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Baywatch fic: Family Matters

December 13th, 2018 (06:35 pm)

Title: Family Matters

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: Fills my fever/delirium square for hc_bingo. Unbeta’ed.

Summary: When Brody wakes up one sunny California morning, he is sure that he’s sick.



-o-

Family is something Brody knows very, very well. See, that’s what happens when you don’t have something and you really, really want it. You learn what that thing is by definition of exclusion. Brody understands family by all the things he wanted and never had growing up.

Like stability. Families are all about stability and Brody’s never had that. He still keeps his bag packed, ready to go at a moment’s notice, because that’s what life is when you’re a foster kid. That’s not what it’s like in a family, though. A family is your name on the mailbox and your things in drawers. Actual real drawers. You may even get a poster on the walls with tacks.

Then there’s familiarity. Not just the hey-there-I-know-your-name kind. It’s even more than look-your-birthday-is-in-your-file-so-here’s-this-cupcake-I-bought. It’s the kind of familiarity that breeds inside jokes. It’s the kind where you can finish each other’s sentences and know what the other person’s silences are all about. It’s being comfortable enough to tell that person something, anything, everything.

There’s loads more than that, too. Family is warmth and humor and fun and accountability and certainty. It’s having someone else to look out for you, to put you first every now and then. It’s having a shoulder to lean on, someone you can count on to help carry your burdens. It’s someone to make you soup when you get sick and to tuck you into bed with a thermometer in your mouth.

These are the things Brody’s never had.

The things he’s learned, as an adult, finally, to just stop expecting.

Mostly, the things he’s forced himself to just stop wanting.

Baywatch tempts him, sometimes, to think differently.

But that’s the problem with learning something through its absence.

You’re never sure if you have it or not.

-o-

So, Brody’s not sure about family.

But when he wakes up one sunny California morning, he is sure that he’s sick.

It’s sort of a series of vague sensations. He’s got this tickle in his throat, this buzzing in his ears. His head hurts just a little, aching down through his sinuses. And there’s this twinge in his chest as his stomach roils uncertainly from a sudden influx of drainage.

Some people might choose to be optimistic about these symptoms.

Brody knows better than to be optimistic.

He is, after all, a foster kid. He has never had the luxury of optimism. Little Orphan Annie, he can and will tell you, is full of shit. The sun doesn’t always come out tomorrow. And sometimes, even when it does come out, you’re still sick as a dog with no one to give a shit about you.

It’s not that foster parents don’t give a shit at all. It’s just that it’s all kind of perfunctory. They might ask you if you’re okay, but only because they’re thinking about how you being sick is going to screw up their day. They might feel your forehead, just to see if the school is going to call them and make them pick you up later when you pass out at recess. A few of the nice ones even make you soup, but mostly because they know that the system frowns on starving children in your care.

Brody’s learned to take care of himself from an early age accordingly. He minds his own temperature. He gauges his own fitness levels. In high school, instead of asking his foster mom to call him out when he hurls, he just waited until she went to work and did it himself. He was pretty convincing at it, too, and he’d used that trick for a lot more than hurling. Sometimes a guy just needed a day off, and Brody was okay with taking that for himself as well.

And honestly, he deserved it for all the times that he went to school and hurled in the bathroom in order to save the school nurse from the trouble of tracking down a guardian who really didn’t want to risk the stomach flu for his sake. Brody can’t even blame them, looking back. Who the hell wants to take care of a pathetic sick kid when they’re not even yours?

Besides, Brody doesn’t need the help. He’s learned more than his share of tricks for the trade, and he compensates just fine, thank you very much. It’s cool now that he’s an adult and he can buy his own cold medicine instead of sneaking it out of the cabinet when no one’s looking. He still struggles with that damn childproofing, though.

And hey, he can get the correct amount of cold syrup by sight alone. He doesn’t need to measure that shit anymore, if only because he’s learned through trial and error how much he can take before it makes him pass the hell out.

Plus, he’s got lots of other tricks that people don’t always talk about. He knows that he can drink all the orange juice in the house in order to boost himself up enough for a day out and about while feeling like shit. This had been particularly useful in training, when they frown on taking too many drugs and shit like that. He’s also become quite fond of energy drinks when things are really getting rough, and he can drink one or two or three, whatever it takes to keep the coach from chewing his ass out for a slow performance day.


Honestly, it’s just a routine Brody knows by heart now.

He knows how to be sick without bothering anybody.

So that sunny California morning, it’s sucky but it’s nothing he can’t handle. He gets up, clears his throat and takes the hottest, longest shower he can before drinking four glasses of orange juice and pouring all of the coffee in the pot into a to-go cup.

He coughs, tries to pop his ears and take several steaming gulps of coffee. It feels horrible, but he’s functional. Another thing Brody has learned as a foster kid: never set your sights too high. Lower your expectations. Like, keep them really, really low.

It works.

More or less.

He drinks another mouthful of coffee, letting it burn down his irritated throat with a vengeance.

All in all, he’s started days in worse ways.

-o-

After he drinks everything can find, Brody starts his daily routine. He’s fortunate that today is his late day; Mitch is already at work and Brody isn’t due in until after lunch. This means he has the chance to finish his exercise routine before he has to head into work and be presentable.

Brody is meticulous about exercise. It’s a thing for him. Some people think it’s because he was an Olympian and all that. Discipline. That’s sort of true. But Brody needs to work out because really, what else does he have to do. He’s a stupid loner who has a criminal record and sleeps on his boss’s couch. If he doesn’t have abs of steel, then he’s got just about nothing.

Plus, he likes it. It makes him feel like he’s accomplished something even when literally everything else in his life is shit.

At least, most of the time he likes it.

When he’s sick, it’s a little less fun.

Today is really pretty miserable, if he’s honest.

He runs way too slow. His muscles are sore with his first set of pull ups. He actually collapses doing pushups and he thinks he might throw up when he tries to focus on his core. His head aches and he’s wheezing like he’s a smoker and he’s barely done half of his normal routine. Plus, he’s drunk like three gallons of liquid. He has to pee a lot.

