Checkmate

By Shaz1

Disclaimer:- none of the characters recognised belong to me- I promise I will return them in the state that they came to me in- more or less anyway….

This is set directly after Endgame- I absolutely loved the episode, the twists were so clever- however on a personal level I would have much preferred more Sam and Callen moments- so I wrote them myself! I also noticed that obviously between eps 1 and 2 it was vacation time again- I loved Callen's comment about being undercover so I kind of used it a little…..

Please review I live for it!

Checkmate

"So are you good man?" Sam asked his partner softly, once the crowd around the newly returned heroic agent had diminished.

"I'm fine Sam" Callen replied as he sat down at his desk, pleased beyond words to be back in the fold, and more or less in one piece.

"I am glad that's over with" Sam stated as he sat on the edge of his friend's desk and took in the younger man's pale appearance.

"You and me both- although it was kind of fun playing the traitor" Callen replied with a grin that pulled on his cut face and immediately turned into a wince.

"You are crazy G- the whole thing was a nightmare" Sam responded softly, shaking his head at his friend. He hated it when his partner went out there by himself, but to literally present himself to the Iranians on the off chance of the crazy plan working- disturbed him on more levels than he could even go into. Callen looked at his partner intently, not missing the obvious concern and worry still written all over the larger man's face.

"It's over with Sam, the good guys won" Callen responded, dismissively. Further conversation was prevented by the arrival of the other pair of partners. Kensi gravitated immediately to the team leader, her concern for him had overwhelmed her at the exchange and she hadn't been able to stop herself from just grabbing him in her arms. As she walked over to them in the office she stopped directly behind her long term friend and placed her hands on his shoulders gently, resting her chin on his head.

"You doing okay?" she asked him softly, Callen smiled lightly in response.

"Honestly everyone- I am fine. It's all over with, Janvier is where he belongs and we are free to get on with things as usual" he responded, he reached his hand up and squeezed the female agent's hand lightly before getting to his feet and heading to the restroom.

"Is he doing ok?" Kensi asked the other senior agent, once Callen was out of ear shot.

"He says so" Sam replied cautiously- knowing that the latest assignment had to have taken its toll on his friend, whether he would admit it or not.

"Do you believe him?" Deeks asked, knowing that the link between the two older men was as strong as any partnership could ever be.

"I don't think he's as all right as he says" Sam finally replied carefully. With a nod at the two he got to his feet and headed to the locker rooms to check on the subject of their conversation.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

Callen sighed as he stared at his battered face in the mirror- yet more cuts and bruises in the line of his duty. He didn't mind though- he would have died for this particular cause. Janvier was the most evil type of human he had ever come across- he had taunted him, played with him and tried to kill him- and he had so nearly won. Callen would have gladly shot the man for real, would have loved to see the lead tear through the other man's flesh and watch as he slumped to the floor and drew in his final breath. He closed his eyes against the images, almost regretting that he would not get the satisfaction for real, despite the fact that he knew Janvier would receive the punishment he deserved in Tehrain- in fact he was certain it would be far more painful and drawn out than anything he would have subjected him to. He sighed as he noticed that the cut below his lip was once more bleeding freely, the tooth behind it wobbling slightly and necessitating another trip to the dentist- he really did have to stop getting hit in the face so much. His time banished from the team had cut him deeply, despite the necessity for the case- he knew that Sam had taken it hard, worried for him and feeling guilty for allowing the mission to go ahead, even though nothing would have stopped him.

"How's the face?" a familiar voice asked from behind him, Callen turned round a grin automatically gracing his bruised face.

"Sore- but worth every punch" he replied, being honest with his friend- he was sure he deserved it.

"It's good to have you back G" Sam muttered seriously.

"It's good to be back Sam- for a while there I doubted it myself" he responded, his gaze locked on the floor.

"When we saw that message and knew the Iranians had you G, I thought we'd lost you" Sam stated, leaning back against a locker.

"It had to happen for the plan to work" Callen responded, leaning tiredly against the sink- barely able to remember the last time that he had managed even an hours sleep.

"Doesn't mean I had to like it G" the other agent reminded him.

"Sam, we both know it had to be done. Janvier would have kept on killing and betraying, we couldn't let him walk away" Callen responded, for the first time a flash of fire appearing in his blue eyes. "We had to stop him and there was no other way"

"You could have been killed"

"I could be killed any time Sam, I will gladly die if it means people like him don't exist- it is worth it" Callen argued, knowing full well that his partner wouldn't like his response, but unable to stop the words from flowing.

"Not to me it isn't" Sam replied, his voice cracking with emotion. "I know you G, you would have kept pushing them until they snapped one way or another- it is only sheer luck that they fell in your favour".

