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

December 17th, 2018 (08:56 pm)

Continued from part one



-o-

He’s in a good mood when Summer leaves, and he’s in decent spirits when Mitch gets ready to head home for the night. After checking with Brody’s doctors and nurses to make sure things are in order, he hesitates by Brody’s bedside.

This means he wants to say something.

He can say anything he wants, but Brody won’t be able to hear him. Mitch finally resolves to sit for one last second, and he picks up the well used notepad.

You going to be okay tonight?

Brody shrugs, making a face of indifference. “That’s what they tell us, right?”

Mitch shakes his head, then he thinks a moment before writing. I mean by yourself.

Brody’s scoffing before he even thinks the question through. “I’m not a kid, Mitch. I’ll be fine,” he says, as flippantly as one can from a hospital bed.

Mitch hesitates one more second.

“Really,” Brody says, adding as much emphasis to the words as he can. At least, that’s what he’s trying to do. There’s no way to know if he’s actually regulating his voice in a way that’s remotely normal, and Mitch’s expression does nothing to suggest that he is. “I’m fine. That’s what you keep telling me, right?”

It’s a pretty brilliant sort of answer, using Mitch’s own words against him. Brody wishes he could take credit for some forethought, but it’s really just luck as he blurts things out that he can’t hear.

Mitch finally writes another note. If you’re sure.

Brody offers a self assured smile. “All I’ll be doing is sleeping anyway, so it’s not a big deal,” Brody says. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Mitch looks like he wants to say more, but it’s pretty clear that any further writing would just be awkward. Brody’s said his peace; it’s good, it’s cool, it’s great. So what if Brody’s deaf? It’s not like that’s going to change if Mitch camps out next to him all night. Everything is fine.

On his way out, Mitch gives him a little wave, a half-salute of farewell.

Brody returns it with a smile.

Because everything is totally and completely fine.

-o-

Then the nurse turns out the light and the ward goes dark for the night. He imagines it’s quite, too, but how is Brody supposed to know. It’s all been quiet to him.

He shifts in his bed and blinks up at the ceiling.

He tries to close his eyes.

And that’s when nothing is fine.

Like, Brody knows really it is fine. He’s still in the same hospital he’s been in all day, and he’s still got the same brain bleed and the same ruptured eardrums. Nothing has changed; not really.

Except when Brody closes his eyes, it’s like the whole world goes away. Shit, as the shadows grow long, he doesn’t even have to close his eyes. The world is closing in on him, dissipating bit by bit into the oblivion. He’s disappearing, inch by inch, and if he screams, no one will hear him.

And so he thinks, about what Mitch is doing back at his place. He thinks about Summer sleeping alone. He wonders if Ronnie and CJ are together, and if Stephanie has any hobbies that are any fun. He thinks about what they’ll all do at work tomorrow, if tower two is closed and the beach is sectioned off. Probably, but there’ll still be lifeguards on the beach.

There are always lifeguard on the beach, right?

Just not Brody, being in the hospital. But he’s going to be fine, right?

But can lifeguards do the job if they can’t hear? How will he hear people yelling? How will he know if his voice is loud enough to carry?

Could he swim competitively, if he wanted to? Would he be able to sense the starting tone or would he always be a half second behind?

It’s a good thing this didn’t happen when he was a kid. No one wants a kid with special needs. A deaf kid would never get adopted.

Of course, no one adopted Brody anyway. He was still damaged good with two working ears.

So what does that make him now?

Does it make him worse?

Does it make him anything?

Or is he just going to disappear into the stillness?

And will anyone notice if he does?

The hours wear on with a painful certainty. He holds himself at the edge of oblivion, taut and composed, just enough not to let go. The silence will consume him if he lets it.

Sometimes he’s not sure if he wants to fight it any longer.

All he knows for sure is that when he cries, he can’t even hear himself.

He wonders if that makes the tears unreal.

If he himself has ceased to exist while the darkness stretches into the silence and beyond.

-o-

He’s tired, restless and on edge by dawn, and even though the nurses are all smiles when they pull back the curtains, Brody has a hard time calming down. His vision is so strained from his sleepless night that it makes their notes hard to read. Plus, Brody’s having a hard time giving a shit about anything they say. Their platitudes and formalities.

It’s all so very perfunctory, and it does nothing to quell Brody’s growing agitation.

When Mitch finally shows up, Brody almost cries in relief. He’d give anything to hear Mitch’s voice.

That’s impossible, of course.

The breakfast and coffee Mitch bring are some consolation.

And the fact that Mitch camps out in the chair by Brody’s bed with a fresh pad of paper helps even more.

-o-

With coffee, breakfast and a pile of shared notes, Brody’s nerves have calmed substantially. He seems feels a little weak, and he’s still got a headache and his chest hurts a little, but it’s generally pretty manageable. By the time the doctor comes in for rounds, he’s actually feeling pretty good.

