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Baywatch fic: The Importance of Backup (2/2)

December 17th, 2018 (08:15 pm)

Continued from part one.



-o-

Only it doesn’t end.

Really, why should it end quickly and painlessly? What has Brody ever done to deserve the slightest amount of consideration from the universe?

Some might think of this as hope, but Brody’s tied down to the front of a boat that is speeding rapidly out of control in the middle of the ocean. Screw hope.

This time, Brody is panicking. The boat is skipping over the waves, sending sprays of water all over Brody, and he’s rapidly soaked through The force of the boat on the water is jarring and rough, and Brody’s already damaged head is banged painfully against the top of the boat in a repetitive fashion. Careening wildly, Brody is dimly aware of the fact that the boat is out of control.

No doubt, the accelerator’s been pushed down and locked into place and Alvarez has jumped ship with the black hoodie guy. For some reason, this unlikely scenario seems entirely obvious to Brody, as if, of course this is the only eventuality available to him.

After all, they did strap him to a boat for a reason.

This is the reason.

To send Mitch on a wild chase across the water while Brody is driven to a watery and painful end. Best case scenario, the boat runs out of gas and he comes to a nice, pleasant stop and Mitch rescues him.

Worst case scenario, the boat crosses over rough seas and flies out of control, spinning out over the water and smashing down back into the depths. If Brody’s lucky, he’ll be killed by the impact. If he’s not, he’ll go down alive.

What the hell, maybe this journey will be shorter and he’ll come to a sudden stop against a rock. Or a whale.

Death by whale.

At least it’s different.

Still, the end is always the same: Brody dies.

Brody dies fast and messy. Brody dies slow and painful.

Ultimately, Brody dies.

He’s not sure he’s okay with that, but given his circumstances, Brody can’t think of any other alternatives. The ropes are secure; the boat is fast. This sucks, this sucks, this sucks.

Brody wants to hurl but he can’t even control his own stomach enough to think about it. Everything is discombobulated by the speed and the way the boat is jarring on the waves.

Has he mentioned how much this sucks?

Mitch should have listened to him this time.

Mitch should have listened.

If he was here, Brody could say I told you so.

And then, inexplicably, Mitch is there.

Well, the lifeguard boat is there, pulling up alongside Brody, and it’s hard to see with the amount of bouncing up and down, but Brody knows Mitch is there. Somehow, he’s not surprised. In fact, he’s only surprised that Mitch didn’t get there sooner.

Expertly, Mitch guides the boat until it’s parallel with the one Brody’s on. This is no easy task, given the speed and unpredictable directionality of the boat, and Mitch is closer than normally he would recommend during an official rescue. Brody’s not sure if it’s a good thing or not to know he’s an exception to the rules.

The waves grow choppier, and the boats veer dangerously close together. They’re close enough now that Brody can see Mitch mouth a curse, and Brody feels like his heart has ceased beating altogether. Somehow, Mitch recovers, and they hit a straight patch of sailing for Mitch to make eye contact.

This is not an easy feat, not with the way they’re both bounding up and down. It’s harder still to imagine hearing Mitch over the roar of the ocean and the pounding in Brody’s ears, but somehow when Mitch speaks, Brody knows exactly what he’s trying to say.

“Hold on!” Mitch yells, loud voice booming over the melee. “I’m coming to you!”

This is ridiculous on a number of levels.

First, Brody thinks with startling rationality, Brody has no choice but to hold on. His less thought is no less rational but it feels increasingly surreal. How the hell is Mitch coming for him? When Mitch is on that boat and Brody is on this one.

Then, Mitch locks the steering into place, tying pressure down on the accelerator. Then he moves with far too much fluidity until he’s standing on the edge of his boat, hands bracing himself as the two boats jump the waves in tandem.

Oh, is all Brody can think.

That’s how Mitch plans to do it.

He’s going to jump.

That makes it sound simple. Like it’s totally no big deal to jump from one moving boat to the next while they’re speeding in the open ocean. With no one at the controls in either one.

It’s simple, sure.

A simple way to die.

