Note: … and this is what actually happened without me leaving out all the crucial parts and just narrating the bare backbone. *smirks*

Xxxxxxx

Under Duress

Part III: … and Mirrors

Wearing clothes again for the first time in what had to be weeks had been a strange feeling, but not as strange as returning to the world, a world that had gone on and remained the same while everything he was had undergone reconstruction in a forceful hostile takeover.

Returning to L.A. had been a strange mix of hope and despair. Resisting the Asian's brainwashing had drained him and Callen held onto his sanity by his fingertips. He wasn't sure if he could indeed win against the man who had tormented him for weeks, but he would do his damn best to keep his people safe.

Breaching Dovecote was difficult for most people. Callen wasn't most people though and even though his body was exhausted, pain tingling through him, over stimulated nerves complaining and muscles burning, he could still covertly enter the place he had once called a home. He could do it blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back - a theory he had tested in his sometimes misspent youth against Hetty's better judgment.

Callen pressed himself against the wall inside of the entrance, deep in the shadows. He knew he needed to wait. Shawn would be making his rounds. The man didn't stick to a pattern, neither time wise nor route wise. This was the best place for an ambush, to remain undetected until it was too late.

He waited patiently, two minutes passing, then five. Eventually, he heard the soft tread of footsteps.

He knew the ex-SAS operative well, had helped Hetty find and vet him… and had tested his readiness and strengths maybe once or twice (or several times) before he had been satisfied he could entrust him with Hetty's safety.

Once Shawn was within reach, Callen sprang into action, coming up behind the man and instantly going for a choke hold. "Shawn, it's Callen," he murmured breathlessly, wincing at the elbow that sank into his abdomen, "please, I need your help." He heard the desperate tone of his voice and obviously Shawn heard it as well for his struggles paused briefly. "Cameras," Callen hinted, "make it look good."

He was glad when the man didn't seem fazed, instead once more pretended to try and get Callen's arm away from his neck, slowing his struggles accordingly to the time it would take for a choke hold to take effective. Callen allowed himself a brief moment of relief, glad he had gotten to know the man well over the years and established a rapport with him that allowed this level of trust.

He carefully maneuvered the man down, shielding his head when he rested it against the floor. Shawn's eyes were closed, but the subtle remaining tension in him let Callen know he was playing possum. He knelt over the man, his back to the camera, shielding them from view. "Stay down here. There's a hit on the whole team and I'm supposed to be the reaper." He put a piece of paper into the man's trouser pocket. "Follow the instructions, beware of the cameras. I'll make contact as soon as possible."

He knew he was asking for a lot of trust, especially with what little he could disclose in the short amount of time. Callen was suspicious that the video footage would be watched and if he spent too much time down here, if he seemed to hesitate…. he winced, his nerves twanging painfully, his body well aware of the repercussions.

Callen stood and left Shawn where he was. He made a brief stop in Hetty's library, knowing there were no cameras in there but a treasure trove of additional gear. There was one thing in particular that he needed.

Within moments, he backed out of the room, making it look like he had been checking it for Hetty's whereabouts. Climbing the stairs, he hoped the ex-SAS soldier would let this play out. He stepped around the stairs that would creak, knowing that the sound might alert Hetty. He couldn't have her waking before he followed through with the supposed hit, had planned this in a certain way so that it would be most believable for the Asian who he was pretty sure was watching.

He quietly eased the door to Hetty's bedroom open, watching her sleep for several heartbeats. He was surprised by the anger and resentment that flashed through him upon seeing her sleep soundly, the sentiment conditioned by weeks of torture and brainwashing. Still, he fought against it, his whole being quailing against the unjust treatment and the unforgiving position he had been maneuvered into. He didn't give himself another moment, fearing the repercussions of hesitation, the pain that his body managed to dredge up by itself without outward stimulus after weeks of it being electrocuted into his subconscious.

Sneaking forward, he reached for one of the pillows. "When the time comes, you can smother me with a pillow. Make sure it's synthetic. I'm allergic to feathers." Again, malice sliced through his veins, less dark humor than actual, real malice. He swallowed against it and forced his body back under his control, knowing if he slipped now, he might just do the Asian's bidding despite his best efforts to cripple China's plans.

Callen shook himself and then strode forward, jumping onto the bed. One hand forced the pillow down while he stuck the dart he had taken out of the library into Hetty's upper arm. This time it was mostly mirth that suffused him when he thought this was payback for all the times Hetty decided to stick needles into them… mostly. He still wasn't quite sure were the mirth ended and where the malice began.

Again, his actions were covered by his body, having angled himself so he would shield the dart from view.

Hetty's struggles were brief, the paralytic the dart had been coated with acting quickly and effectively. He lifted the pillow away from her mouth and nose, but left it over her eyes in case they remained open, worrying his ruse might be detected otherwise… and unable to look the woman in the eye after what he had just done. He snapped several pictures with the phone he had been provided before allowing himself a moment of weakness.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, hanging his head down. "Please trust me."

He watched her chest for movement, satisfied when her breathing was there but barely noticeable. Standing, Callen left the room, returning downstairs and glancing at Shawn who hadn't moved from where he lay. Once he was outside of the camera's angle, he stopped for a second. "Give it ten minutes, then put things into motion."

Xxxxxxx

Returning to the Asian had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done, way beyond what had transpired at Dovecote just a little earlier. He returned knowing he would be hurt again, knowing the Asian would want to impart his power over him once more.

It turned his insides into ice, his stomach into knots, but he was determined to follow through. He had put into motion the only plan he'd had been able to come up with and he would continue with it, playing a dangerous game, hiding his true intentions as best as possible from his tormentor. If he didn't manage to pretend, to hold back the reality of his still only partially compromised mind, the repercussions would be even more damaging.

If the Asian became aware that his mind had been fractured but not shattered, he would stop at nothing to finish what he had started and Callen doubted he could hold on against a second, worse onslaught.

It had taken every ounce of willpower, resilience and skill that he possessed to hold on against the Asian's torture and do it in a way the other man wouldn't become aware of his resistance. He wouldn't manage to do it a second time.

Pictures of his mentor stared back at him from the phone screen and he was glad that the usual surge of dread upon seeing a known and treasured face was currently absent, overshadowed by the guilt for what he had done and the hope that he could pull this off. Still, he recoiled, seeing the Asian smile in delight at his reaction.

The video the Asian had from the security footage was no surprise but rather a confirmation of what he had suspected. He didn't know how the Asian had managed to get into Hetty's security system, but he was glad that he had planned for that possibility, had taken counter measures and made sure to keep any damning moves furtive and hidden.

The only warble in the plan was when the Asian pointed out that the bodyguard had survived and carried Hetty away fifteen minutes after Callen had left.

Callen forced himself to answer in a monotone voice, explaining that Hetty had left specific orders in case of death. He didn't flinch away from the Asian's hold of his chin as he relayed the details of what those orders had been, a quick and quiet cremation before her ashes were to be scattered. The man's eyes bore into him, but since it was the truth, wrapped in an omission, the man wouldn't be able to detect a lie in his eyes. Eventually, the Asian smiled mildly and nodded, stroking his fingers down Callen's cheek.