That is to say, he’s feeling like a smart ass.

To his credit, he thinks he has grounds to be annoying.

People with brain bleeds and deafness should get a few free passes.

If that’s the only silver lining, then Brody’s going to use it as best he can.

Also, he doesn’t give a shit.

Like, any shits he might have given exploded yesterday. And the few that survived that initial blast were consumed by the bleak oblivion last night. Now Brody’s just pure Brody: annoying and not nearly as clever as he wants to be.

The doctor also appears to give no shits, but he’s the professionally detached type. Brody has the feeling that being a smart ass would be too much work for the guy. While giving Brody his check up during rounds, he mutters things in an off handed way to the nurse. Brody watches their interactions carefully, noting the way the nurse raises her eyebrows from time to time before she types out a message on the iPad she’s carrying.

They’ve gone high tech. It’s probably environmentally friendly. It’s also a bit impersonal, no matter how much the nurse tries to smile. Your vitals look great! We still need to keep you for observation, but we think the hematoma is resolving nicely.

Brody nods a few times, and then looks pointedly at the doctor. “So, what,” he posits for no other reason than he can. He can’t hear his own voice to know how annoying he’s being. “My brain’s not going to explode today?”

The look on the doctor’s face tells Brody he’s being just annoying enough. The two syllables the doctor mutters don’t match up to the nurse’s note. Brains don’t generally explode.

She’s kind of kidding, but kind of not. It’s weird. Super literal.

Worse, being unable to hear, he has no way of knowing her intonation. That shit matters, a lot more than Brody realized. Damn it, why hasn’t he spent more time in his life trying to relate to people better? Maybe this is why no one wanted to adopt him: because he’s just plain bad with people.

He’s still working all this out in his head when the nurse presents him with another note. Brody takes the time to read her tepid smile first before giving the note a good go. We just need to monitor you.

This sounds like the bottom line, and the nurse looks wearier than the doctor by all this back and forth. Brody can appreciate that -- he does, actually, or he’s trying to -- but if they’re getting to the bottom line, then he has one of his own. “What about my ears? Am I going to hear again?”

He’s going for cool and mature, but he’s pretty sure he’s not quite pulling it off. The nurse looks just a touch sympathetic, and the doctor seems to be somewhat tired of going over this again. The nurse doesn’t even have to consult the doctor to provide an answer. Give it time.

Her smile this time is more genuine, at least.

It’s probably time for him to be polite back, to smile and nod and thank the doctor for his help today.

Except, Brody’s not really feeling thankful or polite.

He’s deaf, okay?

Temporary or permanent or whatever, that’s kind of a lot, and it’s worn the inhibitions he’s developed since joining Baywatch more than a little fun. “But I don’t want to,” he protests simply.

The nurse’s brow creases with instant anxiety, but Brody is drawn to the scowl of disapproval on the doctor’s face. He has something, and Brody can tell by the terse pull of his lips that it’s not couched in niceties.

When it’s clear he’s not going to speak any more, Brody looks expectantly at the nurse.

She looks at the doctor, a little pleading, but the doctor is already scribbling something perfunctory on Brody’s chair. She sighs, and then writes. She looks like she’s bracing herself when she hands Brody the handwritten token. You don’t have a choice.

Brody looks from her to the doctor, but he’s not looking at Brody either. This is annoying, because what’s Brody supposed to say? What can he even do?

The answer is frustratingly obvious. Nothing. He can do nothing, and Sure, he can say anything, but being deaf has made him realize how futile words can be. They only matter if someone is listening.

Damn it, Brody concedes, slumping back a little in his bed. The doctor wins this round.

Or, more to the point, Brody loses.

Really, this is no surprise. Brody has a tendency to lose. A lot. Races, arguments, families.

Also, he apparently loses his hearing.

Some people are just born to lose, it seems.

-o-

Brody’s pretty down after that, despite Mitch’s attempts to make him feel better. Ellerbee makes an official visit, asking a few questions with Mitch’s help, but Brody’s not got much to offer. He’s the one who blew up, but that makes him about the worst witness of them all. All he remembers is the explosion and the ringing in his hears as the world blinked out.

In all, his statement feels a little pointless, but he knows it’s a necessary formality. Ellerbee is nice about it, and promises to bring him a smoothie later. One from Chen’s when he’s feeling up to it.

After that, he doesn’t want to play games, and he’s too tired to even read notes. Instead, he sleeps a lot, and he’s grateful that Mitch doesn’t act like it’s weird for Brody to sleep it’s Mitch in the room.

Honestly, Brody suspects Mitch being there is the only thing that lets him relax. Because Brody can’t tear Mitch, but you don’t have to with a guy like Mitch. He has this presence, an aura or something, and Brody can feel it even when he closes his eyes.

