A/N: Alright so I know this was just a one-shot but I watched the episode "Haunted" the other day and this idea just came to me begging to be written down. Well not really begging, but the idea was there and I was bored so I figured why not? I've never done a tag before, it could be fun. So, because I spat this little puppy out I have decided to turn this into a series of one-shots focusing on the relationship between Hetty and Callen. It will not be updated often, just whenever the mood strikes me and they'll probably be varying in style and length. This one here is a tag to the episode "Haunted" (in case you hadn't figured that out yet XP) so please enjoy and don't forget to let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I DON'T OWN IT. XD
Director Vance's presence was unsettling at best and it worried Callen almost as much as the varying states of grief being experienced by his coworkers. When the head of a federal agency showed up following the death of one of their own it could mean only a handful of things and all of them started with some suggestion of malpractice on the part of the team and ended with some form of punishment being doled out. Yet for some reason it was not the fear of discipline that was clawing at the back of his mind. No, the feeling was one he'd not had since years before, since a time when his life was not truly his own and he was being shuffled here and there to suit the fancy of whatever adult was currently in charge of his life.
He'd learned very early on how to tell when something was going to end, when the people currently in his life were planning to walk away and leave him alone once more. If he could see it coming then it didn't hurt so much, if he'd even allowed himself to care for them in the first place. It was the same nagging feeling which had entered his head as he and Jason walked home from school for the last time, the same inexplicable dread he'd woken with the morning of Mrs. Rostov's doctor's appointment, the sixth sense which had warned him each time his life was to be uprooted again and the sudden urge to change living shapes that he'd never been able to explain to anyone. And it was back.
Vance seemed to feel it too, or something similar. The worry creased his face only when he thought no one was watching and his anger towards Keshwar's escape seemed somewhat forced at times. But Callen said nothing about it all day, choosing instead to continue as though nothing was wrong. He worked and he searched and he saved a newly widowed woman from suffering her husband's fate yet part of his mind wasn't in it, the part that was still flashing the same dull warning over and over again: Brace yourself, time's up. Move on.
Moe was the catalyst and he knew it the moment he saw Sam's face soften in the teen's presence and the director paused to watch an interview which held no value to him. And the older man's worry came out then, under the pretence of checking in on the team, confirming without saying aloud what Callen had already known. But he'd hoped he was wrong and the knowledge that he wasn't stung more than he imagined it should so he allowed himself to answer to keep it from showing, spilled certainties that the glue holding the broken souls of OSP together would be fine, that everything would be different this time around. Neither man believed it for a second.
With his ears still ringing from an explosion that probably could have been avoided and the excuses of a woman willing to sell her integrity for cash still floating around his head Callen made his way almost absentmindedly to the sanctuary of the main office building. The nagging feeling had been dulled some by the excitement of the day but not even a missive ball of fire and rising plum of black smoke could drive it completely from his mind or stop it from returning in full force the moment Hetty's office came into view.
It was the boxes which caught his eye first, sitting ominously on her desk and half-filled with books and other assorted trinkets. Her entire life at NCIS being packed away and sealed up, forever. With no idea what else to do he made his way towards her, schooling his face into a look of confusion as he walked and preparing the voice he knew he would need in his head. Challenging her would only put her on the defensive right up front and he couldn't have that, not when what he needed was answers, reasons, anything he could use to change her mind.
"Spring cleaning?" he asked her as he entered the office, tuning his tone to that of casual good spirit.
She chuckled slightly but the sound held no humour, no genuine happiness. Like his tone it was there as a distraction. She didn't plan to tell him and that knowledge hurt. "Call it what you will, Mr. Callen."
He would call it lying, lying to him, lying about leaving. But he pushed those thoughts aside, they wouldn't help him now. He needed a new approach, playing dumb had not worked as he'd hoped but perhaps dumb and observant... He allowed his eyes to take in the boxes quickly, looking for something, anything, to give her true intention away. A small black book caught his attention and he picked it up, turning it over in his hands to assure himself of its identity before speaking. "This is your diary," he told her, allowing traces of his real confusion to show through.
