Title: We Were Always Meant To Say Goodbye
Author: Beth Pryor
Summary: A little Thanksgiving Day story that hopefully explains Callen's aversion to female cops. There's some talk about family, too.
Disclaimer: As always, I'm just borrowing. I don't own anything, including the characters from other CBS shows who appear, however tangentially.
A/N: Feedback is always welcome, especially with contact info for questions/clarifications. The title comes from Kelly Clarkson's Already Gone.
"I'll get it," G. Callen announced as the doorbell rang, more than happy to leave the chaos of the kitchen. His kitchen. That was still so odd and so unreal. And now they had all descended upon him. Since Sam was the only one with family in the area, Kensi took the initiative to plan their own little "family dinner." His place the unanimous choice, since it was really the first time he'd lived in anything close to acceptable for such a gathering, and given his history, she wasn't sure how long he'd stay. So she'd been there since 9 am, cooking and cleaning. The others had trickled in throughout the early afternoon. Hetty, who of course had a prior commitment, sent some sort of casserole featuring a member of the squash or pumpkin family with Eric. Before G. knew it, the counters were full of food and Dom was setting the table with dishes he'd never seen before. So the doorbell was a very welcome distraction. Until he opened the door.
The sun backlit the visitor at first, casting a silhouetted shadow across the doorway but creating a glare in his face. He raised a hand to his forehead trying to shield his eyes in an attempt to focus on the figure in front of him.
"Hey, Callen," she almost whispered. He didn't need to see her any more clearly. He'd have known her voice anywhere.
He swallowed the smile that immediately rose in his throat. His first reaction was to be happy to see her, but all too quickly he remembered that he wasn't.
"Jordana," he confirmed, keeping his voice even. "What are you doing here?" He took a step backwards so she could move through the doorway. In this position, the sun no longer blinded him, but she remained in shadows.
"I just heard about the shooting," she started. "Actually, that's a lie. I heard about it three months ago, but I didn't know if I should come. So I stayed away."
He nodded, almost imperceptibly. "You're here now, though."
"I heard you were doing well, back to work, all that. So it seemed okay to check in."
He nodded again. "How'd you find the house?"
"I'm still FBI. You know that," she stated with a toss of her hair.
"I hadn't forgotten. You bring the handcuffs?"
She scoffed a little chuckle as she explained. "I'm the BAU's media liaison, G. I haven't handcuffed anyone in over two years."
"You're still a cop."
"In the most technical sense of the word." She stepped toward him and placed her hand lightly on his arm. "I didn't come to talk about me, though. I came to check on you."
"I thought you knew I was okay."
The left side of her mouth curled slightly. "So I'd been told, but I know you well enough to need to see for myself. Even now."
He finally smiled at her. "Well, you're seeing me, and I'm good."
"Does Sam agree?" She thought he looked pale, and the shadows under his eyes were a bit darker than usual. He hadn't been sleeping well; she would be willing to bet on that.
"Well, I guess I'll have to take your word for it."
"Actually, he's here."
She smiled. "Really?"
"Yeah. Thanksgiving Dinner and all."
She laughed. "You're hosting Thanksgiving Dinner? You've been a homeowner for what, a week?"
"More like a month."
"Oh, excuse me."
"I didn't actually plan it. My team decided and showed up. I have very little control over them outside of the office." He scratched his chin, considering what to do next. "Do you want to meet them?" he asked.
She knew that he didn't really mean it, and she smiled. "Why don't we take a walk around the block instead?" There was no need to impose.
He nodded and followed her out the door. They turned right at the end of the lane. When they'd covered half a block, he stopped and looked at her. "Why are you here?" he asked, sounding only slightly accusing.
"I've been in town on business, gathering some information from Don Eppes' team and their profiling techniques. We're hoping to start implementing some of what they're doing into more of the local units. His brother Charlie brings some really innovative ideas to the table that are helping the L.A. field office clear cases effectively. Word continues to travel about how much better they do their jobs than other departments. Someone finally decided to get more information for the bigger departments back east and maybe help cut down on the workload for my team," she explained.
Callen nodded. "Yeah, the math stuff. I've heard about a couple of their cases. Seems like it's been working for them."
She ran a hand through her hair, "It's actually really impressive. They're working with principles used mainly in math, physics and economics and applying them to help predict human behavior. It's definitely a more objective approach that what we use currently.
