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Baywatch fic: Following the Rules

December 21st, 2018 (10:11 pm)

Title: Following the Rules

Rating: M

Disclaimer: Not mine.

A/N: Fills my head injury square for hc_bingo. No beta.

Summary: The rules never play in Brody’s favor. So he’s never learned to favor them, either.



-o-

There are a lot of rules at Baywatch. Like, too many rules. Brody has been learning them because that’s what you do and because Summer studies with him and Brody will do anything if Summer is involved. Even learn stupid, obscure rules that don’t actually matter.

Like, did you know that lifeguards are supposed to know hand signals? Not actual sign language, which would actually maybe be useful at some point, but they have to learn these dorky signs for things like blood and injury and there’s probably one for jellyfish and sunburn. Summer says that these rules were for back when the walkie talkies were cost prohibitive and they made it easy to send signals up and down the beach, and so Brody asks why they’re still on the books since walkie talkies are no longer cost prohibitive, and she says it’s still a good idea.

So Brody learns the stupid signs and he learns the rules as best he can, enough to pass Mitch’s stupid test and become a full fledged member of Baywatch.

There’s a rule that Brody thinks they forgot, though. One that Brody knows because he’s a guy who grew up using pools and there’s, like, one super simple rule about pools.

(Besides the fact that you don’t pee in the water. People don’t like you vomiting in it either, and that’s not a rule Brody wants to talk about, like, ever.)

No, the rule is this: no running on the pool deck.

That’s a good rule, a rule that makes sense.

So of course it doesn’t exist at Baywatch.

“It’s sand, man,” Mitch tells him when Brody brings it up. Yes, he brings it up, because of course he brings it up. “We like running on sand.”

“I still think it’s a good rule,” Brody insists. He’s part of the team and he’s all in and shit, but he still sort of wants to be an asshole because that’s who he is and he’s not quite confident enough to just be himself yet. Or, you know, ever. “No running.”

“Whatever, pool boy,” Mitch tells him, dismissively. A lot of what Mitch tells him is dismissive, like Brody didn’t help salvage his operation against Leeds and find the flakka and save the bay.

(He did those things, legit, okay. The fact he nearly drowned and nearly got shot are not relevant to this point; they’re not relevant to anything except that shit like that happens when you’re following Mitch Buchannon’s example.)

“But if there’s a rescue in the water, you better run your ass of,” Mitch orders.

Shit, Brody thinks.

Shit.

He hadn’t thought of that.

That’s annoying, because it’s a super good point. Also, it’s a really obvious one.

Oh well, Brody decides. That’s one less rule for him to learn.

-o-

The thing is, Brody’s right.

This happens, occasionally. It’s not like he makes a habit of it or anything, but honestly he’s gotten better at being not wrong ever since Mitch promoted him to full time whatever. Brody’s learned how to do shit the right way, and most of the time it works out.

It’s still weird, though, if he’s honest. He’s still not used to it, and it feels all awkward when people tell him he’s doing a good job or thank him for doing the right thing. And when Mitch gives him that little approving nod, Brody gets, like, butterflies in his stomach.

Because being right and good is not Brody’s thing usually.

That’s all, okay.

That’s it.

All the same, Brody wants to do the right thing -- he does -- and he tries to do the right thing -- a lot of the time -- and yet it still somehow always surprises him when he’s actually right.

It’s so surprising that he’s actually the last one to believe it. He doesn’t believe he’s fine until someone else tells him he’s fine, and the things he used to think he knew are the things he pretty much assumes he has no clue about. It works, mostly.

Until one rainy day on the beach, and Brody’s got flip flops without treads, and what the hell.

Brody’s right?

-o-

It starts with Mitch in tower one. He’s standing on the deck and he’s making, like, this hand signal.

Or he’s just rubbing his head.

To be fair, Mitch’s head is pretty smooth. Brody’s been oddly fascinated with it since forever, but he’s pretty sure Mitch would snap him in half if he tried to touch it, much less rub it.

Which is why Brody’s pretty sure it’s a hand signal.

It takes him another second to realize it’s a hand signal.

One of those stupid ones from that stupid part of the rule book that’s, like, at least twenty years out of date. Mitch is signalling that there’s a...fire?

No, that doesn’t make sense.

He can’t see a fire, and Mitch is way too calm for him to be on fire.

Brody tries to remember. This would be easier if there weren’t so many rules, but then he remembers what Summer was wearing that night when they talked about hand signals, and he remembers that she was in this t-shirt and it was white and kind of sheer and she’d been doing this thing where she rubs her head and oh--

Non-drowning medical emergency.

Backup requested.

Huh, so that’s what it’s like to learn something.

He should have tried that in high school.