By the time he gets back home, Brody is wondering if he can actually pull this off today. But he does have a work shift, and Mitch is all about no exceptions and Brody still knows what Mitch thinks of him. The final, definitive word on Brody is that he’s a selfish bastard who doesn’t know how to be part a team.

That shit with Leeds was a step in the right direction, but it’s been only a month. Brody can’t screw it up now; not without blowing everything.

Instead of submitting to his body’s desires, he drinks more orange juice, makes more coffee and takes another shower.

The result is that he still feels like absolute shit but he at least looks presentable.

He shrugs, taking more coffee to go.

All he needs is to look the part.

In his experience, no one bothers to look close enough to tell when he’s faking.

-o-

It’s probably to be expected that work is just plain horrible. Now, it’s likely that Brody would think anything is horrible today, given that he feels a little like ground beef, but work’s still legit bad. The beach is crazy busy and everyone’s completely out of their minds. He has to break up several dumbass disputes, including one where someone tries to impale him with an umbrella. He has to make several saves in the water, one of which involves a tiny little kid who Brody has to revive with CPR.

The kid, at least, is fine. Crying and hugging her mom and stuff, no worse for wear.

Brody, on the other hand, thinks he may keel over after the physical exertion. It’s all he can do to find his legs and stiffly walk all the way back to tower two.

Plus, it’s really sunny out. That’s something about California that most people think is really awesome, but really, it’s got its drawbacks. The sun roasts you out here, and Brody feels like his brain is being fried in his skull. Scrambled eggs for brains is a weird mental image that bothers him a little; his head hurts thinking about it.

But then, his head hurts anyway.

Everything hurts.

The day really, really sucks.

It’s so bad that by the time he gets off duty, it’s all he can do to make it back to HQ. He’s tempted to just lay down in the sand and take a nap, but he knows that people will find that strange. It’s like stargazing under a pier and Brody doesn’t have the energy to explain that it’s super fine but just totally wants to stop moving for the next 12 hours before his next shift.

This is the motivation he needs to get back to HQ, and he’s really glad he does. He takes another shower at HQ, a really long one, using both hot and cold water in equal turns. The hot feels great on his tired and strained muscles, but the cold allows him to temporarily feel like he’s not on fire. Now if only there was a setting that allowed him to stop feeling all together, then he’d be all set.

After his shower, he gets dressed in clothing that is questionably clean. He sits down just to sit down and the next thing he knows Summer is sitting in front of him, smiling.

“Shit,” Brody says, badly startled but, like, way too tired to be startled.

“You okay?” Summer asks with a laugh. “You look a little out of it.”

Maybe this is her way of nicely telling him he looks like shit. It’s also possible that he’s pulled off this whole look-like-everything’s-normal thing pretty well. He does have a lot of practice. “Yeah,” he says, blinking his eyes a few times to get his bearings. “Really long day.”

Summer smiles sympathetically. “I heard that tower two got a lot of action today,” she says. “Did someone really try to impale you with an umbrella?”

Brody grimaces. “Part of the job, I guess.”

“Well, that one’s not in the lifeguard handbook,” she assures him. Then, her smile fades a little bit as she looks at him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“What? Sure?” Brody says, making an exaggerated motion with his shoulders that it supposed to look like a nonchalant shrug. Brody may actually just look like he’s convulsing; it’s not clear to him. “The umbrella missed me by a few inches.”

“No, I mean, in general,” she says. “You didn’t text me today.”

Brody stifles another urge to curse. Usually he’s got his shit more together than this. That’s part of what you have to do when you’re faking it; you’ve got to get the details right. Brody should have remembered that he texts Summer during every one of his breaks because he’s obsessed with Summer and thinks about her all the time.

At least, he thinks about her when he’s not so sick that he wants to die.

His sex drive is pretty strong but even that cannot win against the primal realities of sickness.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “Just busy, you know. Fending off umbrellas.”

It’s somehow the right thing to say. Her smile widens again with a laugh. “I just missed you, is all,” she tells him, tucking a few strands of hair behind her ear. “Did you have someplace in mind for dinner?”

Dinner.

Brody tries to remember what that word means.

He knows it involves food.

But then he realizes that Summer is talking about dinner with him.

“Right, dinner,” Brody says, finally remembering that they’re supposed to have a date tonight. “Our date.”

He’s doing a piss poor job of acting normal now. Her head tilts to the side with concern. “Are you sure you’re okay?”


This is an example when it’s best to go with a creative version of the truth. As it is, Brody is clearly not fine. However, he can divert Summer’s attention from this with a valid excuse. It doesn’t have to be the actual reason, but as long as it fits the bill, Brody should be able to make things good between them without making her worry about him any more than she already has.

In short, Brody has to lie. He’s too tired to come up with a good lie, so he goes with the obvious. “Today was just really, really long,” he says. He smiles at her. “Can I take a raincheck?”


“Wow, you really did have a long day,” she comments wryly. She leans across and kisses him. Fortunately, he’s just finished an ice cold shower and she can’t feel that he’s probably got a fever. And he feel so crappy that not even a kiss from Summer can give him the proper motivation to get off his ass. She sits back again, grinning. “Tomorrow night, then?”

“Tomorrow night,” he agrees. Because tomorrow’s a new day. After he sleeps, eats, rests, all that; he’s bound to feel a lot better tomorrow.

“Okay,” she says, bouncing to her feet. “I’ll text you later!”

She sounds so happy that it’s crazy.

She actually likes him.

That’s such a weird concept to him. Usually he’s so sexually attracted to her that he doesn’t think about how weird it is, but his libido has been one of the first things to do when he feels like he’s dying, which gives him the unique ability to realize that Summer Quinn is way out of his league.

But them, like, everyone is out of his league.

Brody’s got two gold medals, sure, but that’s basically it. He’s got zero other skills, he’s not got any significant connections. He has no home, no money, no future plan, no history worth sharing. He’s really pathetic.

It’s remarkable that anyone bothers with him at all.

Much less someone like Summer who is attractive and smart and strong and sexy and beautiful and--

Shit.

