Title: Come in from the Cold
Author: dannica webb
Fandom: NCIS: LA
Status: Complete; short story
Warnings: Strong language.
Spoilers: No specific time setting; references Legend II
Summary: G. Callen does not have pets.
AN: 2010 NCIS: LA Exchange gift for SaharraShadow, prompt was "Callen gets a dog somehow. The dog decides Callen needs a mate to help with keeping him safe and it knows just who it wants for the job." Thanks to Hanne (ncislove) for graciously beta-ing the first half.
G. Callen does not have pets.
He does not have possessions, either, other than the sleeping pad he carries from short-lease apartment to short-lease house to extended-stay motel room and occasionally to headquarters and sometimes to Sam's place, even though Sam insists he take the couch or the bed when he stays over. And if the sleeping pad were gone one day, he'd be okay with it. He's not attached. It's what makes him really, really, really good at his job.
He tries to explain this to the border collie the fourth night she shows up on the porch of the place he started renting last week, all soft black and white fur and doe eyes and wagging tongue. He's sitting outside in a rocking chair in full view of the street before he goes in to sleep because he had another argument with Nate today over being paranoid about exposure. He's not, goddamnit. It's only he was shot in the middle of the street in broad freaking daylight and, well, anyone would prefer the comfort - however flimsy - of walls and windows and doors. But Nate sufficiently pissed him off so now he's there. Sitting.
Outside. In the cold. With Lassie's evil twin.
The gentle eyes bore into his for a long, quiet moment after he's run out of excuses, but it's when the dog drops her gaze and turns away that he finally gives in.
"All right." It's defeated and he doesn't expect her to listen but her ears perk up and she turns around anyway. "I'll bring you some food." She drops back on her haunches expectantly. "But you're not coming inside," he warns over his shoulder as he goes in to get a bowl. Her stare follows him in, burning against his retreating form. He feels as though he's been judged and found wanting.
He tries not to think about it when he goes and buys kibble and puts out another bowl the next night or the next until Sam casually questions the fact that it's been three weeks and Callen hasn't moved again or even stayed over at headquarters or Sam's place. Callen can practically hear the accusations of nesting or, God forbid, settling down fighting to make their way past Sam's lips. To his credit, Sam manages to avoid lacing the question with too much sarcasm.
Bullshit. Sam doesn't casually question anything and he knows Callen knows this, so Callen just cuts his eyes and makes an off the cuff non-answer and Kensi spares a tired glare for both of them, then walks away, probably to make another complaint to Hetty about their childish antics.
He manages to ignore the way Sam's curiosity follows him around everywhere for days afterward, the way it always does when Sam is worried about him or thinks he's hiding something. Sometimes it's heavy, sometimes he feels choked under the weight of it, because Sam loves his friends and he loves hard and Callen's never quite sure what to do with so much well-meant concern. But he doesn't have to face the big overarching questions yet because after two weeks, Sam gives up on getting an answer and seems to accept that Callen has merely finally found a decent apartment and Callen is perfectly happy to let him think whatever he wants if it'll get Sam to stop wondering.
The night the dog, who he's come to think of simply as Dog, is first allowed into the house, there's a huge thunderstorm and it's raining and cold and wet and he can hear the muffled whimpers from where she's sitting underneath the window in the living room. He tells himself it's the kind thing to do and she won't stay long, tells himself he's only giving her a bath because the smell of wet dog makes him feel a little sick. But she's so sweet-tempered and patient during the whole thing that he finds himself letting her hop up on the bed once she's dry.
He refuses to admit out loud, even to himself, that he kind of takes comfort in the warmth.
It's the longest he's lived in one place in his entire life. The three months have felt like an eternity when Hetty finally calls him into her office. Her presence is, as always, a little unnerving; he knows it's irrational but he has a guilty conscience where she is concerned. He's forever waiting for her to chastise him for some wrongdoing he's not even sure he's committed yet.
She's not there to prove her omniscience, though, just to give him a new mission. An undercover assignment that will take him away from headquarters for a few weeks.
It's not safe for him to keep his lease in the new house in case there are any problems with his cover; Hetty will set up a crash pad for the mission and he'll have to rent a new place when he gets back. She almost catches him in his lie of omission about Dog when she asks him if it'll be a problem and he hesitates a half second before giving his usual answer.
Her curiosity and concern can be almost as stifling as Sam's.
