Thanks everyone for giving this one a go. Encouragement is always welcome.
The trashcan outside the intelligence room provided a discrete disposal receptacle for Callen's sudden regurgitation. It took a while for Callen to catch his breath as the heaving subsided. He leant against the wall and released his muscles. He slid down and sat motionless, staring out into nothingness. It was Sam! He knew something like this was bound to happen. He had tried to warm Sam but to no avail. His partner and his brother, captured by the most brutal of terrorist units, held up to ransom was a reality Callen couldn't face…didn't want to face.
What did they expect from NCIS? This was the SEAL's backyard, not their jurisdiction. This required fire power, this required might…not negotiation. Didn't the SEALs look after their own? So many questions plagued Callen, as his headache worsened. He pulled his knees up and gently placed his ailing head on them, breathing steadily, it abated some.
The rest of the team gave Callen a few minutes. They understood Callen's reaction to the video feed. The OPS centre was quiet until Kensi spoke up almost afraid to break the fragile silence, "I'll check up on him. Make sure he didn't do a Bon Scott." Hetty nodded still staring at the frozen image of the eight SEALs. Kensi walked through the doors, stood at the threshold and scanned for Callen. Sam's departure had been hard on them all, but Kensi knew about loss too and she empathized with Callen's pain more so than anyone else on the team.
Not having found him, she took a step forward and scanned again when she heard his voice, gravely and pained. "Down here Kens," he said looking up at her, his eyes glazed over. Her head spun to his direction. Her smile was what he needed. Kensi was strong but her vulnerability always helped Callen understand human fragility.
"I was going to send a search party," she answered moving towards Callen and sitting herself down next to him.
"I knew this would happen," he said quietly avoiding her gaze, embarrassed by the weakness he was showing..
"I know…Sam knew as well," she said trying in vain to comfort Callen.
"I can't let him die Kensi," continued Callen. Kensi noticed a slight pained hitch in his voice but it was resolute and strong.
"No you can't. We can't let him die. We will find a way Callen. We always find a way," she said encouragingly placing her hand on his forearm. "You've been different since Sam left. You need to get it together for this Callen. You need to get over whatever is plaguing you and just be the great agent we all know you to be. We'll find an angle and we'll save Sam and the others." Her hand squeezed his forearm tightly and she smiled at her superior.
Callen took in a long cleansing breath and turned to face his female teammate. He didn't need to say anything; he was a man of a few words. But his eyes spoke volumes. They lit up with determination and ferocity. Kensi saw the icey blue eyes sparkled and she felt inspired. She pulled herself up first, grabbed Callen's hand in a monkey grip and helped him up.
Suddenly the world tilted and he lost balance. "Whoa! Callen you ok?" asked a worried Kensi.
Callen shook his head and gave her a 'it's all good' smile, "Yeah," he answered dismissively.
A skeptical Kensi looked hard at Callen not quite believing him. "Kens, I'm ok."
A suspicious Kensi looked at him sideways, biting her tongue, knowing that pressing Callen for information would always result in failure. But her eyes never left him.
"I'm fine," answered an assertive Callen trying to get past her. She stood her ground maintaining a vise-like grip on his arm and raising her eyebrow. Callen stopped and looked at her squarely in the eye, "Come on Kensi…let it go."
"Just know I'll be keeping an eye on you," she answered letting go of his arm. Callen felt abashed as he nodded averting her penetrative glare.
Kensi walked in first feeling confident that she had reached Callen. She was ready to kick some ass. Callen trailed in behind her with an air of professionalism and conviction. Hetty always felt solace and safety in the presence of that Callen. She looked questioningly at Kensi who nodded back with a smile, she in turn nodded encouragingly to Nell, Eric and Deeks. Callen made it a point to ignore the questions and innuendos, the sympathetic looks and the sheepish gazes and focused on the video feed that had paused on Sam.
Callen straightened up. His body ached. He brushed off the pains and spoke commandingly. "Who are we dealing with?" Callen asked the question to everyone in the room.
"The terrorist group has proclaimed themselves as the Warriors for the Downtrodden. They have recently come onto our radar due to their sudden cluster of violent and erratic activities. They are a small splinter cell of the Al-Rashidah Group; a prominent and extremely active and dangerous Islamist terrorist group. Their self-proclaimed leader is Raza Kaleen. We are still trying to gather intel on him. All we have is a very distorted photo. His cell is based in north-west Pakistan near Wana…" explained Nell.
"Wana…as in Battle of Wana 2004?" asked Callen staring at the screen, which now included a photo of Raza, all sorts of documents and a satellite map of the area.
"Exactly. The place is known for its terrorist proclivity being near the border with Afghanistan. It is the home of the Wana Military base. It is also isolated, located near some low-lying mountains and hills with a lot and I mean a lot of caves, perfect for hiding and sheltering from satellite scanning," finished Nell looking at Callen sheepishly.
"I know the area…I did some work in Tank just east of Wana…great places to hide. The locals are secretive and very suspicious of outsiders," added Callen.
"Is there anywhere you haven't worked?" asked Deeks trying to lighten the mood.
Callen turned to Deeks, giving him a look that if possible, would've turned him to stone. Deeks feeling admonished sank further back into his chair. He understood there was no messing with Callen on this one.
Having made his point, Callen turned to Hetty. "So what have the SEALS done about this?" he asked rather acerbically.
"Things haven't gone exactly to plan this time…" Hetty managed to get in before Callen interrupted her.
