In Your Darkest Hour
Disclaimer: I do not own the lyrics, quotes or characters. If I did, Sam and G would be kissing. A lot. On screen. All the time.
The lyrics and quotes at the very beginning of the story have author and title underneath them. Any other lyrics or quotes will be cited at the end of the story.
Timeline: Set after the very first episode of the season but before any others, I'd say. Episodes spoilers are brief and few, considering I haven't been able to catch a lot of them. I talk about Callen's shooting from "Legend, Part 2", which is probably the only clear spoiler.
I do also mention a character named Jason, who is canon. He's a foster brother of G's who was killed by their foster father. I don't know what episode it's said in, I just remember it was somewhere in canon.
Warning: There is talk/attempts at suicide, suicidal behavior and thoughts. THIS IS YOUR WARNING! It plays a big part in this story but please give it a try. I don't feel that I'm very graphic but I will rate this story accordingly.
There are also mentions of abuse (some of which is canon) and some descriptions (again, tried not to be too graphic, but check out rating of story).
Cursing, though I tried to keep it reasonable, is in this story. So I say for the third time, I rated the story to reflect all such things that might scar people's naïve little world-views. For the rest of us, who scoff at such disclaimers, we all know that we like it. It's why we write it.
Finally, THIS IS YOUR SLASH WARNING.
This story is not meant to be slash AS OF YET. This means that there may be some slashy thoughts and feelings, but I have not made any couples. Yet. I do hint at possible slash (in future). Hence, the slash warning, just so everybody is clear. Besides, when they just look too good together, you can't help put pair them up.
Summary: It's hard to get to the end of the day and maybe it doesn't seem worth it. Because when the screaming in your head drowns out your own voice, the 9mm that you carry seems like the best solution. AU, Slash, G/Sam
"Sometimes I feel
Like I don't have a partner.
Sometimes I feel
Like my only friend.
Is the city I live in
The city of angels
Lonely as I am
Together we cry."
-Red Hot Chili Peppers "Under the Bridge"
"'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, can't help that,' said the Cat. 'We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'
'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
'You must be,' said the Cat, ' or you wouldn't have come here.'" - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what you did or how you did it. What matters is that you made it to the end of the day. You wash your hands, eat a warm meal, change into fresh clothes; erase all the things, whether good or bad, that have happened in the day. Take a long shower, drink a couple beers, and decompress. It's simple. Uneventful. All the things in life that are taken for granted. It's easy, at the end of the day, because everything that's going to happen has happened, and everything that you were afraid would happen, hasn't. You can say "I'm alive" and actually mean it. You can feel it. Because it's the end of the day, and you've made it.
He's walking now, along a semi-crowded sidewalk amongst strangers, a beautiful ocean view spread out in front of him. His partner is somewhere nearby, watching him go, and even though he will soon leave, he feels comforted, secure. Because he's safe with his partner and his partner has his back. A flash of red out of the corner of his eye and he turns to look; it's a brightly colored convertible with two blondes inside of it and, though attractive, not really his type. It was the car that had gotten his attention. Fire engine. Candy apple. Cherry.
What he doesn't realize is that one of the things he'll remember about the end of this day is the color red.
He turns back to the sidewalk, ignoring the cars that pass by on the street. As he walks, a tingling sensation is creeping along the back of his neck. He's felt it before, many times, but lately it seems that it's always there. Like eyes on his back, like spiders on the skin and it's uncomfortable and foreboding. Because he knows what it means, he's faced this before, but not like this. Not like this. And as his breath starts to catch and his pulse quickens, he feels a cold wind wash over him, dancing along his arms, even as the sun burns bright above him. A name is whispered and though hidden on the wind, it reaches his ears and awareness explodes in his mind even as it is yelled. Because it's his name he hears, a single letter ripped from his partner's throat, and the desperation and fear that drips from the syllable makes his own heart twist.
And even as he turns his head, seeing without even seeing, the familiar staccato of rapid gun-fire pierces the air. He finds himself propelled by the force, helpless against the onslaught but it's not even the knowledge that it was bullets that hit him that hurts. It's not the impact of steel through flesh and grinding against bone. It's not the act of being gunned down in the streets or the thought that he could die here that hurts.
It's the realization that he'd known it was coming.
And even now, as he feels the cold seep into his bones, the thing that sticks in his mind is red.
Two little girls dressed in red twirl, laughing and skipping their way down the street, their blonde ringlets bouncing with their motions. They swing their arms in glee, playful whispers floating on the breeze, and it's all he can do to strain and hear what they say.
But they're not speaking, they're singing, two different songs that blend and meld into one mass of sound. He can hear them though, the separate songs, and he tries to speak, to get their attention and ask them why. They can't hear him, though, no one can, and so he stands, a specter, a watcher, unable to tear his eyes away.
They start at the beginning of the street and begin to skip, coming closer and closer with each hop-jump-step and as they do, their voices rise, clearer and clearer to his ears. And he waits with bated breath as they skip, knowing that all he needs to do is listen. There's a message here, a lesson to be learned in the songs, and everything will soon be clear.
The two girls stop in front of him, airy voices light on the breeze and now he can hear what they're singing.
Ring around the roses
The roses are red
Pocket full of posies
And the violets are blue
The lot was cast, so I drew
We all fall down.
And Fortune said it should be you.
The word echoes around him and suddenly, the girls are no longer smiling, no longer laughing. Instead, they stand in front of him, side by side, two little girls with big, dead eyes. Their clothes are dripping red with blood, pools growing beneath their feet, but they take no notice. They look at him, one accusing, one not, and speak a single word in a whisper. And though it's quiet, it's not for him, and the word screams in his ears.
He snaps awake with a silent scream on his lips even as he heaves and gasps for air, the sound of nursery rhymes he's never heard before ringing in his ears. He's drenched in sweat, fresh even as it begins to cool in the heat of the room. Lifting his hand, he brushes it across his head, rubbing the short hair quickly in the hopes of banishing all thoughts from his mind. It doesn't work, though, because it isn't just thoughts, it isn't just a dream. It's memories that are haunting him, that are destroying his sleep and breaking his mind, and the thing about memories is that they never change. They always remain the same because they are merely embodiments of what the mind remembers of events. And events that have happened cannot be changed.
Knowing he won't go back to sleep, he pushes himself up into a complete sitting position, boot-clad feet swinging down to the floor with a soft thud. He winces, even knowing that nobody is there, and quickly glances around to be sure. It would be just his luck that Nate or Hetty had decided to come back to the office for some paperwork or case files or, even worse, secretly wanting to check on him. He knows that if somebody had come in, he'd have known it, because no matter how quiet they are, he can tell. He can always tell when someone gets too close. It's kept him alive more times than he can count, this awareness of his surroundings, and will continue to do so. If he can keep his mind long enough for it to matter.
And knowing he's alone doesn't stop him from checking, because it's better to be sure than to be wrong. He doesn't have the same faith in himself he once had. He raises a hand to rub his right shoulder, the lingering ache seeming sharp for a brief moment, and can feel the raised scar from the bullet wound through the thin material of his shirt. The hand pauses for a moment in a silent reverie before falling back to rest on his knee, and a deep yet silent sigh runs through him.
He hates this. He hates the paranoia that's grown even deeper. He hates the cold sweats and the nightmares, waking and feeling like he could never sleep again. And he hates the feel of falling, to the cold sidewalk in his dreams or the floor by the couch he's laying on.
But he can't change it. And that's what he hates most of all.
He's not used to that, being unable to change things. Change is who he is. It's why he can't stay in a place for longer than a few months. He's not used to security or long-term arrangements or people sticking around for long periods. He's never had a home, never had a family, never even stayed at a job for very long. He likes motion and action and moving, and the ability to just get up and leave whenever he wants.
