Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing this story, so far. And also, for all your patience.
It's surprising to find readers from Hungary to Peru or the United States in the stats so far, whether leaving a review or not! This story, however, is coming to an end soon. I sure hope you will enjoy this chapter too.
"Listen… I made her a promise. I would've gone there myself, except for this —"
Los Angeles || early afternoon
Whether or not he was awake, Callen kept his eyes closed and sat very quiet and silent, leaning back in the passenger seat in a way that was very unusual to Anna.
She glanced sideway, shook her head and wondered if she'd been giving in too easily with him and his demand to leave hospital.
She figured she'd still need ages to really get to know the man next to her. But, she mused, wasn't that what relations were all about? Sometimes, she could read him as easy as could be, although most of the time she was surprised that by every single new layer she managed to peel off, new elements of his complicated personality popped up.
Still, he opened up with her around. To strangers however, he appeared standoffish, kept up an act, keeping to himself and sometimes straight forwarded lied. It probably was the result of him growing up in childcare and in difficult situations. Or perhaps it was a talent, Anna didn't know. She heard so many stories about the legendary G. Callen. Arkady told her many tales which he'd heard in Russia only, where Callen had been able to survive on his own and under cover longer than any other operatives in the alphabet soup of agencies. He could pose for a Russian, she knew, or for all she knew as blending in any European country too. No other CIA agent was known as a 'Ghost' better than Callen ever had been. And even nowadays other agencies asked for assistance of him as a NCIS special agent, simply because of this ability.
Still, Callen lead a dangerous life so far and it left many scars. Anna had stopped counting and asking about them. Somehow, it made him less comfortable and she understood that there was more than the visible scars only. And at this very moment, he was hurt once again.
Anna felt she was getting to know the real Grisha Aleksandrovich Nikolaev, G. Callen, which wasn't meant for everyone. Sam probably knew him best.
She softly hummed to herself, looking forward to a future with him. A future that she saw as discovery, an adventure.
Traffic was slow, despite the fact that the morning rush should've ended already. Anna figured she ought to get home as soon as possible so Callen could get a proper rest so she switched lanes every now and then.
The bouncing headache he suffered from combined with a nausea he already experienced was strengthened with waves of motion sickness. In his opinion, Anna was driving like a maniac. She mostly was pushy and more than assertive once behind the wheel. He knew that about any other Russian had the same style of driving, and he mostly could handle it. Not now. He wanted at least his stomach to settle.
Callen groaned and muttered "Just please stop zigzagging."
A small glimpse of annoyance played on her face but it soon disappeared. "Nearly there, жизнь моя".
Ten minutes later, she made the turn next to the condo and slowed down so the camera could read the number plate. The parking barrier gate opened automatically and Anna halted the car as close as possible to the rear entrance.
"Ready?" She wanted to know. Callen didn't reply and she saw how he swallowed a couple of times.
He hesitated. Moving or talking might cause him to vomit and that was one of the worse signs of weakness he knew of.
"Callen?" Anna handed him a bottle of water.
He raised his hand, grateful so far that the car had stopped and he could breathe in fresh air. Without too much movement he opened the cap of the water bottle and took a sip. A long minute later he said: "Okay. I'll be okay."
However, where he usually took the stairs two steps at the time, it now felt like climbing Mount Everest.
Once up, it was Anna who opened the door. She more or less guided him to the bed in the studio and he nearly collapsed on the cool Egyptian cotton. It took him some minutes to swallow away the nausea, then he kicked off his boots.
"Need a hand, baby?"
He grunted something, whilst she noticed he struggled to take off the sweatpants. Once he had, he stretched his body and gratefully closed his eyes.
Anna smiled. Although this time he hadn't escaped the hospital against medical advice, she understood that Callen wasn't out of the woods yet. He'd suffered concussions before and was wounded before too.
There was no way he would be fully recovered, the moment he was released from being hospitalized. Nowadays, hospitals were willing to let patients go home sooner than some time ago. She figured times had changed due to the covid pandemic.
Seeing Callen sleep made her realize that she too needed some sound hours of sleep.
Callen's apartment || six hours later
For a while Anna wondered what the sound was that she heard and what that meant. She looked around and it took her a while before she realized she just woke up.
She checked her watch and was on her feet within a matter of a second. There was another series of knocking on the door and she hurried to open it.
Callen cleared his throat, still his words came out hoarse when he said "It's Sam."
"And you know this how?" Although her voice was hushed, she was also upset since she noticed that both she and Callen had slept over 5 hours.
"His knock, his name in morse."
After a quick comb through her hair with her fingers, Anna concentrated on the sound.
Three short, one short ánd a long one, then two long ones. Indeed, morse code. Come to think, this door had no spy eye and in their line of work, danger was everywhere. No wonder the men had agreed upon a recognizable announcement.
