?

Log in

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

Baywatch fic: Staying Power

December 24th, 2018 (08:51 pm)

Title: Staying Power

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Warning: M

A/N: A fill for my wild square on hc_bingo. Unbeta’ed. Set right after the movie because I wanted something more.

Summary: Figures, the moment he chooses to stay is the moment he no longer has a choice.



-o-

So, being a lifeguard is not exactly everything Summer had expected. She’d trained really hard to get here, and funny enough, her most impressive work hasn’t even been on the water. The lives she’s saved? Haven’t had anything to do with drowning.

Well, she’s done some of that, but really, that seems secondary to everything else. What with bribery and murder and extortion and all that shit.

It’s not what she thought.

But it’s still pretty much everything she wants.

That is the only conclusion she can come to after providing her statement to the police before settling down next to Brody in the hospital waiting room. They’d done an initial debriefing on the beach, but considering the scope of the case, Summer doubts this will be the last time she’s wanted for questioning.

“Hey,” she says, feeling a lot more perky than someone should after everything they’ve done tonight. “I’m pretty sure the cops think we’re all insane, but since we stopped a massive corruption plot, I think they’re willing to overlook the fact that we have zero jurisdiction.”

Brody coughs into his hand, sniffling a little as he sits up stiffly. “Yeah, they were really interested in the stuff about Thorpe,” he says, clearly stifling a groan. The adrenaline has faded for all them since the beach, but Brody is showing it worse than the rest of them. “By the way, the nurse says we can visit Mitch.”

Summer brightens even more. Mitch had been coherent and ambulatory back on the beach, but paramedics had insisted, given everything, that Mitch be checked out. While CJ and Ronnie had gone with Stephanie back to headquarters, she and Brody had gone with Mitch to make sure the doctors did their due diligence. She hadn’t been worried, but it’s still more of a relief than she expects it to be. “Oh, so he’s gotten the official okay?”

“Well, he’s been shot and poisoned,” Brody reminds her, giving a feeble, one-shouldered shrug. Weary as he is from the night’s events, he still manages a smile. “All that’s to say, he’s fine.”

She laughs, the relief solidifying in her chest with genuine amusement. A lot of surprising things have happened recently; this, however, does not surprise her at all. Mitch is nothing short of a force of nature. “Of course he is.”

Brody coughs again, wincing while he clears his throat -- probably the after effects of his trip underwater. She never heard officially how long he’d been under; there hadn’t been time to ask, especially since Mitch was the only one who could say. “They’ll want to keep him here, though, overnight,” he says, croaking just a little. By the sound of it, it had been longer than Summer had previously thought. “Observation.”

“Sure,” she says, nodding along. For as trying as this night has been for her, she’s beginning to realize how much more so for Brody. He’s kind of a hot mess all the time, though usually more hot than mess. Now, she has to admit, he looks a bit more of a mess than hot. For some reason, Summer finds this insanely attractive. Maybe playing hero makes her horny. All that adrenaline has to go somewhere. She almost wishes he were staring at her boobs now. “I guess he’ll probably need to rest.”

She leaves it there, the quasi-suggestion half open. They could leave, and it would be justified. Hell, it may even be the “right” thing to do. But it’s not the choice she wants to make, and her implications are intentionally vague if only because she’s not even sure what she actually thinks she should do.

She’s not even sure what she wants to have happen next, in all honesty. She’s not sure what she wants Brody to say; she’s not sure what she expects him to do. It’s possible that he’ll take the hint and stay, but it’s also possible that he’ll see his opportunity to cut and run and just take it. He’s so tired, she’s not sure she’d blame him, but damn. She wants him to stay.

Why? Hard to say.

For what?

Harder still to stay.

Summer’s tried being indifferent toward Matt Brody, but there’s still something that draws her to him. If he could just manage to stop screwing things up every two seconds, they might actually have a chance at...something.

That said, she’s got good reason to leave the options open. Honestly, as much as she’d like to think otherwise, she’s not sure if she should expect the best or prepare for the worst. With Brody, it’s always been one extreme or the other.

He lifts his head, grinning sheepishly. “I think I’m going to stay.”