Lately, though, everything's been different. He was stuck in the hospital for weeks before finally frustrating the doctors enough into letting him leave. Then he was stuck with Sam for a few days, before he ditched his partner for a motel room. He couldn't take the hovering anymore, the concerned looks and queries into his well-being. It was bad enough that he'd had to see a shrink, i.e. Nate, before coming back to work (even though he'd slid in a month early), but having his own partner treating him like glass made everything real.
He didn't like things being real. If people liked reality, they never would have invented alcohol and pills.
He wouldn't know about the second. He'd only touched the first.
God, he needed a drink.
He can't sit here anymore, thinking like this. It'll drive him crazy quicker than his pretending that he's alright. He felt trapped by his own mind, that too-familiar itch forming just under his skin, and the room feels small and secluded. He stands from the couch, feeling his heart jumping in his chest, and he knows that he needs to get out of this room, out of this building, and briefly he wonders if he can get out of his own body.
He's a runner, always has been, because running's a lot easier than dealing with his problems. Right now, though, he isn't sure if he can stop himself from running permanently, away from this place and his partner and his shrink and his team.
But he's never going to know until he tries.
He makes it to the door and is about to open it when he freezes, every single sense of his screaming out warnings. It's like bells in his head, like sirens in the air, and all he can see is red. It drowns out his sight and tears at his heart and he stumbles backward, nearly falling falling to the ground, cold and wet wet like the tears falling down his face and he hadn't even known that he'd been crying crying blood from his nose and mouth even as his partner begs him to hold on but he can't breathe breath catching in his chest. Forces himself away from the door, taking large steps until he's a couple feet away, his body aching in places that are familiar. It causes a sick feeling to rise up and a violent urge to slam his fist into the wall nearly overpowers him.
It makes him feel like a failure, pathetic and useless on a number of levels. Because ever since he was shot (since he died, his mind whispers) he has difficulty in going outside alone.
And that's a huge problem, because he's always alone.
But he knows he won't make it out the door, not with the sound of gunshots ringing in his ears, so he turns back around and stumbles to the couch. He sits down this time, not lying down, because sleep is the furthest thing from his mind. Instead, he leans his head back against the back of the couch and stares blindly at the ceiling. The hours pass and he remains, silent and unmoving, watching the lights from the windows dance across the dark ceiling, the faint echo of his partner's desperate cries flashing through his mind.
He's still there when the others come in the next morning, sitting in the same position, and he doesn't rouse until he hears Nate, the psychologist calling his name in a soft and careful tone of voice. He moves then, because he knows he has to, despite some desperate desire to simply remain where he was out of some vague sense of security. Even then, it's only a turn of his head to face him, and now he can see Sam hovering over Nate's shoulder, a carefully controlled expression marring his face. But he knows his partner, knows him well, and he can see the panic underneath. It snaps him back into awareness and he covers his face with his own mask, hating that he does but knowing he cannot show his feelings.
So he pretends that he was daydreaming and in desperate need of coffee, which is why he hadn't heard either Nate or Sam trying to get his attention, and lies his way out of a conversation that he knows he can't handle right now. And he feels like cracking, feels like breaking, like dying in Sam's arms with red in his eyes and all he wants is to get away. But he can't sleep and he can't eat (though he doesn't let them see) and can't even walk out a door on his own, so he's pretty sure that getting away is not an option.
He needs help. He knows this.
But knowing something is very different from knowing it. And it's easier to pretend that he doesn't need anything, because it comes down to one single thing.
Just making it to the end of the day.
And it's taking everything he has just to do that.
Fortune said it should be you.
But Fortune never told him how to deal with it.
He opens his eyes one day and realizes that he is losing his mind.
Doing what he does, you have to be paranoid and believe that everyone is out to get you. He's done a lot of things in his life, but he thinks that undercover work is the most dangerous. Because when a cover gets blown or a deception is unmasked, people tend to get upset. Feel betrayed. Want revenge. And it always, always, manifests in violence.
Because violence is the language of the world. Universal. Absolute.
The one thing people know is how to hurt each other and themselves. They've perfected it into an art form. But nobody has ever taught the human race how to recover, how to deal with being hurt.
The strong survive and the weak perish. Darwinism.
Callen is used to violent people. It's a fact, plain and simple. He's dealt with them in his work, in his home, in his life. He's been trained to handle them, to talk down people from the heights of rage, the depths of despair, the blindness of vengeance. He's learned to look out for the signs, in their faces and in their eyes. And he knows to never allow personal feelings to get in the way, of business or pleasure.
Lately it seems like those lines are being crossed more and more.
The problem with his shooting is that it was entirely personal, because he'd been gunned down in the streets with no provocation or warning. If he died in the line of duty, died when someone was shooting at him and he was shooting back, then it'd make sense. It'd be normal. It'd be business. Part of the acceptable risks they all take.
This was different. He'd been walking down the street, case closed, his partner driving away. It was intimate and private and personal, and yet, they had no idea who'd been responsible, who'd mixed their personal feelings with the business of a hit.
Violence doesn't always make sense. Violence can be random. He's learned that.
But it didn't feel random. It felt calculated and cold and full of rage; a hatred that's slow burning and unquenchable. This hit spoke of a grudge.
Callen's dealt with grudges before. He's been shot before, too.
It never gets easier, to know that he's well and truly pissed someone off enough that they want him dead. That there are people in the world willing to kill for a price, no questions asked. But it's just another part of the world that he's learned to accept.
Only this time, for some reason, he's finding it hard to accept.
It's in the little things that he notices the differences. Walking down the street was something he used to do all the time, 'thinking walks' Sam called them, and now it's nearly impossible to just walk out the door, let alone down a sidewalk. He's finally figured out why, though. He feels too exposed and vulnerable outside; having someone with him barely helps either. Sam is the only one who comes close to making him feel secure, and even then it's hard. Because when it's just them, he thinks back to the last time, and finds that 'just them' doesn't really cut it anymore.
It's not the walking, really, it's the other people. Having never been a people person or someone who enjoyed a close companionship with anyone, Callen always regarded people as unknowns, hostiles that are merely waiting to be set off. People are volatile creatures, he's learned this, and it's not just a select few. It's everybody. Everybody has the potential to become a threat, and you never know until it's too late.
Everybody can be pushed to their limits. And he thinks that he's reached his.
Because he's losing his mind and he doesn't know how to stop it.
He hears a car start and his pulse quickens, flashes of pain and the smell of burnt gunpowder rising in his chest, and it's all he can do to stop from falling to the floor or feeling blood slide down his throat. And then he's drowning in a pool of blood, feeling his lungs filling with liquid even as they burned for air; coughing in the desperate hope of dislodging it and gaining the needed fuel. Then he'll find that he didn't stop it; didn't stop himself from falling or choking or suffocating, because he'll snap back to the world like he never left it and find himself lying on the ground, feeling for bullet holes that have already healed.
It happens again and again, over and over, and only gets worse every time it does.
Because he started with drowning and ended with dying, and he's finding that he can't tell the difference anymore, between living and dying, dream and reality.
A door has become the enemy, a street has become a nightmare, and normal, everyday sounds have become the flint that strikes the match that creates the bonfire.
It'd gotten so bad that he'd almost sought someone out, either Nate or Sam, because as much as he hates asking for help, he's starting to scare himself.
Because he's drinking too much and he's losing time and his gun has started looking far too appealing. And he can't let himself go down that road, not again, because once he does, he doesn't think he'll be able to come back.
Like a ripple effect, a tidal wave that begins far out in the ocean and gets bigger as it reaches the shore before crashing to its' dissolution, his mask is cracking, beginning to bleed in places. He knows that sooner or later, people will start noticing without him having to seek them out, and honestly, he's pretty sure that they have.
