Not As Common as a Cold
Epilogue to "LD50"
Thank you to the writers / actors and producers of NCIS: LA.
Lying on the bathroom floor, the cold tile against his back felt wonderful. He wished he'd had the presence of mind to turn off the overhead light, but instead he closed his eyes, covering them with his arm. He was miserable. He wanted to call in to the office, let them know he was too sick to come in, but that meant actually getting up and finding his phone and for the first time in the last two hours he was actually comfortable. The feeling didn't last, however, when his stomach heaved again. Rolling up to his knees he up-chucked into the bowl. The smell was the worst, or the taste, or the acid burn in his throat, or the eye watering heaves, or the… it didn't matter. It was all horrible. He flushed the toilet again and pushed up to his feet. He rested his forearms on the sink and ran cold water into his cupped hands so he could spit then poured a handful down his neck and dried his hands on the hot skin of his cheeks. He looked up into the mirror into bloodshot eyes.
With his head clear for the moment and his stomach sore but not clenching, he pushed away from the sink and headed into the other room. The room he rented had a bedroom, but he didn't use it, just sleeping on the couch, and his jeans were on the floor beside it. Picking them up he found his phone in the back pocket. The first number on the speed dial was Eric in ops. As it rang, he wondered if Eric would be in. He wasn't even sure what time it was. His world was all out of kilter.
"Callen? Hetty was just looking for you."
"Eric. It's Callen." He realized it was unnecessary to use names as soon as he said it. He tried to swallow down the bad taste in his mouth. "Tell Hetty I'm sick."
"You're sick? You're never sick."
"Well, obviously not never, Eric, cuz I'm sick."
"Oh, true. Okay. I'll tell her."
Callen hung up on him and clutching his jeans like a life preserver he shuffled back down the hall to heave into the toilet again.
Sam was not panicking. After all, SEALs don't panic, but G didn't get sick. He'd known the man for a couple of years and even battered and bloodied he came to work. So when Eric called to tell him that G had called in sick, Sam had nearly made a U-Turn on the 10 Freeway, and headed to G's dive of a place near the pier. The one day, the one day, he and G hadn't planned to meet and ride in together and now this. They mostly did, but he'd had plans for this morning. Sam slammed the palm of his hand in to the steering wheel, took a deep breath, and tried to remember it might really be nothing.
He let himself into the apartment using his credit card. Most of the dives that G rented didn't take much to break in, but then G didn't have anything worth stealing. "G?" The room that was billed as a living room, but wasn't much more than an extension of the kitchenette and closet combined. The morning sunlight flooded the room from the sliding glass door that led to a tiny balcony. A pillow and blanket were crumpled on the couch. Sam shook his head, knowing that meant G hadn't used the bed.
The place wasn't big, so the search for his partner didn't take more than a minute. He found G on the floor of the bathroom, one knee propped against the sink cupboard, the other against the wall, G was sleeping on the tile floor just inches from the toilet. For half a second Sam worried about how clean the floor would be, but he knew G would have cleaned when he moved in. It was the one thing he did. He left every apartment/motel/rent-by-the week place cleaner than when he moved in.
"G, can you hear me?" Sam leaned over his partner, his body casting a shadow.
"Can you feel your arms and legs? Any trouble breathing?" Sam checked Callen for signs of botulism, making sure the neurotoxin hadn't rendered his partner paralyzed.
"Huh? No. What?"
"Eric's already called the ambulance. 'Fraid they're gonna HAZMAT you up and take you out of here."
"I don't have botulism." Callen tried to focus.
Sam prayed Called was right. They both had been tested for it, both had passed and been released. But sometimes doctor's missed stuff.
"I don't know what you got, but Hetty's taking no chances and no prisoners. We both gotta go to the hospital." Sam stepped back when a man in a white bee-keeper outfit knocked on the door. "It's okay buddy. I'm going with you."
"Uh, okay. Why? Do you have the flu, too?"
Sam watched from the doorway as the medic examined Callen. Sam could see that Callen was pale and sweaty, but breathing fine. Sam called Hetty as he watched Callen argue with the medical staff.
"I'll go, but I'm putting my jeans on. I'm not leaving this apartment in my underwear, even if I am in a HASMAT suit."
Sam had to smile. That was his partner. Give-em-hell!
A medic was checking his pulse and respiration as well, so he switched the phone to the other hand. "He's alive and talking but looks like crap. We'll be at the VA in 15 or so. I don't think they'll let me have my phone for a while, but I'll call again as soon as I can."
"Understood, Mr. Hanna. Are you feeling well?"
"I'm fine, Hetty."
"Better safe than sorry. The medics are going to want to run tests. Try to cooperate." He could hear the exasperation in her voice.
"I'll try. No promises on G though."
