?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: (And I Believe That It’s Easier) For You To Let Me Go (3/3)

December 22nd, 2018 (05:02 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Mitch dreams about the ocean.

This may seem ridiculous, and it may seem to feed the most ridiculous sort of stereotype, but Mitch does this. The ocean is part of him; he knows it, and it knows him. He understands its beauty, and he grasps its danger. There’s love, there’s respect; between the Mitch and the ocean, it’s healthy admiration.

Most of the time, he dreams about the waves against a crystal blue sky. Sometimes he dreams about schools of colorful fish, darting in and out of reefs. And sometimes he even dreams about a whale’s dick and ball sack, because that’s an image he will never, ever get out of his head, no matter how high he was at the time.

Still, none of these dreams are especially unpleasant. See, Mitch isn’t prone to nightmares. His life is too good; his control of his life is too sound. He knows what he’s doing, and his dreams reflect this security.

Not tonight, though.

Tonight, Mitch dreams of high waves and a killer riptide. He dreams of an ocean tugging him, further and further out to sea when all he wants is to get to shore. He dreams of swallowing mouthfuls of salty water, spluttering and gasping. This is a dream of drowning.

Back and forth, up and down. He bobs desperately in the waves, pulling with all his might against the current and swimming against the violent ebb and flow of the waves. He needs to reach the shore; he needs to push, to pull, to survive.

He can’t shake it, though. Something is pulling him back, and this time, when he goes under, he looks down to see what’s holding him back.

That’s when he realizes: nothing is holding him back.

Below him, Brody is grasping at him with even more desperation. He’s not trying to drown Mitch. He’s trying to make Mitch realize that he needs to be saved.

It’d be easy to cut him loose, to let Brody go. Mitch would have no trouble getting to shore.

But he can’t ignore that look on Brody’s face.

He can’t deny that Brody’s hand is latched onto him like he’s some kind of life preserver.

Grunting, Mitch reaches down, takes Brody’s hand in his. He heaves him up toward the surface with all his might, but the ocean seems bigger and vaster than before. No matter how hard he pulls, no matter how hard he swims, the surface seems farther and farther away.

At this point, Mitch’s own lungs are screaming for air. He comes to the startling reality: saving Brody might kill them both.

He looks down at Brody’s panic-stricken face.

Letting him go will kill Brody for sure.

It’s a risk.

Mitch curses at the ocean, and pulls Brody tighter still.

It’s a risk he’ll just have to take.

Mitch struggles toward the surface, faster, harder, stronger, and he breaks the surface with Brody’s name on his lips.

-o-

But Mitch isn’t in the ocean.

He awakes, breathless and gasping, but Brody’s not in his hands.

No, Brody’s on the couch.

Mitch looks over, confused for a moment.

Brody’s no longer sleeping peacefully.

No, he really is struggling, thrashing and frantic as he racks his body along the length of the couch. He’s panicking, and there’s no water, but he’s pretty sure Brody’s drowning all the same.

Fully awake now, Mitch gets to his feet, crossing over to where Brody is struggling. Against what, Mitch isn’t sure, but he sits down on the coffee table, reaching forward to steady the other man. “Hey, Brody,” Mitch says, trying to catch the younger man’s attention. “Brody.”

Brody strains against him, eyes flashing wildly at the ceiling above. He grunts, fighting ineffectively, but the restraint only seems to make him panic more.

That’s too bad, because Mitch isn’t about to let go. Instead, he maneuvers himself upward, putting himself on the couch and straight into Brody’s line of vision. “Brody!”

Frantic as he is, Mitch isn’t sure Brody will recognize him or even hear him. But between Mitch’s unwavering grip and the steadiness of his voice, Brody seems to find an anchor. It takes his wild blue eyes a second to focus, and another few seconds to comprehend. Then, he blinks, wet eyes not quite spilling, and he takes a tremulous breath. “Mitch?”

Mitch’s first thought is that it’s a bit of a relief. Brody is awake and coherent, two necessary components to recovery. Maybe it’s a sign that they’ll be able to put this mess behind them sooner rather than later.

That thought lasts for all of two seconds.

Because Mitch’s second thought is, Oh, shit.

There, on the couch, Brody stops fighting him, his fingers clinging to Mitch’s shirt as his face crumples and he starts to cry.

Not just a little; not just the expected manly tears that are shed on occasion.

But sobs. Racking, ugly sobs.

If this is a fight, then Brody’s just surrendered.

Mitch doesn’t have a macho complex -- he doesn’t buy into the bullshit that real men don’t cry -- but he sure as hell doesn’t know what to do with a leaking Brody.

This leads him to a third and final thought: Brody’s awake, but the jury’s still out on whether or not he’s coherent. Because the Matt Brody Mitch knows? The smart ass, over confident little prick who likes to compete with Mitch every chance he gets? Wouldn’t be caught dead crying on Mitch’s couch.

Needless to say, this is more than Mitch bargained for. He came ready with an apology, but apparently it’s going to take a lot more than that to patch Brody back together.

“Hey,” Mitch says, shaking Brody slightly, as if he can just snap him out of it. “Brody, you’re okay.”

It’s not exactly world-class comfort, but Mitch is a lifeguard. Most of the time the only comfort he needs to provide is a smile and a pat on the shoulder, reaffirming that the victim isn’t dead. And Mitch can commiserate with friends -- he’d handled Ronnie’s penis malfunction really well -- but this? An emotionally compromised and obviously distraught Brody?

For once, Mitch is clearly out of his depth.

“Just easy,” Mitch coaxes anyway, using the sound of his voice to anchor Brody the only way he knows how. “You’re okay.”

The way he says it ignores the fact that Brody was drugged by three beautiful women and nearly manhandled into the back of a car without a license plate for nefarious purposes. The way he says it, Brody believes him.