Brody is about to yell at Mitch to stop, not to bother, to rethink what the hell he’s doing, but none of the words manage to come out of his mouth, and it’s too late anyway. As Brody’s been processing this situation, Mitch has been forming a solution. Balancing himself for a horrifying moment, Mitch makes the dramatic leap.

He looks like a big damn hero.

Like, seriously.

Brody’s not usually one to go in for all that shit -- he thinks Mitch is full of crap most of the time -- but yeah, sometimes he’s got it going on. Sometimes, that whole force of nature thing really is as dominating as Mitch seems to think it is, and although Brody doesn’t like to feed into Mitch’s sense of always being right, there are times he just can’t deny it.

This is one of those times.

Mitch is a hero.

Which makes Brody a damsel in distress.

For some reason, Brody is surprisingly okay with this. As long as that means he gets to live.

See, Brody would like to live.

He really would.

He’d like to go back to his job. He’d like to finish the next level of GardenScapes on his phone. He’d like to take Summer to dinner. He’d even like to feed Mitch’s goldfish to see where Little Mitch is today. He’d like to maybe get back in the pool, do some training. He’d like to save some lives.

He would not like to take down a gang, however.

Because taking down gangs means you probably don’t get to live.

He wants to be mad at Mitch about that, but this isn’t the time or place. If Brody lives, then he’ll be mad.

For now, he’ll just continue hoping that Mitch is the hero that everyone knows he is.

As Mitch lands successfully in the bad guy’s boat, he gets his bearings and quickly heads backward, presumably toward the controls. This is well out of Brody’s field of vision, but he can only expect that Mitch didn’t jump on the boat dramatically just to let him die. As if to validate Brody’s uncertainty, the boat starts to drift away, turning from the lifeguard boat enough to veer them apart.

The speed doesn’t slow, however.

The choppiness of the wake is jarring, and Brody watches in utter dismay as the lifeguard boat hits a rough patch and flips spectacularly through the air, landing with a loud crash in the ocean a short distance away.

Brody can’t help but notice that the front of the boat is smashed and destroyed as it quickly submerges and Brody’s boat speeds out of range.

That’s sobering.

As if Brody hadn’t been freaked out enough as it was.

Craning his neck, Brody tries to see behind him. “Mitch?!” he calls back, trying not to sound like a panicked little girl. He does, though. At the moment, he doesn’t care a lot. “Mitch, what the hell are you doing!”

There’s no reply.

In fact, the boat doesn’t even slow down.

They’re still moving, faster and faster as the ocean stretches out before them ominously.

If this is going to end, Brody would prefer it to end soon.

The stress on the case is getting to be a little unbearable.

Brody thinks that he’s being quite understated about this.

He’s strapped to a boat and what the hell is Mitch doing?

As if on cue -- and honestly, Brody’s not surprised at the notion of Mitch being able to read his mind, it would explain a lot, actually -- Mitch appears in Brody’s field of vision, his smooth head glinting in the sun as he stares down at Brody from above. He doesn’t look particularly pleased, and the windshield between them has a weird framing effect.

Possibly because Brody’s screwed up his case.

Also possibly because Brody’s been strapped to a vehicle.

Then Mitch says the possibility that Brody had not allowed himself to consider. “So, I have some bad news.”

That’s a funny way to start this, because duh, of course there’s bad news. There’s an infinite amount of bad news. Between the case and the kidnapping and the fact that Brody’s tied down to the front of a speeding boat, all the news is literally horrible.

Yet, just by looking at Mitch, Brody knows that’s not what he’s talking about.

There’s more bad news.

Brody actually whimpers. The sound of the waves mostly covers it, but what the hell. It’s not like Brody has any pride left anyway. “Like what?”

“Well,” Mitch says, casting a wary eye out at the ocean in front of them. He has to practically yell to be heard. “I can’t stop the boat.”

Brody gives him an incredulous look because honestly, that bit of information just doesn’t make any sense to Brody. Mitch is a seaman. Of course he can stop a boat. “Have you tried braking?” he yells back, and the sound of his own voice is far too loud in his ears, aggravating the headache that’s only getting worse.

Mitch shakes his head, somehow not exasperated by the question. “No, they’ve rigged a device to the accelerator.”

