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Baywatch fic: Rocks and Hard Places (4/10)

December 21st, 2018 (10:22 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX
PART SEVEN
PART EIGHT
PART NINE
PART TEN



-o-

No more than two hours had passed before Brody finally started to rouse. Mitch had a healthy fire going, and he’d managed to find a leave wide and fresh enough to cup some fresh water from the stream. He’d been using it to cool off the raw skin on Brody’s torso, but when the younger man’s eyes finally flickered open, he was ready with the frond, offering water to Brody for a drink.

It took some effort, but Brody didn’t fight him. Water dribbled down his chin and cheek, but the liquid visibly helped Brody relax, and by the time they were done, Brody was alert if completely spent.

For a moment, he simply laid there, focusing on forcing the air in and out from his worn-out lungs as he stared out across the darkened beach. The air was starting to cool with the breeze off the water, and Mitch was aware of the tremors along Brody’s exposed skin. The put another log on the fire for good measure.

When he turned back, Brody was looking at him.

In the firelight, his face was wan, and he looked drawn. His breathing had evened sightly, but Mitch could tell that it was still shallow. When he spoke, Brody’s voice was thin like paper, and just as fragile. “Hey.”

Mitch mustered up a smile, for Brody’s benefit. “Hey,” he said back, trying to make it sound casual. Like they weren’t stranded on a deserted island. Like Brody hadn’t just had his side seared shut miles from home. “How are you doing?

There was something ostentatious and simple about the question, and Mitch knew it was willful in its obfuscation of the situation.

Brody, still seemingly eager to please, lifted the corners of his mouth in what could only be counted as a smile under these conditions. “Terrible,” he croaked.

“Yeah,” Mitch said with a sympathetic tilt of his head. “You’ve been out for a few hours. The pain was too much; you passed out.”

Brody shifted slightly, barely muffling a grimace. “Of course I did,” he murmured with a hint of consternation. “You lied to me. Again. That was really painful.”

“Of course I lied,” Mitch said. “Did you really want to know it was going to be agony?”

“Maybe,” Brody muttered, as he tried to settle back into a comfortable position. If the look on his face was any indication, his efforts seemed to be in vain. “I might have been better prepared with the truth.”

“I doubt it,” Mitch said. “But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

Brody arched his eyebrows, quizzical. “For lying?”

Mitch bent his head forward slightly. “That,” he said. “And for hurting you. If there had been any other way…”

Brody was watching him now, a little more keenly that Mitch might have suspected for a man who had been shipwrecked, impaled and cauterized in one short day. “Did it work?”

For some reason, it caught Mitch completely off guard. “The cauterization?

“Yeah,” Brody said. “Did it work?”

It was a valid question; in some ways, it was the only question. It was strange how little the answered had mattered to Mitch over the last few hours since completing the procedure. He’d had thought, when he suggested the idea, that the ends would justify the means. For the past two hours, the means had wracked him with guilt.

Brody’s question, however, was steeped with an absolution Mitch needed but didn’t know quite how to accept.

He nodded, struggling to keep his voice steady. “The bleeding’s stopped.”

This time, when Brody smiled, he somehow looked like he was 12. It was the unnatural light of hope in his dimmed features. “So it worked?”

Mitch’s own insecurities notwithstanding, he could not deny Brody this comfort. “We accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”

Brody seemed to contemplate that, the idea almost visibly turning over in his weary head. When he looked at Mitch again, he was more resolute if not stronger. “Thank you.”

Somehow, that was both the exact thing Mitch wanted to hear and the very thing he could not stand hearing. “Don’t thank me yet,” he said, his own self defenses flaring. “We’re not in the clear yet.”

“You’ve given us the chance, though,” Brody maintained. “Well, me the chance.”

The fact that Mitch himself was no worse for wear only served to intensify Mitch’s feelings of guilt over the situation. Brody didn’t need his guilt, though. Especially not with the night taking hold of them. “I hope so.”

If Mitch was being noncommittal, Brody showed no indication of accepting it. “I know it,” he said, somehow managing to make his weak voice sound sure. “Besides, I know how shitty this is for me.”

“Well, you have been impaled and stranded,” Mitch pointed out. “Not to mention the fact that we stuck hot metal in the wound.”

“I’m not sure I needed an explicit reminder,” Brody confessed. “But my point was that it’s shitty for you, too.”

“Oh, yeah,” Mitch quipped, sitting back and stretching his legs, rubbing a tired hand over his smooth head. “I’m having a hell of a time sitting here in the sand, working on my tan.”

“You’ve taken care of me,” Brody said. “In ways, like, no one else would. I mean, you’re doing the heavy lifting here.”

“Because you nearly bled to death,” Mitch countered, refusing to take this. “It doesn’t quite compare.”

Of all the times for Brody to actual know what he was talking about. He drew in a breath, pinning Mitch with a quiet, knowing look. He saw Mitch, right then. Not the facades, not the tough guy, not the oceanic son of a bitch. But the man who was second guessing everything and who could still hear Brody’s scream as it echoed in his head. “I think it might,” Brody said quietly.

There were moments like this between them, sometimes. Quiet moments. Defined moments. Those moments when they were united in mind. Moments when they didn’t need to banter or quibble or fuss over the details. Moments when, despite all odds, they were more the same than they were different.

Moments when not even the damn ocean mattered.

Mitch nodded his head. “All the same,” he said. “You need to rest.”

It was an obvious suggestion, and when Mitch gave it, Brody was already succumbing to it. “Hell of a day.”

“Not quite what I planned,” Mitch agreed.

Brody breathed for a moment, blinking a few times before keeping his eyes open. “I should have just said I loved the ocean,” he said. “Saved us the trouble.”

“I don’t want your lies,” Mitch said. “No matter how well intentioned.”

“Says the guy who lied to me yesterday,” Brody said. “Twice.”

Mitch huffed, a small laugh without much force. “Who really doesn’t like the ocean, anyway?”

“People who are shipwrecked, probably,” Brody observed helpfully, even as his eyes were drooping again.

“I’ll let that slide for tonight,” Mitch said. “But tomorrow--”

Brody breathed out, his eyes closing and he didn’t open them this time. “Tomorrow,” he agreed, the word soft like air.

Mitch watched him as he slipped into sleep, the tension in his body easy again almost instantly. It took a mere matter of seconds for his breathing to even out, as Brody settled into stillness.

“Tomorrow,” Mitch said again, a promise and a curse while the waves swept against the shore and the stars twinkled overhead.