Through the tears, Brody stops, looking up at Mitch with a desperate recognition. “Mitch?”

That’s something, at least. A place to start. After the way this evening has gone, Mitch will take it. He smiles broadly. “You bet.”

Brody blinks a few times, as if trying to convince himself that Mitch is really there. His breathing is still shaky, but the sobs have tapered off despite the tears still staining his cheeks. He licks his trembling lips, the wideness of his blue eyes making him way younger than he actually is. “But…,” Brody starts, and he seems at a loss for words. His chest hitches as he takes another stunted breath. He shakes his head. “I’m not supposed to be here.”

Mitch gives a small start, still forcing himself to grin. “Where else would you be?”

He means it as a joke, some of the casual banter he and Brody are so good at. But Brody, still drugged as he is, doesn’t laugh.

Instead, his forehead creases with renewed concern. “But you kicked me out.”

He says it so damn earnestly, and with the tears still on his cheeks, it’s all Mitch can do not to flinch. He’s a big dude, a strong dude. But that one is like a punch to the gut, harder than any physical punch Brody could ever throw.

Recovering enough to keep smiling, Mitch eases his grip slightly but doesn’t let go. “I didn’t kick you out,” he reminds Brody gently.

This doesn’t totally register with Brody. “But you told me to leave.”

“Well, work, maybe,” Mitch says, trying to downplay the conflict from earlier as best he can. He knows they need to talk about it, but he’s pretty sure Brody’s not in any condition to be rational about it now. “And just for the day.”

This is, of course, reasonable. But Brody is not reasonable in his current state. When drunk, Brody is belligerent and stupid. When drugged, he appears much more vulnerable. It’s a lot harder to be pissed at him when he’s like this.

Miserably, Brody shakes his head and tries to get up. “I shouldn’t be here.”

Brody doesn’t have much chance against Mitch when he’s sober; in his current state, it’s something like holding down a kitten. “Whoa, Drama Queen. You are fine right where you are,” Mitch says, trying to be gentle as he presses Brody’s shoulders back to the couch. He reminds himself that now is clearly not the time for nuance. “I brought you here.”

Though he’s still straining, Brody looks up at him again with a look so quizzical that it’s almost comical. “You brought me?”

The incredulous is laced with hope, and Mitch doesn’t know whether to smile or cry. “Of course I did,” Mitch says.

Brody’s brow furrows in abject uncertainty. “But why?”

There’s something plaintive in the question, something so raw that Mitch’s stomach does a little flip. After all these months with Baywatch, Brody shouldn’t have to ask that question. It means Brody doesn’t know that he’s a valued member of the team, on equal footing with the rest of them.

Worse, Mitch knows as he holds Brody’s drugged frame down to the couch, he knows that he’s only reinforced that doubt. His talkdown to Brody this morning had been one thing; a misplaced workplace tiff. But his continual hovering over Brody, his inability to give Brody space of his own. It had been building for months.

This figures, Mitch knows. As a lifeguard, he knows too well that drowning can be a quiet affair. People always think there’s splashing and yelling, and sometimes there is. But more often than not, when someone starts to struggle, they put all their energy into just staying afloat. An untrained lifeguard will miss the signs until the person’s already gone under. Mitch has taken pride in the fact that that’s not him.

Tonight, looking at Brody, he knows it is him. Brody’s been drowning all along, and Mitch has done nothing but tell him to keep his head above water without giving him a helping hand.

This is a save he almost missed.

And that’s not okay.

Resolutely, Mitch draws a breath. “Because we had a tense conversation this morning, and I was out of line,” he says. “I didn’t listen to your side of it, because I assumed I knew. When we couldn’t find you anywhere, I got worried.”

Brody seems to have no idea what Mitch is talking about. This fight has spiraled wildly out of control, and Mitch has to bring it back around if he’s going to end it properly.

Sighing, Mitch simplifies it to terms that drugged Brody will understand. “I came to apologize, asshat.”

This is the blunt version of it, but it’s at least something that Brody seems to understand at the moment. It registers slowly, and he tilts his head. “It was my fault, though.”

It’s still not clear how much Brody remembers, or if he’s even aware that they are talking about this morning and not all the rest, but Mitch decides to go with it. “There were factors I didn’t consider, and I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt. I should have asked. More than that, I should have listened.”

That’s the apology Mitch started out to give. Plain, simple, to the point: just the way Mitch prefers things.

Brody, naturally, makes things hard. “But the save,” he says, and for as clearly drugged as he is, these words are incredibly coherent. “I missed the save.”

This clarifies that Brody knows what they’re talking about, at least.

But it also clarifies that Mitch has a lot more to apologize for.

Because Brody knows, just like Mitch does now, that Brody didn’t miss the save. This morning, contrary to what Mitch had reamed him out for, wasn’t his fault. Yet here Brody is, in his most vulnerable state, owning to the very accusation Mitch had been wrong to levy. Brody believed Mitch, even when he’s wrong. This isn’t just a sign of trust or friendship; this is indicative of a power imbalance that Mitch has ignored and used ostensibly to his advantage. The whole time he’s known Brody, he’s made the kid work for it. Even after his actions with Leeds, Mitch had never quite taken off the training wheels. There are fifty reasons why this had been the best idea to Mitch at the time.

It’s only now, when Mitch sees what it’s doing to Brody, that he realizes none of those reasons mean shit. Baywatch isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle. The lifeguards aren’t coworkers, they’re family. If that’s the lesson he’s tried to teach Brody, then he’s the one who’s failed miserably. Brody needs to be held accountable, yes. But he also needs to be trusted. You can’t do one without the other, and Brody’s utter belief in his own mistakes when he hasn’t done anything wrong is on Mitch.

He’s set Brody up to lose all his fights before they start.

