Ellerbee knows his way around Baywatch HQ probably more than he should, considering that Mitch has only seen him in there a handful of times. But he walks through it like he knows what the hell he’s doing, which is probably a good thing. Because Mitch hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing.
People have already heard the news, but they still gawk to stare when they see the blood. A few try to ask questions, but Ellerbee intervenes with a quiet commentary that Mitch is too numb to bother hearing.
Part of him knows this isn’t how this is supposed to go. Baywatch is his program; he’s the lieutenant. Everyone looks to him for answers and insights and the plan.
Mitch only has answers he doesn’t want, insights he doesn’t know what to do with and a plan that ended up with Brody being rushed to the hospital.
Mitch doesn’t know anything today.
Ellerbee prods him into the shower, where Mitch removes the red splashed trunks and shirt. A fresh pair is waiting for him when he gets out, and he feels cleaner, fresher and infinitely worse. His head is clearer, is the problem, so he’s aware now of just how stupid this whole thing is.
To make matters worse, Ellerbee is still being really nice to him.
Like, unreasonably nice to him.
This isn’t without precedence, probably. Ever since the shit went down with Leeds, he and Ellerbee have been on much better terms. There is still snide commentary from time to time, but there’s also a new respect that makes them mutuals. On top of that, they’ve actively worked together on cases. They’ve relied on each other. It’s been good.
Except Mitch is the one who doesn’t quite get that they’re not mutuals. He agreed to Ellerbee’s plan to play backup and then tweaked it to fit his own needs. Ellerbee has every right to call him out on this shit, and every second that goes by where he’s nice instead is harder and harder for Mitch to comprehend.
Because honestly, Mitch wants someone to call him on it. He wants someone to look at him and tell him it’s all his fault. He’s not sure why he thinks that will help, but if someone else gives voice to the guilt he feels inside, at least that might make it real.
Mitch can wash away the blood, he can leave the scene. Maybe he can answer questions, even.
None of that changes the resounding echo of a gunshot meant for him.
It makes Mitch want to rage. He wants to kick, scream and punch. He wants to curse and rip and destroy. Anything to give outlet to the drowning pit of despair that’s eating away at the inside of his stomach.
It never comes, though.
Instead, when Ellerbee gives him a once over and asks, “You ready to go, man?”
Mitch only answers in a monotone voice, “Sure.”
Mitch isn’t sure where Ellerbee musters up a squad car. Probably the same place Mitch gets jet skis and motor boats. Those are things lifeguards just have at their disposal because they’re important for the job. Cops, on the other hand, have squad cars, sirens, handcuffs, warrants. Guns. Things important for their jobs.
But here Mitch is, sitting in the passenger’s seat.
It’s not as if he can reach over and take the wheel.
Not that it stopped him this morning.
As a lifeguard, Mitch doesn’t regularly follow up at the hospital. Sure, he pops in from time to time, going to support a friend or a victim after a particularly harrowing rescue. Usually he just brings a few flowers and his winning smile to chitchat in a recovery room about the importance of water safety the next time around.
That’s how it is as a lifeguard.
Ellerbee, it is apparent from the moment they park, has had a different experience as a cop. Mitch knows where the waiting room and the general admission floors are. Ellerbee, however, clearly knows his way around the ER and he greets the desk nurse there with a smile.
“Elodie, my lady,” he says to her kindly.
She smiles back, if a little weary. “Too nice of a day for you to be in here,” she says. “I didn’t think we had anyone in handcuffs today.”
“Not here for a suspect,” Ellerbee says.
She looks momentarily concerned. “Not one of yours?”
“No, not exactly,” he says, casting Mitch a low look. “Just, um. One of our lifeguards actually. The GSW that was just brought in?”
Elodie looks from Ellerbee to Mitch, and seems to understand.
Ellerbee continues anyway. “This is Mitch Buchannon, Baywatch’s finest,” he says, nodding to Mitch. “He’s the one who was there when your GSW was shot. Probably saved his life.”
Her expression turns decidedly sympathetic. “Oh,” she says, and then sighs a little. “I’ll have to check, but I think they moved him out pretty quickly. Redline up to the OR, but I’ll have to look it up to see the doctor in charge.”
“Could you do that?” Ellerbee asks, and he smiles. He can be charming, when he wants to be. When he’s not dealing with lifeguards. “We’d appreciate it.”
She smiles at him warmly. “Anything for my favorite beat cop,” she says. “Why don’t you two head on back to the private waiting room? You know the one.”
“That’d be great,” Ellerbee says. “I imagine we’ll get some more lifeguards showing up soon.”
“I’ll be back when I know something,” Elodie says. She walks around, giving Mitch’s forearm a quick squeeze. “Don’t worry; your friend is in good hands here.”
Mitch thinks he probably smiles.
There’s nothing else for him to do.
“Come on,” Ellerbee says, jostling him at the shoulder. “This way.”
They wind their way through the corridors, past the waiting room Mitch is most familiar with. Ellerbee nods to a nurse or two more before he finally stops outside a room with large glass windows. Inside, there’s a couch and a few lounge chairs with a TV in the corner. Magazines are spread across the table.
