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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

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

December 21st, 2018 (10:57 pm)

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



-o-

Stephanie had said it, Summer had said it. Ronnie and CJ had said it. When they were done saying it, Mitch listened to the doctors say it, and then he asked the nurses to say it again. Mitch couldn’t hear it enough.

Brody was going to be okay.

Brody was going to be okay.

No matter how many times or how many ways they said it, Mitch still had trouble believing it. That was why he stayed now, glued to Brody’s side, holding vigil even more determinedly. Because everyone else could say it.

But he needed to see it for himself.

So he did. He stood there. Minute after minute, hour after hour, trying to take in enough evidence to consider the prognosis as truth.

Brody, in typical Brody form, did not make this task easy. It helped that the tube had been removed, and when Mitch listened closely (and that was really all he did), he could hear that the lungs sounded clearer and there was less hesitation between inhalations.

On the monitor, his heart rate was stronger and steadier, by a matter of degrees with each passing out. His complexion, though still sunken and washed out, was less flushed, and the sweat that had soaked his hair had finally dried, leaving him looking especially unkempt.

Those were marginal improvements, that Mitch was somehow reluctant to give much credence to. The changes that did help were in Brody’s disposition itself. Although the younger man spent most of his time still lost in the grip of unconscious, he began stirring more often. He moved occasionally, a hand twitching, his nose wrinkling. Occasionally, he even made small grunts. Once, Mitch thought he heard him try to say a word, although it was too slurred and weak to make out.

Even so, Mitch was hesitant. These small changes could just as easily be attributed to the reduction in the sedation levels, which meant that Brody was finally being allowed to wake up. However, Mitch reasoned the counterargument for himself this time, the fact that he holding his own without as many interventions was a very, very good sign.

Besides, this was the shit Brody was good at. Not recovery, because Brody was a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of guy. And maybe not even illness, because this was the first major medical complication they’d experienced together. First, and last, though Mitch wondered if that was wishful thinking.

Because Brody was good at this. At making it look like nothing had changed when the entire world had shifted on its axis. That was how Mitch had missed it for two damn months. Brody was so good at pretending to still be a dick that Mitch had neglected to realize overtly that he was in fact not a dick anymore.

Could Brody be pulling similar shit right now?

Mitch didn’t know.

Mitch just knew that each one of Brody’s breaths came easier than the last.

And, ironically enough, so did his own.

-o-

Over the next two days, Brody continued to improve.

That was what the doctors said when they checked during rounds. They talked about how good the wound was looking, how strong his vitals were and that all his scans were continuing to come back clean.

That was also what the rest of Baywatch said, as they continued their rotation in and out of the ICU ward. They commented and how much healthier Brody looked now that his color was returning. They noted how much more he moved and seemed to be able to hear them when they spoke.

Mitch remained steadfast. Cautious, but secretly optimistic.

More than all of that, however, Mitch still felt restless.

It was a better restlessness, one not marked by futility but rather eventuality. This was not a slow descent but a tedious ascent. Mitch marked the difference for himself, even if it was hard for him to remember sometimes.

Because those two days were slow. They were tedious. And Mitch was so, so restless.

He had spent two tedious days on the island, watching Brody succumb to infection.

The two days he took to recover were almost as painful.

Almost.

But Mitch couldn’t deny that things were getting better. Brody was starting to wake up, slowly but surely. The team had started to banter when they visited, resuming their normal small talk about the trivialities of life. When Stephanie asked if Mitch was ready to release a statement, he ultimately said yes.

It was over, after all.

And this statement would be the last thing he would have to say on the matter publicly.

-o-

I appreciate the interest everyone has taken in this case. It means a lot to know that people from around the world have rallied behind me and Matt Brody during our hour of need. The storm that caught us off guard last week was violent and unexpected, a stark reminder that the ocean is still a force to contend with, even when manning it is your day job. I would like to thank the tireless work of the Coast Guard, for bringing us home. I would also like to thank the doctors and nurses, who provided excellent round the clock care. I would also like to thank my team for always being there, even when I myself was unable. After this incident, I know better than effort the difference a trained lifeguard can make, and I am grateful for all the ways my team has saved me. I would appreciate continued privacy at this time.

-o-

Mitch released the statement as a symbolic end.

That same hour, Brody opened his eyes.

Coincidence? Mitch had no idea.

What he did know was that he was the first thing that Brody saw as his eyes fluttered open. He was the first thing Brody focused on as his consciousness struggled to coalesce. This whole thing didn’t start and end with the ocean or the beach.

It started and it ended with them.

“Hey,” he said, smiling broadly. Brody had opened his eyes several times over the last few days, and Mitch had mastered this greeting. Gentle but uplifting. Emphatic but soft.

