The 'Tie' that Binds – Chapter 2
The next thing Sam knew, he was on his knees, crouched over, arms protectively crossed over the top of his head. It took him a couple of minutes to process what had just happened; it seemed surreal.
The dust started to settle, not only making it easier to breathe, but now light from the upper story windows was beginning to break through.
G! Sam knew that if he moved from his location, he risked causing another cave-in. But he needed to find his partner. He closed his eyes for a moment, willing his heart to stop pounding so fast and so hard.
"Callen? Sam?" Kensi's voice sounded in Sam's earpiece.
"Are you guys okay?"
"I'm good. Don't know about G. I'm about to look for him."
"He's dead. Kensi, did everyone make it out?"
"Working on it. This side of the building is still intact, though."
"Good. Tell Eric we need medics on the scene. I don't know G's condition."
"Eric's already called for help, Sam."
With most of the dust now dissipated, there was enough light filtering in for Sam to safely begin his search. He slowly made his way to where he thought he had last seen his friend, careful not disturb any remaining support structure. When he neared the other side of the room, he could hear Callen's quick, strained breathing.
Sam removed a large piece of sheetrock that was leaning against a metal post. There lay Callen, flat on his back, his blue eyes blinking up owlishly.
"Sam?" Callen's voice was weak and raspy. "What happened?"
"This section of the building caved in."
Sam knelt down beside his partner. "They're alright."
Callen began scanning Sam for injuries and his eyes narrowed when he reached his right shoulder.
Sam looked down to find a fairly large cut in his upper arm. "G. It's alright. Just needs a few stitches. I can't even feel it. How 'bout you? Where are you hurt?"
Callen closed his eyes. "I'm good… Did anyone put eyes on the weapons?"
"There wasn't time to search the upper floors. And I doubt Westerman is down there spilling his dirty little secrets. So we still don't know where he has them stored."
Callen squeezed his eyes shut for several seconds, swiped his lips with his tongue, and then continued. "We need to secure the building… until we know for sure they're not here."
Sam touched his earpiece. "Kensi."
"Sam," she responded quickly. "Did you find Callen?"
"Yeah. He's a little banged up. But looks like he'll be okay."
"Kensi. Tell Hetty that we're going to need the building secured until a team can do a thorough search. Callen isn't convinced the weapons are here but we can't take a chance on them getting into the wrong hands. Also, let the search team know they should find a pistol, belonging to one of our suspects, on the stairs. Don't want some little kid prowling around later and finding it."
"I'll tell Hetty."
Callen signaled his partner by pointing at himself.
"Oh," Sam added. "And tell them that one of our agents lost his service weapon somewhere in this mess."
"Yeah. Last saw it on the second floor, but no telling where it is now."
"Okay. Hang in there guys. The fire department and paramedics are on their way."
Callen suddenly sucked in a quick breath and grimaced.
Sam shifted to the side a few inches, allowing more light to reach his partner's body.
Callen was covered with slivers of glass. His forearms and hands were smeared with blood and his blue button-up shirt was bloody and torn and missing the first few buttons. His right arm was draped across his stomach. He had scrapes and cuts on his face and a gash above his right eyebrow. It was hard to tell which injuries were sustained from the building collapse and which ones were from the beating he'd endured earlier. Pain once again flashed across his face.
"Talk to me, G. Where do you hurt?"
Callen turned his head, avoiding his partner's gaze.
"Alright," Sam warned. "You know you're headed to the hospital when they get us out of here. You could save yourself a lot of poking and prodding from the doctors if you'd go ahead and tell me."
The big guy just had to mention the hospital. With his head still turned to the side, Callen frowned, looking more like a pouting child than a highly-trained government agent.
It was all Sam could do to keep from smiling. "Did you hit your head?" Sam asked.
Callen shook his head.
Callen glanced up at Sam and then looked away.
"Your right hand?"
