Here are the things that Clay knows:
He knows agony, a fire that whistles down his legs, humming across each nerve ending, sending shrieks back to his overloaded brain. It echoes every morning and reverberates each night, his legs a cacophony of pain that never stops and never surrenders.
He knows exhaustion, a deep exhaustion that is so far from any he has had before; far from those nights with Bravo, running op after op in the dead of dark. This exhaustion is harder, more bitter. Sleep makes him tired and being awake makes him tired. PT, the few times Clay has even tried, depleted his energy so much, he shook.
He knows nausea, the glory of not being able to keep much of anything down, a repetitious cycle of aching stomach muscles and a burning throat; oatmeal and broth and jello all meeting the same fate over and over again.
Clay knows shame, of someone washing him and bathing him; feeding him, brushing his teeth when his arms shake too much to hold anything. He knows how the blood pools in his cheeks and heats red as catheters are examined. He knows the shame of having to make his emergency contact Brett; of admitting he has no one.
He knows despair, a swirling vortex within him, an incoming tide, lapping at his brain, at his thoughts. With every bandage change of his legs, the waves grow stronger, the current faster, the shore further away; the black, stretched stitches giving him the ninety seven reasons why he was never good enough, and won’t ever be good enough.
He knows Stella has visited twice, but only when he’s been asleep. She leaves a fading scent of her perfume, a gift from him on her birthday, a blend of spring flowers and the regrets of what could have been.
He knows Davis is pissed at him, at the world, at herself, and at Sonny. She sends, even from OCS, bundles of magazines, ginger chews and soft blankets. His finger wraps around the fleece of the blanket in the dead of night when everything is too much and just tries to breathe. The repetition of his fingers through the softness grounds him in a way no mantra has been able to. He stares at the stuffed animal she brought, that sits across the room on a darkened window ledge, and he makes eye contact with it’s small black eyes and breathes.
He knows Naima is angry at Ray, and therefore only silently quirks an eyebrow when he lets his phone go to voicemail again. She comes every Tuesday and Saturday with soup from outside the hospital, a new Netflix recommendation and a phone charger (since his seems to keep going missing). She doesn’t talk about the team, doesn’t talk about the future, or the past; she talks about the other nurses, the drama that has unfolded on her floor, and her children’s antics in a tone that tells them both they really don’t care, but other things are still to raw to be spoken of yet.
Clay knows he has 109 unread text messages, 38 missed phone calls, and probably two dead carrier pigeons from Bravo team alone. He knows that Alpha, Charlie and Delta have both sent messages as well. Knows that there are balloons and flower arrangements and fruit baskets that have all been sent and that Clay has turned away, to other rooms, to other floors.
He knows he has been in a bed for several weeks and that Bravo team has not come home, that the mission comes first. He knows that the team before anything else lifestyle he was living meant more when the team was beside him, and when he was part of a team. Knows that with the way orders work, with the way operatives live, it could be months before he sees them again. Clay knows by then he will be a set-aside has-been who the men pity with one beer at the bar before phones beep, excuses are made, and Clay is left behind while the world is saved again.
Here is what Clay doesn’t know:
On the drive back from visiting him, Davis calls Blackburn on the verge of tears. Explains in detail how far down the rabbit hole the kid is going, and that ladders at the bottom are few and far between. They end the call with a plan, a supply chain, and one very gruff but powerful sentence from Blackburn that does bring Davis to tears (“you’re an officer already, Lisa”).
Blackburn works with Mandy to expedite the search for the scum that did this, knowing his men won’t go home without something to soothe the fiery inferno of rage inside each of them. She calls in more sources, he calls in more drones. They find the guy two weeks earlier than they should have.
Bravo team goes in like Bravo team has always gone in; they don’t look too much like an entity missing a limb unless you know them like Eric knows them; can hear the beats in the chatter where they were waiting for another’s voice, and only silence greets them. They are tough calls but no close calls on this op, and Blackburn greets them back at command with beers and the simple order of, “Gentlemen, we’re going home.”
Here is what Clay learns:
Clay learns that for a recon, recovery, counter-terrorism group, Bravo team is shit as being quiet entering his room. There is very loud hushing (and what sounds to be like mild shoving) occurring as the five men enter, jolting him awake, and making Clay open his eyes. Bravo team looks tired, worn and wrinkled.
“Well damn, pretty boy, aren’t you a sight,” Sonny says, breaking a silence before it can even start, his specialty since the day he was born.
Clay learns how quickly Trent can read a chart and mummer comments under his breath.
He learns how quickly Brock finds a spot in the room the doctors won’t see Cerberus, and appears to summon the dog out of thin air.
Clay learns how quickly Ray can open blinds, streaming sunlight into a room that has been dark since the first time the PT person has tried to have him stand.
He learns how fast Sonny can open five beers and one O’Doul’s, shrugging his shoulders with the soft explanation, “Naima read me the riot act in two languages, sorry brother.”
Clay learns this all without breaking eye contact with Jason. Jason who stares right back at him, heavy eyes and defeated posture. Jason who never wanted to have him on the team. Jason who Clay tried over and over again to prove to that he could do this. Jason who takes a step towards the bed, the damn bed Clay has been in for weeks. Jason who clutches his hand tight, and brings Clay forward into a strong hug. Jason who hold him tight and doesn’t let go as Clay quakes and trembles in fear; in agony; in shame; in despair; in hope; in relief.
Clay holds tight in Jason’s arms and lets his head drop to Jason’s shoulder, and softly cries.
“We’ve got you Bravo Six. We’ve got you.”