So far, Brody hadn’t comprehended any of it and instead closed his eyes immediately.

This time, however, Brody frowned quite seriously. “Mitch?”

Mitch nodded, feeling encouraged. “How you doing, buddy?”

Brody wasn’t exactly listening, but he wasn’t incoherent either. He was just confused as he looked around the hospital room and tried to put the pieces together. It wasn’t clear if he was remotely successful. “Where are we?” he croaked.

“Home,” Mitch said, his grin nearly splitting his face now. The doctors had warned about delays and deficits and giving Brody time, but his speech was clear and unimpaired. His coherency was uncompromised. His memory was a question mark, but what the hell. The last week had plenty they both would want to forget. “On solid ground.”

Brody blinked a few times. Then a few times more as he tried in vain to wet his lips. He winced as he swallowed. “Home?”

“Yeah,” Mitch told him, patting his arm. “The ocean’s out there where it belongs, and we’re here where we belong.”

Something flickered in Brody’s eyes. Fear; anxiety. A muscle jumped in his jaw. “The island?”

So the memory was at least partially intact. Mitch could work with that. “I think they’ve decided to name it after all this,” he said. “Make it more prominent on the map so people remember that it’s there.”

Brody seemed to think about this, longer than was probably necessary. “It was bad,” he said finally, the words a little halting. His brow was creased when he held Mitch’s gaze. “Wasn’t it?”

He was asking for confirmation; he was asking for affirmation. Whatever Brody remembered, he remembered enough to realize his perspective might be skewed. Between the fever and the pain, reality was likely to be fuzzy. “Yeah,” Mitch said. “It got pretty bad there before rescue showed up.”

There were countless questions in Brody’s eyes, too many. He trembled slightly, and seemed to let them mostly go except for one. “And now?”

This was so Brody that Mitch had to smile again, even wider than before. This was the Brody who looked at rocks and hard places and saw hope where others saw shit. This was the Brody who couldn’t change the bad decisions but still embraced the consequences as best he could.

This Brody.

Mitch’s Brody.

“Now,” Mitch said. “Now, it’s over. We’re off. And you’re going to be okay.”

Despite Mitch’s confidence, Brody looked shaky. He visibly shuddered again before trying to bring his anxious breathing back under control. It wasn’t a fight he was winning exactly, but then the odds were stacked against him in the moment. Because Brody was awake and coherent, but he was still weak and confused with plenty of gaps to fill in. Worse, he was too tired to effective sort that out, leaving him like a toddler flailing in the surf.

Fortunately, Mitch was trained in the art of the rescue.

“Better still,” Mitch added. “The team’s all here. We’re all here for you, buddy. And we’re not going anywhere.”

Because Mitch knew what this was about for Brody. This wasn’t about the ocean. It wasn’t about the island. It wasn’t even about his own physical well being or the damn job.

For Brody, it was about the team.

It was about family.

With those words, Brody’s confusion didn’t ebb but his tension eased considerably. He nodded a few times. “I’m--” he started, but he had to stop to think about it. “Kind of tired.”

“I’ll bet you are,” Mitch said. “Been a crazy week.”

Brody nodded, but it was clear his attention was flagging as his eyelids started to fall again.

“You rest,” Mitch said. “And if you want, I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Brody kept his eyes open for one last question. “You promise?”

Mitch grinned. “I promise.”

The choice was made.

Mitch settled back as Brody went back to sleep.

There was no going back now.

-o-

Brody’s progress after that was steady. After coming in and out of consciousness for about a day, he was soon staying awake for hours at a time. Within another day, the doctors had him back on solid foods and he was starting to sit up in bed. He was joking with visitors, and within another two days, he’d released his own statement to the press. His was shorter, more to the point.

I’ve seen a lot of success and failure in recent years, but none of it has compared to my time at Baywatch. I realize everyone is curious about what happened in the ocean and on that island, and I get that. However, while that’s a good story, the better story is the story of the team that made all this possible. I thank them, along with the doctors and the Coast Guard, for allowing me to be here today.

Mitch also thought it was better.

-o-

The doctors were pleased with Brody’s progress, but they weren’t close to letting him out of the hospital yet. He needed to remain on IV antibiotics for quite some time in order to let the infection clear his body, and although he was moved to a different room in a less restrictive ward, he was slated to be in the hospital for at least another week or two.

The team adapted quickly to this, sending flowers and other knick knacks to make things seem more like home. Soon, Brody’s private room was cluttered with things, and he was entertaining visitors at all hours. Mitch’s cot had been moved down for him, and though there was no clear medical or legal precedent involved, no one seemed to complain.

A happy ending was a happy ending, after all.

No one was going to question the details.

