Agent Natalie Giordano: “She must have been some cop.”
G. Callen: “She was.”
– Keepin’ It Real, NCIS: Los Angeles, 1×06
Author Note: Episode Tag to “Keepin’ It Real”. I’ve noticed that SB tends to play fast & loose with cannon/timelines on occasion – ex: Sam states at one point that he’s been Callen’s partner for almost 3 years; and then, in “Past Lives” he’s surprised he hasn’t heard of Callen’s alias Jason, even though that was over 4 years earlier. Taking this into account, go into this under the assumption that Callen has been with NCIS for 5 years and been partnered with Sam for 3. I’ve scuttled together whatever info I could from interviews, wiki sites, etc. to try and patch together my own (possible/plausible) past for Callen. I’ve based my little idea off a comment SB made (pre-series) in an interview about Callen having worked for the FBI, CIA, and DEA before coming to NCIS.
It was only one sentence; however, it packed exactly the punch that Giordano intended when she spoke it. Somehow the blonde had managed to turn six simple words into an implication of, “You have no idea what you’re missing out on idiot,” with just the perfect mix of insulted and unaffected in her tone. It was a gift that G. Callen was convinced only female’s in the species possessed.
Unfortunately for the agent in question, her words weren’t playing on repeat through his mind because he was kicking himself over passing up on a sure bet at getting laid that evening.
“No, ’cause that would be too normal,” he muttered under his breath and punched the pillow under his head in frustration.
Instead, the words had dredged up a far more unsettling tirade of thoughts and memories that he had shoved into a box just over five years earlier when he came to NCIS from the CIA. Though, if he was being entirely truthful with himself, the top of the box had started being ripped open from the moment he met the Secret Service Agent a few days earlier. Her blatant come on’s, his teammates teasing, his insistence on being entirely not interested (all because of his damn rule); it had all contributed to his current state of staring at the ceiling with sleep no where to be found.
Levering himself out of the bed in the bare motel room Callen approached the window and stared down at the late night foot traffic and the beach in the near distance. He could practically hear Sam’s voice asking, once again, when he was going to settle into a real apartment and wondered what his friend would say if he ever gave the other man his real reason for constantly moving. He had yet to give it, to any of them, because he didn’t expect any of them to fully understand it.
Sometimes habits are too difficult to break. Sometimes you just don’t want to break them anyway.
“Aileen got it,” he whispered softly, frowning at the verbalized thought since it broke an unspoken addendum to the rule he had been insisting on for the last few days. No dating law enforcement (and no speaking the name of the reason for the rule). “Not good G,” he added slightly louder and threw a glare at his own reflection in the window.
“Some cop,” he repeated the words out loud that were on repeat in his mind and rolled his eyes slightly. “Understatement. And she’d have eaten you for breakfast,” he added with a light chuckle, allowing himself to remember a brilliant, kind and yet, scarily dangerous, redhead who he had spent five years partnered with until a disastrous, questionably legal, mission had left him with no idea what had happened to her.
G zipped his leather jacket higher on his neck and continued to walk along the length of the Thames River hoping tonight, the third night, would be the night he’d finally meet his new partner. He was beginning to get frustrated with his current orders; walk the Thames near The Globe Theatre each night between eight and eleven until you see her. Not for the first time he considered his orders were potentially a twisted version of CIA hazing.
The last six months, four at The Farm at Camp Peary and two at The Point in North Carolina, had been the most intense training the undercover aficionado had ever encountered. Not for the first time he wondered why it’d taken him this many years to apply to the CIA; though, the thirty-two year old figured his stints at the FBI and DEA had only better prepared him for his current employer.
“Wow, are you sure you passed training Rookie?”
Callen tensed at the feminine voice, that spoke from behind him, and turned slowly. His hand inched cautiously toward the underside of his jacket until a streetlight illuminated a flash of red hair, and a gold badge, and his tension became instant embarrassment at being caught unaware.
“Rookie?” he replied, eying the woman in front of him carefully. Her face was still slightly obscured by the shadow of the tree she was leaning against, but she still exuded an air of danger that put him on immediately on edge.
“Yup,” she responded, taking a step away from the tree to reveal a lovely face surrounded by long waves of red. A lovely face that Callen was shocked to realize appeared to be much younger then him. “Though, I’ll admit, the rookie thing is only in the most literal sense. I’ve seen your file. Impressive.”
“Thanks,” he muttered, raising an eyebrow as she walked closer. The woman was definitely dangerous; all he could think of at that moment was being stalked. “I’m Callen.”