That was when the restraints came back on and Callen resigned himself to renewed hours of pain, renewed hours of struggling against the onslaught of having his mind screwed with.

He prepared himself for the oncoming pain while also directing his mind to what would come after.

Sam would be the next.

Just as with Hetty, he would have no way to warn his partner. He needed to follow through with what he had planned. Hetty and Sam were the two key figures that could make or break his plan. If they vetoed it, he wouldn't be able to go against them… to circumvent that, he couldn't give them any option to veto the plan.

Plus, he had doubted he would be afforded much time alone beforehand to clue them in on the plan. He had been brought to Hetty's place by the Asian's guards and then returned here. If he took too long with doing the deed, he risked everything crumbling to ashes and for the Asian to get away to try another day.

He hoped that things would get easier once Hetty and Sam were out of the way. The Asian knew a lot about him, knew that Hetty and Sam were his staunchest supporters and most sturdy safety net. He could only hope that the man would believe Callen easier to control if those two were gone. It was most certainly why the Asian had made him go for Hetty and Sam first.

For Callen though… for the moment, he was alone in his mission and he didn't care how it ended or where it began.

Xxxxxxx

Callen woke, shrinking back and scrambling away when someone touched him. He blinked rapidly, shivering and wedging himself defensively into the corner of the couch, his hands coming up in a defensive move. He had crawled onto the couch in OSP in the wee hours of the morning after having been brought here by the guards. His whole body was hurting and he wasn't sure if he could really follow through with any of this.

Despite being pleased with Hetty's supposed demise, the Asian had been brutal during their session, enforcing again and again what he had been conditioned to expect… the pain, the connection to his torturer and his mission.

The couch inside of the condemned building that disguised OSP had given him some sort of comfort, a reminder of good times, a tie to his real self that was lying battered and broken somewhere in a hidden corner of his mind.

Nell was blinking back at him and he barely kept himself from flinching, his body again remembering all the pain that had been inflicted whenever he laid eyes upon one of his team members.

He needed to hold himself together somehow.

"Easy, you're safe," Nell intoned quietly.

On the one hand, he wanted to sink into the reassurance, but on the other, the words made him want to vomit. It had been those same reassurances of safety and being alright that the Asian had whispered into his brain in the darkest hours of his pretended submission.

There was a blanket in Nell's hands that she had obviously planned to spread over him. "Where have you been, Callen? You've been gone for ten weeks."

Ten weeks? It felt like longer. He still didn't have a frame of reference for the time spent in captivity, that hellish black hole of pain and agony. He wasn't quite sure if ten weeks was a lot or if he should have held out longer.

"I got away," he muttered, nearly feeling his eyes glaze over upon the words, words that had been drummed (beat, electrocuted) into his brain by the Asian.

He felt the walls closing in around him, couldn't stand the gentle, concerned scrutiny of their analyst, couldn't stand the way he needed to betray this team to keep them all safe… and all with the possibility of it crashing down around his ears. He had to hold on, but he was struggling every step of the way.

Nell obviously saw his struggles, but when she reached out to him, Callen recoiled as if burned. He couldn't stand anyone's contact, not after the Asian's fingers had danced all over his skin, cradling, caressing, possessing. "Don't," he muttered before abruptly standing and leaving the room. He knew it wouldn't be long now before the team got there. Nell would alert them - if Eric hadn't done so already.

True to his expectation, Sam stepped into the gym he had retreated to only a little while later.

Callen sat with his back against a wall, his forehead on top of his arms, hiding his face from view. This would be difficult, lying to his partner who was so very well versed in reading him. The only thing he hoped would fortify him against Sam's instincts was the one thing he didn't want to do… sink into the experience of torture at the Asian's hands and let it fill his mind and his being, sucking him into an ocean of despair, fear and agony.

He didn't know up from down anymore, wasn't sure he remembered who he really was. Everything was a confusing mix of pain and fear and desperation he hadn't ever felt before. As long as he allowed that state to consume him, he could potentially keep Sam at bay, keep his real intentions hidden.

He knew he needed to act soon or his carefully crafted plans could lie in ruins. Callen thought the Asian still remained somewhat suspicious that someone from Callen's life could dismantle all the brainwashing that had been done. He needed for his ruse to hold up for a while longer… until all the pieces were in place, until he could confide in Hetty and ask for guidance. He winced when his mentor's face appeared in his mind, yet again awaiting the surge of electricity that he had been conditioned to expect, the pain his body managed to dish out without any external stimulus by now.

Callen jumped in surprise when his partner's voice sounded close to him, having lost track of Sam's position. "G?" the question was quiet and gentle, in contrast to the feelings of pain his presence evoked and he felt himself choking, shaking slightly from the strain of holding himself together.

Sam's touch, meant to provide comfort and safety, made him scramble away. He saw the flash of confusion and shock on Sam's face before Callen tore his gaze away, his body shaking from adrenaline and torment. This man never meant him any harm… and yet… pain sizzled up and down his body and he curled up on the floor, his arms over his head.

"Stop, stop. No more," he whispered, more to himself than to his partner or anyone who might hear. Instantly, he flashed back into that stone-walled room of darkness, that moment where he had come so close to being broken, the moment where the Asian had cradled him and offered insincere reassurances of safety.

He was drawn up off the floor and cradled carefully against a strong chest, eerily reminiscent of that time. The smell was wrong though. It wasn't his tormentor/captor. Instead his senses were assaulted by his partner's aftershave, his hold different yet immeasurably safer.

Inside of his mind, two worlds crashed and collided, tearing him to pieces.

Still, he needed to carry on. He had started this. He needed to finish it.

After a mere few moments of allowing the hold, Callen drew away from Sam, his gaze down, internalizing the pain and determination, breathing it in and hiding it from sight.

"I need to get out of here," he whispered somewhat urgently, knowing it would be everything that was needed to prompt Sam into coming with him, everything he needed to lure the other man into the trap he had set up.

And Sam didn't disappoint. "Alright, let's take a ride and get you sorted out."

Callen followed his partner out of the gym, out of the building.

Xxxxxxx

Everything worked just as expected. He followed his partner with his eyes downcast, unable to stand another surge of adrenaline and perceived pain when his friend's face came into focus. His body had been doused by imaginary and real pain too often, the Asian's conditioning strong and keeping him in a choke hold. It would take a long while to unlearn the conditioned reaction… if he would have time to unlearn it after everything was said and done.

Sam got them some coffee from a street vendor before he drove them down to the beach. Callen hated that his partner knew him so well, knew his favorite haunts, knew where he went if his mind was in turmoil. He hated that he would taint this place with what he was about to do… that he would drug his partner here and that he would allow the Asian to take over one of his refuges just by making him do this.