And he's good at fooling people, been doing it his entire life, but sometimes he regrets being such a great liar.
Because he's losing his mind and he needs somebody to notice before there's nothing left.
He tries to cut back on the drinking because he's never wanted to become that, dependent on a liquid beverage, and it's never worked well for him anyways. Alcohol makes everything fade for a brief time, but then it comes roaring back worse than before. It doesn't help him sleep, doesn't make him relax and the headache in the morning isn't worth it.
He doesn't want to drink tonight. It's why he's standing in the back of their changing rooms at two in the morning, resisting the urge to head to a bar (if he could make it out the door). And the real truth is that drinking only brings up bad memories, ones that he really doesn't need in his head right now.
But then it's too late and they're there, rising up so fast that he scarcely has time to blink before they're upon him. Vaguely, he feels himself fall to the ground, curling around himself in a desperate attempt at protection, but he can't feel the floor under his head or the hands he's wrapped around himself. He doesn't see the room around him and isn't aware of the soft cries that are ripped from his throat.
Instead, he watches as the room dissolves into a flurry of black, black that is being overtaken by the slow bleed of red. But it's a different red than he's been seeing lately. It's an older one, from a long time ago, one that's like an old friend.
And then he's back in that house, the one that smells like whiskey and cigarettes, and the only thing he feels other than dread is fear. He knows what's coming. He sees it in his dreams and feels it in his heart and he thinks that if he could erase his memory he would, just to forget this night.
He hears the front door slamming open and shut, the vibrations of footsteps stumbling into the living room, the slurred voice that could only be from alcohol. He's pushing himself into the wall, pleading inwardly not to be seen, but knowing it won't do any good. The monster is here, that man he refuses to call anything else, and he always knows where they're hiding. He wants to call out for someone to help him, but the only other person there is Jason, and he refuses to put his foster brother in danger. It's G's turn to protect him, even if that means taking a beating, or even something else.
And then he is pulled roughly away from the wall into the center of the room by the arm, his shoulder beginning to burn in protest at the treatment. He pulls, tugging on his own arm, trying desperately to get free, but it only angers the one dragging him. A fist slams into his face and he swears that he feels something crack even as he goes limp, spots dancing across his eyes.
He's thrown onto the floor, head banging against the carpet, and he feels fear coiling deep in his stomach. Because this time is different than all the other times, he can sense that, and not for the first time, he realizes that he isn't going to come out of this without some serious damage. But even he didn't know how bad it was going to get.
His body jolts as a foot lands a kick on his ribs, once, twice, three times before he finally lets out a gasp at the ache. Words are being shouted above him but he can't hear them over the roaring in his ears and it's all he can do not to shout. But he won't give him the satisfaction, of tears or cries or pleas or curses. Instead, he bites down on his own tongue and holds it all in, because he's stronger than this, he always has been, and all he needs to do is make it through this day.
His silence only frustrates the man above him and G flinches inwardly as a hand swings down and grabs his collar, yanking him back. The movement forces him from the protective hunch he'd adopted, arms curled to protect his head, and a meaty fist slams into his face again and again. He feels his lip split by the force and knows that tomorrow he'll be lucky to have only one black eye. But then he is airborne, his back colliding with the wall, and as he chants to himself to stay loose, knowing it'll hurt less that way, he realizes that tomorrow he's going to have more to worry about than a black eye.
Because his foster father is out of control, and G isn't too sure he's going to survive this.
But then he sees Jason, and his heart plummets as he enters the room at a run. He struggles to pull himself up, to force the attention back on him, to intervene because he doesn't want Jason to get hurt. Even though G's the younger of the two, he's seen Jason hurt too many times while protecting him that he wants to return the favor. He doesn't want him in the middle of this. Because that feeling is back, that bad one deep down, and he's suddenly terrified of what's to come.
He's taken too bad of a beating though and he has no strength left to even breathe, let alone stand. He collapses back to the floor on his side, ribs aching, back throbbing, head spinning and blood spilling down his lips, but all he can see is the scene in front of him. And as he lies there, red dripping onto his shirt and running into his throat, blinking back the darkness that encroaches on his vision, there's nothing he can do except watch, as the man who's supposed to look out for them turns on Jason.
When the police finally show up, it's too late. Jason is dead, face and body twisted and broken from the blows. His foster father is arrested and dragged from the house, covered in blood and smelling of whiskey. Paramedics are there, talking to him and through him and over him but all G can see is Jason. All he can smell is the blood. And all he can see is red. He slips into oblivion without saying a word. There's nothing to say.
He wakes a week later in the hospital, numb and lost and tired of it all. He ignores all the questions and the looks and the counselors that come because they could never imagine what it was like. And he isn't particularly inclined to fill them in either. There's one thing that he knows, because the police were too late for both of them.
Jason wasn't the only one who died that night. A part of G died too.
He's twelve years old when he loses all faith in people.
He's twelve years old when he finally sees what he's known all along, that he is a throwaway child.
He's twelve years old when he comes face to face with death.
And he's twelve years old the first time he wants to die.
He doesn't act on it, though. That comes much later, in a different time and a different place. For now, he pretends that he's living, pretends that he's fine, and denies that he remembers anything from that night. It's an easy lie, a believable one, because according to the doctors, G's lucky not to have brain damage from the force of the blows he took to the head. So they accept his smile and believe his nod and never know how wrong they are.
Before he was moved to a different state and another home, this time a group home, he visits Jason's grave.
He's never had siblings or anyone he'd care to call one. But he thinks that Jason is the closest he will come. And when he kneels down to place the red roses he'd brought on the freshly dug earth, all he sees is blood pouring from the ground and running over the soil.
It's Jason's blood, G's blood, an innocent's blood that stains the dirt and the only difference between Jason and himself, the only thing that separates them, is time. When G looks back on that night, the only thing he allows himself to remember is the blood, ruby red, no matter if it was Jason's or his own. Because while they were not brothers by blood, they are now, and the blood they've shed together makes them such.
And he lost the first person he'd call brother in a storm of red.
He walks away then and doesn't look back because the scene is carved into his memory. He moves to a new city, new shelter, new people and repeats the process over and over. But he never forgets this place and though he never visits, he does not forget this grave.
And he never forgets the lessons he learned here, just as he never forgets the desire to die.
Or how much he hates the color red.
It hits him again years later and the scene's the same, red staining clothes and pooling on the ground. Only this time it's him who's dying and a different brother that's watching.
And then he's back, lying on the cold floor staring at a white ceiling and before he can stop himself, he's laughing. Laughing so hard that his sides ache and tears flow down his face and he can barely breathe through the hysteria. He's realized something now, something he'd always known but had allowed himself to forget, and it is that dying is just another part of living.
Everybody dies. Some just go earlier than others.
And he knows now that he isn't afraid to die.
He opens his eyes one day and realizes not that he's losing his mind, but that maybe, he never had it to begin with.
He's not a violent person, at least more than anyone else, and he usually resorts to words instead of blows to prove a point. He's been on the wrong end of too many fists for it to be his first solution. Firsthand experience has taught him that pain is not always the best motivator. But something had changed. Because Nate cornered him today and it had taken everything he had not to slam a fist into his face.
He knows that something had changed because this time, he could feel it on the edge of his mind, the violence and desperate hint of rage just begging to be unleashed. And what bothered him the most was that it was just a single question that had shaded his vision in red. A simple one, really, asked in a neutral tone with an expectation to be ignored. And Callen knew that he'd been asking for it to be said aloud because it'd been the one question unvoiced ever since he'd came back.
What do you remember?
