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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Do You Hear What I Hear? (1/2)

December 17th, 2018 (08:54 pm)

Title: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: Fill for my loss of hearing prompt for hc_bingo. As usual, unbeta’ed and medically ridiculous and gratuitous h/c. That’s all you’re ever going to find from me. I know what I’m about.

Rating: M

Summary: So this is that story where Brody loses his hearing to finally start listening.



-o-

This is the story of how Brody doesn’t know how to listen.

Like, he can hear and shit, because he has working ears and that’s fine. But Brody’s never been much of a listener. Teachers and shrinks, they like to say that it’s because he’s got some learning disabilities and emotional impairments. They say that he’s got ADHD and that his abandonment issues make him prone to tuning people out and hearing only what he wants to hear.

His coaches, though, they never gave a shit. As long as Brody can hear that starting tone, it’s cool. That’s why Brody’s a good swimmer, see. You don’t have to listen. You just have to hear.

But Brody’s not a professional swimmer anymore. Or, like, not exclusively. Brody’s not sure about that. But he is sure that he’s a lifeguard. And lifeguards, according to Mitch’s weird expectations, have to do more than hear.

They have to listen.

So this is that story.

Where Brody loses his hearing.

To finally start listening.

-o-

It’s not that easy, though.

It’s never easy.

Especially when it should be.

“Are you listening, Brody?”

Brody startles and looks up. That’s when he realizes that everyone’s talking to him.

Shit.

His face reddens. He had been listening, a few minutes ago. He sort of tuned out after Mitch started talking about a string of bombings in the area that had absolutely nothing to do with lifeguarding. If it’s a case Mitch wants, he’s sure he’ll get brought up to speed in more practical and less pleasant ways.

Which means Mitch is probably talking about the weather report. Beach conditions and shit. Probably. To be safe, he keeps it simple. The best lies are the ones that are too vague to disprove. “Yeah, sure,” he says, and he thinks he does an acceptable job of making it sound like he’s not full of shit.

Mitch knows better. He lives with Brody; he knows Brody is almost always full of shit. With this in mind, Mitch looks at Brody, long and hard. As if he’s hoping Brody comes clean without being prompted to do so.

That’s possibly the mature and responsible thing to do.

So there’s about zero chances Brody’s going to do it.

Why would he? It doesn’t make sense to him to confess to something he hasn’t been accused of yet, even if he knows he should.

“Then what did I say?” Mitch asks.

Brody looks around, feeling a little bit anxious. It’s the morning briefing; everyone’s there. Summer is wincing sympathetically, and CJ looks unimpressed. Stephanie looks like she wants to throttle him, but that may just be Stephanie’s natural expression. Ronnie mouths something inarticulate at him as if to help him figure it out, and Brody looks back at Mitch not knowing what to make of any of it.

Instead, Brody does what he does best: he guesses and hopes for the best.

“High tide, strong currents,” he says. “Be careful out there.”

Mitch’s eyes narrow. He’s pissed off because Brody’s got basically the right answer even if he didn’t get totally the right answer. It’s enough to be pissed about, but it’s not enough to call Brody out about.

“Be careful out there today,” Mitch advises the group. “Go save some lives!”

It’s a nice little team break, and Brody is ready to leave. But Mitch snags him.

“Not you,” he says as Brody frowns. “We need to talk.”

-o-

Mitch waits until the rest of the team files out. Ronnie looks sorry at him on the way, and CJ is plaintive, like she’s sorry but not really because she knows it’s his own fault. Stephanie always seems to glare at him, and Brody’s used to it but it still makes him squirm a little because he’s not sure what to make of it.

He’s not sure what to make of any of it, not even Summer, who squeezes his hand on her way out. She says something about meeting him for lunch, but Brody’s not super listening at the moment.

That’s not totally his fault either. Mitch is all staring at him, and Brody has to worry about that first and foremost.

“I get it, I do,” Brody says before Mitch can start to speak. “I have to pay attention.”

He says this because it’s the right answer, the one Mitch wants to hear. Brody can only hope that saying it in advance will minimize the lecture he has to listen to.

Mitch is big into lectures, you see. He has all these points he wants to make, and there are all these lessons Brody is supposed to learn. It’s not that Brody doesn’t want to learn, but there are a lot of details. Mitch says things that seem really simple but when you think about them, they just make no sense.

“You say that,” Mitch says, and Brody can tell. He’s going to lecture again. “But I’m not sure you understand it.”

That’s the story of Brody’s life, but he has a limited desire to go over that. “I do understand,” he says, as fast and earnest as he can. He’s not sure fast and earnest are things that inherently go together but he tries anyway. “This job is all about paying attention.”

And, to be fair, Brody is good at the job. He sees people before they drown, and he’s gotten really good at making timely interventions. He’s also caught more sand grifters than anyone else on the beach, so not even Mitch can say he’s not good at the job.

Of course, Mitch just says something different. “It’s more than that,” he says. “You can’t just stand here and hear. You have to listen.”

This distinction is boring and frustrating to Brody. It’s the kind of shit people always tell Brody, but usually it’s some justification for why he’s not good enough. “But I’m good at this,” brody says, and he’s pleading a little now. “I know how to do the job.”

“But this is more than a job,” Mitch insists.

Brody groans. “It’s a way of life.”

Mitch is perturbed now. “It’s a family.”

Brody looks at Mitch desperately. “I know. I’m trying.”

“You’ve made progress, you have,” Mitch says. “But you need to do better.”

Brody makes a face. “And how does the morning briefing help me do that?”

Mitch sighs. “It’s not about the words, Brody,” he says. “It’s what they mean.”

Brody shakes his head. “Are there multiple ways to understand the weather report and wave conditions?”

“That’s my point, Brody. Right there,”Mitch says with emphasis. “You don’t see the value in conversation. You don’t realize what there is to be gained from discussion. This isn’t just about conditions. It’s about what makes us a team.”

That sounds nice and all.

It’s also total nonsense.

Seriously, it’s feel good teamspeak gibberish.

“Honestly,” Brody says. “I have no idea what that means.”

“It means,” Mitch says with more patience than Brody is probably entitled. “You need to hear the things we aren’t saying. Those are the things that matter most.”

“Seriously?” Brody asks. “Then why not say those things and not the other things?”

This time, Mitch does roll his eyes. “Because we shouldn’t have to, jackass.”

“I don’t get it,” Brody admits.

“I know, I know,” Mitch says, a bit resigned now. “Look, we can talk about this later, okay?”

Brody is skeptical. “And you’ll tell me? No guessing games?”