Maybe Brody isn’t dying.

But right now, he kind of wishes he was.

-o-

He has to walk home.

Mitch lives close to the beach, this is true, but the walk still takes like five billion hours that night. It feels like he’s walking miles, and he seriously considers sleeping under the pier because it’s so much closer and sand really isn’t that uncomfortable. It’s gritty when it gets in your mouth, but he sort of thinks it might provide some kind of conditioning for the hair. And who the hell cares about any of that when it’s possible that walking any farther will make you die on the spot.

Brody is good at handling his shit when he’s sick.

But it does tend to make him a little melodramatic.

A lot.

This is why, in general, Brody doesn’t think it’s best to be thoughtful. When you think about stuff, all that happens is that you realize how much things suck, and you realize how much you suck, and really, that’s all just sucky.

He’s better off being a stupid overconfident idiot. At least that’s a part in which people don’t see how pathetic you truly are. And seriously, being drunk makes this so much easier. People underestimate how important drinking is to Brody’s ongoing survival.

That’s on a regular night.

Tonight, it’s all he can do to make it back to Mitch’s place without dying.

Then, of course, he still has to make it to his room. With Mitch tinkering n the kitchen, Brody knows this last leg may be the most demanding.

He considers, if only briefly, trying to make it to his room without talking to Mitch. That would make it easier to hide his illness, and it’s a tactic that served him well in all other contexts. As it turns out, foster parents tended to think he was better off with space, so they generally didn’t talk to him unless he made himself available. As for coaches, they tended to prefer not talking about anything that didn’t involve swimming. And who else was there?

No one, really. A few friends before he pissed them off. A few girls before they realized he had nothing to offer. To be clear, he’d never had someone like Mitch in his life before.

Mitch was…

Well, what is Mitch?

His boss, sure. His roommate, kind of. A friend? What the hell did that even mean?

This is what he’s thinking as he stands in Mitch’s kitchen. He doesn’t realize that he’s staring until Mitch looks up from the dishes and gives him a quizzical look. “I thought You had a date tonight,” Mitch observes, rinsing off a plate. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

Of course Mitch knows that. Mitch is a little like God. He just knows shit that he has no business knowing. Either that, or Brody just tells him more than he intends to. “Yeah,” Brody says half heartedly. “We both had long days. Thought we’d sleep instead.”

Mitch looks somewhat impressed, like this decision is more mature than he expects. Either that, or he just looks surprised, like Brody’s never skipped out on a chance to get laid before. Both assessments are fair.

With either conclusion, Mitch keeps those real conclusions to himself. “I heard the commotion on the radio,” he notes. “You had some good saves today.”

It’s probably not, but it feels like high praise. Brody’s chest always swells a little when Mitch compliments him, because he knows how hard those compliments are to come by. Mitch doesn’t offer bullshit compliments. He doesn’t flatter or try to say pointless nice things. That’s why it means something. It always makes Brody proud, like prouder than he’d been after setting the world record in the 200.

Tonight, however, it makes Brody want to cry a little.

Shit, he has to keep it together. Usually this is easier for him.

“Yeah,” he finally manages to croak. “No one died today, so that’s what matters.”

It’s the right answer. Thank God. Mitch smiles at him. “There’s a little leftover fish in the fridge if you’re hungry.”

Brody is sincerely unsure if food sounds like the best or worst idea right now. On the one hand, he knows that forcing himself to eat while ill is the best way to keep his energy levels functional, outside of the stomach flu. However, the thought of eating sounds so exhausting at the moment that he’s not sure he could get the fish out of the fridge without passing out in the process. Since passing out would betray his quest to handle this on his own, he has no choice but to decline.

Plus, that line of thought is so involved that Brody feels even more exhausted now. He needs to get back in the habit of thinking less. It’s not like it’s doing him any favors at the moment.

Or possibly ever.

“Nah, man, I’m good,” Brody says. He’s a bit impressed with himself. Despite the fact that he wants to sleep right here on the kitchen floor, he actually sounds mostly casual. Like he’s totally just some cool bro doing his normal shit after a long day on the beach. “Probably really just going to sleep.”

Brody’s going for good humor in an aw-shucks sort of way, and he’s not really sure why. Maybe it’s because he’s from Iowa. Maybe it’s because, in his compromised state, his judgment is moderately impaired. Or, what the hell, maybe he’s always an idiot and he’s just finally aware of it.

Mitch looks at him like he knows something is off.

Or, something is off more than usual.

Really, Mitch gives him a lot of looks, but this one is more discerning than most. “You sure you’re okay?”

Brody laughs like that’s the most ridiculous question in the entire world. Like he always skips out on dinner dates that could potentially lead to sex. Like he’s always cool with not eating free food when it’s offered to him. Like he always wants to go to bed at 8:30 like he’s 60 or something.

He’s laughing too much, and he hems it in when he realizes it. Awkwardly, he tries to taper it off without coughing, and he’s not sure he’s successful. “Yeah, sure,” he says dismissively. “I’m just pretty tired, you know? I’ll be better in the morning.”

This is not the full truth but it’s also a close enough variation that Brody thinks it technically doesn’t count as a lie. He’s pretty good at not-quite lying, actually. It’s one of his better honed skills, along with being sick without letting anyone know it.

Or, you know, swimming.

Also, being a lonely miserable loser who knows how to screw up every good thing in his life.

What is he thinking about again?

Mitch is studying him, as if he knows what Brody is thinking. Which is impossible; not even Brody knows what he’s thinking. Still, there’s something keenly understood in Mitch’s eyes like maybe he’s closer to figuring Brody out than anyone ever has been before.

To be fair, about two other people have tried and they were both paid for by the state of Iowa or the US Swimming Team.

“If you’re sure,” Mitch ventures, and it’s not really a question except it’s totally a question. Or, like, an invitation.

An invitation for the whole truth, not just the version Brody hopes to make a reality.

And standing there, in Mitch’s kitchen, it’s actually a little tempting to tell him.

Like, really tell him.