Ellerbee quickly pulls the blinds before turning back to Mitch. “So, this is private, comfortable, and Elodie will take real good care of you,” he says. “Do you know if Stephanie and the others are coming? I mean, surely Summer’s on her way.”
Surely; Mitch doesn’t know. Mitch is supposed to be in charge of his team at least, and he’s done jack shit.
“Do you need me to stay?” Ellerbee asks.
Mitch looks at him. Sincerely, he has no idea what to say to that. The only thing Mitch needs is Brody back, for Brody not to be shot, and those seem like impossible tasks right now.
Ellerbee seems to understand that he’s asked an impossible question. “I just mean, are you going to be okay here? By yourself?”
This time, Mitch finds the energy to scoff. Incredulity is about the only response that seems reasonable to him at this point. “I’m not the one who’s been shot.”
If Mitch is trying to shock Ellerbee, it’s not working. In fact, Ellerbee looks mildly unfazed. Merely concerned. “I know, I know,” he says. “But you’re still in shock, dude. So I can hang out here until someone else shows up, or longer, or whatever.”
It’s still an issue of respect for Ellerbee. He doesn’t seem to grasp how fundamentally Mitch is to the problem here. Maybe he doesn’t know that Mitch pursued a lead without calling for backup. Maybe he thinks there’s another explanation.
Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Mitch shakes his head in an effort to focus himself on what mattered. “That guy is still out there, the guy who did this to Brody,” he says. “You have a job to do and it isn’t in here.”
“I’m a cop, I know,” Ellerbee says. “But there’s a shit ton of cops, and almost all of them are already out on that beach. They can handle it without me, so if you need me to stay….”
It’s Ellerbee’s job, though. Ellerbee has to know what his job is and he has to do his job. That’s how this whole thing works. Someone has to do their job if Mitch is going to go and screw his up.
And this isn’t even about him anymore.
This isn’t even about the suspect.
This is about the asshole who put a bullet through Brody’s chest.
“Find the bastard,” Mitch says. “Please, I have to know you’re out there, doing your job.”
Ellerbee is primed to argue. “Mitch--”
“Seriously,” Mitch says, finding some of his conviction again. For this, he has to. “I need you to catch this guy because that’s not my job.
There’s a flash of something like regret on Ellerbee’s face, like he wants to disagree. But he looks at Mitch, and maybe it’s pity, maybe it’s mutual understanding, maybe it’s his own private conviction. Whatever the reason, Ellerbee nods. “Okay, then,” he says. “I’ll check back as soon as I know anything.”
Mitch watches him go, watches the door close, and watches the stillness around him for a few seconds longer.
Then, he looks around the room.
A waiting room.
It’s ironic, because Mitch isn’t big into waiting. He’s all about taking initiative, being proactive. Idleness is not something he even knows how to do.
But this is his job right now.
He sits down on the couch, wearier than ever.
This is the job.
Mitch isn’t sure how long he sits there, alone.
He’s pretty sure it’s not long.
Summer is the first to show up, with CJ and Ronnie by her side. She’s crying, and when she looks at Mitch, he expects her condemnation.
She hugs him instead.
Clinging to him, she sobs into his shoulder.
Mitch finds himself hugging back.
It’s not clear to him if he’s comforting her.
Or if she’s comforting him.
Within an hour, the once empty waiting room is full. Lifeguards, as many as can be spared, all here waiting for word.
They’re here because they know who they are.
They know who Brody is.
And they have no idea what Mitch is done.
As hard as it is to take that, it’s harder to dispel them of their misconception that Mitch is a victim here. Mitch’s failure to take responsibility -- well, it’s just another way he’s fallen short of the job today.
Elodie comes back not long after. She looks at the crowd gathered, and seems encouraged, but when she looks at Mitch, she somehow sees that he’s still. When she speak, she’s speaking to everyone, but her eyes are solely on Mitch.
“I’m sorry for not getting here soon, but I wanted to know the full story before I came here and told you anything,” she says. “First to say, he is currently in surgery. So, he’s still alive.”
It’s clear to Mitch that she’s done this job for awhile; she knows what her role is and she has no qualms playing it.
“It is, however, going to be a very long surgery,” she explains with a little sigh. “There is significant damage to his lung, but the biggest concern is that the bullet shattered one of his ribs.”
Summer makes a noise, a small inhalation mixed with a cry as everyone else holds their breath.
“We have the best team of doctors on the case,” Elodie assures them. “Dr. Spano is our cardiothoracic fellow, and she does outstanding work. Honestly, your friend could not be in better hands.”
No one moves; no one speaks. Mitch isn’t even sure if he himself is breathing.
“It is going to be a very long night, as you can imagine,” she continues. “Chasing down the bone fragments will be a tall task, and the team really wants to make sure that they don’t miss any.”
Mitch knows she’s saying this mostly for him, but Mitch can’t bring himself to look at her anymore. All he can think about is how much it must have hurt for when Mitch applied direct pressure to Brody’s chest when his lung was shredded and his rib was shattered.
