Note #1: Originally Posted on AO3
Note #2: This is the last story that was previously posted on AO3 and that I therefore had 'in stock'. Once this one is finished, new stories will be coming far less frequently. Just saying.
Note #3: Alright everyone. This story is on the dark and heavy side. It's pretty graphic and it's one of the darkest (if not the darkest) I've ever written. Consider yourself warned!
Tags/Warnings: Graphic Violence, H/C, Angst, Torture, Dark, Brainwashing, Mind Manipulation, Mind control, Non-con drug use, Non-con touching, Threats of non-con.
For those of you worried about the warnings about threats of non-con… it's not in any way in strong focus. It's basically dealt with in a few paragraphs and more as an abstract concept than a real valid threat. I included the warning to be on the safe side.
Part I - Destruction
It hadn't been the first time he left OSP in the middle of the night, locking up behind himself. Ever since joining NCIS and being stationed in L.A., the old building had been a sanctuary for him, a place to relax and feel safe in. The location was confidential and the building was well protected.
That may have been part of why he hadn't reacted instantly, his senses still somewhat mellow from the feeling of safety that place and its immediate surroundings always brought.
There had been a brief moment of surprise before the attack had registered properly and he had retaliated. Countering the moves of three attackers at once, he was doing his best to keep himself alive and preferably unharmed. Two more attackers joined the fray and while he had been trained well most of his life and even more so since joining the covert NCIS L.A. branch - training different fighting styles, training with multiple experts, training with Sam - going against a group of five well educated assailants on his own left him at a distinct disadvantage.
Later, he wouldn't be able to tell how long the fight lasted, but he took several hits to his back, legs and abdomen, managing to at least mostly shield his head. He also got some hits in, but felt himself tiring eventually due to being outnumbered. His attackers varied their approaches, rotating out if they were tiring and therefore remaining fresh while he didn't get a reprieve.
Callen cursed himself for a brief lapse of attention when one of the men slipped past his guard, below the pipe he had managed to grab from one of the conveniently hidden caches of weapons placed around the dilapidated building. The two men grappled and Callen hissed when his opponent got an arm wrenched around and over the back of his neck, bending him over just as he sensed another coming up behind him. The blow to the back of his head stunned him for a second, his grip loosening and his attackers pressed their advantage, bringing him down to the ground. Despite his struggles, they quickly and effectively bound his hands behind his back, also tying his feet together.
He saw and heard a van screeching to a halt close by as he was dragged off the ground and carried towards the vehicle despite his ongoing struggles. Once inside the van, he was forced face down and held there with a knee in his back. He consciously and deliberately slowed his struggles, using every scrap of rationalism he possessed, knowing he could severely injure himself now. In his current face-down position with a knee added to the back, positional asphyxiation was a very valid threat… and he couldn't escape if he was dead.
Reacting to his decreased struggling, the man on his back eased his bodyweight off, letting him breathe somewhat easier.
Callen closed his eyes and gave himself a moment to just breathe and slow down. The situation was out of his control for now. He had been taken by multiple unknown attackers. He would remain alert to use any possible situation to escape but until then he would have to bide his time and keep himself as uninjured as possible.
His eyes shot back open when he felt a needle enter the muscle in the back of his shoulder. Bucking up, he found his assailants prepared for such a move and easily pinning him down. Tossing several more times, the world started slowing down around him, his body succumbing to the fast acting sedative that was now being pumped through his system.
He was still distantly aware off the man on his back sliding off and several hands turning him onto his side before he couldn't fight the darkness of unconsciousness any longer.
He woke up feeling groggy and lethargic, his tongue too big for his mouth, his head stuffed with cotton and his stomach in turmoil. Rolling onto his side, Callen heaved, bringing up only bile. Dry heaving and retching, his stomach finally settled down somewhat and he managed to slide a short distance away from the mess on the cement floor.
Callen shivered slightly, less in fear of what was to come and more in reaction to the cramps in his stomach, the lasting effects of the drugs coursing through his body and the cold cement floor.
He allowed his eyes to close as he let his head sink back down, marshalling his strength and waiting for his mind to start working properly again.
He distantly recognized time was slipping by. He was drowsing and drifting as the sedative slowly left his system.
Eventually, he gradually started to feel more in control of himself and decided to go over what he knew…
One: he had been taken from right in front of OSP, meaning their location was compromised. With how much care they all took to make sure to keep the location secret, it would have to be some influential and powerful foe to find the place… which was not a welcome conclusion. If the attack had happened at the boatshed, he wouldn't be as worried, since every crook they interrogated there knew about it, but their headquarters were quite a bit more protected.
Two: he had been taken by professionals. They had outnumbered him and their attack had been well rehearsed, a group of people very familiar with each other's fighting styles, strengths and weaknesses. They had known quite well what they had been up against with him and taken any advantages of home-ground and fighting capabilities right out of his hand. Again, this hinted at a powerful foe.