About how he feels like shit, how he knows he’s getting sick, how he wants to curl up in bed and not get up again for at least twenty-four hours. He thinks maybe he can tell Mitch about the tickle in his throat, the throb of his sinuses, the tightness in his chest and the way his whole body feels like it might literally be on fire. Probably not literally. But he could probably explain that to Mitch too, that being sick makes him really melodramatic and shit, it’d be nice if someone could tuck him in, make him soup and just tell him that everything’s fine and mean.

In short, it’s tempting to think that Mitch Buchannon, for all his weird shit and unreasonable expectations, might actually be family.

Except, Brody’s thought that before.

He’s thought it too often.

And it never works out.

It just ends with his heart being shattered into fifteen thousand pieces. Which, for the record, is worse than the flu or whatever the hell it is he has.

So, Brody smiles. As flippantly as he possibly can because he wants to sell this thing. It’s better for him.

It’s better for Mitch.

“Yeah I’m totally sure,” Brody says, starting toward the spare room. He snags a bottle of water from the fridge without looking too obvious. “See you in the morning, man!”

-o-

It’s, like, ten steps to the spare room.

It feels like so much longer.

His resolve falls apart completely when he closes the door, and he’s so tired that he almost cries when he lays down. He knows, according to his carefully crafted self maintenance system, that he should drink the water before he goes to sleep, but shit, he’s tired and that water bottle looks really heavy and twisting the cap off sounds like way too much work right now.

The key to successfully being sick without burdening people around you is to prioritize. If you’re too tired to eat food, try drinking liquids. If you’re too tired to drink liquids, sleep a lot. Sleep as much as you can. Sleep forever if at all possible.

That’s not the same thing as dying, even if that’s what it sounds like. Contrary to the USOC shrink, Brody’s not exactly suicidal. No, he has self destructive tendencies and poor decision making skills. It’s totally different.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He’s not thinking clearly. That’s why he needs to sleep.

He’s still dressed and he’s lying down on the covers, with his knees tucked up to his chest.

Whatever.

Sleep always helps.

-o-

Except he’s not really sleeping. Not when he’s on some stupid cot with, like, zero support. Honestly, it’s inane that Brody is sleeping on a cot intended for short term camping trips. Oh, and it’s also made for 12 year olds. And sure, Brody knows that he’s small and shit, but he’s not 12. And he’s got a ton of muscle mass, which makes him heavy, so the whole damn thing bows down and makes every muscle in his body feel horrible.

Oh, and it’s hot in there. Mitch, for whatever reason, is the only moron in Southern California who doesn’t use an air conditioner. It’s not that he doesn’t have one -- he does, Brody has seen it -- but he’s all like the-ocean-breeze-is-all-I-need and natural-air-is-better-for-you. And also, Brody is partially convinced that Mitch likes messing with him.

Whatever. What’s better for Brody is not to feel like he’s in some idiotic sauna. Like, who even really likes saunas? He’s been in them during training before because his trainer swore that it helped loosen his muscles and allowed him to tap into his full potential, but really, Brody’s pretty sure that the trainer just wanted Brody to be out of his way for a little bit so he didn’t have to actual deal with him as an actual human being.

And then there’s the matter of the CB radio. It’s always on. Always. And it’s always loud. Mitch says this is because he likes to know everything that’s happening in the bay. And okay, it saved Brody’s life and that’s cool shit, all right? He didn’t want to drown at the bottom of the bay, he really didn’t. So yay for CB radios and all that shit except CB radios are stupid.

They crackle and they buzz and Brody hears reports about monster lobsters and ghost fishing trawlers and occasionally, really torrid boat sex.

Most of the time, he’s learned to sleep through it.

But most of the time, he’s not burning to death in a sauna while sleeping on the most uncomfortable not-bed in the world.

Like most things in Brody’s life, his plan is shit.

And he’s just completely screwed.

-o-

Brody’s got early shift in the morning, and he would have thought that it might be hard to make sure he’s up on time. But considering the fact that he’s hardly slept, he’s up with time to spare. That said, there’s a difference between being awake and getting up. Brody’s got the first part mastered. The second part is going to prove difficult.

Because Brody feels worse today.

Like, really worse.

Logically, this is probably to be expected. Most illnesses have to run their course, and Brody knows from experience that the second day is generally harder to manage than the first. That’s why it’s so important to take the preventative measures on the first day.

None of it has done shit this time.

Brody takes about five minutes to sit up. It takes him another five to stand up. He wonders if Mitch will notice that he’s still wearing the same clothes as he was yesterday, but that consideration requires too much energy and he gives it up as ultimately unimportant. It’s not like he can physically change his clothes right now anyway. He’s pretty sure any downward motion will have him face planting on the tiles in Mitch’s spare room and that sounds like a lot less fun than sitting here, doing nothing.

Still, he does have to get up.

He looks at the door, wondering how he never noticed how far it is from the cot to the door. It’s, like, super far. Too far. Brody just wants to die instead. Wanting to die is not even the same as recklessness and self destructive tendencies. Brody is fairly certain that anyone in his position right now would have the exact same inclinations.

All the same, if he’s not out soon, Mitch is going to knock on the door to remind him that they’re both on early shift this morning. And if that happens, Brody is going to have to get up and work even harder to convince Mitch that he’s super fine this morning and not possibly dying from an unnamed illness that may or may not be connected to the plague.

That’s a thing, right? The plague? Doesn’t it still happen with like rats in Colorado?

The thought of rats in Colorado is vexing, and Brody forces himself to his feet as an alternative to thinking about whether any of his background information about the plague is remotely accurate. He should have given a shit in school, but he was too busy pretending not to be sick or sad or scared or lonely or pathetic to bother doing his homework.

He makes it a step or two and doesn’t fall down. He takes this as a good sign and takes several more steps. When he gets to the door, he sort of feels like celebrating but the idea of any extra movement is less than ideal. He settles for opening the door without falling over instead.

It’s a real accomplishment.

For real.

