David Sinclair continued making his two phone calls as his partner coughed painfully beside him. Colby Granger had hung up his phone quickly, though David didn't know the outcome of the call as he'd been otherwise occupied in a long conversation with Granger's cardiologist. The fact that he'd been put straight through to the heart doctor himself concerned the senior agent. It was clear that the physician who had been treating his friend since the freighter incident found the current situation serious enough to have taken the call, above all else that he'd already had scheduled for the day. The fact that the doctor agreed so readily to meet them just heightened David's worry for his friend. He had already found out that the lung specialist was on vacation in Europe, and that the cardiologist had acted as Granger's de facto primary care physician since he first treated the agent over two years ago. David kept sending worried looks Colby's way as his passenger continued to cough and hold his hand to his chest. The pain that the man was experiencing from the coughing brought sympathy pains to Sinclair's own chest. David hung up the phone and turned to his partner as they remained sitting in Sinclair's car in the parking garage of his condominium.
"Hey, are you okay?" He knew it was a dumb question. It was obvious that Colby was not okay, that the cough was an outward manifestation of something far worse going on inside. He put his hand on his friend's shoulder and waited until Colby was able to respond.
"Oh, man, that hurts," Granger was finally able to acknowledge. He took shallow breaths as he eased his body into the corner made by the car door and the back of his seat.
"I can see," Sinclair answered as he started the car. "This came on kinda fast, didn't it?" he asked. He knew that it had, but had Colby been hiding some symptoms that David missed as he wallowed in his own cold-induced misery?
"I'd been going downhill all day yesterday," Granger admitted. "It was too late to do anything about it." He attempted a deeper breath, even though his lungs already felt overworked from the coughing; the talking definitely seemed like a workout. "It only turned bad overnight," he added, losing his voice on the last word. Sinclair understood it nonetheless.
"Yeah." David drove to the hospital, making mostly small talk, wanting to ask about Colby's call to Don. "Your cardiologist is meeting us. The other one, Dr. LeFevre, is on vacation."
"Thanks," Colby said wearily.
They drove a little farther, and then curiosity finally got the better of Sinclair. He broke the silence in the car with, "Couldn't get a hold of Don?"
Granger jumped slightly. He'd fallen into an almost-doze; it hadn't taken long to put him there. It killed him to admit it, but Colby had to accept defeat and admit that he was pretty sick.
"No." The one word started him coughing again. This time the cough didn't go on for forever. "Left him a message. Told him to call you."
David raised his eyebrow as he looked at his best friend. "You sure?"
Colby shrugged. "Cat's outta the bag now. And I'm not gonna be up for much talking." He paused and then asked softly, "Will, um, you stay while they figure this all out?"
Sinclair kept his eyes on the road. It hurt that Granger thought he had to ask. David made a mental note to talk about that with Colby. . .later.
"Sure," he said. "Maybe I'll even play a little defense with Don for you," he added with a smile that didn't come close to hiding his worry for his friend.
Colby sighed, stifled a cough as best he could, and replied, "No. He's got a right to be angry with me." He breathed shallowly, having decided that shallow brought on less coughing, before he continued. "I told him I would never lie to him again, after the spy thing."
"Yeah, but this. . .this is different," David started to justify.
"Nah, it's not. He won't see it that way." Granger settled this topic with a simple, "He shouldn't have to."
Sinclair nodded sadly.
They made the rest of their way to the hospital in silence, save for Granger's now persistent cough. David didn't know whether they were supposed to head to admissions or the emergency room. He wished that he'd asked Colby's cardiologist. He shook his head; it was too weird, too wrong, using Colby Granger and cardiologist in the same sentence. The strongest, healthiest, most physically fit, and hardest working person he knew had a regular cardiologist.
Sinclair pulled the car up to the E.R. entrance. "Why don't you go inside? I'll park and be there in a minute." Granger looked ready to argue with his partner. "Don't fight me on this. Just get out and I'll see you in a bit."
"'Kay," Colby agreed, his voice now raw from the constant hacking. He exited the car and walked, slowly, dejectedly, through the E.R.'s automatic doors. David parked the car and met up with the soon-to-be patient as he sat filling out forms.
"Hey," David said as he took the seat beside his friend.
"Dr. Josephs called ahead. They were expecting me," Granger ground out through a cough as he continued filling out the forms.