“You didn’t,” Mitch tells him steadily, wishing that Brody could comprehend him right now. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“You said it was,” Brody replies, and he’s not being a smart ass. He’s not trying to be mean or cute. He’s stating facts ,the very facts that the kid has clearly been grappling with all day long. When it comes down to a question of trust for Brody, he trusts Mitch more than himself.

Mitch just hopes he can live up to that this time. “It’s my job to make sure we’re doing the best we can at Baywatch,” he explains patiently. “Sometimes I have to be ruthless about it, because we’re saving lives out there.”

Wide-eyed and credulous, Brody follows along with the utmost attention his compromised self can give.

Still perched on the couch, Mitch keeps his hands steady on Brody’s shoulders. “But that doesn’t mean I’m always right,” he continues. “I made assumptions, and I didn’t listen. That wasn’t fair. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

For a second -- a glorious second -- it seems like Brody might understand that. The comprehension struggles through his expression, and he seems to relax under Mitch’s touch. But as he slumps back to the cushions, he shakes his head, eyes breaking away from Mitch’s. “A guy died today,” he says, a little absently, as if he’s forgotten that Mitch is there altogether. “I missed it.”

Mitch’s chest tightens slightly. He gives Brody a small shake, pulling the younger man’s attention back to him. “We all miss saves,” he says, leaving the nuance out of the conversation for now. They can get to the hard stuff later; he needs Brody to understand this much, though. “That’s the hard part of what we do.”

Eyes on Mitch again, Brody gives him a plaintive expression. “You don’t miss them.”

“Everyone, Brody,” Mitch says tightly, because Brody’s weak frame is testament to the save he almost missed tonight. “I’m not special, and neither are you.”

Brody reacts to this in the most irrational way possible. “You are special, though,” he says, almost imploringly, like it’s the only truth he knows to be steadfast and unwavering. “You and the ocean…” He trails off for a moment, nodding in the most serious manner possible. “You’re like a god, Mitch. An actual god.”

This is ridiculous, and the fact that Brody seems to believe it so completely is even more ridiculous. Mitch stares at him, not sure if he should attribute this to the drugs, the alcohol, or Brody’s completely messed up psyche. As he ponders this dilemma, Brody seems to be gaining steam.

“I don’t even know how to live up to that, no matter how hard I try,” Brody continues, the words falling over each other, slurring slightly on his compromised tongue. “When I’m around you, you make me want to be better, but then, when I’m not around you, it’s like I realize that it’s a lost cause, you know? I’m a lost cause. Because you’re you, and you make it look so easy, but I’m me and everything I do is hard. And Mitch, man, you’re a god. You’re a god, Mitch.”

Mitch is not sure what to make of this, but he knows he can’t sit here and listen to it. “Brody, my man,” he says, releasing Brody’s shoulder with a wary sigh. “You’re not in your right mind. At all. You need to rest.”

This is entirely sane advice. It figures that Brody doesn’t seem to hear it.

“Wouldn’t matter,” Brody says with a diffident and feeble shrug. He’s not quite coordinated right now, so everything he does looks slightly exaggerated. “Never does. I mean, I’ve tried to do things right, and it never makes a difference. I get it wrong. I always get it wrong, Mitch.”

Mitch knows it’s probably pointless to engage at this point -- Brody probably won’t remember this tomorrow, God help them both -- but the younger man is clearly agitated, and Mitch has no other means to placate him. “You don’t, though. Two gold medals, remember?”

The moment he says it, he knows it’s probably not the right tact. For most Olympians, appealing to success on the field of competition would probably be a reminder of greatness. Brody takes some pride in his gold medals, but he understands the weight they bear around his neck. He knows that they don’t just represent winning; they represent the loss of himself as well. He’ll always associate the gold with his humiliation, which is why it’s a terrible fact that they’re the only things Brody has left to call his own.

Face contorting, Brody huffs and looks wildly at the ceiling, as if he’s looking for something that’s never going to be there. “No one talks about the wins, though, just the loss,” he says, half-raving now. “Swam as fast as I could my whole life, and it was never enough. They always wanted one more. Just one more, Brody.” He grunts a laugh that almost sounds like a sob. His eyes are watering again. “I messed that up for them. Just didn’t think about how it would mess things up for me.”

“Well, it’s not just the gold medals,” Mitch continues reasonably. He nudges Brody, trying to bring his attention back to the present. “Remember what you did for the bay? You kept after Leeds. Without you, we never would have taken her down.”

Brody’s laugh is even more hysterical than before. “All I did was find the flakka and get dumped on the bottom of the ocean,” he says. “You saved me, and you saved the bay. You, Mitch. With a gunshot wound and, like, deadly urchin poison. And rockets!” Brody’s eyes light up, and he lifts his hands, making a mock explosion motion with a grating noise through his teeth. When he’s done, he slumps miserably back to the couch cushions. “I didn’t even keep her foot for luck.”

He sounds truly remorseful for that.

Mitch reflects again on being careful about how much Brody seems to trust him. And how little he understands nuance, even when sober.

In short, nothing about Brody makes life easier.

Brody sighs, seemingly dejected. “Luck doesn’t matter anyway, not for me,” he says. “Every good thing, I screw it up.”

“Hey,” Mitch says, nudging him gently. “You’re here, aren’t you? Part of Baywatch?”

Brody’s response is hardly encouraged. He snorts, a short, half unhinged sound. “Like it will last. Nothing lasts,” he says, as if this is extremely obvious. “Everyone sees potential in me when they first meet me, but they get tired of me. Sooner or later, they all want me to get the hell out, so I don’t blame you, Mitch. I don’t blame you at all.”

Mitch frowns. This is not how he wants this conversation to go. “That’s not how family works.”