-o-

With Brody asleep, Mitch was tempted to keep watch that night. It was a protective impulse, one gleaned from years on Baywatch, where his entire job was to make sure that everyone on his beach was safe.

The problem tonight was that Brody wasn’t safe. The damage was already done, and Mitch would merely be holding vigil over his own shortcomings. There were arguments to be made for tending the fire, watching for rescue and making sure Brody kept breathing, but he knew these reasons had limited viability. The fire was burning hot, and it did not need constant care. Rescue after dark was nearly impossible, and the well constructed fire would do more than Mitch ever could on his own. He’d done all he could for Brody; if Brody’s condition started to decline unexpectedly, there would be nothing Mitch could do be watch.

The fact was that Mitch would be more viable tomorrow if he slept tonight. Nothing about this trip had been pragmatic so far, but Mitch no longer had the luxury of his own wants and whims.

Nonetheless, Mitch readied the campsite as best he could. He primed the fire once more for good measure before organizing his wood supplies next to him for convenience. He judged the tides, just to be safe, and he used sand to bolster up Brody’s position on the sand. Before settling down in his own sand bed, he watched Brody’s chest rise and fall, counting the inhalation and exhalations in a bid to at least pretend like he was offering aid.

Finally, Mitch forced himself to bed, closing his eyes to the stars and the fire, closing his eyes to Brody’s still sleeping form. Sleep was necessary for survival, and if he did not value his own, he still valued Brody’s. Whatever challenges were presented tomorrow, Mitch would be alert and ready to meet them.

Mitch had never been one to have trouble sleeping; he could do anything when he put his mind to it. He didn’t stay up fretting or worrying, but it still took him some time to fall asleep.

He found, for some reason, that the sound of the ocean was louder than usual, and the steady sweep over the waves against the shore grated on his nerves, taunting him until he finally fell asleep.

-o-

Mitch woke several times throughout the night, twice to stoke the fire back into a raging flame and once in a panic, just to check Brody’s pulse for his own peace of mind. Despite that, he still slept soundly. When the sun started to hit the beach, Mitch was up and ready to meet it.

To start the day, Mitch kept fuel in the fire, judging how much wood he had left to work with. He’d have to make a run this morning, hopefully before Brody woke up. His own stomach was starting to grumble, so he tried a few of the food items he’d found in the woods yesterday. None of it tasted great, but he washed it all down with a plentiful helping of water from the nearby stream.

The tides had shifted in the night, and Mitch was pleased to find that some of the wreckage from the rocks had started to wash up to shore. Most of it wasn’t useful -- the wood was too wet, and the metal component useless, but some of the items offered an interesting utility. Randomly, a deck chair had survived, bent but intact, and Mitch plunked it down for himself between the fire and Brody. There were some sodden blankets, which he laid out in the sun to dry. Most usefully, Mitch found a few cups and plates from the galley. He took time to wash them out before filling the cups with water, setting them up on a crate next to Brody for easy access when he woke.

With the rest of the debris, Mitch decided not to let any go to waste. Using the wood and metal, he picked a spot high on the sand to stay mostly clear of the tides while also staying visible from the air. Anxiously, he arranged the pieces into the word HELP, hoping it might serve as additional support in case of an air rescue.

Hurriedly, he headed back to camp. The sun was fully up now, and he expected Brody to wake soon. He found the younger man still sleeping, which was probably for the best. He’d been through a lot yesterday; the more he slept, the easier this would probably be for him.

Still, Mitch would have liked to check on him. As it was, he lingered for a moment, watching him breathe and telling himself that was as much as he could hope for now.

Tempting as it was to maintain the vigil, Mitch knew other tasks needed attention. With the new plates he’d found, he started to collect something more substantial for breakfast. He did his best to make the plants look as delectable as possible, and at least by arranging them on a plate, he could make it look more obviously like food. Brody could be picking sometimes, but he’d shown a keen ability to adapt under pressure since joining Baywatch.

He was gathering more wood, cutting off what he could with his pocket knife, building up his stockpile when he noticed that Brody was finally awake.

“Hey,” he said, dropping the wood and moving around to a better position in Brody’s line of sight. “You’re up.”

Brody scrunched his forehead, as if he wasn’t sure that was the most accurate statement in the world. “I kind of hoped it was a dream.”

“That we were shipwrecked?” Mitch asked with a frown.

“That I’d been impaled,” Brody said. He let out a shuddering breath. He was still on his side, the wound kept clear of the sand. He closed his eyes miserably, forcing down a swallow. “Cauterization seemed like such a good idea last night.”

Mitch smiled sympathetically. “I was just going to check the wound,” he said. “Do you mind?”

Brody opened his eyes tiredly, not bothering to shrug. “Couldn’t stop you even if I wanted to.”

There was something withdrawn in Brody’s demeanor this morning; something diminished. It was to be expected, Mitch tried to reassure himself; Brody went through hell yesterday.

Still, he let his fingers linger on Brody’s skin. It was warm and dry under his touch; the wounds under the bandages looked ugly and inflamed with large blisters over the area, but nothing out of order for fresh burns. Also, he noted, there was no sign of addition bleeding. He forced himself to smile as he took the cloths over to the fresh water, wetting them down in the stream before bringing them back and gently bathing each open wound.

Brody flinched under the ministrations, biting back a cry. His body stiffened, and Mitch situated the cloths back over the burns as gently as possible.

When he was done, Mitch sat back and watched as Brody tried to regain his composure. He was only moderately successful before he opened his eyes again and looked tiredly back up at Mitch. “No sign of rescue?”

Mitch tried not to show how hard the question was to hear. How hard it was to answer. “Well, it’s early,” Mitch said. “But I’m sure that the team has a search party organized and moving out as we speak. They’ll be on the water, looking for us in no time.”

This seemed to please Brody, but the relief was momentary and badly understated. Despite the night’s rest, Brody looked more drained than before. His complexion was still unnaturally pallid.

Mitch reached for the cup, holding it out to Brody. “A few things washed onto shore,” he said, trying to sound upbeat. “I thought you might prefer a cup instead of a leaf.”

Brody, however, did not seem to care much. He made a feeble attempt to lift his arm, but the shifting of his skin made him gasp, and Mitch hastened to hold the cup up to his lips on his behalf, no quips needed. “Here,” he said, acting as though it were completely natural. “Let me.”

It was a sign of just how bad Brody’s was feeling that he didn’t resist. Instead, he focused almost exclusively on trying to drink, even as water dribbled over his dry lips and over his parched skin.