He held on to the coffee mugs during the ride, trying to keep the tremble from reaching his hands and not rising his eyes to his partner, intensely focused on the mugs and what he was about to do. He didn't speak and Sam didn't try to prompt him, most certainly aware of Callen's instability and unwilling to push his partner until he could focus fully on him instead of on the traffic around them.

When Sam got out of the car, prompting him to do the same, he knew this was the only chance he got. He put the previously crushed powder of the sedative into his partner's coffee and drew a measured breath. Phase two of his plan was about to really start now.

This, too, had been carefully preplanned. He knew his partner, knew the man's reactions and what he would do. The only worry had been that Sam would insist he needed to be medically checked out. It was something he couldn't allow yet, a time delay that wouldn't work. He had carefully manipulated Sam into this direction though by the way he behaved in the gym.

He couldn't admit – not even to himself - that it had been less of a display and more of a reality right now.

Callen sighed and got out of the car when Sam opened his door. He pressed the coffee into his partner's hand. After weeks of captivity, he knew he wouldn't be strong enough to overpower the former SEAL without some additional help - he had trouble taking his partner down on a good day, but in his current state he wouldn't stand a chance. He hoped he had managed to use the right dose. He needed Sam barely conscious, but not totally under.

Now all he had to do was fend off questions and bide his time.

Callen followed his partner's lead down to the beach, close to the water line. He shifted out of Sam's reach when the other man made to reach for him. Instead he sunk down beside his partner when Sam aborted his move and simply sat down, waiting for Callen to follow.

The sound of the ocean reached for him and it brought a measure of comfort - as long as he didn't think too strongly about what he was going to do.

Callen was somewhat surprised when Sam didn't push too hard for answers, didn't push too hard for Callen to confide in him. Maybe Sam realized he was closer to the edge than ever, closer than Callen admitted to himself even. Instead, they sat in silence.

It took a while, but eventually he noticed Sam's movements slowing down with lethargy. He hated himself for what he was doing, but he was powerless to do anything else. He knew he would have to carry on so they could hopefully all survive this.

"You good?" he asked his partner quietly, barely glancing at him from the corner of his eyes, neither wanting the pain to sizzle up and down his nerves nor wanting to see what his actions were doing to Sam.

Sam just offered an indistinct murmur and Callen knew it was time to go. He needed to get Sam back to the car and he wouldn't be able to carry him, so his partner would have to remain somewhat awake for a little while longer.

Standing, he drew the other man up, stabilizing him when Sam swayed. It took all of his remaining strength to make sure they got back to the Challenger. After weeks of torture, he wasn't exactly in prime health, and he sighed in relief when he finally propped the former SEAL up against the car.

Swiping the keys and yet again hating himself for what he was about to do, he opened the trunk. Sam glanced blearily at him, questioning but still trusting. It was that expression of confused trust that nearly did him in and made him abort the whole damn thing. Fuck the repercussions, fuck the Asian.

Callen closed his eyes for a second and steeled himself to carry on. He bit back the sigh and shifted behind his partner, his arm quickly snaking up around his neck and applying a choke hold. Sam struggled weakly - against him and against the drugs that were dulling his senses - but Callen simply held on, hiding his face in the crook of Sam's neck, guilt and desperation surging powerfully through him. Tears sprang to his eyes and he allowed them to leak out while he hid his face, allowed them to soak into the back of Sam's shirt.

When Sam finally succumbed to the hold, he lowered his partner into the trunk, tucking him in. The pain and despair ebbed away and he was startled by the resurgence of the malicious intent he had felt back at Dovecote with Hetty, the malice that had been conditioned into him by manipulating his memories and emotions.

"That's for all the times you've put me into the back of the trunk," he muttered, hardening his heart against what he was doing yet again. He threw the trunk closed, hanging his head briefly before he stepped forward.

He could only hope that the rest of his plan would go just as well.

Some part of him rejoiced in executing this plan, satisfied with the way he had maneuvered the board to fit his needs. Another part wasn't sure just how close to going through with the assassinations he really was, how much he was able to hold on against what the Asian wanted him to do.

Xxxxxxx

He made a brief stop at a deserted road not far from the harbor. The Asian was expecting him and while he knew he hadn't been followed - he had warned the Asian that his partner was well versed in spotting tails and being discovered would make the assassination infinitely harder as it screwed with Callen's plans - he knew he couldn't take long to do what he needed to do to ensure Sam survived this.

Opening the trunk, he glanced briefly at his partner before fiddling with the locking mechanism of the trunk, manipulating the lock. The lock would hold for now if the trunk was given a firm shove, but when closed gently, the mechanism wouldn't fully engage. Callen needed to ascertain that Shawn would be able to get to Sam as quickly as possible.

He could only hope that Hetty and Shawn were in place. Sam was at the moment still out of it. By the time they reached the harbor, Sam should be at least somewhat awake but still under the influence of the drugs, therefore having no means to save himself. If Hetty and Shawn weren't in position, Callen would have to abort his plans and probably go out in a blaze of guns without the glory.

Dread pooled in the pit of his stomach and Callen drew a shaky breath before continuing on his way.

Overlooking the area when he reached the harbor, he saw the car the Asian's guards drove. Again, there was a jolt of fear at the prospect of coming face to face with the monster that would haunt his mind for a long time to come. He pushed the man out of his mind and instead let his eyes roam around, looking for a sign that Hetty backed his play. He sighed in relief when his gaze fell onto an inconspicuous sign spray painted to a crate.

дове́рие

The Russian word for 'trust'.

All air left him. Hetty and Shawn were here. They were backing his plan up, a plan he had hastily detailed on a piece of paper inside of the garden shed outside of Dovecote before he went inside to set it in motion and slip the information to Shawn.

Sam would be ok. Shawn would get him out. The ex-SAS soldier - the British version of the Navy SEALs - would be in the water and get Sam to safety. The man was as well trained in these kinds of missions as Sam was and Callen knew his partner was in good hands.

He rolled the Challenger up next to the Asian's car.

Callen got out and stopped a short distance away from the Asian. He bowed his head down, showing submission and allowing the exhaustion to tumble through him, thereby satisfying the Asian's need for dominance over him.

"Your partner?"

He gave a small nod and stepped over to the trunk, opening it. Sam lay just the way he had left him, though he was somewhat awake and moving sluggishly under the influence of the sedative. Their eyes connected briefly and Callen flinched slightly at the jolt running through him. He reached out and put a firm hand on Sam's chest, holding him down when his partner made to sit up. He tapped his fingers against Sam's chest twice, an old signal between them. He wasn't sure how coherent Sam was, but his partner didn't try to struggle further.

He glanced briefly at the Asian and saw victorious satisfaction. Callen glanced back away, hiding the surge of hatred and resistance. He needed to keep a lid on both, couldn't have the Asian becoming suspicious.

"You haven't killed him yet," the man noted, his voice calm but hinting at the pain that would befall him if he didn't do what the man wanted.