Even when Mitch does his job, he still manages to make things worse somehow.
Elodie purses her lips and takes a second to look at the entire crowd of Baywatch lifeguards. “You’re all more than welcome to stay here throughout the night and into the morning,” she says. “I’ll check on you and make sure that one of the doctors comes down every now and then to let you know how things are going.”
She waits another few seconds, making sure there are no other questions. She waits longer still until Mitch meets her eyes and nods. It’s like she wants to know she’s done her job, and Mitch can’t begrudge her that.
At the eye contact, she nods before making her way back to the hallway to her next task.
When you do your job, living with yourself is easy.
When you don’t.
Well, Mitch is still figuring that one out.
In the waiting room, the others talk. They talk quietly, sometimes they sound sad, but sometimes they seem to be trying to buck each other up with happy memories. A few talk about the case, about the maniac who did this and how they hope the cops have caught him by now. There’s lots of talk about Brody, about how much he’s changed, how much he’s grown to fill the role of lifeguard so perfectly.
Sometimes they talk to Mitch, asking if he’s okay. A few times, someone tries to ask him what happened. Mitch doesn’t say much; the words elude him. He knows what he’s supposed to do in this situation, but he can’t be transparent today. He can’t be their leader, their rock. Mitch can’t do his job right now.
He’s too numb to even try.
Instead, he spends most of the night looking at his hands while people bring him cups of coffee he never drinks. As the others reassure themselves that Brody’s going to be okay, Mitch picks at the dried blood, which is still stuck in the grooves of his nail beds.
All night, he fiddles with it, scratches at it, even excuses himself once to wash it.
It doesn’t come of.
Mitch can’t get rid of it.
It’s not until morning that he’s finally too tired to try.
Elodie says good morning at 7 AM when her shift starts up again. She brings donuts because she doesn’t just settle for the bare minimum in her job; she goes above and beyond.
The others eat gratefully and Mitch watches as Elodie ducks out again, unnoticed.
He would have liked Elodie, on any other day.
Any other day.
It’s not long after when a doctor comes in. She’s about Mitch’s age, and she looks exhausted. She’s taken the time to strip out of her dirty scrubs, but Mitch can see from her face just how long and hard the night has been for her. He recognizes the look. No doubt, he looks the same. Except this doctor at least has a good reason. She’s the surgeon who has been cleaning out Brody’s chest all night. Mitch is just the lifeguard who has done, well, nothing.
What could he do? He’s a damn lifeguard.
Her smile is polite, trained, tired. She’s working hard so her expression belies nothing. “I just saw your friend Mr. Brody transferred over to the recovery unit,” she explains neatly. “He tolerated the long procedure as well as can be expected, so I have him listed in critical but stable condition.”
The room is taut with fear, teetering just on the cusp of relief.
Dr. Spano, true professional that she was, knows this already. “He’s not out of the woods by any stretch, and his recovery will be extended, but the fact that he’s made it this long is a good sign.”
Summer breathes first, letting out the anxiety she has pent up with a shudder.
“Does Mr. Brody have relatives we should call?” the doctor asks, transitioning effectively.
Everyone looks at each other, not sure what to say. Invariably, they all look to Mitch next.
This is a mistake. Mitch has no idea what to say either. Apparently, as a friend, he’s no better prepared than he was as a lifeguard.
“No,” Stephanie interjects, and it’s clearly on his behalf. “Um, just us.”
Dr. Spano mentally catalogues that note and reshifts her attention. “Well I’ll need to go over the specifics of his case with someone who will be involved in his after care and recovery.” She pauses to look at them each in turn. “If there’s someone…”
The question seems to make everyone uncomfortable. They exchange glances, and Mitch feels them look at him, one after another. When Summer all but stares him down, Mitch knows he has no choice but to act.
“Me,” he says, and his voice sounds funny and hoarse. The force behind it is manufactured and wobbly, not sure and confident like usual. “I’m the one responsible for him.”
He means that, though not in the way that everyone else thinks.
When Dr. Spano appraises him, he still wonders if she can see it in him the way he sees the truth in her. “Very good,” she tells him. “If you’d care to walk with me.” She gestures for the door.
Summer steps forward before they can leave, and Mitch finds himself hoping that she’s changed her mind, that she wants to play the girlfriend card. It’s a role she hasn’t screwed up as epically as Mitch as botched his.
Instead, she claspes Dr. Spano by the hand. “Thank you,” she says. “For everything you’ve done for him.”
Mitch knows what the doctor is going to say before she says it. He knows it, because he’s said it after every successful rescue he’s performed in the long and varied history of his life guarding career.
“I was just doing my job,” she says. “I’m happy to have been here to help.”
It’s all Summer needs to hear. It’s all the doctor needs to say. When people do their jobs, things tend to work out. Mitch knows this.
It’s when you fail in your tasks, don’t live up to your duty, that’s when things get hard.
Mitch knows that from experience now, too
She watches him, a little keener than before. She’s trying to get a read on him, like Mitch might try to read someone on the beach. This allows him to pick the best conversational tactic to intervene in any given situation. It’s part of the job, a part Mitch is generally pretty good at.