Her chest swells unexpectedly at getting that answer. For once, they may actually be on the same page. “You that worried?” she cajoles lightly. They can’t be serious yet. It has to be banter between the two of them or she might rip off his clothes right now.

“About Mitch? No,” he says quickly before clearing his throat again. He smirks tiredly. “He’s oceanic, right?”

Her grin widens despite herself. “Completely,” she agrees, because she’s heard the full story from Brody and were it not for the fact that this is Mitch, she might chalk it up to exaggeration. But, this is Mitch. Not even Brody could make up shit like that.

“I’ll stay, then,” he offers, even more conclusively than before. He looks at her -- her eyes, damn it -- before nodding earnestly. “You can go back and get some sleep. I’ll make sure things are okay until morning.”

And that’s the answer she wants. Somehow, it’s everything she wants, completely, totally, one hundred percent. He’s screwed up basically everything since he joined Baywatch, but he gets this part right. “I don’t want some sleep,” she says, leaning closer to nudge him.

He looks a little surprised at that; somehow, that cocky bleached-blonde asshole has been replaced with a softer, wiser (but bless him, not smarter) guy. She was telling the truth the first time they met, really. Sooner or later, he would have worn her down. She just never expected that she’d want it to be more than a quick fling, that maybe, just maybe, there was something to this.

“You look like you could use some, though,” she prods lightly in return, noting the darkening circles under his eyes and the pale cut of his features in the wan hospital lighting. Paired with the slight strain in his breathing, he probably could use some observation himself -- and Summer’s more than happy to volunteer.

Her intentions are purely professional.

Well, mostly professional.

“Ah,” he says, waving a hand lightly through the air. “Just been kind of a long day.”

“A long few weeks more like,” she reminds him. “You’ve worked your ass off for this case.”

“We’re lifeguards,” he points out. “We don’t have cases.”

“And you still look like shit, Brody,” she says as she nudges him again.

He coughs, covering it quickly. He clearly doesn’t want to worry her at this point, and she finds it hard to worry, given all that they’ve accomplished tonight. They’ve won; it’s over. They’re together. She has to think to herself, what’s the worst that could happen? “Well, I was knocked out, dropped into the ocean in a cage and had a gun held to my head,” he says, as if to reinforce her point. “And I got hit by a foot. Like an actual severed foot.”

She makes a face in sympathy. Just because she’s horny doesn’t mean he is. Hard as that is to believe, she has to think about what he’s been through tonight. “So maybe you really should go get some sleep,” she suggests, somewhat more serious this time.

He shakes his head, no hesitation. Tired, exhausted, pale: he’s adamant about this. “Mitch poisoned himself for me,” he insists. “I’m staying.”

She nods, as resolute as he is. As much as she wants to be with Brody, like, now, she understands that this decision is important for him. He’s the idiot who got drunk instead of playing lookout. He’s the jackass who inadvertently took Mitch’s job. He’s the Olympic swimmer with everything -- and that means everything -- to prove. Foster kid, gold medal swandive, barfing in the pool, humiliating himself -- Brody needs to stay more than she needs to rip his clothes off and finish this thing.

Brody needs to stay more than he needs to rest, too.

Decidedly, she gets to her feet. “Okay, then.”

When he looks up, he looks like he’s all of 12 years old. She wonders if this is what he looked like when he started a new foster home for some reason, guarded but hopeful. Needing but knowing.

The thought makes her want to rip his clothes off a little less, but it doesn’t make her like him any less.

“You going to go after all?” he asks, trying very hard not to sound disappointed.

He is, though. She can see it in his eyes.

It makes her heart swell. She swats him playfully on the back of the head. “Just to refresh for a few minutes, get some coffee,” she says. Because she wants sex, but she’s pretty sure Brody needs coffee if he’s going to get through the night the way he wants to. Besides, Brody shouldn’t be alone tonight, all things considered. Head injuries; near drownings. She doesn’t want him to be alone. “You want some?”

“Sure,” he says, and she watches with some pleasures as the tension unfurls from his eyes.

“Great,” she says. “Two cups of coffee.”

He coughs lightly into his hands. “I’ll be here,” he promises.