It wasn't that Nate had been pushing at his defenses because he hadn't been. It wasn't the tone he'd used or the place they'd been when he asked it. He hadn't asked it to demand an answer, hadn't pushed relentlessly, hadn't done anything other than ask with an offer to listen. But Callen had nearly snapped because one thing had struck a cord deep down, one that he hadn't wanted to admit was hurting.
It was a single word.
Innocent in a way, because he remembers a lot of things. But the ones from the shooting are the things that are keeping him awake at night. They're the things that are costing him his mind.
He remembers choking on blood. Remembers the taste, the smell, the feel of it running down his throat and spilling from his lips. Remembers the way it looked splattered on Sam's shirt as he coughed and fought for air, how it splashed across his partner's face when he tried to speak without breath.
He remembers drowning, in the taste, the smell, the feel of blood. Red like candy, like apples fresh from the store, like pretty, pretty please, with a cherry on top.
Now he knows. He knows the sensation of drowning in the color red.
And he'd give anything to forget that he ever knew it.
Because it's everywhere now. On his hands, under his nails, coating his skin and drenching his clothes. It's across his vision and down his throat and turning everything he touches into red.
It's on the victims that they see, the ones he could have become, and sometimes he wonders if he really did escape becoming them because it doesn't feel like he did. But he's alive and he's walking and talking with his team so he must be alive, he has to be.
Maybe if he says it enough it'll come true. Maybe he'll actually believe it.
He's not sure which would have to come first, though, truth or belief.
It probably wouldn't make a difference anyway.
The world doesn't stop for people in pain, people who are lost or broken. It simply continues on, day into night, dark into light, and forgets about the ones that are no longer in its cycle, the ones no longer in its view. It moves in could haves, lives in would haves, and dies in should haves. Because the world is just like the people it contains, empty and hopeless and blind to anything other than what they think should be.
Now everything he sees, everything he touches and everything he tastes turns into death.
Because he lived when he never should have, and he's broken the natural order of things.
And as he jerks awake from yet another nightmare, of two little girls with blood spilling from their mouths, he finally understands the message. It isn't the blood that he remembers the most, it's the sensation, the panic he felt when he couldn't breathe.
It occurs to him that he's been choking on blood for months.
And it doesn't seem like it's going to stop.
His team is no longer comfortable around him and he wonders if they ever were. Or is it that there's a difference now, from the Callen before and the Callen after.
They look at him like he's going to snap, and he wonders if they'd feel better if he did. Would it make him seem more normal, more like them? To do so would confirm their expectations and it almost feels like giving up. Or is it more like giving in?
Ironically, the only two who don't look at him that way are Sam and Nate, his partner and their shrink, but even they have moments where they wonder, if this time or that one will be the final straw, the thing that doesn't tip him off the edge, but throws him, with great speed and force. He can tell, because he has these moments as well.
In a way, it'd be easier just to snap, to release all those pent-up emotions, the frustration and pain and rage; rage so hot and bitter that he wonders if he's burning inside, bits and pieces of his mind crumbling in the embers and collecting in a small pile of ash. And it must be his mind, it has to be, because his mind is his sanity and he knows that it's slipping away.
Because he's realized that somewhere along the line, he's lost his reason and he's not entirely sure what to do about it. He's tired of fighting for himself when it doesn't seem worth it; he's not worth it if no one else has noticed this battle. And it is a battle, it is, because he's been fighting it all his life and he can't stop now. He's not even sure he'd be able to. As much as he hates it, fighting is such an intrinsic part of himself that to give it up entirely is to lose what's left.
But he's fighting a losing battle and he's fighting it alone. And he's resentful because he never asked to fight it to begin with.
Sometimes he wonders if it wouldn't be easier to give up. It seems like he's heading there anyway.
He's never been known for taking the easy way.
Then again, he's not the Callen before.
He's the Callen after.
It's a miracle that he survived being shot. That's what the others think.
He doesn't feel like it's a miracle. The miracle would have been not getting hit in the first place.
Five times. He thinks that's a little excessive.
Because he's only going to need one.
He picks a room that's somewhat secluded, not just because it lessens the risk of him being caught before he's done but because the solitude is something that he needs. He's been lonely for months and he doesn't want to stop now; it's familiar and soothing and exactly what he's looking for.
It's early, the sky just beginning to turn red and orange with the coming of dawn. It's always been one of his favorite times because the colors are beautiful when looked at in the perfect light. Like from the beach, a beautiful ocean view, just like the one always visible from the windows of the hotels he always chooses. It's why he picks them, and he doesn't want to interrupt such a routine because it's just another thing that he needs.
Needs. He hates that word. He's never needed anything before and now it seems like everything he does is centered around it.
He needs to breathe but can't through all the blood and needs to sleep but can't bring himself to close his eyes. He needs to be left alone even though his mind is screaming for someone to be close by because he needs the protection and security they can offer him. He needs to forget but won't allow himself to because forgetting is worse than denying all that he's ever lost.
The thing he hates most about need is that it goes hand in hand with want, and he's learned that in life, you don't get what you need or want.
Because he wants to die but he needs to be saved and a part of him is hoping that someone will look beyond the want and give him what he needs.
He's come this far, though, and he no longer believes in miracles.
He slides the clip into his handgun and pulls back on the hammer. The gun cocks, a single bullet sliding into the chamber and Callen flicks the safety off with a smooth motion.
He hears the footsteps of his colleagues entering the building, moving through rooms and opening doors. It's a useful skill, one he picked up long ago, just like his ability to smell alcohol on a person and immediately know the brand or his ease at hiding his pain behind one of many masks, masks made just to get him through the day. And even though he knows they're there, somewhere in the building, it doesn't deter him from his task. Because this is his decision, one he's made again and again over the years (and wouldn't Nate just have a field day with that knowledge), only this time, it's going to work.
He'll make it work.
Take a Breathe, take it deep
Calm yourself, he says to me
If you play, you play for keeps
Take the gun and count to three
You're sweating now, moving slow
No time to think, my turn to go
Nobody had asked him if he was thankful to be alive.
It's not something you usually ask a person that's escaped death. To most people, it's a ridiculous thought to have, let alone ask. He's not most people, though, never has been. He's always been on the outside, looking without being; existing without belonging. It's a talent in a job like his, and one of the reasons he was so good at it.
It's easy to be anybody when you've never known who you are.
And self-worth has never mattered for someone who's everybody and nobody.
Callen has never cared much for his own safety. He'd been shown too many times that his life didn't matter, so he'd never understood why he should care either. Until he'd met Sam.
He's never been this close to somebody, not even Jason, and the bond they have is so new, so foreign, that sometimes, it scares him. It's controlling and dominant and caring and safe and everything he'd never thought could exist in one place or be lucky enough to have. Because Sam is what he wants. Sam is what he needs.
He'd sworn on a distant grave that he'd never feel this pain again, of losing a brother. Because brother to him is not just a comrade or friend; it's the one and only person he'd ever let look into his soul. And somehow, despite all his apprehension and the screams in his head that this wouldn't end well, Sam had wormed himself into that position of brother. Even if Callen is too afraid to admit it, to himself or anyone else.
Say a prayer to yourself
He says, "Close your eyes, sometimes it helps"
And then I get a scary thought
That he's here means he's never lost
To Sam, Callen's life mattered. Even before he was shot, his partner had always looked out for him. And afterwards, instead of pulling away, he'd grown even more protective.
But Callen doesn't need protecting. He needs understanding, and that is something that Sam cannot give him.
G knows death, he's felt it intimately, through fists and blood and bullets and tears, and it's only made him want it more. Because inside of death, there is peace; inside of pain, is healing.
And when darkness is all you've known of life, you can never miss the light.
But Sam can't understand how he's feeling. He cannot understand surviving a lead storm and wishing every damn second that you hadn't. Sam is a fighter, through and through, to the death and beyond and G thinks that when his partner dies, even as his heart twists at the thought, it will be by taking the bad guys down with him.
