This was written for the NCIS:LA Magazine's Callen's Corner Callenge #1. It's my story of what took place between scenes in Season 4, Episode 20 - "Purity."

Oh, and this won't come as a shock, but I don't own this TV series. NCIS:LA and its characters belong to CBS.

Picking up the Pieces

Sam Hanna's eyes were focused, his ears fine-tuned to the slightest of sounds, his breathing was controlled. The success of any mission required a precise balance of being alert and ready, yet calm and composed. Just like the thousands of Ops before this one, his SEAL training would be switched on auto pilot. But this wasn't like just any other Op; his partner was missing.

The radical group Callen had infiltrated was dangerous. DNA, as they called themselves, had in their possession enough cyanide to wipe out four million people. Sam knew that one more life, his partner's life, would mean nothing to them. He needed to find G, and fast!

Because he feared being searched, Callen was not wearing an earwig or a button-cam. Other than his phone, he had no means of letting his team know where he was, or what was happening to him.

Ops had tracked Callen's cellphone to this location. But when his phone was found in a trash container, Sam had had to push down a sudden rush of fear. He had seen the look of panic in the eyes of the two younger team members when they arrived. G could be anywhere.

Sam had instructed Kensi and Deeks to search the adjacent buildings. And now, he was moving toward the warehouse where Nell had pinpointed Callen's previous cell signal. Gun drawn, the Ex-SEAL entered the building, methodically searching each room for the criminals and for any sign of his partner.

Then, something caught Sam's eye. There on the counter was an empty glass, sitting beside an opened jar of a white, powdery substance – cyanide! A feeling of dread welled up in his gut. Had someone forced G to ingest the poison? If so, time may be running out for his friend. He prayed that, whatever had taken place, they had not taken Callen with them.

As Agent Hanna continued his search, he heard muffled sounds coming from the other side of a closed, locked door. He paused and listened more closely – maybe a weak moan? A cough? Sam's heart was now pounding against his ribs. He backed up, raised his leg, and kicked in the door.

Relief washed over Sam when he stepped into the room. There sat Callen on the concrete floor, legs straight out in front of him, his back resting against a metal cabinet. His head was bowed, his shoulders slumped, and his hands were resting loosely on his thighs. He was weak, but alive!

G slowly raised his head until his eyes met Sam's. "Wha' took you s' long?" He asked, his voice sounding tired.

The relief of finding Callen alive was immediately overridden by concern over how much his partner was struggling to breathe. It was now apparent; G had been poisoned!

Callen saw the worry on Sam's face. He glanced over at the floor beside him, and then lowered his head again.

Following his partner's cue, Sam scanned the area around G, and quickly spotted the empty syringe lying on the floor. Now realizing Callen had already injected the antidote, Sam's shoulders relaxed, and he let out a relieved breath. Sliding his weapon back into its holster, Sam cocked his head to the side and smiled down at his friend. "You used the Hydroxo-C."

Requiring much more effort than it should, Callen lifted his head, and smiled up at Sam. "Worked like a charm." The smile vanished. G closed his eyes and his chin dropped to his chest.

Sam reached up and activated his earwig. "Kensi. Deeks. Found him. Building's clear. We're in a workroom near the center of the warehouse."

"On our way," Kensi responded.

Eric's voice sounded through the earwigs. "Sam. What's Callen's status?"

"Looks like cyanide poisoning." Sam moved in closer and squatted down facing Callen. He placed his fingers on his partner's neck, monitoring his pulse.

With his head still bowed, Callen looked at Sam out of the corner of his eye. "Stop, Sam… I'm fine."

Just then, Deeks and Kensi rushed into the room. Deeks stopped near the entrance, staring down at Callen with narrowed eyes. Kensi knelt down next to her Senior Agent and gently placed her hand on his shoulder.

Hetty's was the next voice heard through their earpieces. "Mr. Hanna? Has anyone administered the Hydroxocabalamin?"

Sam removed his hand from Callen's neck. "Yes. He did. Before I got to him."