When he makes it all the way to the kitchen without falling over, Brody feels like he probably deserve a gold medal for sheer effort. He’s feeling pretty proud of himself, even if the tickle in his throat is now like breathing with a sock stuffed down there (Brody would know, okay, and no one has to ask why) and his throbbing sinuses are like someone has poured hot magma down them (and not cold magma which is what will happen later when the congestion sets in) and his chest has more than a little pressure; it’s like a vice now, like he’s literally being squeezed to death by some stupid giant snake that wants to swallow him whole and alive (this one Brody has no frame of reference to except that movie with Jennifer Lopez who looked really hot running from a giant snake that liked to swallow people whole and alive).

Brody likes coming in first when he can but he’s learned to take the small victories when he can or his life would be excessively unbearable.

It figures then that Mitch takes one look at him over his paper (the dude still buys the paper, which Brody is pretty sure isn’t a thing that anyone does unless you’re a foster parent in Iowa), and the only thing he says in the face of Brody’s incomparable success in being alive this morning is: “You look horrible.”

The fact that Brody feels horrible is not withstanding.

Mitch isn’t supposed to notice.

Brody is massively off his game.

He tries to be diffident. Diffident is a big word that he’s heard people use and it seems like an appropriate choice but he couldn’t honestly say for sure. Whatever he’s trying to do, he reaches for a cup from the cabinet and puts it on the counter before opening the fridge and grabbing the orange juice.

All of this without falling over.

“I’m fine,” Brody says despite all evidence to the contrary. People often believe what they want to believe, and they tend to prefer it when you act like things are great, so usually this is the kind of lie that works in Brody’s favor. He pours all the orange juice into his glass, somewhat dismayed when it barely fills the glass halfway. “Totally ready for work today.”

He’s also totally ready for a trip to the market because there’s no way he’s going to make it on half a glass of juice. He drinks it in a single gulp that almost makes him choke.

When he’s done, he looks at Mitch, who is watching him like he’s crazy. “You should think about taking a sick day,” he suggests.

This is absolutely not what Brody is going to do. It’s what he wants to do, maybe, but he’s not actually sure how sick days work because, if he’s honest, he’s never had a real job basically ever. And coaches and trainers don’t actually have standards for that shit, and schools get all weird about it when you start missing days, and foster parents seem to really stress out about taking their sick days for their not-real kids so Brody’s thinking that the only obvious answer is: “No way. I’m fine.”

If he says fine enough, maybe it will sound less stupid by the end. Without any more juice, Brody pokes through the cabinets. There used to be a few energy drinks in there from his latest shopping trip but he only actually can afford groceries like twice a month and he’s only lived here two months so there’s nothing left.

Finally, he settles for the coffee that Mitch has left in the pot. Even a pathetic cup is better than nothing. He drinks it while it’s steaming, almost thankful for the scolding sensation as it goes down his throat.

“You really don’t look fine,” Mitch says.

Mitch is still watching him, like that’s not a totally weird thing to do.

“Whatever,” Brody says, wondering if he can make another pot without Mitch making a really big deal out of it. “I’ll be ready for work. We leave in 15 minutes, right?”

“Ten,” Mitch says. “But if you’re sick, you shouldn’t guard. You’re a hazard to yourself and everyone on the beach if you go out there when you’re not at 100 percent.”

Mitch might have a point about that, but there’s some fundamental flaws with his reasoning. See, according to Mitch’s policy, Brody should never guard. He’s never at 100 percent because he’s a complete loser who has no idea what he’s doing. He tries hard, sure, and he’s been more consistent at Baywatch than he has ever, but that only means he’s going to screw things up epically and probably soon.

That’s just what Brody does.

See, and that’s what the shrink meant by self destructive tendencies. She’d been super clear about that. Less clear on how to deal with it like a functional adult.

Brody can see no reason why feeling sick is any different from his lack of intelligence, his limited vocabulary, his tendency to like boobs and his penchant for getting bored, like, instantly. Brody’s a hot mess all the time; what’s the big deal if it’s literal this time?

“Ten minutes,” he repeats, mostly to remind himself and wondering how long the walk to the bathroom will take him in his present condition. “I’m just going to go grab a quick shower and I’ll be good to go.”

Mitch doesn’t stop him.

Because why would he?

It goes to show what Brody’s known all along.

People prefer it when you’re self sufficient.

Everything else is background noise.

-o-

Brody loves showers.

He’s always loved showers. He loves them because they’re something he’s fought for all his life. As a foster kid, he’s usually grouped with other foster kids, and that usually means that there are like half a dozen little shitheads all vying for the same shower. And if you throw in a few teenage girls, a kid like Brody ends up with a two second shower of cold water three days a week. If he’s lucky.

There’s no way around it: showers are one reason he took to swimming so much. It’s like an instant shower every time you jump in. And then he discovered that public pools also have built-in showers for you to use afterwards. For free. And with endless hot water.

Showers are amazing.

They are also a critical part of his self sufficiency campaign. If you’re sick as a dog, take a shower. It never fails to improve your mood and spirits. And, if it doesn’t make you feel quite perfect, you at least look a lot better, which makes you more convincing when you tell everyone that you’re fine.

Showers.

The problem is that the second Brody steps in the shower and blasts the hot water he instantly relaxes. It feels amazing. Better than that stupid cot in that stupid hot room with the stupid CB radio. He stands there, leaning his head against the enclosure just letting it all wash over him. And for those few seconds, the world is perfect.

Then he opens his eyes, realizing it’s been more than a few seconds.

Shit, he thinks. He fell asleep. He has no idea how long it’s been.

Worse, his phone is on the other side of the bathroom.

Damn it, he needs to get out before Mitch knocks on the door to tell him that it’s time to go because there’s no way Brody can get dressed super fast and out the door. These things take time when you’re physically impaired.

Hastily, and regretfully, he turns off the shower. He hasn’t washed his hair or used soap or any of the other things you’re supposed to do in the shower, but that’s probably fine. He’s a lifeguard; he’s going to swim in the ocean anyway.

He has a bigger problem anyway.

It’s called getting dressed.