Just not today.
Luckily, the doctor is on her A game, even if Mitch is decidedly not.
“Your reputation precedes you,” she admits as they navigate the halls. “I know you’re a professional, but it’s never business as usual when it’s someone you know and care about.”
For some reason, this makes Mitch want to laugh a little. “I’m just a lifeguard.”
“Exactly,” she says, and she turns abruptly, pushing open a door to a side room and holding it for Mitch. “So I know you’re no stranger to dire situations.”
He’s not sure why people keep thinking that that someone makes a difference, when, in fact, it only makes him feel more ridiculous. He steps inside the room anyway.
She follows him, flicking on a few additional lights to illuminate several panels on the walls. “But no one’s prepared for this,” she says, and now she’s smiling at him kindly. “I wanted to show you a few of his scans just so you understood what we’re looking at here.”
Mitch is drawn to the walls, looking at the x-rays that are slapped up against the light boards.
She moves to them, pointing at one of the images. “This is the image we took before surgery,” she explains, finger tracing a path along the white outline of the ribcage, which is marred and disjointed. “It’s actually remarkable that only one rib was shattered, here at the front. Somehow, the bullet missed all bones in the back, which made reconstruction a little easier.”
Mitch understands what she’s not saying; that easy is a relative term, especially in situations like this.
She points to a second image. This image is cleaner in some ways, but the white outline is marred by metal components. “There was enough bone to salvage for reconstruction, but it’s a very delicate procedure as you can imagine,” she says, tapping on a few of the screw, which show up as darker spots on the image. “He tolerated this better than I expected, but he’s in great shape, so he had a lot working for him.”
And against him, Mitch thinks. “The rib will heal?”
“Yes,” she says, sounding a little grateful that he’s following along. “He’ll need to limit his mobility for a few weeks until healing is pretty far along.”
A few weeks seems like a long time, but everything seems like a long time. Mitch doesn’t know how to think past today. “And his lung?”
“We repaired that as well,” she says. “I was very impressed with how quickly his body responded to the treatment. Most patients with these kinds of injuries have to stay intubated and sedated for several days, even a weak. But he started triggering the vent as soon as we eased off on the sedation after surgery, and with his output levels looking as strong as they are, I thought we’d give him a chance for a little faster recovery.”
“So he’s really okay?” Mitch asks, while the images of Brody’s broken insides seem to suggest otherwise.
“I meant what I said: he’s doing very well given the circumstances,” she says. “But it is a long recovery process, and it’s not over yet. It’s absolutely critical that he remains calm and not be agitated. We’ll also have to watch very carefully for signs of infection, but we’ve got him on antibiotics already to help counteract that.”
He looks at her, away from the images.
She smiles. “He received fast and effective first aid, which I’ve been told is thanks to you. You likely saved his life. You made my job easier, at the very least.”
Mitch can’t help it; he scoffs. “I didn’t do anything.”
“We all have different roles to play in this process. Doctor; police officer; paramedic,” she says, and her disposition softens somehow, slipping from its ultra-professional resolve. She looks younger like this. “Lifeguard.”
For some reason, the compliment makes him nauseated. Mitch quickly changes the topic. “Can we visit him?”
“Sure,” she says, her posture all business again. “I’ll have one of the nurses come by and get you back to him in a few minutes. Was there anything else you needed from me?”
“You kept Brody alive,” he replies honestly and gratefully. “I could not possibly ask you for more.”
He finds his way back to the waiting room on his own. The doctor offers to help him, but Mitch isn’t sure he can take any more help. It’s not that he’s too proud; it’s that he’s too numb. The thought of more sympathy is more than he can handle.
With that in mind, he’s both relieved and daunted to see that Ellerbee is there when he gets back. He gets a sneaking suspicion that everyone has been waiting for him. This assumption might be a sign of Mitch’s egocentric worldview. Or it could be the anxious, guilty, and expectant looks everyone gives him when he comes back.
Standing in the doorway, Mitch has the immature desire to run. This is not the default for him. Really, he’s usually the guy who’s scared of nothing. But if he can5 take help, he’s not sure pity is something he can stomach either.
“Hey,” Ellerbee says, and he flashes a smile. “Everyone was just telling me the good news.”
Mitch’s throat is so tight it actually hurts. When he smiles, it feels like something is being wrenched from his chest. “Yeah, the doctor just explained some of it,” Mitch says. “For a guy who had a bullet tear through his chest, Brody’s actually pretty lucky.”
They can talk about ribs held together by screws, the risk of infection, the weeks of immobility and the fact that Mitch still has Brody’s blood caked into his nail beds later.
Mitch isn’t sure which he prefers, but he’s pretty sure he deserves neither.
“That’s good news then,” Ellerbee says. “And I’ve got more.”
Mitch glances around, feeling nervous about this proclamation for no particular reason. The fact that everyone seems to be beaming now is even more unnerving.
Ellerbee is trying not to look to happy, but Mitch can tell when he looks at him again that the cop is actually downright gleeful. “We caught him.”