“Fosters families, the Olympic team,” Brody rambles with a shrug. “That’s how it's always worked for me. Not even my own parents wanted me, and the second things got hard, the coaches and sponsors all dropped me. Even you, kicking me out today. Everyone realizes that I’m not worth it.”

It’s Mitch’s turn to sigh. “I wasn’t kicking you out,” he explains in utter exasperation. Everyone else would have gotten this point by now, everyone but Brody. That’s why it’s so important to convey it to him now. “And for the record, it was temporary paid leave, and I was angry. I didn’t fire you.”

This is not a distinction Brody is in any state to comprehend, however. In fact, for all he seems to process, Mitch may just as well be speaking a foreign language. “You were right, though. I am a screw up, like a massive one,” Brody says. “I’ll screw up again, you know. I always do.”

“Sure, but that’s what makes you human,” Mitch tells him.

At this, Brody seems to ponder very seriously. This time, his fight is internal. He seems to have come to some sort of revelation, and Mitch dares to hope that Brody has put the pieces together and realized that Mitch still wants him on at Baywatch.

Those hopes are dashed, however, when Brody speaks. Glazed eyes, awe-struck features. “And you’re a god.”

It’s all Mitch can do not to swear. Of all the points to reiterate, this is not one Mitch feels like revisiting. But there’ something in the complete trust Brody shows him; something in the total adoration on his face. Brody believes in Mitch more than he believes in himself.

This is a little unhealthy, but Mitch can use it now.

So help him God, for Brody’s sake, he will. “Well, then you have to believe me.”

Brody seems primed for an argument, so when Mitch agrees, it catches his drugged mind off guard. “What?”

Mitch goes with it. “If I’m a god, you’re just a man,” he concludes. “You have to believe me.”

It’s such bullshit, and it’s destructive bullshit, but it’s the bullshit Brody needs right now. Brody needs to calm down, he needs to feel safe and accepted. And if he has to believe that Mitch is an oceanic god of whale dicks, then so be it.

To Mitch’s relief, Brody nods. “Okay,” he says, finally in concession.

It’s been a hell of a long day, and Brody’s borne the brunt of this fight, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park for Mitch either. Finally, Mitch feels the tension unfurl in his chest. This time, when he pats Brody’s shoulder, the younger man accepts his comfort. He doesn’t fight to get up, and when he starts to blink sleepily, there’s no more contention. They’ll still need to talk in the morning -- about close calls, miscommunication, assumptions and drinking too much -- but it’s the first moment of the day in which Brody has some hope.

Incidentally, so does Mitch.

“Great,” he says, and the smile isn’t forced this time. “Now, you need to get some rest.”

Brody nods, eyelids already starting to droop as he obeys. “Thanks, Mitch,” he says, the words slurred a little more as he starts to lose the fight with unconsciousness. “For coming after me.”

“I told you,” Mitch says, more resolute than ever. “We fight; we make up. That’s what family does. No matter what.”

Brody smiles faintly, and it’s almost a perfect, peaceful moment.

Before Brody’s face contorts. His body stiffens. Then, he gags.

Mitch only has a second to get Brody up, just enough to keep him from aspirating when he vomits.

Not enough to get him to a trash can or a toilet.

Just enough for Brody to vomit safely.

All over Mitch’s shoes.

When he’s done, Mitch eases him back, and the younger man is already asleep.

Mitch sighs, looking down at his shoes and back at Brody again. “No matter what.”

-o-

After their conversation, Mitch finds himself unable to sleep. He tells himself that there are good reasons to stay awake. First, there are still potential side effects to the drugs, the least of which include more vomiting. In his current state, Brody could easily aspirate, and Mitch isn’t wearing sandals anymore, so it’s all good.

That’s the rational explanation for it.

The truth is, however, that Mitch can’t quite bring himself to leave. Their conversation had been awkward, to say the least, and Mitch knows he should take some comfort in knowing that Brody probably won’t remember much of it tomorrow. Mitch can start over then, clean slate and all. He can make a proper apology and a thorough explanation for the way in which their dynamic needs a few tweaks.

Mitch, on the other hand, will not forget it. Not any time soon.

Because he messed it up, plain and simple. For all that he’s done right by Brody -- and he’s done a lot, mind you -- he’s also missed a few critical things. The worst part is, it isn’t like Mitch at all. Everyone else who comes across his beach, he gives them the benefit of the doubt. It’s fair to say Brody came in with an attitude, and Mitch has forgiven that but he’s not forgotten. He’s made Brody fight for it, as well he should have, because there’s no place for a self entitled asshole on his team.

But when does Brody get the benefit of the doubt? When has he sufficiently proven himself? Is it possible to be absolved from your past mistakes? Does Mitch actually grant second chances?

Because yes, Brody has screwed up, spectacularly. More times than he should have. But the things he’s done in response to that have earned him back the privileges he’s enjoyed. It’s really something, in fact, to see someone do the wrong thing and own up to it completely -- not to mention start trying to do the right thing all over again. For some people, Mitch knows, being good is natural. For people like Ronnie and CJ and Summer and Stephanie, they know the difference between right and wrong, they know how to set their own boundaries and function as part of a healthy group.

For other people, though -- orphans, in particular, kids who are tossed through the system with no concept of family -- it takes a little bit more work. Brody doesn’t have anything to fall back on in, and he’s learned some habits, some of the worst habits, by no fault of his own. Sure, Brody should know better than to get drunk off his ass, but it’s not his fault that no one taught him what it was to be loved.

It’s sure as hell easier to like people who get it right all the time.

But Mitch has to give props to those who struggle through things the hard way.

That’s what he told himself he had been doing. Because Brody, he needs structure, no doubt about it. He needs a firmer hand, he needs guidance and reminders. He needs to be called o his shit.

But then he also needs the benefit of the doubt. He needs someone to believe in him.

Mitch saves lives for a living, but pulling someone out of the ocean -- that’s easy.