Sam noted that the knuckles on Callen's left hand were raw and bloody as opposed to the skin on the back of his right hand that was virtually untouched. He concluded that Callen must have sustained the broken arm early in the fight.
Sam continued with his inquiry into his partner's injuries. "Do you have some broken ribs?"
Callen nodded in response.
"Anything else besides generally feeling like you've been used for a punching bag?"
Callen looked back at Sam and shook his head.
"Now. See? Was that so hard?" But in reality, Sam knew that it was that hard. G Callen hated being made over more than anyone he had ever known.
The computer tech cut in for an update. "Sam?"
"Fire department and EMS are on the scene. They're trying to get hold of the contractor so they can determine the safest way to get you two out. Sam, Hetty wants to know Callen's status."
Just when Sam was about to answer, Callen grimaced and brought his left hand up behind his head. Bringing his hand down, his eyes narrowed as he stared at the fresh blood on his palm.
"Yeah, Eric," Sam responded. "Tell Hetty it looks like he's going to need to be patched up. But he's conscious and alert and as stubborn as ever."
Callen was wiping his hand on the front of his shirt when Sam finished his conversation with Eric.
"G," Sam said gruffly and Callen's eyes met his. "I thought you said you didn't hit your head."
Callen's eyebrows knitted together. "I didn't."
Sam firmly grasped Callen's forearm and pulled it up so that the bloody palm was in front of G's face. "Really? What caused this, then?" he asked, squeezing his partner's arm just a little tighter.
Callen's already strained breathing came a little faster. "The pipe," he replied softly while still looking up at Sam.
"The pipe the suspect was holding when I shot him?" Sam asked.
Callen nodded once.
"So he had already wacked you in the head before I got down here?"
Callen just stared up at Sam.
Then it occurred to Sam that this was why G was flat on his back so quickly after climbing down the scaffold; the bad guy had slugged him in the back of the head. Sam shook his head and released his grip of his partner's forearm. "Great. Another head injury," he grumbled.
Callen set his jaw. "I don't have a concussion," he replied, and then immediately winced from a sudden stabbing pain in his back.
Sam had known G long enough to recognize that he was attempting to mask the intense pain he was experiencing. The ex-SEAL suspected it would be some time before rescuers would reach them and he felt somewhat helpless that he had no supplies or medicines to help alleviate his partner's discomfort. The best he could do was to keep the dialog and banter going between them until help arrived; keeping Callen focused, in case he was, in fact, suffering from head trauma and, hopefully, offering a distraction from the pain.
Sam's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sound of Eric's voice in his earpiece. "Sam. They found the contractor. He was on a job just a few miles away. He's going to drop by his office and pick up the blueprints and then head your way. He said it would speed things up if you could give us any details that would help him pinpoint your location."
Sam rose to his feet. "Yeah, we're on the first floor, west side, back room." When Sam stepped away to survey the area, he noticed Callen's body tense. Then G weakly attempted to shift his weight. "Okay, Eric," Sam continued. "We are about sixty feet from the back and looks like twelve feet or so from the west wall."
"That's good, Sam. I'll pass that along. How are you guys holding up?"
Sam looked over to find his partner in obvious discomfort and trying to reposition himself. "Just need to get G out of here," Sam said quietly.
"I know Sam. We're working on it. I'll keep you updated."
By the time Sam had resumed his kneeling position at his partner's left side, Callen had begun to squirm even more, causing the wound on his forehead to bleed.
"Stop moving around," Sam warned.
Callen tried to push himself up using his left forearm. Bits of glass crunched under the pressure of his arm. He moaned softly and squeezed his eyes shut. "I need to sit up."
"No. What you need to do is be still."
Callen hissed and then bent one leg, once again attempting to change positions. "I think I'm laying on something."
"G. You were already on your back when the building collapsed. What would you be laying on?"
"Don't know," he grunted out. "I just need to get up." He was beginning to sound more desperate.
