This is my response to the challenge posted on the NCIS LA Magazine site to fill in the two hours between Sam finding Callen and the team preparing to take down the bad guys. Warning – spoilers for the episode Purity.
Drinking water laced with cyanide hadn't been top of his 'to do' list when he got up that morning. Neither had been sticking himself with a needle which was definitely one of his least favorite activities. Some days just didn't go according to plan!
Even though he'd injected the antidote he was finding it very difficult to focus. He was uncomfortably wedged against a metal storage rack and couldn't even summon up the strength to adjust his position. His head, which felt too heavy for his neck to support, kept lolling to the side. He'd lost track of time shortly after being locked in the storage room and his eyes weren't working well enough for him to check his watch. Not that he could lift his arm to see his watch.
The sound of the door splintering on its hinges heralded the arrival of the cavalry. He made a supreme effort to look up at his partner. "What the hell took you so long?" he asked wearily.
Sam's eyes swept over him before settling on the empty syringe lying by his side. It didn't take him long to work out what had happened. "You used the Hydroxyo- C." The relief in his voice was accompanied by a smile.
Callen mustered up his diminishing energy in a vain attempt to deflect the concern he knew was going to come next. "Worked like a charm." And, it had. He was still alive even if not entirely functional. Without it he'd have been dead long before Sam could find him. He could cope with the unpleasant after effects of another near death experience although he was starting to wonder if he'd finally used up all his good luck. Drinking the poison had been a calculated risk. If they hadn't left him alone he'd never have been able to inject the antidote. And, the cyanide had taken hold frighteningly fast.
Sam's brow furrowed in response to the weakness in Callen's voice. The first flush of relief passed and Callen found himself under intense scrutiny. He knew that he looked like hell. His legs were sprawled out and he was leaning heavily on his right hand. He closed his eyes and waited for the explosion. When the silence continued he warily lifted his lids to find that he was almost nose to nose with his partner who had hunkered down in front of him. Sam's expression suggested that the sour smell of vomit had invaded his senses. Callen didn't want to look again at the large pool of the foul liquid drying on the concrete. His nausea immediately after injecting the antidote had been spectacular. He was glad no-one had been witness to it.
Sam pulled out his phone. "Kensi? I've got him. He's been poisoned. Don't worry, he'll be okay. The antidote worked but we still need a medic. Call an ambulance." Sam listened for a minute. "Yeah, he's glaring at me but he's weak as a kitten and not in any shape to object."
"Don't overreact," Callen grumbled, trying to lever his body into a more upright position.
Sam's eyebrows shot up. "Alright. Prove you don't need medical attention." He backed away. "Stand up."
Callen gave a defeated sigh. "Can't."
"I didn't think so." Sam leaned against one of the racks and crossed his arms. "Want to tell me what went wrong? I thought you were the new poster boy for the DNA?"
"Fryman's running the show. As soon as he saw me it was all over. He gave me a choice…a bullet or the cyanide. I reckoned I had a better chance with the poison." The effort of talking quickly wore him out. He began to cough in harsh rasping gasps.
Sam's hand came to rest of his shoulder. "It's okay, G. Breathe slowly."
"Damn, Callen. You don't look so good," Deeks said, stepping into the room and wrinkling his nose at the smell.
Callen grimaced. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"Do you want some water?" Kensi asked, crowding in next to her partner.
The thought of drinking water made his stomach roil. "No. I'm good." He took a couple of deep breaths to force down his rising nausea. "There's a container of cyanide in the office by the coffee supplies. You need to secure it."
"On it." Kensi looked sympathetically at her team leader. "The ambulance is five minutes out. We called Hetty and she said to tell you to get properly checked over. She doesn't want to see you until you've been cleared for duty."
Callen waited for them to leave. "Help me up." He was painfully aware of the tremors in his hand which were all too visible to his partner. It was an unpleasant reminder of their interview with Flight Officer Baker and the less than comforting advice that it would get better with time. He didn't have time.
"Baker was unconscious. The poison had more time to cause damage," Sam said, instinctively knowing what Callen was thinking. He exerted his strength to pull his partner to his feet.
Callen felt the color draining from his face and clung onto the shelving for support. His skin was bathed in a clammy sweat causing him to shiver uncontrollably. "Next time someone offers me a choice I'm gonna take the bullet. This feels like the worst hangover I've ever had."
"Worse than the time Hetty challenged you to a drinking contest with tequila shots?"
He experimentally loosened his grip. "I'd forgotten that. I couldn't move for two days without hurling." He took a tentative step toward Sam. "See, I'm up. I don't need a doctor."
"Uh huh." Sam took hold of Callen's arm to steady him. "If I wasn't here you'd be flat on your face by now."
