The coughing continued from the other side of the cubicle. Colby Granger shook his head. He reached for his coffee cup, found it empty, and was relieved to have a good excuse to get up from his chair and move away from his best friend, whose cold wasn't getting any better and threatened to contaminate the entire office. Granger walked into the break room and poured himself another cup. He added what was needed to make it drinkable and then stood leaning against the counter, taking a swig as he watched David Sinclair from afar. He was torn about what to do next. He had already urged Sinclair, more than once, to head home. So had their boss, Don Eppes. But whether it was overwhelming commitment to the job, or just plain old stubbornness – and in reality, it could have been both, the combination a brick wall if ever there was one – it was starting to grate on Granger's last nerve. He and his partner had discussed more than once how they hated it when sick people insisted on coming in to the office, and yet here they were, the one sicker than a dog, the other doing whatever was in his power to stay healthy. He put his head down in defeat, watching the coffee swirl about in his cup. He rubbed his stiff neck, heard the door open, and looked up.
"Hi, Don," he answered dejectedly.
"What's wrong?" Granger's boss asked as he headed to the coffee pot.
"David's still here."
"You're kidding?" Don asked as he looked out to the bullpen. He saw the big man sitting at his desk, coughing and working, head down as though trying to keep the germs confined to his area. Don shook his head, put his cup down, and headed out to talk to his senior agent.
"Where're you going?" Colby asked.
"I'm going to order him home." Colby was tempted to stop him. He was torn about this, for reasons that were more about him than his partner. They had a lot of paperwork to catch up on, and as he looked around the office he realized that he'd be the one picking up the slack in that regard. There was little Colby Granger hated more than paperwork, but one of those things was getting sick. He decided to go with the lesser of the two evils, even though he knew that he'd be blamed by his partner for ratting him out; he doubted David would look kindly on the move, even though it was as much for his own good as it was Colby's. Sinclair's ire was punishment he was willing to suffer if it meant be could avoid catching what David now had. He wondered as he watched Don reach David's desk how long he'd pay for his part in forcing Sinclair to go home. His boss seemed to be in an argument with his best friend; Colby decided that he'd best nip that fight in the bud and get out there and take his medicine.
David turned to grab his jacket as Colby came up to the desk.
"Good-bye," David mumbled, followed by a cough.
"David," Colby started, but Sinclair was having none of it as he brushed past his partner and rushed for the elevator. Don Eppes watched the interchange, such that it was, and then walked over to Granger.
"Don't worry. He'll get over it."
"I don't understand why he insisted on staying. We've all talked about this before, how we hate sick people staying around. Especially now, when that cold could actually be something else altogether." Nobody yet thought that the H1N1 virus had run its course, and it was important that everyone be extra aware of their health and how it could impact others.
Don looked at Colby as though he knew something Colby should. "What?" Granger asked.
"He says he feels bad because he's left you with a lot of the paperwork lately, with his new role as my relief back-up."
Colby snorted, and then lowered his head, shaking it back and forth. "That's true, he has. Funny how he hasn't told me how bad he feels about that." Don smiled back. Colby shrugged. "I just figured it's part of the deal."
"Well," Don said as he stood to leave the area, "that's for the two of you to work out."
Hours later, as the end of the work day neared, Don found Colby in the same position he'd been in most of the afternoon: hunched over his computer, typing. A large stack of reports and their related documentation, in F.B.I.-issue folders, labeled, sat on the edge of the desk. He'd been at it. . .all afternoon. Eppes frowned as he approached his agent.
"I think that's probably good for one day, buddy," he said as he grabbed first one folder, flipping through it briefly before moving on to the second. "You're getting pretty good at this."
"Practice makes perfect," Granger said as he leaned back in his chair, twisting to stretch his back and shoulder muscles. He rubbed his neck and then added, "Besides, if we got any farther behind on these we'd never catch up."
"You're going to make David feel bad when he comes back," Don noted.
"I doubt it," Colby said, followed by a yawn. "Sorry."
"Don't be. Look, it's nearly five o'clock. Go ahead and call it a day," Eppes suggested.
"I'm gonna finish this one. I'm almost done." Granger yawned once more.
"Yeah. Been sitting in one position too long. And this isn't exactly exciting work."
Don Eppes looked at his young friend. Colby had been working a case with David for nearly a week now, in close quarters, sharing the same space where Sinclair had been hacking for days. They hadn't been able to finish up the paperwork on their last few cases, catching one case after another without a breather, and then this last one. Don was short-handed, with Nikki Betancourt at training back east, Liz Warner on assignment with the L.A.P.D., and a big financial securities sting absorbing all of his normal back-up. As he watched Colby continue to work, he sensed, much like a mother bird watching out for her flock, that this particular one would be unlikely to avoid getting sick if he kept on working like this.
