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Baywatch fic: One Month and Counting (2/2)

December 21st, 2018 (10:07 pm)

Continued from Part One.



Mitch isn’t sick often, but he’s not one of those stupid, overly manly types like some people expect. To the contrary, he’s pragmatic and realistic. He knows when he’s sick, and he knows that when he is sick, he has to take care of himself.

That’s a fundamental necessity when you’re a lifeguard. You can’t effectively save lives unless you have your own in order. Mitch drills this into his new recruits, because he’s not looking to hire martyrs. He wants heroes, and there’s a distinctive and important difference.

That said, he doesn’t like sick days. And he doesn’t much care for being sick. The thought of missing work at Baywatch, while Mitch recognizes as a necessity, is always vaguely stressful for him, and he’s been known to cut off his recovery time to the barest of minimums just so he can get back into the office as soon as possible.

This is not for a lack of trust. Mitch knows that the team can keep the beach safe.

Still.

Still.

He’s disconcerted, then, to miss nearly a whole week of work. It’s about as long as he’s ever been out, but there’s little to be done for it. The cold is worse than what one would normally expect, and his inability to breathe and endless desire to sleep are compelling factors for why he should not be staffing tower one, where people need him awake and coherent at all times.

It doesn’t help that Stephanie is out of town. She is his backup, his go-to person whenever he needs someone to cover his duties. She’s good at it, and he trusts her to do it. But there’s a reason Mitch only recruits the best. Any of the team should, in theory, be able to do the job.

So it’s probably a little weird that Brody is his first choice.

But the fact is that Brody has done the job, and by all accounts, he did it satisfactorily while Mitch was fired. Brody has the experience, and Mitch does trust him. Besides, he’s also the most convenient choice, given that they live together.

Mitch has no reason to think that he’s made a mistake in this choice. There are no panicked calls to him from the team, and Casey Jean doesn’t follow up with him to question his judgment. There are no headlines about disasters in the bay. No, it seems that Mitch’s instincts were right. Brody’s fine at the job.

Still.

Still.

When Saturday rolls around, Mitch is still tired and achy. His nose still runs a little, and he probably coughs more than he lets on. But he picks himself and heads into work, mostly because he misses the job.

And if he gets to check up on Brody’s work in the process, then that’s just a coincidence that he’s willing to admit to.

-o-

It’s weird, Mitch decides, that Brody hasn’t come home the night before. Weird, but not inexplicable. Brody does sometimes spend the night with Summer at her place, so he’s got no reason to actually worry.

Except that Brody has been making him meals. And stocking the fridge with water. And making sure Mitch has medicine.

But Brody’s got the day off on Saturday, so it’s not that weird.

That’s what he tells himself as he makes his way to HQ for the first time since Monday.

-o-

He’s surprised to see how understaffed they are.

“Yeah,” CJ informs him. “People were dropping like flies. Whatever you had really went around.”

Mitch looks at the schedule in dismay. “But how are we keeping the beach covered?”

“Well, Brody’s been good about staggering shifts so we have as many people on duty as possible,” Ronnie says. “Plus, I think he’s filled all the gaps himself.”

“I know, right?” CJ says. “I was really impressed. That’s why we’re in today, to help him out. I think he’s got to be exhausted after this week.”

“Exhausted?” Mitch asks, looking over the schedule again to account for everything. It’s actually impeccably done; Mitch can’t find a single flaw. That’s why he has to triple check it now.

“He’s been relentless,” Ronnie says. “I don’t think I’ve seen him eating all week.”

“Eating? Try sitting,” CJ says.

“What?” Mitch asks, looking up. He still can’t find anything to fix.

CJ smiles at him. “Nothing,” she says. “Just know that we were in good hands while you were gone.”

“Hardly missed you!” Ronnie joins in. Then, he frowns. “I mean, we missed you, but we were fine. Not that we can operate without you, but we managed. Brody managed.”

Mitch’s look is quizzical.

And critical.

Ronnie clears his throat, gesturing over his shoulder. “Look at that, I’m due for my shift,” he says, hurrying away. “Glad you’re back, Mitch!”

CJ grins, following after Ronnie. “We really are glad.”

Mitch smiles back at their reassurance.

-o-

He smiles less when he gets to his office.

This is the part he’s been dreading, honestly. Even when Stephanie manages the rest, his office is always flooded with paperwork. It’s a bear, and it usually takes him a full week to dig himself out from beneath the mounting piles of things he’s missed.

Except his desk isn’t buried.

In fact, it’s kind of clean.

Just as clean as he left it.

Sure, Mitch can see the piles of forms he needs to sign off on. But they’re complete, just waiting for a signature. Some of the papers he expects have already been moved out, presumably to Casey Jean to circumvent his desk altogether.

Brody’s been busy, clearly. The amount of time it would take him to look up all the procedures and protocols to deal with the paperwork would be time consuming, to say the least. Maybe he had help.

Mitch is puzzling over this when there’s a knock at the door.

He turns to see Summer standing there, looking rather pleased. “I heard a rumor that you were back,” she says, coming inside while beaming. “I’m so glad it’s true.”

Mitch huffs a little. “Did you miss me that much?”

She blushes at that. “Well, yes,” she says, but there’s a caveat. “But I also miss my boyfriend.”

That’s really not the answer he’s expecting. “What?”

She laughs, like it should be the answer he’s expecting. “Um, with you out, Brody’s been here, like, 24/7. I’ve hardly seen him, and when I do see him, he’s so busy making sure Baywatch is running smoothly to even look at me.”

Honestly, Mitch isn’t quite sure what to say to that. “Really?”

Her head bobs quickly. “Yeah, really,” she says emphatically. “He keeps blowing off our dates and everything. So now that you’re back, I’m counting on going on a proper date for once. And, you know, other stuff.”

Mitch shakes his head. “I don’t understand.”