"Certainly is," Hetty confirmed, pulling the book from his hands with only slightly more force than was necessary.
"You don't spring clean your diary." He knew the moment the words were out of his mouth that there was an undertone of anger which he had not intended to let through but the tiny woman's mind seemed elsewhere as she continued packing her boxes without a word. She still wouldn't tell him; him of all people! This wasn't Sam, or Kensi, or Nate, or Vance, this was him! But the silence stretched on. Deflating the anger which had swollen inside of him as quickly as possible and forcing the dumb yet observant mask back in place Callen pushed forward. "Are we moving?" he asked.
"No," she replied easily, continuing with her packing in a somewhat more determined way than before.
"Are you moving?" he prompted quickly, sensing the change in her posture but she went silent again. Forcing a look of dawning comprehension was not something he really felt up to at that moment but he gave it a shot and as Hetty wasn't actually looking at him he was fairly certain it did its job. "You didn't get fired, did you?"
"Certainly not," she said shortly.
He was actually pleased to hear the insulted edge to her voice as it told him the Hetty he'd come to know so well was still very much herself but he had no time to relish the tiny victory and continued with his act swiftly. "You're not, quitting?" The emotions in this question were real, however, unlike those before it. He allowed the hurt he was feeling to show along with the worry because they were getting close now and he knew he wouldn't be able to keep everything hidden for long. Not from Hetty at least.
She looked at him, finally, but did not meet his eyes. "Uh, resigning," she corrected, "It's different."
He'd known, he really had, but hearing it said aloud was something altogether different and an odd sort of cold passed over him. She really was leaving. And the anger surged back again. "Not from where I'm standing," he retorted coldly.
Hetty's reaction was not what he expected. His boss was not one to show unneeded emotion so seeing her slam her books angrily into a box was an unusual occurrence. "Oh Mr. Callen," she said sounding almost desperate, "I've been through a lot, decades of a lot, and at some point you realize there are remote islands you'd like to visit, novels to lose yourself to, culinary delights to fatten up on..." Her voice faltered and she fell silent, gazing at him as though willing him to understand.
But he didn't. Islands and novels and culinary delights... Were these really the kinds of things people would leave their family for? But he couldn't think about that now, it would only hurt him more. "Huh," he said coldly, "Never thought I'd hear you rationalize." He wasn't sure really what he felt so he did what he'd always done when emotions became an inconvenience and focused on one he could understand and that one only. This time it was anger. "If you feel the need to blame yourself for Dom's death, Hetty, you're gonna have to stand in line."
He was not the only one who was angry now, Hetty's eyes flashed slightly and she turned to him, glaring as she spoke. "You are gravely mistaken if you think I would let the death of one agent influence my occupational choices!" she told him sharply, emphasising the point with her hands.
"But you are!" said Callen angrily, and you're leaving me, he added silently, staring into her eyes. But he knew in that moment that she didn't see that. He'd thought she would see it, he thought she would understand, but... She did not hold his gaze but looked away again and he felt his heart sink even further. "And that's one of the things I love about you," he added softly, his voice taking on a desperate edge as he played his last and most desperate card.
Hetty stiffened noticeably and turned to stare at him once more. He could see the mask slipping slightly, see the shock in her eyes and knew that if it was ever going to work, now was the time to try. He took a step forward, lifting the diary out of its box once more and holding it out to her. But it was so much more than just a book in that moment, it was everything... "Don't do this..." he whispered.
She reached out slowly, her hand just brushing his as she took the book back, took everything back and left him feeling suddenly as empty as his hands. "I'm afraid, my decision is final, Mr. Callen," she said softly.
And her words caused him to turn and walk away so quickly that he never saw the tears on Hetty's cheeks.