"Come on, Colby. You can get back at it on Monday."
Granger sniffed, an unfortunate tell if there ever was one. "No, I really would rather get this one finished up. I'll only be another hour."
"Okay. No longer. It's been a long week. Get home and get some rest."
"I will. Have a good weekend," Colby said, finally looking up from his work. Don was pretty sure he saw a slight flush on the cheeks of the man from Idaho.
"You, too," Eppes said as he headed for the elevator. "Remember, no work this weekend."
"Right," Colby replied, his head immediately back down into his computer monitor. Don shook his head, not convinced that Granger wouldn't be here all weekend in order to catch up. He turned and pressed the down button, understanding that Colby was a grown man and that nobody could force him to stay away from the office if he insisted on coming in. The doors opened, he pressed the button for the lobby, and the doors closed on him as he watched Granger keep typing.
Two hours later, Colby Granger stood at his best friend's door, holding a bag with takeout chicken soup, fresh baked bread and scones from the nearby bakery, and milk and assorted juices for his partner's refrigerator. He'd tried calling earlier, but figured that David was sleeping; he hadn't gotten an answer, and he opted against leaving a message. He knocked on the door, got no response, and let himself in with his key. He walked to the kitchen and placed the bags on the counter. Colby stretched stiff muscles as he put the juices and milk away, set the bread and scones aside, and poured the soup into a pot to heat up; it had been colder out than he'd expected, and parking was always an adventure at David's place, so he'd ended up walking a long block and a half from his car to Sinclair's door, a cool light rain accompanying him. The soup, though he'd brought it straight from the café, would taste better heated up, and would make his sick friend feel better served at a proper temperature - and it would do wonders to warm him as well. Granger made sure the heat was on medium-low, and then went to check on his friend. He walked across the dining area, through the living room and then into the small hallway that led to the master bedroom. He nearly knocked heads as David came out of the bedroom just as Colby had tried to enter it.
"Hey," he said as he stopped just short of crashing into his partner.
"What're you doing here?" David asked, his voice scratchy, his t-shirt and sweats disheveled and wrinkled from sleep.
"I brought you some dinner, soup and some bread from that bakery you like," Colby answered.
"I thought you didn't want to be around me and my germs," Sinclair said as he headed to the kitchen.
"I just thought I'd stop by, check up on you. I figured you wouldn't have bothered doing anything about supper," Granger added as he watched his friend pass him by. It had been a long, busy week, and based on how sick David had been the last couple of days, Colby knew he would head straight home and spend some quality time in bed. He remembered that David had mentioned that his cupboards and fridge were bare. Granger followed Sinclair back as far as the living room and watched as his friend grabbed the orange juice that Colby had just placed in the refrigerator, opened it, poured himself some, opened what looked like a vial of prescription medication and downed a pill with the juice. David walked back past Colby, heading toward his bedroom.
"I'm going back to bed," he said.
"David. . ." Colby started.
"Thanks for the food."
"You should eat something."
"Not hungry. Lock the door when you leave," David dismissed his friend as he closed his bedroom door behind him.
Colby stood there, wondering what had just gone on. He walked to the stove and turned the burner off. He moved the pot off of the hot burner to cool. He looked around, feeling a little put out and a lot confused. He'd just been dissed by his best friend, and all he'd wanted to do was make sure that David was okay. The irony was that David was mad at him when he was the one who had every right to be mad at David. His head pounded, he felt hot, despite the fact that he was still wet from his walk from the car. He realized, finally, at that moment – or maybe he was just finally past the denial stage – that he'd caught whatever it was that David had. He suddenly felt tired, though he knew that he'd been going downhill all day. He looked at the sofa and then looked down the hall to the closed bedroom door. He'd be damned if he was going to leave here before having this out with his friend. He sat down on the sofa, grabbed the softest pillow on the couch, toed his shoes off and lay down. He fell asleep before he had a chance to plan out what he would say to his partner. . .once they were both conscious again.
David Sinclair exited his bedroom the following morning, early. He'd been sleeping almost steadily since he'd been summarily dismissed by his boss - and his partner - the previous afternoon. He entered the living room and found said partner asleep on the couch. "What are you doing here?" he asked, not loud enough for the sleeping man to hear. The irritation from yesterday hung on, and he really didn't want to talk to Colby Granger or anyone else from work today. It was Saturday, and he was supposed to be recuperating. His annoyance rose as he continued to watch Colby sleep.