Brody doesn’t know what that means. Except he knows exactly what it means. It’s just that he doesn’t want it to mean what he thinks it means so he has to pretend like he has no clue what Mitch is saying. Fortunately, being stupid is one of Brody’s strengths. “A device?”

“A bomb,” Mitch confirms, and even an idiot like Brody can’t unthink that one. “I’m pretty sure that if I decrease the speed or kill the engine or whatever that it’ll explode.”

Oh, is all Brody can think for some reason. An explosion. So that’s how this ends.

Kidnapping, concussion, hostage, speeding boat, strapped down. Then, bang!

Mitch looks thoughtful, like he’s seriously considering other options. “Plus, we’re running low on gas.”

Brody would shrug if he could. He can’t, of course. He’s tied down, like, really tight, and his head is throbbing. None of it matters, though. Not with explosions as the endgame. “So?”

“So,” Mitch says. “Once we run out of gas, the boat stops. Everything explodes.”

Brody stares at him, wondering if he’s joking now.

It’s not a funny joke or anything, but there’s no way this is reality. This is like a movie now. Some ridiculous blockbuster that people laugh at and poke fun at for being so unrealistic. It’d be a best seller and there’d be stupid sequels that are terrible but still break records.

But Brody’s a lifeguard.

How is he here in the first place?

Distraught, Brody tries to keep his focus as his head bangs against the front of the boat again and again. Truly vexed now, he says, “I really think you should have called the cops.” He may be crying now; how is he supposed to tell when the spray of the ocean is soaking him. Everything hurts. His head hurts. His chest, his throat. He can’t think; he can’t breathe. “I told you these guys were going to try to kill you.”

It’s a strange thing to see Mitch inclined his head.

In agreement.

What the hell?

It’s possible Brody is imagining this. Maybe this is what happens when you have a concussion. Maybe this is the way trauma is starting to affect him. He could be having a total psychological breakdown, a shift away from reality.

Mitch is agreeing with him?

Now? Of all times?

“You may have been right,” Mitch says, with a small note of apology just barely audible over the waves.

Brody is so shocked that he can’t even be smug. To be fair, it’s hard to be smug when you’re splayed spread eagle on the front of a speeding boat. “What the hell does that mean?”

“It means that maybe backup would have been smart,” Mitch says. “These guys really aren’t messing around.”

“Seriously?” Brody asks.

“Not really,” Mitch says. “But I thought it might make you feel better.”

Brody stares.

Mitch is messing with him. Now, of all times. Brody shakes his head. “You’re so full of shit, Mitch.”

Now, Mitch grins. That full confident grin of his that says he has a plan.

He’s Mitch Buchannon.

He’s oceanic.

And he has a plan.

“I know,” he says, and he winks at Brody. Actually winks. “But I have an idea.”

“An idea that doesn’t involve explosions?” Brody presses.

“Oh, this boat is definitely going to explode,” Mitch tells him.

“Yeah, I’m not seeing how this is going to work, then,” Brody admits.

“Well, I don’t plan for either of us to be on the boat when it explodes,” Mitch explains. He says it like it makes total sense.

Except: “But I’m tied down to the boat!”

“So we untie you,” Mitch says, matter of fact, simple as pie.

Except: “If you untie me, I’m going to go flying off. And also, you can’t even reach the ropes from where you are. If you wanted to untie them, you’d have to practically climb up over the outside of the windshield and--”

Oh.

Oh.

Oh?

Mitch shakes his head, ever resolute. “If I’m careful, it’ll work.”

Sure, and if Brody were careful maybe he wouldn’t have gotten kidnapped. True, Mitch is Mitch and Brody is Brody, but there’s a lot in this present situation to contend with that Mitch is glossing over. “But if you screw up at all, if you slip or lose your grip -- you’re going to fall off,” Brody says, and how is he the reasonable one here? “This speed? You’ll die, Mitch.”

And then Brody will die

Boom!


Just like that.

“I won’t fall off,” Mitch says, and he has no doubts about that. It’s crazy to Brody, how someone can be so sure in themselves. Mitch is the kind of guy who always says what he means, always. Mitch has a lot of superpowers, but truth be told, that’s the one that Brody envies most. “I’m not going to die, and neither will you.”

Brody can’t argue it.