Callen felt himself react instantly, wincing and curling his shoulders forward, expecting pain to come hurtling through him at the man's displeased tone of voice. This wasn't a ploy. This reaction was very real and he hated his body for it, hated the way he had been conditioned, his self-assurance, his sense of self and his integrity stripped away. "He… he…" Callen stuttered before forging on, "he's a SEAL. What better way to kill him than by having his own element defeat him?" He merged his voice into an angry growl even though his body still trembled with the expectation of pain. "Plus, he hates confined spaces… this is for all the times he put me into that trunk." It was only partly a lie and again, Callen couldn't help but wonder just how far this conditioning reached, just how much his actions were directed by the last weeks of torment.

The Asian laughed, again that melodic, cold laugh that he had heard often before, a laugh that he hated and feared in equal measure. Still, Callen slowly allowed himself to relax, guessing he had gotten around the punishment with that explanation.

"Well then," the Asian said mildly, "go ahead."

He nodded and closed the trunk carefully so as not to engage the lock before getting back into the car and positioning it in front of the ramp. Yachts were lowered into the water from these ramps, but today it served a different purpose. He got out of the car without applying the brakes.

Not giving himself a moment to hesitate, fearing the pain he would endure if he hesitated where the Asian could see, he physically pushed the car forward, letting momentum and gravity do the rest and watching as it rolled into the murky waters of the harbor. Inwardly, he crossed his fingers that everything would work the way he had planned it, that Shawn would be able to reach Sam before his partner came to harm. And that Sam would remain calm and not start fighting Shawn and blow the whole ruse.

Callen knew he had done all that he could, but he also knew that whatever was left of his mind would shatter completely if he happened to kill his partner.

He hoped that Sam would forgive him for this… and this included submerging his beloved Challenger in the harbor. He lowered his head to hide the amusing thought from his features… the Asian coming up beside him, reaching up to caress the back of his neck in a gesture more proprietary than comforting, helped in stopping all thoughts of mirth, instead dousing his body with dread once more.

Callen forced himself not to cringe away, knowing he wouldn't like the consequences if he did. The touch was feared and hated, making his skin crawl for hours afterwards. It brought home yet again just how little of his life currently belonged to him, the liberty another person took with his body without his consent. He closed his eyes, once more hiding the disgust that would be visible in them in this moment.

"Well done. Let's go."

He followed his tormentor over to the waiting car, got into the backseat beside the man without another glance. He didn't doubt that he would spend the next hours in more pain, but he also knew he needed to hold on. He knew that this would have to play out until the end with no regards to his personal safety, instead focusing on taking down a dangerous group of Chinese Agents working in their country and trying to kill their people.

He steeled himself for what was yet to come.

Two down, four to go.

Xxxxxxx

It was evening by the time the Asian let him go. Callen was glad that the man set him free at all, as it meant he would finally be able to touch base with Hetty and get her guidance. He was floundering right now, unsure on how to proceed. He did have a tentative plan, but he didn't want to go through with that without Hetty's permission. Destroying Sam's Challenger was one thing, but destroying both OSP and the boatshed…

On top of that worry, there was another thing: both Hetty and Sam were well versed in adapting and compartmentalizing. He knew they wouldn't suffer too badly for what he had made them go through (every tiny little bit of suffering was too much, and it fell on his shoulders, weighing him down) but the rest of his team, especially the techs, weren't as proficient in these kinds of black op games and he didn't want to be responsible for traumatizing them when he wasn't sure that his way was the right way. He couldn't be sure he hadn't overlooked better options in his current state.

He was exhausted by the time he finally made it to the beach house he had asked Shawn to bring Hetty to. He had doubled back multiple times to make sure he wasn't being followed, had stopped by his place and changed his clothes to make sure there was no tracking device anywhere on his person that could lead the Asian to where he was going. If there was a tracking device hidden in his clothes, it would now show him as being home. He had snuck out the back and crossed several neighbors' backyards before emerging one street over and moving rather aimlessly around L.A. to make sure there was no one on his tail.

Callen heaved his aching body over the fence lining Hetty's property. The sound of the ocean felt foreign and tainted with what had happened earlier in the day with Sam. He suddenly loathed that he had sent Hetty here instead of one of her equally secret properties high up in the hills. Callen felt sick to his stomach when he approached the house, unsure of his reception and even more insecure about how Sam was doing, if he had survived as planned.

He shrunk back when a figure stepped out of the shadows, instantly defensive until he recognized Shawn's figure. He remained wary of the man, unsure if he would suffer at his hand for what he had done so far.

"Finally," Shawn murmured softly when he stepped up in front of Callen, mustering him carefully. The tightening of the man's features could be seen even in the semi darkness of the backyard but Callen couldn't be sure of the reason for it. He shied away when it looked as if Shawn would reach for him, desperately uncomfortable with physical contact. Shawn stilled his movements and took a small step back, widening the distance between them to give him space. "They are waiting for you inside. Go on in."

Callen gave the other man a small nod before he gave himself a mental push towards the veranda. Edging around the other man, he felt trapped with Shawn following behind, but forced himself to ignore it… it was just one more source of unease these days.

He hesitated briefly before sliding the door open, squinting slightly against the illumination. Once he stepped inside, he drew up short when he suddenly became the focus of two probing stares. Just the brief glance he took made phantom pain blaze through his body, sharp and unforgiving and Callen bit his lip until he tasted blood, barely swallowing down the yelp and managing to lock his knees to keep from falling. He quickly lowered his gaze to take away the sight that had prompted the pain.

When Sam stood, he shrunk back, nearly crashing into Shawn who was blocking the entrance behind him. Feeling cornered, Callen sidestepped and put his back against the wall, trying to keep his breathing under control and his body and mind from succumbing to the terror of his current existence.

He was distantly aware of Hetty motioning for Sam to sit back down, watched from under his lashes as his partner did just that. His eyes were drawn over to her figure and he tracked her movements when she stood from the easy chair, still keeping his eyes angled away from their faces. As long as he didn't see their faces, he was somewhat able to hold himself together.

"Why don't you join us for some tea, Mr. Callen?" Hetty proposed softly as if he had just stopped by for a Sunday afternoon visit. Still, her voice sank into him, soothing some of the hurt. At least the Asian hadn't ruined that for him. Being unable to look at them without feeling pain sizzling through him was one thing, but being unable to confer with them verbally would be even worse.

Callen remained where he was, pressed against the wall, contemplating his current state of existence. He was a mess; simple as that. He wasn't sure if he could keep himself going for much longer.

Callen shuddered and slowly lowered himself where he stood, sliding down the wall his back was pressed against, trying to focus on the solid strength of that wall. He drew his legs up and put his forearms on his knees. His body shook in reaction to all the pain and turmoil he was in and Callen closed his eyes with a soft whine before resting his forehead on his arms, hiding his face, trying to take deep breaths.

It was Shawn who crouched down in front of him. "Callen," he murmured, "stay with us, alright? Look around. You're at the beach house. You're safe here. Help us understand the situation so that we can provide you with whatever support you need."