"Granger," he said loudly. No reaction from the sleeping one, except the loud breathing bordering on snoring, which just aggravated Sinclair that much more. "Granger!" he called, this time just refraining from yelling the name. That didn't work, either. He stepped up to the sofa, leaned over and slapped his partner on the arm, this time not holding back. "Granger, get up!" Colby stirred, only a little, turning from sleeping on his side to sleeping on his back. "Hey, Granger," David called once more. He kneeled in front of the prone man and frowned, hearing the labored breathing. He also noticed, finally, his friend's face, flushed and sweaty. He put his hand on Colby's forehead, and then hung his head down with a sigh. "Just my luck," he said as he took his hand away and patted Granger's shoulder. "Sorry, buddy," he added as he stood.
Colby flinched as he opened his eyes. He saw David hovering above him and started to speak, but a phlegm-filled, rattling cough seemed to catch him off guard. Laying down only added to his troubles. He quickly rose to a sitting position, but the disorientation of sudden wakefulness and swirling dizziness made him tilt farther forward than he'd intended. Sinclair caught him, holding him in place as he struggled through the cough. David grabbed several tissues from the box on the coffee table and handed them to his friend, who gave a concerted hack to rid himself of the nastiness that threatened to choke him. A long minute went by, but Granger was finally able to speak.
"Thanks," he said, though the cough-roughened throat and the congestion would have made it hard for most people to understand him. David understood, as he would, but he refused to accept any gratitude this day.
"Colby, look, man, I'm sorry."
Colby just sat and stared, eyes glazed, listless as he kept his eyes upon his friend. He squinted and then rubbed his eyes. He seemed to lack the energy to do much of anything: move, lay back, talk. David moved the tissue box to the side and sat on the coffee table opposite his partner.
"You okay?" he asked, turning his head to cough into his arm.
Colby frowned, his eyebrows arching in and down. He stopped that, though, as it seemed to magnify the headache that was aggressively pounding just behind his eyes. He leaned back and laid his head on the cushioned sofa. He closed his eyes. "No."
"I can see that. Sit tight. I'm going to get my thermometer. Your temperature seems awful high." Granger had no trouble sitting tight. Moving seemed daunting at the very least. David came back. "This is digital. Open your mouth." Colby did as he was instructed. David coughed again. He looked at his friend, chagrined, but Colby'd taken no notice, his eyes shut as he kept the thermometer under his tongue. David continued, "This seems to have gotten you a lot worse than it did me. And fast. I'm sorry. . ." Colby interrupted.
"Da. . . ," he stuttered, hesitating as he was overcome with coughing. With the thermometer in his mouth, he felt like he was choking. The digital reading beeped, and Sinclair removed the gauge quickly. As the coughing eased, he continued, "David, can I tell you something? You can't tell Don. Can't tell anyone." Colby's breathing seemed terribly troubled for someone who'd had no symptoms the previous day. Or at least David didn't remember any, but he had been angry at Colby all day for conspiring with Don to get him booted from the office. He knew that he'd not been paying very close attention to his partner. Had he missed something?
"Take it easy. Your temperature is one hundred and two point six. Why are you so sick? I haven't gotten this sick, and I've had this for days."
"Don't remind me," Colby said dryly.
"I'm serious, Granger."
"Can I get. . ." he coughed, and then finished, "some water?" He opened his eyes with the plea.
David stared at his partner and shook his head. "Sorry. Yeah, I'll be right back." Sinclair turned for the kitchen and Colby sat up straighter on the couch.
"Stop sayin' you're sorry, David." Silence greeted the directive. Sinclair returned with the water. "Here."
Granger took the glass, though his hands were less than steady as he drank from it. He handed it back to his partner. "Thanks."
"Tell you what," David said, sounding angry, "how 'bout you stop saying 'thanks' and I'll stop saying 'I'm sorry'?"
"Deal," Colby agreed as he closed his eyes once more. He leaned hard once again into the cushions of the couch.
"What did you want to tell me?" David asked.
"You remember when Lancer. . ." Colby paused to clear his throat. ". . .had me on the freighter?" Granger asked. He stopped and took several difficult breaths. The talking was taking a lot out of him, in combination with the coughing and the congestion.
"It's something I'll never forget." Finding Colby not breathing was one of the scariest moments of his life; it was a moment David Sinclair never in his life would ever shake from his memory.
"He pumped me full of. . .lots of things. The doctors. . ." David interrupted.
"You said the doctors thought you wouldn't have any long-term ill effects from them."
"That's what they said," Colby replied. "They were wrong."
"How were they wrong?" David asked.
"I. . .um. . .my left lung was. . .it has some scarring from one of the drugs. They found it on my last check-up at the cardiologist."
David frowned and then said, "And you convinced the cardiologist that this information didn't need to be included in your physical results that were reported to Don?"
