The Mission, Los Angeles - three months later
Slowly the team healed from their injuries and the grief eased a little. But their lives had been changed forever. Angela returned to Kansas City to be with her family as they grieved the loss of their husband, father and grandfather. With no team fit to work, another team of agents moved in from San Diego to cover their area until they were ready to return.
Today was the day that all four agents were returning to the office, pending their final assessment for field duty. Their desks were piled high with paperwork and Hetty had to smile to herself as she heard the groaning from the bull pen. The familiar sound of her four field agents gave her the push that she needed to keep going. She was ageing faster than she wanted but her people needed her and here she would stay.
She looked over at the figure who made his way over to her office and stepped up to her desk. “Henrietta.”
Granger sat in the chair and accepted the cup of tea. “It’s good to see them back. I have to admit, but it was too quiet around here with their replacements.”
“I agree, Owen.” She smiled, the old coot did care.
“How is everyone settling in back home again?” The team had spent most of their three months medical leave in Morro Bay and it looked at one point that none of them were keen to return.
“I’m not sure. Time will tell. Some familiarity might do the trick.”
“Let’s hope things quiet down somewhat after all that they’ve been through.” It was the middle of summer and although each of them had been off on medical leave, they really wanted their holidays, to go somewhere fun. Hetty had persuaded them to return to work, complete their paperwork and take it from there. All four had groaned, but at least they had shown up for work.
The banter was slow and steady, but it was there. Eric stood up on the top of the stairs and played a banjo to catch their attention. Fear that they were being called up into ops for a case went through their bodies. Since when had any of them feared a case? Callen looked over to Sam before he looked at Kensi and Deeks. Neither of them were keen and returned to their paperwork.
Eric looked down at them frustrated and tried again. After the second attempt failed, he ran down the stairs and cleared his throat. “In case you guys have forgotten, when I call you to Ops, you’re supposed to climb the stairs.”
“We’re all on desk duties until we’re cleared, Eric. Try someone else.” Callen spoke on their behalf. None of them were keen to be back. Morro Bay had been a good break for them to recover from their injuries and they had gotten too accustomed to the serenity of the place.
Eric stepped back and turned around to Hetty’s office, confused. He took a few steps over to where Hetty and Granger sat and ascended the two steps up.
“What is it, Mr Beale?”
“The team, none of them are available for field work, so why are they back?”
“They’ve been cleared to return to work, Mr Beale, they’re on paperwork until they’re cleared for the field. What is it?”
“We have a problem.” He brought up the details on the screen in Hetty’s office, using his tablet. “It appears that someone was seen casing Arkady’s old place. But I can’t quite make out who they are?”
They watched the figure move between the trees and bushes on the property, cagy in their actions. Owen and Hetty’s eyes widened. They were both in shock over what they were seeing. “Impossible.”
“Who is he?” Eric had tried to find out the person’s identity before he came downstairs.
Hetty looked over to Owen and tilted her head. “Take Mr Callen with you, Owen. I think he needs to see this himself.”
Owen nodded, leaving Eric confused. Granger strolled over to the bull pen. “Callen, you’re with me.”
Callen looked up surprised. “But I’m on desk duty.”
“Let’s go for a drive then.” He stood with his hands in his pocket, he waited for Callen to think it over and grab his weapon out of the drawer.
Owen remained silent on the drive. It had been amusing to watch the others look on with curious minds over what was going on. It didn’t take Callen long to realise where they were going.
“Stop the car.” Callen’s breathing hitched, he couldn’t go there. There were too many bad memories.
“No, I’m not going to stop the car. You’re coming with me whether you like it or not.”
“Why?” Anger radiated off him.
“Because I said so.” Slightly amused with the childish behaviour from Callen, Owen continued to pull up outside the now vacant land. He stepped out of the vehicle and scanned the area.
“I can’t see anyone, Eric.” Eric Beale brought the security cameras up from around the property that NCIS had set up after the explosion.
“Aaah…he was there. Hang on. At your ten o’clock. Behind a tree.” Owen squinted and found a figure kneeling down behind a large oak tree. He walked over, hoping to catch them out unaware. The last thing he wanted was for them to run away.
Owen leaned on the trunk of the tree as the man continued to dig.
“At first we couldn’t believe our eyes to see you wandering around here, but now I believe it. What are you digging for?”
The man looked up and starred at Owen, slightly confused. “I’m not sure. I remember this place, but the house is gone.”
“Arkady?” Callen came from behind Owen with disbelief in his voice. “The doctor said you died. I don’t understand?” He looked to Granger for an explanation.
“Don’t look at me, Callen. We’re just as surprised as you are.”
“Me, died?” Arkady scoffed at the ridiculousness of the idea. “No, I am very much alive.” He looked back to where the house used to be, slightly puzzled.
“Are you okay? Where have you been all of this time?” Arkady shook his head slightly. “Svetlana’s. She’s been taking good care of me.” He pulled at a metal box and brushed the dirt off it.
“What’s in the box?” Callen looked at his uncle, slightly confused over everything.
“I…” Arkady looked at the combination lock with a blank look. “I can’t remember. All I know is that it’s important.”
“We all thought that you were….” Callen pulled out his government issued weapon as he heard the crunch of leaves from behind him. He turned and held his gun out with his breath hitched. “You too?” He laid his arm down, turning the safety switch back on and placed the sig back into the small of his back.