"No, we can't expect that."
Callen walked himself down the steps of his apartment to the waiting ambulance. He glared at everyone that ended up in his line of sight, although he tipped his head down and away from the crowd that had gathered with camera phones at the ready. He sat on one side of the ambulance and added Sam, sitting opposite him, to his list of people he was annoyed with. "Why am I in a HAZMat suit for the flu?" His muffled voice filtered across the open space to Sam.
"Better safe than sorry. You come down with the flu 48 hours after being exposed to botulism, people want to check you over." Sam shrugged. "You'd pull off that glare better if you didn't look like death warmed over."
G rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything else.
Entering the hospital into the contagious unit, they were escorted into rooms across from each other. Sam pulled off his suit with thick, fumbling fingers. Once he got the hood off it was easier to watch Callen doing the same. His partner's face was flushed and Sam stood, but couldn't go across the hall when Callen leaned over and threw up into a trash can. A nurse in mask and gloves came over to assist and provided him with a wipe. Callen sat back on the bed, his jaw tight as the nurse took blood and a cheek swab. She handed him a specimen cup and nodded toward a door. Callen took the cup and glared at Sam across the hall and shuffled off to the bathroom. Minutes later the same procedure happened to Sam.
Long hours went by. Sam dozed on his bed, keeping one eye on his partner across the hall. Callen had had in IV put in that Sam didn't. The nurse said it was because of the vomiting that Callen was dehydrated. Callen got up a few times, spending time in the bathroom for four or five minutes at a time. Each time Sam got up and watched the door, until Callen came out, usually pale and sweaty. After one episode they hooked a heart monitor to Callen as well. Any time it beeped, the nurse came and watched Callen for a moment, taking his pulse or his blood pressure.
One time Sam made hand signals to Callen, letting him know he saw two people behind the one-way mirror. Callen flashed three fingers.
The nurse came back taking another blood sample from each of them. She dropped off soup for Callen and a sandwich for Sam. He picked out the limp lettuce and left it on the plate. He finished it, including the chips in the time it took Callen to sip at his soup just before vomiting it up into the toilet. Sam could only stand across the hall, his stomach clenched in sympathy, but unable to help from his confinement. "Nurse?" Sam called out. She was there in moments to help Callen. It seemed like ages to Sam before she helped Callen back to bed.
Sam dragged his bed away from the wall to an angle that let him see Callen without having to strain his neck when he propped the bed into a sitting position and he could still see the TV so he could deny to Callen watching. Callen was curled on his side and seemed to be sleeping. Sam wasn't convinced, but he hoped it was true. The dark circles under his partner's showed just how much he needed the rest.
The doctor came in a short while later, making notations on a tablet computer and then looked up. "You are free to go, Agent Hanna. Clean bill of health."
Sam looked across the hall. Callen was up on one elbow, looking their way. "And Callen?" Behind the doctors back Sam gave the all clear signal. Called gave him the finger.
"Ah." The doctor looked across the hall. "Confidentiality and all. You understand."
Sam pressed his lips together and gathered up his clothes. He jammed his legs into his jeans, but then followed the doctor out to hover in Callen's doorway.
"If you'll excuse us, Agent Hanna." It wasn't a question, the doctor turned his back on Sam.
"No, its okay." Callen waved Sam in. Sam knew it was only so that Callen wouldn't have to relay the information as soon as they got together again.
Sam smiled and moved over to Callen's bed. G moved his legs, giving Sam a place to sit.
The nurse came in a moment later and behind her a man in a suit with a clipboard, looking out of place, awkward and very much like someone that worked with facts and not people. "Just to ease your mind, Agent Callen," the man said curtly, "you do not have botulism."
"And who are you?" Callen asked, his eyes narrowed, and his distrust for all medical staff and the clip-board man especially easy to read on his face.
"I'm in from D.C." the man continued.
"Not the question I asked."
Sam crossed his arms over his chest. "Got some ID?"
"Really, agents, this is a hospital not a… a…"
"You're all poking and prodding my partner. I think we should at least know who you are."
"Who I am is not important."
That raised Sam's hackles and got G sitting up on the bed.
"But," when the man saw where this was going he pulled out his ID. Sam held the ID in his hand, wishing he could send it to Eric to get it confirmed. The ID said "Dr. Robert Smith, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I'm with the CDC. I have been working on the antidote to clostridium botulism."
"The stuff I shot G up with?"
"Yes." Dr. Smith looked down and away. He cleared his throat. "Nevertheless, our tests show that you did not nor do you now have botulism. However, you did have a reaction to the antidote."
"Let me get this straight. I'm only sick because my partner," Callen glared at Sam, "shot me up with your antidote?"
