The trip home was excruciating for Bob Brown, not just because he was nauseous, feverish, achy and basically felt like shit, but because he was lying to his teammates, keeping something from them that they probably had a right to know. But no matter how much he tried to convince himself that he should just confess to the enforced drug use he could not bring himself to do it. The fact that the heroin had been injected into his veins against his will, he’d been helpless to stop from enjoying the rush of euphoria that the chemical had caused, and it made him feel weak; despite all reason to the contrary he couldn’t help but believe that he should have been stronger, should have been able to hold out against the drug’s effect. Bob knew that his thoughts were irrational, but at the moment he could not work his way out of the maze of illogic that had tangled his judgment. Perhaps it was the drug still in his system – perhaps it was his own self-doubt surfacing, whatever the cause, all he could focus on at the moment was to getting away from the team, crawling into his own bed and somehow making the events of the past day disappear.
Carlito Grey said nothing as he watched him teammate during the flight home; pretending to sleep when in fact he kept a close eye on his friend. He was a trained medic and despite Bob’s assurances to Jonas that he was fine and just tired from hours of interrogation and abuse by the General’s men, Grey didn’t think that was the whole story. He’d sat next to the man in the limo from the hotel and he’d felt the almost constant movement as Brown had scratched at his arms and seemed unable to keep his legs still. He’d been either unwilling or unable to meet Carlito’s gaze, nor that of anyone else’s, but as he’d stared up at the ceiling of the car Grey had caught a brief glimpse of Bob’s pupils, noting they’re unnatural dilation, even when the dome light was on. As the trip to the airport continued Carlito had felt the temperature rise in Bob’s body where their arms rested against each other, yet he shook as if chilled. He’d been swallowing repeatedly, as if trying to quell nausea, and had turned away with a slight grimace when a bottle of water had been offered. All of it had a hint of the familiar for Grey; he had seen symptoms like it before in guys he had grown up with, guys who didn’t have enough cash for their next hit: junkies. Add to that the fact that Bridget Sullivan could not seem to face Bob, and looked guilty as sin about something, and it all fit. Bob had not just been interrogated, he’d been drugged, and for whatever reason he didn’t want Jonas and the rest of the team to know. But just because Bob didn’t want to tell didn’t mean that Carlito wasn’t going to keep an eye on him and help him if he could . . . even if that meant ultimately giving away Bob’s secret.
Bob tried to limit his trips to the bathroom while in flight, not wanting to bring too much attention to himself, but a number of times the nausea had overwhelmed him and he’d barely made it there in time to throw up. Unfortunately with nothing in his stomach he was reduced to dry heaves that just made his muscles ache worse and his mouth taste of bile that further increased the nausea. He was relieved when about an hour into the trip the rest of the team had fallen asleep and Bob relaxed slightly, no longer under their scrutiny. While he tried futilely to get comfortable as every nerve in his body seemed to be in fire, his mind kept returning to the heroin he’d taken from his interrogator’s case; it was burning a hole in his pocket – or maybe his soul. Just knowing it was there made him feel dirty and ashamed. He didn’t even know why he’d taken it, especially with Bridget there to see. A moment of weakness and now its mere presence made him feel pathetic. He knew that he should just flush it down the toilet on his inevitable next visit to the latrine, but every trip he returned with it still in his pocket - evidently he didn’t have the will power to do that either.
Grey watched as Bob returned from yet another trip to the bathroom in the back of the plane, looking worse with each journey. Even from his position a few feet away he could see the signs that Bob was becoming dehydrated, but given the fact that the man was no doubt vomiting up anything that hit his stomach Carlito decided to not push the issue. The only way to deal with it would be to start an IV and Bob would never voluntarily allow that. Since the flight wouldn’t be too much longer and Bob didn’t appear to be in any immediate danger Grey decided to just keep an eye on the situation. He vowed he’d only step in if absolutely necessary; it was about the only thing he could do for his teammate right now – just keep watch and keep the secret.
He had never really figured out Bob Brown; the man remained an enigma to Grey despite the fact they had been teammates for over four years. Bob was a great guy and a superb operator, but he was also very private and seemed to have his share of demons that he carried around. Except for one time when he’d spoken of his misspent youth stealing old Pontiacs with a friend, Bob never mentioned his family. He never spoke of his past, never reminisced about his childhood in any way. Grey knew that Bob had a sister, but only because Kim had mentioned it once. None of Bob’s family had ever visited Forth Griffith as far as he could recall and every trip to go see family had always been to see Kim’s people in Texas. Carlito had seen the level of focus and self –restraint that Bob maintained; he was harder on himself than any CO could ever be, and while he never said as much, Grey suspected that Bob never managed to live up the exacting standards that he set for himself. The man could be relentless in his determination to succeed and viewed any mistake on his part, any loss of control of himself or his environment, as a weakness. The man seemed to view it as a personal failure if he was not the best at everything he did. He spoke more languages than the rest of them, had more degrees, was the best shot, could fly numerous aircraft, and pushed himself beyond his limits on more than one occasion. Grey could only guess that Bob somehow thought that today he had failed at something, or was ashamed, and that was the reason he was keeping quiet. While he didn’t agree with Bob’s decision, and he certainly didn’t see anything that the man had endured as a weakness or failure, so long as it put no one in danger, he would respect Bob’s wishes and keep quiet . . . for now.