"That non serial, serial case that you guys just caught with Abby? Charlie picked up on another "non" pattern about a year ago and solved more than a dozen murders." She paused and looked over at him. "Just goes to show there might be more than one way to skin a cat, and maybe if we go at our cases from various angles, we could have better outcomes."
He nodded again. "Might be. Who pays for it, though, the mathematicians? And who pays for their counseling afterward?"
"That's an issue. And most of the people we'd be interested in using are already doing security work for NSA and Homeland Security. There would be a ton of logistics to work out. I'm just here to see how it would possibly work, though, and what it would take to start to merge some of our personnel."
He took a couple of steps away from her then pivoted and walked back. "I've always been more of a gut guy, myself." He stopped about two feet from her. "Don't know how it would work for some scientist to tell me how to run an investigation using formulas and equations."
She took another step towards him. "It's actually less crude than that, but again, that's not why I'm here to see you."
He moved so that they were almost touching. She had to lean back to look up into his face. "Oh, right. You needed to check on me."
"I spent three weeks in Prague last month, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since," she finally confessed.
Callen grinned. "Prague, huh?"
She bit her bottom lip and raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
He chuckled as he reached forward to touch her arm. "I remember Prague. All four times."
"It's different without you," she clarified. "And without an entire mission crew to debrief." She paused again and took his hand in hers. "I'm glad I didn't know about the shooting before I knew you were going to be okay."
"I'm glad you didn't have to worry." He let his fingers wrap around hers and pulled her into his chest. His chin rested securely on the top of her head.
She let him embrace her for a moment before pulling away. "Maybe we should start back. Your friends will be waiting."
"Ah, they probably haven't even missed me. I'm not really the family dinner type," he decided.
She rolled her eyes a little. "You've been here a long time; Sam's been your partner for what now? Three years?" Callen gave her one nod. "That's more than you've stayed anywhere. I know you might not be ready to admit it, but this is your family."
"Jo," he sighed. He didn't think he could handle her attempts to make him self-aware today.
"I didn't come here for that." She shrugged. "I promise I just needed to see you." They arrived back in front of his house. "I should get going, though."
"Sure you don't want to come in and meet everyone?" It wasn't like he didn't want her there; he just didn't want a lecture.
"I don't think I …" she started before Sam appeared in the doorway.
"Well, well, well," he chuckled as he sauntered down the walk. "What are you doing in our neck of the woods? Haven't seen you around here for what, a year, 18 months?" He flashed a grin as he embraced her warmly. "You staying for dinner?"
"I should be going, Sam. I stopped by to check on this guy but don't want to crash the party."
Sam looked toward Callen, and the other man shrugged. "There's plenty of food and most of the people we work with don't believe that G has ever seen a naked woman outside of an op."
Her brow scrunched into a frown. "I'm pretty sure that they're right about that."
Callen's face reddened slightly as he put his arm around her shoulder. "Hilarious, but Kensi is staring out the window, and if you leave now, I'll have to explain even more, so it's settled. You're coming in."
"I know Eli isn't your Manning of choice, but you can stay for the last game if you want," Callen declared as they all worked to clear the dishes some hours later.
Jordana glanced at her watch. "I can't. I'm already late."
"For what? It's Thanksgiving," he pointed out, calling her bluff.
"I should be getting back."
"To the hotel?"
"I'm not here alone," she revealed.
"And he didn't have Thanksgiving dinner with you? Real winner," quipped Sam as he came up behind her.
"He was working today. All this week, actually. He was going to be out here on business, and our caseload has been lighter than usual, so I decided to come with him and take care of the things I needed to do as well."
"Not even this crew has to work on Thanksgiving. What kind of gig are we talking here?" Sam asked. Callen raised an eyebrow, his curiosity piqued, too.
"He's a trauma surgeon, and he's doing some locum tenens work at UCLA over the holidays."
"So you'll be here for a while." Callen inferred.
She shook her head. "Not really. He's working from this week until after New Year's, but I have to go back to my team this weekend."
Callen nodded solemnly as she started moving slowly toward the door. "I really have to go, though. He's supposed to meet me at the hotel in less than an hour. I should call a cab."
"I'll give you a ride," offered Callen. Before she could protest, she was strapped in the front seat of his car. She directed him to the Hotel Palomar on Wilshire and he pulled into traffic. As they drove up the 405 toward Wilshire, he began his interrogation.
"So this surgeon, he's um, he's …" Callen sputtered, not used to tripping over his words like this.