-o-

While Ronnie, CJ and Stephanie started to get back to work as normal, Summer was the lone holdout who mostly hung out in the hospital with Mitch and Brody. She still slept at home, but she was a fixture in the room, leaving only when Brody reminded her that she still had shit to do.

“None of it matters like this,” she told him.

“That’s, like, really sweet,” Brody said. “And I would love to let you stay here all the time instead of Mitch -- who snores, by the way -- but babe, you’ve got a life. A job.”

“And a boyfriend who just survived a shipwreck,” she reminded him.

“You can’t blow through all your vacation time for me,” he reasoned. “I wanted to take you on a trip later this year.”

“I’m not taking vacation,” she said. “This is unpaid leave.”

“Even worse,” Brody said. “Because I can’t afford the vacation.”

She rolled her eyes. They had all gotten pretty good at pretending Mitch wasn’t there at times like these. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“No,” he said. “But I’m trying to get things to do back to normal. I’ve been stuck here so long that I feel like I’ve forgotten what normal looks like.”

“Me going back won’t get you back any faster,” she said.

He took her hands in his. “I know that,” he said. “But this has been crazy shit, you know? I just want to know that things really will be normal again. I need to know we’ll all be on the beach again, at our towers doing our jobs. Everything else just feels wrong.”

She sighed, studying his blue eyes deeply, in the way that only new lovers could. “Well, I could take up a few shifts this week,” she said, a little reluctantly.

Brody brightened. “And you’ll tell me all about it?”

Sighing again, she surrendered to this request. “In detail,” she said, kissing him firmly on the lips. “But you better work your ass off so you can get better and join me out there.”

He kissed her back, smile glinting in his eyes. “Now that’s what I call motivation.”

As they kissed some more, things started to progress. Mitch knew that it was his cue to leave. He made a loud grunt as he got up. “I think I need coffee,” he said, louder than necessary.

Still kissing, neither Summer or Brody made an acknowledgement.

“Anyone else?” he asked. “Coffee?”

Brody moaned in a decidedly un-pain-related way. Summer managed to lift her hand for a moment in the briefest motion of awareness. Or shooing. Whatever.

“Good enough,” Mitch said, making his way out of the room. There was no doubt Brody was in good hands this time.

However, he wasn’t sure that Brody was medically cleared for whatever might happen next.

-o-

Mitch did get coffee, because he really did need it. He was sleeping more these days, but a small rollaway cot did not provide much in the way of comfort. Honestly, he had no idea how Brody had managed two months in the spare room at Mitch’s place.

That was an issue for another day.

Today the main issue was first, drinking enough coffee so as not to pass out and second, keeping Brody on track for a fast recovery with no set backs. He was fully focused on both these tasks as he sipped his coffee, winding his way back to Brody’s room. When he got there, he was surprised to find Summer waiting in the hall.

He had a momentary lapse of fear -- course of habit, all they’d been through -- but she seemed to sense that before he asked. “He’s getting his bandage changed,” she said, gesturing over her shoulder. “We used to be there all the time for that stuff, but it’s started to embarrass him. I think that’s a sign that he’s starting to feel better.”

Mitch had noticed this, too. Brody’s desire for privacy had kicked in be small degrees. It had to be normal, Mitch knew; no one wanted people to see you when you were weak, and Brody had just spent a full week being on full display for everyone. Even if Brody appreciated the support -- and Mitch knew he did -- he had to crave a little space for himself. And his manhood.

“Anyway,” Summer continued with a shrug. “I actually, um, wanted to talk to you. Just for a second.”

Mitch glanced at the door, resisting his urge to check in on things. Even now that Brody was on the mend, Mitch seemed to appreciate continual check ins, even when he knew logically that they were superfluous. He covered the anxious look by taking another sip of coffee.

“I just, everything that’s happened, you’ve been such a constant for me and for him,” she said. “When I think about how close we came to losing him, I almost just can’t. And it’s funny because when he showed up, he was such an asshole, but now I can’t imagine life without him.”

The rambling was moderately uncharacteristic of Summer, and she seemed just as aware of that fact as Mitch. She shrugged, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Anyway, I use wanted you to know how grateful I am,” she said, rushing through the last bit. She hesitated, then reached over, reaching her arms around him and pivoting up on her toes for a hug. “Thank you for saving him.”

He was both surprised and completely unsurprised as he returned the hug. “I told you, Brody made the hard choices. He did most of the hard work back on the island. I was just along for the ride.”

She stepped back, a small smile playing on her lips. “Yeah but im not even talking about the island anymore.”

Mitch understood then, that this wasn’t just fallout from his choice to take Brody out sailing. This was still the natural consequence to that first, all important dday vision he made to let Brody on this team.