He's dusting off the sleeping pad previously relegated to the closet and throwing the few clothes that aren't loans from the NCIS undercover wardrobe into a go bag to stash at Sam's when Dog saunters into the bedroom like she owns the place, hopping up on the bed, now stripped of any evidence of human inhabitance. The added height of the bed means she's nearly as tall as he is and she leans up to nudge insistently at his chin, her tongue darting out to lick him.
He frowns and brushes her away. "Don't go looking at me like that," he begins. "We both know these things never end well."
She keeps licking.
He sits down on the edge of the bed and she rolls over on her back, her head lolling back in his lap. He scratches the place on her tummy how she likes, his eyes darting furtively away for several moments before he caves and looks down at her. "Oh, alright," he says. "What do you want me to do? It's not like we have a whole lot of options here."
That's pretty much the story of how he ends up at Sam's door with more than merely his emotional baggage and a few days' change of clothes in tow.
Sam doesn't know this yet, because Dog is waiting patiently behind the tree in the far, far corner of his yard with very firm instructions to stay put until Callen comes back for her.
"You don't knock," Sam says by way of greeting when he opens the door.
Callen shrugs. "Didn't want to interrupt if you had company." Sam's spare key is stashed at the bottom of the Bag of Things He Can't Take with Him on Missions, right next to the gray Property of the U.S. Navy t-shirt he reappropriated. It's about three sizes too large for him.
"Right." Sam never has company when he knows Callen's going to be away on a mission. "Come in."
He can read the exhaustion behind the lines in Sam's face. It's right there next to the worry. He scuffs the toe of his sneaker against the doorstep, stalling.
"I need a favor."
He's unpacked the kibble and brought in Dog and explained her sleeping and eating habits and repeated about ten times how chill and low maintenance she is and he's pretty sure he's making an ass of himself and he hates it when his mouth starts going like this and won't stop but it's making him really fucking nervous how Sam's just looking at him with this indecipherable expression. He's not sure what he's even saying anymore but the words tumble out and trail off and he finally crosses his arms over his chest. "What?"
"You call it Dog?"
"Her. I call her Dog."
Sam bites the corner of his mouth as if he's trying to hold back a snicker at this sudden shift in personality. "Don't tell me she has a favorite chew toy."
Callen's arms drop to his sides and he feels something inside of him break under the weight of Sam's probably not ill-meant humor. "This was a mistake," he says and runs his hand over Dog's ears as he picks up his bag with his other hand. He doesn't make eye contact with Sam as he turns for the door.
He's almost out the front door and he's not planning to turn around because he doesn't know if he's strong enough to deal with being on such uncertain footing with Sam. To deal with opening himself up to scarier possibilities than merely teasing and ridicule.
Actually, he's pretty sure he's not strong enough, which is part of why every cell in his body wants to get away from here and run to where he can slide into someone else's skin, be someone other than G. Callen, forget G. Callen even exists.
Except he's responsible for Dog now and Dog is not following him. Dog, the traitor, has not moved an inch from Sam's side. Dog, who never whines, makes a little whining noise in the back of her throat and when Callen finally turns around, she hops up on Sam's couch and rolls over, presenting her belly to Sam for petting.
Sam's eyes are all seriousness and some emotion Callen doesn't feel ready for, and they're locked on him. "I'm sorry." Then, as quick as it came, the heaviness of the moment passes. Sam smiles one of those smiles that makes Callen want things he has no right to, and reaches down to rub Dog. "We'll be good, girl, won't we?" he says in that animal-speak voice everyone seems to be able to pull off but Callen.
Callen sets the bag down on the floor by the door and for the first time he can remember he almost feels the urge to stay. He wraps his arms over his chest again to keep from walking over and burying his fingers in Dog's fur.
He hates goodbyes, which is why he usually just drops his stuff off at Sam's when no one's home and skips town. He sees the exact moment Sam's partner spidey sense registers his itch to get out,because Sam crosses the room in a handful of strides.
"I'll see you in two weeks," Sam says, his eyes on Callen again, writing beginnings to stories Callen doesn't belong in yet.
"See you," he echoes and turns again before anything true comes out of his mouth unbidden.
Sam grabs his arm and pulls him back. Callen is the one always flying solo and he knows it kills Sam in ways he is selfishly grateful he doesn't have to endure.
"Two weeks, G." His voice is hard. "Just...don't be a hero." Don't be Callen.