Callen has always known that that is not how he will die. His death is a slow, drawn out and torturous one that will end in merciful oblivion. He knows this. He has felt it. Because he's been dying his whole life, and it began in the face of a dead brother, on the blood-stained grave of innocence, and continued over the span of a lifetime, through shootouts and deception and lies that only bled away the little bit of life that existed, until there was nothing left.
Because when he dies, the only thing G will be able to feel is relief.
This is why Sam could never understand his desire to die.
And you can see my heart beating
You can see it through my chest
I'm terrified, but I'm not leaving
I know that I must pass this test
So just pull the trigger.....
He doesn't want Sam to judge him, even though he knows that he won't be able to accept it. Killing himself isn't fair to either of them but life has never been fair to him and he doesn't think it's going to start now.
And he can't help but think to himself that Sam doesn't know what it's like, to break into so many shards you can't even tell what the starting picture looked like; to feel like you're dying again and again, day after day, with no end to your pain in sight. Because he did die that day, on cold concrete on a warm, sunny day, in his partner's arms and it's only by the luck of man and not the grace of God that his body is still moving around.
But he doesn't feel here, doesn't feel right inside his own skin, and even he knows that something's wrong with him. The problem, though, is that it doesn't matter anymore because he no longer cares about fixing it. He knows the solution, is holding it in his hand, and no one's going to save him this time.
As my life flashes before my eyes
I'm wondering will I ever see another sunrise
So many won't get the chance to say goodbye
But it's too late to think of the value of my life
It's not a cry for help, not a sign or desire for saving. It's base and human and wretched in its pain, and it's the only thing that he has left.
His final gift, from the orphan he was to the man he's become.
They say suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness and they're right. It's why he doesn't care as he lifts the gun to his temple.
So just pull the trigger.....
He's never hated his partner before. He hadn't even thought he could. But right now, in this moment, at this time, in this space, he hates him.
Send a heartbeat to
The void that cries through you
Relive the pictures that have come to pass
For now we stand alone
The world is lost and blown
And we are flesh and blood disintegrate
With no more to hate
It's not just because Sam is there, interrupting all his carefully laid plans. He'd been almost expecting it, really, because Sam always seemed to have a sixth sense when it comes to G. The problem now is that if he follows through, he's going to have to do it in front of his partner. It's why he'd chosen this time, early in the morning, and this location, hard to find, because this is the one thing he'd been trying to avoid.
He didn't want to make the others watch him die. Especially Sam. Not after the last time.
But it seems like Fate didn't care what he wanted.
Because Sam was there, walking into the room seconds after the gun is lifted to his head.
When he feels his partner freeze behind him, he curses inwardly because now he has to decide what to do. And his own hesitation at Sam's presence is enough for a small, nagging doubt to rise within, before he ruthlessly stamps it down.
He doesn't want to second guess this decision. He doesn't want to talk about it.
He just wants to pull the fucking trigger.
And he's just made the decision to do so, when the one thing he hadn't wanted to hear breaks through his anger as his partner finally finds his voice.
"G, what the fuck are you doing?"
He really hates Sam right now.
Is it bright where you are
Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour
I hold secrets flame
We can watch the world devoured in its pain
The others are there now, eyes wide, faces tight and bodies tense as they look upon the scene. But Callen only has eyes for Sam and Nate, the two biggest threats, because even though he's made up his mind, these two men have always had the ability to talk him down from his decisions, any decisions. And if he lets them too close, they will succeed, because they know him a lot better than he knows himself. Especially Sam.
Sam always makes him second-guess himself, makes him question everything he thought he knew. He makes G's feelings and thoughts get all twisted inside without even saying a word. He does it with a single look; it's all in his eyes.
Because G is looking him right in the eye and he's no longer sure of anything.
There's a tiny voice inside his head that sounds a lot like the lost little boy he was before Jason died and he tries to push it away, because it invokes fear inside him, fear that maybe, just maybe, he doesn't really know what he wants anymore.
Is it death? He thought so.
But if what he wants is only a click away, then why, why, is he hesitating?
He tears his eyes away from his partners' and screams inwardly. He doesn't want to think anymore. He just wants to die.
And yet, his traitorous mind whispers, you're not pulling the trigger.
Delivered from the blast
The last of a line of lasts
The pale princess of a palace cracked
And now the kingdom comes
Crashing down undone
And I am a master of a nothing place
Of recoil and grace
After his initial outburst of instinctual shock and denial, Sam has switched tactics, teaming up with Nate even as the psychologist stays quiet, allowing Sam to take the lead. Nate has his eyes fixed on the gun, and the index finger that's poised on the trigger. Sam has his eyes on G because nothing else matters more.
"G, man, come on. Stop for a second, alright? Let's talk about this."
His voice is strained with panic and worry, fear and a slight hint of anger. Placating and soothing and so fucking caring that he nearly wants to scream at his partner. Because Sam is trying to stop him, trying to prevent him from following through, and for not the first time in his life, G wants nothing more than to say 'screw it' and follow through. He doesn't want to stop.
Not for a minute. Not for a second.
"No, Sam. Leave me alone."
His partner shakes his head and starts to step forward, but Callen is ready for it. He jams the gun harder against his head and lowers his voice. All of his own anger causes it to come out hard. He needs Sam to understand that he's serious. He doesn't want him talking him down.
"I mean it. Back the fuck off and leave. me. alone."
Because stopping means giving in. Stopping is acceptance. He'd sworn that he'd never accept anything ever again. And he's not starting now.
Promises are made to be broken. He's learned that.
He's also learned that the only promises that mean anything are the ones he makes to himself.
"You know I can't do that. Besides, what do you take me for? Like hell I'm leaving you alone, G. You've got a fucking gun pointed at your head!"
Anger now, scathing and biting. Good. He can deal with anger. Other things? Not so much.
Disappointment. Fear. Worry. Care. Love.
Those are much harder.
Callen shakes his own head now because he doesn't want to do this. Doesn't want this talking or these looks that everyone's giving him. It makes him feel weak and it makes him feel guilty.
He doesn't like it.
"And you're not hearing me. Walk away, right now."
"Damn it, Sam, walk away!"
"No fucking way, G. Not ever."
Frustrating and irritating, always able to get under his skin. The exchange is almost laughable, familiar and safe because it's almost like usual. But this time it's different, because there's more at stake. And they both know it. And despite the small warmth that he feels at his partners' unwillingness to leave him, he pushes it away. It's too distracting.
So he switches tactics too. Sam's not the only one who can read people.
"Sam, please. Please, just let me do this."
"Do what? Kill yourself? You want me to just walk away and let you shoot yourself." He can only describe the look on his partners' face as disbelief. "How can you expect me to do that? How could you even ask me to do that?"
Again with the guilt.
Callen feels anger wash over him, white hot, and his hand tightens on the gun. The motion also makes his finger clench tight, and the trigger is pressed slightly, though not enough for the gun to go off. His partner notices, though, even as Callen doesn't, and quickly raises his hands in a placating gesture. The anger fades from his voice, anxiety bleeding through, and he speaks desperately, trying to stop G from pulling it all the way.
"Okay, okay. Wait. Just, for one – wait. G, please, just calm down. Okay? I'm sorry."
His voice is shaking and it nearly breaks as he pleads, even going so far as to take a step back, small though it is.
"I'm sorry, G, just don't-. Don't do it. Please."
The beginning stirrings of despair and desperation are in Sam's voice and they match the ones that G is feeling. Is there a difference, really? Or are they one and the same? Like peace and war, love and hate, white and black, right and wrong. Two sides to a sword or is it one side with double edges?