Summer finally seems to notice that she and Mitch are not exactly having the same conversation. She tilts her head to the side. “I just mean that Brody’s been really busy filling in for you. He took it seriously. Really seriously.”

Mitch finally looks back around to the organization on his desk. “He did the paperwork?”

“Yes,” she says. “We kept telling him that Stephanie doesn’t even do all the paperwork when you’re out, but he insisted.”

Shaking his head, Mitch looks back at Summer. “But why would he do that?”

Because Brody’s never shown the desire to do work he doesn’t have to do. He’s a slob at the house; he doesn’t cook for himself. He rarely cleans. Mitch has to get after him to make sure he has clean laundry.

And yet here, at work, suddenly he’s going above and beyond.

This doesn’t quite fit and Mitch isn’t sure what to do with it.

“I don’t for sure,” Summer admits with a one-shouldered shrug. “But I think he just really didn’t want to let you down.”

That’s an answer, for sure. One that kind of, almost makes sense. There is something about Brody, something that wants to please people. For all that he can be a lazy, smart ass, he’s also the guy who worked his ass off to rejoin the team when Mitch was ready to cut him loose. He’s the guy who put the case together on Leeds when Mitch rolled over and accepted defeat.

After all, Brody is a gold medalist twice over. He obviously can work hard when it’s something he wants badly enough.

Mitch just hasn’t quite realize how much he wants Baywatch.

How much he needs to be a part of this team.

A month in, and Brody’s living up to standards like he’s been there for years. Either he’s got something to prove.

Or he’s got everything to lose.

Maybe both.

“He really did this,” Mitch says, observing the piles again and noting how organized they are. They’re annotated with sticky notes for Mitch’s reference. “All of it by himself?”

Summer has sobered by now, and she nods. “Yeah, all of it, and then some,” she says. “So, it’s good your back. I think he’s working himself to exhaustion.”

Mitch nods in return. “Where is he, by the way? I noticed that he’s not on duty yet.”

“Uh, yeah,” she says. “I think he’s supposed to start a shift on tower one here within the hour, but he gets off at four. I have agreed to help out down the beach on tower 5, so if you see him, make sure he remembers that we have a date tonight.”

“So you haven’t seen him?” Mitch asks.

Summer shrugs. “No, not since the morning briefing,” she says. “I wouldn’t bother trying his phone; I think he’s stopped carrying it with him.”

Mitch wrinkles his brow at that. “Why?”

“He’s on duty all the time, that’s why,” Summer says. “Anyway. If you see him, remind him for me, okay?”

Mitch nods vaguely for the lack of something better to do. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Sure.”

Making her way back to the door, Summer smiles back at him one more time. “It really is good to see you, Mitch.”

“Thanks,” he says. “It’s, uh -- good to be back.”

It’s good, for sure.

Just a little strange is all.

-o-

Mitch spends about five more minutes in his office, and that’s about all he can take.

Really, it’s about all he needs, too.

The paperwork is so streamlined that all he has to do is sign and stamp a few and that’s that. He’s done so fast that he’s not sure what to do with himself.

It’s not just strange.

No, Mitch can admit it now.

It’s downright weird.

He’s been gone for a week. Missing that much time, he’s expecting chaos and clutter and confusion. But that’s not what’s going on here. Everything is perfect. It’s like there hasn’t even been a blip. Sure, everyone says they miss him, but no one has actually missed him. They might miss his company, but his expertise? His skill?

It’s not been missed at all.

How the hell is that possible?

How is everything so fine?

How is it more than fine?

Then, Mitch’s phone rings. It’s Casey Jean’s extension. He picks it up quickly. “Hello?”

“Mitch, good, you’re back,” she says, wasting no time with formalities.

“I am definitely back,” Mitch affirms, hoping for some reason that it makes a difference this time.

“That’s good, because I need to talk to you now,” she says. “This has been on my mind for a few days now, and I urgently want to discuss it with you.”

Mitch sits up a little straighter. “Is everything okay?”

He’s not asking because he wants something to be wrong.

Not at all.

He’s asking because he just wants to make sure that something isn’t missing when something definitely feels like it’s missing.

“We’ll talk about it when you get up here,” she says. “You have a few moments?”

“For Baywatch?” Mitch says, already getting to his feet. “I have more than that.”

Mitch hangs up and strides out of the office with a renewed confidence and purpose. This isn’t about the fact that Mitch likes to feel needed.

No, this is about the fact that Mitch is well and truly needed, and he’s here to rise to the occasion.

-o-

“It’s Brody,” Casey Jean starts, and Mitch feels his stomach tighten and flip. He tries not to think of the potential disasters Brody could create in his absence. Flubbed paperwork. Overspending. Scheduling conflicts. Personnel conflicts.

Mitch swallows, straightening in the seat across from Casey Jean. He still has a slight tickle in his throat, but he fights back the urge to clear it with a vicious determination. “What about Brody?”

The captain inhales deeply, folding her hands together, and Mitch braces himself for the worst.

But then, Casey Jean smiles. “I had no idea he had such leadership potential,” she starts, shaking her head as if in disbelief. “I know you tagged him as one to watch, but I figured you meant that as an unofficial probation based on some of his past difficulties. But seeing him in action this past week, I’ve come to realize that’s not what you meant at all.”

Mitch isn’t quite gaping, but that’s about the best he can say of his response. He’s something at a loss, because she’s talking like he knows exactly what she’s going on about. And he knows part of it -- the part about the unofficial probation. He’s known from the start that while Brody has earned his place at Baywatch that he wasn’t going to be a natural on the team. He’d assumed that Brody would need extra coaching, extra support, extra supervision.

So when Casey Jean beams at the thought of Brody having leadership potential, Mitch stammers his reply. “Oh. Well. I’m glad you see it,” he fumbles, and badly.

Casey Jean is so thrilled at the prospect that she doesn’t seem to notice that Mitch is off his game.