Brody needs the sleep.

He probably needs Mitch more.

-o-

In the afternoon. Brody perks up a little. He’s somewhat chipper when Ronnie, CJ and Stephanie show up. Mitch excuses himself, promising to check in later, leaving Brody to their care.

He’s aware, to some degree, that this is something they’ve worked out. As a team, they’ve broken up the duties, and Brody’s hospital room is a replacement for tower two. It might seem weird to some people, knowing that social visits have been scheduled and organized, but it’s not weird to Brody.

It’s not weird to Baywatch. In fact, it seems just about right.

And besides, Brody’s in no position to argue, even if he were inclined. Which he’s not, for the record. He’s really, really not.

They come with a stack of magazines, which Ronnie has sorted on his behalf with Men’s Fitness at the top and Entertainment Weekly at the bottom and any number of sports magazines in the middle. CJ finds the deck of cards, and she’s so easygoing that Brody is playing gin rummy before he realizes that she’s dealt him a hand. They use their fingers to bid, but it’s less cumbersome than you’d think.

Stephanie is the least friendly, but she takes the time to write a thorough but she’s mole explanation of what’s going on at the beach. She explains that the bomber has been caught and that tower two is already under repair.

She’s methodical in her explanations and patient when Brody asks for clarification.

And he does ask.

Because he finds he wants to know.

Maybe he needs to know.

He clears his throat, mostly because it’s still weird shit to him, that empty sound in his ears when the sound echoes in his brain without triggering his shattered eardrums. “So, was he targeting lifeguards or what?”

Stephanie, as you might expect for Stephanie, is not flustered by the question. Brody suddenly gets the distinct impression that she has thought about all his possible questions and mentally prepared answers. “Not likely,” she says. “Only in the sense that he knows Baywatch is a visible part of the bay, and he definitely wanted to make a scene. He’s about shock value, as best anyone can tell. It’s still early in the investigation; the cops aren’t telling us everything just yet.”

There’s this thing she’s not saying, though. The thing that Brody somehow finds relevant. “And I just got unlucky?”

He’s not sure if he’s saying this like it’s a surprise, because it’s not. Like, not at all. Brody’s always been unlucky, and he’s been so unlucky that he’s taken active measures to make his luck worse. That’s the thing about being prolifically unlucky. It’s so damn depressing that it’s easier to take your bad luck when you can at least put the blame on something -- even if it is your own stupidity.

He’s known that all his life, but his time at Baywatch has made him forget.

A little.

At least, he’d wanted to forget.

But here he is.

Unable to hear.

No reason why.

Stephanie writes a plaintive note. I’m sorry.

Plaintive, yes.

But earnest, too.

That’s comforting, somehow. But it doesn’t change the fact that he can’t hear. It also doesn’t change the fact that he feels like he’s been blown up all over again. “Yeah,” he says, a little absently now. “I mean, it doesn’t really matter, not really. Getting blown up sucks no matter why it happens, it’s just…” He falters, not sure what he wants to say. Not sure there’s any way to say it, even if he can pin it down. He shrugs, a little sheepish. “I don’t know.”

Stephanie smiles gently. I know, she writes. Then, she adds another quick note for Brody. We’ll have tower two ready for you when you get back, though.

That’s sort of a funny way of telling someone to get better soon, but Brody understands her meaning better than he expects.

-o-

The rest of the day is uneventful. They take him for some scans and whatever, his brain is still bleeding but it’s slower now and they think it’s stopping. Everyone is really pleased about this, but when he asks about his ears, the answer is still the same: wait and see.

This seems like a non-answer to him, increasingly so, and it puts him in a bit of a foul mood despite the positive prognosis he’s been given. Mitch tries to snap him out of it with a rousing game of Monopoly, but Brody’s shitty with money and goes bankrupt with impossible speed.

The highlight of the day is dinner, which is when Summer shows up. She brings burgers for dinner and a lot of salad with kale and shit, and it’s funny how good food tastes even when you can’t hear yourself chew. It tastes really good, actually. The best.

Summer is appropriately distracting, too. She curls up with him in the bed, and he likes to feel her breath when she giggles against his cheek. She smells like suntan lotion and salt water, which doesn’t sound sexy but really kind of is. And all things considered, it’s kind of romantic when she whispers sweet nothings in his ear.

That’s a thing, sweet nothings. A thing Brody’s never had before.

Of course, it’s probably more romantic when those nothings are intentional and not due to deafness.

Sorry, temporary hearing loss.

Whatever.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

Neither can deaf people when it comes to situations without sound.

-o-

When Summer kisses him goodbye, Mitch somehow shows up in his doorway. It’s kind of like he’s been waiting all night for Summer to leave, but that’s creepy and weird, even for Mitch’s out-there Baywatch standards. It seems more likely that they’ve timed this whole thing down to the minute, because yes, that’s something they would do.