“Anyway,” she she. “He shouldn’t be much longer. I told him I’d go back to work, so I guess I better see if Stephanie can squeeze me on the schedule today.”

“You can stick around,” Mitch said. “I know what he said, but I also know he won’t mind.”

“No, no,” she said, waving a hand through the air. “I mean, he’s got a point.”

“About vacation time?” Mitch asked uncertainly.

“About the fact that we need to move on,” she said. “I mean, it’s really over. Isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I guess it is.”

She shrugged again, for the lack of something better to do. Then she waved. “I’ll check back tonight,” she said. “Watch out for him.”

“I will,” Mitch promised as she started off down the hall. Mitch looked at the door, then he looked at his coffee. The thought of going back still seemed strange to him, even if part of him could acknowledge he missed it now. But he’d go back soon enough. He’d be ready soon.

When Brody was ready to go back right by his side.

-o-

The nurse came out a short time later. Mitch had finished his coffee and made small talk with her on her way out. When he finally ducked back inside the room, he found Brody looking grave on the bed.

“Everything okay?” he asked as he sauntered in, acting more casual than he felt.

Brody grimaced slightly. “It just feels super when people pack shit into your side.”

Mitch sat down on the chair. “Did you take the pain meds?”

“Of course,” Brody muttered, sounding contrary without actually contradicting anything at all.

“Didn’t they scale back your dose? Maybe it’s too low,” Mitch suggested. “I can go ask her—“

“No, just, no,” Brody said, flushing red. Embarrassment, Mitch knew. Still, it made him nervous. Brody took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m fine. Just tired. And tired of people having to do shit for me.”

Mitch couldn’t begrudge him that. Brody put on his game face for everyone else, even the doctors and the nurses. Mitch could see the difference in him when it was just the two of them. He didn’t try so hard to smile with Mitch. He didn’t make small talk or act like everything was perfect. He was quieter, sometimes. Angry, too.

Mitch had already seen him at his worst. In comparison, this was nothing.

“They’re just trying to help,” he said. “Until you’re strong enough to do it on your own.”

“I know, I know,” Brody said in exasperation. “It’s just that we all keep saying it’s over and I still can take a piss by myself.”

Mitch endeavored not to smile. He wasn’t sure how successful he was. “Do you need to take a piss?”

Brody reddened again. Plainly, he had not expected Mitch to deduce that. “No,” he lied. Badly.

Mitch put down his empty coffee cup, leveling Brody with a look. It wasn’t unlike a look a mother might give to an unruly child. Somehow, it was a look Mitch had perfected since Brody joined the team. “Why didn’t you ask the nurse?”

Brody made a face of disgust. “Because I’m an adult. I can pee on my own.”

“Can you?” Mitch asked.

Brody huffed. “Yes!” he said. Then, he evaluated his position, open back gown and all. “Probably.”

Mitch raised his eyebrows as he got to his feet, extending his hand. “Come on.”

“What? No,” Brody said, drawing himself away from Mitch.

“I can help you,” he said.

“But I don’t want it!” Brody snapped back.

“Why? You’d rather piss yourself?” Mitch asked.

He regretted it, however. Brody’s face drained off color this time.

“I’m sorry,” Mitch said, dropping his hands. “I just want to help.”

Slumping down, Brody looked miserable. Not miserable like he had back on the island, but still miserably enough. “I know, I just,” he started, but seemed to run out of steam. “I just don’t need so much help. Or, maybe I do. But I don’t want it. I want it to be over for me, too.”

It was a different way of looking at things. Mitch and everyone else -- they were so preoccupied with Brody’s physical well being. This was to be expected, given that Brody had nearly died. It was almost necessary for Mitch, who had been solely responsible for keeping Brody alive for four days.

This had started with something emotional, though. It had started inside of Mitch’s head, inside of Brody’s head. Mitch could make sure Brody got back on his feet, but if he was going to get them both back to normal, then Mitch had to acknowledge the psychological factors still at play.

“Okay, okay,” Mitch said, sitting back down. “I get it.”

Brody frowned, almost like he regretted it. “But do you?” he asked, not quite unkind but unrelenting at the same time. “I mean, you’ve hovering. Like, all the time. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate you being here, I really do, but I’m not dying anymore. I’m not stuck on that island.”

Mitch tried not to think about Brody on a ventilator. He tried not to remember carrying Brody’s limp body into the waves in a last ditch effort to control his fever.

The more he tried not to, however, the more naturally did.

He shook his head, trying to clear his brain enough to have this conversation. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. That’s all.”

Brody looked incredulous. “Dude.”

Mitch wasn’t sure what the incredulity was for. He shrugged. “What?”

