Author's Notes – Unfortunately, they are not mine.
OK. So, new story popped into my head earlier today. I jotted down a rough outline of the interaction between Eric and Callen and then set it aside to work on Drug of Choice. After finishing a couple more chapters for that story, I was drawn to this one again. I have a basic idea of where I am going, but nothing remotely definitive.
Let me know what you all think...continue or scrap?
As he arrives in front of her apartment door, Callen can't help but think of how much Sam would tease him if he knew where he spent most nights after work. The irony really isn't lost on him. They have been flirting with the same line as another pair in their office for the last several weeks. No one dares to put a name on it and they are careful to not over-analyze it, but there is definitely something there. Something Callen really never thought he would ever come close to obtaining. A notion that, frankly speaking, scares the hell out of him. Which is exactly why he doesn't label what is happening.
He's been sensing she may well be feeling the effects of not labeling this little dance of theirs. Callen can tell she wants to some sort of acknowledgment, at least something more concrete than he is currently allowing. Hell, he isn't even sure what the big deal would be in actually making things official. They already talk for hours, share thoughts and dreams that few have ever heard, debate the future, cuddle on the couch while watching a movie they both could care less about. It's all about just being with each other. The number of times she has been right there waiting for him to just give in to his feelings and kiss him are so numerous he has lost count, but something always stops him.
He know what it is. Fear. That's what always stops him. The what-ifs that flash through his mind. All the excuses he conjures up in his mind. The ones he that plague his mind when he is far enough from her to actually think clearly. He's too old. His job is so dangerous that he could die on any given day. Her life could be in danger just by being associated with him. He is aware they are all just excuses. He also knows she should have a say. It isn't fair for him to make all the decisions. Make all the calls. She has made it pretty clear his age is not a factor. Obviously, she is one of the few people who knows what he does for a living which means that really isn't a factor. Death. Hell, that's on everyone's doorstep.
He spent the entire car ride over convincing himself that enough is enough and he needs to be tell her how he feels once and for all. No more games. No more speculation or guessing. Lay all the cards on the table. Tell her that she is the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up and the last person he wants to see before he falls asleep. All those corny things so many romantic cards say.
Callen has been noticing a subtle shift in her behavior over the last couple days. He can feel her pulling away from him. Putting up a wall of defense. The number of walls he has built around himself qualifies him as an expert of sorts in the matter. That is what is prompting this conversation for him. The fear he feels over letting her in on his feelings has been completely overshadowed by the fear she is loosing patience with his timeline. The idea that she will walk away because he won't just be honest with her. That scares him so much more right now.
So here he was, on her doorstep once again, for another night of being with her. Except tonight will be different. It will go one of two ways. Either they will officially be together or they will part ways. The later makes his stomach turn. He can't imagine his world without her. Too many moments have happened over the last several weeks to ever go back. Pushing the thought into the back of his mind, he refuses to even consider the next step should that happen. Mind over matter. Positive thoughts. All those boost your confidence lines.
Knocking on her door, Callen waits for an answer. When he doesn't receive one after a brief wait, he reaches into his pocket and retrieves the key she gave him after the first week. She said it would make it easier for nights when she worked late. He wouldn't have to sit in his car. It made her feel better knowing he could at least be comfortable on her couch. He smiles as he remembers the conversation.
Placing the key in the tumbler, Callen turns it swiftly and opens the door giving him access to her living room. Looking around the small room, he marvels at how comfortable he is in her space. Like being home. Pushing the key back into his pocket, hecloses the door before moving towards the kitchen to get a drink as he calls her name. Receiving no answer, he moves back into the living and down the hallway to her bedroom. He gently knocks on the door. Nothing again.
Swallowing a slight bit of panic, he reviews the day in his head. She didn't come in which initially surprised him because she made no mention of it to him the night before. When he asked Hetty, she simply said everything was fine. Something about extra vacation she was using. Well aware of Hetty's propensity to send people on forced vacations when they accrue too much time in house, he let the topic drop. Heaven knows he has been the recipient of many of these vacations more than once.
She hadn't texted him all day. Not even to answer his inquiry about her unexpected vacation. And now she isn't home. When she hadn't returned his texts on his way to her apartment from work, he simply figured she was taking a shower. Which he can now confirm is not the case. Opening the door to her room, he looks to see if anything appears out of order. Feeling a bit more like an intruder than he should, he moves over to her closet to find several pieces of clothing gone. Ok...so that moves things to a whole new level.
Callen pulls out his phone and immediately dials her number. Her voicemail picks up immediately. He leaves a message hoping she will call him back quickly. His next call is to Hetty who once again assures Callen there is no need for concern. Not convinced, Callen tries to get more information from his boss. That ends when she starts becoming more interested in knowing exactly why he is pushing so hard for her whereabouts.