Baywatch isn’t a job, you know.

It’s a way of life.

It’s a family.

Brody will make fun of that shit a lot when it’s convenient.

But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like it.

From the bed, Brody watches as Summer and Mitch exchange a few words. They’re kind of being discreet about it. Either they don’t want Brody to know what they’re saying or they think he’ll be jealous of the fact that they can hear and he can’t. Brody can’t read lips, but he does feel a pang of regret for the words he can’t hear.

It’s like the rest of the world has an inside joke that he’s not in on.

That’s kind of the way it’s seemed all of Brody’s life, so at least he has experience with the sensation.

It’s a brief interaction, and Summer turns and waves him goodbye before Mitch saunters into the room like this is a totally normal situation and not Brody confined to a hospital bed so his brain doesn’t seep out of his ears.

That’s a thought Brody has a hard time getting out of his head, so he’s a bit relieved when Mitch breaks the silence by writing a note.

To be clear, that’s a metaphor. Yes, Brody knows what a metaphor is. And see, it’s figurative because Brody can’t hear shit. It’s all still silence to him. Lots and lots and lots of silence.

You okay?

It’s a short note. Mitch’s notes tend to be to the point, more so than Summer’s or CJ’s or Ronnie’s -- who never seems to get to the damn point -- but this one is more pointed than most.

Pointed and still vague.

He shrugs, mustering up something of a diffusing smile. “That’s what they keep telling me, so, you know,” he rambles on. It’s harder to stop himself when he can’t hear himself. He can’t hear how stupid he is, so he’s inclined to just keep being stupid. “Apparently.”

Mitch looks a little disappointed somehow, as if Brody didn’t read his mind entirely correct. Not just your brain.

Brody gestures to his ears. “Well, these aren’t fix or anything--”

He tapers off at the sight of Mitch writing another fast and furious note. He holds it up for Brody to read. Emotionally.

Well, shit, emotionally? Emotionally isn’t something Brody wants to talk about ever, and especially not with Mitch. Brody’s got emotions, okay. Lots of emotions that are stupid and irrelevant. They come out at the worst times, they come out in the worst ways. He’s got emotions about everything from joining to Baywatch to losing the Olympics, getting arrested to being given up for adoption when he was just hours old.

And now he’s deaf or whatever and he feels like he’s falling into a void every time he closes his eyes and he’s not sure he can do his job if he’s deaf and he’s not sure what he’d do without his job and okay, Brody has lots of emotions.

He forces himself to laugh because he doesn’t like any of those emotions, at all. “I’m fine, Mitch.”

It’s such a stupid lie that it probably doesn’t even count as a lie. Mitch knows he’s lying. Mitch knows that Brody knows that he’s lying.

Mitch hands him another note, this one with careful strokes around the letters. Do you want me to stay tonight?

That’s ridiculous, of course. That’s silly and dumb and ridiculous and why does Brody want to say yes?

Why does Brody desperately want to say yes?

Why does he want to cling to Mitch like some damn life preserver?

Brody doesn’t know why.

He does know why not.

Because that’s too much vulnerability. That’s an admission of weakness. Because he can’t be afraid, and he can’t be uncertain.

Just because.

He manages to scoff. He thinks it’s a scoff. Maybe it’s a cough. Maybe it’s a cry. Whatever. Brody says, “I’m fine.”

Like that’s that.

Mitch lets it be.

Because Brody said it himself, everyone has said it: he’s absolutely, completely, totally fine.

-o-

Yeah, Brody’s not fine.

Mitch leaves and Brody gets settled in for the night. The nurse checks on him, gives him his pain meds and reminds him where the call button is. She’s so good at communicating with him that she doesn’t even have to write this shit down. She just gives him the thumbs up and waits for his a-ok, and then turns out the light for him to rest.

That’s when Brody’s not okay.

Because now it’s dark.

Darkness is one thing. But silence is another. When you pair the two together, your senses are overwhelmingly deadened. Logically, he knows that it’s stupid to be anxious. All he has to do is close his eyes and sleep and it’s all cool.

But it’s not cool.

See, the thing is, Brody’s a foster kid. He’s bounced around to different homes, different families. And he tells people he stayed in three foster homes, but those were just the long term placements. The short ones? The ones that lasted weeks or a month or two? The ones that lasted days? All those homes with all those families and all those other kids.

Brody didn’t get lost in the system.

The damn system swallowed him whole. It consumed him. It tried to suffocate him.

To survive that kind of thing, there’s only one thing to do. One thing.

You make yourself heard.

You make all the noise you can, you make all the racket. You make sure they hear you because that’s the only way they don’t forget you.