Brody sighed. “Come on,” he said, shaking his head. “I remember the island, okay? I know the shit that went down.”

Mitch sat back, shifting uncomfortably in his seat now. “Well, sure--”

“No,” Brody interjected with more vigor now. “Like, I really remember. A lot better than you probably think I do.”

Mitch raised his eyebrows, not sure what Brody meant by that. “Okay…”

“Like, I remember how out of it I was,” he said. “And like, I know you fed me and made me drink. I remember telling you my deep, dark secrets about the Olympics and the really stupid drug deal that got me on Baywatch. Dude, I remember pissing myself, okay. I remember.”

Mitch had conveniently not talked about any of that. He had told himself that he was avoiding those topics as a courtesy to Brody, but as he felt the heat rise in his own cheeks, he knew that Brody wasn’t the only one he was trying to protect. “Well, sure,” he said. “I mean, we were stranded on a deserted island. Shit like that is going to happen. You’d been impaled.”

“And cauterized,” Brody added, matter of fact.

Flippant as Brody was, that one was harder for Mitch to contend with. He knew he couldn’t control the sea. He knew that he hadn’t shoved that rod through Brody’s side. But he’d been the one to suggest searing Brody’s flesh with hot metal. He’d been the one to do it until Brody screamed and passed out.

Brody remembered.

But Mitch still lived it in his head.

Brody looked sorry that he’d said it. “I didn’t mean it in, like, a bad way.”

Mitch arched his eyebrow critically. “There’s a good way to mean it?”

“No, I just. Look,” Brody said, growing frustrated now. “I just remember what happened. That’s all I’m saying. And, like, when I say I’m okay. I mean, I’m okay.”

“You’re okay?” Mitch asked, not sure what to make of that.

“Yeah,” Brody said. “With everything. I’m okay. And all I really want now, more than anything is for people to let me be okay.”

For a moment, Mitch could only stare. Then, he shook his head. “Uh uh,” he said. “No one is that well adjusted. You’ve been through too much shit. There’s no way that’s all just okay.”

“But I am,” Brody said. “I mean, it’s just like my whole life. Shit just happens. Bad shit, terrible shit, shitty shit. And like, yeah, being shipwrecked and impaled and stranded was hard, man. But it happened. And it doesn’t change how I feel about you or Baywatch or ever the ocean. I mean, even that island, it could be nice, right? Like, under different circumstances.”

It was Mitch’s turn to be incredulous. “Are you saying that you want to go back?”

“Well, not exactly,” Brody said. “But I’m trying to keep things in perspective.”

“I don’t want to go back,” Mitch clarified in what seemed like it should be an unnecessary tone.

“It’s not about the island specifically,” Brody said. “But I don’t know. We could try boating or sailing or whatever again.”

Brody said this like it was a reasonable idea. It sounded like anything but to Mitch. “Really, we don’t have to,” he said. “You’ve got nothing to prove to me.”

“I know,” Brody said.

“And if this is about you loving the ocean, then I’m already aware that I’ve lost ground on that one.”

Brody rolled his eyes. “I don’t give a shit about the ocean,” he said flatly. “This isn’t about the ocean. It never was. Not for me. So, next time we go out on a boat together or go windsurfing or kayaking or surfing or whatever it is your oceanic ass likes to do, it’ll be my choice. And we’ll just read the weather report really well.”

At that, Mitch found himself staring. Surely, he had misheard. Surely, he hadn’t manipulated Brody onto a boat when all he really had to do was ask.

Surely, Brody wasn’t trying to make the same dumb ass choice twice.

Surely. But this was Brody.

Mitch snorted. “You really do make the worst choices when given the chance, don’t you?”

“Ugh,” Brody moaned. Then, he glared at Mitch. “Fine. Forget I said anything.”

Mitch quickly backtracked. Brody was serious. Was it the best choice? Mitch wasn’t sure, but if he was going to respect Brody’s choices under duress, he probably needed to respect them the rest of the time too.

Especially when they weren’t wrong. A little weird, maybe. But this was Brody.

“I mean, I guess we can try,” Mitch said. “I do have a kayak and an extra surfboard. But if you want to try boating again, I’m going to have to find another friend who will loan me a boat when I just sank the last one.”

Brody’s expression buoyed significantly. “You won’t have trouble,” he said. “You’re Mitch Buchannon.”

Mitch gave a short, incredulous laugh. “Not sure I qualify as oceanic after the fiasco last week.”

“I guess,” Brody said. “But I was going to say that you’re Mitch Buchannon. The best friend someone could have. That’s why people will do anything for you. It hasn’t got anything to do with the ocean.”

Mitch got compliments like that all the time.