Three: the whole attack had been well planned, from the number of assailants to the waiting van and the syringe with sedatives.
Four: he had been attacked in the middle of the night when no one else was present anymore, which suggested it had been a targeted attack, which in turn implied that they wanted something from him specifically, something that only he could provide. A lot of confidential information sprang to the forefront of his mind before he pushed it back.
Five: waking up and dry-heaving also told him something else… it took between 6 and 8 hours for food to pass through the stomach. He had had a late night snack of left-over take-away only an hour or so before he had left the mission, so he had lost at least 5 hours or possibly more due to the sedatives.
He still felt too out of it to try and get up to check out his prison so he let his mind continue to wander, using the time afforded to him to prepare himself for what was to come. There was no doubt in his mind that it would involve some form of physical and/or psychological torture. It wasn't the first time he had been held captive, also not the first time he had been subjected to torture, and he knew the time before it started could be detrimental. The worrying, the natural fear of the unknown, fear of knowing you would be harmed and purposefully hurt… It was a waiting game that his captors were trying to use to their advantage or they already would have made an appearance. It was just one of many forms of psychological torture.
Callen knew this, and he also knew how to work against it. He may not have gone through SEAL-training, but he'd had several anti-interrogation trainings… and several real-life experiences.
The instructor of one of his more advanced anti-interrogation trainings came to mind. He'd been a - mostly - retired spook, someone whose name was redacted. To the day, he only knew the man's pseudonym: Mirage. Callen had a healthy dose of distrust towards authority figures but Mirage had gained his respect within seconds. Just the way the man behaved, the way he held himself and the way he moved had been enough to commandeer his respect. His gut feeling had been that the man knew what he was talking about, that he had been on both sides of the interrogation table and that Callen better sit down and listen to what the man had to say.
The man's knowledge had helped him before and Callen called Mirage's words to the forefront of his mind again: "It comes down to accepting the worst is always to come. When you think that there's no way it can get worse, it will. But know this as well… your body can adapt to what you're put through as long as you remain in control of yourself."
He continued breathing calmly. In through his nose (despite the stink of vomit close by) and out through his mouth. His heart rate remained steady and he let his mind fill with pictures of good memories, memories that gave him strength and security - bantering with the team, Sam's solid presence working beside him, Nell and Eric's voices in his ear guiding him through a mission, Deeks' mischievous laugh right before he got focused on their objective, Kensi's calm determination as she provided overwatch through the scope of her rifle, Hetty's old and wizened stare as she considered all angles of the metaphorical chess board in front of her. He allowed those pictures to fill him up and feed his strength, combining it with the natural inborn stamina he'd always had. It had been tested before and he was confident it would withstand this trial as well.
Callen allowed his eyes to spring open when the door was unlocked. He didn't move from where he was though, instead watched as three men came into the room. All of them were of Asian descent and just by the way they moved he determined that all of them had been present during his initial abduction.
He didn't shy away when they grabbed him and drew him up. With his hands chained in front of him, he didn't have many means of defending himself anyway and he knew he would have to pick his battles wisely.
He started struggling though when they began tearing off his clothes, instantly deciding that this was a battle he was very determined to pick. He only ceased his struggles upon several well placed punches, out of breath and bent over in a forceful submission hold.
Dread raced through him upon being stripped one layer after the other, some of his clothes being sliced off with knives because of the restraints. Situations like this were volatile and often unpredictable. A sexual assault was its own kind of torture, a way of shattering an individual's confidence and sense of self, something that had never happened to him before, though it had been hinted at.
Callen breathed deeply when his captors backed off without going any further than taking his clothes.
He was aware of the psychological consequences of being stripped naked. The humiliation of being naked around fully clothed captors was an unpleasant feeling. It brought into sharp contrast the roles of the people present… him a captive without any kind of power, them pulling the strings. It was an immediate and effective way of domination over and demoralization of the victim. The theory was all well and dandy, but he had to admit the reality was somewhat harsher than expected.
Callen sank down to the ground when the three men stepped away and left the room. His mind was reeling and he was glad for the reprieve, needing a few moments to settle himself. The fact that he had been awake while being stripped let him know it was a conscious move on his captors' part, having him very much aware of what was happening and having his mind fill the blanks of what might happen in the future… psychological torture at its finest.
Closing his eyes, he rested his forehead on his drawn-up knees, focusing on his breathing. He had several choices here… loosing himself in the fear of the potential threat of a sexual assault was one way. The threat was there, the possibility of it happening hung in the air and he knew he had to face it head on. He had to accept it might happen, prepare himself for the worst and hope for the best so he could remain functional.
Callen jumped slightly when the lights started flickering, the steady, dull illumination turning into fast changing strobe lights. At the same time, noise started blaring through the room.