It’s been a night full of ups and downs. That, though. Right there. That’s an up.

That might be the biggest up of them all.

This time, all the shits were given.

“Good,” she says, daring to smile a little bigger still. “That’s good.”

She turns off down the hall, glancing back at him. He’s watching her, of course. He looks like shit -- still coughing, deep panda marks around his eyes -- but he still looks amazing, and she doesn't mind that he’s staring at her ass the whole time.

In fact, if she has to admit it, she’s really pleased that he is.

-o-

Mitch is the one in the hospital bed, but it’s Brody who feels like shit. This is very evident to Brody when he enters Mitch’s room, dragging his feet and scrubbing a hand over his face. After everything that’s happened tonight, it’s all Brody can do to remain upright, and there’s Mitch, propped up and looking ready to go.

“Hey,” Brody says, doing his best to smile like he doesn’t want to keel over right then and there. “You’re awake.”

“And not high anymore,” Mitch informs him. He pauses and tilts his head curiously, as if he’s not sure of himself. “Did I really say that I scratched my back on a whale’s dick?”

Brody clears his throat ineffectually -- he’s been doing that for hours now, and it never seems to work -- and covers it with a wince because he’s not the one with a gunshot wound and urchin poisoning. Still, almost drowning seems to be a thing he’s never thought about, which is a little weird considering how much of his life he’s spent in the water. He’s always been a little aware of how many people pee in pools, which is why he’s generally tried not to swallow too much of the water, much less breathe it in.

This is all very unpleasant to think about, but the truth is that almost drowning feels a lot worse. That tickle in his throat has gotten worse over the last few hours, and now when he breathes, it feels like he’s dredging up sludge in his lungs. There are whole passages about drowning in the lifeguard handbook but he kind of skipped those while patrolling the beach for drugs, thieves and hot girls in bikinis. Maybe this is perfectly normal, but all the smoke, explosions, gunfire and near-death experiences have made the tickle almost unbearable.

So the part where Mitch was high talking about whale’s dicks and ball sacks -- well, that hardly stands out to him as the most eventful part of the night.

“Uh, yeah,” he says, trying to bring his focus back to the present and not his aching desire to sleep. He musters up enough energy to smirk, mostly out of habit and not because he feels like it. “See, now you know what it’s like to say things you don’t mean.”

“Oh, I meant it,” Mitch says.

Brody makes a face as he thinks about that visually with unfortunate detail. He’s wondering, for some reason, about the size of a whale’s dick and whether or not the salt water would sanitize it enough to make it an effective back scratcher.

Man, his head hurts too now.

Mitch shrugs dismissively, as if the notion of using sea life for a personal back scratcher is totally normal. “Metaphorically speaking,” he adds, since that needs clarification. “I still stand by it.”

“Yeah,” Brody agrees with a tired huff, wishing he could remember what metaphor actually was. He thinks he knew once, but he fell asleep in English class a lot in high school to stay awake for extra practice in the pool, and sleep really does sound nice right now. Blinking to keep himself awake, Brody stands awkwardly at the edge of the bed as he looks at Mitch again. “I’m glad you’re okay, though.”

“Eh,” Mitch says, giving a flippant shrug. “I’ve had worse.”

Brody regards him skeptically, doing his best to ignore the tight feeling in his chest while he tries to breathe. It’s worse than trying to hold in vomit in the pool, a feeling he knows really, really well. “Worse than being poisoned by a deadly sea urchin while being shot?”

This, in all its absurdity, seems to occur to Mitch for the first time. Mitch is one of those rare people, those larger than life people, who have all their shit together so much so that they don’t even realize they’re basically superhumans. It’s pretty likely that Mitch has not taken the time to consider the gravity of the things he’s done -- and succeeded at -- tonight. More frustratingly, Mitch doesn’t even look like this is a big deal to him. Instead, he replies, totally matter of fact, “There was nothing else to do.”

It’s a simple answer, because of course it’s a simple answer. Mitch is a man without deception; he’s straightforward, and he always says what he means. He doesn’t need to lie or to fabricate reality. Not when his reality is always, always right.