"I'm not going to hospital," Callen warned. "Fryman intends to release the cyanide into the water supply at one a.m. We have to stop him."
"I'll call it in once we get you settled. Eric and Nell can start a search for the most likely location."
They made slow progress back to the office where Callen had been forced to drink the poison. He kept his head down, unwilling to meet the concerned looks of Kensi and Deeks. He'd only just made it to a chair when the sound of a siren warned him that he had run out of time. No-one could force him to go to hospital but he would need the support of his team to convince Hetty to keep him operational.
"I need to see this through." He looked pleadingly at each member of his team.
"Why?" Sam asked. "I know the job's important to you but we can do this. You've taken enough risks with your health today."
His unwavering determination could be encompassed in one word. "Alex."
"Mr. Hanna believes you are well enough to participate in the mission." Hetty knew perfectly well how to handle her lead agent. He still looked like he should be lying down but his inherent stubbornness would drive him in the exact opposite direction if she suggested it. He obviously had something he needed to tell her. Given enough time he would explain himself.
"My blood pressure's fine, heart rate normal and I didn't have any difficulty remembering my name or what day it is," Callen responded blandly.
"I'm sure that's all very impressive. However, you were told to get a blood test and to take it easy."
"I'll have the test done in the morning."
She noted his avoidance of the other good advice he was intent upon ignoring. "If you say you're well enough to lead your team I'll have to accept your word." She hid a smile. It wasn't hard to see him thinking that through and looking for a trap.
"Reverse psychology? Have you been talking to Nate again?" he asked with a shade of his normal wryness.
"I'm not trying to trick you. You would never do anything to put your team at risk and having a leader who is operating at less than full capacity would be a risk." His eyes darkened which was a sure sign that something was bothering him. "Why don't you tell me what's on your mind?"
The hand he ran across his eyes still wasn't steady although it had improved over the last hour. "Fryman brainwashed his son. Alex is convinced that they're doing the right thing. What kind of parent does that?" Bewilderment mixed with anger.
"Ah. You're concerned about the child." The pieces began to fall into place. "You know there can't be a happy ending for him."
"I know," Callen replied sadly. "His father will wind up dead or in prison. Either way Alex'll have to go into the foster care system and that's a scary place. He already believes the world's full of criminals, pedophiles and drug addicts. How's he going to cope with being bounced from one home to another?"
"Perhaps he will need a friend to mentor him, at least until he has a chance to make his own decisions."
"He's been emotionally damaged, Hetty." Callen leaned forward, his passion infusing him with a greater degree of strength than she had expected. "What happens if he makes the wrong decisions? What if Fryman's got him mixed up with his lunatic scheme to poison the water supply? If he gets blood on his hands he'll be sent to juvenile detention and we both know that's only a short step away from prison."
She could understand his impulse to help Alex even at the risk to his own health. There had been a time when she'd been concerned that Callen might take the wrong road. Without a strong guiding hand the lure of criminality could be too potent to resist. He'd been more resilient than many, choosing instead to use his talents in the intelligence community. "Do you really think you're the only person who can save him?"
"I'm not that arrogant. I just want to give the kid a chance."
She considered her options. Forcing him to sit on the sidelines would be disastrous for him and potentially for young Alex Fryman. She would have to trust the others to watch out for their leader. "Very well, Mr. Callen. I suggest you join your team."
The armory tables were strewn with weapons. Callen concentrated on keeping a tight grip on the clip that he was trying to refill with bullets. Since learning to shoot at age twenty he had never had trouble completing this fundamental task. It was something he could do with his eyes shut. He clenched his jaw and silently ordered his fingers to obey him.
"Ops is monitoring all water sensors and access points to underground utilities. And GWP is ready to cut off the water supply at a moment's notice," Sam said.
"We've got local law enforcement and Kaleidoscope looking for 'em. Eventually they're going to have to show themselves." Deeks added.
Despite his best efforts Callen fumbled, dropping the clip. He snatched at a stray bullet which was rolling across the table. He could almost feel the heat of Sam's stare and the unwanted sympathy.
"Callen, you sure you don't want to guide us from Ops?"
He kept his eyes fixed on the table almost cringing at the well-meaning concern in Kensi's voice. "I'm fine."
"Yeah? 'Cause a couple of hours ago you could barely move."
He couldn't let that pass. Although he had to lean heavily on the table to keep his balance he still managed to send a warning glare in Deeks' direction. "You want to arm wrestle?"
Deeks conceded the point with a smile. "Fair enough."
At that he began to breathe easier. His team…his friends, had faith in him and he'd never yet let them down. His nerves steadied. Although he wasn't at full strength he was close enough. When Nell walked in to tell them they had a lead the adrenaline did the rest. "Let's do this."