Callen's spent his life running. He's never belonged and there was always a good reason to leave. He never had a place to call his own, a place where he had roots and a reason to stay. Even NCIS didn't provide him with that. It was a blend of wishing and wanting, but it wasn't a home. They love him but they'll leave him, he knows that. It's why he can't let them in.

He loves his job. He's dedicated his life to helping people, but even he has to admit he's reckless. He takes too many risks, and he's made his work his life so that there is no room for anything else. He's taken on the skin of his aliases and they've become a part of him. They call him the best of the best but he's drowning, his head is held constantly underwater and he is the one holding it.

He met Sadie a few years ago. She was the sweetest girl he'd ever met, unspoiled and untouched by the world around them. She cared about him, loved him, and accepted him. She became a sparkle that always graced his eyes. She became the family that'd been taken from him. She accepted him and he promised her the world in return.

Instead he ruined her.

Each time he returned from a dangerous mission with fresh wounds bandaged, the life in her own eyes started to dim. Every time she asked him to be careful and to remember that he isn't alone anymore, and every time he promised her he would. Every time is was also a lie.

The day came when she cracked under the pressure. He and Sam had been on a mission in Iran and he'd tackled the bomber even though he shouldn't have. There was nothing more at stake then the pride of the American government and he put himself in harms way anyway. The guilt had been overwhelming when he woke up to find her asleep in her chair at his bedside at Navy hospital in Germany. With her head against his side and her hand tangled in his, he couldn't believe what he'd done to her, what he could have done to her had he died.

"Don't you know that I love you?" she'd screamed, tears pouring down her face as she stalked away. The nurses told him he'd been asleep for two weeks and in that time she'd refused to leave his side, sobbing and crying for him to wake up.

They went home but it wasn't the same. The life in his wife's eyes was fading away and it was his fault. He is the reason she made a permanent move to LA, away from her friends and family.

Not long after she announced to him that she was pregnant. There were tears of joy in her eyes and he scooped her up in his arms and laughed and cried, but a part of him wondered if she got pregnant as a last desperate attempt to save their marriage.

Nine months later she gave birth to a beautiful little girl, and he was away on an undercover op. She sat in her hospital room alone, with no one to hold her hand when she labored or hold her close when their daughter stopped breathing. She named the baby Clara, and he didn't even know she'd been born until three days to late.

At four months, the nanny and Clara were in a car accident. Alone and afraid his wife waited at their daughter's bedside, praying to every god for her to be okay. He got the message when Eric tracked him down four hours later.

Now Clara is eight months old, perfectly healthy and unscared from the accident other than a small quarter inch scar on her tiny wrist.

He's running again, only this time he's running home.

"If you walk out that door Cal, we won't be here when you get back." He hadn't believed her and left anyway. That was hours ago. About twenty minutes ago Nell had gone to get him, saying she'd just spoken to Sadie and that Sadie had told her that she was packing up the car and driving home to her parents in DC.

His heart sinks when he gets home. There is no car in the driveway. He doesn't bother with his key because he knows she'd have left the front door unlocked. He runs passed the living room and down the hall to the nursery. Everything is gone, from the crib to the toys to the play rug, everything is gone. He continues on to his and Clara's room and her drawers are empty and her closet is bare. There are two things on the bed, waiting for him: a manilla envelope and a photo album. He picks up the photo album first.

He flips through the pictures, of him and Sadie on their first date and in the park at night in the snow, of their wedding day and the day she moved into his house. Then the pictures go on, of her at work and sitting with a few friends in their living room. The farther into the album he goes the fewer pictures he's in. He is almost gone all together when his daughter comes into the pictures. There is one of Sadie sitting in her hospital bed with Clara asleep in her arms, another of Sadie giving Clara her first bath. There are a couple of Sadie with her friends playing at the park with Clara, and even more of Sadie, Clara, and the nanny. The nanny has more pictures with his daughter than he does. He stops at the last one, one of only ten pictures with him and Clara. She is sitting on his lap, smiling brightly up at him with a head of her mother's platinum curls and his own blue eyes. He is looking down at her with pure adoration. There is a note folded next to it.

He takes it and looks at it for a moment, finally unfolding it as tears prickle at his eyes.

Dear Cal,

You have the potential to be the most wonderful father. I know you adore Clara so very much, but your work has become your life and she doesn't deserve to go through this. I am going home, to DC with Clara. Jenny will meet me there in a few days to continue helping me raise her. I want Clara to have a better life than we can give her married in LA. I want her to come home and be lifted into the arms of people who love her. I want her to be surrounded by family and friends. What hurts me so much is the thought of her coming home and asking for you and me having to tell her that you're not coming home tonight because you're on a case or god forbid the worst. If she is not a priority in your life I won't let you damn her to that .

I love you, I will always love you, but until you realize that there are people that care about you, I cannot stay. I have left divorce papers in the folder beside the album. I am asking you to sign them or leave NCIS. I'm sorry for this, I truly am.

I will not keep Clara from you, she is just as much your daughter as she is mine. We can discuss visitation and I will send you pictures of her constantly. She will know who you are, and she will love you.

With love,

Sadie

Callen doesn't know when he started to cry, but the tears are falling faster and faster and he drops the letter. He buries his face in his hands and he wonders how he could have let it get so far. If he'd given her just a little more attention or taken just a few less missions, she'd still be here in their bed with his daughter between them. Sam made it work, he could have too, but even that is a lie. She is right, his job is his life, and his family is second. How could it have gotten so bad? How could he have fallen so far?


A/n I've wanted to write something like this for Callen for a long time but could never compose the words just right. I feel this is how he might turn out if he doesn't start trusting people around him. He's done a lot better in the past season so I really hope that continues. I am writing a companion piece to this from Sadie's point of view, it might take a while to post since I'm not completely in tune with her voice yet. It will be called Air I Would Kill to Breath.