It meant something, though, coming from Brody. After the way the last two weeks had gone, after the way it was all pretty much on Mitch.

And more than that.

It was Brody.

He smiled, feeling himself relax. “You’re so bad yourself, Brody.”

Brody was clearly relieved. “Good,” he said. Then, he took a breath, sitting himself up again. “Now, I really do have to go to the bathroom or I am probably going to piss my pants. Again.”

“Hey,” Mitch said, getting to his feet. He reached out, but hesitated, drawing his hand back. “I can help, but only if you want.”

Brody accepted his hand, allowing Mitch to hoist him to his feet. “You can help me to the door,” he said. “But I swear to God, if you try to help me inside, I will piss on you intentionally.”

“Just to the door,” Mitch said, providing Brody with a supportive hand as they took a tentative step. “Got it.”

Brody winced, taking several halting steps as he leaned heavily on Mitch. As they neared the door to the bathroom, Mitch withdrew his hand, letting Brody take the last few staggering steps on his own. He couldn’t deny that he hovered, but he respected Brody’s choice.

At the door, Brody opened, making his way inside by himself.

Mitch stood there, right outside, waiting.

He was ready for anything at this point.

Even the impossible possibility that they both might just make it after all.

-o-

Brody grew more mobile, and he was able to move more freely on his own. In fact, they started him physical therapy, to help him get back into shape and up to speed without aggravating the still-healing wound on his side. He was able to wear real clothes, eat real food and though he was still tired, he was starting to get back to normal. When people visited now, they played board games or watched sports on television, smuggling in food from the outside while the nurses weren’t looking.

Mitch was growing better himself. As the days progressed, he found himself restless. But this time, he was starting to think about getting out. He wanted to go jogging. He occasionally snuck away to use his home gym. And he even found himself missing his post at tower one, looking out over the waves.

He felt a little guilty about this, but not too much. Not when he knew Brody was restless for the exact same things.

So when Brody began pushing the doctors for a release date, Mitch didn’t stop him.

That was Brody’s choice, after all.

And it was one that Mitch was totally on board with.

-o-

Stephanie smuggled them in a pizza one night, joining them for dinner and conversation while the Padres game played on the TV. Of all of the crew, Stephanie’s presence had probably surprised him the most. Not that she had taken charge so readily as she did -- Mitch had always known that about her.

But that she actually seemed to be having fun.

And not just with Mitch.

With Brody.

She had always tolerated Brody as part of the team, but apparently somewhere along the line, she’d made the choice to like him, too.

Family, Mitch reflected.

Was one hell of a thing.

On her way out, she drew Mitch into the hallway. “I told you so,” she said with a smirk.

“Told me what?” Mitch asked.

“That he’d be fine,” she said, and she was beaming at him, prouder than ever. “That the team would get you both through this. I told you.”

Mitch couldn’t help himself; he grinned. “Yeah, I guess you did,” he said. “Thanks.”

“Ah,” she said, the smirk fading to genuine care now. “We’re all entitled to forget, and you’ve given all of us more chances than we deserve. Just don’t make a habit of it or anything.”

“Don’t worry,” Mitch told her. “After this experience, there are a lot of habits I intend to start breaking.”

-o-

Brody was ready before Mitch was.

The others had long since gone back to work; even Summer was mostly back to full time now. And although Mitch had been pining, he was the one who had his stomach in knots when Brody finally convinced he doctor that he was ready.

The doctor had been hesitant, but he had agreed as long as Brody maintained his exercise and care routine and followed up with regular checkups. He’d relented for good when Mich promised that he’d be there to look out for Brody.

No one pointed out the irony of that.

It probably didn’t matter to anyone but Mitch.

But it was still a responsibility he took seriously, and he would have be happy to have Brody in the hospital for another week, just to be sure.

Brody had made his choice, however. Which was how Mitch ended up with a stack of papers for follow up care and a bag of Brody’s personal belongings. Somehow, he’d amassed more things in the hospital than he’d managed to collect in two months at Mitch’s place. That was neither here nor there, however.

Not when Brody was on his feet, signing the last of the paperwork, ready to go.

“You good, then?” Mitch asked. “Ready to get out of this joint?”

Brody grinned at him, the widest grin Mitch had seen since before they’d crashed. “You have no idea.”

-o-

Brody may have been excited, but he still was recovering from a significant injury and a prolonged infection. Despite the gains he’d made in the hospital, it was clear to Mitch from the start of their exodus that Brody was still not at full strength.

The hospital had arranged the back route again, which allowed them to skip over any reporters that could still be lurking around. The press interest had died down now that they were both in the clear, but the hospital staff couldn’t guarantee that one or two weren’t still trying to milk the story with a few salacious snaps. There was still interest, after all; offers kept coming in to have them tell their story on national TV. There were frequent calls about book deals. Someone wanted to make a movie.