The other thing you do, not coincidentally, is to stop listening. Okay, it seems a little paradoxical, but it makes sense. You can’t listen. Not if you want to survive. Because what are they saying to you? That they don’t want you? That this isn’t working out? That you’re going to have to go somewhere else? Why would anyone listen to that? Why would anyone want to hear that they’re not good enough? Why would you give a shit what people say when they don’t even know who you are?

That’s why Brody talks shit.

Because if he has a voice, then he still exists.

He’s still here.

And if no one else can hear him, he can still hear his own voice screaming back at him in the void.

But not anymore.

Not anymore.

Now, when Brody screams, the void echoes back

It’s almost like he ceases to exist.

Shit, he’s not sure.

Maybe he has ceased to exist.

Maybe Brody’s gone.

He can’t hear it when he starts to cry. He can’t hear it when the panicked breaths turn hysterical. He can’t hear it when the monitors start sounding wildly. He can’t hear it when the nurse comes running in, yelling if everything’s okay.

The whole medical team shows up eventually, because it takes Brody a good 15 minutes to calm down. The nurse keeps writing notes to him, but he can’t read them anymore, and he’s still crying when the doctor finally gives him a sedative to calm him down, to help him sleep.

This time, when he void claims him, he has no power left to fight.

He’s not sure he wants to anyway.

-o-

When Brody wakes up the next morning, the sun is out. The nurses check on him quickly, and the doctor comes by earlier than he normally would. At first, Brody’s worried that they want him to talk to a shrink or something.

But the doctor just wants him to know that he needs to stay calm or it might aggravate his head injury. He needs to avoid panic attacks if possible.

Brody thanks him meekly. “I’ll do what I can.”


It’s not a lie. Brody will try.

He just knows there’s nothing he can do.

-o-

By the time Mitch shows up, Brody is tired and weary. He’s hoping for a little distraction at this point, but Mitch looks weary, too.

His first note is somber. You want to tell me what happened?

Brody looks up. The answer is no obviously.

There’s a second note deposited on his lap. The nurses told me.

Embarrassed, Brody flushes red. He swallows, wishing his ears would pop. They don’t, so he blinks his eyes a few times to hold back the tears he’s definitely not going to cry now. “Damn it,” he mutters.

It’s quiet, but not quiet enough. Mitch can still hear him.

Of course he can.

Brody hates him a little bit for it, irrational as that is.

The next note is just as plain as the last. Panic attack?

Brody swallows again, trying to push back the emotions trying to surge up again. He shakes his head, but he can’t quite bring himself to meet Mitch’s gaze anymore. “It was nothing.”

He doesn’t have to look at Mitch to know that the dude is staring at him.

Hard.

Brody finally breaks and looks up. “Okay, so I had a small panic attack or, you know, whatever,” he says. “It happens, okay? Not a big deal.”

If Brody could hear, Mitch might have argued that point, but Brody has the sense that it’s too cumbersome to write down every question he has. Instead, Mitch keeps it simple with the next note. Why?

Brody throws up his hands, fully exasperated now. “Why do you think!” he exclaimed. “Because I can’t hear!”

Mitch shakes his head while he writes the next note. It’s temporary.

Brody wants to physically recoil. He crumples that note, throwing it aside. “Is it?” he asks, feeling his throat burn caustically. “Because it doesn’t feel that way. I haven’t heard a thing, not since the explosion, okay. It’s silence. Total silence. And it gets lonely, okay. It’s lonely.”

He tries not to shudder when he says it, but he still feels the chill run down his spine.

Mitch is a bit slower with the next note, his face a bit more composed. But I’m right here.

Something clenches in Brody’s chest, and he has to hold the emotion in again. “I know,” he says. “I just. I don’t know. At night, when it’s dark. You’re not here then. And it’s, like, I don’t know. Like, falling into a void or something. Like I’m never going to get out of the darkness.”

Mitch’s weariness has taken on a sympathetic look now. Brody, you’re going to be fine.

It’s not that he’s promising Brody things are okay. It’s the fact that he’s used Brody’s name. Clear, blocky letters across the top of the page. Brody reads it again.

Brody, you’re going to be fine.

He reads it again and again until his eyes are too blurry to make out the letters. Wetting his lips, he tries to gets some saliva in his throat to speak. “How can you be so sure?”

The last note falls in his lap, ready and confident. Because I’m going to stay here until you believe it.

There’s a small part of Brody that wants to protest.

Very small.

Very, very small.


-o-

The morning goes better than Brody might have expected. He’s still tired and kind of tentative, but Mitch seems to be okay with that. He doesn’t balk, he doesn’t hesitate. They play a few games, and Brody manages not to suck completely at Monopoly. He’s still a disaster at Boggle, but they’ll work on it.

That’s the thing, Brody realizes.

The thing he can’t hear but he understands anyway.

They’ll work on that.

Among a lot of other things.

