The 'Tie' that Binds – Chapter 1

"G. How many of those things are you gonna eat?" Sam asked his partner who was leaned back in the passenger's seat of the Challenger.

Callen shrugged and pulled the Tootsie Pop out of his mouth with an exaggerated smack. "I don't know. How many you got?"

Sam snorted and shook his head in disbelief, watching Callen flip open the glove compartment and begin taking inventory of the candy stash.

"What?" Callen responded defensively. "We've been sitting in this car for almost four hours. I'm hungry."

"That's what you get for having only sugared up coffee for breakfast this morning."

Callen felt one of Sam's lectures coming on. (Probably pulled from a procedure manual that he had penned himself; color-coded tabs and all.) Callen scowled, stuck the orange sucker back in his mouth and turned to face the passenger's window.

"G, you've been doing this long enough to know you need to eat a healthy meal before a stakeout." Here it comes. "And besides, how long do you expect to survive on a diet consisting of mostly beer and doughnuts? You don't eat right, you don't sleep, your workouts are sporadic."

Callen glared at his partner out of the corner of his eye. "Really? You're going to go there again? I'm healthy enough to keep up with you." Callen flinched, immediately regretting his last statement. He had just practically challenged his huge, muscular partner who was possibly the fittest man in America. Not good.

Sam chuckled. "You… keep up with me?" The chuckling came harder now. "I'll tell you what. Here's a little challenge while we sit here. You get to ask me anything about my past. If I refuse to answer, or don't answer fully, I buy you steak dinner, every Friday night for a month. Then I ask you a question. If I'm not satisfied with your answer, you work out with me every day for a month."

The smaller agent continued peering toward the block they had under surveillance. "I don't know, Sam. There are some things I don't like to think about, much less talk about." He paused to bring the binoculars up to his eyes, taking a closer look at a group of men who were crossing the street. He lowered the binoculars and tried to ignore his partner staring at the back of his head.

Sensing his friend's resistance, Sam let out a snort. "Chicken."

Callen shifted in his seat, sat up a little taller and raised the bucket seat to an upright position.

Noting the sudden change in the senior agent's posture, Sam had to fight back a smile. "Look at it this way G, it'll make the time pass faster."

Callen could think of a lot of things he'd like to do to pass the time while on a marathon stakeout; answering personal questions about his past was not one of them. "Alright," he finally said. "But it's steak for two months. And I go first."


Callen hesitated, bit down on his lower lip, and then faced his opponent. Sam was sure he saw a hint of regret in his partner's eyes just before he spoke. "Okay, Sam. When you were young… did you ever get into any kind of trouble?"

"You mean did I do anything illegal?"

Callen nodded, almost apologetically.

Sam peered down at the side mirror and ran his hand over the top of his head. "I was part of a gang when I was a teenager. It wasn't so much that I went out looking for a gang to join, trying to belong or anything like that. Where I grew up… it was a matter of survival. Or at least that's what it felt like at the time."

Callen lowered his head, not quite comfortable with the vulnerability he had triggered by his question.

Sam continued. "Where I lived, you were either the aggressor or you were a victim. I did some things I'm not proud of but I was never arrested. Got out when I was seventeen."

Callen studied his partner out of the corner of his eye for a moment. "What made you get out?"

"My younger brother was killed in a drive by. He was just twelve." Sam took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It was my gang. Competition had moved in and they were flexing their muscles – marking their territory. My little brother was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Callen turned and stared at the building beside him, trying to blink away the moisture in his eyes before his teammate could notice. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I didn't know."

"Well, now you do… I had a mentor. His name was Donny Stanton. He was part of the Big Brothers organization. All I could think about was avenging my brother's death. But Donny didn't give up on me. He convinced me that I had a purpose in life and that my purpose would never be fulfilled if I didn't pull myself out of that pit I had fallen in to. I relocated, eventually joined the Navy, and you pretty much know the rest."

There was a long pause while Callen processed what he had just heard.

Sam then turned his attention to Callen. "Okay, G. My turn."

Callen squirmed.

Their little challenge was suddenly interrupted by the sound of Kensi's voice in their earwigs. "Callen? Do I have your permission to kill Deeks?"

Callen touched his earpiece. "Kenz. You'll have to run that by Hetty. I don't have the authority."

"Then I'm calling Hetty."

"Deeks. What did you do this time?" Callen asked.

"Nothing!" the young detective replied, his voice an octave too high.

The female agent proceeded to plead her case. "He's driving me crazy! He has practically ripped my car apart looking for something to eat!" Sam and Callen looked at each other and smiled. "He swears I have a package of Peanut Butter Cups somewhere in here."