"You'd think with the number of times you've been here that they wouldn't need you to fill out any forms." Colby just nodded faintly in agreement. "Do you need any help with that?" David offered.
"No." Colby lifted a couple of pages. "It's just gonna take a while." His voice cut out on him, but David got the gist of it.
"Okay. I'm going to try to reach Don." He looked at Colby for a reaction. His partner nodded and shrugged and continued to fill in the blanks. David stood and walked to the far corner of the waiting room, near a window where he would get a good signal. He ignored the signs posted, warning to not use cells phones, dialed the number and waited, surprised at the sudden unease he felt. He turned so that he could keep a ready eye on his best friend.
"Eppes," Sinclair heard.
"David. What's up? You feeling any better?"
"Uh, I. . .I just wanted. . ." he started, hesitant. His boss picked up on the worry on the other end of the line.
"It's, um, Colby."
"Yeah. He's sick. We're at the emergency room at West Los Angeles Medical Center."
"What? What happened?" Don asked.
"Well, it's actually a longer story than you think."
"I'm heading to the office for a couple of hours. Should I come there instead?" It was a Saturday and Eppes wasn't required to be in the office, at least not this Saturday.
"Yeah. Can you listen while I talk?"
"Can you not get mad while you listen?" David asked, already fairly sure of the answer.
"Just tell me what he did," Don demanded, the tone changing instantaneously from worried to angry.
"It's nothing like that," David prefaced, assuring his boss. "Turns out that there was some. . .lingering bad side effects of Lancer's torture," he explained. "Scar tissue on his left lung. It makes him susceptible to chest infections."
"Pneumonia?" Don asked, focused on the immediate issue. The subsequent issue of why Eppes was just now learning about the scar tissue would be dealt with in due time.
"Could be. Not this time. Not yet, anyway." He didn't tell Don that Colby hadn't yet been examined, that the diagnosis of pneumonia might still be at hand.
"How long has he known about this?"
It was the question David Sinclair had been dreading. He cleared his throat and dove in.
"He, um, he found out about it sometime after that last check-up with the cardiologist," David answered. Sinclair was sure that he could actually hear the wheels grinding in Don's brain as he went over these last weeks, checking the calendar in his head, running the numbers. . .doing the math. He wasn't as fast as his brother would have been, but he still had it figured out in just moments.
"He's known for a month?" Eppes asked, incredulous.
"Maybe more like three weeks," Sinclair said, hoping to help his partner prepare to fight this potential firestorm. He heard a long silence on the other end of the line. David knew that Don was driving, and the lengthy pause was becoming worrisome. "Don?" he checked.
"All right," David's boss said, though it was clear to Sinclair, from Don's tone, that everything was far from all right. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"They'll probably be examining him by then." David hoped that was true.
"I'll wait. Where'm I going?"
"Just come to the E.R. I'll let them know that we're expecting you." Sinclair heard the line go dead. He shook his head and looked toward the coughing. He walked over with as much nonchalance as possible. Granger caught his breath just as his partner rejoined him.
"He's pissed," Colby said.
"Yeah, he is. He's on his way."
"How're you doing?" David asked.
"Just about done." It didn't take but a few words for Colby to be consumed by a painful cough.
"Good, 'cause if you're in there he can't yell at ya," David suggested.
"Wanna bet?" Colby stood up to return the paperwork. David followed. The sick agent got his insurance card back from the intake clerk and was told to take a seat, that someone would call for him shortly. The bright sunshine streaming into the glass-encased portico seemed intent to zero in on Granger's eyes. He put his sunglasses back on while he waited.
"How's your chest feel?" Sinclair asked.
Granger rubbed it and said, simply, "Hurts." To his partner, Colby's admission of pain of any kind was confirmation that it more than just hurt.
"Hey, man, I'm sorry. I know I should have packed it in sooner." David's apology irked the now, at minimum, twice-as-ill other agent in the waiting room.
"Yeah, so what was that all about, David?"
Sinclair shook his head. "I don't know." He looked at Granger and went on. "I guess maybe I didn't want anyone to think I was slacking. You're a hard worker, Granger. Sometimes I think you do it just to make me look bad."
"Slacking? Why would anybody think that?" Colby rubbed his forehead. David had seen the headache coming for some time; Colby's resistance was way down, and with it, his ability to hide how lousy he truly felt. "And I wouldn't do that."