Working together in this way, Brody was able to drink most of the water before dropping his head in exhaustion. Mitch reached for the plate next. “Now,” he said. “I want you to keep an open mind about this.”

Brody eyed him warily as Mitch set the plate between them.

“It’s all edible, I’m sure of that,” Mitch promised. “I realize none of it looks appetizing however.”

Brody looked at it expressionlessly. “Honestly,” he said. “I’m not very hungry.”

“You probably don’t feel that way, but you need to keep your energy up,” Mitch said.

“Maybe,” Brody said with tepid concession. “But that really doesn’t look like food.”

“I’ve studied the local flora and fauna,” Mitch assured him, rotating the plate to feature the least irksome options. “And honestly, the grass tastes a lot like salad.”

“Why would you study the local flora and fauna?” Brody asked. He seemed to hold back a small gag reflex.

“Same reasons I know how to sail and build a fire,” Mitch told him.

“Because you’re a weird ocean man?” Brody clarified.

Mitch gave Brody a tired, worn look.

“Ugh,” Brody grunted. “Fine. Just. Let me…”


He reached out haltingly, and Mitch drew the plate closer for Brody to choose one for himself. He settled on something small and green, bringing it closer to his mouth with a look of barely controlled disdain.

He spared a glance to Mitch. “You’re sure about this?”

“Totally safe.”

Brody sighed, and stuffed it in his mouth. He attempted to chew, but gagged. This aggravated his wounds and he bucked slightly before Mitch reached over, placing a steadying hand on his shoulder.

“Easy, easy,” he coached, reaching for the cup of water. He held it up to Brody. “Just focus on swallowing.”

Brody’s expression turned vaguely green, but he somehow obeyed. With Mitch’s help, he managed to take a drink, downing the weeds with a grimace of pure discomfort. “Oh,” he moaned, a short curse under his breath. “That’s horrible.”

“Well, fortunately you have other options,” Mitch said, trying to sound cheerful as he lifted the plate again.

Brody eyed the plate with increasing misery. “You’re not kidding me, are you?”

If he could have given Brody an easy out, this time he would have. He’d pushed Brody to enough limits on this one; he’d pushed himself to enough limits, too. But there was nothing to be done for it. Nothing except what was right in front of them. “This is just a trip full of tough choices,” Mitch told him.

Brody hated that answer, that much was visible by the look on his face, but he didn’t fight it. Instead, he resigned himself to it with the same inevitability that he had resigned himself to this ocean jaunt in the first place. “Fine,” he said. “Let me see that one over there, the leafy thing--”

Mitch rotated the plate to feature another leaf. Brody took it with a pained looked, and glanced toward Mitch for confirmation.

“You have the water?” he asked.

Mitch grabbed the cup. “Ready and waiting.”

Brody looked back at the leafy plant. “Here goes, then.”

Brody chewed; Mitch held up the water.

Somehow, together, they got it done.

-o-

It was a slow, tedious process -- not to mention one both of them would rather forget -- but Brody managed to eat a sampling of the food, and he drank two cups of water for his efforts. When he was done, he looked ready to sleep again, but Mitch knew they weren’t quite ready for that.

“You think you can move?” he asked, taking assessment of Brody’s position on the sand. He had moved his hand and head, but otherwise had remained sedentary the whole time.

Brody’s expression conveyed a similar line of thinking. “Was there someplace we needed to go? Because I hate to break it to you, Mitch, but I don’t think I’m going to make my shift at tower 2 this morning.”

The banter felt good, at least. It was about the only thing that felt right. “I’m well aware of that, smart ass,” Mitch shot back. “But I was thinking we probably wanted to try a few other tasks this morning.”

Brody did not look convinced. “Tasks? Like feeding the goldfish? Swabbing the deck?”

“Like you haven’t taken a whiz since before we crashed last night,” Mitch said bluntly. “I mean, if you’d like to go in your pants, I won’t say anything, but…”

Brody’s expression was somewhere between horrified and flabbergasted. “Are you serious?”

“You’re going to have to go sooner or later,” Mitch said. “It makes sense to try now when you’ve got some energy.”

This logic made some impact, but Brody was clearly resisting it. “Can I be honest with you?”

Mitch inclined his head.

“The thought of moving kind of makes me want to cry,” Brody confessed, utterly deadpan.

“And the thought of having to hold your ass off the ground while you take a whiz makes me want to cry, too,” Mitch said.

“So maybe we don’t do it?” Brody suggested.

“Up to you,” Mitch offered. “But don’t come asking me to wipe you up when you piss yourself later.”

Brody’s brow darkened in contemplation. “This is another one of those tough choices, isn’t it?” he asked. “The ones where you pretend like I have some big choice but I don’t actually have a choice at all.”

“Now you’re getting it,” Mitch said, getting up and crossing over to Brody. He reached down, gingerly helping Brody into a sitting position. “Come on, buddy.”

Brody bit back a cry from the upward movement, taking a long moment to recover once he was sitting upright. Mitch positioned himself behind Brody, easing one arm around his chest as he steadied him.

“We’ll do it together,” Mitch said.

Brody was breathless, shaking his head. “Shit, Mitch, I don’t think--”

“One--” Mitch started, removing the too loose bandages and keeping them in his free hand.

“Mitch, really--”

Mitch gritted his own teeth; he needed as much stamina as Brody to pull this off. Brody’s effort would physically taxing. The thought of forcing a man who had recently been impaled and burned was emotionally daunting to Mitch. “Two--”

Brody made a short inhuman sort of mewl, something between a cry and a plea.

“Three,” Mitch concluded, hoisting Brody all the way to his feet in a fluid motion.

Mitch stopped then, holding Brody upright, allowing the younger man to collect his strength, find his legs, and maintain some semblance of his dignity. He could feel Brody’s heart pounding, fast and thready, against his steady grip.

He waited, as long as Brody needed, making no word of commentary when the long seconds lapsed together and Brody slowly managed to lift his head. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Brody nodded, sounding shakier than before. “Are we going far?”

“Just over there, to the trees,” Mitch said. “Just a few feet.”

Brody nodded, still breathing heavily. “I should have peed on you,” he muttered.

“Ah, well,” Mitch said. “Missed opportunity. You ready?”

“No,” Brody said. “I think I still have time.”

“One step now,” Mitch coached, taking them forward one shuffling step.

Brody managed to step with him, even as he shuddered, a curse as he exhaled.

“Other foot now,” Mitch said, leading them another step.

It took most of Brody’s strength just to move his feet, and it was slow progress to the treeline. When they got there, Mitch stopped, giving time for Brody to recuperate.