Feeling pretty proud, Brody grabs his life preserver, because you always have it, even on a non-water related case, and starts to run down the ramp to provide timely backup to tower one, as per the rules. Brody’s, like, all over the rules for once.

He takes, like, two steps at a full fledged run.

Then, his foot slips.

A little.

Then it slips a lot.

Because it’s a wet ramp.

Brody’s got flip flops on without tractions.

And as it turns out, Brody’s right: there are times, super important and relevant times, when you shouldn’t run on the beach.

-o-

Brody goes up.

He comes down.

He thinks, this will show Mitch.

Then he stops thinking altogether.

-o-

Brody remembers these obscure rules, the weird ones. Like, he remembers his kindergarten teacher telling him, super explicitly, don’t paint in your hair.

“Why?” Brody had asked.

“Because it looks bad.”

And that had made sense. Brody never painted in his hair again.

When he’s under pressure, sometimes rules like that are the only ones he can remember.

Mitch is all, “Be on time! Don’t look at your phone! Don’t buy donuts!”

But Brody’s all, “At least I didn’t paint in my hair.”

That’s not it, though, is it?

Mitch has more rules, and he’s making them now: “Wake up!”

Brody wants to roll his eyes but his eyes are closed.

“Brody, wake up!”

-o-

Then, Brody wakes up.

And swears. “Did I fall asleep on duty again?”

Above him, Mitch scowls. “Again?”

“No, nevermind,” Brody says.

Mitch shakes his head, as if trying to focus on the point.

Brody doesn’t know what the point is.

This isn’t unusual for him, but this time he thinks it might not be his ADD acting up. He’s got this, like, killer headache and his vision is a little funny. When he looks up at Mitch, the sunlight around him looks like some kind of halo.

It’s creepy.

“You hit your head,” Mitch says. “Do you remember?”

Brody wrinkles his nose, and starts to sit up. “Yes,” he says.

He’s lying, of course.

The whole tell the truth thing, that’s a rule Brody’s never understood.

The truth sucks.

“You have a head injury,” Mitch admonishes him, reaching down to steady Brody as he works his way to a sitting position. “You need to lie down.”

Rules, Brody thinks with a grunt. He’ll show Mitch what he thinks of his rules.

Then he stands up.

And promptly throws up.

Like, everywhere.

It’s super gross. It smells and it looks funky and he had peas in his lunch and it splatters. Brody feels disgusting, but he’s too busy passing out to care.

-o-

See, Brody’s never actually liked rules but it’s not because he’s naturally rebellious or anything like that. It’s just he’s always felt like rules were designed to be impossible standards for a guy like Brody. They were rigged, as far as Brody could tell, to officially measure how much Brody wasn’t up to snuff. The rules were never designed for Brody to succeed. Like, seriously.

The teacher says, “Have your parents sign your papers.”

But Brody doesn’t have parents. So who the hell is going to care enough to sign his stupid paper?

Coaches say, “Get permission for the field trip.”

And Brody’s just like, get permission from who? No one actually wants to be legally responsible for him in the first place, so why would they care if he’s in danger on a school bus?

These rules don’t just make Brody fail, they make him feel like a failure, and that got old, real fast. And the rules that you might think make sense: like, don’t run in the street. Don’t talk strangers. Don’t eat food off the ground.

There’s literally no one in Brody’s life -- that’s not an exaggeration, no one, okay -- who gives a shit if he’s hit by a car or abducted by strangers. The only reason people care about him eating off the ground is because people are grossed out by hurling.

And then there’s the practical considerations, as far as Brody is concerned. Too many rules are variable, even though people try to convince you that they’re not. People who make rules play them up like they’re all powerful and shit, but Brody knows better. Brody knows that the rules were different in every foster home he went to. He knows that every school has different rules -- every classroom, every principal, every guidance counselor. Even his stupid case workers had different rules, and Brody was never able to keep up with them. Ever.

It’s not like following the rules ever made a difference, either. Seriously, like, people get all bent out of shape when you break a rule, but when you follow them, no one ever looks at you twice. No one’s ever cared when Brody does the right thing; they don’t even notice.

So what’s the point?

Brody figured it out, a long time ago. He figured out that rules are easier when you break them rather than when you fail at them. At least that way you can pretend like you don’t give a shit.

It’s better to be an asshole than a pathetic loser.

And if that’s not a rule, then it totally should be.

-o-

This time, he wakes up with a light shining in his eye.

Directly in his eye.

Just one eye.

And it’s, like, super close.

“What the hell?” he asks, and he tries to slap the light away. He’s a little uncoordinated, however. He misses. Badly.

“Looks like a concussion,” someone says.

Then they open his other eye because torturing him with one eye isn’t enough.

Brody pays them back for this by throwing up again.