Both the visual and sound effects served to disorient the captive and mess with his head. This he had gone through before and it hadn't been pretty. Callen sighed and lay down facing the wall, putting his arms around his head. He couldn't escape either the noise or the flashing lights, but he could at least lessen the effects a little by shielding himself from the flickering lights as best as he could. He didn't try to retreat into himself, knew from experience the noise would not allow it for him. Instead he gave himself over to it, letting it wash around and over and through him.
Time would soon lose all meaning in these conditions and he knew once the lights and noise turned off, things would begin for real. This was just another prelude of mellowing the captive.
Again, all of this led credence to his previous considerations: he was facing a powerful and very skilled opponent.
The lights were still flickering when they came for him. Callen startled when he was roughly drawn up to his knees and pushed against the wall. Within moments, a hood was placed over his head and headphones sank down over his ears.
The abrupt change from blaring noise and flickering lights to complete sound and sight deprivation was jarring and he felt himself reeling, trying to come to grips with it. The silence rang in his head and his eyes tried to seek out the faintest spot of light.
He shifted slightly, starting to turn around, only to be brought up short by a firm hand on his shoulder. His hands were still shackled in front of him but two of his captors on either side of him now reached for them and drew them over his head, placing his hands against the back of his head before pushing him forward with his head leaning against the wall.
Inwardly, he sighed… stress positioning. The next step in the intricate dance that was going on here. The loss of control - of sight, of sound and of freedom to move - grated heavily and he closed his eyes beneath the hood, once more trying to settle himself.
He had the frustrating feeling of always being one step behind his captors, trying to react to what was happening, scrambling to catch up instead of determining the game even from his weak position.
Before long, his muscles started protesting the position he was in, but even the smallest of shifts on his part was instantly countered and corrected by the men around him. He was trembling by the time they changed his stance from one stress position to another.
He had gone through this during his training before, also had it happen in reality to him, but having previous experience didn't make this any easier to take.
Again, he recalled Mirage. Remember that pain is fleeting. It will go away.
He wasn't sure how many stress positions they put him through before the headphones and hood were taken off and his world was thrust back into the chaos of noise and flickering lights. Swinging from one extreme to the other again made for a brutal contrast. At least he could lie down now though. Callen heaved a sigh and hissed when he drew up his arms back over his head, his muscles protesting the position.
He had no idea how long he had been in captivity by now. He was exhausted and hungry, but he knew this was just the start of it. Despite everything that had been going on so far, he had yet to meet the head of the snake. So far, not a word had been spoken to him - another tactic of isolating a prisoner from human contact - and all of this was just leading up to mellowing him for the real deal. As of yet, he had no idea what these men wanted from him.
They went through three more cycles of stress positioning in complete silence and sightlessness before returning to noise and strobe lights and back again. He was thoroughly exhausted and completely disoriented when they drew him out of a stress position and started dragging him somewhere. He staggered along, his muscles burning and his body shaking with fatigue. Callen pushed and prodded his mind to wake up from the stupor it had sunken into. He needed to be as alert as possible despite what had been done to him so far, as he guessed now things would move beyond the state of buttering him up.
He stumbled and they pushed him into a wall in retaliation. Callen held his protests, instead simply staggered further along when they dragged him forward once more, somewhat glad for the incident as it served to sharpen his focus.
He was drawn to a stop and forcefully shoved down into a chair. The headphones were ripped off but the hood remained. Callen held himself still, giving himself a moment to let his senses adjust, listening to the sounds around him. Two people were moving behind him and while there was no movement in front of him, he could feel someone watching him. He forced himself not to shudder under the gaze, instantly wary and unsettled by the presence in front of him.
Silence fell around the room and Callen waited. He didn't move when one of the men from behind approached and he also didn't move when the hood was drawn off. Blinking his eyes rapidly, he waited for his eyes to adjust before he raised his head.
In front of him was a sturdy table, rough wood with several deep gouges. The man on the other side of the table was watching him intently and Callen met the man's gaze head on, using every scrap of confidence and resilience he had to project an outwardly calm air. The man was of stocky build, somewhat heavy set but still with enough bulk of muscle to indicate he was able to take care of himself. Just like the rest of his bunch, he was of Asian descent with short black hair and dark, intelligent eyes.
Callen forced himself to ignore his continued nakedness, having somewhat gotten used to it by now. It made for a sharp contrast to the well dressed man he was facing though. He didn't let his own eyes stray from the man to the various cabinets and appliances that had been set out around him. He knew there would be instruments on display to intimidate, to provoke a spike of fear.
The man on the other side of the table smiled mildly and acknowledged Callen's focus with a small nod.