"I know she does," Deeks piped up. "I can smell them. She always hides them from me just to torture me. She knows I'm starving to death."

Callen's eyes twinkled with mischief and his smile broadened. "Kensi. Sam has suckers. Want to trade partners?"

"Would you really? I'd be forever in your debt."

Callen looked at Sam with his signature crooked smirk.

"Oh, no!" Sam barked. "That is not happening." Then he glared dangerously at G and spoke where only the two of them could hear. "Don't think you're getting out of this that easily."

The senior agent's smirk was now replaced with a frown.

Kensi huffed into their earpieces. "Guys. Are we even sure we're watching the right block?"

"Kensi has a point," Deeks agreed. "This just seems too public for a weapons deal."

Callen did not respond. Sam guessed he was either sulking or desperately trying to come up with another plan for escaping the challenge question awaiting him.

The corners of Sam's lips twitched a few times before he addressed his younger coworkers. "Our Intel says Anderson's meeting someone in this area today. Just hang on you two. And try not to kill each other. We don't have time to call in for your replacements."

"Hang on how much longer?" Deeks whined. "Cause I think I have to pee."

"Deeks!" Kensi yelled, causing both Callen and Sam to jump, grabbing their now throbbing ears.

It was apparent that the communication between the two vehicles was halted for the time being. Callen sat silently, hoping Sam would drop the whole question thing. He cautiously turned his eyes toward the driver's side of the car. Sam looked like a tiger ready to pounce.

The big agent rubbed his hands together and gave his partner an eager, 'now let's get back to business' look.

Callen's shoulders sagged a little, he slumped deeper into his seat, and then let out a slow, resigned breath. "Ask away."

"Okay, G. How did you get that scar on your chin?"

"What?" Callen brought his palm to his lower jaw. "How do you even see that?"

"G. I've seen you clean shaven. And even with your beard, you have certain expressions… Well, it just shows sometimes." Several seconds passed. "You've got three minutes."

Callen shrugged. "I don't know. I fell when I was a kid," was his simple response, an obvious attempt to downplay the incident.

Not convinced, Sam quirked an eyebrow. "Two minutes and forty seven seconds."

Still nothing.

"Callen! Sam!" Kensi's voice suddenly broke the silence. "I think Anderson just passed our car. Tan pants. Dark green shirt. Carrying a briefcase."

Callen snapped to high alert. "Did you get a photo?"

"Sending it to Eric now. Wait… There are four guys right behind him. I think they're with him."

Sam and Callen simultaneously exited the car. Callen leaned back against the Challenger, crossing one foot over the other. Then he casually reached up and touched his earwig. "Where are they Kenz? We don't have eyes on them yet."

"They stopped. I think they're making sure they aren't being followed."

"Whoa!" Deeks exclaimed. "Two of these guys are ginormous! Bigger than Sam. I reeeally, reeeally hope these aren't our bad guys."

Callen's tone was now more urgent. "Eric? Talk to me."

"Working on it."

"Callen, they're headed your way," Kensi reported. "And… you're not going to believe who just showed up. Looks like Victor Westerman may be our supplier. But where are the weapons?... Callen. They all stopped in front of the third building down. Thirty-One-Seventeen… No… They're going inside."

"Yeah. I see them now," Callen said. "Eric?"

"Callen," the computer tech responded. "Positive ID on Anderson. Nothing on the others yet."

Nell's voice cut in. "Guys. The address Kensi gave is an old office building. It was purchased seven months ago by Westco Enterprises, one of Victor Westerman's questionable companies. It's been under renovation but looks like the construction was recently halted. The contractors are tied up in some legal issues over building codes and worker safety. The good news is that there shouldn't be anyone else in the building."

"Westerman didn't bring any muscle with him. Probably has the weapons stored somewhere else," Callen speculated. "Eric. Building schematics?"

"Yeah. But they're prior to renovation. We have no way of knowing what it looks like now. I can tell you that it has five stories, and four entrances: front, east side, and two in back. I've pulled up the best camera angle we have and it looks like the back entrances are blocked with a couple of industrial-size dumpsters."

Callen pushed away from the side of the car and began making quick strides toward the office building. "Kensi. You and Deeks take the side door. Sam and I will take the front. Eric, tell Hetty we need backup on standby."

"Will do. Oh… and uh… Hetty said to remind you that we need to try to bring these guys in alive. She's hoping to use them to catch the bigger fish." Even with the element of surprise on their side, Hetty's elite team of four was outnumbered. And keeping these scumbags alive was not going to make this any easier.