Everything's jumbled up now, his own feelings and wants and needs, and Sam's are starting to bleed in. Because he knows that Sam needs him to put the gun down and he's always, always, listened to Sam when it really mattered, and it seems like one of those times. But how can he, when it conflicts with his own needs?
Or maybe he doesn't know what he needs anymore. Maybe he never did.
But he still clings to what he's doing, even though he's no longer sure of it.
Since Sam is too shaken to speak, Nate takes over, trying to diffuse the tempers that are crashing and burning in waves.
"Why are you doing this, Callen? Why now?"
It's a good question, he hates to admit. What made right now the perfect time? Why hadn't he stopped the moment he'd known that his team was in the building and could potentially find him? In retrospect, it would have been easier just to wait. He's been waiting for a while now; one more day wouldn't have made a difference. So why had he done it?
"Because I wanted to, Nate. That's why." Or is it? Maybe you'd wanted them to stop you. Damn traitorous mind.
"Do you really, Callen? Because it's a lot like giving up and you never struck me as the type."
"Maybe you don't know me like you think."
"I'm getting that."
"Fuck you, Nate. You're not my priest. You don't get to judge me." His arm is starting to get heavy, even though he's held a gun for a lot longer before.
"I'm not trying to judge you, Callen. I just want you to think about what you're doing."
"I have." Liar.
"Because you can't go back."
"Do you? Do you really? Because this is your second chance and it seems like you haven't thought about that. You nearly died, Callen, and yet you survived."
"I did die, Nate. It wasn't the first time and I'm deciding the last time. So don't tell me I haven't thought about it."
He's cut off by Sam before he can continue.
"So that's it, then? There's nothing that would change your mind?"
"No." But he doesn't sound sure. And he's not anymore. Not after seeing the looks on Sam and Nate's face at his answer.
"G, please." There's no mistaking the hurt.
"I'm sorry, Sam." He's going to be damned for this.
"Don't be sorry. Be alive."
"I can't." Spoken softly because he doesn't think he could.
"Dying isn't absolution."
"I'm not looking for that."
"There's no salvation in it, G." Stay with me.
"Maybe not, but there's peace." I don't know how, Sam.
The silence left in the wake of his statement allows Nate to slide into the conversation again, an opening that G had made.
"Peace from what, Callen? What are you looking for?"
And for some reason, the question clears his mind and he's compelled to answer.
"I want it all to stop, alright? I want the sound of gunshots to stop ringing in my ears. I want to stop seeing my dead brother and for dead little girls covered in blood to stop haunting my dreams. I want to be able to walk outside without wanting to cower and hide like a child. I want to be able to breathe without tasting blood. And I want to stop seeing the fucking color red everywhere I turn! Do you get that, Nate? Do you get it? That's what I'm looking for."
Breathe. Breathe without choking. Breathe without blood. He can't.
"Can you give it to me? Can you? Because that's what I want. That's what I need."
It's gratifying to get it out, to give a voice to what he's feeling. Speaking also quiets it, his whirling mind and swerving emotions, and lets him simply breathe. And for the first time in a long time, he sees something other than red. It's like blinders being lifted from his eyes.
And with awareness, with seeing, comes an epiphany.
His finger slides away from the trigger as his stomach lurches. There had been something familiar, something threatening, looming at the back of his mind during this confrontation, and he finally understands what it is.
Because Sam is begging him, begging, and that isn't something that Sam does. But he is, he's doing it right now, just like he did four months ago when he'd held G in his arms.
It's there in his words, the desperate and broken cries that G remembers hearing through a fog of pain, and the scene is so alike, so similar, that it's hard to differentiate between the two.
Come on, G, come on. Stay with me. Don't do this to me. Stay with me, G. Come on.
Callen nearly stumbles in horror as self-disgust rises in him at the realization that he has done this to his own partner, to the one person that he'd never wanted to hurt. He's scaring him and hurting him and bringing him down to such a level that he'd beg. And it makes Callen hurt too, because he'd never wanted to become this, the person that hurts someone else willingly. But he is hurting him, he's hurting them all, because in his panic and fear and pain, he'd forgotten that he wasn't the only person in the world that could hurt.
And for the first time since he's put the gun to his head, he doesn't think he will be able to pull the trigger.
Because he finally sees what's in front of him.
Is it bright where you are
Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour
I hold secrets flame
We can watch the world devoured in its pain
"What about what I want, G? Does that matter to you at all?"
His partner's voice jerks him out of his thoughts.
"Because I want you. I want you as a partner and as a friend, to watch my back when I need it and to laugh my ass off with when we can. I want you to sleep on my couch when you can't find somewhere else you want to sleep. I want you to come to me when you need help, when you have nightmares, or if you just need to talk. I want you to feel safe with me and in my home and in my car; to feel safe enough to come to me when you just need a place to fucking sit. I want you to trust me, G, because I trust you with everything. And I want you to trust me with you because you've never trusted anyone before and I want you to start with me."
He can barely breathe because he's never heard this much passion or agony or love or care in Sam's voice before and it's making him heady with the emotional charge of it.
"I want you alive, G. I want you to want me and I need you to need me like I need you. And I need you too much to just watch you die."
He looks into brown eyes, warm and concerned yet striped with fear, and the last bit of his resolve wavers and crumbles. Because Sam has said the magic word, the one that Callen hates even as he loves it.
Needs. Sam needs him. And this is what he's been waiting for, looking for, yearning for his entire life.
Because if someone needs him, then maybe it's okay for him to need someone else.
"Please, G. Please."
It is the last please that gets him, because the broken and defeated tone of it is something he never wants to hear again. Like Sam has given up on reaching him, like he's resigned himself to watching his partner die shot five times, bleeding in his arms, dying just like before. And it makes G afraid because his partner never gives up. His partner never breaks.
But he is because of him.
Time has stopped before us
The sky cannot ignore us
No one can separate us
For we are all that is left
The echo bounces off me
The shadow lost beside me
There's no more need to pretend
Cause now I can begin again
He's not aware of what he's doing until it's already done.
The gun is lowered, safety clicked on, muzzle pointing towards the ground. And then he's holding it out to his partner wordlessly, but the gesture speaks a thousand words, and he will never forget the look of relief and thankfulness in Sam's eyes. He thinks that if he can't live for himself, then he will for him, because that look makes it all worth it.
The next thing he knows, he's on his knees, a position he'd sworn a long time ago that he'd never be in again. It's vulnerable and defeated and everything he doesn't like to feel, but the people here are not the monsters of the past. They are different because they have shown that they care and he knows that they will not hurt him.
Arms are around him, and he knows they're Sam's because he can smell his cologne, the scent soothing and calming and familiar. He's never cared to be touched, doesn't like to be trapped, but these arms are different, because they belong to Sam. They're muscular and large, strength coiled tight within, trapping his own arms to his side. And he knows why Sam is holding on with desperation, with silent fear causing him to cage the smaller man, but G doesn't try to break free because he understands that fear. He, too, is afraid of loss.
So he remains still, not moving so as to not alarm his partner, as loose as he could allow himself to be, and lets his partner hold him. Because for a brief moment, their positions are reversed, and it's the bigger man who needs to be reassured. And it makes G feel needed, feel wanted and cared for, that someone would let him be the strong one, even if it's only for a single instance in time. He used to be strong, he's not anymore, but he can pretend for a second that he's the person he once was.
He doesn't realize that he's crying until a hand brushes down his face, wiping away the few drops that had fallen. The gesture is gentle, as though he's fragile but not yet broken, and intimately sweet. It only makes him cry more, silent pain in falling rain, because it's hard not to cry he doesn't know what to do when you've always been crying.
The hand has slid around to the side of his face, palm resting just at the base of his jaw, fingers behind one ear and entwined with strands of hair. A small amount of pressure is applied, causing his head to rise, and he finds himself looking Sam in the eyes.