-o-

Summer comes earlier that day, passing the afternoon with them. Brody’s not sure if this is a request that Mitch made after last night’s episode or if it’s a coincidence. Summer betrays nothing about her intentions, and Brody’s too happy to see her to actually care.

For a change of pace, they turn on the TV, and Mitch fiddles around with the remote until the closed captioning is on. It seems silly that Brody hasn’t thought of that before, because it works, more or less.

Really, it’s not so bad. He kind of likes it.

What he likes more, however, is when Mitch steps out for an hour and Summer has him roll onto his stomach for a gentle massage.

He doesn’t need to hear her for that.

He doesn’t even need to look at her face.

He can feel her communicate with him as she rubs each tender muscle, tediously working out the stress points until he has to turn over and kiss her for both their troubles.

-o-

The others show up with dinner. Ronnie’s brought some fruits and vegetables because he still hasn’t figured out how any of them maintain their swimsuit bodies, but CJ makes sure to bring lots of meat because she’s good at seeing the things people need and providing for those needs. Stephanie has paper dishes and napkins, and makes sure that everyone gets served before she starts to eat.

Those three sit at the end of his bed, laughing and telling jokes. Summer is on one side of him, close enough that her hand will rest on his when she’s not thinking about it. Brody’s thinking about it, though. He thinks about it a lot.

Mitch sits on the other side, between Brody and the door. It’s a little weird still, the way Mitch maintains such constancy in his vigils.

Brody wonders if this is what it’s like to have family.

He thinks maybe this is what it’s like to have family.

-o-

After dinner, Stephanie produces Brody’s phone. It’s fully charged and something of a revelation to him. He has a phone.

Summer texts him with a smile We could have been texting this whole time!

Brody grins at her.

Like literally and electronically. He picks a smiling emoji, the biggest one he can find.

After that, they start a joint game of Clash of Clans, and it’s surprisingly revealing. Summer is quiet and consistent, which is a contrast to Brody’s desire to just pay a few extra bucks to get the upgrades he needs. He probably has medical bill to worry about, but he’s deaf and he doesn’t care.

Stephanie is even more methodical than Summer, almost painstakingly so, and it seems like she’s planning for a week long siege. Ronnie is completely impulsive, and he’s always dying more than the rest of them. CJ, somehow, destroys them all with a smile on her face.

Mitch doesn’t play; he watches. He can’t hear what Mitch says, but when Mitch laughs, Brody can actually feel the sound as it echoes through his chest.

That’s crazy, Brody thinks.

He looks around at these people in his hospital room.

This whole thing is crazy.

-o-

When everyone else packs up for the night, Mitch doesn’t ask if Brody wants him to stay. Instead, he kicks off his shoes and makes himself comfortable. Despite the fact that Brody has a phone now to streamline communication, Mitch still prefers the notepad and his marker.

Brody still prefers not being alone, so you know.

You take what you can get sometimes.

You ready to get some sleep?

Brody laughs, he can feel it fluttering nervously in his chest. “Not really.”

Mitch is steady and unflinching. He’s Mitch. I’ll be right here.

Brody wet his lips, and tries to think of something clever to say. When that fails, he tries to think of something snarky. Without any of those options coming through, he settles for the truth. “I’m still not sure that’s going to be enough. Like, I’m not sure.”

Mitch’s final note is just a steady as his first. We’ll get through it together.

That’s a promise, Brody knows. He can’t hear it, but he’s leaning to listen anyway.

-o-

Brody tries his best; he really does. It’s his intention to be a normal person and to fall asleep and deal with the dark. He doesn’t want to be some idiot who has panic attacks. That’s not cool, especially since Mitch is here.

Closing his eyes, that’s what Brody tells himself.

Mitch is here.

Mitch is here.

All he has to do is open his eyes and look to the side, watching as Mitch’s large form slumbers in the chair next to him.

Mitch is here.

Brody’s not alone

Until he closes his eyes.

-o-

He doesn’t remember the dream. He doesn’t remember the darkness as it rose up for him. He doesn’t remember the empty sounds of his own vacant screams as he cried out in the dark.

All he remembers is Mitch’s hand, tight around his own. Holding him fast, holding him steady. Holding him to the ground while the void looms around him.

Mitch doesn’t say a word about it. Or, if he does, Brody can’t hear it.

It’s the first time since this shit began that Brody has been grateful that he can’t hear.

-o-

The thing is, Brody sleeps that night. And he wakes up feeling better. His scans are continuing to improve, and it’s not as hard to manage with the notes and the messages as it used to be. He doesn’t pick a fight with his doctor and he actually smiles at his nurse because he can see that she’s actually working pretty hard.

The day is better, when you get right down to it.

The day after that is better still.

It takes a few more days before Brody starts to believe everyone when they say he’s going to be fine.

