A/N: Apologies for the really long delay (And thanks to anyone still interested in this fic). I was busy, and the horribly, horribly distracted by writing some unabashedly Callen/Nell smut. Hopefully, I got it out of my system, because I didn't want this fic to progress (in a shippy manner) too quickly.
Part 5: The Awakening
Chapter 2: In which Nell's memory refuses to cooperate, Hetty and Callen are at odds, and Nell's stilettos are MIA…
Nell could only stare dumbfounded at the field agent when he'd finished telling her all he knew about the events of the day, about a man they believed she may have stumbled upon doing something illegal, a mobster named D'Arcangelis.
You trying to catch flies with that trap?
Her mother's voice scolded from inside Nell's head, causing her to close her mouth and press her lips into a thin line as she concentrated. The headache -apparently caused by someone slipping her a mickey (oddly appropriate if mobsters were truly involved), had subsided somewhat, but memories still had failed to return. Even with Callen's retelling.
As far as they (Callen, Kensi and the other agents) could make out, Nell had attended the ceremony in full retention of her faculties, and then proceeded to have a couple glasses of champagne with the bride's brother, Nell's ex-boyfriend, Jack Worthington. Feeling funny, she had excused herself and sought out the ladies' room, asking the desk clerk 'Johnny' for directions along the way. Somehow, she'd made it there, called Kensi for assistance and barricaded the door. But judging by what she'd told Kensi, it was likely she'd run into D'Arcangelis somewhere in that sequence of events.
"I'm sorry, Callen," Nell said. "I can't seem to remember."
"That's not your fault. Don't worry about it." A hand squeezed her bare shoulder reassuringly and then was quickly removed.
'Not your fault' and Don't worry about it? That did not sound like the Callen she knew. Normally, he'd push a witness to try to remember everything they possibly could. Albeit gently, he would be pressuring them for information.
"Maybe so..." she said. The agent had that impatient, antsy look on his face, like a cornered animal. She could tell he just wanted to get out of there. If they left the hotel, however, they might lose whatever chance there was of catching this D'Arcangelis. "But it could be important. Just give me a moment. I want to try."
Callen scrubbed a hand over his face and nodded. "Okay."
Nell closed her eyes, concentrating on taking a slow, deep breath and releasing it. She did this several times, as she had learned to do when she'd suffered mild panic attacks her senior year of high school because the pressure had been getting to her. It was a very useful tool, effectively allowing her to forget all outside concerns and stressors. When she felt calmer, she focused on the last clear memory she held of the day.
The sight of Trish walking down the aisle. She'd been breathtaking, achingly beautiful. But not because of the designer dress perfectly tailored to the young woman's figure. Not because of the tasteful, professionally done make-up and hair. And not because of the pristine, elegant setting for the wedding. The beauty of her friend in that moment transcended the physical. It stemmed from the pure blissful happiness evident in her eyes, her smile, every minute movement of her body. It was a perfect moment.
Everything that followed was lovely, of course, but that moment... it was one of those rare ones that made a person grateful for simply being alive.
But it had also filled Nell with a complex mix of emotions. Happiness for her friend, awe for the magnificence of life, jealousy of the joy her friend had found, an ache to have the same thing in her own life. A desire to be noticed, not to be alone...
Which had led her to agreeing to have a drink with an old friend.
Friend?! Not hardly!
Nell's eyes shot open.
"That bastard drugged me!" She jumped to her feet, with no precise plan in mind but the need to track down Jack Worthington and do... well, do something drastic overwhelming her.
However, Callen caught her before she reached the door, which she was simultaneously grateful for and angry about.
"Calm down, Nell," he soothed. Damn the special agent and his charm. She briefly flashed on the look he'd given her when she first walked out in that goddamn dress back at OSP headquarters. It was worth it just for that look. How many times had she wished for a man to give her a look like that, for that specific man to look at her like... Wait! What?!
The memories were coming too quickly, were too muddled. Callen guided her to a plush chair hiding camouflaged in the corner of the hotel room. She collapsed into it, holding her head, and moaning softly.
"Take it easy," he said, crouching before her and looking up into her face. God, his eyes were blue. "Don't push yourself too hard."
"Why can't I remember?" she asked. "Everything's so hazy and confused."
"Whatever they gave you," Callen said. "It wasn't aspirin. Its effects could be everything from dehydration to severe blackout and memory loss. Your memory might not come back at all."
He was right, of course. Nell knew about the type of drugs men slipped into women's drinks. By the time she was in college, it was a major issue of campus life and they'd had a lecture so long in it that she thought they should've just made it a mandatory 3 credit course: 'How to avoid date rape and scumbags in general.' Useful material to cover for any young woman. Maybe it'd be better for high school. The earlier girls learned what life sometimes might throw at a woman, the better. Maybe just a class in 'Life's many surprises: Be prepared'. If she were designing it, Nell would certainly put a section in about how to deal with broken, badass secret agents that looked at you in the most curious manner with the bluest goddamn eyes you'd ever seen. Because she sure as hell could use some advice about what to do with that.