Helping someone learn the basic concept of family and turn their life around? That’s a much taller task.

Mitch won’t shirk it, though.

Because, after all this, Mitch knows the truth that he needs to internalize. Brody’s not some forced recruit anymore. He’s not some smart ass from Iowa who had a moment of glory while catching Leeds. No, Matt Brody is family.

The kid hasn’t had a family his whole life, and if Mitch bails on him now, he’s going to think Baywatch is the same thing.

And that, more than anything else, is something Mitch can’t accept. He means what he says about Baywatch. He is 100 percent committed to the idea that Baywatch is a way of life, it’s a family.

For Mitch. For Summer, CJ, Ronnie, Stephanie and the rest.

And for Brody more than all of them.

It can’t be anything less than that.

The fact that Mitch has let this slide for as long as he has?

Well, if that doesn’t warrant a sleepless night…

Then a drugged up little brother surely does.

-o-

By morning, Mitch has drank an entire pot of coffee. He’s feeling somewhat worse for wear, but a glance at a bedraggled Brody reminds him that he’s not the victim in this case. And for as bad as either of them feel now, things are going to get a lot more uncomfortable when Ellerbee arrives.

Ellerbee has been texting him the better part of the night, and it’s all Mitch’s charm and personal charisma that has kept the cop from darkening his doorstep directly at dawn for a complete statement. They both know that it’s a toss up as to what Brody will actually be able to put together from yesterday, and Mitch isn’t sure if he wants the other lifeguard to remember or forget.

At any rate, Ellerbee will be there in a few hours, so Mitch better make the most of the morning while he can.

Hastily -- and with the door cracked so he can still see the couch -- Mitch cleans up and dresses himself. His best sandals have been hosed off outside to air dry, though he’s still considering just tossing them. They are his favorite sandals, unfortunately, perfectly broken in. It’s hard to get a pair to that perfect state.

Back out in the living room, he pauses to watch Brody breathing. A pair of sandals; a lifeguard. That one’s not a toss up. Mitch loves those sandals, but he’s always been a man who knows his priorities.

And if today is going to suck, then he’s going to meet it with the proper amount of energy and passion.

He can’t necessarily make this easier for Brody. He can, however, make breakfast. Eggs, bacon and pancakes, then -- coming right up.

Brody’s going to need more than that today, but it seems like an acceptable place to start.

-o-

The bacon is sizzling, there’s a stack of pancakes, and fresh coffee is brewing when Brody startles awake 20 minutes later. Mitch watches warily from the kitchen. His impulse is to swoop in, make another save, but as a lifeguard, he knows that he can’t micromanage everyone. His role is to maintain a watchful eye until someone is clearly in distress.

After sleeping it off all night, there’s no clear reason to expect Brody to be in immediate distress. If anything, last night suggests that Mitch needs to give Brody a little space.

Besides, if he’s going to hurl again, Mitch wants to be safely in the kitchen.

Coming back to consciousness with a jolt, Brody propels himself upward, but clearly regrets it immediately. The color drains from his face, not that he had much to start with, and he blanches as he falls back against the cushions in obvious confusion. Brody has trouble piecing things together under normal circumstances; with the aftermath of the drugs, he’s going to have a harder time of it than usual.

Still, he seems aware enough to realize that he’s not alone. Cautiously this time, he sits up, gingerly sweeping his legs over the side of the couch. He seems to brace himself for a moment -- nausea, lightheadedness, abject confusion or all of the above -- and he breathes visibly through his nose for several long seconds before he dares to look up.

Clearly, Brody knows where he is. However, it’s also clear that he’s not sure how or why. Whether or not Brody remembers going to the bar is questionable. He may also just be reeling from the fact that he thought he and Mitch weren’t on speaking terms.

Mitch does his best to diffuse this notion by smiling broadly. When Brody hazards a look at him, Mitch acts like everything is perfect. “Hey!” he calls out. “Just in time for breakfast!”

Brody gives him a look that suggests that he worries this situation may be a hallucination. The mental process is almost visible on his face. No hallucination would feel as bad as Brody clearly felt in this moment.

“You had a long night,” Mitch informs him, hoping he sounds sympathetic without sounding grave. “Come grab some pancakes and we’ll talk about it.”

Brody’s look is now vaguely incredulous, but he can find no reason not to comply. This could be due to the fact that he’s hung over, but it may also just be because he’s Brody.

Mitch watches, not bothering to be discreet, noting the way Brody grimaces when he gets to his feet. With a single step, his posture seems to waver, and for a terrible second, Mitch thinks Brody is going to keel over again. Before he has the chance to drop the pancake poised on his spatula, Brody blinks a few times and gets his footing, breathing stolidly for another second longer before he takes another tentative step.

The walk to the kitchen is clearly a chore for Brody, and his shuffle-steps suggest that he’s feeling worse than he’s so far let on. Once he makes it to the kitchen, Brody braces himself at the bar, looking somewhat nauseated. He looks at Mitch, then he looks at the pancakes. When no obvious conclusion about what the hell is going on comes to him, Brody shakes his head in apparent defeat. “I have no idea what happened last night.”

It’s always best to start with the truth, so Mitch is glad that Brody isn’t trying to play the big man here. However, when it comes to the truth, Mitch is feeling suddenly reticent. Instead, he gives Brody a cautious look. “What do you remember?”

Though he’s still pale, Brody’s face whitens even more as he thinks back. “Drinking,” he admits, swallowing back an apparent roil of nausea. “Lots of drinking.”

That’s a place to start, and Mitch just wishes it could end there. He wishes he could reprimand Brody for drinking too much, apologize for not hearing him out and let that be that. But that’s not that. There’s human trafficking and date rape drugs and Brody’s complete trust in Mitch’s version of reality that usurps his own (if limited) common sense.