The way Ellerbee says this, Mitch knows it’s supposed to be clear who is being discussed. But Mitch finds himself at more than a little bit of a loss.
Ellerbee just enthuses more. “We caught the bastard who did this, the one who’s been stalking your lifeguards and the one who pulled the gun,” he says. “We caught the bastard who did this to Brody.”
Mitch blinks, somewhat dumbfounded.
How is that he’s forgotten the guy they were looking for when this started?
Because Mitch has been so busy blaming himself that he’s forgotten that there was an actual gunman involved.
“We’ve got our best questioning him right now, and I know it’s early so I shouldn’t speculate,” Ellerbee continues, despite the fact that he’s clearly about to speculate. “But the guy still had the gun on him. We found his prints on it; he’s got gunpowder residue on his hands. We have to match the bullet, but that shouldn’t take long. Plus, we found pictures of the lifeguards all up and down the beach in his car. On top of that, several witnesses have already nailed him in a lineup. I mean, the only thing we don’t have is a confession, but I say we just give it time. This case is closed.”
The way he says it, it’s just like that.
Simple, to the point. Finished.
The case is closed.
“It’s great news,” Summer says, unable to hold it back any longer. She hugs Ellerbee. “I cannot thank you enough.”
“Seriously,” Ronnie joins in. “This makes going back to the beach so much easier.”
“We’re so glad for all the work you did,” CJ says.
Ellerbee, though he’s trying not to show it, enjoys this praise. Mitch knows this isn’t because Ellerbee is full of himself. No, Mitch understands that’s how it feels when you do the job right.
And Ellerbee’s made an arrest.
He’s caught the stalker.
He’s caught Brody’s gunman.
He’s done everything Mitch failed to do.
Mitch steps forward, reaching out his hand to shake Ellerbee’s. Ellerbee steps forward to meet him, drawing himself up to his full height almost by instinct to come eye to eye with Mitch. “Thank you,” Mitch says, because he owes Ellerbee this. He owes Ellerbee more.
Soberly now, Ellerbee nods, shaking Mitch’s hand. “I was just doing my job.”
“I know,” Mitch says, wishing it didn’t hurt so damn much. Because everyone did their job; that’s the point.
Everyone did their job except Mitch.
When Elodie shows up again to tell them it’s okay to visit Brody now, Mitch lets the others go, two at a time. Summer and CJ go first. Ronnie and Stephanie go second. The others file in and out while Mitch waits outside, feeling useless.
Part of him wants to go in, to see Brody and assure himself that the younger man is truly alive and okay. The last time he saw Brody, he was bleeding to death on Mitch’s beach, on Mitch’s watch. Knowing that Brody’s not going to die -- probably -- is truly good news.
But there’s also a part of him who doesn’t know how to face that. Because Brody’s prognosis is nothing short of a miracle, and it’s a miracle that Mitch had absolutely no part in. He didn’t save Brody’s life; he didn’t catch the culprit. Worse, Mitch knows the truth. Mitch knows that he dragged Brody in pursuit without backup. He knows that he didn’t even see the maniac who pulled the trigger. He knows that Brody took the shot so Mitch didn’t have to.
Mostly, Mitch is still too numb to make up his mind on anything. It’s all he can do to stand in the hallway and look like he’s not completely out of it. It’s all he can do not to run away because this feels like failure in a way Mitch hasn’t felt failure before.
And really, Mitch isn’t sure he’s necessary. His presence hasn’t added anything to this experience for anyone. In fact, if he wasn’t here, this might have turned out a hell of a lot better.
Or, you know, not happened at all.
Mitch has almost talked himself into leaving when he hears a small commotion.
He looks up, expecting to see nurses converging on another ICU cubicle.
Instead, the commotion gets a little louder and Ronnie sticks his head out of Brody’s room. “Mitch, we need you.”
Mitch’s heart is pounding; his palms are sweating. He’s back on the beach, trying to make sense of Brody coming at him when the sound of a gunshot rends the air.
Except he’s here, in a hospital.
Brody’s recovering from surgery.
And what the hell is Mitch doing this time?
Same as before, apparently: nothing.
“Mitch!” Ronnie exclaims.
Mitch blinks. “I’ll go get a nurse--”
“No, we need you, man,” Ronnie says, looking a little confused. “Mitch, please.”
Mitch feels wholly inadequate; he doesn’t want to do this.
But what right does he have to refuse?
For as unworthy as he may feel, he’s even less worthy to refuse.
That’s a decision Mitch can live with, if only because he did not make it himself.
Inside the room, Mitch has to take a second to get a handle on the situation. This is what it felt like yesterday, watching Brody lift blood slicked fingers in the afternoon sun, the sound of the gunshot still echoing off the waves. It hadn’t made sense; Mitch had been a critical step behind.
Just like this doesn’t quite make sense either; he feels a lot further than a step behind this time.
Summer is at the bed, sitting on it. The figure on the bed is moving. Flailing is the first term that comes to mind, but the movements are too weak to do such a term justice. It’s still a struggle, though it’s hard to say who’s struggling more: the figure on the bed or Summer as she tries to hold him down while crying.