“Crazy as it sounds, I agree with you this time,” Brody says, because there were a thousand ways tonight should have gone wrong, but Mitch figured out how to avoid them all. Brody’s plan would have gotten him killed; Mitch’s instincts, though, his unwavering commitment to right and good -- that changed everything. Feeling inexplicably chagrined and overwhelmingly pathetic, Brody coughs wetly, covering it by running a hand through his still-damp hair. “You saved my ass twice tonight.”

“Nothing you wouldn’t do for me,” Mitch tells him, and he means it.

The weight of that is something to consider, something Brody hasn’t quite been able to process what with the major crimes, corruption and attempted murder.

Brody actually kind of wants to cry.

Mitch means it.

“You did good, Brody,” he continues, even more earnest than before. “You kept the team together when I couldn’t.”

Brody feels a little numb, and at this point, it’s hard to tell if that’s emotion or his body shutting down. “Well, you did get fired,” Brody points out.

“And you stepped up,” Mitch countered. “Even when everyone hated you for it, you stepped up. When you had no backup, no support, you got them on board. You rallied them. You proved that you deserved a place on this team because you wanted it.”

Shit, Brody may actually be crying now.

And he knows it’s not just because of emotions this time, but because he’s so damn tired and everything hurts. It’s like breathing through saran wrap or something, and all he wants to do is just sleep.

But if Mitch can be up and awake after a night like tonight, then Brody sure as hell can, too. For Mitch, anything. “I did learn from the best,” he offers meekly.

“Well, you still have some learning to do,” Mitch points out. “She had you at gunpoint.”

Brody scoffs. “After you’d been shot.”

“You have twice her muscle mass,” Mitch says. “You could have taken her.”

“I just watched her shoot you,” Brody argues. “I thought you were dead.”

“Instead I was poisoning myself to make sure we finished things,” Mitch says. “And what were you doing?”

Brody had been rather busy putting his head to the gun, hoping that she would pull the trigger. Impulsive, she’d called it. Suicidal, that’s what the USOC shrink would say. She’d had a lot of big words during her assessment of Brody. Attachment anxiety. Abandonment issues. Self defeating habits. Deflective immaturity.

In short: emotionally screwed.

But there’s no need to talk about that.

Brody inhales sharply, ignoring the deep throb in his chest. His breath catches, and it’s all he can do not to gag on his own phlegm. “You know, let’s go back to the part where you said I did a good job.”

“I just want to make sure we do better next time,” Mitch says.

This makes Brody pause; he’s always a little slow on the uptake, but this seems to take him longer than it should. He wrinkles his nose. “Next time?”

“Sure, there’s always something going down on the bay,” Mitch says, completely matter of fact again.

Brody coughs, unable to keep it back this time, and he struggles to catch his breath. Shock, maybe. Water in his lungs, also possible. Shit, he really should have read that chapter on the effects of drowning on the human body. “You mean you think we’ll get more cases with murder, drug smuggling and fraud?”

Mitch shrugs. “Or worse,” he says. If he’s trying to sound grim and serious, he’s failing. He clearly loves this shit. “New adventure, every week.”

Brody doesn’t even know what to do with that. All his talk of just wanting to keep the bay safe, and Mitch Buchannon was a certified crazy ass lunatic. Who somehow always managed to be right and good. Brody is never going to keep, even on a good day.

“But I thought we could just be lifeguards,” Brody protests weakly, because that’s all he wants. No gold medals, no heroics. Just part of the team, making a difference one save at a time.

All he’d had to do was be a lifeguard, and look how that went for him.

His legs feel a little like jelly now, worse than after winning two gold medals. His stomach is turning, and he’s really glad he’s not in water because then he’d be hurling for sure. Still, he wants to sleep. He’d take that stupid cot in Mitch’s washing room with the damn CB radio right now. Anything.

“It’s all part of the job, Brody,” Mitch tells him, and it’s a son of a bitch thing to say, and Brody wants to call him on it, except he uses Brody’s name.

He uses Brody’s name.

That still gets him.

Right in the chest.

Brody’s part of this team, crazy as it is.

Brody’s part of this family, unhinged as it may be.

Brody’s finally part of something. People care about him not just because he has something to offer but because of who he is. There’s give and take, and Brody’s taken as much as he’s given this time, and damn it, that counts for something.