Well, he can. There are countless arguments to this, but Brody can’t bring himself to give voice to a single one. Because Mitch believes in what he’s saying. And damn it, Brody wants to believe him, too.

Because Mitch is here.

He’s gotten this far, against the odds. And Mitch, he always knows the right way to solve a problem, ways that no one else could ever think of. Because no one else would ever be brave enough to think of them. Mitch gets the best outcomes because he makes the hard choices, he puts himself on the line and he’s ruthlessly committed to the right thing, the best thing.

Shit, Mitch once blew up a chick after stabbing himself with a sea urchin.

If Mitch can do that, then he can do this.

Mitch believes it.

And Brody, despite all else, believes in Mitch.

It’s the core truth to Brody’s life. It’s the cornerstone to everything Brody is now. If Brody doesn’t have that, then what the hell? He’s better off dead.

Still, Brody holds Mitch gaze for one more second through the windshield. “Just promise me, next time,” he starts, finding strength to speak. “Promise me you’ll call the police next time.”

Mitch sighs a little, but he concedes. “Next time the Mexican mob shows up in the bay and threatens us, I’ll call the police,” he says. “For a consult.”

Brody makes a face. “That’s a little more specific than I was hoping for.”

Mitch shrugs. “Do you want me to save your ass?”

When he says it like that, Brody nods -- no matter how much it hurts. “Yes! Yes!”

“Then shut up,” Mitch orders him tersely. “And let me do this.”

-o-

Mitch orders him to be still, which seems funny to Brody.

He’s the one tied down.

It’s not like he’s going to go moving around here.

No, Brody’s already messed up this plan. Any solution Mitch comes up with now hinges entirely on Mitch’s capabilities. There’s nothing more or less Brody can do.

It’s hard to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Whatever, it’s a thing, and Mitch doesn’t seem to be dwelling on that nearly as much as Brody is. Of course, Mitch is too busy trying not to fall off a speeding boat to worry about those kind of things.

How is this seriously Brody’s life?

And he’s a lifeguard?

He wonders if all those caseworkers who warned him he’d never amount to anything would eat their words if they saw him now. Or maybe this just validates them. Brody’s got no idea.

No, all Brody knows is that he’s tied to a boat with a bomb on it and the only thing between him and inevitable disaster is Mitch Buchannon.

All the stories start differently.

They all end up exactly the same.

That’s good, though, Brody tries to think.

That has to be good.

Dear God, please let it be good.

By now, Mitch has mounted the dash of the boat, gripping the windshield tightly with both hands at the top as he carefully maneuvers one leg over it. It stops to steady himself, adjusting his fingers on the slippery glass as he methodically swings his other leg over.

Now he’s crouching on the front of the boat, a position that looks precarious and super awkward from where Brody’s positioned. After all, Mitch is barely hanging on -- his knuckles are all but white as he grips -- and he’s squatting, unsecured, on a boat flying across the top of the water.

He’s also squatting over Brody’s head.

Like, it’s not exactly Mitch balls in Brody’s face but pretty close.

It says something about the kind of day Brody is having that that hardly even seems like the worst thing to happen.

Before Brody can make any sort of commentary, Mitch is already moving. He rotates his body, moving one foot around the side of Brody’s head until his torso is turned. He has to let go with one hand, keeping the other firmly locked in on the windshield. Now it’s a balancing act with Mitch’s fingers struggling for purchase on the wet windshield and his bare feet all but baring down on the smooth, slick top of the boat.

The sheer force of the the wind and water is to much, and Mitch slips, his footing losing its way. His ass falls dangerously close to Brody’s head, but Brody’s gasp is all about his fear of watching Mitch spiral off into the water.

Mitch is ever resilient, however. Despite the slick surface, his grip on the windshield is unyielding, and he’s able to regain his footing quickly as he positions himself a little farther to the side. Here, he allows himself to stabilize before reaching into his pocket with one, impossibly steady hand. He pulls out a pocket knife.

This seems like a weird choice to Brody, but he’s a little slow on the uptake. At least, given the circumstances, he has a viable excuse for once. It’s not that Mitch is planning to stab Brody or throw knives at invisible enemies who are long since gone.