"Good. Do you need an ambulance dispatched to your location?"

"I'm not sure. He's conscious. But his pulse is weak and irregular."

Callen managed to raise his head before speaking. "Is that Hetty? Tell her I'm fine." But the gasp and the weak coughing that followed convinced everyone in the room otherwise.

"Sam?" Hetty continued, almost completely able to disguise the concern in her voice. "Is he having difficulty breathing?"

Sam studied the shallow movements of Callen's chest for a moment. "Affirmative. I think we're gonna need that ambulance."

Callen pushed himself upright, forcing his head back against the metal structure he was leaning against. Distress filled his eyes and he began taking in quick puffs of air. "Sam… no… There's no time… We have to… stay on the case."

Kensi gripped Callen's shoulder a little more tightly. "Callen, we need to make sure you're alright first."

Callen shook his head. His breathing only became more erratic. "We have… to find them. They're planning to… release the poison… 1:00 am." At that moment, what little strength Callen had on reserve seemed to just drain from his body. His head sagged, and his shoulders slumped forward, further inhibiting his ability to take in air. G sat with eyes closed, struggling for each breath.

Deeks silently moved in closer. Crouching down next to Kensi, his features showed a mixture of worry, and confusion. Marty had never known their Team Leader to be in such a helpless state.

Hoping to cue Callen to focus on slowing his breathing, Sam placed his open palm in the middle of his partner's chest. "G. Take it easy." Sam appreciated the urgency of apprehending the activists before they carried out their plan of attack, but he couldn't help but feel in his gut that something else was going on with Callen. Maybe it was from the temporary loss of oxygen to G's brain, or the side effects of the poison, but this was a level of panic rarely seen in his partner. "Come on, G. Take deep breaths."

But when Callen lifted his head long enough to glance up at his partner with watery eyes, Sam pressed his lips together, let out a breath through his nose, and removed his hand from Callen's chest. "Hetty. Hold off on the ambulance for now."

"I'm hearing Mr. Callen's breathing, or the lack thereof. Sounds like the prospect of going to the hospital may be causing him some anxiety?"

"Something like that. He's adamant about staying focused on the case."

"Very well, then. See what Intel Mr. Callen was able to gather. And keep me informed as to his condition."

Just then, Callen coughed weakly several times, and the color seemed to drain from his face.

Deeks leaned in a little closer. "You sure you don't need to sit this one out, Callen? I don't think you'd be able to fight off a gnat right now, much less lead us in the field."

With his head still lowered, G's bloodshot, blue eyes flashed up at the Detective. "I'm fine," He spat out through gritted teeth. In that split-second, the warning sent to Deeks was not missed by anyone in the room.

Sam and Kensi exchanged the smallest of smiles. They would have to remember to tell their Liaison later: It's not a good idea to challenge Callen's ability to complete an Op. Sam had been G's partner for more than five years, and even he was rarely successful in convincing Callen it was time to give up, even when he was obviously too bruised and battered to continue.

All at once, Callen's body shivered, and a soft moan followed.

Sam stooped down so that he was eye level with Callen. "G. We're gonna lay you down so you can breathe better. When you feel like you can talk, we need to let Ops know anything you found out about DNA's plans. Okay?"

Without looking up, Callen responded with a single nod.

Sam shrugged off his jacket and handed it to Kensi. "Put this under his head when we get him down."

Still crouched on either side of Callen, Sam and Deeks lifted his limp body several inches off the floor, moved him away from the cabinet, and gently lowered him onto his back. Sam cupped his hand behind G's head until Kensi had placed the make-shift pillow. Spotting Callen's leather jacket on the floor, Sam picked it up and draped it over his partner.

Kensi, Marty, and Sam watched silently while their Team Leader lay there on the floor, his eyes closed, lips parted slightly, apparently concentrating on gaining control of his breathing.

A couple of minutes passed before the shivering stopped and Callen's eyes opened. Although his breaths were still shallow, they were more even and less strained. After blinking a few times to focus, he looked up at Sam and nodded.