Feeling frustrated, he tried her number again only to be greeted with her voicemail again. Deciding maybe Hetty is right, Callen steps out of her room closing the door as he moves into the hall. Pulling the key out of his pocket as he leaves her apartment, he locks the door on his way out. Reaching his car, he wills himself to drive home instead of straight to OSP to have Eric trace on Nell's phone.
Pulling into his driveway, Callen unlocks his front door and walks over the threshold. He sets his keys on the mantle beside one of the few items adorning his dwelling. Looking around, it strikes him just how much more at home he feels in her apartment than he does in his own house. Wishing she would call, Callen pushes aside an overwhelming sense of dread as he settles on to the all too familiar bedroll closing his eyes in an attempt to clear his mind.
Jolted awake, Callen sits straight up as if stuck by an invisible needle. Taking a couple breaths to slow his breathing, he reaches beside his body grabbing his phone to check the time. "What the hell!?" Seeing the time, Callen moves quickly into his room and changes his clothes before grabbing his keys from atop the mantle. Affixing his weapon securely in its holster, he makes his way to his car. Driving straight to ops, Callen is determined to find out once and for all just where she has disappeared to.
He marvels the whole way to work at just how odd it was for him to have slept through almost an entire night. Especially in light of Nell's lack of returning his calls or texts. Maybe his subconscious is listening to something the rest of his psyche won't even consider. Maybe he is over-reacting. When he pulls outside the door of OSP, he sees the time is now six in the morning. Eric always comes in early, so he knows that man will be found in the ops center. Ignoring his subconscious mind's assurance that maybe things are nearly as dire as the pit of stomach is insisting they are, Callen is determined to get answers from Eric. Even with Hetty's assurances that everything is fine, Callen can feel something is off. There is no way she would ignore his calls if she was fine.
Walking swiftly in the direction of the ops center, Callen makes a mental note that none of his other team members have arrived yet. That is probably a good thing. He really isn't interested in answering any questions. And he is pretty sure someone will have at least a couple questions as to why he is so hellbent on knowing the location of a certain intelligence analyst.
The doors open automatically as Callen approaches them causing Eric to look up in surprise at the visitor. Standing up to greet the team leader, Eric makes some sort of remark along the lines of Callen's ears must be burning which earns him a confused look from said individual. "I just sent a text to you and the others. Like literally just hit send when you appeared in ops." As if on cue, Callen's phone dings in confirmation.
Eric moves over to grab his handheld as he begins giving a basic overview of the case. He stops when he hears Callen's voice interrupt his words, "Where is she, Eric?" Taking his turn to look confused, Eric attempts to figure out exactly who Callen is talking about. After all, it stands to reason he can't tell hem where the suspect. He wouldn't have needed to call the team in if he already knew that piece of information.
"She who, Callen?" Upon seeing the look on Callen's face, Eric is fairly certain he is not talking about the case. Not one to base reactions off assumptions, Eric gives Callen another look of confusion hoping he isn't correct in the assumption he has made. "Seriously, Callen? Who are you talking about?"
Attempting to not jump the gun, but knowing full well based on Eric's reaction to his initial question that he does indeed have some sort of information about the woman in question, Callen tries again. This time he eliminates all elements of confusion, by being completely direct. "Nell. I'm talking about Nell, Eric. Where is she?"
Damn. That took much less time than he imagined. He figured Callen would be content with the vacation theory for at least a couple days. It took less than twenty-four hours for Callen to see through the notion that Nell took an impromptu vacation. "I have no idea. Maybe she met up with some friends or is visiting family. Hetty said she was taking some time off."
Having been a witness to the man's complete inability to lie or bullshit, Callen immediately knows Eric is full of it. "Eric." Callen's voice has enough of an edge, he is certain Eric will know he isn't interested in playing games and will simply tell him where Nell has gone.
Taking a step away from the man who could probably break him in half with one hand, Eric tries to act neutral. He is well aware he is failing miserably, but knows he has to try anyway. Locking eyes with the older man, Eric plays stupid once again. "What makes you think I would know where Nell is, Callen."
With those words, Callen closes the distance between the two men in entirely too few steps for Eric to feel at all comfortable. It is quite evident, Callen is not interested in being snowballed; however, Eric also knows his allegiance in this matter does not lie with the man standing directly across from him. Even if said man could cause him bodily harm.
The doors to the ops center open before Callen is able to respond to the latest response from Eric. Sam appears in the ops center and immediately senses the tension. Figuring it must have to do with the case, he questions the two immediately. "What's going on, guys?"