See, he’s finally learning how to listen.

And it has nothing to do with hearing.

-o-

It’s been nearly a week and a half when Brody’s hematoma has almost resolved. His eardrums are starting to heal, and the doctor is pretty pleased with Brody’s progress. He can’t hear anything yet, but he’s not going to die, and if his final scan is clear tomorrow, he can even go home.

Sure, Brody wants to hear again, and it’s a little disappointing that there’s been no change on that front, but Brody has started to recognize good news and good news. And really, the past week hasn’t been so bad. The first few days after the explosion were shit, that’s true, but he’s kind of adapting. Like, he’s growing. Changing. He wants to hear again, but if it’s like this forever, then, who knows. Maybe he could cope.

See, Brody’s learned a lot this week actually. When he’s not so busy making noise to make noise, he’s actually watching. He’s learning. He’s discovering the details he’s always missed because he’s making such a racket. The way people interact, the little body motions that no one thinks twice about. He sees how people treat each other. How they treat him.

It’s sort of weird, how that changes things. It’s perspective, probably. Brody’s never had perspective before.

To be clear, it’s not all about having fun, either. Brody has definitely gotten used to watching TV with the captions on, and he’s figured out all the appropriate hand cues for most games people play. And he’s learned to be patient when he plays shit on his phone. It’s more fun when you work for it, and it saves him money, so that’s like a double bonus.

Those are all fine and good and yeah, but Brody also learns how to be a better person. A better friend. Like, it’s so much easier to understand people when you’re actually paying attention to them. You know what they’re thinking even without hearing them speak. Suddenly, he knows how to answer questions better, and he’s figured out how to make people smile a lot more than he used to.

Like, in the past week, he fits into the team better than he ever has before.

Ever.

All because he’s not distracted by the noise.

Because that’s the thing, right? Brody’s relegated everything to noise? He’s assumed that he’s heard it all before. Like, people say shit. They say shit they don’t mean, and Brody knows it better than most. It’s just a thing people do, little lies, big lies, lies told for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes people say shit because they want to be nice. Sometimes they lie because they don’t want to feel bad about themselves. Sometimes it’s just easier or whatever. The reasons don’t actually matter; they’re still lies. So, in that regard, it’s no surprise that Brody’s stopped listening a little.

A lot.

But you can’t just dismiss it all like that. He wonders now, with ruptured eardrums, how much he’s actually missed over the years. He wonders how many times he heard shit without actually listening to the truth. Is it possible, that some of those foster parents, when they said, “I want what’s best for you” that they meant it? That they actually were serious?

And the coaches, okay. How many of the coaches said shit like, “If you need something, even outside the pool, I can help you”? And the girls. How many of them looked at him and said, “I like you, and I think we have something” and meant it? Like, meant it meant it? How many things has Brody missed out on because he’s been hearing without listening?

Even here, at Baywatch, when things are better, he’s still doing it. He’s still making noise and assuming that he knows what people are saying before the words are even out of their mouths. He’s been around these people, been friends with these people, but he hasn’t been listening at all.

Stephanie says, “You’re late, asshole” and gets offended and rolls his eyes. But she’s not telling him that he’s not up to snuff. She’s trying to make sure he’s okay, and that’s her way of making sure that he’s still with the team.

As for CJ, she says shit like, “I can help you find an affordable place, you know,” and Brody thinks she’s making fun of him for being poor and stupid and sleeping on Mitch’s cot. But that’s not it, right? That’s not what she’s actually saying. She’s saying, in so many ways, that she hopes he’s here to stay. Like, forever.

Ronnie is usually pretty nice to him, but sometimes he says shit, little things like, “Well, it’s okay to be pretty” like that’s all Brody is, that’s all he has to offer. But that’s not the full story. Not even close. Ronnie says that shit because he wants Brody to know he’s part of the team, he’s got his own role to play, and it’s not like anyone else’s and that’s cool. That’s super cool.

Summer’s said more to him than all of them, and sometimes he thinks he does okay with her. It’s a relationship when it comes to Summer, an actual relationship. Brody thinks the world of her, and he wants to make her happy, but that doesn’t mean he’s listened to every work she’s said. For example, Summer says, “We can still do dinner this Friday. Just let me rearrange my schedule” and Brody hears, “Let’s have sex.” It’s possible, he realizes during his week in the hospital, it’s kind of possible that she’s actually saying, “I think I love you.”

Mitch is the strangest one of all, if you get right down to it. After all, Mitch is the kind of guy who says exactly what he means, every time. He’s the guy who never lies, who never beats around the bush. Sure, he speaks with ocean metaphors sometimes, but he’s straight up, Mitch is.

And still, sometimes it’s hard to figure it out, whatever Mitch really means. Because Mitch rides Brody hard. He lectures him and he corrects him. He teaches him and he coaches him and he generally drives Brody crazy.