"This time?" asked Callen skeptically, "Too much of an effort? Too busy covering up murders?"
"No that's not it at all, Agent Callen," a deep authoritative voice answered Callen's question. It made them all spin around to face the origin of the sound. At the door stood Lt Commander Westerman, flank by two corporals.
"Ah! Lt Commander, good to see you've found the place. Please come in," said a very courteous Hetty. After all, he wasn't the enemy here contrary to what Callen believed. Callen pulled himself straighter, as the Lt Commander and his corporals approached him. It was all about intimidation and Callen was never intimidated.
The Commander stood at attention in front of Callen, "Special Agent Callen." His eyes lacked the condescension and arrogance Callen saw the first time they met. But it didn't change Callen's feelings towards the man. He didn't utter a word but his look was transparently belligerent.
Hetty noticed the tension between the men and she intervened, "Lt Commander, this is Agent Blye, Det. Deeks and our intelligence analysts Mr. Beale and Miss Jones." The Commander lost the staring competition between Callen and himself, then turned to face and acknowledge the people in the room. "So what is your report on the matter, Lt Commander?" asked Hetty whilst staring at Callen, hoping that he'd play nice for Sam's sake.
One of the corporals gave Eric a thumb-drive which he accessed and displayed on the monitor. "This is the first base on the outskirts of Zhob. This was where Raza was holding the prisoners. Fairly in descript, looks harmless enough. We proceeded with all the necessary pre-attack surveillance and intel gathering. We were satisfied that the retrieval would be successful. However it wasn't as you can see from the footage."
Pictures spoke louder than words. The SEAL retrieval team was decimated.
"No one from Team Delta survived. There was no way that the rabble Raza controls could've done this…no way. They're peasants not trained soldiers," said Westerman.
"Maybe your intelligence was wrong?" asked Hetty.
"No! no, we check our sources and the images over and over. We weren't wrong. They knew we were coming. These men are trained mercenaries. I am certain of that."
"Of course they knew you were coming," added Callen condescendingly. "No matter how backward you think these cells are, they all know the procedure. They know what to expect."
Westerman's scowl displayed his irritation with Callen's comment. "Yes, Special Agent Callen. We are well aware of that. This isn't the first hostage retrieval op we have undertaken. You saw their fire power, you saw the number of men…they knew specifics, they knew our tactical plan."
"So are you suggesting one of the hostages ratted you out…or that there's a leak somewhere?" asked a fully focused Kensi, now standing next to Callen.
"Possibly a leak. Keep watching. Next video Mr. Beale," answered a weary looking Westerman. "As soon as we located the second base near Miran Shah, we organised our second attempt. But they were long gone when we got there. However as you can see, they left a few land mines and reminders of what they do to their prisoners."
The scene on the screen made Nell gasp in horror. The solders were being blown up left right and centre; land mines, detonating traps, timed bombs. But it was the following scenes that made the room fall deadly silent; the heads of Team Delta on pikes.
"Oh Lord…" gasped Hetty. Eric and Deeks' faces blanched shocked by the horrific scenes whereas Kensi just grabbed Callen's forearm. There was no emotion on the agent's face, but Kensi could feel the tension pulsating through his arm. That was enough to tell her Callen was angry, and an angry Callen meant Sam would come home.
Westerman asked Eric to stop the video as the lights slowly brightened. "We have lost two of our top teams…brothers and friends. We simply cannot try again because it is obvious that our methods won't be effective. They have important friends who have access to a plethora of deadly weapons. We have come to the conclusion that our way isn't the right way here. We are here asking for help."
Uh huh, that must've been hard. I glad his pride doesn't get in the way of his duty, thought Callen to himself.
"So what is it that you want from NCIS Lt Commander Westerman? This isn't in our brief albeit one of our former agents is a hostage," argued Hetty.
"We need to have our men back. We need you to do what you all do best. Save our men," said Westerman, emotion choking the proud man.
"We'd need Presidential clearance. It is an international affair and if our involvement ever came to light, the US's foreign campaign and credibility would be severely damaged," answered Hetty shrewdly.
"Clearance is on its way," answered Westerman. "The only people aware of the your involvement are the people in this room and the a few highly classified paper-pushers." Hetty raised her eyebrows in respect for the officer's effective and resolute leadership.
"So what would you propose, Miss Lange? You have the Navy SEALS at your beck and call," said Westerman.
"Ah yes…a plan. You see Lt Commander Westerman what you failed to understand the first time you became acquainted with my team is that we do not fail. You made derisive comments about my team especially about Special Agent Callen yet his skills and that of all my team are exceptional. We will formulate a plan and it will not go beyond this inner sanctum of which you will not be a part. Just be ready to provide transport home for your soldiers. That will be all Lt Commander Westerman and give my warm regards to Phil…that would be Admiral Dickson to you," finished Hetty dismissively.
Westerman looked around at the NCIS team. Each face was blank, each face was determined, each face wanted him out. He nodded and left.
Suddenly everybody allowed their bodies to relax from the tension they were apparently holding. "Whoa, you told him Hetty!" said a bright Deeks.
"Thanks for sticking up for us," said Kensi sitting herself down next to Deeks.
"No thanks needed. Sometimes people need a taste of humility. Mr. Callen you were rather restrained," said Hetty looking at him. It was true. Callen had been extremely quiet and rather self-controlled. He had that look.
"There was nothing to say. My actions always speak louder than words. There was no use engaging in a hostile banter. I needed his information and I wanted him gone. That's all," answered Callen. "Now…I have a plan!"