Nikita looked up from his desk when he noticed a vehicle drive up his lane. He wasn’t expecting any visitors and he didn’t recognise the blue sedan. He opened the drawer and checked his weapon, just in case. The farm had become lonely after all of his visitors had returned home, but at least he had his employees and friends in the town to give him company from time to time. But it wasn’t the same. He missed his children and Alyssa’s family and his son’s team. The place had become noisy and after a lifetime of hiding, he loved the noise.
He relaxed when he recognised Owen and his son step out of the vehicle. He paused when more people stepped out from the rear. He furrowed his brow in confusion and then relief struck him and he rushed outside.
Arkady looked up and saw his brother rush towards him. “Max. Max, you’re alive.” He wrapped his arms around his brother, tears welled up in his eyes. “I thought you were dead.” He stepped back and looked at him more closely.
“So everyone keeps telling me.” Arkady creased his brow at his brother. “Where is everyone?”
Nikita looked behind him, puzzled. “Who were you expecting to be here?”
“Everyone who was here when we left.” Arkady looked around, the trees were in full fruit of apples. Employees were picking them and placing them into hessian bags before laying them into crates on the back of an old red truck. “Apples are early this year.”
Nikita frowned, his brother had no idea that he’d been gone for three months. Three long months of watching his son and his team heal from their injuries. The guilt he felt was heavy, but he still remained quiet on what he knew. He would carry it to the grave it he had to. He couldn’t have his own children look at him and know what he had done. He thought he was doing good, but instead he had been the key part of something much bigger. It haunted him to no end and after Clara was murdered in Constanta and his children were hidden away in America, he had accepted it as justice for what he had done. Locked away in a Siberian Prison for helping people get out from behind the Iron Curtain for a new life in America. So everyone was led to believe. He had believed in the cause, but it back fired. When he tried to undo the damage, it was then when he’d placed his own family at risk. He was an intelligent man and had hidden everything that he’d discovered within photos of his family. Even if anyone found the images, which he’d given to Max to keep safe, no one could decipher the code. No, they had to have intimate knowledge about his family to work out how to break the code to get the intel. Not even Max knew what he had done, only that he had to change his identity and become someone who had no connection to him.
Nikita looked over at Mark, relieved that he was alive as well. “Does Amelia know that you’re alive?”
“No. No one can know, it’s safer for all of you if they think that Max and I are dead. Amy and her children will be safer this way.” He studied the real father of his daughter and knew that there was something on Nikita’s mind. He was hiding something and he and Callen were determined to get the truth out of him. But he saw his resolute and knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.
“Come on inside, you must be thirsty.” The shaking of Nikita’s hand had deteriorated in the past three months, the stress hadn’t helped his condition at all. The visitors followed him up into the house and Callen had to admit, it was much easier now that his foot had healed. He and Alyssa had joked about what a pair they made, trying hard to lighten the sullen mood that hung in the air. Amy didn’t stay after he’d given her the news, and although he understood her reasoning, he had wanted to have her in his life full time. After a lifetime being apart, didn’t they deserve to be together again?
“So Max, are you staying for a while?” Nikita made coffee for the five of them, but it was Callen who carried the mugs over to the table. He looked worriedly over to his father, he was sure that he hadn’t seen his father deteriorate this bad before he left.
Arkady looked over to Mark for an answer, he was puzzled and muddled up on where he was going and why at present. He had become accustomed to rely on Svetlana and Mark with these sort of decisions.
“Are you up to looking after your brother, Nikita?” Mark took a sip of the warm liquid, enjoying the effects of the caffeine. Both Reznikov men weren’t in the best shape but perhaps them being together would help them get through whatever this was.
“I can manage.” Nikita’s response was more harsh than he had intended and it was noted by all present.
Owen Granger stood up and wandered around the house, studying things around the place. From pictures on the wall to old and well read books situated on the old wooden bookcase. He was looking for any hint that Nikita had things hidden around this house that might help them decipher the code.
Callen watched his father as he looked over to where Granger wandered and he looked uncomfortable. He looked over at Mark and saw him watching his father too. He knows that we know something, Callen concluded. He stood up and carried the empty cups of coffee over to the sink and rinsed them. He placed them inside the dishwasher and looked out at the barn. He had fond memories of working beside his father on the old truck, even after he had returned injured. It kept his mind busy and gave him alone time with his father. But his father was still very much a mystery to him. Callen needed some air, he stepped out the rear door and headed for the barn.
Nikita heard the back door squeak open and then bang shut as he left. He sat there for a moment pondering his options. Go to his son, or sit there and entertain his guests. But he felt the friction in the air between Mark and Granger, he went with his first option and followed his son.
Mark stood up and watched Nikita walk out to the barn, before turning his attention to Granger. “He knows we know something. It’s not going to be easy to get the information we need out of him.”
“I agree. Let Callen lead on this one, Mark. I know you’ve done all the leg work up until now, but he needs to do this for himself. It’s troubling him, I can see the mistrust in his eyes for his father.”
Mark nodded in agreement with his old team member. They’d lost four members of their old team in that blast that had them almost lose Mark, Arkady, Callen and Sam. They deserved the answers as to why they had gone through so much to keep the Callen children alive and as to why they were being hunted by the Russians. But Callen deserved to know more. He’d suffered a hard life, growing up in the system unloved and alone.