“Yeah,” Mitch says, mouth tight as he flips another pancake. “There was definitely too much drinking. You have to stop doing that.”

Brody grimaces again. “I think you may be right,” he assents. “I’ve never had a hangover this bad before.” He smacks his lips together in disgust. “Did I throw up?”

“That’s a yes,” Mitch tells him, matter of fact. “But hey, at least it wasn’t in a pool.”

This is a joke, but it’s also a real consolation for someone like Brody. At least, Mitch expects it to be, but it seems to leave Brody looking even more vexed. “Seriously, though,” he says, as if still trying to get his bearings. “I feel like I may have died or something. Or something died in my throat.” He makes a face. “What did I drink anyway? This doesn’t feel like tequila.”

Well, to be fair, it probably is tequila. And it’s probably scotch and anything else Brody could get his hands on. But as much as Mitch wants this to be a talk about the dangers of alcoholism, he knows he has to broach the other topics at hand. It’s a tossup between admitting his own role in this and telling Brody he almost got kidnapped.

Tough guy that he is, Mitch still takes the easy out. “It’s not so much the alcohol you’re feeling,” Mitch explains, taking the last pancake off the griddle with a sigh. “Someone slipped something into one of your last drinks.”

Brody lifts his eyes, his confusion even more pronounced than before.

Mitch rallies his courage. “I caught three girls trying to stuff you into an unmarked car in the back alley.”

Brody processes this, or tries to. When none of it seems to compute, he shakes his head in dismay. “What?”

Mitch lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “I stopped them before anything happened,” he says, as if this should be some kind of assurance.

“But,” Brody stammers, not sure what to say. “Why would they do that?”

“Well, it’s known as a date rape drug,” Mitch explains. Seeing Brody’s horrified look, Mitch clarifies. “But I think they were looking at a bigger prize.”

Incredulous, Brody gapes at him. “Which would be?”

“Human trafficking, probably,” Mitch says wearily, seeing no other way around it. “I’ve heard rumors about them using our beach, but I’d never gotten any leads on it until last night.”

“Until three girls tried to shove me in an unmarked car,” Brody clarifies for him.

The plainness of the statement is enough to make Mitch wince, even if this part isn’t his fault. “I doubt they recognized you, or you wouldn’t have been their mark,” he says. “But looks like yours -- I bet they were looking at a nice payday.”

Brody seems to be waiting for the punchline, as if this is possibly some kind of joke. Mitch, however, doesn’t laugh. Crestfallen, Brody slumps into a stool at the breakfast bar. “Ugh,” he moans, rubbing a hand over his face. “I don’t think I’m sober enough for this conversation.”

“Sobriety isn’t your problem,” Mitch points out, poking at the bacon cooking in the skillet. “Drinking, on the other hand...”

Brody drops his hand miserably. “You can say that again.”

“I can, but I won’t just now,” Mitch tells him. He hesitates, just for a second. “But you may have to tell Ellerbee.”

Brody stiffens. “Ellerbee?”

“Human trafficking is a serious crime,” Mitch points out. “And even if they can’t build that case, attempted kidnapping and assaults need to be addressed. I’m not having it on my beach.”

Even in his current state, Brody puts two and two together. “So I have to make a statement?”

“Hey, you’re lucky I didn’t leave you on the scene last night,” Mitch says. “I should have, by the way. I should have let them take you to the hospital, just to be safe.”

Brody’s reaction to that is pretty much what Mitch expects. He can see the wheels turning in Brody’s addled brain, as if he’s struggling to read the headlines about his latest humiliating exploit.

Mitch gathers a breath, pulling the last few strips of bacon off the skillet and arranging them on another plate. A pointless gesture, maybe. It still makes Mitch feel better somehow. “I think we can keep it on the DL, at least for now,” he says. “But you are going to help me close this case.”

Brody is already slumped, but he manages to look even more dejected on the stool. “And if I suggest we leave this one for the cops?”

“They’re involved, man,” Mitch assures him. “But if we work together, if we approach Ellerbee with everything we know -- then we can keep this thing out of the headlines for as long as possible, and when it does hit the news cycle, we may not even need your name as a witness.”

That’s a plan, and Mitch knows it’s a good plan. It’s the only plan he has for the moment, and he likes to think that at least this much is possible to resolve. Who would have thought that the easy case would be human trafficking?

Brody, while not thrilled, also has no means to argue. Sitting there, he looks more dejected than ever.

Sighing, Mitch reaches for the eggs. “Come on,” he cajoles, cracking an egg on the edge of the pan and letting the yoke slide in with a sizzle. “Breakfast first. How do you like your eggs?”

Brody blanches.

Mitch picks up his spatula again. “Scrambled it is.”

-o-

By the time Mitch is done, it’s a bit of a feast. He’s made more servings than the two of them could possibly eat, but Mitch does make a valiant effort. He easily downs three plates by himself, smothering everything with syrup while Brody pokes at his eggs and sips his coffee.

The truth is, Mitch isn’t all that hungry. But as long as he’s eating, then he doesn’t have to talk.

At least, not about what really happened yesterday, long before anyone put something in Brody’s drink.

He steals a surreptitious look at Brody, swallowing hard as he notes just how little the younger man has eaten. “Come on,” Mitch says, despite himself. “You’re going to need your energy today.”

Brody doesn’t look up as he uses his fork to poke at his pancakes. “For my statement?”

It seems innocuous, but Mitch is aware of the implications. Brody thinks Mitch just wants him for the case, that this is all about the job. The kid is still trying to please him, even when it’s obvious he feels like shit.

“Not just the statement,” Mitch says. “You had a rough night last night, man.”

Mitch means this as commiseration, but Brody does not seem overly solidified by this.

Putting down his fork, Mitch knows he has to venture into this sooner or later. “I mean, you made some shit choices last night.”