"Thank you, G. Thank you for trusting me."
The pressure is a little firmer now, keeping him from moving his head, and the look in Sam's eyes won't allow G's to look away.
"Now promise me. Promise me that you won't do that again. Not ever, G. Understand? Promise me."
The only thing he can do is nod, because he hears the unspoken sentiment behind the words.
"Don't give up on me," because I will not give up on you, "and I'm not gonna leave you, G." So you can't leave me.
"I promise, Sam. I promise." Because he keeps his promises, and he thinks that Sam will too.
And he realizes that he doesn't care what he's promising, can't bring himself to care, because he's never felt safer than here. Safer in this room with his partner and a shrink than he'd ever been in the places he'd taken residence, and there's something kinda fucked up about that. But he's never made sense before so really, why start now?
He wants to sink into that safety, into the security that's being offered to him. It's new and it's old and it's everything he's ever wanted but never thought he'd deserve. He wants this, maybe even more than death, and he needs it.
Need. There's that word again. Only this time, he doesn't mind because if there's anything he'd rather admit to needing, it's his partner.
He's still afraid to take it, though, afraid that as soon as he has it, it'll slip away, by force or will, just like everything else in his life. And Sam sees this, the hesitation and fear, because Sam sees everything when it comes to his partner.
"I've got you, G. I've got you."
So he lets go and falls, into those arms that are holding him so gently yet securely, and doesn't care as the world starts to fade from the edges in. He's tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of hell hounds nipping at his feet. And if someone's offering to take care of him, even if it's just for a short while, then he's going to let them. Because he thinks that if they're bothering to catch him, then they might care enough to save him.
And if anyone's capable of that, it's Sam.
It's easier just to listen to his partner, to follow his directions. He's never let him down before and he doesn't think Sam will now.
He doesn't know what to do next.
But maybe Sam does.
And that's good enough for him to close his eyes.
Is it bright where you are
Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour
I hold secrets flame
We can watch the world devoured in its pain
Fortune said it should be you.
As far as he's concerned, he's going to kick Fortune's ass black and blue. Fortune's screwed him over one too many times.
And he doesn't care what Fortune said.
Because Sam said that he wanted him to live. That he wanted to take care of him. That he needed G and cared about him too much to let him die.
So if it's alright with Fortune, he'd much rather listen to what Sam said.
It's a hell of a lot more comforting.
When he wakes, it's just beginning to darken outside and he knows that hours have passed since this morning. Everything floods back in a sudden rush because the events of the morning are all memories now and they join the others in his head that he cannot forget. But he forces them back because they make his head hurt and he has the feeling that he needs to be focused for the conversation certain people will want to have.
He glances around the room, surprised to find that the only other person besides himself is Sam, sitting in a chair across from the couch he's lying on. He doesn't know how he got there but he's assuming that Sam and Nate (or maybe Sam by himself) carried him there. They'd probably also sent the others' home, knowing that Callen wouldn't like a lot of people hovering around when he woke.
They're right. But he's going to have to resign himself to a lot of hovering after this from everybody. His partner will be the worst though. But he thinks that he can live with that because he knows it'll be coming.
He doesn't feel bitter like he'd thought he would, at being stopped from killing himself.
Instead, he just feels lost.
Like everything he'd been doing had been leading up to that moment, to the peace he knew the action would bring, and now that it's been taken away, since he'd allowed it to be taken away, he doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know how to make it to the end of every day. He feels disconnected, out of touch, a little too far out to be drawn back in.
So he's hoping that someone else will pull him along until he gets a clue on what to do.
"-allen. Callen. Callen!"
He's snapped out of his thoughts, blinking as he focuses his eyes on the figure standing by the chair that houses his partner. Nate was the one calling him and he's wondering in confusion exactly when the shrink had entered the room. He could have sworn he wasn't there a few moments ago.
The thought is confirmed a few seconds later when Nate answers his unspoken question.
"I just came in, Callen. I was trying to get your attention but you seemed a little…out of it. Are you okay?"
It's almost an absurd question but it's a normal one and it sets Callen at ease, allowing him to relax a little. He'd been feeling rather tense since he'd woken up, dreading the conversation he's going to have to have, with both Sam and Nate, obviously. Talking isn't his strong point. It feels a little too much like complaining; something that he'd learned people weren't too fond of, and unnecessary. But he's not getting out of it, he knows that, and it's better to just rip the bandage off all at once.
"Yeah, Nate. I'm just…tired, that's all. I'm good, though."
It's a lie and they all know it, but since the question had been rather obvious to begin with, they mutually decide to just let it go.
Sam is making G nervous, though, because he hasn't a single thing since Callen woke up, and that's not like Sam. His partner is a naturally silent person, especially for someone so big, capable of stealthy movements and quiet disappearances. He'd be perfect for the CIA, just the kind of spook they'd like. Yet for all his silence, he likes to talk; not brainless chatter but intellectual conversation, because surprisingly, Callen is the quiet one when it comes to speech. Sam is usually the one to fill their silences, and G likes to hear his partner talk. He has a soothing voice.
Sam reminds G of a panther, smooth and sleek yet deceptively powerful, in both mind and body. And his voice is like the growl heard deep in the hunt, the low tone of a target soon to be dead. Protective, too, but especially when it comes to Callen.
But Sam hasn't said a thing, and it's making G nervous. Because when you can no longer hear the footfalls in the dirt, fear; fear for your life because it means you're being hunted. That's what it reminds him of.
And it's making him nervous, because his partner is unreadable right now and that's such a strange thing to G.
Sam stands from his chair suddenly and at the movement, Callen flinches violently before he can stop himself. The entire room froze, nobody moving, and he tries to calm himself down even as his breath continues to pick up. He glances at his partner, hardly daring to look him in the eye, and sees the tension in his frame, but can't stop himself from feeling afraid. He's never been afraid of his partner or intimidated, despite Sam's larger build and ability to be stronger than Callen any day, but he can't help it now. It's instinctual and reflexive and not within his control.
He watches Sam take a deep breath and shouts inwardly as he steps forward.
And the flinch is worse than before because it's accompanied by a push, as Callen shoves himself back from his partner into the couch he's sitting on, one arm raised as he ducks his head into the shelter it provides. It's an action he does without thinking but he can't stop himself even as he knows that he's not in any danger. There's anger in Sam's body and he recognizes that, and reacts accordingly, because anger (especially deserved) is never good.
Sam stops moving instantly, eyes locked on G, but can't stop his own flinch of shock and pain at his partners' reaction. Nate has thrown his own arm into Sam's path, blocking him from any further movement as his narrowed eyes focus on Callen. And they both wait for him to calm himself.
But G is on the verge of hyperventilating, his chest beginning to ache with the desperate heaves of his lungs. He hasn't had a panic attack in years but he remembers that this is what it felt like, and he tries vainly to calm himself. It's like trying to breathe through a straw and the gasping of his breath in his ears is beginning to mix with gunshots in the air fists hitting flesh. And even through his panic, Callen wants to scream, because this is exactly what he couldn't take anymore. This is what he wants to escape.
Because this panic and helplessness and childhood demons that are coming back to haunt him, are mixing with the nightmares of today, and he's finding that breathing is becoming harder than living.
There's no sense in his panic, no sense in his fear, and in some part of his mind, he cannot believe he'd just flinched from his partner, his partner, the one person he knows would never, could never, isn't, wasn't capable of hurting him.
Especially after today. Especially after what they've promised each other.
It is the reminder of said promises that begins to calm his breathing, allowing his chest to relax and lungs fill. When he has his breath back and his hands have stopped shaking, he looks up at the two men that are watching him carefully. Sam still looks upset, though, and G can't stand that look because it wasn't his fault that G had issues.