When they finally landed in California it was mid-morning and all the guys wanted to do was get home and spend some time with their families, or in Carlito’s case “become intimate with a decent mattress.” Top decided that since the operation had really been a CIA affair and Ryan wasn’t involved that the hot wash could wait until later, and bid his men to go home. Bob was so grateful that he could have cried; he didn’t think he would have managed to stay upright through a debrief that likely would take hours. He was contemplating how to get home since Kim had the car, and he’d originally arrived at the airfield with Mack, when Carlito offered him a ride. He wanted to decline, feeling a need to keep his distance from his teammates, but accepted anyway as it was better than either of the alternatives, calling a cab, or calling his wife. Both would take too long and he wasn’t up to the wait. He climbed into the truck and within minutes the white noise of the engine had him drifting off. The next thing Bob was aware of was Grey gently shaking him awake and asking him if he was okay. Bob assured him that he was, claiming exhaustion and maybe a touch of the flu – not a lie for that was in fact exactly what it felt like . . . the worst case of flu Bob had ever known. Grey gave him a hard assessing look that made Bob slightly uncomfortable, but then with an instruction to Bob to “take care” he shifted the truck out of neutral and drove off.
Bob was relieved that Kim wasn’t home and quickly made his way to the bathroom; he desperately needed a shower - needed to wash away the stench of China and his own weakness. He set the water as hot as he could stand and remained under the spray until his knees started to tremble and dizziness made staying upright difficult. Last thing he needed was to fall and have to explain that to anyone. He existed the shower and quickly dried off and dressed, making sure to pull on a long sleeved shirt that he could use to cover the needle marks on his arms. Plus, despite the hot shower, he could not seem to get rid of the chills that were wracking his body so the added warmth of the shirt felt good at the moment. His bag was still on the floor where he’d dropped it and he reached in and pulled out his standard issue medical kit where he had stashed the heroin that he’d picked up in the hotel room. With trembling fingers Bob lay out a syringe, a rubber tourniquet, and a few of the small bags of China White on the bathroom counter. He stared at what he’d done, stared at the paraphernalia that he never dreamed would ever enter a home of his, stared at the promise of respite. God help him but he wanted that rush again, that momentary feeling when he was beyond all pain, both physical and emotional, where nothing touched him . . . and he hated himself for it.
As he continued to stare at the drug that would so quickly and easily take away his pain, settle his stomach, ease his aching muscles and crawling skin, bring blessed calm to his body and mind, Bob heard the front door close and Kim’s voice call out for him. It was like a cold splash of water, bringing him back from the brink. Still, even with his loving wife and normal life on the other side of the door, he found himself unable to tear his focus away from the drugs - the pain and sickness building. Then in a moment of resolve Bob grabbed all the items from the counter and placed them back in his kit and quickly zipped it into his travel bag. Then grabbing it off the floor he exited the bathroom, stored it in its usual place on the upper shelf in the bedroom closet and went to find his wife.
Carlito was refreshed from a full night in his own bed, an event that was far too rare as of late. He was on his way to his truck when he caught sight of Kim Brown leaving her house and quickly changed course to intercept her. He hadn’t seen Bob since their return yesterday and he wanted to check up on him. When he reached her he could see concern on her face and his antenna immediately went up. He tried to appear nonchalant as he said hello and commented on how nice it must be for her and Bob to have some time together. Her response was not what he’d hoped for, but also didn’t surprise him. Kim reported that it would be nice except that Bob evidently had the stomach flu and had been ill since last evening. To Carlito this confirmed his suspicions; Bob had been drugged and he was now going through withdrawal - and he was doing it alone. Kim said that she was on her way the grocery store to pick up a few things that might be palatable to Bob when he was finally able to keep something down. The fact that she did not seem overly concerned for her husband’s health made Carlito feel slightly better; she was a Mom after all with all the instincts that would tell her if something was serious . . . evidently she was not getting any of those vibes from Bob. Nonetheless, Grey asked if she thought it might not be a good idea for someone to stay with him while she was gone, just in case he needed anything, and volunteered for the job. Kim looked so relieved by his offer that he felt momentarily guilty for lying to her about what was really going on with her husband. But he would keep Bob’s secret as long as he could from whomever he could. That’s what brothers did. Kim handed him the key to the door and then went on her way, calling over her shoulder that she wouldn’t be long. He told her not to worry.