Badly.

“He is exceptional, Mitch,” she says. “I mean, he’s been here a month? And he started as a special case? I mean, looking at his file, seeing your original notes and his recommendation for community service -- honestly, I thought you were crazy to leave him charge. But what you saw in him defied all my expectations, Mitch. Completely. I would love to get him on a leadership track, sooner as opposed to later.”

Mitch approaches his next words carefully. “He is always surprising people,” he says, because that much is certainly true, for better and sometimes for worse. He wets his lips, allowing himself to clear his throat just slightly. “He is still new, though. It’s only been a month.”

Casey Jean notes his concern, but not in the way Mitch intends. “Well, then we need to work extra hard to make sure he sticks around,” she says. “His skills, his potential, his complete dedication. He could go anywhere, do anything. We need to retain our talent, and Matt Brody is one of the good ones.”

It’s a little weird, because Mitch has known that longer than anyone. He’s the one who hired Brody. He’s the one who lives with him. He’s the guy who’s trained Brody above and beyond the call of duty. It was his call to put Brody in charge, because he believed that Brody could do it.

And yet, this isn’t what he’s been expecting. It’s hard to say, though, if Mitch is hesitating because Brody’s better than he imagined.

Or because he might be as good as Mitch.

It’s a question Mitch has to reckon with, and it’s not one he’s used to.

Mitch nods a few times, trying to regain his bearings in this conversation. This isn’t about him, even if it feels like it is. This is about Brody.

Mitch has to remember that.

Weird as it is.

When he smiles, he tries to mean it. He wants to mean it, at least. “Yeah,” he agrees, trying to keep his voice from sounding hoarse. “He’s definitely one of the good ones.”

-o-

Mitch believes what he says. That’s a thing for him. He says what he means; always. He knows Brody is one of the good ones. That’s why he put him in charge.

So why does this feel so weird?

Why does something just feel off?

It’s not that he thought Brody would do a bad job or something. It’s just that maybe he didn’t expect him to do as well as he did.

Mitch contemplates this quite seriously, and he tries to consider all the possibilities. He tackles the notion, head on, about whether or not he’s jealous. If maybe, in his pride, he wanted Baywatch to fall apart. Maybe he wanted Brody to need him. Mitch does like to be needed, and it’s possible that he’s held onto that too dearly for too long.

But it’s not really that simple. That’s not why he trains his team the way he does. He doesn’t give them his all so they can come up short. He doesn’t want to be invaluable to the team; he wants the team to be able to come together, no matter what.

That’s a lesson he learned the hard way when he was fired. It’s the kind of thing you learn when you’re forced out of the equation and you have to be the bigger man. He’d withdrawn himself, then, ignoring phone calls and staying away from the beach. It hadn’t been until he got the call on the CB that he’d realized the dynamic reality of the team he’d created.

They needed him sometimes, sure.

And he needed them.

Brody is the quintessential example of this. He need Mitch in ways that the rest of the team doesn’t. He needs Mitch to not simply teach him to be a lifeguard, but how to be a member of a team, how to be family. How to be a functional adult, a person.

Mitch has done that for him, all of it.

Brody, for all intents and purposes, is his protege, and Mitch is in this for the long haul.

That’s the thing, though. This isn’t the long haul. This has been a month. How is it possible for Brody to move from trainee to equal so fast, so easily? How has he gone from the odd man out to the integral member of the team? Mitch still remembers the first time he trusted Brody with a task, and Brody got drunk and picked a fight with him instead.

A month later, and Brody’s risen to this challenge. Not just risen to it, but surpassed it. Shit, not even that. He’s left it behind completely like it hadn’t even been there at all.

That’s surprising, to say the least.

Really, Mitch knows it’s good.

It just feels wrong. Something about this doesn’t jive.

Now, Mitch knows that might just be him. It might be his issue entirely.

He needs to talk to Brody to be sure.

Which brings Mitch to his next and most pressing question: where is Brody anyway?

He’s run Baywatch for the better part of the week. He’s handled the scheduling, manned tower one, covered all the empty shifts and managed the paperwork with finesse. Everyone has raved about him.

So where the hell is he now?

Mitch knows it’s time to find out -- everything.

-o-

This is what Mitch does: he sees a problem and he addresses it. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he doesn’t wait and see. He deals with it, right then, right there.

That’s what he wants to do now.

Except he can’t find Brody anywhere.

This makes less and less sense to Mitch as his search wears on. By all accounts, Brody has been a constant presence at Baywatch. Everyone Mitch asks says great things about him, but no one has seen him since the morning briefing.

Mitch is feeling increasingly uneasy about this, and his sense that something is wrong has amplified tenfold since his meeting with Casey Jean. Finally, someone says they saw Brody in the locker rooms, getting ready for a shift on tower one. Determined to get to the bottom of, well, everything, Mitch marches his way there without delay.

The locker room itself is empty, although Brody’s locker is open, indicating he is in the area. His phone and wallet are sitting on top of his clothes inside the open locker, and it’s impossible to tell if the swim trunks on the bench are clean or dirty.

The room is otherwise empty, but Mitch can hear the showers running in the distance. They are shared showers, so this isn’t a question of privacy, though Mitch doesn’t generally check up on people until they’re out. It’s a common courtesy. But Brody is anything but common.

So Mitch chucks all thought of decorum out the window in exchange for answers.

It’s currently mid shift, so the area is pretty well vacated. Mitch can hear the water running, however, and soon sees the familiar figure standing in front of a shower head at the far side of the room. At first, it seems pretty normal, but as Mitch wat he’s for a moment, he quickly realizes that something is off.

Brody is just standing there. He’s not actively washing. He’s not reaching for soap or running his hands through his hair. Sure, some people like to enjoy the flow of water, but Mitch stands there a good ten seconds and Brody doesn’t move once. He just stands there, arms at his side.