"I'm sorry, Sam, I didn't-"
"Stop apologizing. You've got nothing to be sorry for."
At least Sam is talking now. That's somewhat encouraging.
There's a short silence before Nate breaks it.
"That's been happening a lot lately, hasn't it?"
He nearly lies before he stops himself, knowing that he can't keep this hidden anymore. It's not doing him any good, keeping quiet, and maybe talking will help make them stop.
He's also fairly sure that if he'd lied, Sam would explode before he could get the first lie out.
He runs a head over his hand so familiar and lets out a sigh that starts somewhere down in his stomach, before nodding.
"Yeah, it has."
"Anything other than panic attacks?"
"You mean like insomnia, nightmares, phantom pains, hallucinations and flashbacks? Oh, and let's not forget the gun to my head."
Judging by the looks on their faces, it's too soon to joke about it. He's not even sure why he had, it'd slipped out before he'd thought about it.
"Sorry. I just-sorry."
"What did I tell you about apologizing, G?"
The reply is somewhat forced, only making G feel worse. But he lets it slide because it's clearly what Sam wants and G doesn't think he's in any position to do anything other than acquiesce, considering what he's put his partner through lately. Nate clearing his throat is an attempt to bring them back to the original question and Callen forces himself to take this seriously. These two men are willingly helping him and he needs to do this, for them.
He takes a deep breathe and lets it out, feeling some strange bit of confidence in the motion. He takes a leap then, and jumps on the subject nobody really wants to discuss, even though they all know they have to. And he'll take the blame for bringing it up because if he doesn't say it now, he'll never be able to.
G has never told another soul his secrets or innermost feelings. There's never been anyone to tell, or that he trusted enough to talk to. But he thinks he trusts these two men, Nate and Sam, and if they're going to help him, they need to know.
Even if the truth might make Sam never talk to him again.
And even though he wouldn't be okay with that, he'd have that little bit of security that his partner had given him, because G had known from the start that it might only be temporary.
"It wasn't the first time."
It's Nate who asks the question.
"First time for what?"
Callen forces himself to answer. He's come this far, he owes them this.
"The first that I've tried to kill myself."
And even though they knew it was coming, they can't hide the collective flinch, and Sam is the one who picks up the questioning.
"How many times, G?"
But he's already shaking his head. It's not that he doesn't want to answer, it's that he doesn't really have one.
"I don't…I don't know. Just-Look, this was the only time that I really came close. That's why I'm telling you. But I, I can't…I just can't."
"Okay. That's okay. It's good that you told us. That's a start." It's the shrink voice that he's hearing from Nate but it's better than hearing Sam. He's not sure he could handle that right now. Hell, he can barely look at his partner.
His partner isn't letting up, though.
"Who hurt you, G?"
Too many, Sam. Too many, and for no reason other than they could.
He doesn't say it. He can't.
"Who hurt you so much that you'd rather be dead than alive?"
Stop, Sam. Don't go there. Please.
Again, he's silent.
"Who hurt you so bad that you can't even talk to us? To me?"
It's said in such a pained tone that G can't help but feel it, feel how Sam is hurting.
And it's enough to make him crack, bleeding into a dozen scars that never healed because he didn't take the time to let them.
So he tells them. He tells them about the foster families, about the people who hurt him, hit him, broke him in so many ways that he never knew that things could be different. He tells them about Jason two deaths in one place, two different kinds with two different faces and the moment where he finally lost his faith. And he tells them about the nightmares and the flashbacks and everything that's been slowly driving him crazy over the past four months.
He ignores the look in Sam's eyes, of seething rage and burning promises, because as scary as it is, he knows it's not directed at him. Because Sam has vengeance hollowing his eyes, protective retribution of promised pain to those who'd dared to hurt his partner, and it makes him think of the panther again.
And he allows that thought to comfort him because it always had before, ever since he'd first seen the graceful animal that lurked behind his partner's eyes.
When he's done, he feels tired, drained, on the verge of falling apart and completely exposed. And he doesn't like the feeling one single bit but he can't make it disappear. He doesn't want sympathy or pity or anything that makes him feel weak, the pathetic little orphan that's never been loved.
He feels cold.
So he wraps his arms around himself, not realizing the defensive yet self-protective gesture he's signaling, and tells himself that it's going to be okay; that he's no longer a kid, no one can hurt him, he's safe now.
But then Sam is there, just like before, saying exactly what he needs to hear and wrapping his arms securely around him.
"I've got you, G. I've got you."
And he finds himself hoping that Sam never lets go.
It's the end of the day again, and though he hadn't thought he'd be here for this one, he's glad that he is.
He'd told them a lot, more than he ever thought he could admit to them, but it was enough. It actually had helped, even if Callen still didn't buy into the whole idea of therapy. But he never has and doesn't think that's something that'll change.
He keeps some secrets to himself, though. He can't bring himself to say them, to admit that they are real, and thinks that Nate and Sam are going to have to be content with what he's told them, for now. Maybe he'll spill all of them someday. But someday is not this day.
He has a feeling that Sam knows G isn't telling them everything. He hasn't said anything though. And G thinks it might be because Sam can't handle any more secrets today, because the ones' he's already heard have his shoulders tightening and fists clenching in suppressed anger.
G also knows that if anything's going to happen between himself and Sam, because there is something between them, some kind of attraction that he knows Sam has felt also, they're going to have to talk. And everything will need to come out in the open.
Because there are some things that lovers should know, secrets that G hasn't told yet, and though he hates what they will do to Sam, he needs to get them out, not just for his (potential) lover, but for himself.
Sometimes the only way to silence the memories is to give them a voice.
Even if that voice is a scream.
Two little girls dressed in red twirl, laughing and skipping their way down the street, their blonde ringlets bouncing with their motions. They swing their arms in glee, playful whispers floating on the breeze, and it's all he can do to strain and hear what they say.
There's a message here, a lesson to be learned, and everything will soon be clear.
The two girls stop in front of him, airy voices light on the breeze and now he can hear what they're saying.
"Silly boy," they whisper, "making us come back. Haven't you been paying attention? We don't want you."
They smile at him, eyes bright and alive, and lean in as one.
"You already belong to someone. That would be stealing."
They take a step back, one, two, and giggle.
"And stealing is wrong."
They turn and skip, hop-jump-step, back down the street they'd come from. And he hears them singing a single song. It floats back to him and he smiles at what he hears.
Picking up the roses
Picking up the roses
We all jump up!
They stop at the end and turn to wave. They're side by side, two little girls with bright green eyes, and now they're dressed in blue.
The color of healing, peace, patience, and happiness.
Because he understands now that he'd gotten the message wrong.
Falling down doesn't always mean that it's the end. Not always. It means that you have to trust in someone other than yourself to help you pick up the pieces, even when you don't think you can.
And isn't that the greatest sense of trust? Falling with no hope of catching yourself because you know that someone else will do it for you?
That's why he trusts Sam.
Because he's already proven that he can catch G, in his darkest hour, on his brightest day, and isn't afraid to protect him or save him. G also knows that if he allows Sam to love him, he couldn't ask for a better person than someone he already trusts, to hold his heart.
And what could he want or need more than that?
"Bottom line is, even if you see 'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does.
So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are.
You'll see what I mean."
- Whistler, Becoming, Part One; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Two.
// End fic.
There are three different sets of lyrics in this story.
The first is in the beginning. Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The second set starts with these lyrics: "Take a breath, take it deep". This song is Russian Roulette by Rihanna.
The third set starts with these: "Send a heartbeat to". This is an amazing song by The Smashing Pumpkins, titled The Beginning is the End is the Beginning.
Read and review. Please? I'd appreciate it.