So, I started this after I wrote Grisha. Sometimes something just sticks with you, and this one has been pretty much writing itself. I'll try and update every Sunday, but I can't make any promises. This takes of a few days after The Seventh Child, and goes AU from there. Enjoy!
After the past couple of days, his couch held no appeal. He was restless. So, he'd gotten into his car and drove. He had been driving around for what felt for hours. Trying to find answers. Answers to questions he'd been asking for most of his life. Hoping to get rid of this feeling of isolation; of feeling out of place.
This thing with Nadir had shaken him; more so than he would ever willingly admit to anyone. To hear that he was someone to be trusted, to feel safe with, meant so much more. It meant that he turned out to be a better person than he had thought. Despite his less-than-conventional upbringing he had molded himself into this decent human being. Nadir's simple statement meant that he had accomplished something to be proud of.
He didn't really feel proud though. He felt alone. Sam had someone to go home to; someone to love. Kensi and Deeks had found each other, and Callen was secretly proud of them making it work. He had always considered himself a loner, a 'tribe of one'. But he felt wary. If he was completely honest with himself, he was tired of being alone. Joelle had been a wonderful distraction for as long as it lasted, and for a while he had fooled himself into thinking that they might actually make it work.
But it wasn't meant to be and he was alone yet again. He had never admitted it to Sam, but the reason he hated buying furniture for any of his places, was that he had no idea how to actually buy things that would make him feel at home. His current place was a reflection of the way he felt. It felt empty. He felt empty.
Taking a deep breath, he decided he needed a break. Even his stomach was not so silently protesting to not having been fed yet. Sighing, he parked the car in front of a small café. It was full of people, and even though he'd never been here before it looked welcoming enough. He could at least watch people. Maybe it would occupy his mind.
When he pushed the door open, he was met with slightly familiar scent that he couldn't place. It made him feel strangely at home and welcome. Smelling food, he realized he was hungrier than he'd thought. He found an empty table in the far corner and sat down, studying the menu. It was not was he was used to. He lived on take out and fast food, and as far as he could tell, everything on the menu was at least healthy. Honest, homemade food. This would be new.
"What can I get you?"
The warm, pleasant voice shook him out of his thoughts and he looked up into a pair of hazel eyes. He blinked and shook his head. "Uhm… I'm not sure yet. Can you recommend anything?"
The waitress smiled. "Well, the beetroot soup is really great, made with products from the farmers market and served with homemade soda bread. But, if you're in the mood for a bigger meal, I can recommend the salmon. Brent brought it in this morning."
Her enthusiasm alone made the corners of his mouth pull up. "No, soup is fine." Sam would tease him endlessly if he ever found out he'd be eating something sort of healthy for dinner tonight.
"Coming right up." She winked and went back to the bar, chatting and laughing with other customers.
Callen leaned back in his chair and took a good look around. The place was decorated with calming colors; it made him feel as if he was sitting on the beach. Sand colored walls and blue accents made him take a deep breath and relax. There was something about the waitress that kept his attention. His eyes kept drifting over to where she was. Maybe it was her open friendly face, or her spontaneous smile. Wherever she seemed to go in the café, she was chatting with someone, always that smile on her face.
He didn't have to wait long for his order to come through. Both his soup and the bread were steaming.
"Be careful," she warned. "I took the bread out of the oven seconds ago."
"Thank you." He looked up at her and swallowed. There was something in her eyes that kept him looking, and he couldn't figure out what it was.
"More than welcome. Enjoy." Again, she smiled and turned around.
Carefully taking a spoonful of the soup, it suddenly hit him why it had smelled so familiar. He had a flashback to when he was really young. He was sitting in the kitchen with his mother and Amy, eating the same soup. The whole house smelled like it. Of course! His mother had made borsjtsj, a typically Eastern-European soup served with sour cream. He just hadn't had in a million years.
He coughed, trying to swallow his bite without breaking down into an emotional mess. But this simple, wonderful soup brought back memories he thought he'd forgotten a long time ago. Within seconds, the waitress was back at his side, concern reflecting in her eyes. "Everything okay?" she asked quietly.
He nodded through a haze of tears he didn't want to shed. "Yeah… I'm sorry, it's just…" Before he could stop himself, he rushed the words out. "My mother used to make this soup," he said. "And I haven't had it in years, or even thought about it or her for a long time too…" He cleared his throat. "Sorry, it was just a happy memory I was not really prepared for."
"Food does that sometimes," she acknowledged. "Food carries memories we sometimes forget. I have the same thing with coffee glazed cookies my grandmother used to make." She patted his arm. "I'm glad it was a happy memory."
For the first time since he'd left Nadir with his parents in the boat shed, a genuine smile reached his lips. "Me too."
She lingered for a few more seconds, making sure that he really was okay, before rising. "If there's anything I can do for you, let me know."
He nodded and she went back to other customers. With great caution, he tore the bread in pieces and dipped it in his soup; with every bite came a memory that he'd pushed to the back of his mind, maybe even hoping to actually forget. But with every spoonful, his mother became a clearer image, and his sister was laughing harder and he felt happier.
By the time his dinner was consumed, it had quieted down in the café. Callen was glad that he just had a quiet moment. He felt a bit drained, but sort of happy at the same time. He hadn't really thought of his family for a really long time, and there were still answers from his father he wanted to get, but for the time being he could wrap himself in the warm blanket the newfound memories provided.
When he went to the bar to pay, the waitress offered him a paper cup. "This one's on the house."
He eyed the cup wearily and she laughed. "It won't bite you, it is just tea."
"I don't drink tea," he murmured.
"I figured." She wasn't fazed. "This one, though, after the day you seem to have had, will do you a world of good. If not, come back tomorrow and I'll brew you something else."
Without complaining further he took the cup and sniffed. "What's in it?"
"Chamomile and lavender. It'll help you sleep tonight."
That would be a first. "All right. Thanks."
Again, that smile that seemed to be plastered to her face. It wasn't fake. It was real, and felt as if it was meant especially for him. "More than welcome. Have a good night."
He stepped out into the salty air again and walked back to his car, slowly sipping the herbal brew. It was gone before he even arrived back at his apartment. And somehow, whether it was the tea, or the sort of personal attention, or just the fact that he was slightly coming to terms with his new name, or the memories he was no longer afraid of, he slept soundly through the night for the first time in years.