“Well, no shit,” she replied with a laugh that lightened up her entire face, put him more at ease and reinforced his first impression that she was incredibly dangerous. “I’m Aileen Flynn. Welcome to London. Let’s go.”
“Somewhere inside, it’s fucking cold out here,” Aileen responded with a smirk and nodded her head back in the direction Callen had come from. “I was supposed to let you look for me for at least another day, but I got too cold observing you the past two nights. My current place is a few blocks away. We’ll go there. Where are you staying?”
“Crowne Plaza for now,” Callen informed the redhead and shrugged at her wrinkled nose. “Not my choice.”
“Yea, well, you’re staying with me now,” she told him. “Place like that is way too showy. Might as well paint a huge sign on your back that says “Here Look At Me!”
Callen blinked and studied her profile as they walked, considering her words for a moment, before asking, “Are we working an Op in London or something?”
“No why?” she immediately replied, confusion showing clearly on her lovely features.
“Cause you’re apparently worried about stealth.”
Aileen stopped walking as his words processed and then turned to face the, technically, junior agent as she explained, “There’s a reason we’re called ‘spooks’. We need to be ready to become someone else at a moment’s notice. How do you know that someone you will be running an Op on six months from now isn’t staying at the Crowne?”
“I know all this,” Callen pointed out. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”
“No, it isn’t,” she conceded. “But ironic choice of words considering I’ve been informed you’re kind of a cowboy.”
“Military, FBI, DEA and now the CIA? Are you going for your alphabet soup merit badge for something?”
Callen shrugged again and scratched the back of his neck nervously. His previous escapades of following his own rules had never really bothered him before and it was embarrassing that a few remarks from someone he had met minutes earlier could illicit anything other then the status quo.
“Or something,” he admitted quietly and allowed a small smirk when she smiled at his reply.
“Good thing I’ve got the same problem,” she admitted, smiling even brighter. “To an extent,” she added in a more serious tone of voice. “I might be a little more out there then The Agency would like…but I don’t have a death wish either. A few months with me and your natural abilities will be nicely honed into exactly what the perfect Operations Officer should be.”
“Yep. Or at least my version of what it should be.”
“That sounds a little more realistic,” Callen shot back and continued walking. “So, anyway, you were saying about living arrangements?”
“Cliff’s notes? I don’t stay anywhere longer then a few weeks to three months, I try and live in small, out of the way apartments or lower end hotels and I never have more then I can carry with me in a large duffel bag unless I’m actively working an Op. It just makes picking up and starting an Op easier in the long run. Safer too; after-all, someone I pissed off last year can’t show up and shoot me if I’ve moved five times since then.”
Callen let her words run through his head as they continued walking, turning off the path that followed the River and working their way down a darkened side street. His thoughts drifted back to his own nomadic childhood; a lifestyle he had tried, in vain, to fully shake after he turned eighteen and joined the military. He found it oddly comforting that this veritable stranger had much the same lifestyle that he did; he didn’t really care if it was by choice or necessity at that point.
“Piss a lot of people off, do you?”
He laughed quietly at the smirk his question put on her face and waited for a reply that he almost anticipated before it was verbalized, “Of course. Don’t you?”
“Been known to happen on occasion.”
“Excellent,” she whispered with a blatantly fake cackling laugh. “We’re here.”
Callen eyed the dilapidated apartment and briefly considered retracting his appreciative thoughts of her lifestyle as his comfortable bed at the Crowne Plaza, on his expense account, flashed in his mind. Instead he forced a smile on his face and asked the only other question he had at that single moment, “What about my stuff?”
“It’s upstairs already.”
“Hi, Aileen Flynn, Operations Officer, employed by the Directorate of Operations branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. Have we met?” she questioned in a voice so thickly laced in sarcasm that Callen almost took a full step away from her. “Doing shit like that’s my job, yours too Rookie.”
Callen stared her back down, blue eyes studying blue, and realized that they had reached the real beginning of his CIA training. Her words from earlier repeated in his brain and he considered the implications of what she had told him. Two, self-admitted, cowboy agents, partnered together for the foreseeable future. G had been around the block too many times over the last few years to not realize what that potentially meant. The Agency either wanted them both out of the way, or wanted them to temper each other into something salvageable.
He was hoping for the latter and planning on the first.
“We really need to work on your interpersonal skills. We’re partners now. Be nice to me,” he finally spoke, raising an eyebrow in warning. “Cause, I don’t have a death wish either. And if The Agency put us on a suicide run I fully intend on laughing in their face when it doesn’t work.”