Mitch is going to cut him loose.

There’s an element of that Brody thinks is good. All things considered, he has not enjoyed his time being strapped to boat.

There’s also an element that seems less good. Because the only thing keeping him from certain and immediate death right now is fact that’s strapped to a boat.

That’s called being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Or, alternatively, just another day at the beach with Mitch.

Brody’s not sure if he’s about to protest or cheer Mitch on, but it makes absolutely no difference. Mitch has already started cutting the rope, keeping his precarious balance as he attacked the wet rope with strong, even strokes.

It goes faster than Brody expects.

It goes faster than Mitch expects.

Within 10 seconds -- four cuts, no more -- the rope gives way, and Brody hasn’t even had time to brace himself as his weight skitters across the slick top or the boat. The force nearly sends him hurtling off, and it’s all Mitch can do to grab onto Brody before he’s plunged off the other side with one arm still attached to the boa.

It’s a tense, breathless sort of moment, and Brody’s head is spinning for several long seconds before he comes to the conclusion that he’s not dead.

He’s still attached to the boat.

But, more importantly, Mitch has one hand wrapped around his free write. The other is still straining against the windshield. This time, his face is set with concentration, and it’s not hard to see that he’s working his ass off to keep them both from flying uncontrollable off.

Trembling, Brody remembers how to breathe.

For all the good it does him.

All it does is remind his addled brain that he’s still completely screwed. Mitch is barely holding Brody’s weight now, and if he lets go to undo the other rope, Brody’s going to make a short, fast trip into the water. Even if impact doesn’t kill him, the force of being dragged by his arm will.

Moreover, Mitch doesn’t have the knife anymore. The hand that had been holding the knife is now holding onto Brody, and there’s no way Mitch got it in his pocket that fast. Which means the job’s half done -- and there’s no feasible way to finish it without killing them both.

Brody comes to this conclusion first.

Mitch is the smarter one, but he never sees the common sense things Brody does. That’s why Brody always wants to call the police; Brody expects disaster whereas Mitch doesn’t. It’s not like that’s the kind of thing Brody likes to be right about.

But shit, it seems like Brody’s right today.

Over the noise, Brody struggled to find his voice. “Mitch! Get the hell out of here!”

Twisting his body, Mitch grimaces as he manages to make eye contact with Brody. “We’re going together!”

The pressure on Brody’s shoulder is mounting, and he can feel his skin starting to slide through Mitch’s grasp. They’re running out of time. “Don’t be stupid! If you jump clear, you can make it back to shore. You can still nail these bastards!”

Brody is a little impressed with himself. For all that he doesn’t want to die, he’s able to see beyond himself pretty well at the moment. The fact is, once he sees himself as a lost cause, it seems pointless not to see the big picture.

And Brody does care about the case. He’d like to think that he’s not going to die for nothing.

But he cares about Mitch more. The only way Mitch will let go is if he sees the greater good. He has to see the cost benefit analysis, and Brody’s life will always pale in comparison to the greater good.

His body skids a little farther off center, and Brody feels his feet go airborne. Unable to stop himself, Brody cries out a little. “Mitch, you got to go.”

Perched unsteadily as he is, Mitch’s expression is still somehow unyielding. The engine has reached a whining pitch beneath them, but somehow Mitch smiles.

How the hell is Mitch smiling?

He tightens his grip on Brody, adjusting his stance just so. “Do you trust me?”

It’s a hell of a question to ask now, when Brody’s entire survival hinges on Mitch. Brody is literally hanging on by Mitch’s fortitude, and even as he feels himself slipping, Mitch’s grip is tighter still.

Really, that’s not what makes the question ridiculous. No, the question is ridiculous because they both know the answer. They know it from the start.

They know it just as clearly, here, at the end.

Brody swears.

Because of everything.

Because he’s about to die.

Because Mitch isn’t letting go.

Because: “If I didn’t trust you, don’t you think I would have just called the cops myself? Back when this started?”

Brody will bitch and moan in the start.

In the end, though, he’s always trusted Mitch.

A grin twists on Mitch’s face, and he nods. “Good,” he says, hoisting Brody just slightly higher on the boat. “Because I’m going to need you to help me out with this next part.”