"I know. I guess, you know, with these new responsibilities, as Don's relief back-up, that I've watched you pick up the pace, handle more. You seem to have an unlimited capacity to accept whatever workload you're given."
"I learned from the best, David," Colby said. There was no need to say that he meant Sinclair, though David suspected their former colleague Megan Reeves also had a hand in that. But Granger had learned so much from his partner. He found it amusing, somewhat, that his friend was expressing feelings of inadequacy when they were both cut from the same cloth when it came to commitment to their jobs. He snorted a laugh as he prepared to tell that to his best friend, but the snort started a series of long, painful coughs. David watched, helpless, as Colby struggled. By the time he'd finished, Granger was limply leaning back in the chair, holding his chest, a look of utter misery drawn across his handsome face. David rubbed his partner's shoulder and decided he shouldn't encourage any more talking. He would have to find out later about the laugh that had started this cough.
David and Colby stood and followed the nurse. Sinclair stopped at the desk and asked them to send Don their way when he arrived.
"This is the pediatric ward, you know," Don Eppes said once he'd finally found someone familiar.
"Actually, it's the pediatric cardiac ward," David Sinclair replied with a slight cough.
Don looked at his senior agent, perplexed. "So why are we here?"
"I don't know. We met Dr. Josephs, his cardiologist, once they brought us up here. He asked me to wait out here for a while as he examined Colby."
"Well, how is he?"
"He's pretty sick, and got there pretty fast. The doctor thinks it's just a chest infection and a cold."
"Just a chest infection?" Don asked.
"Well, he has my cold," Sinclair said guiltily, "and it's quickly set in to his chest. They moved a portable x-ray machine in there a couple of minutes ago."
"You should have gone home when I told you to and maybe you wouldn't be feeling so guilty."
"You're right, I should have," David countered angrily. "And he should have said something about this before now."
"Yeah, he should have, and he and I will be talking about that later."
Sinclair's guilt-induced anger subsided quickly at Eppe's reply. "Don't be too hard on him. He feels bad about keeping this news to himself."
"Good." Don watched as David put his head down. "How do you feel?"
David cleared his throat before answering. "Better."
"That's good. You sound better." Sinclair shrugged. "How'd you find out he was sick?" Don saw the guilt wash over his friend once more.
"He stopped by last night to check on me," David answered, shaking his head. "He brought me something to eat, wanted to make sure I was okay." He huffed a sarcastic laugh. "I gave him the cold shoulder, pretty much told him not to let the door hit him on his way out." Don winced. "Yeah. Found him on my couch after I'd slept comfortably in my bed, dead to the world, for about ten hours, longer if you count the afternoon. I can just picture him feeling like crap but covering for me when I went home sick."
Don shook his head this time, and offered a wide, knowing grin. "It's how he is."
"It's one of the reasons we love him," Don said with a smile, hoping to ease Sinclair's guilt just a little.
The two men were interrupted by the sound of the door opening, followed by the x-ray machine and a technician pushing it out. Moments later, Dr. Martin Josephs came out into the hallway.
"Agent Sinclair, and I take it you are Agent Eppes?"
"Don Eppes, call me Don," he said as he shook hands with the cardiologist. David smiled; he'd already tried the first name thing, but he'd found that the physician was unlikely to go the first name route, except with his patient.
"Let's go have a seat," Dr. Joseph's said as he walked down the hall.
"Can I see him?" Don asked.
"In a bit," the doctor said as he opened a door a few down from Granger's. "Sit," he suggested. The doctor did, in the chair behind a modest desk. "I wouldn't normally have this discussion outside of family, but Colby assures me that I'm not." He smiled when he said it. "That young man has been through a lot. I warned him that this might happen. I'm glad that he's finally agreed to the surgery."
"Surgery?" Eppes asked, surprised. "I thought it was just a chest infection."
"I'm pretty sure that it is, though it is anything but 'just'. He told me that he'd kept the news about the scarring from you. He assured me that he would tell you, eventually."
Don looked annoyed with the entire discussion. "I'm sure he figured that until it manifested in a problem, that he had time on his side."
"Still," the physician continued, "I should have insisted. What he's going through now is no picnic."
"What about this surgery?" Sinclair had been prepared to give Eppes this good news/bad news, but deferred to the expert for this particular testimony.