And to contemplate his next move.

Brody, despite his condition, beat him to it. “Dude,” he said. “Remember when you made me touch some dead guy’s taint?”

“I still have the pictures,” Mitch recalled.

“Yeah, you better not touch my taint,” Brody said.

“Um,” Mitch said. “Wasn’t planning on it?”

“But you are going to have to pull down my pants,” Brody continued.

Mitch paused, thinking about the logistics of this. “Oh.”

“If there was another way, man, I swear to you--”

“No, I know,” Mitch said.

“Because I do not want you pulling down my pants,” Brody continued, weak voice lilting.

“I know--”

“But if I try, man, I’m going to fall over and never get up again,” Brody concluded regretfully.

“No, it’s cool,” Mitch said. “We’ll make it work.”

“It’s not cool,” Brody told him flatly.

“No, it’s not,” Mitch agreed. “But we’ll still make it work.”

Brody closed his head, letting his head drop for a moment. “Shit.”

“Yeah,” Mitch said. “Me, too.”

Another moment of silence lapsed before Brody lifted his head again.

“You ready for this?” Mitch asked, nudging him slightly with his shoulder.

“No,” Brody replied miserably.

“Me neither,” Mitch said. “On the count of three?”

This time, they counted together.

-o-

Breakfast was an ordeal that they did not wish to discuss.

The trip to the bathroom afterward was one they would choose not to remember.

They made the choices they had to make.

Even when they didn’t seem like choices after all.

-o-

When Brody got back to his sand bed, Mitch took some time to check the wounds again, cleaning out the bandages and draping them back on, freshly wet. Brody was trembling throughout the ministrations, wincing as Mitch gently probed the red and blistered flesh when he did his work.

He was going to offer Brody something more to drink, but when he looked back to Brody, the younger man was already more asleep than awake.

“Hey,” Mitch said. “You going to sleep already?”

Brody opened his eyes, but only seemed able to do so slightly. “Just -- tired,” he said, but the words were hardly formed, no more than whispers.

Mitch checked the sun; it was still morning. Brody hadn’t woken up more than two hours ago, if that.

Still, Brody had been through a hell of a lot. Getting shipwrecked was trying enough, but Brody had also been badly injured in the crash. While the cauterization may have saved Brody’s life for the time being, it was also significant burning on two parts of his body. All things considered, Brody was entitled a little exhaustion.

More than that, he was entitled to rest.

That was all that was going on here.

That explained the color of his skin, the rapid pulse of his heart, the glassiness of his eyes.

Exhaustion.

Nothing more.

“I’ll be you are,” Mitch mused softly. He reached over, patting Brody gently on the shoulder. “You rest for a bit.”

“You got it?” Brody asked blearily.

“Yeah, buddy,” Mitch said, watching while Brody’s eyes slipped shut and didn’t open again. “I’ve got it.”

When Brody was asleep, he looked out across the beach to the vast ocean beyond them.

Shit.

He really hoped he had this.

-o-

There was still plenty to be done, but Mitch found it hard to tear himself away from Brody’s side. He positioned the chair so he could see Brody’s face while also keeping an eye on the fire and the ocean beyond. Every now and then, he added more fuel to the fire, willing the smoke to billow as much as he could. The horizon showed no sign of movement.

Rescue had to be underway by now. They would have been reported missing for sure, and his team was bright. They would have put together the clues. Teams would be in the water, and if Stephanie had any say over it, they’d be in the air, too. Everyone knew that Mitch was oceanic, and if he didn’t come home on time, there was surely a problem.

That seemed a little funny, to say it like that.

A problem.

Mitch had wrecked the boat, gotten Brody impaled and then used cauterization in a last ditch effort to save his life. This was a whole lot more than a problem.

A problem was Brody not loving the ocean.

This? This was an unmitigated disaster.

If only Brody had just loved the ocean like a normal being.

If only Mitch had been able to let it go.

Those were choices they’d already made, however. Choices they couldn’t undo.

Choices that might have precluded the rocks and hard places that followed.

What was the lesson to be learned here?

Mitch couldn’t be sure, not yet.

He just hoped he and Brody were alive long enough to figure it out.

-o-

By midday, Mitch was getting restless. This was an inevitable thing; Mitch was not a man to be idle. And watching the rise and fall of Brody’s chest only reinforced the things he needed to get done to make sure they got off this island.

Still, leaving Brody was a hard proposition somehow. True, Brody was unconscious; he wouldn’t know the difference.

But Mitch would.

What if Brody woke up while was gone? What if he got scared or confused? What if his condition started to deteriorate? What if his breathing worsened or a fever picked up?

None of these were things Mitch necessarily change, but it didn’t seem right to leave him.

Not when Mitch was the one who had dragged him out here.

Therefore, Mitch was relieved -- on many levels -- when Brody roused around midday. The sun was high in the sky overhead, making the sand hot and the fire seem superfluous if not for the smoke rising steadily into the blue expanse above them.

Even better, Brody seemed more coherent than when he’d nodded off to sleep. Weak, yes. Tired, somewhat. But focused on the task at hand, most importantly.

“No rescue yet?” was his first question.

Mitch grinned. Despite the gravity of their predicament, it felt good to feel united in their efforts. “Not yet,” he said. “But I’m not surprised. I’m guessing we’re outside the prime search zone. They’ll cover it quickly, but they won’t expand it until later in the day.”

Brody shifted ever so slightly, as if to see how much it would hurt. Given the look on his face, it hurt a lot. He squinted up at Mitch anyway. “How much later?” he asked. “Because I could use some painkillers or something. This really feels like shit, man.”

That was probably an understatement, but Mitch did not need to indulge that. Brody would not flourish with Mitch’s pity. No, Brody had always proved more receptive to tough love. “Well, I do have some more leaves and roots for you to consider.”

Brody’s look of disgust was exactly what Mitch had been aiming for.

“It is lunchtime,” Mitch said, picking up the second plate he’d collected. He picked up something red and string, shoving it into his own mouth. “Chewy. A little bitter.”

“That looks positively horrible,” Brody said.

“It’s good for you,” Mitch told him, picking up a leaf and stuffing it into his mouth to prove the point.

“Yeah, that’s what you said about our boat ride, and look how that turned out,” Brody muttered.

Mitch feigned offense. “You can’t blame all of this on me.”

Brody drew a breath huffily. “Not all,” he conceded. “But I need some outlet, dude. Do you want me to blame the ocean instead?”

“How about we skip the part where we blame anyone,” Mitch suggested. “And focus on getting off this rock.”