He didn't look up - couldn't because that would make it worse - but felt somewhat comforted by the former SAS soldier's presence. They had never been close as such, but had respected each other and Shawn had obviously seen something in him that prompted him to reach out now. Callen desperately needed someone - someone other than Hetty or Sam - to halt his fall. He felt connected to those two on a deep level, knew they would usually be the best persons to reach out to him, but that connection had been tarnished by weeks of pain and brainwashing. Shawn could potentially provide the hold he needed right now, provide the strength Callen lacked.

"I need to finish this," he whispered, "but I don't know how."

"How about you start at the beginning?" Shawn prompted softly.

Callen recoiled at the thought. He didn't think he could start at the beginning, wasn't even sure if he could start at the end. He would have to settle for the highlights.

"China," he started softly, "they… we…" he gulped and broke off, shivering nearly uncontrollably, feeling sick to his stomach when flashes of the last few weeks entered his mind, dousing him with all those feelings of pain and fear and desperation and hopelessness. Soft footsteps approached but he didn't look up, couldn't look up at Hetty. He tensed and pressed himself back further into the wall. The footsteps halted at a distance.

There was a momentary pause before Shawn spoke in a calm and quiet voice, "Callen, I'll put a blanket around you." Shawn waited for him to acknowledge the statement. Callen didn't, but he held himself still when the fabric fell over his shoulders, instantly bringing a measure of warmth, a measure of comfort.

Hetty's footsteps withdrew and it relaxed and saddened him in equal measures.

"Can I check your pulse?" Shawn's question was soft, a bare murmur.

Callen warred with himself, knowing they would be itching to do something to help him, to get a handle on whatever situation they found themselves in, and at the same time unsure how he would fare with the physical contact. Eventually, he gave in and jerkily nodded his head within the confines of his forearms.

"Good," Shawn said soothingly, "left wrist." It was more a statement, a way to warn Callen than an order to stretch his arm out. Despite the warning, Callen flinched when the contact was made. "Easy, my friend. I'm not a threat to you." The hold was gentle, mere two fingertips questing for the pulse point without much pressure. Still, it hurt, the skin somewhat abraded from the shackles and hematomas circling around his wrists. On top of the physical hurt, it also hurt deep inside, the way he shunned the contact, felt queasy with it. He had given permission, but it still felt as if his body didn't belong to him anymore.

"His pulse is racing," Shawn said quietly, more to the others than to Callen, because Callen knew, knew his heart was currently beating a furious rhythm inside of his chest, a chest that felt tight with anxiety. It was a flashback merging into a panic attack and he knew he had to derail it, knew he needed to remain functional. He tried to gulp in air, but his chest remained tight.

"Callen, you need to try and slow down," Shawn coached softly, "put your head down further, slow your breaths."

He jerked away with a whine when Shawn's hand touched the back of his head, intending to guide it further down between his knees to help with his breathing.

"Sorry," Shawn apologized and instantly retracted his hand.

Callen just shuddered in response.

Suddenly, a weight sank down on his left. He knew Sam's bulk, knew his partner's intent, also knew he couldn't stand it though and Callen flinched violently to the right, away from his best friend. "Please," he whimpered, "don't. Go, Sam, I can't…"

It was again Shawn who reacted, most clearheaded of all the people in the room right now, able to act and be somewhat impartial. The ex-SAS soldier reached for Sam and forcefully pushed him away from Callen. "Go!" he enforced Callen's plea.

Sam's footsteps were halting and uneven when he stumbled away and Callen knew this would haunt them both.

He resisted the urge to vomit, to sink down and surrender. Instead he shuddered through the pain of the panic, Shawn's presence steady and providing some sort of hold on reality. Callen slowly reached for the control he was famous for, tried to go past everything that had happened, everything that had been done to him and to continue on. His shaking slowly subsided and he fell still, straightening slightly from his hunched over position, his chest still heaving with each gulping breath. Eventually, he became aware of the murmur of Shawn's voice and he distantly wondered when he had fallen so far that he lost touch with his immediate surroundings to not notice the man speaking to him.

"You back with us?"

Callen gave a small nod and uncurled further, slowly sitting up and leaning his head back against the wall as he closed his eyes and deliberately slowed down his breathing. His chest hurt, his lungs felt tight. He needed to start talking, needed to get the facts out there. He was so incredibly exhausted though.

"I was brought to China…" he started slowly, "they were displeased with our involvement in countering their recent actions. They want the team stopped, wanted me to…" he swallowed, unable to bring himself to say it.

"They wanted you to be the reaper," Shawn finished softly, using the same words Callen had used just last night in Hetty's domain after he had taken Shawn down.

Callen nodded slowly. "I… they…" he sighed and shook his head, unable to bring himself to go there, to say the words, to admit out loud that he was a victim of torture and brainwashing.

To admit that he was a victim. Period.

"Eventually, I… agreed." There was a big gap in his story and everyone in the room knew it.

"I needed to make him think I did his bidding. I couldn't… I held on for as long as possible." He swallowed with difficulty against the pain and the panic that colored his voice.

"Did the ruse work so far?" Shawn asked gently, keeping his attention from slipping back in time, away from the pain of what had happened and on the present.

"Yeah, he's confident I followed his orders," Callen affirmed quietly, lowering his head to glance at the floor between his knees. He hesitated. "Is Sam alright?" He knew Hetty was alright, for one because the paralytic he had used on her had made certain her struggles were brief and he hadn't needed to keep suffocating her for more than a few moments (and for another because he was certain that Hetty had secret magical powers and would outlive them all). Sam on the other hand… the stunt Callen had pulled with him had had so many holes in it that Sam could have come to serious harm in multiple ways. He knew his partner was here and functional, but despite that, he needed the confirmation that Sam was doing alright.

He watched Shawn from under half raised eyelids, watched as the other man turned slightly to glance at Hetty and Sam who had settled back down on the lounge, giving them the space that Callen so desperately needed.

"I'm alright, G," Sam's voice was even and strong, soothing and comforting.

Callen let his eyes slip closed again and nodded, a relieved breath escaping. "I'm sorry," he murmured.

"Nothing to be sorry for, partner," Sam replied quietly and stood.

Callen glanced up and then instinctively shrunk backwards into the wall, forcing his eyes back down and away. He held up his hand, "don't, Sam." He was barely holding on, barely able to stand being in the same room with Hetty and Sam while everything was so close to the surface. He wouldn't be able to stand physical contact with them right now. He was unhinged and defenseless. During the day when he had been with Sam, he had played a role, focused on the mission - the one the Asian had put him on as well as the one he had set for himself to do everything he could to counteract the Asian. He had been focused on what he had to do then, but right now, his walls lay in shambles and he couldn't draw them up again. He needed to be himself for a little while and he needed to feel the reality of what had happened to him before, and what was happening now. Later, he would drag his walls back up to fight another day, once they had made plans, but right now he needed to be himself in any way possible so that he understood that he had survived.

Sam sat back down on the couch again.

"Where do we go from here, Mr. Callen?" Hetty asked gently, prompting him to continue, to focus on what had to be done.