Sam laid his hand on his partner's shoulder. "Okay, buddy. Relax. I'll help you roll onto your side… Right or left?"
Callen's eye darted around the room and his breathing became more labored as he considered his options. With painful ribs on both sides, it was going to be the lesser of two evils. "Left… I think," he finally whispered.
"Alright. Give me just a minute." Not wanting to roll the injured agent over onto broken glass, Sam picked up a small section of sheetrock and used it to rake the debris away from Callen's body. He stepped over and squatted down at G's right side. Then he positioned his hands on Callen's right shoulder and hip. "You ready?"
Callen reached across and used his left arm to cradle his injured extremity against his , and then gave a quick nod. He was gently rolled to his left side so that he was now facing away from Sam. Callen held his breath but was unable to suppress a moan caused by the pain in his ribs.
"G. How did you not feel this until now?" Sam picked up a sharp piece of metal that had apparently been beneath his partner since he had been knocked to the floor with the pipe. Sam noted blood on the back of Callen's shirt where the jagged edges of the metal had cut through the fabric. "This your shirt?"
"Hetty's," Callen said through gritted teeth.
"I bet half your salary goes to replacing Hetty's wardrobe," Sam said, lifting the hem of Callen's shirt to examine the wound on his back. The metal had punctured the skin about two inches below his right shoulder blade, right next to one of the bullet wound scars. Sam shook his head and sighed. "You up on your tetanus?"
"Yeah," Callen answered, his breathing becoming a little more ragged. "Hetty gave me all my boosters… before I joined you in Yemen."
"You mean she waited until I was gone? I hate I missed that."
"That was sort of the idea… You get way too much enjoyment… out of watching me get stuck with needles."
"Boosters. That's what… six, seven shots?"
"Did Hetty promise you a sucker and use Dora the Explorer band-aides?" Sam asked, lowering the back of Callen's shirt.
"See?... You're making light of my misery now… And you know the Dora band-aides... are for Deeks." Callen held his breath a few seconds, fighting off another wave of pain, then added, "Mine are Batman."
Sam did a quick scan for any other injuries while he had Callen on his side. He placed his palm on the back of his partner's head. Running his thumb through the short cropped hair, he could feel the lump that had formed from the lick to the head. Thankfully, the blood had begun to clump around the wound so the laceration was apparently not too deep.
Then without warning, Sam reached around the front of Callen, unbuckled his belt, and began slipping the belt from the belt loops of his jeans.
Callen turned his head to the side, attempting to peer at his partner over his shoulder. "Shouldn't you at least take me out for a nice dinner first?"
"Shut-up," Sam barked, now removing the cell phone and ID from G's back pockets, and the watch from his wrist. "Do you want me to let the hospital lose your belt and holster like last time?"
"Last time it was my boots and holster… Time before was my belt and pants."
"My point exactly… Keys?"
Callen's flinched and drew in a quick breath.
"Office," he whispered. "In my locker."
"You still have your backup weapon?"
Callen swallowed hard. "Yeah."
"Okay, here we go," Sam said and then rolled his friend onto his back.
The pain from being moved was intense and Callen could not help but whimper. Now suddenly feeling woozy, Callen closed his eyes and tried to focus on his breathing.
Sam had moved down to Callen's feet and had begun removing his boots when he noticed his partner's eyes were closed. Callen was much paler than before and now breathing in tiny, quick puffs.
"G. You with me?" Callen did not respond so Sam patted the side of his leg and spoke more loudly this time. "Talk to me, G!"
"I'm awake," he responded softly.
"You don't look awake."
"I'm meditating," Callen said without opening his eyes.
"Meditating? Pffft. On what? On how to not faint like a little girl in front of your partner?"
"Something like that."
"Well, you need to stop meditating so I know you're not slipping off into a coma or something."
Callen forced his heavy eyelids open and glared at Sam the best he could. "I told you..."