It’s weird enough that Mitch crosses across the room toward him. “Hey, Brody,” he calls, calibrating his voice to carry over the sound of the water.

Brody doesn’t flinch.

Mitch moves closer still, starting to frown. “Brody!” he says, and this time he speaks a little louder. Mitch’s voice carries naturally. When he wants to be heard, he’s generally heard. On a crowded beach, over the ocean waves.

Inside the shower room.

Brody, however, makes no indication of hearing him. In fact, as Mitch approaches, Brody makes no indication at all.

By the time Mitch is right next to him, things are more than weird. They’re downright disconcerting. “Brody, hey,” he says again. “Snap out of it, man.”

Even within this proximity, Brody remains motionless, transfixed on the shower head in front of him. Up close, Mitch can see that his eyes are indeed open, but they are vacant in a strange, unsettling way. He seems totally unaware of where he is, and he has no recognition for the fact that Mitch is standing right next to him

Anxious now, Mitch reaches out. “Brody,” he says, a little gentler now. “Hey.”

The moment he touches Brody, the younger man startled. It’s a slow, delayed reaction, almost comically overplayed. He half pinwheels as he tries to get his bearings, and his pupils are dilated especially large as he turns toward Mitch for the first time. Even then, Brody seems to take far too long to recognize him, and when he speaks, his voice sounds weird. “Mitch? What? Are you?” he asks as he mentally fumbles for an explanation that makes sense to him. His pale feature come up with nothing, and finally he merely says, “Mitch?”

Mitch’s stomach clenches unexpectedly. Thoughts of anger and frustration are immediately replaced by concern. Brody looks horrible. His complexion is pallid, and there are pronounced circles under his eyes. There is an oddly sunken look in his cheeks, and all his reactions are a split second off.

His lifeguarding instincts are raging now, but he has no idea how to make this save. Instead, the best he can do is linger close and try to get Brody to focus. “Yeah, man,” he says, bending down so Brody can look him more easily in the eyes. “It’s me. You want to tell me what’s going on?”

He’s hoping that the question is self evident, but Brody blinks a few more times and looks around, as if trying to remember. It’s not clear that he knows where he is, but the best he can muster up is a vague recollection of what he’s supposed to be doing. “I have a shift,” he says vaguely. “On, uh, tower one. I have a shift on tower one.”

This much Mitch knows through various other sources. It’s not uncommon to shower before a shift, but Brody’s skin is wrinkled on his hands. Really wrinkled. “How long you been in here, anyway?”

Brody looks toward the shower slowly, visibly putting together what he’s been doing. “Just for a few minutes,” he says, and he’s mumbling slightly now. He reaches over haltingly to turn off the water. “I think I’m going to be late.”

He takes a step to move back toward the locker room, but he falters badly. Mitch reaches out to steady him, but Brody has already braced himself against a nearby wall. Nonetheless, Mitch takes him by the arm, shocked by the coolness of the other man’s skin. “Dude--”

But Brody tries to shrug him off. It’s an ineffectual gesture, but it’s meaning is clear. “You’re sick,” he says. “You should be in bed.”

It’s almost a little funny, having a dazed Brody tell Mitch he’s supposed to be lying down when Mitch is increasingly convinced that Brody’s about to fall asleep on his feet right there in the showers. He lets go, but he doesn’t step away. “I was sick, but I’m better now,” he says. “I came in to work today.”

This should be a bit of good news for Brody, but there’s no indication that he’s heard Mitch at all. He shakes his head again, trying to clear it, but his words are less clear than they were before when he speak. “I have a shift.”

Brody tries to move past Mitch, but all Mitch has to do is step in front of him to stymie Brody’s progress. “I think you need to sit down, buddy.”

Agitated, Brody attempts to step past him, but he can’t seem to figure it out. “I can’t miss my shift,” he says, a little insistently now. “The bay--”

“Dude,” Mitch says, and he uses a hand to try to calm Brody down. “We need to sit down.”

“But Mitch is counting on me,” Brody says, even more incoherently than before. He raises his arms to push past Mitch, but the movements are without any real force behind him. “Mitch--”

“Uh, I’m right here,” Mitch says, holding his ground. Under normal circumstances, Brody’s a minimal threat to him. Under these circumstances, it’s clear to Mitch that he poses as much of a threat as a kitten.

Brody’s breath catches on something like a sob. “But it’s been one month and a week,” he says, lifting his hands again and running them anxiously through his hair. “One month and a week.”

He’s almost crying now, for reasons that Mitch can’t even begin to understand. Whatever has happened in the last few days, it’s not the same narrative everyone told him it was.

It’s also not the narrative he’d been expecting.

In truth, Mitch isn’t sure what the hell this is.

He just knows that Brody needs help -- now. “What?” he asks. “Look, Brody--”

But Brody isn’t listening at all now, and he’s growing increasingly hysterical. “One month, one week, and--”

Brody makes a sudden turn, as if he’s finally figured out how to pass Mitch. But it’s a movement too fast, a movement too far. Mitch sees the color drain from his already pale face, and he watches as Brody’s eyes go wide a second before they roll up into his head.

Just like that, Brody’s knees give way, and he’s collapsing to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. He’s going down hard and fast on a tile floor, and Mitch’s lifeguarding instincts finally know what to do. Quickly, Mitch reaches out, catching the younger man before he hits the ground, lowering him gently to the tile floor instead.

On the ground, Mitch immediately assesses Brody’s vitals. It’s procedure for a lifeguard, and Mitch has checked for a pulse and breathing before he even realizes what he’s doing. Brody’s heart is beating and he is certainly breathing, but both appear to be compromised in some capacity. His pulse is thready and fast, skipping unevenly and rapidly beneath Mitch’s fingers. His breathing is shallow and rushed.

These are normal biological responses to trauma. Mitch sees them all the time on the beach.