"Okay, G. I'm gonna move in a little closer so Ops can pick you up through my earwig. I'll relay any questions they have for you. Just take your time. You said they're planning to attack at 1:00 tomorrow morning?"

Callen licked his dry lips and nodded. "This one's going to be big." His voice was soft and raspy. "Think they plan on using the rest… of the cyanide."

"Do you have any idea how many people are involved?"

"Four… that I know of. Fryman's in on it. He's the mastermind. I was made the second he showed up."

Sam's eyes shot up to Kensi's and then to Deeks'. "You get that, Eric?"

"Affirmative."

Callen took a few quick breaths before continuing. "Lawrence… The protestor who drove me here."

"Lawence De Vries. Good, G."

"Their muscle man was armed. Goes by Max. The fourth guy wore a rental company uniform. Don't have a name."

Kensi looked over to her partner, then back down at Callen. "That's Cam. The van used in last night's attack was traced to this rental yard. Deeks and I questioned him earlier. He showed us paperwork implicating the janitor at the bar. When Eric discovered the documents were bogus, we headed back out here. When we showed up, Sam had tracked your phone to this same location."

Callen looked up at Sam, his brow creased with worry. "What about Alex?"

"Fryman's son?"

G swallowed dryly before responding. "Yeah. Do we have any idea where he is?"

Sam shook his head negatively.

"Have Eric do a search… See if he can find the mother. And have him check for any relatives the boy may be staying with."

Deeks crossed one arm over his chest and sat back on his heels. "There may be a family connection between Fryman and 'construction rental guy.' Fryman's son referred to him as his Uncle."

Callen's breath hitched, and his eyes darted nervously from Deeks, up to Sam, to Kensi, and back to Sam. "Alex was here?"

Sam placed his hand on the Callen's shoulder. "G. Right now, all our recourses need to be concentrated on pinpointing the location of the next attack."

Callen's eyes widened and his breathing, once again, became choppy. "Sam… I saw the look in Fryman's eyes… He's willing to give up everything. We have to make sure… the boy's safe."

That's it. It suddenly dawned on Sam, this was what was causing his partner's uncharacteristic level of distress; G was worried about the boy. Sam gripped Callen's shoulder a little tighter. "We'll find him, G," He assured softly. "Just as soon as all this is over, we'll find Alex. I promise."

Callen lay silently, rubbing the tips of his index fingers against his thumbs, scowling up at his partner.

The silence was interrupted by Nell's voice. "Guys? 'Uncle' is apparently just a term of endearment in this case. We checked Dominic Fryman's background when we were following up on leads this morning. The mother is deceased. And records show no 'next of kin.'"

Sympathy filled Sam's eyes. After a moment, he let out a long breath. "Thanks, Nell."

Callen gave his partner a questioning look.

"G. They already checked. Mother's deceased. There are no living relatives."

The room fell silent.

Callen averted his gaze when tears filled his eyes, and Sam felt him tremble beneath his hand.

When the shaking stopped, Sam gave Callen's shoulder a quick squeeze. "You good?"

G blinked the moisture from his eyes, cleared his throat, and looked up at his partner apologetically. "Yeah." He said softly. "Sorry."

With his hand now resting lightly on Callen's shoulder, Sam smiled down reassuringly. "We're gonna stop these guys, G."

Callen suddenly winced, causing him to take in a gulp of air.

Sam's brow furrowed until Callen finally relaxed and was breathing a little easier. "Does your head hurt?"

"Sam… we're wasting time… I'm fine."

"G. I need to find out how much of that stuff entered your system before you injected the antidote. You're gonna give me some straight answers, even if we have to wait here all day. And, if you say you're fine one more time, your butt's going straight to the hospital."

Too weak to protest any further, Callen pressed his lips together and looked away.

"Now let's try this again. Do you have a headache?"

With his gaze still averted, Callen waited several seconds, and then nodded his head.