"Whether it was the length of time the drugs were in his system a couple of years ago, during his torture on that boat, or from the particular combination of drugs, he developed scar tissue in his left lung. We can go in and remove it, and then put him on a regimen of medications to help the lung heal properly."
Don nodded. "Is it dangerous."
"All surgeries have a modicum of risk." The doctor watched as Don rolled his eyes. He smiled and said, "But this one has a high probability of success."
"So why didn't he just schedule the surgery?"
"It's about a two month recovery, from the day of the procedure to when he'd be ready to come back to work."
"Well, that's nothin'," Don said as he frowned back at the doctor.
"Colby thought it was something, Agent Eppes."
Don looked at David, who shrugged his shoulder and said, "He's still a little gun-shy."
"I guess." The two agents sat silently for long moments, pondering their perplexing friend. The cardiologist decided to put both men out of their misery.
"You know what? You two both seem to want what's best for Colby. And based on your reaction, Agent Eppes, it sounds like the F.B.I. is okay with moving forward with the surgery. It's what's needed. Now, we can't schedule anything until he gets over this infection. I'm going to go make sure the x-rays don't show anything worse, and then I'm going to prescribe an antibiotic, intravenous to start, to try to knock this thing down. Why don't you go visit with him while I do that?" Dr. Josephs saw guilt on the one man's face, worry on the other one. "Come on," he said as he stood to leave. "I'll keep him here for several hours to get a good start on the antibiotic, and then I'll send him home with the rest of the course, by mouth. Go ahead. We're on the right track. Go tell him that." He looked directly at Don when he said the next part. "Don't be too rough on him today. He'll be in better shape to be yelled at tomorrow, or even better, Monday."
Don nodded. "Thanks, Doctor."
Dr. Josephs smiled. "Note that I approve of you trying to knock some sense into the boy," the cardiologist said. Don smiled; this physician, at least in manner of speaking, was straightforward, much like the senior Eppes. Don's father would approve, which was saying a lot, considering how little Alan Eppes enjoyed spending any time in the company of medical professionals. "Colby's a good man. I know I don't know everything that went on back then, or even since, but I do know here," he said, pointing to his head, "but more importantly, especially for a cardiologist, here," this time pointing to his heart, "that he is a good man, a patriot, and a man who loves his country and loves his job. I want him out there doing the good work."
"So do we, Dr. Josephs," Don Eppes agreed. "So do we."
Don and David opened the door and entered Colby's room. The walls were painted a circus theme: three rings across the wall opposite the two beds. The first showed elephants in all manner of costume, some with monkeys riding their backs, others rider less, performing assorted tricks. The middle ring displayed trapeze artists flying through the air, a high wire act joining in. The final ring had lions and tigers working together with a trainer. The colors, vivid greens, reds, blues, orange and yellow – primary. . .bold – adorned all of the walls. And in the near bed lay their friend, dozing.
"Colby, buddy," David said as he stepped up close, grasping his friend's forearm. Colby opened his eyes slowly, blinked as he looked around the room. He nodded, recognizing where he was.
"Hey, man," he said, followed by an attempt to clear his throat, which migrated swiftly to a cough. "Sorry," he finally added.
"Hi, Colby," Don said guardedly as he stepped in to Granger's line of vision. Colby could sense the tension in his boss' bearing.
"Don, hey, sorry. . ." he tried to get out. He was stopped cold by another series of coughs.
"Stop talking. Just listen a minute. The doc's gonna get you better and then you're gonna schedule the surgery." Colby started to respond. "Don't talk, just listen." Don shook his head and then smiled sarcastically. "You're usually better at listening. You're usually better at doing the right thing," he chastised.
"Don," David warned. Sinclair knew there was little else that would get his best friend talking than someone challenging his honor.
"I'm gonna save the real yelling for another day," Don continued, this time with the patented Eppes smile, warmth and friendship having replaced the tension pretty quickly. "Make no mistake, Colby. I am mad." Granger nodded but remained silent. Don looked from Colby to David, who was still recovering from his cold, and then back to Granger. "You two are quite a pair."
"Hey." David started to defend himself, but he was overcome by a cough. It was nothing like what he'd been doing the previous few days, and certainly nothing to compare with what his friend was suffering now. "Nevermind," he said. Colby snorted a laugh, but that led to another wracking cough. "Take it easy, buddy," David said. The door opened and Dr. Josephs walked in.