"It worked Sam- please just leave it now. I'm fine, Hetty's fine- we're all fine and we're all back to work as normal. The risks that were taken were necessary we all know it" Callen replied, patting his friend on the arm before leaving the room and going back to the rest of the team. He was surprised to find them all waiting for him- the ops manager clutching a rather nice looking bottle of scotch and several glasses.

"Ah Mr Callen- glad you could finally join us" Hetty stated as she handed him a tumbler. He looked around at the group surrounding him- his friends, his family. The people that he would lay down his life for- and frequently did. The people that supported him and guided him when he lost his way, the only family that he had ever had. He turned around as Sam appeared beside him- after all where else would his partner be. Silence reined as Hetty generously filled each of the glasses with a double shot of the amber liquid- each one of them nodding their thanks and reflecting on the mission and the fact that they were finally all safely returned where they belong.

"Here's to family, and justice" Hetty stated, and her glass was clinked against seven others, each of them repeating the toast and fully agreeing with the sentiments. After a few moments and a few sips of the satisfying liquid tongues were loosened and each of them relaxed for the first time since the whole nightmare had started. Hetty once more topped up the glasses, a rare occasion in itself. She turned more serious eyes on the team around her- handpicked by her each and every one of them, and she couldn't have been prouder.

"To friends that are now forever absent, and friends that have returned to us" she stated, her voice cracking as she thought of the most recent two losses her family had suffered. Her eyes locked on those of the closest to a son she had ever had, and she didn't miss the slight evidence of moisture in his bright blue eyes. He nodded in response and took a sip of the scotch, glad to be home where he belonged. The team repeated the words, each of them meaning every syllable. A few moments later and Callen was stifling a yawn, a rare occurrence for the agent that hardly slept.

"When was the last time you got any sleep?" Sam asked him softly, out of earshot of the rest of the team.

"Before Mike" Callen replied, his answer honest. He had known Mike Renko almost since he had joined NCIS and the two had worked many undercover operations together- his death still played on his mind. He had lost too many people, and Renko had not deserved to die for his sins.

"It wasn't your fault G" Sam stated, knowing exactly where his friend's thoughts were heading.

"I think I'm going to turn in for the night- be nice to sleep in my own bed" Callen stated, handing his glass to his partner to finish, and stretching his back before heading out of the room.

"You don't even have a bed" Sam responded to his partner's retreating back softly. He knew his friend well enough to know when words could help and when he just needed to be left alone. He suspected that tonight was the latter.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

Callen sighed as he toed his boots off and sat down on the solitary piece of permanent furniture that he owned. He hadn't lied when he had told his partner that he was looking forward to his own home, he had barely slept since Hunter and Renko had been killed by the Chameleon, and not due to his usual habits. Undercover of sorts or not- the night in jail had not been a comfortable experience for the seasoned agent, and then having to literally go it alone had taken its toll on him. He had lost far too many people, and contrary to opinion it never gets any easier- especially when you were responsible for their deaths. Sure no one had come out and said it directly- but he knew that it was his fault. Part of the reason he had been so very driven to seek justice against Janvier was the guilt that weighed heavily on his shoulders. He was the one that had shot him, fallen for the act of him being some innocent driver and in effect let him go- and he was the one that he had continued to seek revenge on. There was no other explanation for it, and he knew it was something that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. He rested his head back, feeling the pressure of moisture building up behind his tired eyes. Without further thought he got to his feet and headed into the kitchen, opening a bottle of beer and downing nearly half of it instantly, he shrugged off his jacket and placed it down on his chair- before wandering around the house to make sure everything was locked up and secure. Removing his gun from the holster at his back he slipped the comforting SIG under the pillow that rested on his well worn bed roll. Quickly he slipped out of his jeans and shirt and eased his aching body down on to the roll. He closed his eyes and draped his arm over his eyes, hoping against hope that sleep would claim him.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

The lead agent's wishes were unanswered as he managed barely two hours sleep all night, giving up in the early hours he finally went for a run under the stars- hoping that the exertion would help to clear his troubled mind.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

Sam was glad when the night as over and it was time to head back in to work again. He loved evenings with his family, but the entirety of the last evening had been overshadowed by concern for his best friend. He had seen a flash of something in his friend's eye that he had not seen for a long time- and it scared him.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

Callen poured himself another coffee as he waited for the rest of the team to arrive- today was going to be a desk clearing day ready for their much needed vacations. He had nothing whatsoever planned for his days off- beside a meeting with Director Vance in Washington, that he intended to use to catch up with his old friend Gibbs. He eased his battered frame down onto his desk chair just in time for his partner's arrival. Sam cast an appraising glance over his friend, not missing the further expanded bags under the younger man's eyes or the pallor to his skin.

"Morning" he greeted, deciding not to push.

"Hey" Callen replied, grateful that the other man hadn't pushed him, although not foolish enough to think for a second that he would escape it for the whole day.

"The others in yet?" Sam asked as he sat down at his own desk.