"I had to." David looked even more angry than he had yesterday when he'd left the office. "David, Don would have to reassign me. We. . .I couldn't be your partner. . ." Granger left it at that.
"Colby. You should have told me. This is the kind of thing that I need to know."
"What? You're not gonna tell Don?" Granger challenged.
"I should, but I won't. You're right, Don would have to bench you. I don't want that anymore than you do." Colby looked at his partner, confusion written all over his face. "Tell me what the doctor told you."
"The cardiologist. . ." Colby coughed. The talking was not helping him feel any better, but they needed to work this through. "He called in a respiratory specialist. He saw something he didn't like on the chest x-ray. One of the drugs stayed in my system too long, and it traveled to the most vulnerable organs for that particular drug, which happen to be the lungs. It only had time to affect the one lung before it made its way out of my system. But the damage had already been done." He breathed heavily, the long discourse on his lung condition worsening his current ailment as well.
"There's nothing they can do?" David asked worriedly.
"Surgery. But it's lung surgery. It has its own complications. And recovery period."
"What did they say the prognosis would be with the surgery?" Colby looked at David. He breathed heavily, hesitant to answer. "What?" David asked.
"The prognosis is good," Colby finally answered.
"Then why?" Sinclair started to question, but stopped, understanding the answer almost immediately. "You thought you'd lose your place, right? You almost lost your spot on the team before, because of your undercover work, and you didn't think, what, enough time had gone by? Did you think we wouldn't cover for you? That we wouldn't keep your seat warm for you? Is that it?" David coughed again. All this talking, though they needed to do it, was tough for them both. Sinclair was angry, angry at so many things. But right then, it was easiest to stay angry at Colby, because David had thought they were beyond all of the suspicion, the mistrust. "I can't believe this."
"What?" Colby squeaked. His voice was starting to show some wear and tear after all the coughing and talking, and his eyelids were fighting to stay open. "You can't believe what, David?" Colby's own ire was rising now, while his voice grew harder to hear. "I had to make the call that seemed right at the time. Yeah, we have been better, better than ever. And I want to think that I will never have to worry about you questioning my loyalties, my judgment. But. . ." Granger was fading, it was pretty obvious to Sinclair. And what was most unfair was making a man who was clearly so sick remain awake talking when he was on the verge of passing out.
"But I never told you that you had nothing to worry about." David remembered very few conversations specifically about what had gone on, both with Colby and his undercover work, and with them and how they both felt about almost losing their partnership. They had finally talked, and David thought he remembered saying this, or something like it. But if he hadn't, and it could be that he hadn't, and even if he had, it would never hurt to say it again. "I'm sorry, man. But I am telling you now that you have nothing to worry about. You are my partner, and something pretty damned drastic would have to happen for that to ever, ever change." He looked into Colby's tired eyes and added, chagrined, "Yesterday's crankiness notwithstanding." He offered his friend that affectionate David Sinclair smile. That smile always made Colby feel better; it was a smile that Granger had finally started to receive regularly once more once the two men had gotten back on an even keel after the Chinese spy mess.
Colby looked at his best friend and saw the truth in David's eyes, in his soul. The warmth and caring and commitment to them – as a team, as friends – was clear in the simple declaration. Colby grinned and said, "Thanks, David," then added, with a weary smile, "but I think you should check the definition of 'cranky'."
"Hey, I thought we agreed. You wouldn't say thanks anymore," David replied, ignoring his friend's vocabulary lesson.
"And you aren't supposed to say you're sorry," Colby countered.
"I wouldn't have had to if you'd let me in on your little secret," David chastised.
"Yeah, well, I've been properly reprimanded for it now."
David smiled. "Good."
"I have some bad news, though," Colby muttered, barely able to eke out the words.
"Now what?" David asked, as though another shoe had dropped.
"We have to go to the hospital."
"Yeah. If my temperature goes above a hundred and two, the docs said I have to head straight for the hospital."
David shook his head as he rose from his seat. "And when were you planning to tell me this?" he asked as he grabbed his jacket and his keys. He came back to help Colby up.
"As soon as we had our talk."
"Uh-huh. You are so frustrating sometimes."
"And you're not."
"Not like you," David retorted.
"Here." Granger handed Sinclair two business cards. "Can you call my cardiologist and my pulmonologist and see if they can meet us there?"
David laughed. "And what will you be doing while I do that?"
"I've got to call Don," Colby replied.
"Oh. I guess I'll help you out, then, because you're in the doghouse, man."
"Tell me about it." David put his arm around his best friend and walked him out the door as each of them whipped out their mobile phones.
CONTINUE TO PART TWO