Brody manages to grab the towel, and he makes a half hearted attempt to dry himself off without bothering to tip his equilibrium to get to his legs. He feels a little shaky when he climbs out of the shower, and he has to brace himself on the sink before he even considers picking up his dirty clothes from off the floor. He’s forgotten to get new ones, thus making the shower pointless in terms of cleanliness, but it’s too late to worry about that now.

No, he Brody needs to worry about getting dressed. Quickly and efficiently before Mitch drags his ass out of the bathroom for work.

Unfortunately, his efforts are not as effective as he might have hoped. The shower hasn’t had the effect he wanted, and he barely gets his underwear on before wanting to go back to sleep. Instead, he roots through the cabinet and finds something that resembles cold medicine. He makes a shitty attempt to read the label but then pops two tablets out of their packaging and swallows them dry.

That’ll help, he tells himself.

Then he looks back down at the clothing still on the floor.

It’s not going to help enough.

Shit, nothing’s going to help.

Brody’s sick. Like, not just a little sick, but sick sick. So sick that he wants to cry because he knows what he’s supposed to do but he’s not sure he can do it this time. All his tricks are failing him; all his little coping methods are just falling short.

In short, he’s not sure he can do this.

But if he can’t do it, then what does he do? Does he ask for help? From who? Does he keep trying anyway? Does he just quit? Should he run away and try to die under a pier? Should he go out and get as drunk as possible so no one sees that he’s sick?

They all sounds like ideas that are horrible and brilliant at the same time.

None of them are a clear winner, though.

Brody’s got nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Standing there, in his underwear, the bathroom mirror still fogged, Brody’s head starts spinning. This could be the fact that he’s dying from the flu right now; it could also be the fact that he’s having a damn panic attack in his boss’s bathroom five minutes before he’s supposed to report for his morning shift as a lifeguard that saves lives.

He can’t breathe. His head hurts. His throat is closing up and his chest is constricted to the point where he could possibly be having a heart attack on top of everything else. And he can’t think. Like, at all. At all, at all, at all.

Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Coherent thought is leaving him.

His whole damn consciousness is leaving him.

Then, to make matters worse, there’s a knock at the door.

Brody feels the panic intensify as he looks to the door. The small movement throws his balance off severely, and the room is spinning so hard that he has to grip onto the counter or risk falling over. He blinks to clear his head; it just makes things worse.

“Brody?” Mitch calls, the voice loud over the ringing in Brody’s ears. “You okay?”

That’s laughable, but Brody still tries to lift his head to say yes. It’s not that Brody’s opposed to quitting as a matter of principle. He’s quit lots of things; it’s in his nature as a foster children to think that most things are expendable and essentially temporary. But this is a question of self preservation. If he can’t protect himself during a common illness, then he’s got nothing.

He does make a noise, but it’s not exactly a word or anything resembling human speech.

Worse, the effort, no matter how terrible the execution, wreaks havoc on his already messed up body. The movement of his vocal cords make his throat seize up violently, and his chest constricts to the point where he cries out in pain. This only makes the sensation in his throat more pronounced, and he’s simply crying by the time he figures out that he doesn’t know how to keep this cycle from repeating.

But then the room’s spinning and his knees are starting to give way and everything goes white and then dark and well, there it is. Brody’s found his fool proof exit.

It just so happens to be passing out, which is not really a solution at all. Because sure it means he’s not in pain anymore, but it also means that he’s sprawled out on his back, unable to move or do anything but stare blankly up at the ceiling.

And it’s weird because the ceiling doesn’t look like a ceiling, not that Brody studies ceilings on a regular basis because his backstroke is shit, but this ceiling looks a lot like Mitch’s head.

Shit.

Brody blinks a few more times, just to be sure.

But yep. The ceiling is Mitch’s head.

“You still going to tell me you’re okay?” Mitch’s ceiling head asks him.

Brody’s seen weirder stuff, okay. He just goes with it. “Sure,” he says, like this isn’t humiliating and disconcerting. “Just give me a minute.”

He thinks it’s good that his voice is working again, but Mitch does not seem to appreciate the depth of Brody’s accomplishment here. That’s pretty typical, as best Brody can figure.

“Uh huh,” Mitch says. “I gave you ten, and you passed out.”

This may have some validity to it, but Brody’s not big on logic. Especially not when he’s lying on his back, possibly dying from the flu or humiliation or some twisted combination of both. “Just one more,” he says, because people like to bargain when you’re giving them what they want, which is essentially just a hands-free option for being close to him. “One more minute and I’ll--”

He doesn’t know how to finish that statement. Usually he doesn’t have to talk this much to prove his point. Most people are happy to take his word for it when he says he’s fine.

“And you’ll what?” Mitch asks with incredulity.

Brody is pretty sure he had intended to say something smart or witty or convincing.

He can’t remember it, though.

He can’t remember much of anything at this point except that he’s on the ground and needs to get up one way or another.

Mitch sighs, but reaches down a hand to grab his own. It seems entirely too easy for Mitch to haul Brody to his feet. Moreover, it seems entirely too hard for Brody to do the meager act of keeping his feet beneath him.

But then he remembers what he was going to say.

Or, more accurately, he remembers what he’s supposed to say. Which is, when push comes to shove, finally the truth.

“I’ll pass out,” he says, a sense of revelation settling over him.

No, that’s not revelation.

That’s lightheadedness.

Like, a lot of it.

But hey, he tells himself as he crashes back down to the floor, swooning like some girl in a period piece, at least this time he’s telling the truth.

-o-

Brody’s actually kind of used to falling.

Sure, it’s not usual literal, but whatever. Brody’s got the concept down. He’s used to failing, messing up, screwing up, making mistakes, disappointing everyone. He’s fallen from every pedestal, he’s burned every bridge, he’s squandered every opportunity. He is, by definition, the manifestation of a fall from grace.

Seriously, he’s the only dude who can win two Olympic gold medals and come home worse off than before he left. Even the dude who broke his leg in practice over on the soccer field made out better than Brody did.

Brody falls.

Like, it’s the only thing he does well.

Fall.

Hard, far, fast.

This is probably the first time, however, there’s someone there to catch him.

And this isn’t figurative.