Mitch had ignored them all and though he did want Brody to make his own choices, he didn’t want him to be faced with those particular choices just yet. Not while Brody was still recovering. Not while Brody still struggled with his public image as the Vomit Comet. Maybe the action-adventure narrative with a feel good ending would help. They could decide that later.

First things first, they had to get home.

Brody made it down elevator okay, and he was pretty good while Mitch maneuvered them down the service corridor to the back entrance. When Mitch had left on his own, he usually walked home. Brody was nowhere near ready for that yet, so Mitch had parked his car in the parking ramp just off the service entrance.

Brody was in good spirits until they hit the parking ramp. When he asked what floor they were parked on, his enthusiasm waned.

“You okay?” Mitch asked.

Brody did not want to say no. “Of course,” he said instead, taking a few bold steps forward. “Let’s go.”

-o-

There was an elevator, but Mitch was cursing himself for nothing thinking this through. The hospital lot had been crowded, and he’d been happy to find his spot on the roof toward the back.

Brody was much less happy about it.

Mitch knew in retrospect that he could have called in a few favors for a better spot, and he was tempted to leave Brody behind and get the car to pick him up, but that was a choice that was too reminiscent of other things.

Instead, he walked slower than he was used to while Brody huffed along, and when Brody finally pulled short, leaning against the wall of the roof of the ramp, Mitch acted like it was totally no big deal at all.

“I just need a second,” Brody said, though he was clearly laboring for air. “I’m good.”

He didn’t look good, but Mitch kept his thoughts to himself. The last thing he wanted was to set back Brody’s recovery, but he settled for hovering instead of dictating. In order to hover, he took up a spot next to Brody along the wall.

“You need to sit?” Mitch asked.

“No, I’m good,” Brody said, but his head was down and his eyes were closed.

“We can sit,” Mitch said. He gestured around to the full ramp. “Right here is fine.”

“I said I’m fine,” Brody muttered, a little less politely this time, but he still didn’t open his eyes.

“I can get the car,” Mitch suggested despite himself. “Or if you need to go back inside--”

This time, Brody looked up sharply. “I said I’m fine,” he said, blue eyes shining like he needed Mitch to trust him on this one despite there being zero evidence to support it. “Just give me a minute.”

Mitch had given Brody weeks at this point. What could be the harm in several more moments?

With his head up, Brody looked out for the first time. The sun was out; the breeze was gentle. From here, you could see the ocean.

Mitch tensed; you could see the ocean. You could hear it, smell it, feel it.

Brody said he was fine, but was he? Was he really ready to be face to face with it again.

Standing there, Brody’s face was oddly blank for a moment, as though he were trying to answer those exact same questions. But as they stood a little longer, side by side, the ocean spread out in front of them, something changed for both of them.

Something softened; something solidified. The words they had had avoided all week seemed to echo between them.

Mitch had let Brody make most of the choices over the last few weeks.

This choice, however, was his.

“I’m sorry,” he said, breaking the silence between them.

They were words he’d said before, words he’d spoken to Brody ever since he woke up and was coherent enough to understand them. But there was a difference in saying them in the safe, cloistered walls of the hospital. It was different to say them here, facing the ocean that nearly divided them forever.

None of Mitch’s apologies had made much of an impression on Brody. As he looked out over the ocean, this one mattered more, but not for the reasons Mitch might have expected.

Instead, Brody seemed amazed. At the vastness before them, at how it encompassed everything. He looked like he remembered, not the details, but the feelings. He knew that Mitch wasn’t apologizing for a boat trip or a storm or a cauterization that went bad.

He knew Mitch was apologizing for forcing his hand in the first place.

For not trying to accept or even understand.

“You saved my life, you know,” he said, which was a point he’d made before.

But Mitch understood it in context now. Mitch had saved Brody from this vastness, from its power. He’d been the one to anchor Brody when the waves wanted to pull him farther and farther out to sea.

“I never should have made you come,” Mitch told him.

Brody actually smiled. “I told you, you didn’t force me, not really. I was going to go with you no matter what.”

“We’ve said a lot of things,” Mitch agreed. “But saying things is not the same as facing them.”

“Maybe,” Brody said, a little dismissively. He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes as he let it out again. He opened his eyes, gaze still fixed on the water.

Mitch looked at him, more studiously than before. “How are you really okay after all this? With me? The ocean? I mean, how do you think going back to work is no big deal when the ocean nearly killed you?”

Maybe it wasn’t a sensitive question. Maybe it wasn’t appropriate.

But damn it, Mitch wanted to know.

In order to face it himself, he needed to know.