Brody lifts a piece of bacon with lackluster enthusiasm off his plate. “I make bad choices all the time.”

“Still,” Mitch says, more seriously now. “This could have ended up much worse.”

Brody drops the bacon, raising his eyebrows as he looks at Mitch across the bar. “Worse than being drugged and rescued in a back alley?” he asks. “And seriously, man. Did you change my clothes?”

They both look down. Brody’s in a baggy t-shirt and his boxer shorts. It’s a detail he had hoped Brody missed, as he didn’t want to relive that experience any more than Brody did. “Just the shirt,” he says. “Your pants are over in the corner.”

“Vomit?” Brody asks.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Mitch says. “You also nailed my shoes.”

Brody pushes his plate away. “See,” he mumbles. “This is already so much worse.”

“I’m serious,” Mitch says, refusing to let Brody dwell too much on this. “You could have been killed.”

Brody huffs. “Like anyone would have really cared.”

It’s a comment, it’s a snide comment that Brody probably doesn’t completely mean. But he means it a little, and that pisses Mitch off. It pisses him off because it scares the shit out of him, but he’s going to go with the anger right now. “No.”

Brody gives him a look of indignation. “No?”

“You don’t get to do that,” Mitch tells him flatly. “You don’t get to think like that.”

“Like what?” Brody says.

“That this family is expendable,” Mitch says.

Brody frowns. “What family?”

“Baywatch, dipshit,” Mitch says, harsher than he intends, but not as harsh as he feels. This would be easy if all of his anger were directed at Brody, and not at himself. But nothing about this is easy. Nothing about Brody is ever easy. “Baywatch is family.”

This is a tried and true line, one Mitch has used time and again. He had thought -- hoped, probably -- that Brody understood this much.

But Brody shakes his head. “Uh, you kicked me out yesterday.”

And there it is, the opening to the conversation that Mitch has been looking for and dreading all at once. He can still back out of it, he’s sure of that. Brody probably won’t call him on it. That’s the real reason why he can’t.

“That’s a dramatic version of the events,” Mitch says.

“You told me to get out,” Brody remembers.

“I put you on paid leave for the day, pending an investigation,” Mitch says. “It’s standard procedure.”

This is all completely true.

It’s also nothing Brody has considered to this point.

This is a critical insight into his brain. Brody had seen yesterday as a rejection; he’d seen it as a breaking point. He hadn’t been able to understand that the conflict was something they could work through and resolve. He hadn’t yet grasped the full scope of family despite the fact that he’d been a part of one all this time.

Sighing, Mitch searches for his patience. These assumptions, though flawed, are not entirely Brody’s fault. He doesn’t know family; he can’t understand family. They have to teach it to him, and Mitch has worked hard to teach him how to be a lifeguard, but he’s been inconsistent with the family thing. The things Mitch has taken for granted are the thing Brody’s needed to hear.

“If you hadn’t gone out and gotten drunk last night, you would have sat down at talked to me,” Mitch continues evenly. “I would have explained that the investigation proved it wasn’t your fault. You switched towers, which is common and legitimate. I even found the paperwork when I got around to looking. I would have taken your statement, and we’d be at work right now, not here.”

This is a lot for Brody to take in, and he’s quiet for several long moments. Finally, he swallows and wets his lips. “I tried to tell you that,” he finally says, his voice soft. “You said it didn’t matter.”

So far, Mitch has talked about Brody’s mistakes.

This one, though. This is Mitch’s mistake.

Soberly, Mitch nods. “I know,” he says. “You tried to tell me, and I didn’t listen. At the time, I was mad. My reaction was strong. I don’t like losing people.”

To this, Brody seems to take offense. “And neither do I!” he bursts out, though he bites back his emotion quickly. “Neither do I.”

There’s passion, there. More than Mitch has given him credit for. “But I’m the lieutenant,” Mitch reminds him. “The responsibility still falls back on me.”

“You said it yourself, though,” Brody says, the accusation rising in his voice. “I’m the screw up. And I know how many times I’ve screwed up, Mitch. You only get so many chances, and I’ve spent them all.”

Of course Brody thinks that. After foster homes and gold medals and tabloid media, of course Brody thinks that. Baywatch is supposed to teach him differently, and that responsibility falls ot Mitch as well. “We all screw up,” Mitch says, willing Brody to hold his gaze now. “And we all get to try again. That’s what family is.”

Brody is shaken by this answer, and he wants to look away but he doesn’t.

Mitch takes this as a good sign. It’s his only sign to keep going, even when he wants to back down. “And for the record, I was the one who screwed up today,” he says. “I didn’t listen to you. I can have fifteen good reasons why, but none of that justifies it. Baywatch is family, and family listens. I didn’t listen to you when I should have. For once, I think I probably said some things I didn’t mean.”

This isn’t necessarily an easy thing for Mitch to say, but it appears to be even harder for Brody to comprehend. Across the breakfast bar, Brody is staring at him, utterly dumbstruck.

Leave it to Brody to make this more complicated than necessary. “I’m sorry,” Mitch says, because he can’t think of any way to make it clearer. “I know you know how it feels to say things you don’t mean.”

Brody looks like he may be having a delusion or something. A drunken hallucination, as if his bad trip from last night isn’t over just yet.

“That’s what I mean about chances, man,” Mitch continues. “We all need them, me included. I just hope you’re willing to give me one more.”

Swallowing, Brody is trying to make his throat work again. “Of course I will,” he says, sounding a little hoarse. “You’ve given me more chances than I can count. More than I deserve.”

This is a humble admission, and it’s not the flagrant braggart who first showed up on Mitch’s beach all those months ago. Mitch worries about it, but Brody has changed, well and truly. The problem is, of course, that Brody changed a long time ago, but Mitch hasn’t quite let himself believe it.