He didn't nod back. He also didn't speak, knowing the man was waiting for him to start talking. It was a human trait to want to fill the silence with words, especially when you perceived yourself on the short end of the stick. Fact was though, Callen got on well with silence, so he settled himself to wait.
Before long, the other man drew a breath. It felt like a small victory to have the other man break the silence first, but whatever feeling of victory he felt was immediately doused by the man's words: "Welcome to Chinquong, Agent Callen."
He tried to hold back on his reaction, kept his mouth shut against the way his breath wanted to escape him. Chinquong was a maximum-security prison located on the outskirts of Beijing. A number of political prisoners had been incarcerated there over the years.
He knew better than to take things for face value. Without a frame of reference, without any proof, without any glimpse of the outside world, he could be anywhere - in Beijing, in Moscow or just around the corner from OSP - but the sheer implication was beyond worrisome.
From the way the man's face merged into a satisfied smirk, he hadn't held back his reactions quite well enough despite being undecided about the accuracy of the man's words.
"I see you recognize the name, probably also the reputation… which is nothing compared to the reality, I assure you," the man stated mildly and stood up before he stepped to the side.
Despite fighting against it, his eyes briefly flickered over to the cabinets behind the desk, a collection of scalpels, knives and other things set out on display as expected. Kind of a cliché as well. Callen dragged his eyes away to meet the other man's once more, finding a sadistic enjoyment in them.
He inwardly cursed himself. He would need to curb his reactions even better. That man was able to look beneath his masks - masks that were admittedly in disarray after the many hours of vicious disorientation.
He forced his mind away from the oncoming trials. Mirage's words swam back into focus: 'don't dwell on what is to happen. Accept it. Accept you hold no power over anything but yourself.' Callen embraced the feeling of security the man's words had evoked back then. He may not hold power over the situation, but his body was his own. He had gone through torture before - though admittedly it hadn't been as systematically done as what he had already gone through in the past few hours… and that was even before they reached some kind of apex. They were currently on a plateau somewhere at best half-way up the hill. Things would get worse, much worse. He could see it in his opponent's confident stance and in his eyes.
When he saw the other man's features tighten, he allowed himself a small smile of victory, knowing he'd been successful in rearranging his masks and projecting confidence despite the man's goading. He basked in that victory, allowed it to fill him to sustain him.
"I'm sure you have an idea what's going to happen in the future," the Asian said, glancing meaningfully around them. Callen didn't follow the man's eyes, instead kept his focus on the man. "I'm giving you an out now, spare yourself all the pain, the degradation and humiliation. You just have to agree to one thing."
'Here it comes,' he thought to himself, 'the reason for all of this.' It came quite early in this meeting, if not exactly early in this whole game. Callen tilted his head to the side in a silent prompt, still not speaking.
"Your team has become quite a hindrance to some of our plans and dealings."
He allowed a smirk to break free. They'd intercepted some Chinese Agents and messed up some well planned business deals about top secret Navy technology lately. It was nice to know that their successes made some difference… even if it came at his own expense now.
The other man's eyes narrowed, but he didn't react otherwise.
Callen stored the information away, cataloguing traits and knowledge about his opponent. This man was someone who held a tight rein over himself, obviously slow to anger, cunning and well organized. It made for a very dangerous adversary.
"We can't have you destroying any more of our deals, and in punishment of what you destroyed before, your mission, Agent Callen, is to kill your team."
The words were soft, nearly gentle, but held a ring of steel beneath. Still… Callen couldn't help himself. He started laughing because of the ridiculousness of it all. He had expected they wanted state secrets, confidential information. He had hardened himself against being tortured for information. When the man revealed what they wanted though, it left him floundering…
The man waited in silence until his laughter died down, simply watching him with intense eyes. Once Callen finally fell silent, the laughter having run its course, the other man approached him. "I hoped that would be your answer," he murmured and brought a hand up to his cheek.
Callen recoiled from the touch, his training instantly taking over and countering the move, his cuffed hands coming up and taking hold of the other man's wrist, twisting it and bending it around, forcing the man face down onto the table while he stood up from his chair in the same moment, the move fluid and lightning quick.
His victory was short lived as the guards behind him intervened, a sharp jab to his kidneys making him wince though he didn't release his hold. Knowing he wouldn't win this battle, but determined to take a stand, he bent down over the other man and whispered into his captive's ear, "I will never bow to you."
He had to let go of the man as one of the guards snuck an arm around his neck, drawing him back in a choke hold. He fought the two guards for several moments until dark spots danced in his vision from the lack of air. Still he kept struggling even after the hood was placed over his head once more, taking his vision, if not his instincts. He lashed out against the man in his back - a kick to the knee that must have glanced off but not done the intended damage as the man remained standing. A punch to his stomach forced what little air he still had out of his lungs and made him fold over.