"Dizzy?"

Another nod.

"Are you nauseated?"

G lifted his tired eyes up to Sam and shook his head negatively.

"Your chest feel tight?"

Callen looked away, and indicated 'yes,' with a single nod.

Without even having to ask, Sam mentally checked off his partner's remaining positive symptoms from the cyanide poisoning: general weakness, muscle spasms, shortness of breath.

Sam patted G's shoulder several times before removing his hand. "We need to see about getting you out of here." The larger agent looked his partner over, and then made eye contact with Kensi. "I think it'll be easier to get him into your car."

Kensi rose to her feet and smoothed out the thighs of her jeans. "I'll pull around next to the entrance."

"And, Kenz. We need some evidence bags. There's a jar of cyanide, and an empty glass on the counter in the next room."

Callen looked up at Sam. "On the table… under the magazines… evidence from the attack on the bar."

"On it," Kensi said, before quickly exiting the room.

Deeks pushed up to stand. "I'll help."

When the Detective had left to assist in collecting evidence, Sam looked down and saw that Callen was now clenching his teeth in concentration. G began slowly opening and closing his weak hands and Sam spotted a sticky, red substance in his left palm. He pushed off the jacket he had laid across Callen, and lifted his partner's arm, exposing a bloody forearm. "How many times did you have to stick yourself?"

Callen turned his head away from Sam, and a look of embarrassment flashed across his features. "Six," He responded softly.

"Six?" Sam shook his head, feigning disappointment. "Couldn't hit the vein?"

"Kept blacking out," G answered, his gaze still averted.

"From the poison, or from seeing the size of that needle?"

Callen looked up at Sam with a weak, lopsided grin. "Both."

The younger team members returned just a little while later to find Sam sitting cross-legged in the floor beside his sleeping partner.

"Evidence is locked in the car," Kensi reported, keeping her voice low. She stooped down and bagged the syringe that had been used to save Callen's life.

In order to avoid hearing G's protest over being carried, Sam hoped to get him to the car without waking him up. Sam let out a breath. "Let's do this, then," He said quietly. "Deeks, if you'll get on the other side and help me lift him, I think I can carry him."

But when they slid their forearms up under Callen's body, he took in a quick breath, his eyes blinked open, and he looked around in confusion. "Sam?"

"It's alright, G. We're just taking you to the car."

"I c'n walk," He slurred.

Sam smiled down at his stubborn partner. "Sure you can." Then the big agent gave Deeks the 'go ahead' with a quick nod of his head, and together they lifted Callen up, and into Sam's arms.

Marty picked up G's limp right arm that was hanging awkwardly at his side, and laid it across Callen's chest. He bent down, grabbed both jackets from off the floor, and followed Kensi and Sam from the workroom.

In the short time it took Sam to reach the exit of the warehouse, Callen's breathing had become extremely shallow. That, and the fact that his partner was not protesting being carried, caused Sam additional concern. "G. You still with me?" Sam was relieved when he felt a small nod against his shoulder.

Wordlessly, the team worked together, preparing to transport their Senior Agent back to the office.

Kensi had already opened the back door on the driver's-side when Sam came out of the warehouse carrying Callen. Sam carefully sat G in the seat and then stood in the open door until he knew his partner was secured.

Marty stationed himself next to Sam, ready to assist if needed.

Kensi crawled into the backseat from the other side and pulled the seatbelt across Callen's torso.

When the seatbelt clicked into place, Callen raised his head and looked at Kensi, his brow tense with worry. "Before this thing goes down, we need…" G coughed weakly several times before he was able to continue. "We need to make sure Alex is not at home by himself."

Kensi watched Callen, once again, lower his chin to his chest. Sympathy filled her brown eyes. She looked across to her partner, and then to Sam.

Sam turned his head and gazed thoughtfully off to the side for a few moments before responding to his friend's request. "Eric. We need LAPD to send someone by Fryman's residence. Notify me if his son is there, and ask them to hold the boy until I get there."