But Brody’s not been through any trauma. By all accounts, he’s been on his game all week. No one has said anything about any accidents, and there’s been no indication that Brody has gotten sick.

Even now, Brody doesn’t look like he’s got the cold or even the flu. There’s no fever; his breathing isn’t compromised. He’s not coughing, there’s no runny nose.

Instead, he’s cold, clammy and unconscious -- plus he’s in his swim trunks on a damp floor. Mitch grunts a little as he gets to his feet, dragging Brody clear of the worst of the puddles before laying him down again, and going back to his knees to check his status.

The movement has roused Brody, if only slightly. He blinks lazily, looking around blearily. He seems to see Mitch before his gaze skitters away again and he mumbles, “I’m okay.”

There’s nothing convincing about Brody’s sentiment, but it’s a moot point. Brody seems to pass out again, almost as quickly as he roused.

Sighing, Mitch contemplates his options. On the beach, he’d call in the paramedics, no questions asked. It’s not his business to assess anyone’s physical conditions. He makes saves in the field, but he knows he’s not a doctor. He can speculate all he wants, but he’s got no idea what’s really going on with Brody.

Somehow, it feels wrong. Mitch’s instincts are good -- and he trusts them completely. And his instincts are telling him that Brody doesn’t need a hospital.

The question is, then, what does Brody need.

Mitch isn’t so sure about that one, but he is pretty confident that he won’t get what he needs lying on his ass in the showers.

Glancing around, there’s still no one about. They’re at the far end of the room; it’s a hike to the showers.

He looks down at Brody’s prone form again. Carrying him would be easy -- Brody’s got a lot of muscle mass, so he’s undoubtedly heavier than he looks, but Mitch is Mitch. Carrying someone a foot shorter than him is always going to be easy.

Even so, Brody’s clearly worked his ass off this week. It seems wrong to reduce him to this now.

Finally, Mitch opts for a compromise. He reaches down, tapping Brody on the cheek. “Brody,” he says. “Hey, Brody.”

It doesn’t take much to rouse Brody, but it takes a bit for him to open his eyes. It takes even more for him to realize what’s going on. “Mitch?” he asks, sounding confused.

Mitch nods soberly. “You think you can get up?”

Brody’s brow wrinkles. “But what happened?”

“You passed out,” Mitch tells him, seeing no need to brush around it. “Fainted.”

“I fainted?” Brody asks.

“Like a woman in a Victorian novel,” Mitch confirms. “Any idea why?”

Brody looks around somewhat, eyes drifting from Mitch to the shower room. “I was...tired,” he says after a moment. He looks contemplative. “And hungry.”

“You look tired,” Mitch confirms. “You been sleeping okay?”

Brody turns his eyes back to Mitch again. “Not really,” he admits. “Just...been busy.”

“So busy that you forget to sleep?” Mitch clarifies.

“And, you know,” Brody adds with a wince. “Eat.”

That explains his pallor and the dazed expression. Brody’s not sick; Brody’s exhausted.

It makes sense, then. How Brody’s managed to pull everything off. Brody’s managed everything at Baywatch, everything on the bay, everything at home -- and the only thing he had to compromise was his own health and sanity.

Mitch holds back on the urge to groan, because it’s so stupid. It’s so stupid and so avoidable and somehow so completely Brody. To get everything right and still get it all so plainly wrong.

“Okay, so, here’s the deal then,” Mitch says, wetting his lips to look plaintively at Brody. “You’re exhausted, and we need to get you to bed.”

Brody’s eyes widen, and he shakes his head. “But I’ve got a shift--”

“And there’s no way you’re going to make it,” Mitch tells him flatly. “So either you come with me willingly, and we’ll keep this on the down low. You throw a fit, though, and I’ll haul your ass up in front of everyone so they can see just how much of an idiot you really are.”

Brody’s out of it, but he’s not that out of it. Pressing his lips together, he swallows hard.

“That’s what I thought,” Mitch says, and he sits back a little, offering Brody his hand.

Brody looks at the hand, then he looks at Mitch. Miserably, he reaches his hand out to take it. “Smart choice,” Mitch says, hefting him up. “At I know you’re still capable of making one.”

-o-

Brody doesn’t fight him as they clear out of the showers, but his steps are slow and careful as they make their way through the locker room. It’s mercifully still empty, and Mitch manages to get Brody through the hallways toward the bunk room without much incident. Brody’s strength flags significantly throughout the trek, not that he had much to start with, but by the time they get to the room, Brody’s ready to collapse again.

It’s all they can do, working together, to get Brody down onto the first bunk in a somewhat controlled fashion. Lying there, Brody is drained of strength and looks ready to sleep with no further ado. However, he keeps his eyes open long enough to look at Mitch.

“I just wanted to do the right thing,” he says. “I didn’t want to be selfish.”

Mitch is perturbed, but that one still gets him, right in the gut. Brody’s got a history of being selfish. Mitch knows; he’s the one who calls Brody out on it time and again. He’s been so focused on teaching Brody not to be selfish that he realizes that he’s never actually clarified to Brody what it means to be selfless.

At least, what it means to be selfless without being stupid.

Sighing again, Mitch nods his head. “I know,” he says. “We’ll talk about it later.”

Brody shifts, almost as if to sit up a little. “But the bay--”

Mitch’s hard stare keeps Brody right where he is. “Isn’t only your concern,” he says. “You have a whole team out there, remember?”

When Brody looks dubious, Mitch points to himself.

“And I’m back, okay?” he says. “The bay is fine.”

It might be that reassurance that allows Brody to finally close his eyes. Either that, or he finally is just too tired to stay awake. Mitch sees both options as equally possible.

He stands there, watching Brody sleep for a moment. He knows, outside, the bay is fine.

Right here, standing next to Brody, he’s not sure that everything else is quite so fine.

-o-

Now that Mitch is back to work, that means it’s time to get back to work. He had expected to spend his time digging out from under paperwork and working tower one.