“As long as you’re willing to listen,” Mitch says.

This seems like a trap somehow, but Mitch is a dude who says what he means. He’s not going to outright lie to Brody, even if there are a few catches involved. “Okay,” Brody agrees. “I’ll bring my listening ears.”

“Do you really have a pair?” Mitch jokes, and this time, at least he’s smiling.

“Only in case of emergencies,” Brody banters back.

Because the words still sound ominous, but if Mitch is smiling, then things can’t be too bad.

-o-

When Brody makes his way out to the tower, he actually feels pretty good. Sure, it’s sort of sucky to be called out in front of the group. And okay, he doesn’t, like, really want to have some weird heart to heart with Mitch about how he needs to become a better human being, but whatever. Brody’s been through worse.

He’s not sure that’s actually the most ringing endorsement in the world, but whatever. For reasons Brody can’t quite understand, he belongs here. People like him, more or less. Ronnie wants to be his friend and do guy stuff. CJ likes to tell jokes with him. Summer now admits that she enjoys kiss him and shit. Stephanie at least tolerates him, so that’s something.

And Mitch lets him live with him. He makes sure Brody goes to work and does his job and all that. Compared to his life before Baywatch, that’s about as good as it gets.

Especially since Brody’s a lazy asshole who never seems to listen to anything. It’s not like he actually belongs here. They’ll probably figure it out sooner or later, but Brody’s okay with enjoying things while he can.

Who knows, maybe he will learn.

Maybe he’ll figure out how to listen.

It’s not his fault that Ronnie tells terrible stories and has a tendencies to start speaking geek in a way that makes Brody’s eyes glaze over. It’s also not his fault that CJ will randomly see something cute and start talking in that high pitched voice that’s just super weird. And it’s possibly his fault that Stephanie has to glare at him a lot because he’s late or he’s forgot his paperwork or because there’s a protocol he didn’t follow precisely.

And no one’s going to blame him for the fact that his brain stops working as soon as Summer touches his dick and takes off her shirt. She wants to have this long meaningful conversations when they’re naked, but Brody’s just thinking about sex.

Not his fault.

No one can listen under those conditions.

As for Mitch, well, Mitch is a little harder to pin down. Sometimes he’s cool and shit and they get along fine. But then sometimes Mitch randomly expects Brody to act some particular way and they get into these fights about things Brody can’t even make sense of. He doesn’t get why Mitch lets him live in his spare room rent free but then freaks out when he leaves his wet clothes in the washing machine. It doesn’t make sense to spend so much time and energy on Brody’s training but then to chew him out in front of the whole staff.

Brody shrugs to himself at the thought as he makes his way to tower two. It’s a lot to think about, too much really, and no one’s ever accused Brody of thinking too hard. He’s pretty sure that’s an impossibility for him, and whatever.

Still, he’s actually so lost in thought that he just barely hears Mitch’s voice calling from behind him.

Brody thinks that’s weird, since he and Mitch just talked back at HQ, but the thing is, he’s not really listening.

Turning, he glances back to see Mitch jogging up the beach after him.

Not jogging, running. Waving his hands.

Brody cocks his head. “What?” he calls back. “I didn’t hear you!”

Irony, that’s called.

Because when Brody finally decides to listen, Mitch’s voice is drowned out by the sound of an explosion as it rips through tower two behind him. He’s launched from the ramp, which he has just started to climb, and flung hard through the air until he crashes against the sand with unexpected force.

He hears people scream, and he belatedly realizes what Mitch was trying to tell him. The words make sense now, reverberating through his head with the ringing of his ears.

There’s a bomb in tower two! There’s a bomb!

Turns out, that bit about the bombs in the area was important after all.

Too bad Brody hadn’t been listening.

It doesn’t matter much now, however. Not when Brody’s skin is on fire, his chest heads and his head throbs. He feels something hot and wet trickle from his ears as the ringing rises to a deafening pitch.

He hears the pounding of his heart. He hears Stephanie asking if Brody’s paying attention. Ronnie says he’ll see Brody after work, and CJ pulls him aside to tell him this joke she heard. Summer is asking what he wants to do on their date this weekend, and Mitch tells Brody he has to learn to listen.

It’s too much. Too much, too loud, too fast, too hard. The roar is becoming a cacophony, and Brody hears himself scream.

Then, mercifully, he passes out to silence.

-o-

The thing is, Brody’s not that into silence.

Just like he doesn’t really like being alone.

It means he has to listen to himself, and that’s just bullshit. He doesn’t even like himself half the time, and if he’s forced to think about what he’s doing, then he has to realize he’s a moron who deserves every bad thing that’s ever happened to him.

That’s why Brody is loud and obnoxious and always on the lookout for someone new to talk to. Because he’ll tolerate a string of people he doesn’t know or like very much if that means he doesn’t have to deal with himself.

In the silence.

In the silence.

Brody’s eyes are open and he’s screaming. When he can’t hear his own voice, he screams a little louder, feeling himself start to get desperate. Then, he’s grounded by two hands on the side of his face, forcing his eyes to look up, look up, look up.

Brody thinks someone says it, but he can’t actually figure out where the words are coming from. When he blinks, his vision clears enough and he finally realizes that the hands on the side of his face are Mitch’s.

Mitch is sitting right above him, in fact, and Brody’s flat on his back. The pressure on his cheeks is pronounced, but it does little to compete with the utter pounding in his head. It feels like it’s about to explode.

Brody’s eyes widen.

“Shit, Mitch,” he says. “The tower exploded.”

His voice doesn’t seem to be working, though. No words come out and Brody feels himself start to panic. He shakes his head, struggling to take a breath.

“Mitch,” he says, and he’s crying now. Okay, he’s really crying, but he can’t stop. “I can’t talk--”

But Mitch shakes his head over him, and it’s only then that Brody realizes that Mitch is talking to him. His mouth is moving, but there are no words coming out.

Brody has to listen; he has to listen. He promised to bring his listening ears.

“What?” Brody asks, and he feels the oxygen pull in his lungs but his words are silent. His breathing hitches, his panic ramping up. “What?”

Mitch holds his face tighter, and someone else is there, prodding at something that hurts on his leg, his arm, his head. Everything hurts. Mitch’s mouth moves again.

“I can’t hear you,” Brody says, trying to explain. This time, it’s not his fault. This time, it’s not him.

Mitch’s mouth moves again.

The only thing Brody hears is his own heartbeat as his panic devolves into abject terror.