"Well that just sounds nasty. And painful."
"It is," Colby admitted, barely able to get it out between coughs.
"I'll bet. Nurse Donna here is going to set up a couple of IVs for you. One will be fluids to keep you hydrated. The other is the antibiotic. This is going to make you drowsy. Have you eaten today?" Colby shook his head no. "Then it'll probably knock you out. Sleeping through this is fine. I've got a sandwich coming in for you from Arthur's Deli. It should be here. . ." he paused as another nurse brought in a white paper bag. "Ah, here it is. Eat. We'll start the antibiotic once you've finished. You'll stay here the rest of the day. Donna or another of our fine nursing staff will be coming in every so often to make you cough, just to make sure that this doesn't settle into something worse."
"Like pneumonia?" Don asked.
"Bingo." Dr. Josephs looked back to Colby. "Eat." Granger opened up the sandwich and took a bite, and then another. He was starving and decided he'd best get this down before his appetite took the expected nosedive.
"So when you say all day. . ." David started to ask.
"He'll be free to go around five o'clock so long as his vitals and another chest x-ray all look good. "You understand all of that, Colby?"
Granger seemed to have learned his lesson and simply nodded his understanding, and took another bite from his turkey and swiss cheese sandwich. On rye. With tomato and mayo. David eyed the other half lovingly. It was a big sandwich and Colby was getting plenty full with one half. He raised his chin towards the sandwich, a 'You're off!' sign for David from his friend if there ever was one. Don opened his mouth, an 'o' forming in protest. Dr. Josephs laughed at the agents' antics.
"Well, I've got other patients to see. I'll see you later, Colby."
"Thanks," Granger eked out. And then he coughed.
"Stubborn," Dr. Josephs said to the two agents standing next to the sick one.
"You're telling me," Don and David said simultaneously. The doctor laughed and turned to leave the room. "Oh, and Agent Sinclair, go home and rest. No point in exacerbating your own cold."
"I thought I'd stay. . ." David challenged.
"Go home. I'll stay," Don volunteered.
"Neither. . ." Granger started but was immediately shut down by another horrible cough. He shook his head and pushed the last part of his half-sandwich away.
"Neither of you needs to stay," Dr. Josephs interjected as he frowned worriedly at his patient. "He's going to be resting, not talking. Come back for him at five, Agent Eppes." The cardiologist watched as Nancy raised the head of Colby's bed slightly and removed the remnants of his lunch.
Don looked conflicted, not wanting to leave Colby alone, but the cardiologist was being pretty clear that he wanted Colby's two friends to leave the hospital. The doctor could see that he would need to do more to get them out of Granger's room.
"He'll rest more peacefully if he doesn't think he has to entertain anyone."
"Okay," Don agreed. "I'll be back, Colby." Granger nodded, his eyelids drooping. The medicines had not yet started their magic, but all that coughing had wrung all of the energy out of the normally raring-to-go F.B.I. man.
"Feel better, brother," David said as he patted his friend's shoulder. Granger turned his hand to reach for his friend. Don, the doctor and the nurse left David to his private goodbye. Sinclair took the offered hand and grasped it tightly. Colby didn't hold tight for long as sleep took him, his hand going limp in David's.
Sinclair met Eppes in the hall. "I messed this up," David admitted.
"You did, but it exposed Colby's little secret, which is a good thing."
"Aren't you going to yell at me? You told him that you were still mad at him. If Colby's going to hear it from you, I probably should hear it, too."
"I don't know," Don said as he put an arm around the big man's shoulder. "Seems to me all that lingering guilt might be penance enough."
"Feels like it."
"Good. Then just go home, think about this. And rest."
"Are you going to make him stay Chez Eppes?"
"Probably. But you're staying put at home for the rest of the weekend. And if you aren't feeling up to it, take Monday off. Half the building's out sick now anyway; cold and flu season is wreaking havoc right now."
"I will." They reached the E.R. exit. "Call me later, let me know how he's doing?"
"So," Don said as he drove to Pasadena, "are you going to explain why you were in the children's cardiac wing?" They were returning from Colby's follow-up visit with the cardiologist. It was now Wednesday afternoon and Dr. Josephs had announced during the appointment that he was pleased with Colby's progress. The antibiotics had done a great job of clearing the infection, and good rest and care at the Eppes house had done wonders for his cold as well. Don was relieved that his friend was feeling better.