"We need to take them out," he murmured.

"After you've supposedly taken out the team?"

He shivered and nodded.

"Can you hold on that long?"

Again, he nodded, less decisive than before but still with enough conviction to get his point across.

"Can you, Mr. Callen?" Hetty asked again, her voice worried and probing. "Can you really do this? We can take them out before that."

He pinched the bridge of his nose, keeping his eyes firmly closed. It was easier that way, less likely to bring the phantom pain that always raced through him when he saw their faces - no matter if it was photos, videos or reality. Like this, with his eyes closed, he could go on. "We need the evidence and his admission of guilt." Callen let his head fall forward onto his forearms again, trying to hide his anguish. "He can never see the light of day again, can't be allowed to run free."

"But not at your expenses," Hetty insisted firmly.

Callen gave a little shrug without changing his position. "I'm the only one who can end this the way we need."

There was a brief moment of silence and he allowed himself to drift for those few moments, to sink into the quiet of the room, a quiet that for once didn't come with stress positions or demands. Callen sighed and gave himself over to the feeling of security that being in the presence of these people brought, for it was security, real security even if his mind had been poisoned against it. These people meant him no harm, even if his body had been conditioned to expect it.

"Alright, Mr. Callen, what do you propose?"

"The others need to know," he said firmly, "I can't do to them what I've done with the two of you. I also can't take them out directly." Assassinating his mentor and his partner from up close had made him want to curl up and die, wither away. He couldn't do that again with any more people he was close to.

"Alright," Hetty agreed easily. "Shall we call them in, plan this together as a team like we always do?"

The thought made dread pool in the pit of his stomach. Having Hetty and Sam around was bad enough, adding the rest of the team… he wasn't sure if he could keep himself from either bolting or breaking down again. Still, it would be better to include them. He would be able to instruct them better and they would hash the plan out, make sure it was as safe as they could make it. So in the end, there was only one way to go.

He gave a small nod of his head.

Xxxxxxx

Shawn was an unobtrusive body of strength at his side and Callen was thankful for the other man's presence. They waited mostly in silence until the rest of the team appeared, all of them having been warned to take precautions against being followed.

Callen accepted the cup of tea that Hetty brewed, but didn't glance up at her when she put it within Shawn's reach before he in turn forwarded it to Callen.

The sandwich she added remained untouched though. He couldn't bring himself to eat, hadn't been able to eat much lately without it coming right back up.

Callen stayed where he was on the floor when the rest of his team made it into their temporary headquarters.

Everyone drew to a stop upon the sight that greeted them. Callen hadn't been there when the news of Hetty's demise and Sam's disappearance had broken, but he knew there was pain in that, felt the guilt for making his team endure this rest heavily on his shoulders.

Hetty's and Sam's continued health and safety were of course a relief to everyone. Callen wasn't sure where he stood with them though, felt their gazes lingering on him for long moments. He never returned their glances, instead kept his eyes mostly closed or his gaze averted, his head tilted slightly downwards. Feeling their presence was enough to unsettle him, his body still weary of whether or not pain would be unleashed upon it, his heartbeat irregular and cold sweat clinging to his body.

Callen left it to Hetty and Sam to fill his team in on what little he had revealed to them before, knew he had to hold onto every tiny little grain of strength to make it through the next steps.

It was Sam's prompt, the gentle intonation of his name falling from his friend's lips, the quiet "G?" that made him snap back into reality and integrate himself into the planning.

He still didn't shift from his position on the floor, didn't look up. "They took me from right outside of OSP. Our locations have been compromised, Hetty. First Matthias, then the investigation from the DOJ, the ambassador and the FBI unit, Thapa knew, the Five-O guys and let's not forget our mole." He doubted that their Hawaiian friends had talked and Thapa had died before he could have spilled… plus, the man had held tight to his integrity. The DOJ and the FBI he wasn't sure about and neither could they be sure that Hetty's old foe or their mole hadn't given their location away.

To Callen, that building would never again be the refuge it had been before his abduction from right in front of it.

"The thought has crossed my mind a few times as well. Especially since you were taken," Hetty admitted, "I've been looking for alternative locations for a while."

Callen's head snapped up, somewhat surprised and therefore forgetting why he kept his eyes closed. The reason came to him in a blinding flash of pain when he took in the assembly of his work family and he flinched violently, barely biting back the hiss, instead biting his tongue and making the flavor of blood once more pool in his mouth. He instantly turned his gaze away, squeezing his eyes shut, breathless with pain as he curled in on himself.

His brief lapse was noticed if the combined shifting was any indication.

"Stay where you are," he said softly through clenched teeth, half plea and half order while he rubbed a hand against his chest where the phantom sensation of electrodes burned against his skin.

"What happened to you, Callen?" The question came from Deeks - always the one speaking his mind most freely.

Callen shook his head and let his forehead fall back to the shelter of his crossed arms on top of his knees. There went all that careful work from before, the near painless sense of just being in the presence of people that meant the world to him.

He hated the Asian.

For what had been done to him.

For what he had been forced to endure.

For what they made him do to his people.

For all the conditioning that haunted him now.

Callen swallowed with difficulty and waited for the last remnants of pain to fade, breathing through it.

"Doesn't matter right now," he said slowly, ignoring the drawn intake of one of his team mates who was about to contradict him, and forging on, "are you averse to leaving OSP behind, Hetty? OSP and the boatshed?" He brought the conversation back on track, away from the scrutiny of his person.

"Let's hear your thoughts, Mr. Callen."

"Usually, it's just Nell and Eric who will be on site to start the day early in the morning. We can use that. Evacuate them through the tunnels and set fire to the building. No one should know about the tunnels, so their death would be a given for an outsider. The Asian is not as suspicious of possible setbacks anymore. Hetty and Sam were his worst opponents and those he feared could dismantle all the…" he stopped sharply, again unable to give voice to the words torture and brainwashing. Callen cleared his throat and pushed on. "Even if he has surveillance around OSP, he wouldn't know about their survival since Nell and Eric won't come out of the building anywhere he could see."

"And the boatshed?"

"Kens and Deeks. Escape through the trap door. Explosion," Callen explained shortly in bullet points, reaching the end of his rope… actually he suspected he was far past the end of it and already in free fall, awaiting the harsh landing.

"Alright," Hetty said quietly, "let's make this a working plan."

He let the words wash over him, let the way the team just sprang into action and started hashing out the details ground him. He contributed mildly, all the while remaining in his corner of the room, on the floor, his eyes closed and his senses some part between dulled and hyperaware. Shawn remained beside him, the only presence he felt able to tolerate and yet a secure lifeline.

Before long, they had a plan and Callen left Hetty's hideout. He had been invited to stay, but he still had a lot to do at OSP and he wouldn't be comfortable in Hetty's domain with both her and Sam present. Not right now, when he was too close to broken for comfort.

Xxxxxxx

Callen returned to OSP the next day, feeling worse for wear. On top of the torture session with the Asian, meeting with first Hetty and Sam and then later with the whole team had sucked his strength.