A moment later, it was him face down on the table, the rough wood chafing against his bare skin. His hands were drawn out from underneath him and the chain between the cuffs hooked to the other side of the table, leaving him stretched over it. Another moment later, a line of fire exploded on his back, the first of many as a cane was brought down repeatedly on him.
Callen lay, shivering from the cold and exhaustion both. The caning had raised welts on his back, but he didn't think the skin had been broken in too many places. Still, his back hurt, his muscles quivering and the skin stretching uncomfortably.
Because he had been hooded since just before the caning started, he wasn't sure of his tormentor's mental state, hadn't been able to visually asses it. Before the attack, he had seen a cold and calculating individual, but the caning had felt impulsive… on the other hand, if the man had managed to merely raise welts instead of flaying the skin off his back after Callen's attack, there had to have been a measure of control in it. He wasn't sure if that made it better or worse.
The strobe lights and noises were back, had been from the moment he'd been thrown back into his cell. Right now, he didn't mind. He needed some moments to stretch out and let his body adjust to the discomfort - because for now, physically it was no more than a discomfort. He had been injured worse by one or another of his foster parents in incidents similar to this one.
He doubted that was all his captors had in store for him though, the previous rounds of stress positions, noise, strobe lights and everything that came before and in between were too calculating and subtly manipulative for the physical violence to stop at a caning.
Again, he wondered if the incident had been just another preplanned step in an escalation of violence and torture. If he had gotten a glimpse of his tormentor during the caning, he would possibly be more confident in gauging the state of things. As it was, he remained in uncertainty.
He still wasn't perfectly sure if he had indeed been brought to China or if they were still somewhere within the United States. His contact so far had been limited to maybe five or six people, all of them of Asian descent. That didn't mean anything though.
He couldn't adequately calculate the time he had been sedated after the initial attack, so he had to admit it was a possibility he had spent an intercontinental flight drugged and unconscious. Whether it was true or not, just the thought of having been displaced to China served to isolate him further, forced a feeling of helplessness to weigh heavily on him. If he had been brought to China, help in form of his team was far away. Then again, he had often operated best under the impression of being alone.
Hunger and thirst were gnawing on him, adding to the discomfort he was feeling. He didn't think they would let him die of thirst - they still wanted something from him after all - but his body craved water and he knew that rational thinking would do little to help, the thirstier he got.
Suddenly, the lights went out, leaving him in pitch blackness. A moment later, the blaring noise also died down.
He tensed, coiled for action, unsure if an attack was imminent. When several minutes passed without anything happening, he forced himself to relax. This might be his only chance to get some rest. Sleep deprivation was another form of torture after all, muddling the mind and exhausting the body. He remained somewhat wary of the quiet, but he knew he needed to try and rest as best as he could to restore his energy levels.
Closing his eyes, Callen tried to settle down and get some sleep.
A kick to the abdomen brought him awake and flipped him over onto his back. Callen was a second to slow to move - though he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do to counter his enemy's moves - and once more found himself face down before the black hood was placed over his head again. The headphones followed, silencing the world around him.
He had no concept of time anymore, didn't know how long he had been able to sleep, but it felt like it had been mere minutes. Contrary to the brief minutes of rest, his time spent in the hands of his captors felt like an eternity.
He was dragged out of his prison cell and shoved to wherever it was they were setting him up this time.
Again, he was made to sit and once the headphones and hood came off, he found himself in the same room as before. The stocky Asian sat in the opposite chair, the table between them. Callen's gaze fell onto the glass of water in front of him, his dry throat constricting as his fingers twitched.
The Asian smiled and nodded towards the water. "Drink it," he offered mildly.
Callen's eyes narrowed instantly and the man laughed, the sound soft and musical even though it felt cold.
"Don't worry. It is not poisoned or drugged. We still need you to do our bidding and once we drug you, you'll be aware of it happening." There was malice in the tone even though the words were said evenly and somewhat gently.
Once we drug you.
Not if or in case.
The words were not said by mistake either. They were a clear threat and at the same time a mere statement of what was to come.
Callen's eyes went to the water again. He desperately needed some fluids. He couldn't be sure of the man's words, didn't know if he was lying about the water being clear or not, but he could control this. He knew that there were reports of incidents with Chinese prisoners being force fed through tubes. He had the feeling this man would resort to such measures so his captive didn't die before he had outlived his usefulness. Callen knew he would hate that more than drinking the water voluntarily and finding it drugged. At least if he drank it on his own terms, was able to control this small part of his situation.
He slowly sat forward and reached for the glass, bringing it to his lips. He took a cautious sniff, not detecting any suspicious smell - though that didn't mean much. A lot of poisons and drugs wouldn't smell or even taste. Mentally shrugging, he took a slow sip. He wanted to chug the whole drink down, but he knew he had to pace himself so he wouldn't make himself sick.
He held his captor's eye as he took one sip after the other, wary of being denied the whole glass but determined to drink slowly.