“I thought it was a hard place,” Brody replied, not missing a beat.

Mitch grinned. “You’re feeling better.”

Brody smiled, his cynical facades fading. “A little,” he said. “It really does feel like shit, though.”

“I hear you,” Mitch said. “But I meant what I said. Rescue is underway right now. It’s just a matter of time.”

Brody nodded, more serious now. “What can we do? You know, to improve our odds?”

Mitch felt something swell in his chest, and he was grinning even more widely. “You up for helping?”

“As long as it doesn’t require movement of any kind,” Brody offered. “I’m game.”

“I’ll do the heavy lifting,” Mitch said. “But I need you to be my eyes, okay? You scan the horizon, look to the sky. If you see anything moving out there, you holler and let me know.”

“To be clear, you want me to watch the ocean,” Brody said. “After it nearly killed me.”

“It’s not like I’m asking you to swim in it,” Mitch said. “Even though that is your job.”

“No, I know,” Brody said. “Just. That takes balls, man.”

“No, you just think that because your balls sound like a little girl,” Mitch reminded him.

“You impaled me and burned me,” Brody said. “Now you’re insulting my balls?”

“You’re the one who brought up balls!” Mitch shot back.

“You really need to work on your bedside manner,” Brody advised.

“Shut up,” Mitch said, getting to his feet. “And keep your eyes out on the horizon.”

“And what will you be doing?” Brody asked, craning his neck to watch as Mitch made his way back toward the treeline.

“Making sure you don’t die, mostly,” Mitch said.

“You should have tried that yesterday!” Brody called after him.

“Good to know, thanks!” Mitch called back.

All the same, when he got to the woods, he was finally smiling again.

-o-

It was Brody’s job to watch, but Mitch had trouble not watching, too. Of course, he wasn’t watching the horizon. No, he was watching Brody watching the horizon. It was horribly pointless and Mitch knew it, but he found himself doing it no matter what else he attempted to get done.

He started with cutting down more firewood. He had amassed a good sized pile, but whenever he found himself facing the ocean, he ended up staring at Brody, wood still in his arms.

Afterward, he tried to find more food. He managed to find more leaves and roots, but whenever he bent over to pick something new, he stole a peek across the way to where Brody was humming to himself, trying to stay awake.

When those tasks were complete, he tidied his giant HELP sign, taking odd bits of advice from Brody, who wasn’t even trying to be helpful with his suggestions. Still, Mitch shifted things left and right, up and down, mostly because he knew that was one way to keep Brody awake.

Finally, after collecting as much water as the cups could hold, Mitch announced that he was going to explore the island.

“Really?” Brody asked after a moment. “You want to explore it? You think it needs to be claimed by the United States government? Plant a flag?”

“No,” Mitch said. “I want to see if we actually have the best vantage point. There could be other beaches that are more accessible than this one.”

“And you think we’d move?” Brody asked, sounding skeptical from his spot on the ground.

“I think it’s worth checking out,” Mitch said. When he read Brody’s expression of constrained concern, Mitch added, “It’s not a big island. I won’t be gone long.”

“Yeah, and Gilligan was only going no a three hour tour,” Brody pointed out.

“You shouldn’t reference fictional shows if you want me to take you seriously,” Mitch suggested.

“Then we shouldn’t live out plots of fictional shows!” Brody said.

Mitch inclined his head; he couldn’t argue that. Still. “There could be more food, or even some other supplies that have washed to shore,” he reasoned. “I’ll be gone for 30 minutes; tops.”

Brody looked like he wanted to believe him. But Brody also looked like he really didn’t want to be alone right now. Maybe it was the fact that he was hurt. Maybe it was the fact that they were stranded on a deserted island. Maybe it was just the fact that Mitch’s presence made him feel better. “Promise?” he asked, not quite as strong as he probably wanted it to be.

“Of course,” Mitch replied, pretending like the question didn’t hit him as hard as it did. After all this, Brody still trusted him. Especially after all of this. That made Mitch’s answer all the more important. “I’m going to get us off this island. And checking out all sides might get us of faster.”

Brody nodded, not quite certain but making efforts to appear that way. “Okay,” he said, doing his best to muster up a smile. “I’ll be here,” he said jokingly.

Mitch, in returned, forced himself to laugh even if it wasn’t all that funny. “And hey,” he warned, lifting a finger. “No sleeping on the job.”

Brody grinned his reply, and as Mitch started off down the beach, he tired not to think about what he really meant to say.

No sleeping on the job.

No sleeping with significant blood loss.

No sleeping without waking up again.

No sleeping with a fever.

No sleeping.

He turned an outcropping, looking back one last time to where Brody was lying prone on the sand.

No dying, either.

He turned his head away, starting off down a new stretch of beach on the other side.

Especially no dying.

-o-

As Mitch made his sweep, the island was pretty much as he’d expected. There was another long stretch of beach, but it was thinner with more rocks out past the shore. No boat would be able to come close to navigating those waters, and any camp on the beach would be subject to the tides.

Along the far end of the island, the beach was more sporadic, broken up by rocky outcroppings into the sea. In the distance here, Mitch could see more islands. This island was apparently the biggest in a small string, which stretched for about a mile. He scanned as hard as he could, but there was no indication that the other islands were inhabited, either. This island, being the biggest and most accessible, would have been the natural choice for development if anyone had an interest in the area.

It was safe to assume, therefore, that this chain had been deemed unimportant by all the powers that be. Whoever owned it probably bragged about having an archipelago, even if they had no idea what to do with it. After this trip, Mitch’s best advice would be to sell and cut your losses.

Still, when he reached the last curve of the island, he found himself upon a series of rocky cliffs. They weren’t particularly high or dramatic, but they did afford him a good view off the island toward the east. Presumably toward the mainland. Although this view did not afford him any sightings of land or shipping traffic, he was fascinated to note that there were a few birds in the distance. They weren’t as far from land as Mitch had thought.

For a moment, he stood, calculating the day’s visibility in order to better judge the distance. If they were truly close to shore, shipping traffic would have found them by now. However, if they’d drifted south of the bay by a ways, it was possible they’d found a far less populated area. If there were no good beaches or strong ports due east, then the shipping lanes would be much quieter, reserved only for long distance hauls and not the more common recreational traffic or fishing trolleys.

Nonetheless, Mitch gauged the quiet seas and thought about his best swimming days. He’d pushed himself in the water all his life; he’d been one of those types of guys who thought about swimming rough waters. There’d been a time he’d thought about the English Channel and thought himself capable.