“Shit,” he says, blinking rapidly as he loses his focus. He can feel his mouth moving, but where are the words? Where’s the sound? It’s gone; it’s gone. And Brody’s not long after. “Shit.”

Mitch leans down, until their noses are almost touching. Brody can see the inflection in his eyes, feel his breath on Brody’s skin.

By now, the silence is roaring.

“What’s going on?” he screams until his voice seems raw and the silence claims him once again.

-o-

Usually, sleep makes things better. Shit is almost never as bad as it seemed the night before. And Brody’s been through some bad shit, okay. So he knows what he’s talking about.

This time, however, he’s wrong.

Waking up isn’t better.

It’s not even a little better.

In fact, it’s worse.

It’s so much worse.

When he opens his eyes, the blackness gives way to blinding light. Seriously, it’s so bright the Brody almost has to close his eyes again, and he tries to turn his head away. This immediately seems like a bad idea, because it sets off every pain receptor in his body and his ears start to ring.

Except his ears have been ringing all along.

Not just a little ringing, like after a concert or a night at the club.

Ringing so loud that he can’t hear anything else.

He takes a staggered breath, which he can hear grating against the inside of his ears. When he tries to focus again, this time, there are faces in front of the lights.

That’s not any better, in case some might think it would be. See, these faces aren’t ones he knows. Some of them are wearing, like, these masks. Surgical masks? Is that what they’re called?

Brody blinks, feeling his heart rate increase to rapid rates. Is in the hospital? Why is he in the hospital.

Because he blew up, that’s why.

Brody forces himself to breathe, in and out, in and out. But then someone turns his head toward them, choosing to blind him with another light right when he almost got used to the last one. The light is directed at one eye and another, and when Brody tries to pull away someone else puts a hand on his forehead to steady him before swabbing something inside his ears.

He feels that, and it sends a tingle down his spine, and he finally asks, “What the hell are you doing?”

His voice is doing that thing again. That thing where he opens his mouth and makes words that never come to be. He’s about to ask them about that when someone else gets in front of him. She has her mask thing off, at least, and she smiles at him like it’s all going to be just fine.

But then her mouth moves.

And no sound comes out.

“What?” he asks, or tries to ask. There’s no way for him to no at this point; the ringing in his ears is too loud. That’s it. The ringing in his ears. “I can’t hear you.”

The woman nods along, as if truly sympathetic. Then she moves her lips again.

Brody shakes his head. He’s shivering, because he’s cold, because someone took his shirt away and maybe his pants. He can’t tell, and for some reason, the fact that he’s probably naked isn’t actually his biggest concern right now. “I can’t hear you! You’re not listening to me!”

She stands up, turning to one of the other people and shakes her head. Brody reaches out his hand to grab for her -- at least he’s got some fine motor function left -- and snags her arm. She looks back, surprised.

“What’s going on?” he asks, hoping that they can understand even if he can’t.

She doesn’t answer this time, doesn’t try. Instead, she steps away as the crowd of figures surround him once again. Someone prods his ribs, and he gasps, inhaling sharply as the sudden movement makes his headache intensify with a force Brody’s not prepared for.

He curses, trying to reach a hand up to rub his head, but someone holds his hands down. He struggles, but then someone presses his head back, shining the light into his eyes again.

“What the hell!” Brody yells, as loud as he can, just in case his voice really does still work. “You’re not listening to me! You’re not listening!”

They’re not, you see. Because Brody yells and cries but they don’t look at him anymore, they don’t even see him.

The ringing in his ears eclipses everything.

It eclipses him.

Brody doesn’t understand at all.

But at least when he passes out, he really doesn’t have to.

It’s the easy way to do things, but everyone knows by now that Brody will cut corners wherever and whenever he can.

-o-

It doesn’t last, though.

That’s technically a good thing. If Brody hadn’t woken up, it would mean that he’s dead, and Brody likes to cut corners but he really would prefer not to die.

That said, shit.

It doesn’t last nearly long enough.

At least this time, when he wakes up, it’s not super bright and there aren’t weird people standing over him causing him undue amounts of pain. However, it seems like this is still a hospital, because it’s one of those blank generic tile ceilings and Brody is absently counting holes for like five seconds before he realizes that there are better things for him to be doing.

What, okay, so he’s not sure.

But he should probably know what the hell is going on.

Looking around, he sees a bank of equipment with some monitors that are quiet. The room is small but private, and the lights have been dimmer. The curtains have been drawn as well, but Brody can tell that it’s still light outside.

Which means it’s probably been less than a day since his tower blew up.

Seriously, did his tower blow up?

Brody thinks about this, starting absently at the closed curtains, wondering if it’s possible that he imagined the part where there was a massive explosion in tower two.

Of course, if he imagined that bit, then there’s no explanation for why he’s in the hospital feeling surprisingly good.

He glances back at the monitors, which suggest he’s not actually good, and then he finally remembers the only good thing about hospitals: drugs.

They give really good drugs.

Brody only knows this because he once blew out his hamstring in training, and it was absolute agony and he was scared to get it looked at it because he was scared they would tell him he was done swimming. Of course, the fact that he couldn’t walk made it a moot point, but then he’d gotten to the hospital and they gave him drugs.

Brody’s drank all the alcohol in the world, but he’s never been big into drugs -- that’s what got him into trouble after Rio, honestly, because he’s a stupid asshole who knows nothing about drugs -- but those were good drugs. One injection and Brody hadn’t cared whether or not he might swim again.

The good news was that he could swim again, after extensive therapy and like months of pain.

The bad news is that they don’t give you the drugs all the time. Just right away, when the pain is so bad that you can’t function, that it makes you scream and cry and pass out.

Right.

Brody remembers that part now.

Not his finest moment.

But then, he once puked in a pool during a race at the Olympics and tanked his team’s chances of medaling while torpedoing his career. So he’s had worse.

Although this started with exploding towers. So, yeah, it’s pretty bad, too.

Tiredly, he rolls his head to the other side, expecting more of the same. He’s surprised, therefore, when he sees a chair not far from the bed, Mitch slumped in it with his eyes closed. The dude looks beat.

And this is Mitch Buchannon. Brody’s seen him run for miles, lift hundreds of pounds, swim through riptides and not break a sweat.

But he looks exhausted.

That’s strangely reassuring, and Brody’s not entirely sure why. He just knows that he can feel his heart in his chest. He can feel the air as it pulls through his lungs. He knows Mitch is right there.

It’s okay now.

Brody’s okay.

He takes a moment to appreciate that. Like, really appreciate it. A lot of things in Brody’s life, they haven’t been okay. In fact, Brody’s always braced for disaster, for the worst case scenario.