When the glass was empty, he set it carefully back onto the table.
The Asian nodded. "See, that wasn't so bad," he stated evenly. "Now, have you reconsidered your answer to my proposal?"
There was a greedy anticipation in the man's eyes. Callen revisited his thoughts from after the caning and now felt rather certain that while it had seemed impulsive, the man had been very conscious of his moves. He was looking into the eyes of a sociopath, a man who enjoyed inflicting pain, who enjoyed playing with people, toying with the mind of his prey. And what was worse, Callen had a gut feeling deep inside of himself that the Asian was very good at what he did.
Still… he straightened and shook his head, not even dignifying the question with a verbal answer.
The man's smile widened, sharp and reminding him of a shark about to strike. "Very well," he said softly. "You are a protector, Agent Callen, and I've seen what you've done to protect the American people. I know it would be very easy to get you to agree by threatening the innocent people you are sworn to protect. You did it before, jumping through the hoops of the Black Widow and some other people before her."
Callen hated that the Asian knew about this. This information about their previous cases wasn't exactly public knowledge. He wondered how such information had been leaked, but decided to store that knowledge for later and focus back on the man.
The Asian smiled mildly as he watched his captive. "There are other ways though, more thorough ways, and it will be a delightful challenge to break you."
His nerve endings were on fire, his skin pulled tight and his muscles twitching involuntarily every now and then. With the use of electroshocks, there was minimal outward damage to show for his trouble, but damage was being done.
The current that had pulsed through him time and again shouldn't be too harmful for his body, but it was painful alright, his muscles locking up whenever the current was applied.
He had distantly wondered about the methods, even more so since he had seen the various other instruments laid out. Then again, his captors would want him to be functional and relatively unharmed to do their bidding - a bidding he still refused to do, would continue to refuse.
Still, after what by now had to be days of torture, sleep deprivation, strobe lights and noise, his walls were cracked and needed to be fortified. He used every single moment he had to himself to adjust, evaluate and mentally shore himself up further.
Whenever he could, he recalled Mirage's teachings.
Pain is fleeting. You can adapt as long as you're in control of yourself. The fight is won with the mind.
Every wall he managed to erect was a wall his captors strove to tear down again.
And the worst of it? Callen felt they still hadn't reached the crescendo. After days of torment, he knew that his captor was a consummate professional in what he did. This wasn't the first time he tortured someone. The Asian was a calculating man - as he had suspected before and learned in reality so far. The man was very aware of what he was doing and he was taking his time to do it. He didn't seem to be in a rush, unconcerned about being found out or interrupted which sadly gave credence to the claim that they were in China and well out of his team's reach.
Callen knew there were prisons and prison camps all over China. It was the largest system of forced labor, torture and brainwashing the world had seen. The world was aware of it, but mostly looked away as they could do very little to change it without interfering with the country's sovereignty. A lot of these prison facilities had one particular goal: to break the will of the people. Some of the methods employed came from the era of China's Cultural Revolution. Sixiang gaizao had been the name of the re-education system back then. The literal translation meant: 'thought reform' or 'ideological remolding'. The actual meaning was: brainwashing.
Even without any drugs yet being employed, Callen felt himself struggling to keep the Asian at bay, to remain unaffected. He felt the subtle and yet violent way the man was reaching into him, into his brain to reconnect the wires that made him tick.
Callen tracked the Asian's movements as the man walked in circles around the chair he was restrained in. He knew what would happen, was powerless to stop it though. The instant the Asian left his field of vision was the instant his body wracked with pain, muscles locking up when another pulse of electricity zapped through him.
It took longer and longer for it to the pain to die down so he could gasp for breath, longer and longer for his lungs to expand and take in air. In just that moment, that moment the pain abated, the Asian returned to his sight. The man waited patiently, watching him through calculating eyes, knowing exactly what he was doing to him.
The sad part was, Callen knew, too.
It was another psychological warfare tactic: the prisoner was hurt, made to suffer pain. The pain only went away when the torturer was in his line of sight, forcing a subconscious connection between freedom from pain and the torturer himself.
Callen turned his focus back inwards, doing his best to counteract what the man was doing. Whenever he came into his line of sight, he let his hatred for the Asian take over. With his weakening state though, it got harder to do and he was slipping, feeling himself hoping the man would remain where he could see him, not just because then the pain would stay away but also because he was falling to this subconscious training of the man being safety when he was anything but.
He closed his eyes, slumping in his seat, his body hunched over and exhausted.
Callen heard his torturer move, braced himself for the next wave of pain and cringed in anticipation. He was somewhat startled when it didn't come.
There was a pause before the Asian spoke to the guards behind him in Chinese. Callen's Chinese was rudimentary, but he understood enough to determine that something along the lines of 'he is ready' had been said.