He hopes he hit them.

He’s unconscious before he can find out.

-o-

Rules are like expectations. They’re like promises no one really intends to keep. How could they? People who say, “Don’t eat before you swim” are the same people who say, “You can totally stay with us and be our kid.” It all sounds good. Maybe they mean it. But if one’s not true, then it’s hard to trust the other.

That’s all.

And rules are like stupid scapegoats. They’re convenience excuses for things people don’t really want anyway. “Why can’t I stay here with you guys, just to finish the school year?”

“Because you didn’t come home at curfew. You broke the rules.”

That’s bullshit, and everyone knows it. It has nothing to do with being late for curfew. It’s just that Brody’s not the kid they wanted but they don’t want to feel like it’s their fault for not wanting him. So it’s totally easier if it’s Brody fault.

Because that’s a fair trade, right? You’re 20 minutes late, so you’re not worth keeping.

That’s cool. That’s totally cool.

The rules never play in Brody’s favor.

So he’s never learned to favor them, either.

-o-

Brody wakes up to the sound of his own puking.

That’s seriously one of the most unpleasant sensations he’s ever had. And he’s the dude who barfed in the pool. On live TV. During a race. At the Olympics.

When he opens his eyes, he’s surprised that he’s not at the beach anymore.

He’s more surprised that Mitch is with him.

And he’s in a hospital?

Brody feels himself start to panic. Hospitals have more rules than schools, and they’re way less tolerant about those rules than foster parents.

He wants to leave, but he’s hooked up to an IV and someone took his clothes and Mitch is holding a bucket of vomit -- Brody’s vomit, probably. That’s likely why he’s sitting there, looking less than pleased.

Way less than pleased.

“What happened?” Brody asks because it’s the only thing he can think to say that won’t involve someone yelling at him. He hates being yelled at, and his head also really hurts right now. The lights are still doing that funky halo thing, and Brody’s not sure if his stomach is actually settled or not.

Mitch doesn’t yell, but he still doesn’t look thrilled. “You slipped on the ramp of your tower,” he says, making a small face while he puts the barf bucket to the side.

This seems like a really stupid answer.

So Brody returns it with an even stupider question. “Why?”

Mitch uses some hand sanitizer, which is conveniently placed on a table by the bed. “Because you were running, idiot.”

That answer is less stupid.

In fact, Brody thinks it actually makes a lot of sense.

“Huh,” he says. It’s a little hard to think with the headache he has, but Brody’s never been one for thinking things through. “See. No running should be a rule on the beach.”

The moment he says it, he knows it sounds like he’s being a smartass even if he’s actually not. He just feels a little pleased with himself that he’s found a rule that makes sense.

Even if it’s a rule he didn’t keep when he knew better.

Mitch stares at him like he’s not sure if Brody is serious or not. “Really? You’re going with that as your defense?”

Brody shrugs. Mitch has probably hauled his unconscious ass off the beach and caught his vomit several times by now. Brody sleeps in a cot in his spare room because he’s broke. He can’t pretend like Mitch doesn’t know he’s pathetic.

That’s one reason why their relationship works.

Brody’s got no pride left with Mitch.

And Mitch handles that with relative delicacy.

Most of the time.

“Why not?” Brody says.

Mitch scoffs. “Because you literally slipped and hit your head, and then you barfed like five times -- on me, every time, by the way -- and you’re now in the hospital with a moderate concussion. I have to watch you to make sure you don’t slip into a coma or something stupid.”

Mitch says it all in a rush, like it’s really something Brody should be ashamed of. And okay, so it’s not great. He’s pretty sure the Vomit Comet nickname will come back to make the rounds for a bit, and knowing his luck, someone snapped some pics that are already going viral on social media. There will probably be rumors that he was too drunk to walk down the ramp, and everyone at Baywatch will give him the side eye as they debate whether or not they believe it.

Still.

In all, Brody’s had worse days.

He shrugs, just enough to make the motion without moving enough to aggravate his headache or make his stomach erupt. “Still,” he says, feeling a little chuffed despite, well, everything. “I was right.”

Mitch stares at him, even more incredulous than before.

Brody doesn’t take it back; there’s no point.

Mitch stares him down a little harder.

At this point, all Brody can do is shrug, and shrug feebly because his head is wonky.

Then, unexpectedly, Mitch laughs.

The dude straight up cackles.

For the first time since this incident began, Brody is actually a little scared. Maybe he’s having a stroke. That’s a thing, right? People have strokes after head injuries? Maybe he’s still unconscious and this is some flipped out hallucination. Do you have hallucinations when you’re unconscious?

Shit, maybe Mitch has had a psychotic break. Maybe he’s going to kill Brody.