At least, Brody doesn’t think it’s figurative.

He’s not sure, and given that he’s semiconscious at the moment, it’s probably not the best time to contemplate his lack of familiarity with literary concepts and his complete inability to know if people actually like him or simply tolerate him.

What he does know in horrifying clarity is that Mitch catches him.

And then proceeds to carry him, bridal style, right out of the bathroom.

This is such a surreal experience that Brody isn’t even properly embarrassed by it. Not to say that it’s not a little embarrassing, because it is, but when he cracks his eyes open, Mitch doesn’t looked pissed off or annoyed. He doesn’t look like Brody’s put him out or been a pain in his ass -- all of which, for the record, is actually true. Brody’s done all those things; Mitch is fully justified in any of those emotions.

But that’s not the prevailing expression on Mitch’s face. Instead, as Mitch navigates the halls without slamming Brody’s legs into the walls or catching his head on the doorframe as they turn into the spare room, Mitch just looks worried.

Like, really worried.

Concerned.

Not in some polite or professional way. Not in the way Mitch looks every day on the beach or during every save on the water. This is different in a way Brody can’t quite put his finger on. He can’t explain totally. Scratch that, he can’t explain it at all.

It doesn’t compute; it doesn’t parse.

It just doesn’t make sense.

At all.

And maybe Brody’s stupid as rocks. Maybe he’s a moron and he’s lost too many brain cells in the water. Maybe he’s too sick to reason his way out of a paper bag right now.

But Brody’s been around the block, okay? He’s been with shitloads of people. He’s had foster parents, case workers, teachers, coaches, trainers, psychologists: all of them, professionals and trained and assigned to Brody’s care. And none of them have ever looked like this. Not even close.

Foster parents, well, they have too many other kids to find him particularly special. Usually they’ve got three or four or eight more to worry about, so Brody’s always going to be an afterthought because he’s not the nicest or the smartest or the funniest or the sweetest or anything. Caseworkers struggle even more because Brody’s file make it hard for them to secure any kind of placement, and teachers come and go so fast as Brody moves through schools that he’s lucky if they remember his name. And when they see his poor school work, they never want to remember him anyway.

Coaches and trainers you might think are better, but they’re really not. No one’s ever taken on Brody for his sterling reputation or shining personality. They like him because he’s fast and he posts numbers that wins and they all see dollar signs when they look at him. This makes any illness not an inconvenience but a loss of money they simply can’t abide.

And what has a shrink ever done for him except tell him what everyone already knows? They’re just people doing their job because the state of Iowa, the US Swimming Team, someone else is paying them.

All these people in Brody’s life are there for a paycheck, obligation, necessity.

Why the hell is Mitch here?

What’s he getting out of this?

Gently, Mitch doesn’t seem to consider this question as he lowers Brody to the cot. He rips away the covers with one hand, easing Brody down with the other before arranging his head on the pillow and starting to work the sheets up over him again. Brody shakes his head, mumbling not exactly in protest but in complete and total confusion.

“Easy,” Mitch says, somewhat absently as he fusses over the blankets. He lifts a heavy, broad hand to Brody’s head, but when he eases it across his forehead, he’s surprisingly soft.

When he pulls it away, Brody is looking at him, more intently than before. “I’m fine,” he says, even though his voice is small and trembling and even though he’s pretty sure he can’t move.

Mitch looks like he kind of wants to laugh, but he doesn’t quite have the heart. “You just passed out in the bathroom,” he says. “Your fever is high; I’ve got half a mind to take you to the hospital.”

Brody shakes his head. “But I’m fine.”

“No, you’re sick and you’ve been sick for the last day,” Mitch tells him. “Why can’t you just admit that?”

Because Brody doesn’t know how to admit it because the second he admits it is the second he admits that he needs help? And if he needs help and doesn’t get it, then it’s the worst feeling in the world. If he gets help that is given out of obligation, it just makes him want to die.

Those are a lot of words, and Brody’s not sure he has the breath to give voice to them. Instead, he wrinkles his forehead faintly. “I have to do my job,” he says. “I can’t screw it up.”

“Then lay down, shut up and sleep,” Mitch reprimands him, but it’s without malice or spite.

Brody is feeling disconcerted now. “But my job--”

Because that’s what it’s about, right? That he does his part, that he learns to be selfless. Coaches want him to train; foster parents want him to go to school and stay out of trouble; Mitch wants him to be a meticulous lifeguard who never misses a save. These are the necessary steps to retaining his position; it’s the only way to keep himself afloat.

“Is to get better,” Mitch tells him, smoothing the sheet pointlessly across Brody’s chest.

That’s a weird answer, and Brody’s not sure what to make of it.

Brody doesn’t want to do this. He’s already a problem. He’s already expensive and inconvenient and needy and stupid. He honestly doesn’t know why Mitch has put up with him this long.

He swallows forcibly, finding his voice. “But your job--”

Mitch sighs, but not like he’s straight up pissed. Just, like, he feels like the answer is obvious and that Brody should have realized it by now. “My job right now is just to make sure you get better.”

Brody staggers for enough air to continue speaking. “But the beach -- Baywatch--”

“Brody, there are plenty of other lifeguards at Baywatch,” he says. “They can spare both of us for the day. Your job is to get better right now; my job is to make sure you do.”

What’s weird is that Mitch doesn’t sound like he’s annoyed. He doesn’t sound put out. Like, at all. He sounds like this is just a fact and that it’s something he’s accepted, embraced and almost maybe kind of likes.

Like, maybe he likes Brody.

Maybe he cares about Brody.

Maybe Brody’s not an obligation.

Maybe Brody matters?

Because no one’s ever chosen him before, like not for who he is. No one has ever made him theirs before, not in some comprehensive way. Foster families did what was needed; some were even pretty nice about it, if Brody’s honest; but this is...different.

This is just really different and Brody doesn’t understand how or why or what this even is.

But when Mitch speaks again, he’s voice is quieter, gentler. It’s sincere. “You can tell me next time.”

Brody’s not firing on all cylinders. At this point, he’s so confused that he has no freaking clue what Mitch means. “Tell you?”