Suddenly, there was a loud chirping noise that made her start. Callen's hand patted her knee, her bare knee, and she felt another, different sort of shock jolt through her.
"Just the others," he said, rising to his feet and approach the laptop set up on the small circular table in the other corner of the room. "Maybe they found something." He glanced back at Nell, gestured for her to get up. "Hey, come here. Eric's going to want to see that you're okay. He wasn't exactly taking my word for it."
Nell smiled and moved to sit beside him facing the screen of the laptop she remembered toting along. Little snoop. How much else of her luggage had he gotten into? Obviously, not that much, considering he'd given her generic aspirin that doubtless came from the hotel's stock rather than what she carried in her pack.
Callen clicked on a desktop icon she remembered setting up on the company systems for the less technically savvy to have easy access to the teleconferencing application.
Eric's face popped up on screen, the ops room in the background. Nell smiled at the familiar site of her partner and workplace. This had been such a crazy day, that it grounded her a little to think of the place where she practically lived over 350 days of the year.
"Nell, you're alright!" Eric exclaimed, big grin plastered across his face. It faltered a little. "You are, right? Alright, that is?"
"Yes, Eric. I'm fine."
"Good. Because from what Kensi had said... I... I... um... I mean what if D'Arcangelis discovered you were a federal agent. I mean those mobsters really don't like us feds. You could've just disappeared and we'd-"
Callen interrupted the younger man's rambling, which saved the uncomfortable blush from deepening across Nell's face. Her partner's blatant crush on her could create some seriously awkward moments.
"Enough, Eric. We get it. You were worried about her," Callen said. "Have you got anything for us yet?"
"Um... not really."
"Then we're coming in."
Eric did that nervous swallow thing of his. Nell had seen it enough times to immediately recognize it for what it was. Her partner was being placed in a socially awkward situation.
As if on cue, Hetty appeared over Eric's shoulder and the camera shifted to focus entirely upon her.
"Don't be so hasty, Mr. Callen."
Nell started, felt her cheeks grow warm at the sight of her boss. Who didn't know about the mess she'd gotten into? Well, it made sense in a way. Knight-errants got their quests from somewhere. And it looked like the Old Queen had dispatched her bravest on Nell's behalf. No. Hetty was more like a wizard. And not just any wizard. She was a Merlin, without a doubt. The thought of the diminutive old woman casting powerful spells and directing kings seemed very appropriate. Even though Nell was certain Hetty would be lost swimming in the abundance of robes wizards tended to favor (like Mickey in Fantasia).
Nell giggled. She just couldn't help herself. And who could blame her?
Okay. Well, apparently both Callen and Hetty could blame her. Because they were giving her such looks.
"You see?" Callen said, seeming to resume arguing some point, the beginning of which Nell had been daydreaming too much to notice. Her mind did seem to be wandering more than usual today. Or was it just since she'd been... drugged. A flash of anger coursed through her at the thought.
"She's in no condition for this."
Nell glanced at the man sitting beside her. He radiated tension and looked to be on the edge of becoming very angry indeed. And an Angry Agent Callen was never a good thing. (In particular, if you're a bad guy, Nell thought.) But this time he seemed to be angry with Hetty, which was unsettling. Oh, they'd had tiffs before. But Nell had never seen them quite this severely at odds. And over her, of all things?
Well then, she could put an end to this argu-um, discussion.
Nell placed a hand on Callen's arm and he stopped mid-tirade about knowingly placing compromised agents in harm's way. He looked down at where her fingers rested upon his forearm, and then up into her face, wearing the oddest expression before his features became stoically unreadable. Very strange.
"I can do this," she said, looking directly into those enigmatic blue eyes, before turning her attention to the old spy on the computer screen. "I want to do this. I mean, we need to stop this D'Arcangelis, don't we?"
Hetty nodded her head, a slight smile making itself known. She obviously approved of Nell's tenacity. Callen obviously did not.
"We can figure out another way," he said, his voice almost a growl. "We don't need Nell. She doesn't remember anything and I'm already in. If anyone asks, I can even tell them the truth, that she's not feeling well."
Hetty didn't have to say more. The message was clear in her tone. She'd heard his opinion and she did not care to discuss it further. The admonished agent stood and walked away, silently fuming. Nell watched with wide eyes as Callen picked up his SIG off a side table (overgrown with stenciled ivy) and began to strip the weapon down with precise movements that seemed a little excessively forceful.
It was an impressive thing to witness. Nell had never really watched, just watched any of the agents attack a firearm with such absent determination. Oh, they could all accomplish the task in more than an efficient manner (she granted herself the rank of proficient for that matter). But this... Agent Callen could easily carry out the procedure blindfolded and, Nell did not doubt, just as precisely as he currently were doing. Having completed the disassembly in a matter of seconds, he now appeared to be cleaning the base components of the weapon. The movements of his sure hands were more than simply practiced. They were ingrained. And oddly enough, elegant.
Nell had to blink her eyes and will herself to turn away from the scene that entranced her when it finally registered that Hetty was calling her name from across cyberspace (and on the laptop directly before her).