But here he is.

His tower blew up this morning, but he’s okay.

He’s well and truly okay.

He’s still appreciating the clarity of this revelation when Mitch stirs from his precarious position on the chair. Brody watches, amused in his drugged-hazed, as Mitch opens his eyes and realizes that Brody’s awake.

It’s actually amazing, if he’s honest. The way Mitch’s face goes from nothing to everything in a split second. The way his eye light up when he realizes, when he sees Brody.

No one’s looked at him like that.

Ever.

Brody’s not sure what the hell that means, and there’s not time to think on it anymore, even if he were so inclined, which he’s not. Really, he’s just not.

Mitch sits forward, elbows on his knees as he smiled that easy, confident smile. Brody’s never noticed that it’s forced before, but not in that pained way that people usually smile. It’s forced in the sense that Mitch means to be happy even when something is bothering him inside.

He means to be happy for Brody, even though it’s probably a little bothersome to him that Brody’s gone and exploded himself.

That thought process right there; that’s the drugs.

Brody likes the drugs.

Then, Mitch opens his mouth and starts to speak.


Well, he’s supposed to.

The lips are moving, but there’s no sound coming out. Brody sits up a little bit, frowning as he tries to concentrate. His first response is that he’s doing it wrong.

He’s not sure how he can be willfully screwing this up, but he’s the kind of guy who can screw up anything, so he tries a little more.

Mitch is frowning, too, now, because he’s probably noticed that Brody is failing to engage in something as routine as conversation and speech.

Mitch’s mouth moves again, a little slower this time, and Brody comes to the realization a lot slower than he probably should.

See, Brody’s not having a problem with conversation or speech.

No, Brody’s have a problem with hearing.

He puts the clues together a lot faster now, a swell of understanding rushing through him. There’s a reason the hospital is so quiet. There’s a reason he can’t hear his own heart monitor. There’s a reason he can’t even hear himself breathe and why Mitch’s mouth is moving but there’s no sound coming out.

The same reason no one made any sense in the emergency room.

The same reason Brody was screaming hysterically on the beach.

The same reason his ears were ringing.

The same reason there’s a void where his sense of hearing should be.

Brody can’t hear.

-o-

He’s not panicking.

Brody tells himself this.

He’s not panicking. He can’t be panicking. He’s totally not going to panic. No, nope, not at all. This is definitely not panicking.

He’s not panicking.

Except for that he really, clearly is.

Brody’s in denial about this, but Mitch seems to be well prepared for it. He reaches over, taking Brody’s hand in his own. It’s a little weird. Okay, a lot weird. But it is calming enough that Brody manages not to hyperventilate while Mitch moves his mouth slowly and purposefully.

Brody shakes his head, vision too blurred to even make heads or tails of it. “What?” he asks, which is stupid to ask because he can’t even hear his own voice, much less Mitch’s reply.

Mitch squeezes his hand a little tighter as Brody’s heart skips a few beats. He moves his mouth again, almost in an exaggerated fashion.

Brody thinks he should be able to figure it out, but he’s losing his shit right now. He can’t hear, and he blew up, and what the hell. He shakes his head, using his free hand to point to his ear. “I can’t hear you,” he says, and he wonders if his voice is hitching. It feels like his voice is hitching. Just like it feels like he’s probably borderline hysterical at the moment.

With a sigh, Mitch finally let go of Brody’s hand.

The loss of contact made Brody’s heart rate spike again, and he’s on his way to a full blown panic attack when he realizes that Mitch has merely reached for a pad of paper and a pencil that has been situated bedside. That’s convenient, Brody thinks vaguely while Mitch starts to write.

Or, more likely, Mitch knows what the hell is going on.

Mitch always knows.

Brody’s the last to know.

Even when it’s own damn ears in question.

“Man, what’s going on,” he says, or tries to say. He has no idea and he feels something burning in his eyes. “What the hell?”

Mitch holds up a hand, as if to placate Brody, just for a moment.

A moment.

How many moments has it been since the explosion?

Will the sound of his own screams be the last thing he ever hears?

He can’t do this.

He really can’t do this.

Just when Brody thinks he can’t possibly do this any longer, Mitch holds up the pad of paper.

The writing is legible and blocky and big, but Brody still has to blink his eyes several times before he can make sense of anything it says.

That’s pretty pathetic, because all it says is: You’re going to be fine.

The simplistic thought is surely supposed to be comforting, but Brody finds it too ridiculous to find much comfort in it at the moment. Because there are some fundamental facts that contradict Mitch’s statement. For starters: “But I can’t hear you. I can’t hear anything.”

Mitch nods, super patient, and he takes to scribbling purposefully on the notepad again. Brody watches him for the lack of something better to do, trying not to be preoccupied by the fact that he can’t hear the sound of the pencil scratching over the surface of the paper.

That’s a distinctive sound, after all. Writing. Something he’s never thought about before until he watches Mitch write without a single noise at all.

Mitch hastily holds up the paper. The blocky letters are still bold and clear, but Brody’s heart is pounding and his palms are starting to sweat as he tries to read. You were in an explosion.

Brody doesn’t want to be annoyed, but seriously, that’s stating the obvious. Mitch thinks he’s an idiot, probably. Or maybe he just has a head injury.

A head injury would make sense, actually.

Brody shakes his head, trying to focus. “Yeah, I know,” he says, and it’s weird to work his voice without hearing it. He’s not sure if he’s whispering or screaming or what. “I remember that.”

Mitch is already writing away. He has an unfair advantage, being able to hear. He can listen to Brody and start to write all at the same time. Brody should be used to being the slow one, but it sucks more than usual right now because for once it’s not his fault.

Mitch has turned over a new page, and the blocky letters are thrust toward him. You were very close to the blast.

There’s something about it, something about the way Mitch writes very like it matters. It matters, of course.

Brody was in an explosion.

He was very close to the blast.

He’s still trying to process the full implications of this when Mitch adds a note to the page. You’re lucky to be alive.

This time, Brody laughs, and it feels taut in his throat. “This doesn’t feel lucky,” he says, and he’s getting hysterical now. He hopes Mitch can’t tell. “This feels really, really unlucky.”

Brody says this because he knows what it’s like to be unlucky. He’s spent his life being unlucky.

And this doesn’t even compare.

He’s not even aware that Mitch is writing when another piece of paper is thrust in front of him. This one is informative, at least. You have a head injury. A hematoma.

At least, it might be informative if Brody had any idea what a hematoma is.