He’d never done it, of course. That was too far away from his bay, his ocean.

That didn’t mean that he didn’t think he could do it.

Much less do this.

Even if it only made it several miles in, that would put him far closer to incidental traffic. There could be boats out there, right now, beyond the horizon.

It was an interesting idea.

An idea that would inevitably leave Brody behind.

Brody was a better swimmer than Mitch generally gave him credit for, even in the ocean. In a pool, no doubt Brody would smoke Mitch’s ass, and he’d hold his own in the ocean overall. But Brody was operating with severe blood loss and uncontrolled pain levels. It was hard enough for the guy to stay conscious. To ask him to make a long swim in volatile and unknown waters?

Well, that was like suicide.

Not an option, Mitch astutely told himself as he moved on from the rocky ledge. Not an option at all.

-o-

The rest of the way back toward the camp was short enough, but Mitch knew he probably had pushed his timeframe more than he intended. Even so, when he came across a small grove of orange trees, he stopped and picked as many as he could carry. If nothing else, these would help Brody eat without gagging, and Mitch was all about small victories right now.

Especially since his search had yielded little else that was useful. His assessment that they were closer to land might have been encouraging if he had any sense that they were remotely near a shipping land or close to their original path. If anything, his trek had solidified his assessment that this island was indeed deserted and that there was no immediate way to improve their odds of being spotted. Their beach was the biggest with the best boat access. It was the best spot to maintain a signal fire and wait for the rescue that was surely underway.

At this point, it would be well underway. If he knew Stephanie, she’d be already analyzing the lack of progress in the search and trying to push for more personnel. She’d have a lot of arguments for that, and with Ellerbee on her side, there was no doubt they’d make a formidable team. Being well liked had been natural for Mitch; he’d never tried to use it to his particular advantage, but if it helped him now, then all the better.

Because he needed the help.

He rounded the beach, back to where he started.

Brody needed the help.

And Mitch would cash in all his favors to get it.

-o-

Mitch made a show of coming back, whistling loudly more to announce his arrival than anything else. He had also hoped to set a positive tone for the evening -- backed up with fresh fruit -- but as he approached, he had a bad feeling that his optimism wasn’t going to be validated.

Brody was awake, but barely. He looked parched, with dry lips and a ruddy hue in his cheeks. Contrasted with the sunken paleness around his eyes, it made him look particularly sick and haggard. Though his eyes were open when Mitch arrived, it was questionable as to whether or not he’d been that way for long.

For all that he’d rallied earlier, the energy was wearing thin for Brody. Even now, he tried to smile, but he was slow to respond when Mitch greeted him.

“Good trip?” Brody asked, finding the words with some difficulty. The words were slightly slower than before, as if he had to work harder to get them out.

“We’re definitely in the right spot,” Mitch said, dumping the oranges on the sand between them. “Plus, I found something better for dinner.”

Brody looked at the fruit. They didn’t look as pretty as the ones you might find in a store or even a farmer’s market, but they were still easy enough to identify. Brody struggled with it, though, blinking a few times before he seemed to put together what they were. “Fruit?”

“Might be a little green yet, but I figured it would still taste better than leaves and roots,” he said, starting to peel one with his fingers.

Given how much Brody had strained eating the food earlier, this was ostensibly good news. It took him several long seconds to realize that. “Good,” he said, and he drew a halting breath. “I -- your trip was good?”

The circuitous flow of Brody’s question jarred Mitch slightly, but he reminded himself that Brody was operating without his full blood volume. He was also probably getting dehydrated. Promptly, Mitch abandoned the orange, picking up the cup of water he’d placed close to Brody. It was still full; untouched.

“Here,” Mitch said, not bothering to offer it to Brody to hold. Instead, he placed it directly to his lips. “It’s getting hot out here.”

The first few dribbles splashed down Brody’s front before he seemed to realize what was happening. After that, he managed to get a little more into his mouth, but the effort left him winded.

When he was done, Mitch sat back down, making a point to take a large drink for his own purposes while Brody watched him with effort.

“The island,” Brody rasped. “What’d you find?”

“Eh,” Mitch said, putting his cup of water down. “Nothing too surprising. It’s definitely deserted, but we are in part of a small chain, which means this place is more than likely well charted. There’s no development on any of the islands, though. This is by far the biggest.”

Brody thought about that, processing it slowly.

Mitch shrugged, continuing as nonchalant as possible. “We’ve also happened to set up camp in the best area,” he said. “This beach is the biggest and most accessible. We can stay here until rescue comes, easy.”

Easy, he said. Like any of this was easy.

Brody didn’t call him on it, though. Instead, he latched onto something else Mitch said. “And rescue’s coming, right?”

There was almost a childish hope in the question, a hope that had been honed and stripped away by Brody’s pain and blood loss. It was the hope that justified everything else Brody was experiencing right now.

Mitch wanted to smile for him, but his stomach was churning. He picked up the orange again instead, returning to peeling it. “We’ve got quite a bit of daylight left,” he reasoned. “No reason not to think we won’t see a plane or ship by tonight.”

Brody nodded sluggishly. “I didn’t--” he started, and faltered with a wince. He drew in a ragged breath to try again. “It was clear while you were gone.”

No doubt, Brody meant that. He hadn’t seen anything in Mitch’s absence. But Mitch didn’t have the heart to point out that Brody had probably been semiconscious during most of Mitch’s departure. The chances of him actually spotting something were slim.

That was besides the point, however. The fire was still doing. Their HELP sign was still intact. Mitch had created a situation where Brody didn’t need to do much. Help would find them, if it was out there.

When it was out there.

Letting these thoughts pass by him, Mitch threw the orange peel on the ground, breaking off a section of the fruit. He was pleased to see it looked good enough to eat. He paused to take out a few seeds before holding it out. “Here.”

For a moment, Brody looked at it, as if trying to figure out what it was. When he connected it to something edible, he tried to lift his hand but his aim was lacking. Exhaustion had taken hold and his fingers dropped short, back to the sand.

That wasn’t good, but Mitch tried to remind himself that it wasn’t surprising. Instead, he swooped forward, crossing the distance for Brody. “Try this,” he said instead, awkwardly lifting the orange directly to Brody’s mouth.

Brody allowed this; assuming he even realized what was happening. Chewing was something of a chore for him, but when he swallowed, he looked bleakly up at Mitch. “Thanks,” he said, and this close up, it was obvious that Brody was starting to tremble again. He lifted his lips in the smallest approximation of a smile. “I’m just -- tired.”