Or Mitch, who has no idea what the hell is going on.
Summer looks back. “Mitch, thank God!” she says. “He’s sort of conscious, but not really. We’re supposed to keep him still but he won’t calm down.”
Mitch frowns, watching as the figure -- Brody, he reminds himself, that’s Brody -- kicks feebly at the sheets. “If we need a doctor--”
“Just help him!” Summer pleads. “I think he’s confused; I don’t know if he recognizes me, and I can’t--”
Her voice breaks off, and Mitch somehow knows what she means. Physically, she’s able to contain Brody at the moment. Emotionally, it’s too hard for her to see him like this, to see him struggling and not be able to help. Brody’s hurting and he doesn’t know why. Summer’s hurting and she knows exactly why.
All Mitch can think is: this is his fault, too.
“I can get the nurse,” Ronnie offers, almost looking for a chance to leave.
Mitch doesn’t want to act.
He’s not sure he knows what to do.
But if this is his responsibility.
Then this is his responsibility.
He’s moving before his conscious mind can talk him out of it. Summer slides out of the way for him, and Mitch moves into her position, perched on the edge of Brody’s bed. He sees immediately why this is hard for Summer: Brody looks terrible. He’s pale and weak; the bandages cover his exposed chest, and there are multiple IVs, a number of leads and monitors, and he looks too small, too young, too weak. His breathing is coming in shorter and shorter bursts, and Mitch tries not to flinch at the memory of blood flecking his lips.
He’s not on the beach anymore.
The doctor fixed Brody’s chest; Ellerbee caught the guy.
Now it’s Mitch’s turn to do something.
“Hey,” he says, grateful for the deepness of his voice, the way it sounds like he’s confident, like he knows what he’s doing. “Brody.”
His fingers are firm around Brody’s biceps, gently holding him down to the bed with ease. Even though he feels Brody strain against him, Mitch makes sure there’s nowhere to go.
For either of them.
“Brody,” he says again, a little demanding this time. He has no right to ask Brody for anything, but he’ll do it for Brody’s own good. He remembers the x-ray, the one where Brody’s chest was being held together by screws. “Hey.”
Brody’s eyes are open but wild. He’s looking around frantically, like he doesn’t know where he is or what’s going on. He probably doesn’t, in all honesty, and Mitch isn’t looking forward to explaining it to him.
That’s not a conversation for now, though.
Right now, all Mitch needs to do is help Brody remember who he is.
And hope like hell the rest falls into place.
“Brody, you’ve got to calm down, buddy,” he said, noting the way the beeping of the heart monitor is racing irregularly. “Brody.”
Brody makes a muffled sound, something like a groan, a cry and a plea all at once. He’s not able to speak, though, but he blinks rapidly a few more times, eyes roving until they finally pass over Mitch’s face.
Mitch seizes his chance. “Brody,” he says, determination and certainty filing him now. “You’re okay. We’re all here now. You’re okay.”
This is as much the truth as Mitch can hope it is, and even if he can’t convince himself, it’s just enough to convince Brody. Brody’s blue eyes lock on Mitch’s. For several seconds, his body remains taut, as if the question of whether to fight or not is still one he’s considering. It’s not clear he knows what he’s supposed to be doing right now, but as he looks at Mitch, it’s clear that he trusts Mitch to do the job even when he’s not sure what it is anymore.
Brody trusts me.
All the shit Mitch put him through in the last day, and Brody trusts Mitch.
The fight drains from him -- Mitch can feel the tension leaving his muscles as he sags back against the bed -- and the panic dissipates from Brody’s eyes as his breathing starts to ease out. Mitch stays there, eyes locked on Brodys, fingers firm, as Brody’s energy starts to fade and his eyes start to unfocus once again. When he closes his eyes, Mitch knows he’s the last thing that Brody sees.
Then, as suddenly as it starts, Brody’s asleep and calm again.
Mitch stays there for several more seconds, just to be sure.
He stays there until Brody’s safe.
Until the job is done.
Then, he lets go, tears his gaze away and gets to his feet.
Mitch can apparently still do the job.
Even if he has no idea what that means.
“Excuse me,” he says, ducking past Ronnie and Summer. “I need to…”
He doesn’t finish; he doesn’t know what he wants to say.
He just knows he needs to leave.
Mitch is out the door, halfway down the hall without even a thought to where he’s going. He probably would have made it all the way out of the hospital if he hadn’t heard Summer calling his name.
As it is, it takes Summer three tries to get him to stop.
When he turns, he tries to maintain his composure, but he just can’t. His smile is pained; his face is taut. He can’t; he can’t; he can’t.
This is a new conclusion for Mitch. He’s the guy who made a final assault using fireworks and combatted a minor gunshot wound in his own shoulder with deadly urchin poison. He always believes he can. Mostly because he knew he was a lifeguard.
Now that he doesn’t know what the hell it meant to be a lifeguard, he doesn’t know what he was actually capable of either.
It’s an identity crisis at the worst possible moment.