That’s all important stuff.

Mitch knows that this is more important.

He turns off the lights before exiting the room, and he puts up a sign to keep others out for the foreseeable future. The bunk room is not one of their most used areas; in fact, it’s a little antiquated, but it comes in handy from time to time. Times like this, apparently.

Making his way back to his office, he quickly checks the schedule, and he calls in a few off duty guards to come in and pick up the slack. It’s a Saturday, and no one is keen to work on their day off, but this is Mitch asking. It doesn’t take much to get someone to cover Brody’s shift -- and anything else that may be lacking for the day.

Fortunately, Brody has kept him mostly caught up on paperwork, so Mitch simply grabs a small stack to work on as he passes the time. He checks in with key staff members to let them know where he is and that he’s available for consultation in HQ but not on the beach, and then makes his way back down to the bunkroom.

Inside, Brody’s still asleep in the same position where Mitch left him ten minutes ago. He doesn’t stir when Mitch closes the door, cracking the blinds enough for him to see as he settles down with his work. He places his phone -- on vibrate only -- next to him, and determines to get to work.

It’s all relatively easy because Mitch is good at his job.

Though, he has to admit, it’s especially easy when Brody’s done so much of the hard work for him. The paperwork isn’t just done right; it’s done thoroughly. Mitch has more appreciation for it the more he goes through it. Brody has clearly cross referenced every policy and procedure. He’s verified every number he can.

For a guy with only a month’s experience, it’s impressive.

A month and a week, Mitch reminds himself.

Tapping his pen on his paper, he glances over toward Brody.

That’s what he’d meant; a month and a week.

Brody had been a full fledged member of the team for a month and a week.

It’s a strange distinction to make.

But a lot of things about Brody are strange right now.

Mitch keeps thinking he has Brody figured out, and then Brody shows him that he’s back at square one again. Mitch isn’t actually sure what to do with that.

He’s going to have to stick around to find out, it seems.

A month and a week.

What’s one more day?

-o-

It’s long, that’s what one more day is. Very, very long.

Brody, for his part, seems oblivious to this. He sleeps and sleeps hard the entire time. Mitch leaves and comes back a variety of times, sometimes to take calls, sometimes to meet with a staff member. He eats lunch, and he even has a very tense conversation with Summer who wants to know why the hell her boyfriend is going to miss their date again.

“He’s worked hard this week,” Mitch reasons with her. “Trust me when I say, he needs to sleep.”

She does not look so reasonable, however. “It’s a date,” she says. “We’re going to have fun.”

“Tomorrow,” Mitch promises her on Brody’s behalf. Usually, he makes a point not to interfere with staff relationships, but Brody’s different, isn’t it? Brody’s his own special case. “Why don’t you let him plan something big for you tomorrow?”

Summer looks like she wants to kill someone. Possibly Brody. Possibly Mitch. “A week, Mitch,” she reminds him. “I have needs to!”

Mitch pats her awkwardly, not sure what else to do in response to that. “I’ll make sure he knows,” he says.

She huffs away but doesn’t argue.

Mitch is slightly relieved at the reprieve. He’ll just put that on the list of things he needs to talk to Brody about that he really wishes he could just ignore.

Funny, Summer’s sex drive is not even the topic he’s dreading most.

-o-

By the time everyone else has gone home for the night, Brody shows no signs of waking. He legitimately appears to need more sleep, and Mitch is beginning to suspect that he’ll sleep all the way through the night if Mitch lets him.

Of course, he has the option to wake him up. Brody would probably at least be coherent now, so they could probably make that work.

But Mitch can’t bring himself to do it.

Every time he tries, he sees Brody’s wide eyes as he talks about not letting Mitch down, and he just can’t bring himself to do anything. Because Brody needs the rest, because he’s earned the rest.

Because Mitch doesn’t want to have to actually talk about what the hell Brody was thinking to precipitate this mess.

At any rate, Mitch makes the decision to let Brody sleep after seeing everyone else out of the building. He takes some time to file the rest of his paperwork, ensures that the schedule is set for tomorrow and makes a few last minute calls. He texts Stephanie who has informed him that she’s still due back for work Monday, and then he locks up everything else and heads back to the bunk room where Brody is still sound asleep.

Mitch has been here for hours now, and with no one else in the building, Mitch gives up the pretense of work. Not that he has any to do anyway, but there’s no need to preoccupy himself, not when it’s just him and Brody now.

He makes up a bunk of his own after surfing the web on his phone for a bit, but when he tries to lay down, he finds it hard to sleep. Still recovering from his cold, Mitch started the day tired, but now, he just feels restless. He tries to get comfortable, rolling from his back to his side, but when he opens his eyes, he can see Brody still asleep in the bed across from him.

In all these hours, he’s still barely moved, and he’s almost lying in the same position he was when Mitch deposited him on the bed hours ago. It’s a little like Brody took the order to rest literally, and he’s resting so completely that he dares not move.

That’s supposed to be funny in Mitch’s head.

It doesn’t seem that funny, though.

Last time he asked Brody to do something, Brody had done it -- so completely that it made him pass out. That’s an improvement, in some ways, over the Brody who blew off his responsibilities with gusto.

But it’s not a complete improvement in other ways.

And that’s what makes Mitch mad.

Because yes, Mitch is mad. Lying there, staring at Brody while he sleeps, Mitch is pissed as hell. When he realizes this, he feels guilty out of instinct. How can he be mad?

But then, how can he not be mad?

How is it that Brody is capable of being so unbelievably good?

And then so unbelievably stupid at the exact same time?

The man is a walking contradiction -- or a sleeping one, at this point -- and Mitch doesn’t even know what to do with him. Brody needs to have someone give him a chance or he’ll never rise to the occasion, but if you give him too much of a chance, he drives himself into the ground. It’s inane, that’s what it is. It’s stupid and impossible, and Mitch is torn between wanting to protect him and wanting to thrash him around the neck.

