Well, I finally finished. I have learned so much from the critiques and havebeen encouraged by all the reviews. It has been so much fun to have a place where even amateurs can write.I hope to have another break omeday to try this again (maybe a sequel or something new)but even if this is it, it has been an amazing experience. Thank you to all the readers. A special thanks to Gabi for keeping me going at times when I was close to giving up.

CHAPTER 22 - Return to the Nest

Hetty called and informed Sam of the committee's decision to reinstate Callen as senior agent. As soon as the FBI took the suspect into custody, the team jumped in the Challenger and raced back across town to the hospital. Hetty was sitting in one of the vinyl chairs in Callen's room, watching him sleep, when the door flew open. She watched as Kensi, Sam and Deeks fell all over each other trying to be the first in the door. Kensi won, of course. "Does he know?" she blurted out.

Hetty put her finger to her lips. "Shhh. Miss Blye, Mr. Hanna, Mr. Deeks. This is a hospital. Please tell me the three of you did not just run through the halls of this building." Sam's gaze skirted around the room, avoiding Hetty's stare. Kensi and Deeks pointed at each other. Hetty puckered her lips in an attempt to suppress a smile. "Yes he knows."

Sam immediately claimed his position, standing at Callen's side, with his hand resting on his partner's shoulder. Deeks and Kensi took a seat on the couch. Sam stood guard, watching Callen sleep, while the others talked quietly. The tension of the past few days had dissolved and now they could focus on getting Callen better. Everyone was eager for him to wake up so he could take part in their celebration.

A while later, Callen moved, ever so slightly and conversation ceased. Hetty, Kensi and Deeks all rose to their feet and came closer to the bedside. All eyes now on Callen, they waited with anticipation and then watched as he shifted his right hip, grimacing from the pain it caused. A few seconds later, his whole body flinched and his breath hitched.

"Sam?" Callen said in a soft, raspy voice, his eyes still closed.

"Yes, G?"

"You know I love you like a brother"… Callen paused to swallow and Sam moved in a little closer. … "but you gotta stop touching me."

Sam grinned and removed his hand that had been resting on his partner's shoulder. Callen was obviously still very weak and experiencing a lot of pain, but his onlookers were relieved to see the return of that old familiar, independent nature (which Sam would have translated as stubbornness.) Callen opened his eyes. Trying to focus, he blinked slowly a few times. Kensi stepped in closer to the bed. "Hey, there you are."

"It's about time," Sam said, trying his best to sound put out.

Callen squinted up at Sam and then scanned the room, making eye contact with each person at his bedside. "What? Am I dying or something? They called in the family?" he asked groggily.

Sam spat. "Fine, grumpy. We'll just leave."

Just then, Monica entered the room. She placed a hypodermic needle on the bedside table and, as usual, Callen's eyes fixed on it. "Sorry, baby," Monica said with sincerity. "It's that time again."

Callen closed his eyes, let out a little sigh, and then turned his head away from her. After a brief pause, he initiated the slow and painful task of turning over onto his left side. Sam instinctively reached and grasped his arm to assist to which Callen mumbled, "You're touching me again."

"OK, hard head. Not touching you." Sam let go, knowing that his partner would not be able to turn over on his own, but glad to see him putting up a fight. Just as suspected, Callen quickly conceded and accepted Sam's help. Even with assistance, turning his tired and sore body caused a few pained expressions and some grunts and groans.

Callen was finally positioned on his left side, facing Sam, and Monica pulled the covers down. Realizing that the patient was more alert than before and that everyone was hovered around, Monica asked, "Would you like me to ask your guests to step out for a minute?"

Still trying to get his breath, Callen responded softly, "You can ask. … But they won't leave."

Monica smiled and then proceeded to open up the back of his hospital gown and lower the waistband of the boxers. When she pulled off the Band-aid that remained from the last injection, Callen flinched.

"Come on G." Sam teased. "She hasn't even done anything yet." Callen turned his head, burying his face in the mattress, preparing himself for what came next.

The nurse swabbed Callen's hip with alcohol. "Hopefully you won't have to receive many more injections. We're running out of places to stick you on this right hip." After a brief pause, "There's going to be a little stick." The needle was popped into his flesh and Callen's breath hitched. They heard a muffled hiss as the medicine began to enter his body.

"I know," Monica said, still slowly depressing the plunger of the syringe. "Burns like crazy, doesn't it? Just take a deep breath and let it out slowly."

"Relax, G.," Sam said, still standing over his partner like a mother hen.

When the syringe was emptied, the nurse stepped away to dispose of the needle. "Whoa!" Kensi exclaimed while looking down at Callen's exposed hip. The others also focused on the bruising that had become even darker and more defined than the day before.

Deeks scrunched up his face. "Ouch!"

"Now you can even see the distinct outline of the barrel," Kensi remarked.

Sam shook his head. "Don't think he'll be carrying his SIG on that side for a while."

"Maybe not ever," Deeks added. "Remind me never to fall on my weapon."