Before Brody can admit that he has no clue what that means, Mitch has handed him a piece of paper that he picked up from the bedside table. It’s not one that Mitch wrote out; it’s typed and formal, like someone has gone and printed it off from WedMD. At the top, it says Hematomas and the passage follows with a general description and various symptoms. The symptoms include headache, disorientation and other shit.

None of the symptoms are hearing loss.

Brody scans over the complications.

Death.

He looks up at Mitch. “Am I going to die?”

Mitch shakes his head, and he hurriedly writes another note before Brody can descend even further into panic. He takes the note anxiously, reading it several times to makes sense of it.

It’s a small bleed in your brain.

When Brody looks up, Mitch is smiling, like that’s supposed to make everything better. Brody holds up the paper, and shakes his head. “But I thought you said I was fine!”

Mitch sighs, clearly disappointed that this tactic isn’t working quite as well as he had hoped. He writes with a little less gusto this time, but still produces a not for Brody to read. You will be. The doctors think yours will go away on its own.

Brody finishes reading this in time for Mitch to hand him another.

They’re monitoring your condition, but so far so good.

There’s no way this makes sense, because Brody can’t get over one important detail: “But you just said my brain was bleeding!”

Mitch flips through the notes and finds the first one again, putting it back on top of the growing pile on Brody’s lap. You’re going to be fine.

This seems unlikely.

Like, very unlikely.

The problem is, though, that Brody has no basis to argue otherwise. He’s not a doctor, and the printout is supposed to be a helpful reference made for stupid people, but Brody’s stupider than most people and he’s the one with a bleed in the brain so maybe it’s not his fault that he can’t make heads or tails of it.

Besides, Brody’s not a good reader and he barely eeked out a high school diploma so there’s no way he can argue that point with Mitch and actually win.

But he has another point.

He’s not actually sure it’s a more important point, but honestly, it’s just as distressing.

More distressing, really.

You can’t tell you have a bleed in the brain when you’re just chilling on your hospital bed.

You can totally tell, however, when you can’t hear a damn thing.


“Okay,” he says, and he’s trying not to sound like he’s freaking out even though he’s totally freaking out. “But what’s wrong with my ears?”

The thing is, there’s no way to ask that question without freaking out. You have to freak out; you do. When you can’t hear anything, it’s total justification for any freakout you damn well want.

Mitch, however, is almost infuriatingly calm as he writes a new note and hands it to Brody.

Your eardrums ruptured in the blast.

Brody rereads this several times and he still has no idea what the hell it means. He’s heard of eardrums, probably, but if he can’t read better than a seventh grader, then he probably doesn’t know biology better than one, either.

And how do they rupture?

Why do they rupture?

And will he get his hearing back?

Brody puts down the paper and implores Mitch, “What the hell does that even mean?”

He’s not even surprised when Mitch has a new answer ready to go before he can ask the question. It’s why you can’t hear.

It’s some consolation that Mitch doesn’t try to explain the how’s and why’s. Brody’s a bit too emotionally unhinged right now to process anything, and he never does well making sense of shit in writing. He needs to see and do. He needs to hear.

There’s that irony shit again.

So much irony.

He swallows. It sucks. He can feel it, but he can’t hear it. He can’t hear anything. “Okay,” he ventures, and he swallows because it feels like his voice is breaking. He can’t say for sure if it is, of course. Which makes it all worse. “But they can fix it, right?”

Nodding along in what seems to be encouragement, Mitch write another hasty note for Brody. Your ears will heal with time.

There’s something intentionally vague about that, vague enough that Brody needs it clarified. Really, he needs it said, out loud. But since he can’t hear, he’ll settle for writing. “And then I’ll be able to hear again?”

Mitch hesitates before he writes.

Shit, Brody thinks. Mitch is hesitating. If Mitch is hesitating, then there’s a reason for hesitating. Brody feels his heart pound, and the more he thinks about it, he thinks he can feel the slow trickle of blood in his brain. That’s probably not possible, but it’s easy enough to imagine without any other sound to distract him.

Brody needs to hear, okay.

He needs to hear or he’s going to imagine himself bleeding to death in his own skull.

And mostly, he needs Mitch not to hesitate when Brody needs him to be absolutely, unequivocally certain about this.

When Mitch finally hands Brody the notes, Brody is bracing himself A lot.

That’s the hope.

It’s a short note. That short of a note shouldn’t take so long, which means Mitch struggled to write it.

Which means he’s choosing his words really carefully.

Which means hope is the key word.

Which means Mitch isn’t sure Brody’s ears will heal.

Which means: “I might never hear again?”

The question almost makes Mitch looked pain, and he’s all but wincing as he writes out another quick note. Brody’s dumb, but he’s not that dumb, and he feels saliva fill anxiously in the back of his throat while he tries to control his breathing by degrees.

Most people do.

Brody can hear what Mitch isn’t saying. Funny, right? For Brody to hear anything right now? But he gets it, okay. He gets it. He swallows the pooling saliva, but he knows his voice is shaky when he speaks again even if he can’t hear the waver. He can feel it. “But some don’t?”

There’s something to that, something heavier than Brody knows how to quite comprehend. He’s not sure how to fathom it, how to grasp what it means to be like this forever. To never hear another sound. To never hear the splash of the water. To never heard the sound of a laugh. To never hear Summer say I love you or to hear Mitch call him by his actual name.

He tries to imagine a life filled with silence, and it’s a step too far or him. Without the noise of life, he’ll have to recognize the reality of his life, and that’s not usually a good thing for him.

To make matter worse, Mitch is hesitating again. He’s thinking this one through, as if he thinks there’s some better way to frame this situation.

This situation.

Brody’s chest constricts, his stomach flips. His palms are even sweatier and he feels more than vaguely nauseous. “Shit,” he says, and he feels the tears burning more than before. “I’m deaf?”

Mitch shakes his head and writes astutely. You have temporary hearing loss.

Brody doesn’t give a shit about the equivocation. He’s looking for the bottom line. In his life, it’s better to assume the worst instead of hope for the best. That’s the only way to survive the inevitable disappointment of being alive. “So, I’m deaf,” Brody concludes again, and the words feel more solidified when he speaks them now.

If he has any doubts, the silence is a resounding affirmation.

Mitch holds up another note, looking distressed. That’s not what I said.

Maybe not, Brody thinks. But that’s sure as hell what he heard.

-o-

Brody doesn’t quite panic, but he’s really on edge when Mitch finally tells the nursing staff that he’s awake. At least, this is what Brody assumes Mitch tells them. He could be asking them out on dates or telling them about crabs in the bay for all Brody can tell.