The Asian returned to his line of sight and Callen blearily glanced at him, once more feeling like a bug being scrutinized under the microscope. As he was left unharmed for the moment, he allowed himself to drift.
That natural inborn stamina he had bragged about at the beginning of this ordeal? He wasn't sure how much of it remained. He thought there was a remaining reservoir deep, deep down, a pool of strength he had never before been forced to reach for, but he was exhausted after the concentrated onslaught of violence against his body and mind.
The cables attached to the electrodes on his chest were unclipped and he was lifted from the chair by two guards. He sagged in their hold, unable to find the strength to stand. They dragged him out of the room, not bothering with the hood or the headphones. That in itself was a testament of how bad he must look as they had never allowed that before when they took him out of the room. He distantly took in his surroundings, the trained part of his brain cataloguing turns and twists they made while also trying to pick out landmarks. There were Chinese signs on some of the walls, walls made of stone, no windows granting a look at the outside. He tried to stumble along, but mostly his legs refused to work.
Before long, they entered another room, similar to his usual torture chamber. He blearily took in the surroundings, noting the projector behind the chair and the screen that took up most of the wall in front of it. He was deposited in the chair, his limbs rearranged to his captor's liking before being restrained in place. His head was forced back against the headrest, a strap pulled tight over his forehead, restricting the range of movement of his head to basically nothing. Thoroughly exhausted, knowing that struggling was futile, he allowed his eyes to close. Callen listened to the sounds of the men moving around him, sinking into himself and not trying to make sense of what they were doing. He knew he would find out eventually, but in the meantime he needed every second of respite he could have.
A hand cradled his chin and a glass was brought to his lips. He drank, not offering any resistance. He didn't get a lot of food, but they fed him water regularly. He hated the fact that very often, the glass was held to his lips, just another way of asserting dominance over him and his body, but he drank what they gave him. So far, it hadn't been drugged - at least not in a noticeable way.
He remained boneless in the chair, idly cataloguing his hurts, the points of agony.
Callen swallowed back the whimper when cables were being reattached to the pads stuck to his chest, understanding that this round wasn't over yet. He longed to lie down, to let his body melt into the unforgiving cool stone floor of his prison cell, but that wasn't to happen yet.
He winced and tried to move away when his left eyelid was touched. The touch lifted and his lid was drawn open and held there, taped to his brow. The same thing was done to his right eye, forcing his eyes open and making him stare straight ahead at the screen.
Dread pulsed through him in thick waves. He hated this additional loss of control and the way his body refused to even fight anymore.
The Asian appeared in his line of vision just as the chair was being tilted backwards. Callen fought the brief bout of vertigo before he focused on the man above him. He unsuccessfully tried to shrink back when the Asian tilted a small bottle, dripping some droplets into first his right and then his left eye. It didn't burn or sting, but it left him unsettled.
"Shhhh," the Asian soothed softly, brushing the backs of his fingers against Callen's cheek. He wanted to recoil from the touch as he had wanted to recoil from it often before, but was unable to. "It's just eye drops, fluid. You're dehydrated and I see no need to damage you further."
He watched the man with a mixture of hatred, disgust and exhaustion. Again, he vowed to himself that he would take this man down. He would hunt him down no matter how long it took. For now, it was an empty threat though, and he knew it.
The chair was righted and again he was facing the screen.
The Asian stepped to the side.
And as soon as he was out of his line of vision, the pain was back.
His body seized, but his eyes remained open and he watched pictures begin to flash on the screen.
Pictures of his team, his friends. Pictures of the people he considered family.
It was in that moment that he realized that everything that had come before had just been the first step of reconfiguring his mind. They had forged a connection between being free from pain with his torturer and now they were forging an additional connection between pain and the people they wanted him to kill.
He screamed in rage and in pain, struggling against his bindings despite the current running through him. When the current stopped, the Asian stood in front of him, blocking his line of sight, blocking the pictures from his team mates and his friends, again inserting himself into the conditioning of being free from pain.
The man's expression could only be called smug satisfaction. They both knew what the man was doing, just as they both knew that Callen would do everything he could to fight against it.
Both men were professionals, locked in a battle of wills, an underhanded battle of power… a battle that was set to destroy one of the men's minds.
He lay huddled in his cell, his knees drawn up as much as possible, tears of pain, frustration, hatred and fear leaking from his eyes.
Even though he was alone, flashes from what felt like weeks of torture and brainwashing remained in front of his eyes.
The Asian was systematically breaking down his defenses, using pain and conditioning and Callen felt himself losing his grip on reality and on his mind. There was a confusing mix of do's and don'ts, of long held beliefs that were being reconfigured to someone else's liking. He hated the loss of control over more than just his body - the loss of control over his mind.
'Don't dwell on what is to happen. Accept it. Accept you hold no power over anything but yourself.'