"Copy that, Sam."

Kensi reached down in the floorboard, pulled a bottle of water out of a small black duffle bag, and handed it across to Sam. "It's not all that cold."

"Thanks, Kenz." Sam opened the bottle, and laid the lid on Callen's thigh. He placed his free hand on Callen's forehead, gently pushed his head to an upright position, and put the open bottle up to the groggy Agent's mouth. "Drink this, G. It'll help clear that stuff out of your system."

Callen absentmindedly reached up to take the bottle from Sam, undershooting the bottle by more than six inches.

Attempting to hold back a grin, one side of Sam's mouth twitched several times. "I got it, G. You just concentrate on drinking."

After only two sips, Sam felt Callen's brow furrow in protest. He released Callen's forehead and recapped the bottle. "I'm gonna take my car. If they locate the boy, I'll swing by and pick him up, and have someone come stay with him at the boatshed." Sam turned to the Detective. "Deeks, you ride in the back with G. Make sure he drinks this."

Sam laid the bottle of water in Callen's lap, and stooped so that he was eye level with his partner. "You hear that, G? I want this gone by the time we get to the office. If I find out you're not drinking, we're gonna pull over, stuff you in my car, and I'm gonna make you listen to my fusion-jazz the rest of the way."

Callen lifted his tired gaze, quirked an eyebrow at his partner, and then lowered his head.

Suddenly, Deeks reached around Sam and snatched the water bottle that was still resting on Callen's thighs. "I better take this. He's too weak to lift a feather."

Marty handed Sam the pair of jackets, walked around to the passenger's-side, and settled into the seat beside Callen. He buckled his seatbelt, completely missing the glare from their Senior Agent.

Kensi shook her head in disbelief. Deeks had done it again; he had blatantly challenged Callen. And to add to her confusion, she thought she saw Deeks flash a smile when he became still, the water bottle in his possession.

Sam studied G for several more seconds, closed the door, and headed to the Challenger.

Ten minutes into their trip to the office, Eric gave an update on the search for Alex. "Sam. LAPD just left Fryman's residence. The son wasn't there."

"Thanks, Eric."

Kensi, Deeks, and those listening in Ops, easily detected the disappointment in Sam's voice.

The ride back to the office was quiet. Sam mulling the whole way, The boy might very well be in danger – and someone was going to have to tell G.

Sam pulled in behind Kensi, next to the Mission entrance. He exited his car, walked around to the driver's side of the SUV, where he was quickly joined by Deeks and Kensi.

Sam opened the back door, not at all surprised to find his stubborn partner holding his own half-full bottle of water.

What did surprise him, however, was how much paler G was than before the trip. Callen appeared to be concentrating on something; he was looking straight ahead, his lips were pressed together, and he was taking in slow, deliberate breaths through his nose.

Sam tilted his head to the side, and gave the smaller man a long, scrutinizing stare. "G. You car-sick?"

Callen slowly turned his head to the left, and peered up at Sam through raised eyebrows.

Kensi's mouth gaped.

A huge grin appeared on the Deeks' face. "Ha! See? I told you, Kenz. Riding with you is like being on an amusement park ride from Hades."

The female agent scoffed. "Thanks for throwing me under the bus there, Callen."

Callen's attempt to smile up at Kensi, more closely resembled a weak grimace.

Shaking his head in amusement, Sam took the water bottle from G. "Let's get you to inside."

Kensi quickly gathered up the bags that contained the evidence, and waited at the door of the Mission.

Marty and Sam looked on while their Team Leader made numerous uncoordinated attempts to push down the button that would release the safety belt. Although his partner's movements were extremely slow and labored, Sam was thankful G was at least beginning to regain the ability to move his arms.

But after watching Callen fumble with the seatbelt for fifteen seconds or so, Sam reached across, gently batted G's hand away, and pressed the release. "Okay, Deeks. You ready?"

"Yeah. How do you wanna do this this?"

Looking straight ahead, his face impassive, Callen quietly suggested, "How 'bout I just walk."

