Callen hated the desk. He stared at it, frowning then picked up his laptop and files and moved to the table setting everything down he began to work. He had not paid attention to the day, not that it ever actually mattered. Holidays were something of a conundrum for him. He spent so much time as a child being passed around in the system that the impermanence of it all meant that the holidays ended up having no meaning for him.
Looking out the window on the sunny California day never had him wishing for snow or rain. He rather enjoyed the sun, even if it was down in the forties. People not from Los Angeles didn’t understand that the low temperatures could actually be cold. Especially if the humidity was high and the Santa Ana’s kicked up. Windy LA could be down right freezing.
Looking around the office, Callen scrunched up his nose and shook his head. It looked like Christmas had thrown up everywhere. Hetty was in a particularly festive mood which frankly freaked Callen out.
“Mr. Callen, what are you still doing here?” Hetty came downstairs and tilted her head in that way that she knew the answer to the question, but she wanted to hear it from the source anyway.
“But, it’s Christmas Eve. You should be home celebrating.”
Callen looked up and Hetty and frowned. She knew he always worked on the holidays. He didn’t really have anyone to celebrate the season with and he still hadn’t found the right apartment to live in. Callen had move into and out of several places over the last couple of years never finding that right place that felt like home. Of course he had no context of what a real home was like. Living your life out of a couple of duffle bags can screw you up to what ‘normal’ is supposed to be.
“I’m fine, Hetty. I’m working on a cold case and I’m on call if anything comes up.” Callen wasn’t fine. Not really. There was a part of him that wanted to know what it was like to have a life, a family but he was terrible at dating, he had little in the way of social skills, and he knew he could be awkward at times.
“Mr. Callen-” Hetty began again and Callen wasn’t in the mood. She may be his boss, but he felt she was butting into things she had no right to be.
“I am fine, Hetty. Go home.” Callen snapped, but he wasn’t in the mood for her brand of mother henning, even if it was the holiday’s and that always seemed to bring it out in her.
“Fine, fine. But, if you need anything…” Hetty trailed off as she dramatically waved a hand in the air.
“I’m fine.” Callen didn’t look up but he heard the sharp clip of Hetty’s boots on the floor as she made her way out. Callen had no illusions that she would check up on him, but he knew what he would say when she called.
Finally, he was alone. Sam had invited Callen to spend the holidays with him, but he wasn’t interested in being around a big family. Kensi, Dominic, and Eric all had plans. And there was no way that Callen was going to spend time with Nate. He didn’t want to be psychoanalyzed and he knew that’s what would eventually happen. Callen put the thoughts of his coworkers and teammates out of his mind and he proceeded to go over the case in front of him. It was an odd one for sure. The case happened over a period of five years, each year an art dealer or gallery owner was killed and each one was tied to some conspiracy. Most of the conspiracies had been debunked, but all of them men and women had known each other. They were all part of a group that had graduated together from the Pasadena Art Center.
Callen knew he should have handed the case over to the FBI, but he couldn’t. He had a feeling that it wasn’t over even though nothing happened in the last year. This was a case from his first year with the Office of Special Projects. Something about the case didn’t sit right with Callen and never had, he was always trying to figure out just what it was he was missing.
After going over the reports and evidence for the one thousandth time, Callen stood and stretched. He went to the kitchen to make himself some coffee and see if there was anything he could eat. After the coffee was done, he made a cup and went outside on the small patio at the back of the main office. It was a beautiful area and Callen liked the quiet even if deep down there was a loneliness to it all.
Sipping his coffee, Callen wondered, not for the first time if there was more out there for him. He liked his job, and he thought he would like being alone, but the older he got the more he wanted something, or maybe someone for himself. Shaking out of those thoughts as he tried to shake off the misery he was feeling, Callen went back inside.
When it became later than he realized, Callen reluctantly shut everything down, packed up his work and headed to his latest apartment. Walking in to the stark reality of his life, Callen sighed as he sat on the borrowed sofa, pulled out his phone and looked for something that would deliver. It was Christmas Eve and he just knew most places were closing early, even if it was Los Angeles.
Callen sighed after ordering some pizza, he flopped down on the couch and thought about the people he had attempted to make connections with. There was one person he talked to off and on ever since his friend, Victor, had been one of the victims of his cold case. Callen thought of those blue eyes and ridiculous hair and smiled to himself. He knew the man had family in Virginia, but he would make the same call to him he did every year to tell him that he still had not found anything, but he wouldn’t stop looking.