But Brody can hear him, louder and clearer than all the rest. He hears him in the stack of notes by his bedside and the constant presence in the chair next to his bed. He hears him in the middle of the night when the silence threatens to swallow him whole.

He hears him, the one message he’s been saying this whole time, maybe since the beginning: “Stay.”

Just stay.

It’s the simplest thing to hear.

But it’s taken Brody a long, long time to listen.

-o-

Brody’s slated for one more night in the hospital, and Mitch stays, no questions asked. It’s getting to be a bit of a habit now, and it’s starting to work. Brody doesn’t need any hand holding, not when he knows Mitch is there.

Like, he knows.

He can’t hear him.

He can’t see him.

But he knows.

That’s the difference.

The difference that changes everything.

-o-

In the morning, Brody is just starting to come out of REM sleep when he’s woken by the sound of voices. He thinks it’s his dream, honestly. He can still hear in his dreams, sometimes. He hears conversations in his head, sometimes more vividly and clearly than he could when he could hear.

This one’s weird, though.

Like, too real to be surreal kind of weird.

It’s Mitch, and he’s talking in hushed tones to someone else. “But it’s been nearly two weeks,” he saying. “You said the eardrums are starting to heal.”

“Starting to heal, yes,” someone replies. It’s a flat, sort of deadpan voice. Kind of emotionless. He sounds like Brody’s doctor, even though Brody’s never heard his doctor speak. “But given the extent of the damage to his eardrums, I’m not surprised he’s still suffering from hearing loss. It could be several more weeks.”

Brody blinks blearily, trying to shake the dream. It’s hard to do it that, though, and he thinks he can actually see Mitch by the door, actually talking to the doctor. “But come on,” Mitch says. “Surely we’d see more signs of progress.”

The doctor shrugs. Mitch is bigger and more intimidating than Brody, but this doctor is an asshole by nature. It’s his thing. “All hearing tests have been inconclusive.”

Mitch’s expression is kind of funny. It’s so aghast that it looks comical. Mitch has been the picture of calm and collected during this ordeal. Brody’s the one who keeps freaking out about not hearing. “So he really is deaf?”

That’s the kind of thing Brody would say. Mitch would tell him he’s fine, to be patient, because he’s fine.

“There are plenty of documented cases of this kind of hearing loss,” the doctor explains, like this isn’t the first time he’s had this particular conversation with Mitch. “There is still a good chance that he will recover all or part of his hearing.”

Mitch leans forward with a low hiss. “And if he doesn’t?”

Inexplicably, Brody yawns.

That’s when he realizes he’s awake.

It’s also, consequently, when everyone else realizes he’s awake.

Because it was kind of a loud yawn.

Mitch startles and the doctor looks at him blandly. Mitch holds up a finger to him, their familiar sign that now means just one second.

Turning back to the doctor, Mitch’s face is obscured but his tone is, like, intense. “I want you to come up with a better answer than that,” he insists. “You’re sending him home today, and I want to be able to look him in the eye and tell him the truth, whatever that may be. He deserves to know the truth, and if you can’t do that for me, I will find a better doctor, do you understand?”

Mitch is actually starting to loom a little, and Brody feels an unexpected pang of sympathy of the doctor, who has finally started to realize he’s in a precarious position. It’s not cool, though. The dude’s an asshole, but he’s doing his job. Brody figured that out a few days ago.

“Mitch--” he starts in.

Mitch turns, very purposefully, and holds up his finger again.

“No, but, Mitch--”

In a flush of exasperation, Mitch turns back to the doctor shaking his head. “Brody, just give me a damn second, okay--”

“But, Mitch,” Brody says.

Mitch stops and turns back.

He looks at Brody.

Brody looks back.

They both look equally surprised.

It’s Mitch who comes to the conclusion first. “Wait,” he says. “Can you hear me?”

Brody realizes it.

It’s not a dream.

This is real.

Brody can hear.

Brody can hear.

He grins, a small hysterical laugh escaping from his lips. It’s sounds ridiculous, kind of girly.

Shit, it sounds amazing. “I can hear.”

The doctor looks dumbfounded, but Mitch crosses the room in a few large steps. Bending over, he wraps Brody up in a hug.

A big one.

Brody’s laughing and he’s crying and Mitch says it again, “You can hear.”

“Say it again,” Brody says, crying into Mitch’s shoulder. “Keep saying it.”

“You can hear! You can actually hear!”

This goes on for awhile, until the doctor breaks them up and gives Brody a once over. Mitch still stays it, grinning more every time, and they hug a few more times, too.

The doctor clearly thinks it’s a little weird.

It’s not, though.

Not at all.

In fact, to Brody, it sounds just about right.

-o-

That’s the story, then.

Of how Brody loses his hearing.

And finally learns how to listen.