Kensi and Deeks made it to the side entrance. Kensi removed the tiny pack of tools from her front pocket and began working on the lock. It took less than thirty seconds and she gently turned the door knob. With their weapons now in hand, the pair stood on each side of the doorframe, and slowly pushed open the solid steel door. After quietly stepping inside, Kensi touched her ear. "We're in," she whispered. Then, like a well-rehearsed dance, she and her partner began a systematic, room-to-room search.

With his SIG drawn, Sam peered through a hole in the brown paper that covered the windows of the front doors. Callen crouched down, selected the right pick from his leather pouch, and began working free the lock. After that old familiar click, he pocketed his pick set, reached behind him, and slid his weapon from his waist holster. On Sam's signal, they slipped inside and joined in the search.

Just as the team finished clearing the front rooms, Eric notified them that backup was on the way. "Callen. LAPD is sending four uniforms. They'll be there in five. They'll be posted at both exits."

Kensi was the first to hear voices coming from a back room. She stopped, held up her index finger, and the other three team members froze in place. After a brief pause, she pointed to the last room on the left.

The team silently moved into position. When they received the message from Eric that the officers had arrived and were in place, Sam counted to three, kicked in the door, the 'federal agents' announcement was shouted, and that's when it all broke loose.

One of the men that had come with Anderson drew his gun. Sam shot him in the shoulder. The man dropped his weapon and fell to the ground. Sam kicked the gun away. Deeks wrestled one of the bad guys to the floor. While Kensi was busy fighting it out with Anderson, one of the musclemen aimed his gun at her and was fatally shot by Callen. Now, with one injured and one dead, the team was evenly matched – except for the fact that the remaining 'ginormous' guy was still in the mix. He had bolted and was on his way up the stairs with Callen hot on his trail.

Westerman grabbed the briefcase, ran from the room and began scurrying up the staircase. Sam followed, dodging a few bullets meant for him. On his way up, Sam caught a glimpse of a pistol on one of the steps; not his partner's government issued SIG so the gigantic guy G was after must have dropped it. That should help.

Deeks had succeeded in subduing his suspect and was in the process of cuffing him when he witnessed his partner take a pretty hard blow to her stomach. That's all it took for the slender female agent to step it up a notch. Anderson never saw the round kick coming that connected with the side of his head, and he now lay in a stupor while having his wrists, rather roughly, zip-tied behind him.

Kensi got to her feet and leaned over, her hands resting on her thighs, trying to catch her breath.

Deeks peered down at Anderson and shook his head in mock pity. "That'll teach you to mess with my partner."

Kensi looked up at the blonde detective and smiled.

Sam soon returned to the first floor with the briefcase and a handcuffed, and a somewhat disheveled, Westerman. "Here's another one for your collection," Sam said, shoving the suspect toward Deeks and handing the briefcase to Kensi. Then he quickly surveyed the scene. "Get these guys out of here. See if LAPD will assist with transportation." There was a sudden crash from the story above them. "This one needs an ambulance," he said, tilting his head toward the guy with the gunshot wound to the shoulder. After another loud crash from the second floor, Sam looked up at the ceiling. "I gotta go help G. He's up there with Godzilla." Sam took off toward the stairs, leaving Kensi and Deeks in charge of 'clean up.'

Sam reached the second floor just in time to see Callen being slammed against the wall, and the weapon he was holding in his left hand come flying across the room. Sam quickly concluded that his partner must have injured his dominant hand.

The bad guy spotted Sam and ran to the far end of the room to where the flooring structure was not complete. He jumped down through the opening in the floor, to the scaffold a few feet below.

Callen followed, disappearing through the opening, as well.

Sam hurried over and peered down at his partner who was now climbing down the scaffolding, struggling much more than he should be. Sam could not determine the extent of his partner's injuries from this distance, but he was not in good shape.

Hoping to get to the ground floor before the bad guy could inflict any more damage, Sam jumped to the platform of the scaffolding and then dropped to the solid floor below. He could not believe how quickly things had turned from bad to worse.

Callen was lying on the cement floor, flat on his back, with the bad guy's huge foot firmly planted on his chest. Callen's eyes were fearful, looking up at the large pipe that was about to be used to smash into his head.

Sam aimed his gun. Bang! Bang! Bang!

In the blink of an eye, the ex-Navy SEAL had met his target.

Callen lie frozen, eyes still trained on the enormous form above him, watching the man who was now clutching his chest.

The man swayed and stepped off of Callen's torso. Then he stumbled back, his massive body colliding with a beam, and he fell to the floor with a thud.

Before the agents had time to collect their thoughts, there was a loud creak above them. It was immediately followed by a slow groan of shifting metal. Then came the deafening sound of steel, sheetrock, wood, and glass crashing down on top of them. Suddenly, it felt like all of the air was sucked from the room and everything went dark.