst the crowd, one in the midst of so many, he was reminded of how small, how insignificant he really was. How he was just one person, facing an impossible task to rid the world of evil. How the only constant in his life, the only thing he could truly rely on amidst so much chaos and uncertainty, was himself.

He was leaning on the railings of the pier, looking out to the sea beyond the marina and the ex-boatshed in the distance, when Sam eventually found him.

"G?" Sam questioned, maintaining his distance, unsure how to approach. Years of knowing his partner enabled him to see past the deliberately casual pose and he could clearly read the anguish in Callen's face. There was also a wildness in Callen's eyes and tension throughout his body which Sam was sure he saw increase as he spoke, and it stopped him dead. He knew Callen's trust in anyone right now was fragile: had seen it go up and down like a yo-yo in the past couple of days. He'd wanted to believe things could go back to how they were before, and at times it seemed like they might, for Callen had allowed him back in, had turned to him for help and accepted both physical care at his hands as well as something rather more psychological. But every so often, Sam could see Callen's doubts, could see the hurt and the lack of trust in his eyes, and it kicked him deep in the stomach for he knew it was all of his own making. He had pushed his best friend away, shunned him, left him to ostracise himself in the way Sam knew was a life-long survival mechanism. Callen's trust was hard won, and easily lost. Sam spread his hands unwittingly, trying to find the words within him that would make things right.

Tormented he might be, but Callen showed no surprise at Sam's appearance. He had clocked the big man's arrival even before Sam had noticed Callen. Still, the moments between had not given him time to settle himself.

"I, err…" Sam cleared his throat. Staying a few paces away, he leant his forearms on the railings to try and mirror Callen's outwardly relaxed posture, turning his head fractionally towards his troubled partner. "I wondered if I might find you out here."

"Needed to clear my head," Callen eventually murmured.


"And what?"

"Did you clear your head?"

Callen swallowed. He allowed his eyes to roam the sky, the shoreline, tracing back to where the boatshed should have been before continuing on to the busy frontage of shops and street vendors. Anywhere but Sam's face. He couldn't handle what he thought he might find there. He'd brought trouble back to their door, had failed completely on the one part of the mission he had been so keen to uphold at the beginning: that of keeping his team safe. He had failed in every way: the mission, himself, and them.

And yet his team were still looking to him, looking for leadership. He remembered something Hetty had said, many years ago now, about difficult times being the true test of a commander. Oh, he was frightened and confused alright. About as frightened and confused as he had ever been. But the answers? They were nowhere to be found. He was no longer a leader, and had no right to ask them to follow him into danger.

When he eventually spoke, his voice was low and rough.

"I can't be what you want right now, Sam. What you need. I just… can't."

The screeching of tyres coming to an abrupt halt, the slam of the heavy wooden door, the stomping of irate footsteps through the tunnel: out of sight he might be, but it was abundantly clear to the team waiting in the bullpen that Sam had returned – and had returned without Callen. Four pairs of eyes met each other apprehensively over the desks, and in the end it was Deeks who rose, cast a reassuring glance first at Kensi, then at Eric and Nell, and followed in the black man's wake.

The punching bag was taking a pounding it probably hadn't suffered for a while. Deeks hung back for a moment, watching in something approaching awe as Sam unleashed some tension. Blow after blow the powerful punches landed on the worn red leather. He hadn't taken the time to glove up, a decision Deeks knew Sam would likely regret later. But he envied Sam for the way he knew what he needed to do to release the pent up anger safely, in a controlled manner. He had never managed to decompress as effectively – or as quickly – as the big guy. Still, this time seemed worse, and Deeks knew it was because it was Callen. Save for Sam's wife and children, Callen was the most important person in his life, and Deeks could see how much he was hurting right now. He had hoped that after Callen had escaped to the beach house and been back with the team that things would settle down, but evidently that had been wishful thinking as the living nightmare seemed to have no end in sight, taking an ever nastier turn at each play of Janvier's hand.

"You want these?" Deeks approached after a while, trying for lightness in his voice as he moved cautiously towards Sam, and offered his hand out with a pair of boxing gloves. For a moment, he wondered if he needed to duck away from one of the angry fists, but Sam took a deep breath and composed himself.

"Nah," he panted, wiping the back of his hand across his sweaty brow and wincing as the salt stung on his reddened knuckles. "I'm done."

"Not like you to not glove up," Deeks observed, in a mild provocation to encourage Sam to talk.

