Set sometime early in Season 2.
Kensi decided that she'd have some choice words for whoever had managed the team's travelling arrangements. Due to some mix-up or lack of foresight on the part of their "travel agent," the four of them had, upon their arrival in Washington, D.C., found that there was only one hotel room booked under the name Ernie Lawson, one of Callen's understandably rarely-utilized aliases. They'd stared in disbelief at the receptionist, who'd quickly slid four key cards across the table and ducked behind his substantial computer monitor the moment Callen had scribbled his name on the check-in.
"Someone's gonna pay for this," Sam muttered as they squeezed into an elevator that had clearly been designed for someone with the stature of their operations manager.
"Think about it this way," Deeks chirped from the back of the elevator, plastered against the wall by Sam's bag, "We can have some team bonding time!"
"Say another word and my fist is gonna bond with your face," Sam growled as the elevator pinged and he lunged out onto the fourth floor.
They stopped at their room, and Callen slid the key card in, pushing the door open and looking around the room with a wry grin on his lips.
"Well," he said, "This is lovely."
Sam glared at the two double beds and the droopy futon laid out in the corner.
"You can have the bed, G," he muttered, "There's no way I'm fitting on any of those."
"I don't sleep in a bed, Sam," Callen replied.
"Well, you do now. There's barely enough floor space for me to lie down."
Kensi quirked an eyebrow, turning to her partner.
"Bed or futon?"
"Futon, baby," Deeks replied, throwing himself after his duffel bag onto that very piece of furniture, "Rhymes with crouton. I like croutons."
Kensi rolled her eyes and dropped her bag onto the nearest bed.
Wordlessly, Callen handed his bedroll to Sam, who eyed it with distaste before snatching it out of his partner's hand.
"Have fun with the kids," Callen whispered, turning for the door.
"Oh, come on, G," Sam protested, "Don't do this to me."
"Whoa, where're you going?" Deeks asked, rolling off the futon, hair in complete disarray.
Callen paused, hand on the door handle.
"I'm going to see an old friend," he said, half-smiling to himself, "I owe him a visit."
With one last cheeky grin at his partner, he turned the handle and disappeared into the hallway.
Callen paused for a moment on the familiar front stoop, the night having long since settled in around him on the cab ride out to the 'burbs. He breathed in deeply, shifting his bag on his shoulder before reaching forward and resting his hand on the doorknob. It was just as he remembered: unlocked. Smiling to himself, he opened the door and stepped into the darkened hall, shutting the door softly behind him. Letting his bag slide to the ground, he made his way through the dark to the basement door, which was slightly ajar. Pushing it open, he stood at the top of the stairs, looking fondly down at the silver-haired man sanding down the ribs of a half-finished boat.
"You just gonna stand there?" the man said, without pausing in his work.
Callen smirked and slowly descended to the basement floor.
"Same boat?" he asked.
Callen perched on a stool as he watched his friend finish up his work, relaxing in an environment that was as close to home as he'd ever felt. After one final stroke, Gibbs straightened, brushing off the wood fondly as he looked up and met Callen's gaze with a matching half-smile of his own.
"It's good to see you in one piece, Callen."
"It feels good to be in one."
They clasped hands in a warm greeting before Gibbs pulled out another stool from under the worktable and uncorked the bottle he had sitting beside some wood shavings.
"No cider this time," he said, "It's the real stuff."
"I'm glad to hear it."
Callen took his dusty glass with a nod of thanks and sipped slowly, savoring the taste, the moment. Gibbs sat back on his stool, nursing his own glass. The comfortable silence stretched on until Callen spoke.
"You hear anything from Petrov lately?"
"He's back in Moscow, last I heard," Gibbs replied, "Working a case."
Callen's eyebrows shot up.
"I feel like I should be surprised, but I'm not," he said wryly, shaking his head as he took another sip, "He'll never learn, will he?"
Gibbs chuckled, "He'll never learn because he knows we'll always be ready to drag his ass out of the fire the next time he goes in too deep."
Callen forced out a laugh. Moscow had been painful. On many levels.
As if sensing the sudden shift in Callen's mood, Gibbs glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and said, "So, how are ya, Callen?"
Callen's lips twitched into a half-smile, the familiar words bringing warm memories that reminded him of how much he'd missed this man's silent company.
"I've been good," he replied, "Considering … everything that's happened."
He swirled the alcohol absently around in his glass.
"I was sorry to hear about Dom."
Callen swallowed hard, nodding at his glass.
"Yeah," he said, gathering himself, "Yeah. It's tough. Sam took it hard."
The silence stretched on, and Callen remembered all too vividly the rooftop, the desperation in Sam's eyes, the way he'd shaken his head and—
Callen drained his glass in one large gulp.
"You never really stop," Gibbs said suddenly.
Callen cast him a questioning look.
"Remembering," Gibbs clarified.
Callen knew he was thinking about Kate. And Jenny. And Mace.
"We always lose a few, don't we?" he murmured, staring at the bottom of his glass.
Gibbs reached over with the bottle and sloshed in some more whiskey.
"It's the job."
Callen drained his glass again, feeling the heat of the alcohol as he stood, setting the glass down carefully on the worktable.
"Tomorrow's an early day for us," he said apologetically, checking his watch, "And I've been through a few too many time zones on my way here. Hope you don't mind if I take your couch."
"It's all yours," Gibbs replied, "You're not staying with your team?"
"There was a mix-up at the hotel, and we only got one room," Callen groaned, heading for the stairs, "I'm nowhere near drunk enough to deal with that."
Gibbs chuckled, tossing back the rest of his glass and sticking the cork back into the bottle as he rose to follow Callen out of the basement. He paused for a moment, watching the vague outline of his friend disappear out the door as he briefly considered how close they had been to losing these moments forever. The job, he thought, then shook his head, It's more than that, and with these last sentiments, he ascended the stairs and turned off the lights, covering the basement in the gentle darkness of silence.
This is it.
Of all the chapters I wrote that take place during the series, this is the only one with which I am remotely comfortable.
As a last note: Thanks again for the reviews and for reading through this oftentimes long-winded and rather scattered attempt at a story - it was fun for me, and I hope it was for you as well. Until next time.