He likes to think he can manage that last bit, at least. He lays his other hand on top of Sam's where it grips his forearm and Sam's hand falls away under his touch. It's all the goodbye he can bear for now and he walks out without a backward glance.
He's gone two weeks, five days, and eight hours, give or take the few hours in which Sam threatens Nate into getting him released from the hospital. And then, suddenly, without time to prepare himself, he's back on Sam's doorstep. And then he's inside Sam's house, where everything is shockingly ordinary, exactly as he left it, except maybe a little bit more welcoming because Dog jumps up and crashes into him, nearly tearing his stitches.
It startles a laugh out of him, but not out of Sam. Callen knows Sam's moods better than Nate, better even than Sam himself - not only because he's Sam's partner but also because you don't survive the foster system without being highly attuned to when people are about to blow up on you.
And Sam is working on a hair trigger.
Callen is afraid of what will happen if he steps on it, so he doesn't argue with Sam over who gets the bed and who gets the couch.
It is a week before Callen's stitches come out. During this week, Sam and Callen do not talk much. They especially do not talk about how Callen has nightmares that won't go away until Sam moves from the couch to the bed, and how sometimes Sam is still there in the morning.
They move about in companionable silence, except for a short spat about Callen accompanying Sam on Dog's walks - Sam says Callen shouldn't be moving around too much, Callen complains of cabin fever and puts on his most pitiable face until Sam gives in - and the day when Callen finds out that Sam has changed Dog's name while he was gone.
"It's better than Dog," Sam retorts smugly, the angry tension about him lifting for a fraction of a second.
Callen crosses his arms over his chest. "Max is a boy's name," he grumbles. "You're going to give her a complex."
"Yeah, like you haven't already," Sam says again, fury flaring behind his eyes, and Callen wants to ask what that's supposed to mean, maybe even demand and let some of what he's been holding inside out and discover what Sam has hidden behind that fiery wall.
Just to see what would happen.
Except, as usual these days, the terror wins out. He wants an easy battle, one with guns and bombs, the real ones, not the emotional ones he doesn't know how to handle. It's the itch to get back on familiar ground - on the drift, at work, anywhere but convalescing in close quarters with the one thing he wants most but can't have - partly 'cause he's scared and partly 'cause Sam is probably too pissed at him to even consider...well, anything. The thing he's most afraid to say out loud.
So when the week is up, he leases a short-term apartment two miles from Sam's house and three miles from headquarters. He learns how loudly Sam can disapprove without yelling or saying anything at all, and ignores how much the emotional distance pushes him into running farther. Faster.
Dog - whom he has renamed in his head Maxine, Max for short, not that he's giving in on anything, mind you - comes quietly enough, making those aggravating little whining noises.
She is worse than Sam. She refuses to come near his bed, opting for the living room, and turns her nose up at him when he comes to pet her.
So, on the third day, after isolating himself out of sheer stubbornness - what? At least he's not in denial - he answers Hetty's call with a bit more enthusiasm than might be generally warranted.
There is a mission. Which he can go on with Sam if Nate clears him.
He frowns back at Dog's - Maxine's - glare. "It's not like you want me around here anyway," he says petulantly, grabbing his go bag and heading out to the car. He lets her outside in case he's home late - she knows the way back. "It's only for the day. Not like I'll be gone forever."
She doesn't even let him give her a goodbye pet, but the sting of rejection is quickly replaced by a rush of adrenaline at the thought of a new assignment. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel and turns the radio up, and even the heavy traffic doesn't bother him.
The bullpen is empty so he heads upstairs, where Eric is waiting in front of the door. He follows Eric into the tactical room, where the rest of the team is waiting in silence. Sam is glowering.
Eric doesn't notice it, though, and punches Callen awkwardly on the shoulder in a buddy-buddy sort of way. "Hey, man, I can't believe what you pulled off last week - only you could take on four guys at once while strapped to a - "
Kensi, who apparently notices the tension, spares Callen the embarrassing attention - and Sam's inevitable outburst - by planting her heel, rather less than covertly, in Eric's instep. Eric winces and gulps, swallowing whatever else he was planning to say, and puts some maps up on the screen.
Callen shoots Kensi a grateful look, leaning back against the table and turning his eyes to the screen, mostly to avoid looking at Sam. Hetty clears her throat and begins outlining the mission, which blessedly draws his attention away from anything else.