Eric, taking advantage of Callen's shorter stature, looks over his shoulder at Sam and speaks before Callen has the chance to respond. "Apparently Callen thinks I have some inside information on Nell's whereabouts." Sam's turn to be confused. Especially considering he was called in for a case. "Of course, none of that has anything to do with the actual reason you guys were called in early this morning." Looking at Callen, Eric adds the last sentence in an attempt to shift his attention to why they are really in ops. "That is for an actual case."
Officially having lost even more of his patience, Callen replaces the slight edge in his tone with a raised voice in response. "Enough! I am done with the games, Eric! Start talking." Sam watches the two men with a bit of fascination. Callen is definitely agitated, but the interesting part of the equation is Eric's refusal to back off. Which Sam knows is completely out of character for the techie.
In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Sam addresses the two men who are now positioned in a standoff no one would have ever predicted. "I give. What's the deal?" His inquiry is met with silence from both men has they stay locked in a battle of wills. "G? Eric? One of you want to give me something here."
Looking at his partner, Callen speaks, "Nell has taken an unexpected vacation and no one seems to know where she has gone." Returning his gaze to Eric, Callen continues. "Except Eric. Who knows exactly where she is or, at the very least, how to get in touch with her."
Sam asks the one question that is genuinely confusing him. It's not like it's the first time one of them has taken an unexpected vacation. Hetty is kind of known for vacations of just this nature. "Why would you need Eric to tell you where Nell is, G? She's just taking few days off man. I think we can all survive her absence." Trying to lighten the mood a bit, he adds one final touch chuckling slightly as he speaks. "It's not like he makes a habit of tracking us when we take time off anyway." Getting no response from either man, Sam locks eyes with the tech. "Right, Eric?"
Eric looks at the large man for a second before realizing exactly what he is implying. Shaking his head, the tech speaks quickly. "What!? No I don't track you guys on your time off.: Knowing that isn't entirely true, Eric adds a disclaimer. "At least not unless Hetty orders me to track you."
Looking at his partner once again, Sam questions him further. "Does Hetty know she is on vacation? It was probably one of her mandatory vacations. You know how she gets with we accumulate too many days on the job."
Callen, feeling his temper flaring once again, addresses his partner with more bite to his tongue than he anticipated. "Yes, Sam. Hetty knows Nell is on vacation. She won't say why or where either." Turning his attention back to the tech, he continues. "Which is where Eric comes in."
"No, Callen. This is not where I come in." Knowing the conversation is getting nowhere fast, Eric gets directly to the point hoping that Sam might be able to talk some sense into Callen. "If Nell wants to talk to you, then I'm sure she will call."
Before Eric knew what was happening, Callen was directly in his face making his irritation abundantly clear. "This is the last time I'm asking Eric." Closing distance that Eric didn't even know existed, Callen repeats the question at hand. "Where is Nell?"
Uncharacteristically brazen, Eric stands his ground. "I am not telling you anything I may know or not know about Nell." And just for emphasis he adds one final point. "And I am not tracking her." The only sign of trepidation Sam saw in the man was the rising and falling of his adam's apple as he swallowed the fear of facing down Callen.
"Damnit Eric!" Hearing his partner's voice reach a dangerous level, Sam steps forward placing a hand on Callen's shoulder in an attempt to calm the man down. In response, Callen shoves the offending hand off his body and points his finger directly in the technician's face. "Tell me where she is, Eric! Now!"
Refusing to budge, Eric matches Callen's tone adding his own touch of insistence. "There is no way I am betraying her confidence. If Nell wants to contact you, then she will. It is not my place give you answers." Kensi and Deeks appear in the ops center just in time to see Eric yelling in Callen's face. Completely blown away by the display, they both stand in awe of the interaction.
Sam, having seen enough, steps in between the men with his body blocking any further interaction between the two. Deeks takes this moment to speak up as Kensi attempts to process what exactly is happening. "Someone order extra testosterone in their latte this morning?" Feeling the back of his partner's hand strike his chest, Deeks lets out a yelp. "Ow! I didn't mean you Kens! Geez, I was talking about Eric!"
Watching the two men refusing to break eye contact as they fight for dominance, Deeks refrains from adding any additional comments. After several seconds, Eric is the first to break the contact as he shifts his gaze to lock eyes with Deeks, "Ask Callen." Walking past the smaller man, Eric turns and addresses Callen one last time before exiting the ops center. "Do Nell a favor and just back off Callen. She has enough on her plate without you making this all about what you want. Believe it or not, there's a big world out there that doesn't revolve around G. Callen and his issues. Other people are fighting battles of their own too. Gain some perspective."