The ringing of his doorbell startled him out of the light sleep he had fallen into.
“PIzza,” a voice called through the door.
“Righ,” Callen called out before grabbing his wallet to pull money out for food and tip. Opening the door Callen gave the kid his money and took the pizza. Little more was said before he shut the door and was once more stepping back into his cold and silent living room.
Most people, most rational people would think Christmas duty was the worst. Callen enjoyed the silence, but he was aware of the holiday. It’s why he had a bag of presents with him, little things to let everyone know he wasn’t a total scrooge. Going around the office he set the gifts on everyone’s desks before he went to the table and spread out. He was glad it was back, after all of their protests about a desk. They were still there, just not in the same area. He liked the table. There was something unifying about it that was lost when they had been forced into desks. Setting his computer and the files out, Callen once more looked out the window and tried to understand the feeling he was having this Christmas.
The sky was mildly overcast, but it was still bright out. Crisp and cool, but not what a lot of people would consider cold. Jacket and boot weather, but not much worse. He liked this weather. There was a sense of security in knowing he could bundle up if he wanted. The type of security that had been lacking for much of his life.
All of the decorations still threw him off, but Callen was ignoring them as best he could. His melancholy wasn’t going away and not even diving back into the case that wouldn’t let him go was helping.
Callen was about to pick-up the phone to call Jackson Grimes, CEO of Grimes Tech, one of the richest tech gurus in the country, when the door to the main area was opening up. Callen had his piece settled next to him within easy reach when the very man he was about to call called out.
“Callen, you here?”
Callen was startled. Grimes never came down to the OSP office. Callen had always gone to his office or they went out to lunch when they both had the time. Standing he went to go see what the man wanted.
“Jackson. What are you doing here?” Callen leaned against the wall near the entrance where Jackson was standing with several bags in his hands.
“Since I knew you always worked on Christmas, and it’s hard to get you out of the office, I decided to come to see if you wanted some company.” Jackson smiled that crooked smile that Callen had grown to enjoy seeing on the man’s face.
“Why?” Callen’s confusion was genuine. They were casual friends brought together because of the murder of Jackson’s friend. They got together occasionally, but nothing more.
“Maybe because I’m tired of the dancing around we’ve been doing. Maybe I wanted to make the first move this time to come to you. And, maybe I can help you to see that Christmas isn’t such a bad thing after all.”
Callen blinked a few times while trying to form the words that were in his head, but refused to make it to his mouth. Finally, he took a deep breath and let a small smile turn up the corners of his mouth.
“I guess that’s okay.” He really wasn’t sure what else to say. This was throwing him off, but there was also a strange warmth deep down inside that he had never paid much attention to when he was in Jackson’s presence. Of course, he thought back to the other day when the dreams of blue eyes and ridiculous hair had invaded his sleep after a lackluster dinner of pizza and a movie that barely kept his attention.
Jackson followed him as Callen made his way back to the table. He was about to start to put the files away when a hand stayed his own.
“You don’t have to. I’ve accepted Victor’s death, as much as it pains me. The fact that you’re still working it in some capacity, even if it’s never solved, brings me a strange bit of comfort. You care, and that means a lot.” Jackson smiled wanly as he removed his hand from Callen’s. The emotion that suddenly hit Callen had him blushing as he kept the files out while Jackson dealt with the bags he had brought.
“I figured you didn’t think about anything in the way of resembling food. I do not consider canned soup and crackers, or whatever you were going to have decent for Christmas day. So, I had a friend cook something special.”
Jackson pulled food containers from the bag, and also a small wrapped box that he set off to the side. Callen eyed the box suspiciously while questions, many questions, ran through his head the most pressing he voiced first.
“How did you find me anyway? We haven’t been here all that long, and we try to work, you know, in secret?”
Jackson laughed as he sat down and started to open the boxes.
“It’s amazing what kind of paper trail even a semi-secret police organization leaves. Even if they are careful. The tech you guys have in here was bought direct from the manufacturer.” Jackson grinned as he laid out mashed sweet potatoes, sliced turkey breast, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a couple of vegetable sides, and salads that looked fresher than Callen had ever seen on a holiday table.
“So, Eric, I am going to assume, bought a lot of our tech directly from you to try to minimize our paper trail, but in fact let you find where I work.”