Okay, he admits later, once the mission is over - if only to himself - in retrospect, maybe jumping in front of the bullet wasn't the best idea.
The bruise on his chest where it dented his body armor aches - along with the other ten or twelve, and the rib that's still healing from the previous mission - and all he wants to do is go home and curl up with Dog, except Dog is giving him the silent treatment right now, and Sam is pacing the tactical room like a caged animal.
An only slightly-bruised Kensi grabs Eric, whispering "Hurricane Sam" out of the corner of her mouth at his bewildered expression, and drags him indelicately through the door and down the stairs.
Callen gets lost somewhere between the rage in Sam's face and the hurt in Sam's eyes and the way he blames Callen for, quote, "getting himself shot all the time because he moves too fast for anyone to watch his goddamned back," and Nate for "not even patching him up before allowing him to be sent out again" and Hetty for "shamelessly enabling G. to get himself killed." There are more things, more angry words, but Callen's head is buzzing too loudly to let them all in. And then he's gone, just like that.
Something in Hetty's look tells Nate to run the other way. He does so quickly, in utter relief, still clearly poleaxed into silence.
Callen surprises himself when his voice breaks on the next few words. They hesitate to make their way out of his mouth. "He - he's just...under a lot of stress right now." When Callen gets hurt, Sam gets mad - but he's usually too busy playing guard dog against Nate and the others to show it. He never, ever, ever blows up. Not in front of everyone. Not threatening to leave. Not saying so many other things that Callen can't process right now.
It's a slap in the face. He's just not sure if it's the bitchslap kind or the wake up kind, having had more experience with the former than the latter.
"You know why he's angry." Hetty breaks unapologetically into his daze. It's not a question.
Callen scrubs a hand over his face in frustration. "Is this the part where you tell me he's only yelling because he loves me, Hetty? Because I'm not six years old anymore and I'm not falling for that bullshit."
She leans over and puts a hand on his arm. "There's more than one kind of anger, Mr. Callen. You ought to know Mr. Hanna is not capable of the malicious kind, not where you're concerned, at least." She pats him gently before withdrawing. "Just give it some thought. You might surprise yourself."
She turns to leave the room, but looks back at him before she disappears through the door, tapping her chin thoughtfully. "Besides, he has a point. We could save quite a bit in clothing expenses if you would stop getting shot. I believe you would benefit from a healthy dose of caution."
That elicits a short laugh from Callen, who sits down hard in the chair next to Nate's, his head in his hands.
He's ready to take a shower and crash when he gets home and put off the mess of dealing with the rollercoaster known as his not-relationship with Sam until tomorrow, at least, but Dog's not home. She's not in the yard, either, and she doesn't come when called.
She's independent and able to defend herself - it's one of the things he loves most about her - but he can't help worrying. She usually comes when called. And when he goes back inside and tries to ignore the niggling feeling of unease, images won't stop coming into his head of her getting hit by cars or falling into holes and breaking her leg.
She's not on his street - or even his block. Or the next one or the next one after that. He scours block after block in an irrepressible surge of panic, too consumed with the idea of losing her - of losing Sam - to even have the presence of mind to rebuke himself for allowing anyone in in the first place. To even question how he got himself here.
G. Callen does not have pets.
He does not have relationships, either, other than the coworkers he has to remind himself not to care so damned much about and the operations manager who is not, he repeats, not a replacement parental figure (what is there to replace, after all?) and the partner who is not supposed to be his best friend in the whole wide world and maybe even someone he'd like to spend his life with. Because G. Callen does not spend his life with people. G. Callen is alone, and okay with that. He's not attached. It's what makes him really, really, really good at his job.
Except somehow in the space between his apartment and Sam's, in the space between spending each night in a different place with a handful of throwaway possessions and caring about the fickle whims of a constant companion, in the space between colleagues and friends and people who spend all night in each others' beds to keep ghosts at bay - somehow he has forgotten to question the wisdom of putting aside his fears and uncertainties and embracing the possibility of maybes and yets and happy endings.
He reaches Sam's house without really acknowledging that that's where his feet are leading him. It started raining two blocks back and he is soaked to the skin and freezing, but Maxine is in the window and he can see the light on in Sam's bedroom and he still has the spare key in his back pocket.
Somehow in the space between that moment and this he forgets his nervousness and steps over the threshold and grabs Sam's hand and finally discovers what home might feel like against Sam's lips.