“Mitch,” she says again, jogging slightly to catch up with him. Her eyes are still red, but her cheeks have been forcibly wiped dry. She’s been worried about Brody; right now, however, it’s clear she’s worried about him. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah,” he lies, not trying to come up with a convincing reason why
She wets her lips, frowning a little. She’s not used to disagreeing with him. “Um,” she says. “I know this has been, like, a crazy night. And I know you were there, when it happened.”
She’s trying to create a narrative, and Mitch can’t bring himself to fill the rest of it out for her.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” she asks instead.
Mitch searches for a convincing lie but comes up with nothing. He shrugs. “Brody’s okay, right?”
“Better,” she says. “Sleeping. Calm again. Thanks to you.”
Mitch just shakes his head. “Not because of me,” he says.
“Sure it is,” she says. “I couldn’t get through to him, but you came over and he listened. That’s you, Mitch.”
“He’s only here because he got shot protecting me,” Mitch tells her bluntly. It’s something that everyone knows, kind of, but Mitch hasn’t said it so plainly. “I’m sorry.”
Summer just looks confused by his apology. “Sorry? Mitch, you didn’t shoot him.”
She doesn’t get it. She can’t possibly get it because she has allowed herself to fathom that Mitch might actually be wrong. It’s not something he’s intentionally cultivated amongst his people -- his tendency to be right is merely self evident -- but it’s not universal. The most dangerous part is that he allowed himself to believe it, too.
It’s the consequence of being so self assured that you miss out on the little niggling of overconfidence. Mitch has rightfully expanded the definition of lifeguard because he can.
He’s never stopped to consider whether or not there should be limits on that.
Even when he’s the one nursing a bullet wound, that’s one thing.
But when it’s someone else?
Mitch has to rethink this in a serious, serious way.
“I took this investigation way beyond the scope of jurisdiction,” Mitch continues.
Summer looks at him like she hopes he’s kidding. “But we’ve never let jurisdiction stop us,” she argues. “Not when the beach is at risk. And it was clearly at risk.”
“And we had backup all around; armed backup,” Mitch says. “Brody didn’t feel safe doing it; he told me so. But I ordered him to follow me to check up the lead anyway.”
“Because he trusts you,” Summer protests.
“And that got him shot,” Mitch replies bluntly. He wants to soften it for Summer’s sake; but he can’t soften it for her sake at the same time. She needs to understand. Everyone needs to understand. “It wasn’t our job.”
Summer recoils slightly, almost like Mitch has slapped her. “Of course it’s our job,” she says, forehead wrinkled now. “If you hadn’t gone after that creep, who knows what he would have done. He was armed and ready to use it.”
“I shouldn’t be able to make calls like that,” Mitch says, feeling a little desperate for someone to understand. Brody’s blood is literally still on his hands; this has to be a point worth making. “I didn’t even see the actual perp; Brody did. And he jumped in front of the bullet to save my life.”
“Because he’s your friend,” Summer says.
“And we’re lifeguards,” Mitch counters, and it’s as diminutive as he’s ever said the word. “No one should be chasing gunmen or getting shot. Not when we’re lifeguards.”
Her hackles flare, and it’s a reflexive response. “But we’re more than lifeguards at Baywatch,” she says, rehashing the old line. No matter how much conviction she lends to it, it still sounds hollow to Mitch. Her eyes are pleading now. “Isn’t that what you’ve always told us?”
“But what if I was wrong?” Mitch asks, voice low and quiet.
Her face grows tight, her jaw clenching as she visibly holds back tears. “Then what the hell is any of this for?” she asks. When she blinks, her resolve falters and a tear slips free. “Brody’s in there, shot right now. Shot because you told us we were more than lifeguards and we believed you. We believed you, Mitch. He believed you.”
Her words are cutting now, sharp and to the point. When the intensity of her gaze is too much, he has to look away.
He hears her inhale raggedly, and when he ventures a look back at her, she has forced her breathing to even out. “Look,” she says, even though her voice audibly wavers. “We’re all just a little emotional right now. We’re tired. It’s been a long day; a long night. We can talk about this later when we’re thinking more clearly.”
That’s a reasonable request, even if Mitch thinks it’s superfluous as far as his position is concerned. However, as much as he needs to make this point, he’s self assured leadership could use some tempering right now. He nods his head. “Sure.”
This appeases her, if only a little. A bit of the tension eases from her forehead, though she still looks thoroughly disconcerted. “But right now, this minute,” she clarifies. “Right now you have to go back in there.”
Mitch glances down the hallway, as if he hopes she’s indicating a different location than the one she is. “But what about you? I thought you’d want to be with him.”
This is an appropriate response that has some truth to it. Even if it’s not the real reason why he’s trying to get the hell out of this hospital.
“Sure, I’m not leaving him,” she says. “But you shouldn’t leave him either.”
He knows the argument she’s making; he can already hear the words before she says them. Words about friendship; words Mitch believes but doesn’t know how to make sense of anymore. “I don’t know,” he hedges instead.
But Summer, as probably is to be expected, is positively adamant. “Mitch, he took that bullet for you because we’re there for each other,” she says, and he appreciates that she’s not mincing words at least. Not that it makes it easier to hear. “He needs you now; we all do.”