When the doctor comes to check on him, Brody can tell the dude’s kind of an asshole, and he seems a bit put out by the fact that he has to have a nurse write down all the things he wants to say. The nurse seems a bit put out by that fact, too, and her handwriting is not as easy to read as Mitch’s.

Plus, it’s a lot of shit to read. Some of it is technical, and Brody’s capacity to care is limited. The gist is Brody got blown up and the impact blew out his eardrums and bashed his brain around. That’s why he’s got a small bleed in the brain that should resolve on its own within several weeks. His eardrums should heal within that time frame as well, though they want Brody to watch for signs of complications and infection. Things like headaches, bloody discharge from the ears, so on and so forth.

After the long written description of what is wrong with Brody, the doctor has the nurse try to be positive. She writes with a smile that he’s pretty lucky that the damage was so limited. He has a few cracked ribs, but there’s no sign of other internal injury. The burns and abrasions are minor, and it seems like the explosive was intended to make a show rather than do significant damage.

Brody has to reread that bit several times because he’s pretty tired from all the reading and because he’s not sure what to hell to make of that. He looks quizzically at the nurse, who smiles at him warmly. Then he looks at the doctor, who is peering into Brody’s ears with sheer indifference to the look on Brody’s face.

Finally, Brody says, “Well, this does seem pretty damaging.”

The nurse goes wide eyed, but a look from the doctor brings her back to attention. Brody watches an exchange between the two of them, during which time the nurse glances apprehensively at Brody. After a prolonged back and forth, the nurse writes, You could be dead.

She doesn’t look thrilled about the sentiment, and it’s too short of a message to capture the true essence of what was spoken. It probably doesn’t matter, Brody decides. People say shit they don’t mean all the time. Even doctors and nurses. Probably especially them. Brody has an inherent distrust of people in power. He’s never really met one -- outside of Mitch -- who has used that power well.

Usually those are the people who can help him most.

And have absolutely zero follow through on any of it.

You’re supposed to be grateful to people who save your life, Brody knows that.

Still.

He makes a face, looking from the nurse directly at the doctor. The dude won’t look at Brody when he speaks, but just because he can’t hear shit doesn’t mean that he’s not here. “And you could be less of an asshole, maybe.”

The doctor stares at Brody, completely unamused. He looks like he’d rather just let Brody die next time, if he had the choice.

Whatever.

That’s fine.

The dude doesn’t have to be amused.

Besides, Brody’s far less amused by this situations, he’s pretty damn sure.

-o-

He’s relieved when the doctor leaves, but he’s less relieved when he realizes that he has to stay in the hospital until his stupid brain bleed resolves. It seems annoying to him that everyone is all concerned about his brain and that no one seems concerned about the fact that Brody’s deaf.

They can call it whatever they like but they’re not the one who doesn’t hear anything. They’re not the ones with silence ringing in their ears. They’re not the ones who close their eyes and disappear from existence.

A brain bleed sounds terrible, sure.

But being deaf is terrible.

Brody comes to this conclusion almost immediately, and almost immediately wants to curl up in a ball and die.

When Mitch comes back into the room, he’s being far too upbeat, and Brody gives him a weary, long suffering look.

Mitch has a fresh pad of paper and is now equipped with a marker. He seems quite pleased by this as he writes. See? You’re going to be fine.

“I still can’t hear,” Brody complains. He’s whining, so he knows it sounds kind of petty, but seriously, it’s not petty. He’s got good cause to be whiny. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Mitch’s expression is that one he gives Brody when he’s trying not to be exasperated even though he thinks Brody’s being absolutely exasperating. Mitch gives him this look a surprising amount. It’s been less than a day.

This is a horrible realization. It feels like it’s been a lifetime. Brody is sitting there, trying to remember what the waves sound like when they crash against the beach, what a good beat sounds like at a club, what the sound of a starting buzzer is like when a race begins.

And it hasn’t been a day.

Mitch’s brow is quizzical now as he writes another note. It can takes weeks for your eardrums to heal.

Brody’s not sure why Mitch is trying to act like this is a good thing. “That’s a long time, though.”

Mitch shakes his head and writes, It won’t be so bad.

It’s almost audacious for Mitch to write that, for him to suggest that it’s not so bad to be stuck in a hospital bed without any hearing whatsoever. The silence is suffocating. And it’s weird. Like watching a movie on mute, none of it quite makes sense even if you kind of get the gist. Brody’s had a hard enough time trying to fit in, how the hell is he supposed to do it when can’t even hear what people are saying?

With that, Brody’s not sure if he wants to be pissed off or just really, really sad. Instead, he ends up whining again. “I don’t think I can make it weeks.”

Mitch draws a breath and Brody watches as he lets it out. That’s what a sigh is, not the sound, but the movement. When he watches it, it almost seems more resigned that way, even if Mitch is trying to hide it audibly. It’s not so bad. Promise.

The word promise is underlined for emphasis. Mitch has had his hesitations during this silent catastrophe, but he’s certainly got no second guessing about that fact. Brody wants to take some comfort in that, but it’s hard.

He feels disconnected from his own body, separated from his own existence. He’s not sure how to make sense of his other senses when he’s lost one of them. It’s all off kilter, and not even Mitch Buchannon’s fortitude can fix that so fast.

Brody swallows, and he hates how empty it sounds.

Or doesn’t sound.

He shakes his head. “I don’t know if I’m even going to make it through today.”

There is probably something not quite right about his voice, because Mitch looks genuinely sorry about it all.

Mitch is sorry, but that doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind. He writes, and Brody watches the ever confident strokes of his hand. Sure you can.

It’s crazy, how Mitch can write so confidently. How he can smile like he knows things will be fine. How he can have that look in his eye, that certainty that Brody’s never had about anything, ever.

Brody’s never noticed it before, not really, how Mitch really does mean what he says. Like, it’s not just that Mitch tells the truth, it’s that his whole being backs it up. Mitch speaks his essence, or some shit like that.

It’s shit, but it’s also true. The truest shit ever.

It’s a little inspiring.

And a lot frustrating.

Because there’s no way Mitch can be that confident about this.

Groaning, Brody flops back and closes his eyes. He’s not sure he can face it, honestly. Mitch’s optimism in contrast to the looming silence.

And it does loom.

It’s bad when his eyes are open and he’s watching people move and talk and laugh without any ability to engage. When his eyes are closed?