Colby laughed. "I was surprised we ended up there, too, but I guess Dr. Josephs figured I might as well be in familiar surroundings.
"Familiar surroundings?" Don asked curiously.
"Yeah," Colby said as he looked out the passenger-side window. He turned back to Don to tell his story. "You remember that after the freighter. . ." Colby began. Eppes noted how Granger still refused to describe what Lancer had done to him as torture, at least not in casual conversation. It had been over two years since that incident. Though Colby had recovered well, Don doubted his friend would ever truly be completely over what had happened to him. Certainly until the surgery was over, with what had to have been a frightening time on the freighter, and the miserable time he'd had leading up to it – and the painful days of recovery afterward – those memories would always be there, right at the periphery of Colby's existence. If Don still thought about them, how could Colby not? Don was glad that his friend seemed to be recovering from this chest infection as expeditiously as was its onset. And the sooner Granger had this surgery behind him, maybe, just maybe he'd be able to put that entire ugly episode behind him, once and for all. Don broke from worried musings about his friend to hear Colby continue his explanation.
"I was being seen weekly for a while by Dr. Josephs, just to make sure everything was healing properly."
"Yeah, I know. I guess I'm kinda surprised they didn't find this scar tissue thing back then," Don said. "Or at least sooner than this."
"Yeah, listen, Don, I am sorry about not telling you about it when I found out. I just. . .I needed time to decide. . ." Eppes cut him off.
"Don't worry. I've got enough information now to know why you did what you did, and it wasn't really that long that you knew, anyway. I get that it was a blow to hear that you needed surgery. Dr. Josephs and I talked."
"Yeah, I know. The scar tissue builds up over time," Granger explained, even though that was part of what Don had already heard from the doctor. Eppes took a worried look towards his passenger, who had gone back to looking out the window.
"So," Don said in an attempt to draw Colby away from serious concerns of surgery and recovery and being away from his team, and his partner, or whatever else Granger found out that window that so held his attention, and bring him back to the conversation at hand. "You were saying about the ward?"
"Yeah. Anyway, a lot of those appointments back then were in his satellite office in the pediatric cardiac unit."
"Right. All of those nurses saying hello and hugging you and kissing you were because of visits with your cardiologist?" Don asked. The investigator in him was sure that there was more to this story.
"No, no. After a while, going there. . .it just really gets to ya, ya know? Little kids with heart problems. . .that's gotta be one of the most wrong things. Anyway, I started coming in, when I could, to read to the kids, to play with them. To listen to them." Colby stopped talking, as though his story was finished. But Don wanted to know more.
"I had no idea. Were you trying to keep it a secret?" Don asked with a smile.
"No. It was just something I did."
And torture was just something that happened to him. Don knew it was in Colby Granger's nature to minimize things. Before, it was the effects of Mason Lancer's torture. This time, it was what he did for kids whose lives were precariously out of balance from heart problems. Both times, as in other events in Granger's life – from the death of his father when Colby had been so young, to the atrocities, the horrors of Afghanistan – Eppes was certain that the impact of what he did on his off time in rooms decorated with circus scenes was being given short shrift.
"That's nice. Do you still do it, visit the kids?"
"When I can. It's hard, they need lots of rest. Most of my visits are on the weekends now, but they get lots more time with their families on the weekends, too."
"You've definitely made an impression on the nursing staff, bud." Eppes caught the slight blush. "Did you date any of 'em," Don asked conspiratorially.
"Uh. . .no," Colby responded. A hesitation. Don wondered what that story was, but decided to quit the kidding and give his friend a break.
"So, did David tell you? Liz and Nikki are making dinner," Don said as he turned onto the street in Pasadena where he grew up, where his father and brother still lived, and where Colby would call home for at least another day.
"They're making dinner?" Colby asked smartly.
"Yeah. They missed you."
"Yeah, right. They missed their favorite target, maybe," Colby joked.
"That, too. But seriously, it's not the same, not having you there. And I had Liz and Nikki in the office the last two days. Didn't have any place to send them. Do you know what that's like?"