“I am nice,” she muttered, unlocking the door and shocking him by immediately handing him another key. “See, this is me being nice. House-key.”
“And no more calling me Rookie. I already figured out I’m older then you are.”
“Yea,” she agreed. “But only by about five years.”
Callen froze as they entered a studio apartment and stared at her in surprise, “You’re only twenty-seven?”
“Uh-huh,” she agreed, opening the fridge and looking inside. “Want a beer?”
“Yes please,” he replied quickly; while doing some frantic arithmetic in his brain. “How in the hell are you the senior agent on this team at the ripe old age of twenty-seven?”
“Started at The Farm at twenty-one,” she admitted. “My parents are both Staff Operations Officers. As contrived as it sounds? I was pretty much raised to be an Officer. Apparently I’m a natural.”
“I’ve been told that a time or two myself,” Callen responded, taking a seat on the large couch and letting his eyes wander the sparse apartment. A king sized bed, a couch, a coffee table and a small kitchen table were the only pieces of furniture in the entire room. “But twenty-one? Right out of college?”
“Right out of grad school,” she elaborated, looking embarrassed. “You’re my partner, so you should know some of this stuff.”
“Cliffs Notes?” he asked, using Aileen’s own words from earlier to ease the sudden tension in her shoulders.
He decided he liked the bright smile he was rewarded with.
“Basically, my parents shoved my early education down my throat once they realized I was a little brighter then the average bear. I’m no super-genius, but they had the money and the political clout to make things a little easier for me to, say, get into Stamford at fifteen to study Psych and Linguistics.”
Callen stared back at her, understanding her discomfort at the subject of her youth, before asking “Why Psych and Linguistics?”
“Maureen’s a psychologist and Patrick’s a cryptographer. Neither one ever qualified to be a field agent. Do the math on that one.”
“You’re the psychologist. You explain the motives of your parents,” he teased with a wink that earned him a flipped up finger from across the room.
“More like gene suppliers and besides, no Ph.D smart-ass,” she replied dryly. “Anyway, that’s enough sharing for tonight.”
“You don’t wanna know anything about me?” he questioned, watching as she climbed into the large bed and pulled a book out from under her pillow before setting her beer on the nightstand.
“I’ve seen your file,” she reminded him. “And I don’t believe in massive information overload all at once. Our jobs are to keep secrets; why shouldn’t we practice that in our own lives?”
“Good point,” Callen agreed quietly, stretching out on the couch and covering himself with the blanket and pillow she had left on them. “Next place we stay can have two beds right? Even if it’s only a studio?”
“You can sleep over here you know. It’s a really big bed. I don’t bite.”
“Goodnight Aileen,” he replied, laying back against his pillow and letting the evening process in his mind. There was a very short list of people who Callen had ever felt immediately comfortable with and he was more then slightly disturbed to realize that Aileen Flynn had in a little over an hour made her way towards the top of that list.
As he fell asleep, gun slipped under his pillow, he wondered if that meant she was more or less dangerous then he initially thought.
“Much more,” Callen whispered to himself, shaking his thoughts of that first meeting off and climbing back into bed.
The five years following that first night in London had been a series of missions that had taken him from one end of the globe to the other, with more then a handful operating questionably inside the United States. He and Aileen had done their jobs, they had recruited informants in other countries, collected counter intelligence on foreign governments and neutralized their fare share of threats against the United States.
And somewhere in between various acts of espionage they had gone from partners, to friends, to lovers, to…a blown up building in Seattle, a week long coma and a partner that had never existed according to The Agency.
Callen had lived, was still living in many ways, every single spy movie cliche imaginable and as much as he trusted his team he still missed a certain redhead more then he cared to admit.
Thus the rule.
The month long debriefing, where his (their) handler had denied the existence of someone whom he had spent the last five years of his life with, that had resulted in his termination from The Agency (and questioning his own sanity to an extent) had also forced his decision to never again get that close to someone who could very easily be removed from his life due to the act of a criminal.
He never again wanted to feel the plummeting feeling of gravity that he had experienced as he walked out of Langley that final time, eyes trailing along the wall in the lobby and wondering if one of the new stars was there for someone he couldn’t admit until it was (apparently) too late he had loved.
Someone who he had counted as part of his small family.
With that final thought he firmly slammed the top of the box closed and took a deep breath, pushing wild red hair, terrified blue eyes and a traumatized scream back inside, and forced himself to get at least a few hours sleep before he had to go to work and pretend that that last few days, and one simply six word sentence, hadn’t been enough to nearly send him over an imagined cliff.