Sam continued as if his partner had not even spoken. "I think I can lift him. Just be on stand-by."

When Sam leaned into the backseat, Callen shifted to his right and set his jaw, clearly annoyed with, yet another, intrusion into his personal space. "I don't need to be carried. Just help me get onto my feet."

Sam and Deeks exchanged understanding glances. Their Lead Agent was definitely opposed to being seen carried into his place of work. Sam pulled back, folded his arms, and studied Callen a moment. "Alright, G. We'll try it your way," He finally stated, a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

The big Ex-SEAL rotated Callen so that he was sitting with his legs hanging out of the car door. Sam knew his skepticism was warranted when he had to catch his partner's shoulder to prevent him from falling backward.

Deeks squeezed into the space of the open door. Each taking a side, he and Sam ducked, draped Callen's relatively limp arms over their shoulders and lifted him up to a standing position.

It took a moment, but somehow, (probably out of sheer stubbornness) Callen was able to gain his balance, and bear some of his weight on his legs.

But, when he tried to step in the direction of the door, his uncooperative legs collapsed, leaving him fully supported by the taller men on either side of him.

Callen lifted his head, a determined look on his face. "Just give me a minute," He said, in barely more than a whisper.

While Callen was gathering enough strength to attempt another step, Kensi noticed a small stream of blood coming from his nose. "Uhh, guys? Nosebleed."

Sam's mind flashed back to the fabricated public scuffle he had had with G earlier that day. In the process of convincing DNA members to invite Callen to join their organization, Sam had bloodied his partner's nose.

Sam let out a quick sigh. "Sorry, G." And, without any warning, he leaned down, and scooped Callen up into his arms.

Deeks opened the door to the building while Kensi rushed back to her car, grabbed a hand towel from her duffle bag, and tossed it to him.

Hetty was at her desk, engaged in a phone conversation, when she heard the team enter the corridor. She watched from her office as Sam carried Callen through the bullpen, sat him down on the couch, and pressed a small towel on what appeared to be a bloody nose.

Kensi laid the evidence bags on her desk, and then joined Sam and Deeks. She stood silently beside her partner, wondering if Callen's nosebleed could somehow be related to his motion sickness.

Deeks was the first to speak. "Is that a side-effect of the cyanide poisoning?"

Callen managed to slowly raise his right hand, taking over the job of holding the towel on his own nose. He squinted up at Sam. "No, it's a side-effect of my partner's right fist."

Deeks' eyes filled with confusion. "Wait. What'd we miss?"

Sam shifted his weight to one leg. "Pfft. I barely touched you, G. And besides, I believe it was you who put way too much force behind that tackle that knocked me on my butt. I think you actually enjoyed that part of our performance."

Marty's eyebrows shot up. "What?" He asked, his voice an octave too high. "Callen tackled Sam? And we missed it? Do we have footage of it up in Ops?"

Ignoring the Detective's curiosity, Callen removed the cloth from his nose and smirked up at his partner. "That was just payback for all the times you claimed to have held your punches… Or light-touched me."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Whatever."

Now finished with her phone call, Hetty made her way to the sitting area where her liaison and three agents had gathered. She stopped next to Kensi, her scrutinizing stare locked onto her Senior Agent.

Obviously uncomfortable with the intense assessment of his physical condition, Callen reached up, shakily wiped the majority of the blood from his face, and then lowered his eyes. "Hetty, I'm okay."

Hetty tilted her head back, her skeptical stare lingering for several more seconds before speaking. "I have contacted all the local authorities pertinent to our case, and they have agreed to assist us."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "But won't that trigger the mass panic we were trying to avoid?"

"They were not made aware of all the details, or the magnitude of the situation."

Callen leaned forward, pressing his palms down on his thighs, apparently attempting to suppress a new wave of tremors. His brow creased as he lifted his troubled gaze to Hetty. "Have we located the boy?"