Well, that’s like falling into a void of nothingness that threatens to swallow him whole.

That’s all.

Voids of nothingness.

Resounding with nothingness.

Threatening to swallow him whole.

Like he’s nothing.

Shit.

Brody’s breathing is getting tight again, and he feels his equilibrium start to tumble.

Shit.

He’s drawn back to the moment, out of the void of nothingness, when Mitch nudges his arm.

Brody’s startled -- and utterly relieved. He opens his eyes, and his sense of vision grounds him almost as much as the sense of touch. His hearing is still a void, but there’s enough to compensate when Mitch puts the latest note directly into his hands.

I’ll be here. We all will be.

Brody reads it a few times through watering eyes, and when he finally blinks the tears away, he trusts himself to look at Mitch again. This time, he wants to believe it. He really does. He’s just not sure how. “For a couple of weeks?”

Mitch looks at him like that’s a non-issue. The kicker is that Mitch is so earnest about it.

Of course Mitch is earnest.

Brody’s never quite noticed it before, or at least he’s never realized that he’s noticed it. But Mitch is earnest in a way the average person isn’t. Like, lots of people can stay stuff like they mean it, but Brody can usually tell that they’re full of shit. But not Mitch. He sees it now, the difference. The plainness of his meaning is written in every line of his face, it’s reflected in the depths of his eyes, it’s set in the very posture of his body.

Most people, see, have conditions. They put boundaries on their meaning. They make promises with limitations.

Not Mitch. Mitch deals with absolutes in life. That’s why he’s an annoying asshole who is always right. That’s also why he’s, like, the best friend ever.

Because he’s earnest in the most earnest way ever.

It doesn’t even make sense. Not even a little.

In his silence, Brody has no one to compensate for his innate doubt. Anxiously, he wrings his hands together and hopes to keep his voice light. “That sounds boring.”

Maybe he’s trying to make a joke. Maybe Brody is going with the banter that often grounds his relationship with Mitch.

The thing is, Brody’s being earnest too right now. Honestly, he’s always been a little perplexed by Mitch and the fact that he still likes hanging out with Brody at all. Most people generally think he’s interesting at first, being fit and attractive and s go,d medalist, but they tend to get tired of him quickly. Itch, hover, has made it months without flinching.

He actually seems to like Brody.

Brody can only watch while Mitch scrawls out another nore, and he chews his lip, not sure if he really wants to read it. Because Brody’s always figured, in the back of his mind, that Mitch would conclude he’s not worth it, just like everyone else. Brody knows he can’t be all that fun with two working ears. Now that he can’t hear, he’s got to be nothing but downright annoying.

We want to do it.

Brody can’t hear him, but he doesn’t have to. Brody’s got no choice, after all. There is no other option. He’s deaf and laid up in the hospital. All he’s got is the choice between a void of nothingness and Mitch’s earnest acceptance and support.

That’s not really a choice, then. That’s survival.

“Well, what are we going to do in the meantime?” Brody asks, and it’s his hope that he sounds reasonably casual and not fretful. He’s not convinced he had succeeded. “I mean, how can anyone be expected to live like this?”

He gestures to his ears, reflexively trying to pop his ears. It has no actual effect, but he’s tried doing it half a dozen times during his conversation with Mitch anyway.

People do live like this all the time. he gives Brody the note, head tilted just somewhat to the sid in an implicit reprimand. It’s a look Mitch gives semi regularly to Brody when he’s being selfish and insensitive. He’s not had to do it as much recently, but this is clearly one of those times when Brody is forgetting that he’s not the only person in the world who has had shit happen to them.

Brody will take the point. And yet, he still concede his meaning. He’s got no clue what to do with himself for weeks, laid up in a hospital bed without the use of his hearing. He’s sure that many people would adjust just fine. He’s sure that loads of people face every day like this. And Brody doesn’t really want to demean these people. These people are better than he is.

He’s just some asshole who blew up at work this morning and is scared shitless about tomorrow.

It’s not an easy thing to be scared. Especially when you still want to look like an actual adult. He bristles a little, to buck himself up a little. Then, he shrugs. “Well, then, what do they do?” he asks, and he really wants to know. “ I mean, they can’t just sit around and stare at the wall, having one sided conversations with a piece of paper.”

This time, Mitch grins. It’s his confident grin, a grin of action. The grin he gives at the start of a case. The one he greets every day with. He’s almost smirking when he hands Brody the next note.

Let’s find out.

-o-

When Brody finds out, it’s a little underwhelming.

Like, seriously.

It’s been sort of this crazy day, right? Explosions and shit. Brain bleeds. Deafness.

Temporary hearing loss.

Whatever the hell you want to call it, it’s a lot to deal with, and Brody’s got, like, zero coping skills when you get right down to it.

So, truth be told, he’s hoping for something pretty spectacular to turn this situation around.

And then, Mitch comes back with board games.

Literally.

Board games.

He’s got about five of them piled up, probably ones that he’s stolen from every nook and cranny of the hospital. Though, knowing Mitch, he didn’t have to steal. He probably just smiled at some nurses and told them that he had to help a deaf guy and they gave him all the board games on the floor.

Brody is skeptical, to say the least, and he’s inclined to be mopey and pissed off. However, if he pouts too much, he runs the risk of alienating Mitch, and the thought of being alone is worse than the thought of playing board games, so he makes minimal effort to at least not look like he’s miserable.

They start with a game of Uno, but they have to use their finger to indicate that they’re down to one card since Brody can’t hear shit. It’s just as well; Brody always forgets to say Uno, and this way he can at least claim that Mitch didn’t look at just the right time. The first game’s a disaster, but the second’s not bad. By the third, Brody’s on a roll and when Brody wins three games in a row after that, Mitch suggests they switch it up.

The next one they try is Yahtzee, which is all find and good, and you don’t actually have to talk for it, so that’s something. Even so, Brody finds it a little disconcerting, all the rolling of dice, watching them fall out onto the table without a sound. It’s not a quiet game, Brody realizes now that everything’s quiet. It’s not meant to be quiet.

It’s Brody who wants to move on from Yahtzee, though when Mitch picks up Boggle, he’s inclined to go back to Yahtzee. Brody’s terrible at Boggle and every game that involves spelling. He tries -- he actually tries -- but he misspells so many words that it’s almost pointless. The only consolations is that since Brody can’t hear, it’s rather difficult for Mitch to debate them all with Brody, which means he somehow wins more often than not.

They stop for lunch and play through the afternoon, and Brody has to admit, the time moves faster than he expects. It’s different without sound, but the way laughter feels, when it locks into the pit of your stomach and tingles through your limbs, that’s all the more intense like this.