"I know. I know. You don't have a concussion." Sam just shook his head and proceeded with unstrapping his partner's ankle holster. He placed all of the personal items he had collected inside Callen's boots and then moved to Callen's side where he crouched down next to him.
Callen's torn shirt was now gaping open in the front. Sam spotted a line of bruising that was beginning to develop. He pulled the shirt open, exposing a pinkish-blue pattern on Callen's chest, obviously made by the extreme pressure of a very large shoe.
Callen looked at his partner with narrowed eyes and then reached up with his trembling left hand, making a feeble attempt to close the damaged shirt. It had only been about forty minutes since the building had collapsed and Sam suspected that the signs of Callen's beating would be even more evident in just a few hours; in fact, he guessed his friend would be practically covered with black and blue markings by the next morning.
Sam watched Callen for a minute and was relieved to see that he was beginning to relax and that his breathing, even though too quick and shallow, was now more even. This was a sign that either the pain had let up slightly or that his partner was simply worn out.
Sam had just taken a seat on the ground by Callen when Kensi spoke in his earpiece.
"Tell me something good, Kensi."
"The contractor says there's a door on the west side, close to where you are. It's been sealed off for years. They're bringing in some equipment to remove the brick. It's going to get noisy in just a little while. But they think they should have you out in less than an hour."
"Sam, can Callen hear me? Can I talk to him?"
Sam reached down, cupped Callen's chin with his palm, and pushed his head to the side.
Callen furrowed his brow, confused as to why his partner was examining the side of his head.
"He can't hear you, Kensi. Earwig must have gotten knocked out… Kenz… he's gonna be alright. We'll see you soon."
Releasing his grasp of Callen's jaw, Sam caught a glimpse of the scar. "Oooh, yeeaah." He lightly ran his index finger along his partner's chin. "You never answered."
Callen just turned his head away.
"I'm gonna enjoy being your personal trainer for a month, G. Those six mile runs will be rough with those sore ribs. Not to mention getting up at five a.m. and those daily trips to the gym."
"Alright," Callen said, now reverting back to his pouting face. After a moment, Callen's eyes narrowed and he instinctively rubbed his jawline with a shaky hand, his thoughts being swept back in time. "It was the night Jason, my foster brother, died," he said softly. "Our foster dad was drunk… When he was sober, he wasn't so bad. But when he drank… he was paranoid and violent. He thought I'd taken some money off of his nightstand. He'd given it to our foster mom to buy cigarettes and just didn't remember. He started slapping me around. I was sort of small for my age so they… he would usually come after me first. Easy target I guess."
Sam could see tears forming in his partner's eyes. Part of him wanted to tell Callen it was okay to stop.
After a short pause, Callen continued. "He kept hitting me, trying to make me say I'd taken the twenty four dollars. Finally, he got so angry he shoved me down the basement stairs. I hit my chin on one of the steps." Callen closed his eyes. He drew in a shaky breath that caused a sudden sharp pain in his ribs and he grimaced. "I guess Jason was afraid he wouldn't stop because when our foster dad started down the stairs to get me, Jason said he took the money." Callen shook his head and whispered, "I should have just said I did it."
Sam placed his palm on Callen's shoulder but did not speak.
In fact, neither man spoke the remainder of the time while they waited to be extracted from the rubble. They silently reflected on what the other had shared. Although it was not his intention when proposing the challenge, Sam knew that the bonds of their partnership had been strengthened.
An hour later, Callen had been placed on a gurney and was ready to be loaded into the ambulance for his much dreaded trip to the hospital.
Sam handed Callen's belongings off to Kensi. He was about to be led away to have his shoulder wound tended to when Callen reached up and weakly grasped his wrist. Sam bent down closer to his battered partner.
"The challenge," Callen whispered. "… A tie?"
Sam sighed. "Yeah," he affirmed with a nod. "A tie."
Now suddenly overcome with exhaustion, Callen smiled tiredly and closed his eyes.