Granger snorted a laugh. . .and didn't wind up in a wracking cough. He was so grateful to be on the road to recovery. He and Don, as well as he and David, had talked about the surgery. Dr. Josephs had recommended a solid two weeks from today before he'd consider it. He said that Colby would need that time to be sure the infection and the cold were completely gone. He'd scheduled the operation for a month from today: a clear chest x-ray was all he would need to keep that appointment with the surgeon.
"I can only imagine," Colby said sympathetically.
"God, they can be such girls together."
Colby smiled. "They're both beautiful women, and they are tough as nails, man. But yeah. Sometimes you just want to pull a Van Gogh when they really get going."
"Any idea what's on the menu?" Colby asked. His appetite still wasn't all back, but he felt certain he at least wouldn't embarrass himself by leaving most of the food on his plate, or worse, down the bathroom toilet.
"I wasn't let in on the secret. Dad knows, but he's not tellin'."
"Hmm." Colby raised his sunglasses to rub at his eyes. Don caught the movement.
"You okay, bud?"
"Just another headache."
"What'd the Doc say about that?" Don asked worriedly.
"He said it was probably the antibiotic, but that I still had to finish it." Granger shook his head. "You'd think they'd come up with stuff so that you didn't have to feel worse before you felt better."
"Yeah, well, don't hold your breath on that one. Besides, you're never good with medications, anyway."
Don checked his watch, even though there was a clock readily available to him and easy to see right on the dash. "You should be able to catch a nap before we eat."
"Maybe that'll help."
Don pulled into the driveway of his childhood home. Both men exited the car and headed quickly into the coolness of the air-conditioned home and protection from the extra-heated Southern California late afternoon.
Colby Granger felt sudden warmth. He'd begun to feel chilled a while ago as he slept on the couch in the Eppes family's living room, but the good sleep – and the realization that his head didn't ache anymore – kept him from rising to do anything about the cold. It felt like someone else had done that work for him, and he was grateful for it. Granger also sensed that someone was there next to him still, that he was being observed. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep any longer, and besides, he was beginning to sense other things, wonderful aromas wafting in from the kitchen, murmured conversation, likely coming from the dining room. He opened his eyes to find Liz Warner and Nikki Betancourt staring at him.
"Hello, ladies," Colby said, smiling at the pretty picture before him.
"I like him this way," Liz said.
"Eh, I guess it's kinda cute," Nikki added.
"Yeah, no back talk," Nikki agreed.
"I wonder if there's a way to program it to be like this more often," Liz wondered aloud.
Colby's smile grew. "Are you ladies having fun?"
"You have no idea, Granger," Nikki said, offering her hand to assist the prone man to a sitting position. Colby took the offered hand and silently accepted the help.
"It's pretty ironic," Granger said.
"What's that?" Liz asked.
"You two talking about talking too much." Nikki said 'Ha!' and pushed him back down onto the couch.
"What am I, just your plaything?" he asked as Liz helped him up once more. She took the seat in the chair opposite him.
"You wish," Nikki said as she sat next to Colby and shoved his shoulder with sisterly affection with her own.
Granger snorted and shook his head, keeping his now blushing face hidden, or at least attempting to.
"Damn, Nikki. You win again." Liz pulled out a twenty dollar bill and slapped it into her friend's hand.
"Timing's everything, sister."
"How's that?" Don asked as he came into the room.
"Don't ask," Colby said as he rose to a standing position. Liz and Nikki both stood protectively to make sure he was okay. Granger looked from one to the other and then asked, "Are you going to escort me to the bathroom?"
"This I'd like to see," David Sinclair said as he joined the crowd, a beer bottle in hand.
"Hey, David," Colby said in greeting, reaching out for a brief hug. "I'll be right back," he said as he headed up the stairs.
"Is he okay?" David asked his two female teammates.
"I'm fine!" he heard his partner yell, exasperated, from the top of the staircase.
"He's fine," Liz and Nikki said together. The chefs for the evening giggled, gave each other a high five – and a low five – and then headed to the kitchen. David and Don looked at each other as they were left suddenly alone. "You survived," Sinclair observed.
"Barely. Are you done?" Don asked, hopeful.
"No. One more day of testimony. So that's one more day for you alone with Nikki and Liz."
"Yeah. I wonder if I can lend one of them out."
"I don't care what you have to do at the office, Donnie," Alan Eppes said, having overheard the last part of the conversation, "but whatever you do, you can't let them in the kitchen again."
"What, are they making a mess?" Don asked, amused.