He sees it now, however

More importantly, Brody sees it too.

There’s equity in that. Because for the first time, Mitch is willing to treat Brody like he’s an equal player in this relationship.

Which is all Brody needs to finally believe he is one.

That’s the lesson in family they both needed.

“Good,” Mitch says, feeling resolved. “Then you’ll have no problem returning the favor.”

Brody inhales, hesitating. “Does this mean…,” he starts, but fumbles for a moment. “I’m not fired?”

“You were never fired,” Mitch reminds him.

“But I’m not suspended,” Brody clarifies.

“You’re not suspended,” Mitch agrees.

Brody brightens, as if daring to be optimistic for the first time all morning. “So I get to work?”

“Of course,” Mitch says. “But I mean, not today. You’re still hungover.”

“Right, sure,” Brody says, perking up even more. “I mean, I couldn’t today. I feel like shit.”

“And you look like shit, too,” Mitch says. “Besides, Ellerbee will be here any moment. I have a feeling he’s going to want to take some time with our statements.”

It’s a testament to the fact that Brody is feeling better that this doesn’t completely deflate him. Instead, he looks somewhat concerned. “Did I really get drugged?”

“By three hot women,” Mitch confirms.

“And they nearly kidnapped me?” Brody asks.

“In a back alley, probably ready to put you on a ship for Mexico by morning,” Mitch says.

“And you really took off my clothes?” Brody pushes further.

“And you owe me a new pair of sandals,” Mitch says.

Finally, Brody sighs, reaching for his cup of coffee with a tired determination. “I really do need to stop drinking.”

“You think?” Mitch asks.

At Brody’s withering look, Mitch shrugs.

“We’ll work on it,” he says. Then, he throws Brody an appropriate life raft before he drowns again. “Along with my listening skills.”

Faintly, Brody smiles. He takes a sip of coffee and thoughtfully shakes his head. “Sometimes I still don’t know why you bother, Mitch,” he says. “It’d be easier to just let me go.”

“That’s what family does,” Mitch tells him readily, as if he doesn’t need the reminder himself, as if this is not the lesson he’s relearned the hard way over the last 24 hours. “You’ll have to learn that, sooner or later.”

Brody nods, chewing the inside of his lip.

“And it’s a lesson I could always use a reminder on,” Mitch assures him, because maybe Brody needs his humility as much as he needs his structure and confidence.

This time, Brody meets his eyes when he smiles. It’s a small look of understanding, but it’s a start. All they’ve been through in the last day, it’s pretty damn good to see, actually.

All of this, in fact: it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s breaking the surface.

It occurs to Mitch, sitting there at his breakfast bar, that Brody’s been adrift for awhile now. Probably since he first arrived at Baywatch, and it’s been a hell of a swim to drag him back to the beach. It’s taken long enough, but Mitch knows they’ve gotten there now.

Everyone will think stopping human trafficking will be the important part of this save, and Mitch does want to address that, but somehow, inexplicably, it’s not really the part that matters. Sitting across from Brody, watching him try to eat his breakfast, it’s not the part that matters most at all.

Because Mitch has saved a lot of people in his career, this is true, but that doesn’t make losing one any easier. That’s why he always tried harder than everyone else. That’s why he got so pissed yesterday. Because he didn’t like losing anyone. Not on his beach, not on his watch, not in his family. Not even assholes, complete and total idiots, like Matt Brody.

Honestly, his life would have been much easier if he’d never let the kid in at Baywatch, but that’s not how it works, not in family. When he stops to think about it, no one has needed to be saved as much as Brody has.

Not that Brody makes it easy on him.

No, Brody’s proved to be his hardest save to date.

The hardest, most frustrating, most impossible and stupidest.

The most meaningful, too.

Because losing someone feels like shit, but saving someone? Saving someone who doesn’t know how to be saved? Makes everything feel really worthwhile.

“Now,” Mitch says, reaching for a fresh pancake from the stack. “We need to finish breakfast.”

Brody’s face screws up in surprise. “You already had three helpings.”

“Which means I’ll have one more, and you can finish that one,” Mitch says in a tone that eschews all arguments. This is a fight he’ll have; this is a fight he’ll win. “If you need, I can feed you. I mean, I did undress you last night.”

Pulling his plate back toward himself, Brody’s eyes narrow at him. “I hate you.”

Mitch grins, folding a pancake into his mouth with a single bite. Some lessons suck, but they’re sure worth learning. “I know,” he says, around the mouthful of food as he relishes another victory. “I hate you, too.”

Comments

Posted by: Amy (mellaithwen)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2018 12:57 am (UTC)
chuck: live long and geek out

faye i cannot believe you just got me to read baywatch fic!!

i loved it though! lots of introspection, lots of angst. mmm perfect!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2018 06:16 pm (UTC)

It is rather a ridiculous thing to be writing about. So it makes me vaguely happy to get other people to fall down this strange fandom hole with me, even if only briefly :)

I'm also amused that there are still people who check my journal here.

Anyway, I would apologize for doing this to you, but I'm not actually that sorry. So thank you for reading this despite the fact that this movie hardly warrants any additional thought. Hope you're having a nice holiday season!

Posted by: Amy (mellaithwen)
Posted at: December 25th, 2018 02:24 pm (UTC)

I actually came looking to see if you had a dreamwidth linked because I;m trying to finally get my self organised over there, and I ended up falling down a baywatch fic hole!! :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 29th, 2018 03:42 am (UTC)

I have a dreamwidth but I don't use it because it's too much work to manage different accounts and I was too comfortable with LJ to ever really make the switch. Is there more activity over on dreamwidth? Though I'm so disconnected from fandom anymore that I wouldn't even know what to do with myself.

So I guess that means I'll keep writing random fic about Baywatch that one person will read :)

4 Read Comments