Both, probably. Brody could need both at this point.

Mitch sighs and tries to close his eyes. The first thing that needs to happen is a conversation. A long, purposeful conversation about how one month on the team led Brody to nearly kill himself within one week.

He opens his eyes to glance at Brody again.

He’s still asleep, of course.

And Mitch isn’t.

“Shut up,” Mitch scowls at him. “This is all your fault.”

Brody, in his current state, certainly doesn’t disagree.

-o-

Mitch does sleep eventually, but he doesn’t sleep well and he doesn’t sleep long. It doesn’t much matter, though. When Brody starts to stir at 6 AM, Mitch is upright and awake before he even has a chance to open his eyes.

Sure, Mitch has been dreading this conversation all night.

That’s why he’s dead set on having it.

Now.

Brody takes his time waking up. He rolls over a few times, flops his arm over his head once or twice and then yawns. When he finally makes it to his side with his eyes open, he sees Mitch for the first time.

It’s telling that Brody isn’t weirded out waking up in a place he probably doesn’t remember going to sleep in.

He’s only weirded out by the fact that Mitch is staring at him.

To be fair, that is pretty weird.

Mitch doesn’t care. “You’re up,” he says with an air of finality to let Brody know he’s been waiting.

Brody swallows and then his breathing quickens. He sits up a little hastily, but then has to brace himself, closing his eyes as his vision presumably swims. When he opens his eyes, he’s still pale but he knows where he is.

And he knows what’s going on. “Shit,” he says. “Mitch, have you been there all night?”

Mitch shrugs coolly. “You passed out in my arms,” he says. “I wasn’t about to leave you alone.”

This answer is distressing to Brody, and he glances around for some indication of the time. “How long?”

“You’ve been asleep for, give or take, 17 hours,” Mitch informs him.

Brody’s eyes goggle. “Shit,” he says. “17 hours. I missed my shift--”

He looks like he’s about to get him up, but Mitch levels him with another glare.

Brody sits back soberly.

Mitch takes his time to draw a breath. “I had someone cover it for you,” he says. “And before you ask, you are definitely off duty today, and I may take you off tomorrow.”

Brody’s face flushes red. “But Mitch--”

“But nothing,” Mitch says flatly. “You passed out and scared the shit out of me. You’re lucky I didn’t call an ambulance.”

“I’m fine,” Brody says, starting with the same meager explanations as before. He sounds less ridiculous saying it now, but Mitch still knows better. “Really, Mitch--”

“You’re not fine,” Mitch says. “You’re still exhausted, and you’re probably operating with dangerously low levels of blood sugar. Do you know when you last ate?”

Brody tries to brush this off like it’s stupid, but Mitch can see him think about it. Finally, he has to admit sheepishly, “Not really. I think I meant to eat breakfast yesterday, and I ran out of cash for the vending machine the night before--”

All of which means it’s been too long. Mitch gets to his feet. “Okay, so I get you some food.”

Brody moves to stand, but Mitch pushes him back down with a firm hand on his shoulder.

“I get you some food,” Mitch says again, more emphatically this time. “And you lay there and rest.”

“I just slept for the better part of a day,” Brody protests.

“Which is why I’m sure as hell not letting you get up yet, not until you’ve eaten,” Mitch scolds him.

Brody slumps back a bit, duly reprimanded.

Mitch shakes his head, making his way to the door. “Just stay there until I get back,” he orders with one last lingering look. “And don’t do anything stupid.”

It seems unlikely that Brody could find any trouble right now.

But this is Brody he’s talking about.

If there’s a stupid thing to do, Brody would know how to do it.

And Mitch is always going to be trailing along, trying to pick up the pieces.

-o-

Mitch makes a show of getting food, but that’s all flash and little substance. It’s not like he’s going anywhere to pick something up -- that’ll take to long. Fortunately, he’s not out of cash, so he raids the vending machine for as many breakfast related items as he can. When that fails, he settles for a Snickers bar, a bag of baked chips and a fresh bottle of water. Protein and fat content will do Brody a world of good right now, and it’s the closest thing to food Mitch can muster without leaving Brody to his own devices longer than absolutely necessary.

By the time he makes it back to the bunk room, he’s pleased to find that Brody hasn’t gone anywhere. He is sitting up now, but he’s still on his bed, perched obediently on the edge while he waits for Mitch to return.

Without a word, Mitch hands him the food. Brody takes it, sheepish at first, but when he opens the bag of chips, he seems to realize how hungry he is. He consumes the chips quickly before downing half the bottle water. He’s several bites into the Snickers bar when he pauses long enough to look across the room, where Mitch has perched on the bed across from him.

They stare at each other for a moment, neither sure who is going to speak first. Unprompted, Brody breeches the silence first. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Mitch isn’t sure what Brody’s apologizing for. Shit, he’s not sure Brody knows what he’s apologizing for. “You’re sorry?”

Brody nods a few times. “You trusted me with the bay, and I screwed it up,” he says. He sighs, a long and controlled sound. “You trusted me, and I’m sorry.”

Mitch fights the urge to laugh. “That’s why you’re sorry?”

Brody looks up at him, blank. “Yeah,” he says. “You trusted me with the bay--”

“The bay is fine, Brody,” Mitch cuts him off. “You did a spectacular job taking care of the bay and running Baywatch. Everyone has said it. Even Casey Jean knows it. You filled in for me so well that it was like I wasn’t even gone, okay? The bay, Baywatch -- that’s all fine.”

Brody is guarded at this. Mitch is praising him, but he can tell that this isn’t a complimentary sessions. “Okay,” he says slowly.

“So don’t apologize for that,” Mitch says. “You did a great job taking care of my bay.”

Brody licks his lips uncertainly. “Then what’s the problem?”