"Yeah, well…" Sam heaved a sigh. He had spent the entire walk back to his car cursing under his breath – or maybe even out loud, judging by the way people moved from his path like the parting of the Red Sea – angry at Janvier, at Callen, at all the events of the past few days. It was a miracle he didn't crash on the short drive back to the office, for his mind was on anything but the road. But each blow to the punching bag seemed to have knocked some sense back into him, and he found he was no longer angry, just sad. Sad for how he had driven Callen away. Sad, and scared: for Connor, for Callen, for all of them. He had never seen his partner so near to breaking point. Not for the first time, he worried about PTSD – and not for the first time he shrugged it off. The torture Janvier had doled out was extreme, but this was Callen, goddammit.

"He probably just needs some space to think things over," Deeks aimed for reassurance. "What he's been through… he needs to clear his head…" While Sam remained silent, Deeks's mind wandered back to those dark days following his own torture at the hands of Sidarov. He had needed more than a few days to clear his head then: indeed at the time he had doubted he ever would.

"I messed up, Deeks," Sam eventually confessed wearily. "I pushed him away, and now, when he needs us, he's afraid."

"Callen's afraid?" It was a word Deeks struggled to use to describe the team leader he had known for so many years. Fear and Callen just didn't go together.

Sam nodded. "Not for himself," he continued. "I mean, he's afraid to trust me again. I could see it in his eyes." Sam's own brown eyes were deep and melancholy, full of remorse. Deeks reached out and patted his shoulder in sympathy. "But mostly, he's afraid of what Janvier will do next. He's afraid for us."

"I think we all are," Deeks said quietly, and Sam agreed with a nod. "The thing is," Deeks continued more positively. "What do we do about it?"

"That is the thing," Sam sighed, and there was a lengthening pause. "I honestly don't know. I don't think Callen knows either: and I don't think he knows how to handle not knowing what to do."

"We need to help him."

"Need to find him first," Sam muttered.

"I'm surprised you left him." It was a moment of utter thoughtlessness, the words coming out before his brain had chance to filter them and when he heard them, Deeks could have kicked himself. He had wanted to provoke Sam to talk, not pick a fight.

"What was I supposed to do, Deeks?" Sam responded angrily. "Pick him up and carry him back here against his will? I couldn't even get close to him," he admitted in little more than a whisper.

"Well, we need to do *something*!" Deeks's voice rose in agitation, which he tried hard to temper for Sam's sake, but deep down he was incredibly afraid for Callen out there on his own, alone and injured, isolating himself from his team while the most dangerous villain they had ever faced played an increasingly sadistic game with them all. Returning to the team himself after so many months of confusion about where he fit in, Deeks knew now that they were strongest – and safest – together. It seemed Callen needed reminding of that fact.

Sam was saved from responding by the sounds of both their phones buzzing.

"Saved by the Beale," Deeks joked weakly.

"Not Beale," Sam frowned. "Hetty."

Hetty was seated behind her old desk when the two men returned to the floor. The office area had changed little from when she occupied it, Callen having done nothing to put his stamp on the space. His desk was tidy, a few papers neatly arranged in trays, and all the drawers locked. Even if she had been minded to look, there was no evidence of current operations and the whole workspace had an aura of secrecy: much like the man to whom it now belonged.

Hetty had been as surprised as the team when Sam announced the new plans for the unit – that he himself would become the Senior Agent, while Callen would take over her role as Operations Manager, and between them both they were going to seek out new agents to train to their elite level.

Doubtful of his motives, Hetty had taken Callen aside, but he had been unwavering in his support of Sam's plans and assured her that they had worked on the idea together. She had no choice but to believe him and in some ways the solution had enabled her to retire with a lighter heart, for Callen was more than capable to assume the role, and moreover she felt he would be safer out of the field.

How very wrong she had been.

Beckoning to Sam when he returned with Deeks, she invited him to sit opposite her, and wondered if he and Callen had ever had the cosy end of day chats she and her protege had so often shared in the past in those two same seats.

"Did you find him?" she asked, without preamble.


"And…?" Hetty almost didn't dare to ask. Her heart was aching for the pain and guilt she knew Callen must be feeling.

"He wouldn't talk to me, Hetty." Sam was despondent. "It's like… it's like he doesn't trust me anymore." Somehow he felt that Hetty knew everything that had transpired between him and Callen over the past few years.