Tired was one way of putting it. Mitch saw exhaustion, plain and simple. Brody’s words were weaker now, starting to slur together ever so slightly. Over the course of the day, his condition had steadily worsened.

It could be a sign of infection, Mitch told himself numbly.

Or it could just a natural result of his injury and the recovery process.

They’d had enough shitty luck on this trip. Mitch had to hope they would dodge one bullet if nothing else.

“Can you eat a bit more?” Mitch asked.

Brody looked like he wanted to say yes, but he honestly didn’t know how.

Mitch decided to take his silence as a yes instead of the no Brody probably intended.

“Here,” Mitch said, taking the seeds out of another chunk before helping Brody eat it. “You need to get your energy up.”

Brody complied, chewing meagerly as Mitch fed him the orange chunks. When they were done, Mitch helped Brody drink a little more, noting that the sun had started to make both of them warm. The afternoon heat certainly wasn’t doing them any favors right now.

Finally, as he watched Brody trying to keep himself awake, Mitch could take it no more. “Why don’t you get some rest here,” he suggested, knowing it would have to be his idea.

Brody startled, a dim and slow process. “What?”

“Why don’t you take a rest now?” Mitch said, shrugging with an air of indifference. “I’ll take this watch.”

“But,” Brody said, mentally fumbling for the words. “I’m the lookout. The beach. The ocean.”

Mitch waved a hand through the air. “I’ve got it for now,” he said. “Give yourself a break. I’ll let you take the next shift, okay?”

That was an outright lie. Mitch wasn’t about to make Brody take any shifts, not when he could barely keep his eyes open. But weak as he was, Brody was still trying to do his duty. Ever since Mitch had given him a place on the team, he knew that meant something to him. He took it seriously, more seriously than anyone might have expected when he showed up on the beach, acting like an asshole.

Brody hesitated. “You -- sure?”

“Of course,” Mitch replied, somehow sounding totally at ease when his chest was clenching. “I’ve got this, man. Take a rest, and I’ve got this.”

MItch always had a natural way of convincing people. But Brody had come to trust him even more than most. It was a trust that Brody had cemented when he followed the case on Leeds, even when Mitch had bailed. It was a trust that Brody had confirmed by following Mitch’s lead straight to the bottom of the ocean.

A trust he’d maintained unwaveringly by following Mitch straight out to a deserted island.

Even if he didn’t love the ocean, he still trusted Mitch.

Brody bobbed his head weakly, letting his eyes start to close. “I just -- wanna do my part, man,” he said, slurring the words even more now.

“I know, I know,” Mitch said, just as steady as before. “And your part is to rest now, okay? Just rest.”

“Okay,” Brody mumbled, eyes fluttering shut. “Okay.”

Watching Brody slip back into sleep, Mitch sat there and tried to believe it.

But the truth was none of this felt okay anymore.

In fact, this situation felt about as far from okay as it could possibly get.

-o-

The afternoon dwindled, and Mitch took some measures to keep them ready for anything. He restocked the wood pile, refilled the water, and made a handy sand dugout for the fruit and other food he’d amassed. Keeping the fire stoked, Mitch took up his position on the beach, where he could watch the water and the sky.

And Brody.

It was silly to pretend otherwise. There was no one here to fool, just Brody who was clearly in no state to realize that Mitch was holding a vigil more than he was keeping watch for rescue. Besides, he told himself, he’d done all that he could do. It was a waiting game now. Rescue would come; Mitch just had to be ready for it.

His gaze lingered on Brody, hoping that he would survive this waiting game.

His sleep this afternoon was far less peaceful than before. Brody was restless, his breathing shallow with periodic hitches that left them both breathless. His face screwed up in pain even while asleep, and he would randomly shudder, as if a wave of pain was too much to abide.

Maybe it was the hot sun.

Maybe it was the lasting effects of blood loss and shock.

Maybe it was fifty thousand other things.

It didn’t necessarily have to be infection, Mitch kept telling himself.

The more he told himself that, the less he was sure he believed it.

-o-

As the afternoon started to fade toward evening, Mitch’s stomach started to grumble. He was a big guy, and he’d been doing more than his share of heavy lifting over the last few days. He’d eaten as he was able, but honestly, the thought of food was unappealing.

This whole damn thing was unappealing.

But Mitch couldn’t afford to be moody and petty. Brody’s survival was linked to Mitch’s survival. He had to do everything he possibly could to keep them both alive.

Especially there seemed to be no sign of rescue.

Mitch tried not to be discouraged by that. He knew better than most how long these things could take. He knew that they were outside what would be designated as a primary search zone; he knew that his team was essentially looking for a pair of needles in the biggest damn haystack in the world.

They were looking; Mitch had no doubt.

It wasn’t a question of effort or skill or anything like that.

It was going to come down to luck.

Mitch chewed his lip as his stomach rumbled again. His eyes rested on Brody, still sleeping fitfully on the sand not far away.

Luck hadn’t been on their side so far.

Mitch would have to compensate as best he could.

Which meant taking care of Brody and himself.

Thus determined, Mitch raided the food cache, creating a helping of greens and oranges for himself. He saved more of the fruit for Brody; as he grew weaker, Mitch couldn’t ask him to choke down food that made him gag. Mitch, on the other hand, could afford to eat slimy shit if it gave him enough energy to keep going.

He drank readily, restocking the water supply from the stream as hastily as possible. Then, he judged what was left in the cache. He’d need to restock it tomorrow, if rescue hadn’t come by then.

So he’d worry about tomorrow.

Insistently hoping that rescue would come and deem all other concerns moot.

It wasn’t exactly a filling meal, but it would do for now. The more daunting task for now was getting Brody to eat a little as well.

He hated to wake Brody in some ways. The younger man had been through a lot; he’d earned his rest. Clearly, given his condition, he needed the rest. But he also needed food and water if he was going to get off this island.

Besides, Mitch wanted to see him open his eyes. He wanted to talk to him. Just as a solidifying reminder that they were both still in this fight.

Gently, he got on the sand next to Brody. The food and water was poised and ready, just nearby. He used a careful touch, softly jostling Brody’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said. “Brody.”

Brody twitched, shuddering with a long exhale but he didn’t seem to wake up.

“Brody,” Mitch tried again. When Brody still didn’t open his eye, Mitch tapped Brody’s cheek. “Brody!”

Brody shook more violently, breathing catching precariously.

Frowning, Mitch ran his hand over Brody’s forehead and his own body went ice cold.

Brody was burning up.

The heat on his skin was pronounced, and it wasn’t because the sun was hot. It wasn’t even as simple as dehydration.