Brody is here trying to make his peace.

Mitch is there trying to make a plan.

Yeah, that seems about right.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Brody asks, trying not to feel the increasing vibrations at the boat’s engine begins to pitch out of control.

Mitch must hear it, too, but he’s utterly nonplussed. The bastard. “You have a free hand right now,” he says. He shrugs, somehow. “I don’t.”

Brody scowls, accounting for both his hands. One is tied; the other is clasped tightly in Mitch’s hands. “No, I don’t!”

Mitch rolls his eyes. With some effort, he scoots closer to Brody, sliding his one hand along the windshield until he’s able to secure his footing again. Then, with a grunt, he all but heaves Brody along. The surface of the boat slides beneath him, and Brody yelps as he’s thrown off kilter. It takes him a minute to get his wits about him, but he realizes what Mitch is doing.

Brody technically does have a free hand. Mitch is holding onto his wrist. The fingers are free. If Mitch can position them farther toward the rope, Brody would be able to use his fingers to attempt picking at the knot.

Of course, this plan requires Mitch to get them in the exact spot. The farther they move toward the side of the boat, the less space Brody has for his body. Even now, Brody can feel that his feet are off the edge. If they’re not careful, Brody will be sucked under.

And Mitch would likely come tumbling right after.

Brody is ready to protest, but the second he looks at Mitch, he knows there’s no point.

The question still stands: do you trust me?

Brody’s answer hasn’t changed.

That means there’s one thing left to do.

This time, it’s Brody who initiates the next movement, and he forcibly throws himself to the side, using his body mass to angle himself closer to the rope. It’s hard to see at the speed they’re moving, but Brody cranes his head to follow the line of the rope as it stretches to his wrist.

“These ropes are flimsy!” Mitch calls out to him. “I’m kind of surprised that you haven’t fallen off yet!”

“Great!” Brody yells back, working with Mitch to move a little more. This time, he feels himself slip a little farther off the edge, and Mitch grimaces to brace him. “I’m really pleased to know that I should be dead by now!”

“I’m just saying--” Mitch grunts, having to shift his feet as Brody inches his way, trying to scrabble his legs so they’re not so closer to the water. “--I think the knot should give without much effort!”

“Awesome,” Brody mutters, chewing his lip in concentration. With another scoot, he’s lined up, but there’s not quite enough slack. “I need to be farther down.”

Mitch has no quip for this, and his face is drained as he concentrates. With a step toward the edge, they’re closer than ever to disaster, but Mitch holds fast and firm, just like he always does.

And Brody?

Well, he’ll scramble for the finish, just like he always does. It’s not pretty; it’s not perfect; but Brody just hopes it’s effective.

From this position, Brody can get his fingers on the rope, but the knot is wet and hard to manipulate. He wastes precious seconds, scrabbling against it, and then the boat stutters and pitches to the side.

Brody feels himself fly all the way off, going airborne as his feet splash in the water. He’s prepared for that to be it, but from above him, somehow, Mitch yells and forcibly yanks him back.

Breathless with shock, Brody blinks rapidly. The boat is keening irregularly now. They’re out of time.

Brody looks desperately back a Mitch. “You can’t stay here,” he says. “You can’t.”

Mitch isn’t smiling anymore; there’s no trace of humor in his face. “I can’t do this alone.”

“Shit, Mitch,” Brody says. “You don’t have to. You can get off this boat.”

“No, I mean, this, all of it, Baywatch,” Mitch shoots back. “I can’t do it alone.”

Brody makes a face of utter disbelief. “Of course you can!”

Mitch is practically glaring at him now. “But I don’t want to!”

Mouth hanging open, Brody doesn’t know what to say.

There isn’t anything to say.

He’s been so focused on how he’s the weak link in the team that he’s never considered what Mitch thinks. That maybe it’s not about how good he is or what value he adds: maybe Mitch just likes him and trusts him.

Just like Brody likes and trusts Mitch.

There’s a give and take in that which Brody doesn’t expect.

He doesn’t feel so alone anymore.

Maybe that’s why Mitch never needs to call the police.

Because he’s not thinking about what they can’t do separately.

He’s looking at what they can do together.