Now she opened the door with a broad smile.
Sam put a question with his brows only and after her nod he entered. He carried a box in front of him and Anna shut the door once he'd entered.
There were noises and laughter and music coming from the downstairs bar. Sounds that never reached this place when the door was closed, so whatever Deeks or a previous owner had done was making the apartment above the 'Squid and the Dagger' soundproof.
"Roberta's idea,'" Sam explained the box. "She made you soup. Insisted I'd bring it. She didn't want to intrude, you see."
His calm eyes scanned the room, especially its inhabitants. Anna took the box and put it on the counter top, followed by clinking sounds.
Sam turned to his friend. "How're you?"
Callen slowly got up, replying with a usual "Okay."
Sam shook his head "Sure, G."
"Now about Phoenix..."
"Not now. C'mon man, just try to make those brains of yours work the right way. You need to take it easy. One step a time, you know."
"Sam's right, Callen." Anna handed him a bowl of soup and put her own on the small table near the couch.
"What are you, my parents?" Callen pouted.
In spite of his genuine worry about his friend, Sam chuckled on these words. It reminded him of years ago, when the banter and bickering was part of the daily routine. Things really had changed after Roundtree and Fatima had joined the team. The balance had changed and ever since Sam himself had shared his plans for the near future, the levity was gone or about to get going.
"We could call Hetty in if you prefer," he said.
Sam tsked "Y'see… arguing like a 15 years old."
Despite the first moments of banter, Callen enjoyed seeing his friends talking. Of course, Sam knew Anna for a couple of years already and worked together a couple of times too. He felt safe. This was his place, his home, where precautions were made according his own plans.
Spooning his soup, he admitted to himself that he was more tired than he expected. Maybe it showed, but heck, he wasn't ashamed if it did.
Sam probably called him several times already before Callen heard it. "What?"
"I think I'd better check your wounds before you fall asleep.
He more or less grumbled "Can handle that myself. Or Anna can."
Sam shook his head. "I will do this, G. No need to be embarrassed and you know that."
Again, he pouted and tried to lift his shirt. A moment later, he felt the capable hands of his friend probing until Sam spoke again. "I'm going to change the bandages, G. Looks okay, though."
"At least your stubbornness isn't wounded."
From behind him, Anna chuckled and that, with Sam's remark, made Callen smile as well.
Sam now took the materials from the first aid kit he took from his go-bag. Meanwhile he asked "Not feeling disorientated or seeing double?"
"Nope." The reply came fast and was very predictable too. "A night with some solid sleep sounds terrific though. I could use that. Driving to work however, I'm not so sure."
His friends remarked at the same time. "What" - "Wait, when?"
His blue eyes focused at their faces and he more or less shrugged when explaining. "No field work, of course. Remember how you wanted to divide the team differently? Take Nell as your partner, I could take over her role for a couple of days, perhaps."
From behind Callen's back, Sam mulled over this idea. He knew his friend never was thoughtless or acted careless on purpose. Reckless, sure, but always because he was aware that with his actions he could save other people or prevent others being at risk. Yes, Callen was willing to take risks but only if those were necessary. Calculated risks only though.
Most of the times, it still scared Sam, simply because he realized he could lose his friend just as easily. Yet, it could be the other way around as well.
"Hmm… Let's sleep on it and see what tomorrow brings, G."
Sam saw how Anna knit her brow at his words but he'd explain later. For the time being, his words helped relax Callen and he understood the urge of his partner to get some sleep.
"Do you need anything to kill the pain?" Sam finished the new and fresh bandages and pulled Callen's shirt back down. He already knew the answer, but he still felt he needed to ask.
"Nah." Callen gratefully leaned back in the pillows behind his back and head and closed his eyes.
"Get some sleep, Callen," Anna said as she took the emptied soup bowl from his hands. With her own, she took it to the kitchen unit.
Sam got on his feet as well and he quietly followed her. "It's the only way he'll settle, you know, when he feels we need him in there. Too many times I've seen him nagging, wanting you to give in. That's when he starts to act unpredictably."
She nodded. "Guess you know best. Still… "
"Ï've seen him worse, much worse, and still he was able to stay on his feet. There's no way he's willing to feel like being locked up. Not in hospital, not in here, not in the past on our couch."
His mind wandered back in time, when Michelle somehow managed to keep his friend around until he really fully recovered. Those times were gone.
With Anna, things would be different indeed. As long as cases weren't really closed, Callen would want to be around until they were.
TBT - Knirbenrots
I've taken my beating
I've shared what I've made
I'm strong on the surface
Not all the way through
I've never been perfect
But neither have you
[Linkin Park ~ Leave out all the rest ]