Usually, the presence of these people was a source of strength, but with everything that had happened in the last weeks, every tiny little bit of conditioning the Asian had forced onto him, that meeting had sucked him dry. He had needed to keep a tight lid on his feelings, on the urge to bolt and on the constant expectation of agony.

Unlearning that conditioning would take time and strength, both of which he currently didn't have.

After finishing his preparations in OSP and the boatshed during the night, listening to Sam's guidance in his ear when his partner helped in setting the scene from afar, he had left the old building once more to clear his head and try to find a hold in a world that had lost all stability.

He had wandered the streets for several hours until dawn was breaking. Only then did he return to OSP.

Facing the two techs was difficult. He had been able to draw up his masks well enough to fool most people, but even against Nell and Eric, he felt unable to hold out today. As with every interaction lately, he tried to shy away from seeing their faces, keeping his eyes mostly on the ground.

Still, he knew he needed to be with them now. They knew of the plan, knew the sequence of steps that would soon start up, but it was still his job as a team leader to guide them and make sure everything went off without a hitch in the face of the dangerous reality they were now in.

Callen rubbed a hand over his face and tapped his fingers on the main table. Both techs fell silent upon the subtle, prearranged sign. Callen pushed the button on his phone and moments later, the lights started flashing red.

Nell and Eric swiveled to their stations and began typing. They knew what was happening, but in case anyone had access to the cameras inside of Ops, they were playing it safe. Within moments, the security feeds were up on the big screen, showing the imminent breech of the building by multiple invaders. Nell and Eric had manipulated the feeds and he had put the footage up on the servers last night in the unlikely event that someone came around snooping after everything was said and done… and in the even more unlikely event that any of their tech equipment survived to be checked over afterwards.

All of them stared at the screen for a few seconds before Callen straightened. He reached for the techs and drew them up from their chairs.

"Come on, go," he muttered. Both techs were well aware of the plan, but he urged them on. He pushed them ahead of himself, down the stairs and towards the incinerator room.

"What about you?"Nell asked, obviously needing confirmation of their plan.

"I'll take care of this," he told them calmly. He had some more things to do and wouldn't follow through the tunnels. They wouldn't see him for a while longer, not until their plan was completed.

"Callen, you're not in any state…"

He narrowed his eyes at Nell and shoved her forcefully ahead of himself, "do not finish that sentence." He was glad for the concern, really, but he couldn't allow it. He couldn't invite even the smallest niggle of doubt to enter his mind or their carefully crafted plans would crumble. His participation was integral to pull this off. Without him, they would leave loose ends.

"Inside, wait there!" The techs of course weren't supposed to wait inside of the incinerator room, but in case the Asian had access to their security feeds, he couldn't mention the tunnels.

There was a brief flash of fear and Nell swallowed before nodding. Callen forced his expression back under control and gave her a small - fake - smile. He didn't mean to scare her, but admittedly, this whole thing terrified him. At least, so far there hadn't been the same flashes of malice and real anger that he had fought against when he had 'assassinated' Hetty and Sam. "Go. I'll be right behind you."

He closed the door to the incinerator room behind the techs and locked it.

Callen turned and went back to the main part of the building, briefly glancing around. This place had been home for a long time and knowing he was about to destroy it hurt, shattered another piece of his psyche. He was aware enough of his current state to understand that he would flounder without the familiarity of this place during his recovery. He took in the familiar sight and feeling of the Spanish mansion, trying to imprint it into his brain before heading to the entrance and taking out his phone. Pushing another button, he stepped outside. A series of explosions could be heard inside and he knew the fire would quickly be spreading through the building and eventually also the underground tunnels below. He had employed his own and Sam's training to make sure the building was razed to the ground.

The bitter tang of bile tickled the back of his throat and he knew he needed to trust that his plan was working and that Nell and Eric would be safe. Kensi and Deeks were waiting for them in the tunnels below and would guide them out. No one would come to harm. They had planned for enough of a time delay in setting the tunnels ablaze that the danger to anyone was minimal.

Still, putting everyone in danger like this grated on him.

Callen turned and watched the flames engulf the building. The sight made his heart stutter, made another piece of himself break - possibly beyond repair.

All of this happened because he had allowed himself to be taken.

Eventually, Callen turned away from the dancing flames, forcing himself to move on, to leave the area before the firefighters could be alerted and came to the rescue… there would be no rescue to be done here though.

Xxxxxxx

Both Kensi and Deeks appeared dazed when he met with them at the boatshed. They quickly put his worries to rest that something had gone wrong. Nell and Eric were fine, had been taken to Hetty and Sam, where they set up for the last steps of the mission.

Just as he himself though, Kensi and Deeks were reeling from the happenings. Their sanctuary had been destroyed.

They were floundering. The team was in shambles, without imminent guidance (Hetty), strength (Sam) and technical support (Nell and Eric). All of them were still present, were hiding in the background, but still it felt uncertain and precarious.

He had planned it this way together with his team, knew that the last trap was just a finalization of prior plans. Still, it didn't get any easier to make the last steps, to take the boatshed down as well.

Callen watched his two remaining team mates, barely suppressing the by now well known and despised flinch the sight provoked. The reaction had been instilled (electrocuted) into him and his subconscious had a hard time coming to grips with it.

It was time to finish this.

He pushed away from the main table, briefly returning Kensi's gaze when she glanced up before yet again shying away from the eye contact that made pain sing through his body. "I'll just step outside," he mumbled to the floor before heading to the entrance. It was the keywords and let all three of them know that things were happening now.

"Callen?"

Deeks voice rang out behind him and he turned his head slightly, unable to bring himself to glance at his remaining team mates and supposed targets, unable to opening himself up to more hurt, but still showing that he was listening.

"We'll get through this… together." The words were quiet, gentle and strong. It was that determination that made him continue with what he had planned. He clung to the hope that they would indeed finish this together, that he would be able to hang on afterwards when their goal had been met.

He didn't know what would happen to him once he had reached his current objective. He knew that he wouldn't face any ill effects from NCIS but he didn't know how he personally would cope. He had never before been this close to breaking. He was treading a fine line and he wasn't sure what would happen if he missed his step and tumbled down, wasn't even sure if he hadn't already done so and was just not aware of falling yet. After all, it wasn't the fall that killed you, it was the sudden stop.

He shook his head free from those thoughts. He needed to carry on. For now, he could carry on. It was just one more step, then another one and another one that would get him through this.

Once outside, he stopped close to his car, parked far enough away so it wouldn't be damaged by the blast.

He turned to watch the boatshed one last time, again committing the sight to memory, remembering the way this place had been a comfort and sanctuary for a long time. He counted down the seconds, the prearranged time needed for his team mates to get out through the tap door and get far enough away so they wouldn't be hurt by the explosion or the debris. It wouldn't be long… Sam and Shawn were waiting for them in the water with scuba scooters and air tanks to get them away within seconds.

Eventually, he took out his phone and initiated the last sequence in this plan.