Sam was taken aback when his Boss merely pursed her lips and looked down at her shoes, leaving him to give his partner the bad news. "G… They checked. He wasn't at his house."

Callen closed his eyes, took in a shaky breath, and nodded once.

Hetty paused for a moment before turning her attention back to Callen's physical condition. "Other than the cyanide poisoning, and the nosebleed, are there any other medical concerns?"

"Yeah," Deeks piped up. "My partner's driving made him car-sick." The blonde's taunting remark, earned him a quick elbow to his ribs.

Hetty gave Deeks a 'not so amused' look. "Mr. Callen, any injuries that I need to be aware of."

Callen frowned down at Hetty's left hand, when he suddenly noticed she had come equipped with her little black medical bag. "No, Hetty. I'm fine."

Sam guessed he was about to irritate his partner to no end, but he knew the puncture wounds on Callen's arm needed some attention. "Injection site… Left forearm… Multiple punctures."

Sam guessed right. G transferred his glare from the intimidating medical bag, to him.

Hetty's eyebrows lifted above the top of her eyeglasses. "Multiple?... Shoes… off," She ordered.

Callen's eyes narrowed, but his slowed reflexes did not even allow him time to react before Kensi had removed his boots. "Why my shoes?" He finally protested.

"Because I'm going to check you over, and then you are going to lie down and rest. And I will not have you putting those filthy boots on my sofa." Hetty pointed to a chair that sat several feet away, and adding insult to injury asked, "And Mr. Hanna, would you hand me that throw?"

Callen looked up at Sam, who was now draping the fleece throw over the arm of the couch. The look of dread on G's face made Sam have to force back a smile. It was never good to be on the receiving end of Hetty's phrase, 'check you over.' Judging from his expression, G was beginning to think it might have been better to have just succumbed to the poison.

"Mr. Callen?!" Hetty exclaimed, causing Callen to flinch. "I count five… no, six punctures wounds on your forearm. Do I need to enroll you in yet another refresher course with our medical team?"

When Callen didn't bother to respond, Sam figured he was either mentally reliving his most recent four-hour injection training, or concentrating on controlling his right leg that had now begun to shake.

In the few seconds it took Callen to convince his leg to be still, Hetty had already donned her tiny rubber gloves, and was opening up an alcohol swab packet. She sat down next to him on the couch, instructing him to hold his arm out straight.

Callen's left arm was even less cooperative than his leg. The shaking went on for almost a full minute before he finally gritted his teeth, and 'fixed his arm with a look.' G was so focused on remaining still, he barely noticed the stinging when the alcohol solution was applied to his forearm.

Finished with her 'doctoring,' and with cleaning the remaining blood off Callen's face, Hetty closed her medical bag. She rose to her feet and addressed the three team members who were still standing there watching, obviously concerned about Callen. "Mr. Hanna, Miss Blye, Mr. Deeks… Ops," She said, shooing them with her hand. "I'll be right up."

When the team had exited the sitting area, Hetty wordlessly instructed Callen to lie down, with a back-and-forth motion of her pointer finger. "I'll be down to check on you in just a bit."

Knowing this was not a battle he could win, Callen conceded, slowly stretching out on the couch, and offering no objection to the throw that was being gently arranged over his body.

Hetty made her way up to Ops finding Sam standing at the top of the stairs, watching his partner as he struggled to find a comfortable position on the couch. Hetty stood beside Sam, looking down at her recovering Senior Agent. After a pause, she placed her hand on Sam's arm. "You're worried he's not fit enough for the mission."

His gaze still fixed on Callen, Sam's response was simply a long, cleansing breath.

"Your partner is a fighter. He'll get through this. Whatever happens, I know you'll have his back, Sam." Hetty lowered her hand from Sam's arm. "And, as soon as this assignment is over, I can assure you, I will see to it that he gets the appropriate medical attention, and proper rest."

Sam's features softened. He turned and looked down at his petite Boss. "That won't be easy, Hetty. Remember, this is G we're dealing with."