"I'm not apologizing for saving your life, G." They stared at each other for a moment, neither backing down, but then Sam saw the sparkle in his partner's eye, the twist of his lips that showed it was a tease, not an accusation. Sam rolled his eyes, crossed his arms over his chest and looked away.
"Well, in Agent Hanna's defense, statistically only one in a thousand has a reaction."
"You have had more than a thousand people who have taken his stuff?" Callen watched the Doctor with the eye of a trained investigator.
"So that's a made up number."
Now that Sam was no longer on the hot seat he was enjoying watching his partner put someone else there.
"That is classified."
Callen looked at Sam, then at the doctor that had been treating him then back at Dr. Smith. "I'm guessing I'm number one."
"That makes you special, G." Sam said with an exaggerated tone.
"I've always been special, Sam. This makes me a guinea pig."
Sam refrained from the next thought that came to mind. "Can I take him out of here then?"
Dr. Smith licked his lips and tapped his pen against his clipboard. "Well, we'd like to run a few more tests."
Callen just rolled his eyes.
"I'm going to call Hetty, now that we know what's going on." Sam stalked out of the room, angry on Callen's behalf and still holding Dr. Smith's ID in his hand. "You can't just use a person as a test subject and get away with it." Sam yelled.
"Agent Callen," Dr. Smith started.
"I'm not the one you need to worry about." Callen knew the rules regarding federal personnel and he didn't think Sam had much of a leg to stand on, but Hetty, that could be interesting.
"Your heart rate is a bit off, and you are still dehydrated. I'd like to keep you here 24-48 hours."
Sam came in a moment later, tossing Dr. Smith back his badge. The man fumbled it.
"Come on, G. Let's get out of here."
Callen shifted back against the pillows. "I'm going to stay the night, Sam."
"What?" Sam gaped.
"It's okay. Look," Callen rubbed the heel of one hand into his eye. "I can't go back to my apartment. My exit was …"
"I was going to say horrifying, but we'll go with your word."
Sam nodded his head. There would still be lookie-loos around the apartment.
"So, you get to go and pack up my stuff and pick me up tomorrow morning 8am sharp."
"I don't know about that Agent Callen." Dr. Smith started but was met with glares from both men.
"You sure G?"
"I'm sure, Sam. Go. I'm going to sleep and attempt to eat without barfing."
Sam took a deep breath. He didn't like the idea of leaving his partner here alone, but he trusted Callen to look out for himself. Sort of. "Okay. 8am. I expect you on the curb."
"I'll be there."
Sam waited until dark to let himself into Callen's apartment. The dingy one room apartment didn't look any better once he turned on the light. He checked the counters and tables in the little living space, checking for anything that belonged to his partner. Callen had so little, Sam didn't want to leave anything behind. When he entered the bedroom he stopped. The bed was unmade, the sheets and blankets on the couch, but in the middle was everything Callen owned. Two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, two button down shirts, half a dozen pairs of socks and underwear, a shaving kit, a jacket and a paperback book. That was it. The duffle that Callen kept his stuff in was on the floor beside the bed, the bedroll still rolled tight. Sam shook his head sadly. This was it. The contents of his partner's life. He knew Callen didn't keep much, he knew it in his head, but it hit him like a blow to the chest each time he came face to face with the truth.
He packed the duffle quickly, keeping the paperback out. The title was one he wasn't familiar with. The cover had flames and vivid graphics. The back told of a Victorian era crime drama. It looked interesting. Five minutes later he made one more sweep of the room, locked the door and left.
Callen was curbside at 8am when Sam pulled up. He hadn't bothered to check out. They'd figure it out when he wasn't there anymore. Considering the unit he was in he felt the security was kind of slipshod. He'd take it up with Hetty. He had to pick up a pink box from the seat before he sat. "What's this?" Although he mostly knew already, he lifted the lid. The smell from a dozen fresh doughnuts filled the car.
"I picked them up on my way in."
Callen looked from the box to his partner and back. "You're forgiven, Sam."
"I'm not apologizing for saving your life."
"No, I'm not." Sam merged onto the freeway and headed for the office. "I just thought after a night at the hospital you'd like something good."
"There's a breakfast burrito for you too, no cheese."
Callen grinned. There was a large coffee in the cup holder as well. It gave him a strange knot in his chest when he thought about how well taken care of he was.
"So you up to chasing down bad guys today?" Sam asked.
"Nah, I'm only going to use my brain today. Make Kensi do the chasing. It's good for her. She's young."
"Okay. I can work with that."
Callen wolfed down a cake doughnut and sipped at his coffee while chewing.
"Geeze, G, slow down, they aren't going anywhere."
"So you say. Once we get to the office, I'll barely get another one."
Sam shook his head, but he smiled. Callen looked out the passenger window, sipping his coffee, and for this brief drive to work, all was right with his world.