“Fine!” Brody says. “But if we’re going to do this together, then you need to get me back in position!”

Mitch doesn’t need to be asked twice. He’s already moving, carefully positioning Brody back where the knot is, lowering him dangerously on the boat to give him better access. It’s obvious that Mitch’s own arm is strained to its limit, but Brody ignores that and focuses instead on his part of this job.

The knot.

All he has to do is untie a freakin’ knot.

Nevermind that no one taught him how to tie his shoes. Nevermind that he literally tied them once a year and slid them on and off the rest of the time. Brody can’t do this alone, sure.

But with Mitch?

Well, what the hell. Might as well find out.

The knot is tough still, but Brody pulls at a different part, picking his way around until something finally gives. The first tug loosens it, and Brody doesn’t let himself celebrate. Beneath him, the boat is shuddering now; Mitch’s face is stricken with the utmost concentration.

One more pull.

Brody has to twist his hand, and Mitch has to contort his arm to give Brody better access. He has to wiggle his wrist, pulling, prodding and--

The knot slips a little--

Then it slips all the way.

Surprised by the suddenness of his success, Brody shakes his other hand and the rope flies away. Mitch yells in agony, and Brody quickly turns his body using his newly freed hand to reach up and grab Mitch, thereby securing their connection.

The boat is rumbling now, and Brody wonders if they’re too late. Brody flings his legs up, maneuvering himself farther up the side of the boat to ease some of the pressure on Mitch’s arm.

Mitch uses the leeway to steer them farther to the side. The boat is starting to list now, bobbing up and down wildly. Brody’s not sure what the plan is, but he hopes Mitch tells him.

Now.

Before they explode.

“Okay,” Mitch yells at him, voice taut. Pain, concentration: all of it. “We’re going to jump!”

Brody hopes he’s misheard. “Um, wasn’t flying into the water what we were trying to avoid?” he asks.

The boat pitches a little more, and Brody can feel the engine starting to hiccup.

“We didn’t want to fly off the front,” Mitch says. “But if we jump off the side--”

“We could still get sucked beneath the wake!” Brody says. “If it doesn’t kill us, it’ll probably knock us out. We’ll drown!”

“I have enough leverage,” Mitch calls back. “I can jump us clear.”

“What?” Brody asks, because that’s insane. “Mitch--”

Mitch doesn’t listen. He never listens. “On the count of three--”

“Whoa, Mitch,” Brody says, his own voice starting to falter. “We need to think this through--”

Mitch yanks his a little more to the side, pulling him closer still until his arms are shaking with the effort. “Two--”

“Shit, Mitch, I don’t want to die--”

“Three!”

And that’s how it ends.

Two lifeguards, jumping into the ocean, nothing but trust between them to keep them alive.

Nothing but each other.

Nothing but--

-o-

For a split second, Brody is airborne. He feels himself spinning, wildly out of control with no sense of up or down or--

Then, with a force he’s expected but still can’t brace for, Brody hits the water. In all of this, Brody loses track of Mitch, and he blacks out momentarily upon impact. His consciousness spirals, and he’s not sure if he’s awake or not, and by the time that he realizes that he is in fact conscious, he’s already underwater.

Like, seriously underwater.

Brody has no sense of himself, and the disorientation from the jump is made worse by the aggravation of his head injury. Dazed, he kicks as if to swim, but without any directionality, there’s no telling where he’s going, what he’s doing.

His lungs are burning; his eyes won’t focus. He cries out in pain, and water floods his mouth. He swallows it accidentally, and it makes his chest seize and his stomach turn.

Shit, he’s drowning.

All of this shit, and he’s actually drowning.

He’s a gold medalist in swimming. He’s a Baywatch lifeguard.

And he’s going to drown.

Only now, when he takes another lungful of water, does he think that maybe exploding would have been the way to go. Less ironic, anyway. Fewer headlines. It’s a tossup to think which is worse: the swimmer who drowns or the Vomit Comet.

He feels himself convulse, and then he starts to fade.

That’s when something latches onto him, snagging him beneath the shoulders. A strong arm laces around his chest and heaves him up and up and--

When they break the surface, Brody is almost too surprised breathe. His chest constricts anyway, and he coughs and gags as seawater comes back out. He wretches -- of course he does -- but he’s being held steady.