“Hello, Gale, Owen.” Mark Burton looked much older than he had three months earlier when he first turned up at the Miller’s farm in Morro Bay. The toll of everything had been a heavy burden on him.
“We..I told Amy that you died.” Callen turned back to his uncle, and noticed how disorientated Arkady was. “Can you please explain what the hell is going on?”
“I had to fake your uncle’s death. There is someone else whose after your father, not Yuri, like we thought. Arkady’s identity was burned, it was no longer safe for him, or for any of you. I had to hide him, and try and find the real threat. I’ve been in Russia following the paper trail.”
“What did you find?” Owen stepped forward and studied his old team mate.
“This goes all the way up the chain to someone in government. Apparently, Nikita knows more than he’s led us to believe. This is not just about what he went to jail for, for helping people escape out of Germany. Only he can tell us why they’re after him. But Arkady kept rambling on about some box under a tree, I thought this might help me find out the truth.” Callen turned to Granger hoping that he could provide some explanation, but he looked just as puzzled as he was.
Mark helped Arkady with the box. “We better take this to some place secure.”
“The boat shed,” Owen suggested and Mark agreed. It had been a long three months for the retired CIA officer.
Mark was patient with Arkady, the ordeal from three months ago had taken a toll on both men, but currently Arkady was affected the most. His memory was sketchy, he had to tread carefully with him to get the information from him.
Callen made them all mugs of coffee as they waited for Arkady to remember the combination to unlock the box. Now Callen had the answer to what had bothered him since leaving the hospital; why was Arkady’s mansion wired to blow? Someone wanted them all dead, not just them and his mother’s old team. But also the hired help to find Nikita. Word must have gotten to whoever was after his father, that they’d failed in finding Nikita and they had decided to cut all ties with them. But why? And who was this person whom Mark spoke about in the Russian government? They’d lived for three months in a false sense of safety, yet the threat remained. He had Mark to thank for taking good care of his uncle and his drive to find the truth. Although, he’d not yet managed to get the details out of him of how he’d escaped the explosion.
It took a while, but Arkady finally managed to unlock the box. He looked at Callen and then it twigged. 03.11.70. His nephew’s birth date. How could he have forgotten it? There were old film strips, files of paperwork, photographs, voice recordings and some strange coded messages.
“What is this?” Callen pointed to the coded message he’d picked up from the table.
Arkady looked intensely at it, but he merely shook his head. “Nik will know.”
Callen noticed a photograph of his mother and picked it up to study it further. He thought about the code left for Sam when Sidorov came into threat. A former CIA contact from an old case had left a fail safe for him and then after breaking the code, they found another mystery that had to fit around a baseball bat. He knew little of his father and he still wouldn’t understand what laid in front of him. The photograph matched the one that Hetty’d given him. She was laughing with her head turned back to face the camera. It must have been his father taking her photo. But this photo was different. As he studied it more closely, he could just make out the letters and numbers in fine detail that made up the image. It was clever, Callen decided. More clever than anything he’d ever seen before.
“We can get Nell and Eric to help decipher the code.”
“Where is Nikita?” Mark inquired. “Is he in the same place?”
“Yes. We weren’t sure if it was safe, he’s stayed behind.”
Mark nodded. “Good. Because it’s not safe. Not yet.” He let out a sigh. He missed Sarah, their children and grandchildren. He wanted his old life back, but he had to ensure it was safe for them first. The safety for his daughter and her children depended on him to complete the mission, even if it meant that they thought he was dead. It was the only way.
“Tell me what happened the day of the explosion?” Callen looked intently over to Mark. He wanted answers and they all deserved to know the truth.
“We were in the house trying to get to where Yuri held the three of you captive. I saw someone outside the house, someone who we’d not seen before. They had a remote detonator in their hand and I realised that it was a bomb. I ran outside to stop them, but the house exploded and I landed in the pool.
“Why did you disappear after the explosion and allow everyone to think that you died?”
“The person I’d seen set the bomb off ran away, so I followed them. By the time I caught up with them, I managed to get the intel off them and follow the paper trail.” Mark took a breather before he continued.
“Why didn’t you call for back up and have this person arrested?” Callen asked him.
A guilty look flashed across Mark’s face. “There wasn’t anyone left to arrest.”
Callen narrowed his eyes.
“I killed him,” Mark admitted. “I thought you were dead. I thought he’d killed the three of you and everyone in my team. He deserved to die at my hands.” He gripped the back of the chair firmly in his hand, it had been the worst day in his life, far worse than finding Clara’s body on the beach. “Then I travelled up to San Francisco, following up a lead, when word came to me through a friend that you had been found alive after three days. I returned to L.A. to make sure that you were okay. Arkady wasn’t in a good state. I paid the doctor to make it appear that he’d died of a heart attack and arranged to put him into protective custody.” He looked over at the Russian who was focused on the items inside the box.
“He thinks one of his former wives, Svetlana, has been taking care of him. But she’s a CIA operative and she’s been great in taking good care of Arkady. With Arkady safe, I have been able to follow the leads and I ended up in Moscow.”
“Who is after my father, Mark?”
“I thought it was someone in Russia, but I’m now not so sure. I think that this person has someone in our government working as a spy and I think Nikita knows who.” Mark heaved out a sigh. “This is where it gets complicated. I need to speak with your father, Gale.”
Callen nodded. “Okay. I’ll take you there.”