"Not seen them" G responded, his eyes fixed on his computer screen as he waded his way through the pile of paper on the corner of his desk.

"You doing your final report?" Sam asked softly, knowing that his partner hated paperwork more than any of them, yet as team leader had responsibility for the bulk of it.

"Yep" Callen responded, his gaze never leaving the screen.

"You need a hand?" Sam offered, keen to lessen his friend's burden.

"No I'm good thanks"

"Morning guys" Kensi greeted as she breezed into the office, clearly having had a good night sleep and feeling suitably refreshed for it. Both of the partners grunted a response to the junior agent, however when they caught sight of what she carried they each changed their response. "Ah so now you want to say hello do you?" the young woman teased holding a donut bag aloft towards each of them. "Fine use me" she chuckled as she released the grips of each of the bags into her friend's hands.

"Thanks Kens" Callen stated with a smile that finally reached his blue eyes as he opened the bag she had presented him with- touched to find that it held his favourite ever sweet treat.

"You are very welcome" she replied, squeezing his shoulder as she also handed him a steaming cup of fresh coffee.

"Always said you were my favourite agent" G stated accepting it gratefully.

"You look like you need it- are you ok?" she asked softly, catching the sadness that seemed to encompass her long term friend.

"I'm good" he replied, before looking away and dividing his attention between his newly acquired breakfast and his work.

"Thanks Kensi" Sam stated to the young woman- and they both knew he wasn't only talking about the breakfast she had brought for him.

"No problem" she replied softly exchanging a knowing glance with the big man. She placed the final spare bag on her partner's desk before taking her seat beside the team leader and beginning her own breakfast, a look of pure delight on her face as she ate the treat she had bought herself. It was only a matter of moments before the final member of their team strolled in, stopping in surprise at the bag present on his desk. A smile lit up his face as he peeked inside it.

"Ah I knew you loved me!" he cooed as he bit into the donut with a look of ecstasy on his face. Kensi rolled her eyes at the usual flirtatious response from her partner. Now fully fed and watered the team concentrated on their paperwork- each working almost silently for the majority of the morning. It got to midday before Sam had to get up from his desk to rest his eyes.

"You guys up for getting some lunch?" he suggested to the rest of the team, stretching his back as he looked for their responses.

"That is the best thing you have said all day" Deeks uttered as he got up from his desk and pulled his jacket on- not needing any further prompting to get away from the clerical side of his job.

"I am starved too" Kensi replied, joining the others- and waiting for the response from the final member of their team.

"G? You coming?" Sam questioned when his partner made no move.

"I'm going to carry on with this- you go ahead though" Callen replied, barely looking up from his report to answer. Sam looked at him in concern, but chose against arguing and instead headed out with the remainder of the team. Hetty watched from her vantage point as the closest thing she had ever had to a son once more pushed his friends away and dealt with his hurt by himself. As the group had left, Callen got to his feet and stretched his aching muscles enjoying the release as the cracking sound popped around him. He made his way to the drinks station and poured himself another coffee.

"If you drink much more of that you will never sleep again" Hetty stated as she stalked up behind the team leader. Callen visibly sighed as once more the ops manager snuck up behind him.

"I'm sure I'll be fine Hetty" Callen replied as he moved back to his desk, unsurprised when the woman followed him and perched on the edge of his desk.

"Don't push your friends away Mr Callen" she stated. "They were all so worried about you, they just need to know that you are safe"

"I am perfectly safe Hetty- I'm fine" Callen responded, trying to keep the frustration from his voice.

"Their deaths are not your fault" she stated, and he couldn't prevent the harsh intake of breath that escaped him. "They were agents the same as you and they knew the risks" she continued.

"Like Sullivan? And like Dom?" he asked, his anger brewing- although even he didn't know who it was directed at.

"Yes- like both of them and just as we do. If the Iranians had killed you would you have wanted Sam to blame himself for allowing you to go along with the plan?" she asked, desperate to get through to the young man.

"He killed them to get to me Hetty- that is not the same thing" Callen stated, his eyes filling with moisture as he thought of the agents that had been callously killed in the vendetta against him. He had known Mike Renko for a long time, he had considered him one of his few real friends and it made him feel sick to think that the man was now dead because of someone trying to get his attention. Hunter was a strange pill to swallow- he hadn't really known her and certainly had never trusted her, yet still her death caused a churning in his stomach. "It was my mistake that let him go free Hetty- then I failed to capture him, it's on me" he stated before getting to his feet and heading out of the room leaving a shocked ops manager in his wake.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

"Where's Callen?" Sam questioned as he walked over to his desk, surprised to find his partner no longer where he had left him.

"He has gone to get some air Mr Hanna" Hetty replied. Sam shook his head in concern as he placed the sandwiches that he had brought back on his friend's desk.