How the hell does he counter that? What’s he supposed to say in his defense? That assumes he wants to defend himself.
This isn’t so simple. This about Mitch screwing up and needing absolution. This is about a fundamental reckoning of what Mitch is actually all about. Summer’s guilt trip is effective, but it obfuscates the reality.
Which is this: “I’m just a lifeguard.”
“I don’t care about you being a lifeguard,” she says. “You’re his friend, his best friend--”
“You are,” she says. “He thinks the world of you, and I get it, he bitches and he moans, but he practically idolizes you. And if you feel guilty, then fine, feel guilty. But don’t make him suffer because you don’t know what to do with yourself. Because he’s in there, and he doesn’t know shit either. He just knows your voice and that’s the only thing that calms him down. So go. If you can’t be a lifeguard, then be his friend.”
Mitch knew that was coming, but when she says it, he’s still effectively cowed. He’s right; there is no defense.
There is only acquiescence.
For Summer’s sake.
And mostly for Brody’s.
“Yeah,” he says, sighing. “Of course.”
“Good,” she says, and she lets out a breath that she didn’t seem to mean to hold. She wets her lips, trying to gather her composure again. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
“Wait,” Mitch says, surprised. “Where are you going?”
“I promised the rest of the team I’d give them an update,” she explains.
“I can do that,” Mitch offers, even though it’s not something he wants to do. It’s just that it’s not the last thing he wants to do, which makes it more palatable than the thought of facing Brody.
She levels him with an unyielding stare. “Best friend,” she says. “You’re the one who kept him calm; not me. If he wakes up, that’s what he needs.”
The protests die in his throat, not because he doesn’t want to give them but because he knows Summer will never accept them.
“Just stay with him,” she says, a little more diplomatically soon. “You’re the only person I trust him with.”
He watches her go, fixing her hair and trying to straighten her shirt as she tries to rally herself for a march back down the hall. She trusts him, then.
Mitch turns back to Brody’s room, wondering why.
Mitch has made a lot of promises. A lot of hard promises. He keeps his promises. Especially the hard ones.
Somehow, sitting next to Brody’s hospital bed, this is the hardest one yet.
Not that he’s actually doing much of anything. Summer had been emphatic about Brody needing him, but the truth is that the Olympian is mostly unconscious the whole time he’s here. This is only to be expected; not even a day has passed since he was shot. He spent all night in surgery. There’s no way Brody should be awake or coherent.
In some ways, this makes Mitch’s presence utterly pointless. He tries to reason his way through this, but when he gets up to pace the room and think about leaving, Brody stirs on the bed, turning his head unconsciously toward Mitch with a groan.
On his feet, Mitch hesitates.
Brody all but whimpers until Mitch sits back down.
Damn it all if Brody doesn’t settle right away, his head still tipped toward Mitch, as if he knows he’s there even when he’s supposed to be deeply unconscious.
Mitch wants to hate him for that, but it’s a little hard to hate the guy who saved your life.
And that’s the hard part about this. It’s that Brody saved his life. Mitch is the one who is ready to give up everything for his team, and this time, he has to accept that from someone else. This isn’t just about Mitch being wrong or making a mistake. This is about his failure to protect his team; his inability to be the leader he thought he was.
It’s all cool when he’s getting shot. He’s down with poisoning himself.
But when it’s Brody who’s laying down his life? When it’s Brody who’s taking one for the team?
Well, Mitch sees the other perspective clearer than he’d wanted. Maybe this is why Brody bitches and moans. Because when someone else runs into danger blindly on your behalf? It’s a hell of a thing to witness.
A hell of a thing to take.
All Mitch wants to do is shake Brody and tell him to stay down, shut up and be a lifeguard. Stop jumping in front of bullets, damn it.
Except Mitch knows where he learned it.
He’s learned it from Mitch.
Shit, Mitch explicitly taught it to him.
And now he’s surprised that Brody’s internalized it?
Like a bullet through the chest?
Mitch can’t leave -- he knows that -- but he also can’t bring himself to look at Brody. Not the lax lines of his face; not the gray hue that underlines his face. Not the messy tousle of his hair or the minute flickers of pain across his unconscious features.
Looking down, he still sees the creases of blood in his fingernails.
He closes his eyes for the lack of something better to do.
He shouldn’t be here; Brody shouldn’t be here. Mitch has never believed in limiting himself, but this isn’t about what he can do. This is about what he should do, with other people in his charge. He can be a superhero lifeguard, put his life on the line, so and and so forth. But the people under him? The lifeguards he’s charged with training and leading?
It’s like he always says, Baywtach isn’t a job. This isn’t about lifeguards.
Baywatch is a family.
It’s about people.
He opens his eyes; Brody’s still there, turned toward him. Brody still trusts him, even after all this.
The question isn’t whether or not Mitch has been worthy of that trust.
The question is if Mitch ever can be.
He doesn’t know.
He sits there, holding fast to the promise he wishes he didn’t have to keep, and Mitch just doesn’t know.