It didn’t take Callen long to pick up a wrench and begin working on the truck once again. He’d missed this time with his father since he’d returned to Los Angeles.
Nikita entered and watched his son busy with his hands. He was a man of action rather than words, he had worked out. From the sounds of what he’d heard from Gale, he was very similar to this Gibbs man. The clock ticked on as Callen moved about the truck, tweaking this and that, before climbing inside the cabin and started the engine. The engine rolled over and started ever so smoothly. A smile spread across Nikita’s lips with pride. Satisfied it would go, Callen looked at his father, his face unreadable.
Nikita lost his smile and slightly furrowed his brow. His son refused to smile at him and this bothered him. He stepped forward and opened the passenger door. “Want to give her a spin?”
Callen merely nodded and waited for his father to climb inside and click in his seat belt. They’d achieved a great deal on the old girl since he’d first arrived, but he couldn’t enjoy the success. He was confused and annoyed and if this visit didn’t go well with his father in finding out the truth, he knew that he would have to take his father in for official questioning. The churning in his gut did not help his mood, nor the worry for his family after hearing what Mark had told them.
He drove down the country lane and onto the road, heading for the coast. He loved it here and his time in Morro Bay had been soothing. He took a right turn and headed north on the coastal road, leading away from the town. With the wheat coloured rolling hills on the right and the low sand dunes and Pacific Ocean on the left, Callen continued without a word, north on the coastal road. He’d given the old girl a good run and spotted the perfect spot to pull over. He cut the engine and climbed out of the truck. He continued his steps over the sand dune and onto the beach. The surf rolled in, in white peaks, the sun lowering towards the horizon. It would be dark in about an hour and he realised that he had been out in the barn for longer than he’d realised.
“I get the feeling that you’re ignoring me, son.” Nikita followed his son onto the beach as quick as he could. His body betraying him in his steps, tumbling a few times but he managed to catch himself before falling over.
Callen stopped and looked out over the waves, gaining strength from the power of the waves to face his father.
Callen took in a deep breath to rein in his emotions, but this was harder than he thought. The churning in the pit of his stomach continued to betray him. Finally he turned and looked into his matching cerulean eyes. “I need to know the truth, Dad.”
Nikita knitted his brows together, he never expected it would come to this.
“The truth about what?” He held his ground, he would go down with a fight over admitting this, especially to his son.
“Why you were thrown into a Siberian prison?”
“You know why - I was caught helping people escape behind the Iron Curtain and gave them new identities in America.”
Callen fisted his hands as anger surged through him. “No. I want…I need the truth.” He looked at his father and searched his eyes and what he saw scared him.
“No you don’t, son.” Nikita shoved his hands into his pockets of his jeans to hide the shakes.
“You don’t understand. Mark’s followed the paper trail to Russia and it’s led him back here, to you.” Callen heaved out a heavy sigh. “And Arkady’s been muttering about a box. That’s how Granger and I found them alive. They were back at his house and we found him digging for a box.”
“What box?” Fear grew within Nikita. He thought it was safe with his brother, but from what he could see, Max wasn’t himself after the explosion at his house.
Callen looked back out at the waves. How could something so powerful soothe him so much? “I think you know what box, don’t you? He turned and looked intently at his father.
Nikita shook his head. “No. You don’t want to go there.” His breathing became laboured as he took in a deep breath to keep the panic from overwhelming him.
Callen’s anger merged into worry as he saw his father struggle. “Dad?” He moved over to him and held his arm for support. “Please, Dad. I need to know.”
“Not this, son.” All colour left Nikita’s face as he collapsed onto the beach.
Callen rolled his father onto his side, checking for signs of breathing and pulse. Relief flashed over him, he was still breathing and his pulse was rapid, but strong. After checking his mouth to ensure his airway was clear, he turned him over and checked his pupils. They were dilated, his father had passed out. Panic attack, Callen concluded. His father had had a panic attack which caused him to collapse. He worried over his father’s Parkinson’s disease as it was, although he’d yet reveal to him that he knew.
Nikita opened his eyes and squinted. The sun’s rays shone onto his face. He turned away from the bright light and tried to sit up. “What happened?”
Callen assisted him and waited patiently. He needed his father to tell him, but not like this.
“You collapsed. I think you had a panic attack.”
Nikita pondered a moment before nodding. He saw the concern in his son’s eyes. He didn’t want to tell his son and the worry about it was getting to him. “I can’t, please don’t ask me.”
Callen sat beside his father. “If you don’t tell me, then Granger and Mark will have to take you back to Los Angeles and do it officially. You’re in this country illegally. They could send you back to Russia and then what? You face execution back home?” Callen squinted his eyes closed to hold back the tears. “I won’t let that happen to you, Dad. I need you to trust me.”
“But you don’t trust me,” Nikita stated.
“I hardly know you.” Callen took in another deep breath, his life was a huge mess. “I know that you’re keeping something big from me. It’s eating at you. Look at you, Dad. You’re crumbling away. Is this how you want to go? I believe that whatever it is that you’re running from is killing you slowly. I want to help you. Please trust me.”
Nikita sighed. “You know me better than I realised.” He looked back at his son. “I stuffed up, son. Big time. I tried to undo the damage, but it cost me everything that mattered to me.”
Callen furrowed his brow. “Tell me.” Finally after a lifetime, Callen was going to hear how his life went so horribly wrong at five years of age.