The end of the case should have been a time of happiness for everyone involved but while Sam and Moe were reconnecting and Kensi was cooling off in the gym Callen found himself sitting in the bullpen, staring aimlessly towards Hetty's office. Everything about the scene was backwards. People didn't pack up their things and leave, they watched him pack up his things and sent him away. They always had. But that didn't change what he felt, it didn't stop the emptiness he'd felt every time he'd been forced to move and leave everything behind from returning. He shouldn't have let himself care. He had known better but he'd let it happen anyway, he'd let himself get close and now he was paying for it. Because no one ever stayed and like the pathetic little orphan he was he could do nothing about it.
Sighing heavily he turned his attention to the paperwork lying before him, wondering vaguely if whatever Operations Manager the director found to take over would be as strict about paperwork as Hetty, or if they would let him crash on the couch after a bad day... Like today. He'd be staying here tonight, he didn't think he could handle memories of the Rostovs and how he'd lost that family too, not on top of everything.
Fingering the corner of the form before him he found his eyes drawn to the government logo along the top... The government logo... And then it hit him. He wasn't some throwaway child anymore, he was a government agent, a grown man, who was in charge of his life. He stood then, a renewed energy about him as an idea came to him. Because he could do something about it this time, he could fight for what he care about, for the people he cared about, and he could make sure that this time he wouldn't be left behind.
He was honestly surprised by how easy it was. Vance had clearly given in to the idea of finding a replacement and more than that, he had always been very good at picking pockets. That thought actually made him smile slightly as he approached Hetty's desk for the second time that day, slipping into the mask of cocky happiness he would need for this to work. And it would work, because for once he was going to make it work.
"A toast?" he said calmly, holding out the glasses and bottle of whiskey he'd gathered from his boss's private stash, "To your, uh, pending retirement?"
Hetty looked mildly surprised, as though after their previous conversation she had not expected any kind of parting gift from her senior agent. "A symbolic libation," she said, recovering herself and smiling slightly, "So you're not mad at me?"
He was tempted, just for a moment, to tell her just how angry he really was, how much the prospect of being abandon once again hurt him, but he pushed those thoughts away. Cocky happiness, that was the play right now, and nothing else. "No," he said, tuning his voice to match the new persona as he set the glasses down on the desk and took a seat across from her, "Because I realized something, I'm actually jealous of you. I mean, you get to relax, sleep in late, have long lunches with your friends, play canasta until your fingers bleed..."
Hetty raised one finger threateningly and pointed it at him over her desk. "Now you're toying with me," she told him sternly, "Save your whiskey and your breath, Vance already has my letter of resignation."
Callen could not help the tiny look of pride that worked its way on to his face at the mention of the letter. How many other people would have had the nerve to pick it from the pocket of the agency's director after all? Swiftly he pulled the envelope from his back pocket, holding it out for her to see with a smirk. "You mean this one?" he asked in a tone he was sure would get on her nerves.
This time Hetty could not hide the look of surprise which overtook her face as she stared at him. "Where did you get that?" she demanded after a moment, "Did Vance give that to you?"
Disguising the urge to laugh by looking down at the letter thoughtfully, Callen put on a slight smile. "Well not exactly," he explained calmly, fingering the corner of the paper and discreetly glancing up to study his boss's reaction, "You know you can take the kid off the street but, uh..."
Hetty's jaw tighten in a way that told him she was fighting the urge to smile as she gestured for the letter to be returned to her and Callen felt some of the emptiness in his chest dissipate at the hopeful sign.
"Did I mention the canasta?" he prodded gently.
And finally he was rewarded as a small smile worked its way on to Hetty's face. It wasn't much, but through the slightly exasperated exterior he could see traces of relief, pure and simple, playing on her face. It was that relief which brought a smile to his face as well, the first genuine smile he'd given all day as a sort of warmth rose up inside him. Holding out the letter for her to take he stood and leaned forward to pour two glasses of whiskey, risking a glance at the tiny woman once more as he did so.
"Oh hell," Hetty sighed, a smirk overtaking her features, "Better make it a double."
And Callen obliged.