As Monica was preparing to place a Band-aid on the injection site, Callen turned his head to the right, trying to look behind him. "Are you all staring at my butt? Hetty, make them stop."

"Oh, shut up," Sam said casually.

"Hetty. They're looking at my butt. Isn't this like sexual harassment or something?"

Sam snorted, "It might be if there was something sexual about your skinny, white butt."

"Hetty, do you hear what I put up with? I want a new partner."

"Not happening, Agent Callen," she said in an authoritative tone.

After Monica had pulled up the waistband of Callen's underwear, he began to try to maneuver himself onto his back; once again, initially refusing Sam's help and then forced to accept it. With the sedative already taking affect, Sam had to recruit Deeks' help as well.

Monica took Callen's temperature and then placed the blood pressure cuff on his arm. "How is he doing?" Hetty asked.

"Well, he is still running a temp but it is down slightly." Callen was now beginning to feel the "floating" effect of the sedative. Monica continued while removing the cuff from his arm. "Besides the fever, the doctor is concerned that he still is not eating or drinking and his kidneys have not functioned."

Hetty sighed deeply. Her tone was now firm. "Mr. Callen. Do I understand her correctly? You are still refusing to eat or drink? How do you ever expect to regain your strength without proper nourishment?" Callen frowned and looked down like a scolded little boy.

Sam chimed in, "Yeah, G. I thought you hated hospitals. Sounds like you plan to stay here for a while."

Callen lowered his head even further and mumbled, "I've been asleep."

There was a pause. Then suddenly, the team sprang into action. Sam reached down and yanked the blanket back up to Callen's waist. "You're not asleep now." Kensi poured water into a Styrofoam cup and handed it across to Sam. Deeks fumbled with the control buttons on the bedrail. The head of the bed lowered just a bit and then quickly began rising. The sudden shift in position caused Callen to startle and the top of his gown to slide off of his left shoulder. His rate of breathing increased and his eyebrows went up, stunned by having the head of his bed raised without notice and the sudden flurry around him.

"Mr. Deeks," Hetty said. "This is a hospital bed, not an amusement park ride."

"Sorry, Callen."

The nurse looked up from her clipboard and smiled with amusement at the burst of energy in the room. Kensi opened up a container of Jell-O that she had been eyeing. Callen looked around. There stood all three team members: one just staring with anticipation, one offering him a cup of water, and one equipped with Jell-O and spoon.

"Come on, G.," Sam said impatiently. "You gotta drink up so you can pee and get out of this place."

Callen hesitantly reached for the cup with his shaky hand, took a small sip, and said softly, "Uh…guys. This is way more nurturing than I'm comfortable with."

Sam shook his head. "That's because you're not comfortable with any nurturing."

Callen's already soft voice was becoming weaker, "Seriously, Hetty. New partner. One who doesn't think he's my mother." They could all detect the fatigue creeping back in as Callen struggled to keep his eyes open.

But Sam continued the banter. "I'm the one who needs a new partner. I can't be out on the streets with someone who gets all squeamish. G, your body is riddled with so many knife wounds and bullet holes that you leak when you drink a glass of water. But you turn into a little girl at the sight of a tiny needle. That's just not rational."

Callen blinked owlishly and his speech began to slur. "Not rational? This coming from a big, tough SEAL who's afraid of clowns?"

"You just had to go there."

"I'm just sayin'." Callen's voice was fading.

"You just wait till you are well enough to get outta here. I'm gonna whip your cocky, little…"

"I'm not afraid of you," Callen mumbled. His eyes were almost closed.

"Oh, I forgot. G. Callen's not afraid of anything. Oh, yeah, except needles."

"And Hetty," Callen whispered as his eyes slid shut and he drifted off to sleep.

This brought a smile to everyone in the room, including Hetty, who was still a little perturbed at Callen for his refusal to eat and drink. But she knew, deep down, that this independent nature was how he had survived all these years. She would just have to wait until he was awake again and take one of her two usual approaches when dealing with her obstinate senior agent: talk him into thinking it was his idea or make some outlandish threat. In any case, Hetty knew that despite his stubborn protests, the team would be right by his side through his recovery.

Sam took the cup from his partner's limp hand and handed it back across to Kensi. Monica checked Callen's IV, picked up her clipboard, and exited the room. Hetty returned to her chair and Kensi and Deeks found their places on the couch.

Sam waited until he was sure Callen was sleeping soundly, and then pulled the gown back up over his shoulder. Sam's massive fingers gently arranged the top of the gown and straightened the covers, as if tending to a small child. Then he took a long cleansing breath, paused, and rested the palm of his hand on his partner's left shoulder. Kensi and Deeks exchanged smiles. They knew that Sam would keep his vigil until Callen's eyes opened again. And then the ex SEAL would step into his tough guy role and the bantering would pick up where it left off.

The room was suddenly quiet except for the low hum of the IV machine and Callen's soft, shallow breathing. It was as if everyone had been swept away in thought. For the first time in days, it felt safe to turn their attention inward and truly reflect on what they had; what was almost lost. Hetty smiled with contentment. At least for now, all her little birds had safely returned to the nest.

The End