Grey entered the Brown’s house quietly, not wanting to disturb Bob if he was asleep. But when he looked into the master bedroom he saw his teammate curled in a ball, shivering despite the pile of blankets covering him. Grey moved to Bob’s side of the bed, calling out his name softly as he did so. Bob looked up at him, his eyes glassy in an ashen sweat-soaked face. The man looked miserable and sick, and when he met Carlito’s knowing gaze he also looked ashamed. Grey noted an empty trash can strategically placed on the floor within easy reach of the ill man and was careful not to knock it over as he moved closer. Spotting a washcloth in a bowl of water on the bedside table he reached for it and wrung it out, then sat on the edge of the bed and began wiping Bob’s face and neck with the cool cloth. Brown closed his eyes and allowed the ministrations. When the cloth warmed from the overheated skin, he returned it to the cool water and repeated the process. He kept this up until Bob appeared more comfortable and at ease with the fact that he was there.
They sat in silence for some time, Grey doing a quick assessment of his teammate to determine if his condition was such that he needed medical attention, or if he could tough it out at home. Grey gently placed his fingers against Bob’s carotid and counted the beats, it was a little fast, but not dangerously so, and that could just be a result of the dehydration. He’d try to get fluid in the man before he left. Bob’s breathing seemed okay, if a little slow, and the fever was not too high. For all intents and purposes, to anyone who didn’t know better, Bob did in fact appear to have one hell of a case of the flu. Grey was fairly certain that while the man was undeniably miserable it was probably safe to let him go through this hell in private - but he had to be sure. Placing his hand on Bob’s shoulder he gave it a slight squeeze and called his name; Bob opened his eyes in response. Once he was sure he had Brown’s attention he asked him what it was, what drug he had been given, told him that he needed to know to make sure that his recovery was normal. Grey assured his teammate that so long as nothing went wrong that he’s keep his secret, but he needed to know the truth. It had taken a few moments, then he’d heard the whispered response, not what he was hoping for, but given their location in China, not a surprise either.
Bob had drifted off again after that and Carlito left him long enough to go to the kitchen where he placed some ice cubes in a tea towel and then wrapping them tightly proceeded to smash them into pieces with a few blows to the countertop. Grabbing a small plastic cup from the cupboard he dumped the chips into it and returned to the bedroom. Bob stirred when Grey sat on the bed and accepted his help tipping a few of the chips from the cup into his mouth. It would give him a little moisture, but hopefully wouldn’t set off his stomach again. After placing the cup on the nightstand within easy reach Carlito turned and met Bob’s eyes again. When he was sure that the man was focused on him Grey told him that if he needed anyone to talk to about this, or was tempted in the future by the call of the euphoria that the drug had offered, he would be there to help. No one else knew, and no one would. Carlito made a mental note to go talk to Bridget when he left and swear her to silence; he knew from the look of her in the limo she’d agree.
Bob glanced away, the embarrassment that had been on his face earlier returning. Seeing that self recrimination on his teammate’s face for something that was beyond his control, something that had been inflicted upon him as part of a mission was not something that Grey could let stand. Grasping Bob’s arm, giving it a little shack, Carlito informed him, in no uncertain terms, that what he had done, what he had been willing to go through, not only for the mission but for a Unit member, Bridget, was nothing to be ashamed of. What he’d endured he had done out of loyalty and honor and Grey wasn’t’ going to let anyone, not even Bob himself, belittle that sacrifice. He’d stared down the man laying before him until he received a slight nod of acknowledgment from Bob that he understood. Giving a final squeeze to Brown’s arm, Carlito loosened his grasp and instructed Bob to get some rest.
He had watched over his brother, as was his solemn duty, until he heard the front door close and saw Kim standing in the doorway. Returning the washcloth to the bowl, he quietly rose from his position on the bed and moved toward her. She smiled slightly at him, he guessed it was the first time she’d ever seen him in “medic” mode. After assuring her that all was well and to call him if she needed anything Carlito had left his teammate to the tender mercies of his wife, perhaps the one person who could locate and heal the wounds that the man showed no one else. She would watch over him here; he would do it out there.
Bob regarded the quiet conversation between Carlito and Kim from his huddled position on the bed. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that there stood two people in the world that cared for him, who were willing to help him, and he was keeping secrets from them both. Turning away from the tableau taking place in the doorway Bob‘s gaze shifted to the closet where, hidden inside his pack, lurked a dragon that he wasn’t sure he would be strong enough to slay.