"Smells good, whatever's going on in there," Colby said as he turned from the staircase and joined Don, David and Alan in the living room, close by the dining area. "We can help clean up."
"We can help clean up," Amita Ramanujan said as she came in to the room with two bottles of wine. Charlie Eppes, her fiancé, followed behind with a pitcher of water. "You just have to relax."
"Amita, I can help clear. . ." Charlie cut off his F.B.I. friend.
"Colby, you've been a guest here long enough, and often enough, to know that's just not gonna happen. We've got plenty of hands. You can do the math to figure out who sits this out."
"You Eppeses, and soon-to-be Eppeses are spoiling me."
"We love you, Colby," Amita said once she'd rid herself of her beverage burden. She reached up to give him a warm hug, which was returned in kind.
"Thanks, Amita." He loved them, too, as much as any blood relative he had. Sadly, it was likely his real family, and his Idaho upbringing, that kept him from saying out loud to these people what he truly felt. He wondered what the meaning of his silence said to his friends, this band of brothers and sisters who knew him so well, with whom he worked and played, with whom he lived his life, and for whom he would give it. These people who took him in and helped him to heal from injury and sickness. In spite of how much these people lifted him up and told him every day in action and in words how much he meant to them and how much worth he held in their eyes, he knew this flaw of his, this inability to say out loud what should easily roll off of his tongue, was a flaw in his character for which he held great emotion. In fact, some of the worst emotions he could think of: shame, disgust, embarrassment.
"Colby?" Granger turned to see Charlie looking at him worriedly. His genius friend took him by the elbow and led him to the far side of the room, intent on a quiet, private conversation. "We're not all the same, you know. We all have different talents, things we're each more comfortable with. You don't have to feel like you need to say how you feel. Whereas Amita feels comfortable telling you that, or my dad, or me, others of us, like you, show us in other ways that you do."
"I don't know why. . .I wish. . ." Colby stuttered before Charlie went on softly.
"That we all love you is obvious. And that you love us is obvious, too. It's a good thing that you have a better poker face when you're working undercover or interviewing a suspect; your face tonight would never exactly be described as inscrutable." Colby smiled, knowing that this was true. He felt enveloped in love in this house, with these people. "I don't think you should worry about not being able to say it. Meaning matters a great deal, whether it's verbalized or not."
"Are you sure you're not an English master rather than a math whiz?" Granger joked.
"Hah. You haven't heard about my spelling." The two men laughed at that and returned to the crowd now gathered in the dining room.
"Everything okay?" Don and David asked, not nearly in harmony.
"Everything's good," Charlie said as he rubbed Colby's back one last time before sitting next to Amita at the table.
Liz, Nikki and Alan started bringing the food out to the table. Everyone else sat down and waited for their servers to finish. Colby reached for a swig of David's beer, but his hand was slapped away. Some of the food was recognizable, other dishes not so much. Colby asked the obvious question. "Is there a theme to this feast?"
Liz smiled that dazzling smile of hers and replied, "I'm so glad you asked. And yes, there is."
"It's in honor of you, Colby." A perplexed look on everyone's faces, not just Colby's, spurred Nikki on. "It's a feast in honor of the three organs that have been giving you such a hard time."
Colby looked around the table, recognizing the artichoke 'hearts'. He grinned stupidly, and then realized Nikki had said three. "Three organs?" he asked.
"Yeah. Your heart, your lung. . ." Liz offered, and after just the right dramatic pause, Nikki finished.
"And your brain."
The family at the Eppes family dinner table erupted in laughter, at Colby's expense. It took them all a while, however, to finally realize, as they eyed the food on the table, that they weren't too sure what everything else being offered by the ladies of the F.B.I. was. Charlie leaned over to his father and asked under his breath, "Does F.B.I., in this case, stand for 'food borne illness'?" Alan nearly lost his drink – through his nose. The laughter simmered down to an occasional snort and chuckle as Liz and Nikki took their seats. Don pulled a bowl nearer for closer inspection, squinted at the food, tried to sniff it without offending the two women he'd be stuck in the office alone with tomorrow. He looked across to David, who averted his eyes.
Don asked, "Um, wh…what is this?" Colby sat back, watching his friends, enjoying the camaradie – and his improved health - and really, really happy that his boss had taken over the role of target of the two women who had made this. . .meal.