When he worries about what Mitch is thinking, all he has to do is look at him to understand that he’s laughing, too. Red faced, crinkled around the eyes, it’s like a day at the beach when everything is clear skies and warm water. It’s hard to believe, really. That there was an explosion this morning.

And now all the pieces are falling into place in ways he didn’t expect and didn’t know would work.

-o-

He’s visited by a doctor in the late afternoon, and Mitch excuses himself for a bit. This doctor is less of an asshole than the first doctor, and she actually takes the time to write notes herself, even though Brody can’t read them because her handwriting is, like, worse than his.

Still, it doesn’t much matter how nice she is or how neat her handwriting is. She looks in his ears, shines a light in his eyes and takes his vitals and declares that he’s still under observation and that he still can’t hear.

“Super,” Brody tells her with a feigned smile. “Just what I wanted to hear.”

-o-

His spirits pick up a little when he gets another visitor.

They pick up a lot when he sees that it’s Summer.

He loves Summer. Like, he really loves Summer. Summer’s pretty and smart and athletic and funny. He’s still not totally sure why she’s dating him after all these months, but he’s a little afraid that if he asks her, she’ll realize there’s not a good reason and ditch him.

Though, probably not right now.

That’s not something people do. They don’t ditch people in the hospital. They don’t break up with people when they’ve got a brain bleed and suddenly end up deaf.

At least, Brody’s pretty sure it isn’t. At least, not at Baywatch.

And not Summer.

She’s brought him dinner, and Mitch has clearly handed off his paper and marker for her. She fumbles as she puts the food down before picking up the marker. It’s clear she’s not sure if she should talk to him while she writes to be polite, and she ends up with this forced smile that turns into a frown while she scribbles a note to him.

I was here earlier, but you were unconscious. We thought we’d take turns here. Try not to overwhelm you.

She looks anxious as Brody reads, and she looks a little sick to her stomach when he looks up again. “It’s cool,” he says, and he’s still smiling because he has to smile when she’s around. “This isn’t exactly a good place for a date.”

He’s hoping that somehow his approach is charming here, despite the fact that he’s wearing a hospital gown and is hooked up to monitors. And there’s always the detail that he can’t hear her. At all.

She is not overtly charmed by this, unfortunately. Instead, she writes, I should have stayed. I’m sorry.

“What? No,” Brody says, looking up from the note to her face. That’s when he notices that she looks pretty weird. She’s guarded and closed off, and she’s chewing her lip, playing with her hair. She’s uncomfortable -- like, really uncomfortable. “It’s good. Fine, I mean. I just meant -- that I’m sorry you had to come here. It’s boring. Hospital, right? All this writing shit down and -- shit.”

He tapers off, his own enthusiasm wavering at the watery look on her face. He’s never really understood that description -- watery -- but he gets it now. Her eyes are filling with tears that she’s refusing to shed. Her whole expression is uncharacteristically emotional. She’s nervous and uncomfortable and she doesn’t want to be here.

She starts to write something, and he reaches over stilling her hand. She looks up, surprised. “You don’t have to do this,” he says. “I mean, I know I’ve got enough baggage on a good day, but now? When I’m deaf? I totally get it. You can leave right now, no hard feelings--”

He’s trying to make her feel better, but she looks vaguely appalled. She furiously scratches out a note and lifts it up for him to read. The handwriting is fast and messy but it’s kind of impossible to miss her intent. You’re not deaf.

He has to rolls his eyes a little, because this seems like a point everyone wants to continually clarify with him today. “Can’t hear, whatever,” he says. “You’re still off the hook, okay? You don’t have to be here.”

Because he gets it; he does. He loves her to the point where he doesn’t want her to be uncomfortable; he doesn’t want to burden her. Throughout his life, he’s used to people cutting and running when things get hard. The fact that Baywatch is different is probably really good for him -- but it might not be good for them.

He might not be good for them.

He might be really bad for her.

Her looks is nothing short of tortured as she writes, and she has to wipe her eyes a few times before she produces a note for him to read. Of course I do. You’re my boyfriend.

It’s hard not to smile at that; he still likes to hear it. He’s never been in a real relationship before, and it hardly seems possible that he’s made it this long, this far with Summer.

But all things can end. Brody knows that. It’s the one lesson that stuck when he was a kid. “Sure, but no one wants a deaf boyfriend,” he says.

He can tell she groans, even if he can’t hear it. Her next note is full of large block letters that are underlined at least five times. You’re not deaf!!!!

It’s remarkable, how she can reprimand him so effectively without making a sound. “Okay, okay,” he says, holding up his hands in defeat. So maybe she’s not the type to be weirded out by a boyfriend who can’t hear shit. “Then what’s the big deal?”

She exhales with force and writes another note, this one just as emphatic as the last. You almost died!! I was scared!!

It’s pretty weird, seeing it in print. It’s hard enough to believe in theory, but there it is, in black and white. To think, that Summer Quinn is scared of anything.

To think, that Summer Quinn is scared for him.

He looks from the note to her, a little bit in awe. “You were?”

Her eyes widen in apparent exasperation. Her next note is short and in all caps. YES!!!

That’s when he sees what she’s talking about.

Like, he sees it.

He doesn’t have to hear it or even read the words. He can see it, written all over her face and etched into every curve of her body. She’s not just nervous; no, she is outright terrified. She wants to be close to him, which is why she’s always edging closer to the bed, but she’s scared to touch him, which is why she keeps pulling away at the last second. The way she looks at him isn’t disgust or annoyance; she sees him like he might still explode if she blinks her eyes.

Of course, Brody being Brody, he hasn’t thought about this from her perspective. The fact that she probably did watch him explode this morning and the fact that that might have been really hard for her.

That it might still be really hard for her.

Because he’s deaf or temporarily suffering from hearing loss, but she’s scared to lose him.

Maybe he wins.

But maybe she does.

He reaches out, makes the next move for her. He wraps her fingers in his own and squeezes. “Oh, well,” he says, wondering if his voice is too soft, too loud, too anything. “I’m okay now.”

It’s just enough, apparently. A smile warms her face, and she puts the marker down to put her other hand on top of his. He gives her a little squeeze, for her sake and for his own. In the silence, this is the reminder he needs that he’s still alive.

She smiles, then, as she scoots out of the chair and perches on the edge of his bed. He doesn’t need an interpretation when she speaks, because the words I love you are easy enough to infer when she leans down at kisses him.

NEXT