Hetty peered down at Callen, who had finally managed to settle into the cushions of the couch. "Then, I expect you may have to sit on him until he does."

A smile formed on Sam's face as he and Hetty turned to join the others in Ops.

After a brief report from Eric and Nell, Hetty tilted her head to the side, peering up at Deeks with an expression that closely resembled suspicion. "Mr. Deeks."

Suddenly uncomfortable, the blonde froze in place.

"While you were in the field today, I overheard a couple of comments that I found… well, surprising. Were you deliberately trying to provoke Mr. Callen?"

Deeks pointed to his own chest, feigning innocence. "Me? Provoke Callen? Do I look that crazy?"

"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. A little 'reverse psychology' as they say? You challenged him in the moments where he seemed to be struggling the most, hoping that his anger towards you would fuel the fire he needed to fight."

"Well…" Marty said, looking a bit embarrassed. "My thoughts weren't quite so poetic… or 'bromantic,'" he drawled. "But, yeah."

It was suddenly clear to Kensi: her partner had acted out of concern for Callen.

Even Sam, though he would never admit it, was impressed. Especially in light of the fact that Deeks had to know he would be facing the consequences once G recovered.

After being instructed to go down and get a quick bite to eat, clean up, and make the necessary preparations for their impending mission, Kensi, Deeks, and Sam left the Ops center quietly.

Hetty used this opportunity to go down to check on Callen's progress. She found him still on the couch, stretched out on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

When Hetty stepped into the sitting area, Callen looked up at her with tired, blue eyes, and then slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position, dragging the throw off his body as he moved.

Hetty took a seat in the straight-back chair next to him, and handed him an opened bottle of water. "Feeling better?"

Callen lowered his eyes, and nodded. "Yeah." He placed the bottle on the table, and began the task of putting on his boots.

"Headache?"

"Almost gone."

"Breathing?"

"Better," He grunted out, pulling on the second boot.

Placing her hands in her lap, Hetty eyed him carefully. "You're concerned about the boy's well-being."

Callen raised his head, paused, and let out a frustrated sigh. "It's just not fair."

"Mr. Callen. You, of all people, should know that life isn't fair. It's just life. How we respond to what comes our way is what matters."

"He won't understand." Callen said softly. He shook his head slowly, looked off to the side, and tears suddenly filled his eyes. "No matter how this ends, whether Fryman is captured, or killed, Alex will wake up in the morning scared, and alone."

Hetty gazed up at the ceiling for a moment, taking in a deep breath, pushing down the guilt that was threatening to surface. She knew that this hit too close to home for the orphan who sat before her.

Callen lowered his head, not able to hold back the single tear that dropped from his eyelashes. "In just a few hours, his world will fall apart."

Hetty leaned forward and placed her hand on Callen's knee. "Then I suppose he will need someone there to help him pick up the pieces."

After a few moments, Callen blinked away the tears and raised his head. When he lifted his eyes to hers, Hetty was sure she saw the old, familiar fire in his eyes; the passion and determination his team depended on. Hetty stood and slipped away, leaving him with his thoughts.

Callen watched Hetty leave, and took in a few small breaths. Feeling another wave of fatigue, he leaned back and closed his eyes. Hetty's words echoed in his ears. 'He'll need someone.' Fading in and out of consciousness, his thoughts went back to his childhood, remembering the emptiness and the shame he felt. No matter how many people were around, he was alone… Always alone… Strangers, sleepless nights, fear… The innocent should be protected… Waking up afraid and alone… Protect the innocent…

Callen was jolted awake when Sam tapped his leg.

"Time to go to work, G. Team's in the armory. We'll fill you in."

Ignoring his partner's outstretched hand, Callen stubbornly pushed himself up from the couch, and onto his shaky legs.

He followed Sam through the Mission, his mind seeing all the faces of the young and innocent his team had brought to safety. His determination grew with each step. He might not be able to save the world, but he could make the world a better place – he could save this one. When all was said and done, he'd be there to help pick up the pieces.