Mitch scoffs. “You did a shitty job of taking care of yourself, moron.”

With the swiftness of the condemnation and the edge to Mitch’s voice, Brody’s composure is instantly shredded. He slumps back, visibly deflated.

That’s not what Mitch wants.

None of this is what Mitch wants.

“Shit,” Mitch swears. “You don’t get it.”

Brody dares to look up at him, still crushed and confused.

“Why didn’t you just ask for more help? There are countless people around who would have helped you out, made things easier,” Mitch says. “You’ve only been here a month, Brody. No one expects you to operate like you’ve been on the team for years.”

“A month and a week,” Brody interjects softly.

Mitch stops himself to look at Brody incredulously. This is the second time Brody has made this clarification. The second time that Mitch isn’t sure why. “What?”

Brody steels himself a little. “I’ve just, I’ve been here a month and a week,” he says again.

At a loss, Mitch shakes his head. “And what does that even matter anyway?”

Averting his gaze, Brody shrugs on shoulder desolately. “I don’t know.”

But he does know.

And Mitch does to, when he actually thinks about it. Because when do you keep track of time? When you’re counting down to something.

Or when you’re marking the time of something.

Some people do it to make the time go faster.

Other people do it to commemorate something special.

That’s why people celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. They’re marking time, keeping track of important events by how long they last.

That’s how Brody views Baywatch. He’s marking the time. Not because he wants to leave, but because he’s so proud of how long he’s stayed.

For a guy like Brody, who doesn’t know shit about family or teamwork or home, a month and a week must feel like quite an accomplishment. It’s something you wouldn’t want to ruin. Not when other people finally trust you.

It might make you work harder, work too hard. It might make you forget to take care of yourself in order to do the job right. Because you’re not focused on yourself. You’re focused on a month and a week, a month and two weeks. Two months, three months. A year.

Brody has worked his ass off to make sure he makes it another day.

Brody exhausted himself to make it another week.

Because Brody’s not in this for the short term. He wants to make it last, and he has no idea how to do that.

Shit, Mitch can’t be mad about that. He can’t be mad about any of it anymore, no matter how stupid it is.

He still has to address it, however.

He has to address it now.

Because next time, Brody might actually get himself killed to prove that he deserves a place at Baywatch, and Mitch can watch him sleep and feed him shitty food from a vending machine, but he has no intention of giving the eulogy at Brody’s dumb ass funeral.

“Look,” he says, letting out a long, even breath. “Of course I wanted you to rise up, to take care of the bay and the team. But not at your own expense. You need to have balance, Brody. You can’t help anyone else if you fall apart.”

Brody shakes his head, brow furrowed. “But you want me to be less selfish,” he says. “You told me yourself, that’s what my problem is. I’m selfish.”

Mitch doesn’t roll his eyes -- but only by sheer willpower. “Balance,” Mitch stresses again. “I mean, yes, I want you to realize that there’s a world outside you, and I don’t want you to be an asshole. But if you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re still a liability in the field.”

It’s pretty clear none of this has occurred to Brody. Ever. They’re treading on new ground here, and Mitch hopes he doesn’t screw it up.

“But I just figured,” Brody says. “I mean, in the big picture, comparing the bay and Baywatch to me, that, I don’t know--”

He’s faltering, so Mitch supplies the answer for him. “That you were expendable?”

Brody startles to hear it, but not because he’s not thinking it. Rather, because he’s been thinking it all along and he’s never had the guts to say it.

“Balance,” Mitch says again. “Why do you think I am willing to take sick days? Because I know I can’t give my best to this team unless I’m at my best. It’s okay to be the one in need sometimes. It’s okay to need help. That’s the whole point of the team. No one’s expendable; we’re all equally valued.”

Brody is staring at him like Mitch is speaking a different language. He shakes his head. “I don’t understand.”

Of course he doesn’t. Because that would make this easy. “Brody, come on,” he cajoles. “Do you think that I would trade your well being for the well being of the bay?”

Brody hesitates; clearly, he thinks the answer could be yes.

“Of course not,” Mitch tells him firmly. “You need to get his, okay? We love and value you, so you need to look after yourself.”

This conversation appears increasingly vexing for Brody. “I just didn’t want to let anyone down.”

“And you didn’t, buddy,” Mitch says. He shakes his head, managing to chuckle a bit now. “Not until you let yourself down.”

The notion seems vaguely horrifying to Brody. “I’m trying, though,” he says, almost pleadingly now. “I’m trying not to be selfish, to think of other people first. To put myself last.”

“Not last,” Mitch corrects him promptly. “Just, you know, now always first. I told you, you’re no good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself first.”

It’s not that complicated of a concept from where Mitch is sitting. But then, Brody’s a foster kid and disgraced Olympian who has clearly never had a family or a home before. It’s pretty complicated for him. He puts down the Snickers bar, slumping back against the wall. “I’m never going to get this right.”

Mitch doesn’t lie, and he doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s always honesty; he always says what he means. So he makes no qualms here: “On your own, probably not.”

Brody casts him the most dejected look yet.

Mitch follows it up quickly. “But you’re not alone,” he says, pausing for a moment to let that one sink in. “You’re on a team now. And you’re starting to figure out what that means for once. You just have to give it time. It’s only been a month and a week, right?”

Eyeing him, Brody’s expression is guarded. “Yeah,” he says. “Going on a month and two weeks now.”

Mitch nods in agreement. “Well, you’ve come a long way in a short time,” he says. “Honestly, you’ve done a hell of a job. Not a perfect job, but a good one.”

Brody sits up a little. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Mitch tells him with a nod. “Best month and a week of my life.”

Something lights up in Brody’s face, something solidifies in his eyes. He picks up the candy bar again. “Yeah,” he says. “Mine, too.”

A lot of things about Brody surprise Mitch, but not that.

He grins as Brody finishes the candy bar.

Definitely not that.