Brody shrugged. “Eh, part of the job seems to be near death experiences,” he said.

“Usually we’re the ones stopping those experiences,” Mitch countered. “Not living them.”

“I haven’t forgotten our first major case together,” Brody said. He cocked a small smile at Mitch. “I nearly died twice with that shit that went down with Leeds. Kind of set the tone. And then this? Three near death experiences in less than three months? Seems like this job is more extreme than I was told it was going to be.”

Mitch waited for more. There had to be more. “You act like you’re okay with that.”

Brody shrugged again, more indifferent than before. “And why shouldn’t I be?” he said. “It’s just like the way that I’m okay with the ocean. It’s all part of the job, Mitch. And the job’s cool, but those things -- none of them -- are the reason I’ve stayed.”

Mitch knew the answer, probably. He knew the answer but he wanted to hear it. Once more, this time with solid ground beneath their feet. “Yeah?”

Brody turned to him now, finally tearing his gaze away from the water. “Baywatch, man,” he said as a smile spread across his face. “A way of life. Family and shit? You said it to me in the beginning when I didn’t get it at all, but I get it now.”

His eyes were bright and alive; more vibrant than Mitch had ever seen them.

He laughed as he went on. “I mean, I really don’t get why you have such a hard on for the ocean all the time, and I don’t get why it matters that we respect it and all that, but who cares?” he asked. “Baywatch. Everything else just, like, pales in comparison. I told you, back on the island, that it was a shitty choice when I made it, but I’m so glad I did.”

Mitch’s own chest felt tight; his throat was constricting. He wasn’t tearing up; he wasn’t.

“Most of my shitty choices turn out okay and all, but this one? Mitch, it changed my life,” he said, sounding so genuinely grateful that Mitch didn’t know what to do. “And even if I had died out there--” He pointed to the water. “--it still would have been the best choice I ever made. I stand by that shitty decision, and every other shitty decision that got me there. Because my life wouldn’t mean anything without Baywatch.”

It was Mitch’s turn to smile, a smile that still somehow surprised him despite the fact that Brody had been trying to tell him this all along. “You know, it was a shitty choice for me, too, letting you on the team,” he admitted. “But I’m glad I made it. I wouldn’t change it, either.”

Brody beamed at him. “So we agree on something!”

Mitch felt the tightness unfurl as he looked back to the water for himself. “Yeah,” he reflected as he took in the view. “Maybe we’re on the same page after all.”

And really, maybe they had been all along. It just took a rock and a hard place for Mitch to see that the choice they’d both made from the start was the only one that mattered.

Finally, Mitch nudged Brody gently. “Come on,” he said. “The car’s not far now. We need to get you home.”

Brody followed him as he stepped away from the ledge. “Your place?”

“Nah, home,” Mitch said, nudging him again. “Baywatch.”

Brody’s entire face lit up. “Really? But I’m not even close to being cleared for duty. I can’t walk to the car.”

“It’s not for work,” Mitch told him, keeping his pace slow as Brody gingerly stepped next to him. “But I thought you’d like to stop in.”

“I would,” Brody said, probably more enthusiastically than he intended.

Mitch grinned. “Good, because they’re all planning a surprise party for you.”

“Wait, what?” Brody said, stopping in his tracks.

Mitch stopped to face him. “Yeah, but it’s a surprise so don’t tell them.”

Brody looked truly perplexed. “But why?”

“Because you’re part of the team, dumbass,” he said. “And you scared them all.”

Brody, for all his talk about home and family and acceptance, still looked like he didn’t know what to make of that.

“So come on,” Mitch said, starting to walk again. “Just act surprised when we get there.”

Brody fell into step next to him. “Oh, I’m surprised. Not much acting there.”

“Well, they’re just glad you’re back, buddy,” Mitch said. Then, he added, “I’m glad you’re back.”

Keeping the pace, Brody smiled up at him. “It’s good to be back.”

Mitch huffed, pushing Brody playfully to the side. They were both going back, not to the ocean, not to the job, but to the team. To the family.

And they were doing it together.

Mitch unlocked the car, waiting as Brody piled inside. Nothing would get in the way of that -- not even the ocean -- again. He paused, looking back out across the water while Brody slowly got his seatbelt on.

The team was kind of like the ocean, vast and beautiful and complicated. It hurt you, sometimes. But it ultimately saved you. It had its own ebb and flow that was constant and yet still unpredictable. When you looked at it, when you really saw it and understood it, it floored you every time because there was no way of knowing where you ended and it began.

Beautiful, Brody had described it.

Mitch ducked into the car himself and looked at Brody, ready to go in the passenger's’ seat.

Beautiful, Mitch knew as he took them both home.