"He's a good guy. He just finished six months with Doctors Without Borders and doesn't start back at Georgetown until January. He did his residency and training out here and a friend of his hadn't had a vacation in about 3 years, and he wanted to do some short-term humanitarian work. They worked it out for Brendan, that's his name, to cover for the next six weeks or so."
Callen changed lanes in preparation to exit. "So he's a philanthropic, hot shot surgeon and all, but you, he's good for you?"
She smiled. "He is. We're good. Thanks for asking."
Callen felt his face flushing again. "I thought I should make sure you're okay, too."
He exited the freeway and continued up the street to her hotel. As he pulled up to the front door, he turned toward her. "Well, here you are."
"Thanks, G. I appreciate the ride, and today was a lot of fun. Your team seems great."
Callen nodded. "We've started to come together well."
"Tell Hetty I said hello – that is if she won't reprimand you for talking to me."
"I'll test the waters before I mention your name." He looked down and realized that her hand was still clutching his. "You gonna let me have this back or are you planning to take it with you," he asked, motioning down where her hand was still entwined in his.
When she raised her eyes to his, they glistened with moisture. She quickly pressed on the inside corners by the nasal bridge to stop the flow. She sniffed, grasping for composure.
"Don't." It was the only word he could make come out.
She didn't stop. "It's just that he's," she paused, "I don't know how to explain it to you."
Callen closed his eyes briefly, pursing his lips. "Jo, you don't have to," he started.
"He's real. All the time, every day." She blurted, her eyes staring right into his. Then, dropping her gaze, she continued. "I finally realized that's what I needed, and with us, it couldn't ever really happen." He opened his mouth and she shook her head. She started again. "I couldn't ask you to do something I knew you couldn't do. You are who you are, and that can be…"
"Anyone," he interrupted.
"I was going to go with annoying, but yeah, that too." She smiled. "I loved those days, Callen. It was so exciting to pretend, but when it was over, I had this real life I had to come back to, and you…"
"Slept on some team member's couch for a month before I had to be someone else? Yeah, I'm aware." Callen shrugged his shoulders dejectedly. "I can't really, I don't really," he faltered again.
She swept her fingers lightly across the line of his jaw. "You don't have to. I'm just explaining why I had to go, why I things had to change for me. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I needed more than a couple of nights with you in some dingy little safe flat while waiting to be extracted from some assignment once or twice a year."
He nodded. "I understand that we all change, but I never expected to be like it was at the end."
"What, when you weren't the one leaving? When it wasn't on your terms?"
"Yeah." He paused. "It's hard."
She grinned a little. "I can't say it wasn't nice to give you a little of your own medicine." He smiled back, but she continued. "I hope you really do understand why things had to be completely over between us; why I couldn't even work with you anymore. Fornell has tried several times to loan me out to Leon for various projects involving you, but I just can't do it anymore. I couldn't risk falling back into that destructive pattern."
"I should go."
He nodded. "Stay safe."
She laughed. "I'd tell you the same thing, but you won't listen to me any better now than you ever did before."
"Ah, what can I say about that? I am what I am," Callen said as she collected her bag.
"I'll just leave you with one thought, G," she decided.
"You'd better be careful. She has her eye on you."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah right. I'm her boss."
She patted his hand one more time. "Like that ever matters."
"Not an option."
"Still, you'd better watch yourself."
"I think you're over reading, but whatever."
She leaned across the front seat and kissed him softly on his cheek. "Good bye, G. Be careful." She opened the car door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. She gave a small wave as she closed it behind her before walking without turning back, into the hotel lobby.
He sat there and watched her walk away, and for all that he knew, out of his life. He felt a twinge of guilt as he thought of Sam. Jo had been his best friend and most trusted partner as they both broke into the game together. Their relationship, even before it became romantic, had been tumultuous but formative, and when she'd abruptly cut off contact with him more than two years ago, he'd been shaken more than he could have ever imagined. He'd never let anyone become important enough to him that it mattered if they were gone. And when she was gone, Sam was there, and more often than not, it was his couch that Callen was sleeping on.
He put the car in gear and pulled forward to enter traffic as it struck him how right she had been. The team was his family, or at least as close as he could allow himself to have. Callen guessed he had known that for a while. He could and would let her go now. The fact that there was somewhere and someone to go home to still scared him slightly, but he realized change could actually be a good thing at times. Besides, there was still time to make it back to the house for the second half of the game, and hopefully they'd left him a piece of pumpkin pie.