"He lost something too, that day," Hetty said gently, referring back to Michelle's death. In many ways, she privately thought Callen had lost more than Sam. Sam still had his faith, his kids, his purpose in life. Callen had lost his partner and his family: his anchor. Like the master undercover agent he was, he hid it well, but Hetty had often glimpsed the sadness and rejection in his eyes as Sam brushed him off time and again. But Callen was loyal and moreover, Hetty knew of his promise to Michelle to look after Sam and his family. No amount of personal pain would prevent him from upholding such a promise.

"I know," Sam said heavily.

"He was worried you would leave him too… You had no ties here anymore."

"He told you?" Sam was incredulous, and angry. Only Callen had known of the job he had been offered from the Department of Justice via Lance Hamilton.

"When have you ever known Mr Callen to break a confidence?" Hetty scolded him lightly. "Of course, he didn't tell me. But I'm not stupid Sam, and I have other sources, yes, even now." She paused, allowing Sam time to assimilate what she'd said.

"You never said anything…"

"If you wanted my advice, you would surely have asked for it."

"Well, now I'm asking," Sam begged. "What can we do to help him through this? He's just pushing me away! Going lone wolf like he always does…"

His exasperated thoughts were left hanging while Hetty rose, and moved to the corner of the office where Callen still kept tea-making facilities. Her fine bone china teapot and cups and saucers had been superseded by chunky mugs and teabags, but she filled the mugs using her own supply of loose leaf tea, and carried the resulting steaming drinks back carefully one in each hand, for Callen also had no tea tray.

"You know Mr Callen is not an easy character to help," she began.

Sam coughed. "That's an understatement!"

"And yet, you try, even when he pushes you away."

"I haven't been trying as hard as I should these past few years," Sam admitted sadly, his earlier frustration passing as he remembered his own hand in Callen's return to his lone wolf ways.

"And in his turn, he's shut you out again. Put some distance between you, to protect himself."

"To protect…" Sam breathed, beginning to understand. When he and Callen had first met, he had struggled to have any kind of relationship with the closed-off agent, to the point Sam had doubted he could ever work with him. Sam was all about the team, the partnership, and Callen was a lone wolf. He had forgotten how long it had taken them to become easy together, like brothers, and he had been so wrapped up in his grief over Michelle that he hadn't noticed Callen slip back into those old, solitary ways until it was too late.

"It's always been his way," Hetty explained gently. "He's been burnt too many times. And I've never seen him stay anywhere this long, nor have I seen him get as close to anyone as he has to you, your family, this team. He cares about you all deeply. To many, that seems a good thing, but for Mr Callen, I believe it scares him."

Much like Deeks in the gym earlier, Sam found it hard to consider scared and Callen in the same sentence. It seemed such a normal thing to be surrounded by family and friends, to grow up with people you cared about, and who cared about you in return. It was roots, safety. Having someone to have your back. But Sam knew Callen had never experienced that – had never truly known what it was to be part of a family – until he had grown close to Sam and Michelle and the kids. Sam had always struggled to understand that to Callen, a family didn't mean security and comfort and someone having your back. It meant dependency and weakness and vulnerability. And he suddenly understood that was what Callen was feeling now – the burden of responsibility that those close to him were getting hurt: in his mind, getting hurt because of him.

"After all these years…" Sam sighed. "I think I know him, and there's always another layer."

"Like an onion," Hetty affirmed.

"He got the slip on me this time," Sam said heavily. "One moment he was there, the next… gone. You'd think by now I'd have learned how to stop him ghosting on me!"

"What were you to do? Drag him with you, kicking and screaming? Cuff him? Taser or sedate him?"

"I should have tried something," Sam said stubbornly.

It was Hetty's turn to sigh. She had more experience than Sam when it came to Callen going off on his own when times got tough – and whilst she understood the reasons, she'd never managed to stop the behaviour. "Nothing would have worked, believe me, I've tried it all. If Mr Callen doesn't want to do something…"

"Wait a minute, wait a minute… You've tried… all that? You're saying you've *drugged* him?!" Sam interrupted incredulously.

"Well, I'm not saying it was one of my best ideas," Hetty admitted wryly. "But as I said, he is not an easy character to help!"

A/N: So... Callen got married... I haven't seen any of S14, to be honest I can't remember any of S13 even though I know I watched it, the joys of a brain injury! I'll have to wait for the UK dvd release... Part of me feels it's out of character for Callen to actually marry, part of me is glad he came full circle from those wonderful S1 days where he was so desperate to find a real family of his own...

For me, my stories are all based on the 'golden years' of season 1-9, when I felt the characters were more, well, true to character. The writing went downhill for me from S10 onwards. But we are where we are. I will still miss the show, and my 'Callen fix' :(