After several long moments, the coughing subsides. It takes another few seconds for his breathing to calm down long enough for him to speak.

“So that didn’t end the way I thought it would,” Brody gasps.

Still propping Brody up while he treads water, Mitch grins in commiseration. “If it makes you feel better, that’s not how I thought it was going to end either.”

Brody tips his head to look at him. “What did you think was going to happen?”

“I thought we’d get the evidence, turn it over to the cops, they’d be arrest, no mess,” Mitch says sensibly.

This is laughable, all things considered.

Before Brody can point this out, though, there’s a careening thump in the distance. Brody looks over in time to see the boat explode.

It’s a big explosion.

Like, really big.

The boat is obliterated, tiny pieces and shards of wood and plastic spinning through the air. The fireball is big and brilliant, and Brody imagines there wouldn’t have been anything left of him to identify had he been on that boat.

“I thought it was going to end like that,” Brody admits.

Mitch looks a little sickly. “We did cut it kind of close.”

Brody is aware that he’s still letting Mitch cradle him, keeping him above the water, but he’s honestly too tired to care right now. “Thanks,” he says. “Exploding would have sucked.”

Mitch steadily treads water; he’s not even breaking a sweat. “I’m sorry that it needed to be saved,” he says. “I possibly underestimated these guys a little.”

“Eh,” Brody says, letting his head drop back against Mitch’s shoulder and closing his eyes in exhaustion. “I’m kind of getting used to it.”

Even with his eyes closed, Brody knows that Mitch is grinning again. Asshole. Brody would hate the bastard if he didn’t like him so damn much.

Cracking his eyes open, he musters a glare. “How far are we from shore, anyway?”

“Uh, miles,” Mitch says, assessing the horizon as if he can tell from the sheer stretches of absolute nothingness.

Brody follows his gaze but it hurts too much to really look. The sunlight is making his head throb.

Also, the near drowning is making his head throb.

Not to mention the whole being strapped to a boat.

In short, Brody’s head really hurts.

He sighs. “I don’t think I can swim miles,” he admits feebly. “I think you broke my wrist.”

Brody’s not sure why that’s the point he wants to make. His wrist does hurt, but he’s sure Mitch’s shoulder hurts more. And anyway, it’s the concussion that’s more likely to do him in.

“Well, next time I can let you fall off the boat,” Mitch offers.

Brody wrinkles his nose. “Next time?” he asks.

“I thought you were getting used to peril,” Mitch says.

“But how many times am I going to be strapped to a boat?” he asks. “Really?”

“I’d like to tell you not at all, but I don’t like lying,” Mitch says.

Brody lets his head drop back wearily. “I’m serious, Mitch,” he moans. “I don’t think I can swim back.”

Still treading, Mitch shrugs. “Well. Then you’ll have to die.”

Lifting his head, Brody gives him an incredulous look. “What the hell?”

Then, from somewhere in the distance, Brody hears sirens.

At first, he thinks he’s hallucinating. Sure, it’s possible the Coast Guard saw the explosion. But the odds of them having a boat within a mile’s radius to mount a rescue this fast?

Well, Brody doesn’t know those odds and he’s shitty at math, but it seems pretty damn unlikely.

Then, Mitch shrugs. This time, it’s a motion entirely made of affectation. “Yeah, so, here’s the thing,” he says. “I may have called the cops on this one.”

Brody straightens. “What?”

“I called the cops,” Mitch says. “From the boat. I figured with explosions imminent, we could use the backup.”

Brody could argue that it’s ridiculous that Mitch waited until he was on the boat, looking at a bomb to call for backup, but he can’t miss what this admission is.

He can’t.

He won’t.

The end is the beginning. The beginning is the end. Brody has to think this is what they call coming full circle.

He grins at Mitch. “You called the cops.”

“What can I say?” Mitch says diffidently. “They were going to kill you.”

It’s been a hell of a case. Brody’s been kidnapped, concussed, tied to a boat, rigged to a bomb, nearly drowned. But he’s alive.

And Mitch has called the cops.

Suddenly, this case doesn’t seem so bad at all.