He was frozen in place for a second, long enough for Brody to open his eyes and realize what was happening.

Mitch couldn’t speak; he couldn’t quite move.

Brody blinked a few times, still trembling violently as his blue eyes focused. Of all the times to be coherent.

“Fever?” Brody asked.

Mitch numbly withdrew his hand, but the platitudes he wanted to say were stuck in his throat. Instead, he licked his own lips, which were suddenly dry. “A little.”

Brody made a face, almost something like a twisted, sympathetic smile. “Gotta be,” he murmured. “I’m freezing.”

It was easily in the 80s.

More easily, Brody’s temperature was hovering somewhere above 102.

“Just relax, let’s get you a drink,” Mitch said, neatly avoiding Brody’s comment.

Brody complied, taking a sip from the cup that Mitch offered -- not that he had any choice in the matter -- but when he was done, his focus was still somehow absolute. “Is it infection?”

Mitch made a great deal of work putting the water away and reaching for the food he’d prepared. He mindlessly rearranged a few of the items, managing a shrug. “Hard to say,” he said, trying to distract away from the obvious.

This only served to hone Brody’s focus even further. Something shifted in his eyes, something unnaturally coherent behind the glassy sheen. “You’re lying,” he said, the words wispy but resolute. “Again.”

Mitch’s own cheeks burned red; he’d have liked to blame a fever for that. “I’m not a doctor,” he said instead.

But Brody shook his head, a movement that required more effort than seemed warranted. “You only lie -- when things -- things are bad,” Brody said, inhaling sharply to muster enough strength for each word. “This is bad?”

There was something in the way he asked the question. Something in the way his voice cracked and his eyebrows drew together. Something far too childlike.

Something Mitch didn’t know what the hell to do with.

He knew what he couldn’t do, however.

He couldn’t change the facts.

And he couldn’t lie about them, bald faced, either.

He sighed, putting down the food to look at Brody fully. “Yeah, this is bad,” he said. “You’ve probably got an infection.”

Brody had wanted the truth, but he was still visibly shaken by the frankness of it. “Really bad?”

Mitch had to look away, eyes cast out across the water as if there might be some sort of answer there. “There’s no way to know--”

“Mitch,” Brody said, and they both nearly shattered at the sound of his name.

Resigned, Mitch locked eyes with Brody again. “We knew it was a risk,” he said. “I’d hoped we have a few more days, but you’re burning up, buddy. It’s not good.”

The weight of the news seemed to have a rallying effect. Though still shaking and pale, Brody’s eyes cleared even more as he grappled with what Mitch had told him. For a few moments, his expression was one of desolation. But then, teeth chattering, he looked up at Mitch again. “Then what do we do?”

Mitch had always been proactive; he’d trained Brody to be proactive as well. It hadn’t come naturally to the kid, either. Mitch had had to hold his hand throughout the investigation with Leeds, and he was still a bit heavy handed with the things he tried to do.

But he wanted to act. He’d learned not to let things lie. He’d learned to face problems, tackle meaningful solutions, all of it.

He’d learned it better than Mitch had realized.

He’d learned it so well that he was dying on a deserted island, still adamant that something could be done.

So it only figured, then, that Mitch couldn’t offer him anything. “We wait,” he said, trying to keep his voice from sounding hoarse. “The rescue team has to be looking right now. They’re not going to stop until they find us. We just have to hold on until they get here.”

He meant it to be reassuring, but Brody wasn’t so sick that he didn’t recognize the abdication of responsibility. “Huh,” he said, almost mustering up a smile. “I’d take some rocks -- and some -- hard places -- right about now.”

“Me, too,” Mitch said, returning a smile that was equally pale. “Me, too.”

-o-

Mitch took to the necessary tasks quietly now, feeding Brody something for dinner before working diligently on the wound. He washed out the bandages, washing the wound as best he could before reapplying them. The wound itself was badly inflamed now, the red skin looking raw and irritated. A few of the blisters had burst, making the marred flesh even more distorted.

Worse, Mitch could see that the redness had started to spread to the skin around the wound. While there was no sign of bleeding, it was clear that the exposed skin had not faired well in an uncontrolled environment with no access to antibiotics.

Mitch kept those observations mercifully to himself. Brody had been coherent throughout lunch, but the contact with his wounds seemed to sap him of his energy. He was so focused on holding still and biting back his cries to keep up any attempt with banter.

Afterward, Brody slipped into a fitful sleep, and Mitch had no energy of his own left to disturb him. Instead, he busied himself with tasks around the campsite. Now that the sun was starting to sink, Mitch had to face the disheartening reality that they might be there another night.

It was possible, naturally, that help might arrive in the waning hours of the day. He didn’t doubt that Stephanie had doubled her efforts and that Ellerbee had called for all hands on deck. It was somewhat girding to think of it, his team rallying together for him.

His gaze settled on Brody again. The team would rally for Mitch, but would they be in time for Brody?

Mitch did everything he could to tip the odds in their favor. He straightened the HELP sign to a meticulous degree, and he three on as much fresh lumber as he could find, making sure to use plenty of leaves and grass just to increase the smoke factor.

As the sun began to set, he had massive smoke billows rising up. If anyone was in the area, they would have to see it.

Mitch watched it, filling the sky, so thick and caustic that it threatened to burn his eyes and clog his throat. He willed it higher, higher and higher, stoking it ceaselessly until the last rays of the sun finally dipped behind the horizon lying, pulling all his hopes down for the night as well.

He stood there, facing the beach with the fire to his back, wondering what the hell he was supposed to do. For a guy who considered himself oceanic, the waves offered him nothing tonight.

Mitch turned his back to them, trudging back to where Brody was sleeping.

Rescue would wait until tomorrow, then.

He settled down in his chair, poised next to his coworker’s sleeping form.

He could only hope that Brody coud wait another day as well.

-o-

Mitch didn’t really want to sleep, but there wasn’t much to do. Before darkness settled for good, he collected a bit more firewood, but his enthusiasm to stoke the fire had faded with the light. Instead, he settled down, deciding that quiet night was probably the best he could hope for.

Still, he felt compelled to keep watch. He hated the thought of it, sleeping right now. He knew there was little he could do, but the idea of accepting that idleness….

Well, that was like accepting that Brody was going to die.

Which, for the record, Mitch was not accepting.

He was resolute in that.

His body was less resolute on the other front, however.

The night cooled and the fire smoldered; Mitch struggled to keep his eyes open.

Just a small rest, he told himself.

Brody wouldn’t miss him.

Just a small rest.