"I'm sorry, Hetty. What were you saying?" Sometimes Nell hated being so fair of complexion. She just knew the blush was apparent on her skin. Hetty, god bless her, continued on as if the young woman hadn't been blatantly staring at her colleague instead of paying attention to her boss.
"Do you not recall encountering Mr. D'Arcangelis at all earlier in the day?"
"Um..." Nell strained through all the faces and names she'd been inundated with before that stupid, aggravatingly blank spot in her memory. "I-I don't know. I don't remember the name."
"Perhaps this will jog something in your sorely abused memory, Miss Jones." Hetty nodded to someone off screen, probably Eric. Definitely Eric, because in another second a photo popped up in a new window.
"The Bear!" Nell exclaimed before she could even process the words that burst from her mouth. She had no clue what it meant, but it obviously meant something. Or, she hoped wasn't the case, she had spontaneously developed a case of tourette's.
"You've seen this man, my dear?" Hetty asked, looking somewhat concerned over the outburst.
"Yes. I think so." Nell closed her eyes took a deep breath. A dark space. The smell of dust and moth balls. The low, grumbling murmur of men's voices. "A coat check!"
Nell smiled broadly, one returned in not quite the same intensity but in just as genuine pleasure from her boss.
"I was hiding in the coat check closet, Hetty. That's when I saw him."
Nell's sixth sense tingled and she knew Callen had come to stand behind her. Well, besides the hairs raised on the back of her neck, she could smell the gun oil on his hands, and that uniquely 'Callen' scent she could never quite determine the origins of.
"I'll check it out," Callen said.
"Take Nell with you, Agent Callen."
She didn't want to look. But neither did she need to do so. Nell could feel the tension rise up once more in the other agent. The room seemed to get warmer, stiller, stifling. It was too oppressive for the likes of her, who generally wanted everyone to get along. So Nell nodded her head in acknowledgement of Hetty's order (for that's what it was) and stood, began searching for her shoes. She heard Callen move towards the door.
Hetty cleared her throat. Callen sighed audibly.
"Don't worry, Hetty. She's coming with me," Callen said. Being discussed in such a manner was really, really starting to get on Nell's nerves. But she bit her tongue. She had no desire whatsoever to push Callen over the edge. So she bent down to check under the bed for her mislaid footwear. "But if I think she's in any danger. We're done."
"As the senior field agent, that is your call to make," Hetty said. There was warning in that tone, against precisely what, Nell couldn't say. "Contact us when you find something."
There was the sound of the teleconferencing program closing, and then the click of Callen shutting the laptop.
"I put your shoes in the closet," Callen said, so close in her ear she jumped slightly. And then his hand was on her bicep, helping her to her feet. She hazarded a glance at his face. His expression was still rather grim but seemed to be softening by the moment. Finally, it turned into his playful grin.
"You might want to straighten up a bit," he said in his teasing tone. "Or those hoity-toity friends of yours are going to wonder where you've been and what you've been up to."
But now with whom, she thought, remembering the plan Callen had explained they formulated to get him in to the wedding (to retrieve her intoxicated ass). The charming agent had pretended, was still pretending to be her boyfriend. Her boyfriend with whom she had disappeared into her hotel room for several hours. The thought made her uncomfortably warm in regions it should not, and she was thankful for the excuse to flee to the bathroom for a minute.
Oh, hell. She did look like she had quite the tumble between the sheets. Her dress was -gasp!- rumpled. Nothing she would normally care about, but with this set... She tugged at the hem and various seams until it was not only laying where it should, but looked almost presentable. Then she finger-combed the bed-head out of her hair. God, was she ever prone to messy hair with this cut. She almost pined for that long straight hair she sported up until college. It was so much less maintenance. Just pull it back into a tail and go. Of course, she looked a hundred times cuter (if she did say so herself) with the short hair. She touched up her make-up and felt like maybe she could face the world again, even track down some bad guys.
When she emerged from the bathroom, Callen was looking as smooth and put-together as he always did. (Curse him!) Nell tugged at her hem again, feeling significantly rumpled in comparison. He was holding her shoes in his hand, but when she went to reach for them, he got down on one knee and wrapped his firm fingers gently about her ankle. Shocked, she could only oblige by lifting her foot and letting him slide the little strappy stiletto on. He fastened the small clasp and then proceeded to do the other before Nell's brain started working again.
"You're going to put wrinkles in Hetty's suit," she blurted out. Stupid, Nell! Stupid!
"I think it will survive," he said with a wink, rising to his feet once more and brushing off the knees of the grey Italian silk. "And so will Hetty."
He took her hand, entwined her arm with his, placing her fingers on her forearm in classic 'escorting a lady' fashion. Then he looked at her with those blue eyes of his.
"C'mon, darling. Let's check out this coat check I've heard so much about."
A/N: As always, I gave this the best edit (or two) I could, but for some reason my brain kept switching tenses on me whilst writing this one, so some might have slipped through. Hopefully, it was still comprehensible.
A/N2: This chapter was a little slow, I know, but we needed to transition to more exciting stuff (Coming soon, I promise!).