"Do you know where he went?" he asked the petite woman softly.

"No" she responded. "I think he would benefit from some sea air though" she stated as she headed back to her desk, her concern for her agent outweighing the need for her team to complete paperwork. Sam nodded, picking his partner's lunch back up and heading out to find him, hoping he would be able to get through to him.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

It didn't take long for Sam to find his friend, sat on a bench at Venice staring out across the beach.

"I'm fine Sam" Callen stated as he heard his friend approach him.

"Sure you are G" Sam muttered in reply sitting beside the smaller man and handing him his lunch and a bottle of water.

"Thanks" Callen said as he accepted the food although rather than unwrapping it he placed it on the bench beside him.

"So you got any plans for your vacation time?" Sam asked, hoping casual conversation would hope his friend to relax.

"I am going to DC- Vance wants to see me, and I figured I could catch up with Gibbs" Callen replied with a shrug. Sam nodded, that was news to him- still at least he knew that Gibbs was a solid set of hands for his partner to be in. He had seen first-hand how close the two men were when Callen had been shot a couple of years prior.

"What does Vance want?" he asked, concerned that his partner had been summoned without him.

"I have no idea, maybe he has a job for me" Callen responded, his gaze still locked on the water. Sam couldn't help the small churning sensation that the news brought to him.

"You need to stop blaming yourself G" Sam stated, deciding to cut straight to the chase.

"Sam, I have already had this conversation with Hetty" Callen sighed in frustration.

"Yeah well you're going to have it again with me G!" the older man couldn't help the anger coming out in his voice. "Stop doing this to yourself! You cannot be everything to everyone and sometimes things happen that you can't control" he told his partner, desperate to get through to the smaller man that he loved as a brother. "Granger let his lackey into the boat shed and gave him all of our files- if it's any one's fault it's his, but you and I both know that the only one to blame in this entire sorry thing is Janvier and thanks to you he is where he belongs" the experienced agent reasoned, concerned when his partner made no response. "G, you did nothing wrong and nothing you can do will bring them back. You need to move on from this, I for one am grateful that you didn't join them- it was that close man" he finished.

"Sorry Sam" Callen whispered, his friend's words registering in his tired mind, even though he couldn't fully believe them. Sam startled at his friend's words, and gently placed a hand on the slightly shaking shoulder beside him.

"Nothing to be sorry for G" Sam whispered as he carefully pulled his exhausted partner towards him, shocked by the very fact that his friend allowed the contact.

"Thank you" Callen muttered after a while, surprising himself that he felt better from his partner's words, even though he knew that he would never fully displace the guilt that weighed on him. Without any further words the two men got to their feet and headed back towards the office, each keen to get finished.

LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA

Hetty looked up as she saw the two senior agents walk back into ops, she smiled to herself- obviously Sam had done his job well as the team leader no longer walked with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and seemed more relaxed. She watched as he sat back at his desk and unwrapped the sandwich that Sam had brought back for him, chewing it as he read through the report that he had written. After a few moments he printed it off, added his signature before putting it into the folder and walking across to her desk where he handed it to her wordlessly.

"Thank you Mr Callen" she stated as she took it from him.

"Don't you want to read it first?" he asked in confusion.

"I wasn't talking about the report" she replied, her response as cryptic as ever. "Why don't you stand down early- you have that morning flight to DC after all" she stated with a gleam in her eye as she proved yet again that she really did know everything.

"Thanks Hetty" he replied, not arguing for once. "Enjoy your time off" he told her softly with a nod he headed away to the team, pulling his jacket on.

"You going somewhere G?" Sam questioned with a raised eyebrow.

"Time off for good behaviour" Callen responded with a grin. Sam snorted in response.

"You would never get time off in that case G" he stated, glad to see his friend coming back to his normal self.

"We my friend are stood down" Callen told the team with a smile. "Go and enjoy your vacations" he told them all. The cheering was worth everything as all three of them were on their feet in seconds, bidding their excited farewells and heading out of the door.

"See ya G- call me when you're back in town?" Sam asked softly, keen to ensure he knew his friend was back safely.

"Relax Sam- enjoy your vacation with your family" Callen responded with a gentle smile.

"You know my daughter keeps asking if Uncle Callen is planning on coming with us to the beach" Sam probed gently.

"I'll call you when I am back in town" the team leader promised with a laugh- he loved Sam's family, but he was also conscious that he didn't wish to impose on it. "See you soon Sam" he bid his partner as he gently tapped him on the arm and headed out, only Hetty's voice stopping him from making it all the way out.

"Be careful in Washington Mr Callen" she called, and he couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him.

"Bye Hetty" he called over his shoulder, feeling more relaxed than he had in weeks. He smiled as he swung his bag over his shoulder and headed home to pack. He was certain that he and Gibbs would meet in a bar this time.

The End

Please review!