“That you’re sick,” Mitch continues. “Next time, just tell me.”

He says that like it’s super simple. And super obvious. He says it in a way that Brody feels like should make sense to him but he’s still not sure how to connect these dots. He furrows his brow and sincerely admits, “I didn’t think it’d matter.”

“Why the hell wouldn’t it matter?” Mitch asks.

“I mean, not to you,” Brody says weakly. “As long as I could do my job, the rest is my business.”

Mitch is shaking his head. “But you are my business,” he says.

“But as long as I don’t miss a save on the beach--”

“Brody,” Mitch cuts him off. “This isn’t about your performance on the beach.”

Brody doesn’t have a response to that.

Mitch shakes his head again, as if realizing the disconnect here for the first time. “I mean, yes, I don’t want a lifeguard working the beach when they’re in a compromised state,” he says. “But my main concern here is you. How you feel. How you’re doing.”

“But you’re not obligated,” Brody says, trying to remember if Mitch is somehow being paid or bribed or forced to house him and take pity on him.

“No, but I don’t have to be,” Mitch tells him. “I care.”

Brody’s got no idea what that means.

Maybe this is a hallucination.

Yeah, he’s probably delusional.

But Mitch looks really earnest.

Brody screws up his face. “What?”

“I care about what happens to you,” Mitch says again, slower and more deliberate. Like he’s trying to make sure that Brody understands the point.

The problem is that it’s not a comprehensible point. “But why?”

At that, Mitch almost laughs, but it’s a fond sort of chuckle thing. “Shit,” Mitch says, rubbing a hand wearily over his head. “I don’t know. That’s just how this thing works.”

He doesn’t think Mitch is trying to be cryptic, but Brody’s excessively slow on the uptake this morning. That’s possibly because he’s dying from the flu and it’s also possible that he really is just that much of a moron. “What thing?”

“Baywatch,” Mitch supplies for him. When that fails to garner a response from Brody, he adds with an emphatic nod. “Family.”

Baywatch.

Family.

Brody blinks.

Brody blinks again.

Oh.

He looks at Mitch, who is still looking at him.

Oh.

Mitch collects a breath and fiddles with the sheet again. “I’m going to go get you some medicine,” he says. “And I’m going to get you something to drink. I want you to stay here and rest, okay?”

Like Brody’s got any ability to fight that request.

Like he wants to.

Mitch gets to his feet, patting Brody on the arm as he leaves. “Just rest,” he says. “I’ll take care of the rest.”

That’s a promise.

An actual, real, legitimate promise.

A promise made without force or coercion. A promise made not because Mitch has to.

But because he wants to.

He really wants to.

And Brody, see, he’s never done this before. Not even close. But he still knows exactly what it is. He knows it by definition of exclusion. He knows it because it’s the one thing he’s always wanted and never had his whole damn life.

This is family.

It’s new and weird and nonsensical and uncomfortable and downright scary, honestly.

But beyond all that?

At its very core?

It’s kind of cool.

For lack of a better word.

Brody has the vocabulary of a seventh grader and he’s really sick with a high fever right now so that word will have to do until he’s better, until he’s coherent, until he has enough of his wits to put all this shit together into a manageable reality he knows how to grasp.

He settles back against the pillow and lets his eyes start to get heavy. He can still hear Mitch out in the other room, doing all the things he promised, probably more. Brody can listen, but he can’t lift a finger to help. Part of him still wants to, but Mitch’s fortitude is a compelling argument to the contrary.

Besides, he’s not sure he’s physical able anyway. His fever is raging; his chest is tight; his throat is sore. There’s like a marching band pounding through his head, and he still feels like it’s possible that he’s dying. All the same, there’s a part of him -- a big part of him -- that thinks he can probably work through this, that he can force himself to his feet and go about his business if for no other reason than he always has before.

But this time, he makes himself believe, he doesn’t have to.

Because this time, he’s starting to believe he’s not alone.

This time, Brody can just close his eyes and sleep.

This time, that’s exactly what he does.

-o-

Over the next day or so, Brody sleeps a lot, like more than he has in his whole life because no one wakes him up to train or go to school or do anything. When he does wake up, he’s sicker than before, and it feels horrible. His breathing is bad, and every muscle in his body feels like he just finished to the 200 fly on record time, twice in a row. He thinks his head could explode, pain worse than every hangover he’s ever had and Brody’s has more hangovers than swimming victories.

In short, Brody’s sick, sicker than he’s ever been, and he’s some idiot foster kid who lived in fifty billion homes and shelters where no one told him to wash his hands or drink his juice. He had every possible childhood illness, and he’s straight up never been this sick before. He won’t be getting out of bed today, or tomorrow. Probably not all week.

Even with this, Brody can hear Mitch rustling around in the kitchen. The door to the spare room is open, and Mitch is whistling while he gets out some pots and pans. When Brody turns his head feebly to the side, a chair has been drawn close and there’s a glass of juice on it with a pair of pills that have already been popped free of the child safe packaging.

Looking down, he sees that the sheets on the bed have been straightened around him, neatly tucked in at his sides. Even his pillow has been inexplicably fluffed. The CB radio has been turned off in the corner of the room.

This is what family is, he knows, not by his absence but by its presence.

It’s the first time he’s been sure his whole damn life.

So Brody may be sicker than sick this week.

Truth be told, though, he’s really never felt better.

Comments

Posted by: sarievenea (sarievenea)
Posted at: December 14th, 2018 07:18 am (UTC)
Stop making me care about this stupid movie.

You already made me watch it. STOP MAKING ME *sniff* CARE ABOUT ZAC EFRON. *sniff*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 15th, 2018 12:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Stop making me care about this stupid movie.

So this is the wrong time to tell you that I have like 20 more Baywatch fics to post?

Honestly, I won't pretend to justify my muse's obsession with this movie. I will only say that it's been so much fun to write about because it is utterly mindless and superfluous and the characters are prettier than they should be.

That said, I know it was a trial to read the fic :) But thanks for the review! I really didn't expect anyone to look at it!

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