“I knew you were a good investigator. Now, here eat. I know you probably didn’t have anything resembling a good breakfast and all this food is meant to be shared.” Jackson handed Callen one of the salads. It looked amazing. Lettuces that Callen couldn’t put a name too, but looked bright and green, dried cranberries, orange slices, some goats cheese, and a light dressing that went well with all of the ingredients.
“Well, if the rest of this meal is anything as good as this salad, I don’t know if I’ll be conscious enough to do my job properly.” Callen smiled as he dug in. There was silence for a few moments, then Jackson was pulling out a bottle of what looked to be wine. As much as that would be perfect, he wasn’t going to risk drinking. Lifting a hand as he was about to protest, Jackson just turned the bottle so Callen could read the label. It was a sparkling non-alcoholic Spanish Rose.
“I thought of that. Don’t worry, nothing I brought has alcohol. I only brought the best.” Jackson smiled that smile again and Callen felt the rise of heat on his face as he blushed. No one had ever paid this much attention to him outside of Hetty, who he was wondering at what he intentions really were. He knew she was keeping things from him, but that puzzle was for another day. He wanted to fit the pieces of the puzzle he had before him first.
“Jacks…” Callen looked up from his food, his eyes looked at the computer search that was going on in the background before he let his eyes wander over to the man that was frankly tilting his world just a little.
“Look, I am going to be honest here. I have an ulterior motive.”
“Oh?” Callen felt the fluttering of nerves in his stomach and wondered if this was going to be someone else that was out for themselves and wanted to use him.
“Not what you think, G. I have been attracted to you since the first day we met five years ago. I never considered pursuing anything with you because I am in the spotlight quite a lot and I know you keep your identity close. But, the more I’ve gotten to know you over the years, the more I see you as someone that could be more than an occasional friend.
“And, I know how to keep my private life private.”
Callen laughed because he thought back to all of the paparazzi photos with Jackson Grimes on the arm of a different man at any one of the hundreds of events he has appeared at since Callen had met him.
“Look, all of those men I’m photographed with? Escorts that I pay for a night to have on my arm at whatever gala, convention, or brouhaha I’ve agreed to attend. When the event is over, I say goodnight and they go on their merry way. It’s a cover. I’ve had relationships, but they’ve stayed private over the years. I may enjoy the spotlight and being out in the open, but not all of my romantic partners do.
“Not to say that I’ve had many. In fact there have been exactly three men in my life that I have had relationships with. Each broke off amicably and in fact two of them fell for each other and are living a wonderful life in Washington DC. The other, was Victor.
“But, I don’t want to talk about that. Someday, when we know each other better, I’ll tell you the things about him I’ve never told you, but I don’t want Victor to stand between us.”
Callen was genuinely surprised. He pushed his empty bowl away and gave a considered look at Jackson.
“Are you telling me that you want to pursue a relationship? And that you would protect my identity?” Callen had never had anyone go out of their way for him, it made him think about possibilities he had never thought about before. “I keep weird hours. I often have to be undercover for weeks at a time. I don’t know, Jacks.” These were the same reservations he had for any relationship, it’s why he steered clear of them.
“G, I am often out of the country for days, sometimes weeks at a time. I have hundreds of projects going at once, and I too keep weird hours. But, the time that I take out of my day to have some quality time with you always makes me happy. I know it isn’t perfect, but what if what we can have is perfect for us.”
Callen stood to get some of the food laid out on the table while he took Jackson’s proposal into consideration. He looked around at the nearly empty office with the Christmas decorations and thought for a moment what it would be like to have a real place to settle where he too could have everything the holiday’s promised, and more. Jackson stood and grabbed his own plate as Callen watched, the elegant hands plating up the food, the crinkle at the edges of Jackson’s eyes that showed his happiness just being there giving something to Callen he had never really had. Family.
Making a decision, Callen grabbed the edge of Jackson’s plate and took it from his hands, then the two men were looking at each other when Callen moved close, cupped Jackson’s face with his hands and pressed his lips to the other man’s. The kiss was tentative, but full of promise that Callen could actually believe in.
“I think I would like whatever it is you can offer, Jacks. You just have to give me time, and know that I may freak out now and then. But, if I’m honest here, I have found you insanely attractive from day one. So, my answer is yes.”
The look on Jackson’s face, Callen would commit to memory and think on it for years to come. The happiness made Callen blush again knowing that it was him that made Jackson happy.
“This Christmas I wasn’t looking forward to, but I think you just gave me the best present ever.” Callen leaned in and kissed Jackson once more and the breathy Merry Christmas may just have been the best thing Callen had heard that day.