Despite expecting it, he flinched when the explosion rocked the harbor, the boatshed disintegrating in front of his eyes.

Wanting to sink to the floor, knowing he couldn't, he reached deep inside of himself, finding that tiny remaining reservoir of strength and feeding on it.

It was nearly over. He just had to hold on a little while longer.

Xxxxxxx

When he stepped inside the warehouse, the Asian's temporary headquarters, he felt empty. Exhaustion and emotional pain were tearing him apart from the inside out.

He had done what he had been asked to do, had done what he could and he hoped it was enough… to redeem himself and to eventually heal.

His team was safe and he would be safe in moments as well. He should be elated, victorious at having thwarted the Asian's plans, but all he felt was emptiness.

Callen surrendered his service weapon and let himself be guided further into the room. He dreadfully glanced at the chair, hoping he wouldn't be pushed into it, hoping he wouldn't be forced to endure even the threat of it happening again. He knew he would hold on if the Asian commandeered it, knew his team was moments from breeching the place.

He wasn't wired - he had been too scared of the Asian wanting one last round of electrocuting and therefore exposing him - but Nell and Eric had done something to his phone that would allow them to listen in on what was happening. As soon as they got what they needed, the team would breach the building. Callen just hoped he could get the Asian to say the words that would lead to the man's downfall. He wasn't sure how he could do it considering his submissive and unquestioning brokenness, and considering the hollow emptiness his mind was stuck in, but he knew he would hold on and manage somehow.

It was what he had been trained to do: endure and prevail.

He doubted there would be much more for him to endure. This journey would end here. And if the Asian didn't say the words, he would somehow take the man down and personally send him to the gates of hell.

Callen swallowed the sound of fear when he was indeed guided over to the chair. He fell into it, boneless and done. He had been traumatized for weeks, had been tortured, had his insides rearranged, his mind played tricks on and his whole being reconfigured to someone else's liking. He had a hard time not uttering the safewords the team had insisted on. Never before had he been so close to saying the distress words when he wasn't mortally threatened. He bit his lip and held himself still.

He watched the Asian, exhausted and resigned. The man stood up and came around to his side of the table, leaning against it, eerily similar to the first time he had met the man in a prison cell in China.

"I have to admit, Agent Callen, I wasn't sure if you could be broken down. It took way longer than it did with anyone else before. You see, I am a master of my trade, but you resisted admiringly," the Asian told him and while the words washed over him, they held no meaning. He had been broken eventually, how long it had taken didn't mean anything. "Of course, it was most pleasurable to have such a skilled and resilient opponent. In the end, you did a good job, following orders to take your team down like a good soldier."

This was it… just what they needed and it was handed to him on a silver platter. Callen knew it would be seconds now, knew he could rest soon, rest and heal and take the time to come to grips with the last weeks.

The touch was expected, the stroke of fingers down his cheek, gentle, calming, caring, and it was such a contradiction to the man's intentions, to his whole being, that Callen wanted to vomit. He lacked the strength to do even that though too, felt like a puppet whose strings had been cut. He couldn't even recoil anymore, was beyond being able to react.

He only wished for this to end.

He sighed softly when behind him, the doors burst open. "Federal agents! Hands up. Step away from him."

Sam's voice was the first he heard and Callen gave himself a moment of relief before he slid off the chair, dropping boneless to the floor - both so that he wouldn't be in the way of his colleagues and because he simply had nothing left to give.

The distance between the seat and the floor was small, but it might as well have been a light-year for the eon it took before his shoulder crashed down hard onto the concrete. He curled up and started shivering, unable to hold in everything he had held close to his chest for the eternity of the last weeks.

Short bursts of gunfire could be heard as the team took out the Asian's guards and corralled the head of the snake himself. The Asian was too surprised to do anything even though Callen would have made a prime target at the man's feet.

He listened to his team securing the area. He knew he should get up, either to help them or at least to get himself out of the way, but his body wasn't obeying any further commands. He couldn't still the tremors that ran through his whole being without his permission.

"Callen?"

Again, it was Shawn who approached. While he hadn't disclosed much, hadn't gone into detail, everyone had been able to see last night that Callen didn't do well with the team's presence right now. Shawn had been asked by Hetty to help out during the raid since they were keeping things very close to the vest and basically within the confines of the team. Shawn had instantly agreed.

Still, Callen wasn't sure what he felt about the man's presence right now, wasn't sure what he felt about anything right now… other than pain, exhaustion and confusion.

"Nell, Eric, I need the paramedics in here."

"No!" Callen argued without uncurling, instead drawing up further and continuing to tremble.

"Callen, you should have been checked over by paramedics last night already. I understood your reasoning then, but now is the time to get checked out… if only to collect more evidence." It was an unfair move, an underhanded way to make Callen agree because Shawn was well aware that Callen's sole focus had been to make sure they had enough proof against the Asian to put him into the deepest, darkest hole he would never be able to crawl out of.

He didn't agree but he also didn't argue any further.

Within moments, two paramedics approached.

"Be careful with him," Shawn intercepted them, "he's been abducted several weeks ago. He hasn't specified, but we're positive that he was tortured." Shawn crouched back down beside him. "Callen, paramedics are here. I'll stay with you. I've got your back."

Callen gave a slow nod to indicate he understood and uncurled slightly. He raised his eyes to find Shawn watching him, ducking his head back down to evade eye contact. His team was around but giving them space, taking care of the scene. Usually, it would be Sam by his side, but he was glad that his partner kept his distance, knew he wouldn't be able to cope otherwise right now.

"Alright sir, I'm Thomas and that's Mac. We're here to help you. Let's get you checked out. Anything hurting?"

Everything? All over? Not physically, but his whole being. How did you communicate that? Callen slowly shook his head.

They took his stats, found the bruises on his chest, abdomen and his wrists - he guessed they would find those on his ankles later. Dehydration, malnourishment and a somewhat irregular heartbeat were the worst they found.

Starting with the irregular heartbeat they found, things went downhill quickly and unexpectedly. Callen had no time to comprehend what was happening, no time of warning before several pads and electrodes were slapped onto his skin to monitor his heart.

The feeling of the cables swishing against his chest, the way the electrodes pulled against his skin was just too much and he tumbled headlong into the memory. The flashback tore through him, powerful and completely uncontrollable and he felt his tentative hold on reality snap, making him go from passive to combative within moments.

Screaming and fighting, he was soon pinned down by several people, only adding to his desperation and Callen struggled with all he had left, fought against weeks of pain, of torment, of conditioning and malice. He raged against what he had endured and what he was determined wouldn't be happening to him again, completely out of touch with reality und unable to comprehend that no one meant him any harm.

When a needle entered the muscle of his arm, he only fought harder, trying to get away, only wanting to be safe again. It took long moments with his body as worked up and doused with adrenaline as it was, but eventually, the sedative started working, a cloud of blackness sweeping over him, taking him along and forcing him to surrender.

Xxxxxxx

Note: yeah, I'm just that mean to him.