'But what do I do if I lose power over myself?'
Only silence answered that internalized question. He could really use some of Mirage's knowledge right about now, would also settle for some of Hetty's wisdom. As soon as his mentor's face entered his mind, his body cringed, conditioned to expect pain. Something that had given him strength and comfort before - memories of his team, his belief in them and his friendship with them - was now being poisoned and used against him.
He was being whittled down inch by inch and even his fortified walls felt inadequate against such a skilled and determined opponent.
He tracked the movement of the syringe wearily, knowing there was nothing he could do against it. Just as his captor had promised days, weeks, months ago, he had been informed just moments before that he would be drugged.
He was back in the torture chamber with the screen, and after the contents of the syringe had been entered into his veins, the drugs released in a fiery burning that radiated outwards from the point of injection, his eyes were taped open again.
He had lost count of how often this had happened, also wasn't sure when the last time was that he had been allowed more than a few moments of sleep. His internal clock was completely out of synch and he had absolutely no idea how long he had been in this wretched place, how long he had been forced to endure one aspect of physical and psychological torture after another.
Callen felt his mind beginning to drift and he scrambled to pull up his defenses, the walls he hid those parts of himself behind he had been able to protect so far. His grasp on any defense mechanism he had grew shadier with each passing second as the drug started working through his system.
When the pictures started, he was unprepared for the pain, the pulsing current of electricity.
"The longer you refuse, the longer you'll hurt," the Asian's voice whispered in his ear.
The pain stopped and the man reappeared in his line of sight. He stroked a hand through his sweaty hair and Callen fought to find the strength to at least try and cringe away, however futile with the restraints. He couldn't though, instead endured the man's touch that moved down his cheek and further down his neck. It was repulsing, and he felt the hatred surge through him.
The Asian smiled and backed off, stepping behind him for the pain and the pictures to once more blend together.
Kensi and Deeks coming out of the boatshed, obviously bantering if their smiles were anything to go by.
Sam out on a run, focused on nothing but keeping his rhythm.
"You're hurting because of them and they are allowing you to be hurt," the voice whispered, "no one is looking for you. They don't care about you. No one ever did."
The pain subsided and he sucked in a breath, his lungs refusing to take in enough air. He wasn't sure if it was due to the physical or the emotional pain running through him.
No. He tried to shake his head, clear it of the drugs while the Asian waited in front of him. Again, the man reached out. "I care," he murmured, brushing moisture from Callen's cheek, "I can make this stop."
The onslaught of pictures remained long after he had been brought back to the cell, mixing with memories, confusing the Asian's prompts with what had really happened, the drugs messing with his brain.
Sam beating him up in a mission, allegedly pulling his punches… when he did anything but.
The team looking at him funny when he admitted to some things he had done during his time at the Agency.
Hetty lying, keeping information to herself. Information about him.
"No," he screamed weakly, his voice hoarse, "leave me alone!" Callen drew his hands up over his head, curling into a fetal ball to protect himself, protect whatever of himself he had left.
The door opened and within moments, the Asian was there, drawing him close against his body, stroking a hand through his hair and down his skin. "Shhhh, you're safe."
He didn't want to, wanted to hate the man, some part of his consciousness still very much aware of what was being done to him, while the rest of him surrendered. "No more," he whispered as his hands balled into fists around the fabric of the man's shirt. "Please. No more."
If he hoped surrendering would bring an end to the suffering, he was horribly and painfully mistaken.
"Kill her," the demand was firm.
His brief moment of hesitation was enough to make the Asian step out of his line of vision and for the pain to start again. Drugs were again messing with his head and also with his body. Even the smallest of currents translated into a raging inferno that brought him to his knees.
Callen whimpered when the pain slowed, allowed himself to be drawn against his captor's chest, seeking strength and comfort.
Some part of him knew that this man was responsible for his suffering, but his subconscious had been forcefully conditioned, rewired and reconfigured.
"Stand up and follow your orders."
He stood and brought the gun up again, only to hesitate once more and find himself back down on the floor, a soothing hand stroking through his hair.
"Why are you fighting so hard? They've done nothing to deserve your devotion."
There was an instinctive reaction of refusal, memories trying to rise to the surface but he pushed them down, fearing the repercussions of looking at the old memories, knowing they would bring pain, internalized suffering. He locked them down in the back of his mind.
They went round and round. Hesitation, followed by pain, followed by comfort.
He didn't know how many sessions, how many hours and days it took until eventually, resistance bled out of him and he raised his weapon, firing in rapid succession until the magazine clicked empty.
Time once more lost all meaning as he went through one assassination after another, shooting at the video game like pictures of what had once been his friends and family, what was now a source of pain and agony.
"You're ready to complete your task." A gentle touch to the back of his head made him lower the weapon and submit to the man's hold.