But then, Mitch tapers off, and pats Brody on the arm with surprising care. “I guess you were.”

That’s not the answer Brody’s expecting.

Like, it doesn’t follow any of the rules.

Where are the reprimands? Where are the I-told-you-so’s? Where is the formal admonishment, the note in his file? Where’s the pink slip? Where’s Brody’s bag being kicked to the curb?

Suddenly, all of Brody’s certainty starts to fade. That confidence, that confidence that he was already such a dick that there was nothing he could do to make Mitch dislike him more, evaporates. And he’s lying there, in a hospital gown, wondering how the hell to get out of this.

“Mitch?” he asks finally. “Um. When I fell. When I, uh, hit my head. What happened?”

Mitch shrugs. “You passed out. You were out cold.”

“No, I mean,” Brody says, and he swallows. He’s hedging. Also, he’s still super nauseous. This whole being conscious and coherent thing is somewhat overrated, if he’s being honest. “Like, who found me?”

“I did,” Mitch says, like it’s obvious.

“Sure,” Brody says. “But how?”

“Well, I saw you go down, and you didn’t get up,” Mitch says, matter of fact. “So I ran to make sure you were okay. Which, you weren’t.”

That’s basically what Brody feared.

It’s also an interesting revelation.

He tips his head, and regrets it. Closing his eyes, he orients himself and gets the pounding of his head under control. When he opens them again, Mitch is watching him. Brody says, basically without hesitation, “So, you broke the rules for me?”

Mitch opens his mouth, looking totally mortified.

He closes his mouth.

Then he shakes his head. “No running on the beach isn’t a rule.”

Brody blinks; he’s being earnest now. Because he can be. He has a point. A valid point. “But we just said it should be.”

“Dude, do you have brain damage? That’s not what I said,” Mitch says, but he’s being too defensive. He knows Brody has a point.

“I was right, though. About the running,” Brody persists because for some reason, it kind of does matter to him. Not the part about running on the beach.

But the part about being right.

Mitch exhales heavily. “You need to learn context, moron.”

Context, Brody thinks. He doesn’t know what context is. But he has to guess that it has to do with Mitch doing anything to get him, even if it means breaking the rules.

And, really, a lot of this situation is shit, but that part’s okay.

Really, maybe the whole thing’s okay.

“So concussion, huh?” Brody asks.

“Concussion,” Mitch confirms.

“Mitch?” Brody asks again.

“Yeah, buddy?”

“I think I’m going to hurl again.”

He does.

Mitch has the bucket close to Brody’s mouth just in time.

-o-

They keep him overnight for observation, and Brody is relieved when Mitch stays with him. Brody doesn’t ask, but he’s pretty sure Mitch can tell that the thought of being there alone freaks him out.

“Better you throw up here, than in my spare room,” Mitch tells him.

Yeah, that’s not the reason why, and they both know it.

“Is there a no barfing rule at your house?” Brody asks.

“There probably should be,” Mitch says. “Since you live there.”

The way he says it, since you live there.

Not if.

Brody’s not sure he can keep that rule, not in the long run.

It’s one of the first times he’d kind of like to try.

-o-

They let him out in the morning, after a few more tests confirm that he still has a brain.

“Still not sure it’s working,” Mitch grumbles.

But he still takes Brody home, driving slowly over the bumps in the road just because.

-o-

For, like, two days Brody sleeps. Three days after that, he watches a ton of TV. Mitch tries to give him all the rules about what he’s allowed to do all day, and he has rules about using appliances and feeding fish and picking up his shit.

Brody follows most of them, but when he leaves his dirty pants lying in the hallway, Mitch picks them up and throws them at him.

“Dude,” Brody objects.

“The rule is to pick up your shit,” he says.

Brody looks at the shorts with some disdain. They do smell wanky. “Why?”

“Because you live here, moron,” Mitch says. “Don’t you want it to be nice?”

Huh, Brody thinks. He’s never thought of it like that.

-o-

The next day, Brody does his laundry.

He puts them away. Like, folded and shit.

Mitch is right. It is nice.

-o-

After a week, Brody finally goes back to work, and he’s surprised when no one side eyes him. He’s more surprised when no one even mentions the Vomit Comet. Instead, they’re all like seriously worried that he’s okay and they’re all super glad that he’s back.

That’s weird.

But Brody could get used to weird.

-o-

At tower two, he pauses at the deck. Someone has taken the time to lay new skid protectors on the planks. And there, posted at the bottom of the ramp, is a sign.

The sign has a rule.

It says: “No running on the ramps.”

Brody grins.

Maybe some rules are okay. Maybe Brody can even live according to a few of them. Maybe this time, unlike all the other times, it might actually make a difference.

Sure, there’s a chance it won’t.

But Brody thinks this time he might try.