It counts for everything.

He wants to say that, actually. He wants to tell Mitch that he’s proud to be part of the team. He wants to tell Mitch that he intends to stay, tonight, tomorrow and for all the years that follow.

Brody wants to.

But he can’t forget: he’s a screw up.

All his good intentions, all his best efforts, all his work, and it ends up the same. He screws up.

Every. Single. Time.

His chest seizes and he tries to inhale, only to find oxygen hard to get. His head spins, and his balance falters badly. He reaches his arm out, trying to catch himself, but he’s too disoriented. When he tries to breath again, nothing happens, and his vision starts to tunnel.

“Brody?” Mitch asks, only his voice is distant now. Brody looks up hollowly, and sees the concern on Mitch’s face as he sits up further in the hospital bed. “You okay, man?”

The thing is: Brody’s never been okay.

Now, he’s really not okay. Because the next breath is worse than the last, and now his head is spinning as the lights dim and the floor rushes up to meet him.

Shit, he thinks as he passes out, he really doesn’t want to go this time.

Figures, the moment he chooses to stay.

Is the moment he no longer has a choice.

-o-

Mitch is trained to notice when someone is in distress. He’s good at it, too. He’s been able to save more people from drowning than any other lifeguard on the bay because he can spot when someone’s in trouble before they go under.

This is not to brag; it’s merely a fact.

It’s also very ironic, because he misses all the signs with Matt Brody. When Brody goes down, less than a foot from Mitch’s hospital bed, there’s no one there to catch him.

One second they’re bantering in the afterglow of a successful night.

The next, Brody is sprawled face first on the cold, hospital linoleum.

Mitch is hooked up to an IV and several monitors -- considering the gunshot wound and the urchin poisoning -- but he rips all of that free within seconds to rush to Brody’s side. Smoothly, he turns Brody, supporting his head while he positions the smaller man on his back. Like the trained professional that he is, Mitch immediately starts assessing the ABCs of a rescue.

He doesn’t get to A, though. The minute he moves to adjust Brody’s airway, he can see that the kid is already badly cyanotic. There’s light discoloration around his mouth with blue setting in on his lips.

Clearly, Mitch can conclude without further evaluation that Brody is not breathing.

It’s pure instinct, pinching Brody’s nose and covering his mouth with his own. Back underwater, he’d played rescue breathing for laughs, but Mitch isn’t laughing now. He’d be more than happy to have Brody wake up to cuss him out for another kiss.

Brody doesn’t wake up, though.

Two breaths go in, and Mitch doesn’t have to lean very close to hear the gurgling in his lungs as they come back out again. There’s some consolation that there isn’t airway obstruction, but the wetness in his breathing is an ominous sign that Mitch should have picked up on earlier.

The kid had been coughing ever since they left the beach. He’s been tired, pale, and wheezing. Now, he’s going cyanotic with water in his lungs.

In short, Brody’s drowning on dry land. Mitch pulled him out of the water back in the bay, but he’d failed to properly save Brody’s life. Mitch, of all people, should have known better. He was a trained lifeguard. He knew the symptoms of dry drowning, and he knew all the proper protocols following a near-drowning event. Whenever water is inhaled, precautions should be taken.

Instead, Mitch had dragged Brody after Leeds and here they are.

Gritting his teeth together, Mitch forces himself to the last part of his ABCs. Stolidly, he places two fingers at the pulse point in Brody’s neck. Circulation. As long as the blood is still moving, Brody’s not dead. If Brody has a pulse, then Mitch hasn’t screwed this up.

There’s no pulse, though.

Brody’s dead.

Mitch doesn’t know how many people he’s brought back to life in his career on the beach, but he’s lost his share. He knows that the water is beautiful and fun, but he also knows how dangerous it is. He knows that drowning is life changing; sometimes, it’s life ending. If Mitch didn’t believe in the gravity of that -- if he didn’t understand that sometimes people die on the beach -- then he wouldn’t be suited for his job anyway.

He knows he can’t save everything.

As he lines himself up over Brody’s chest, he just hopes he can save this one.

The first compressions tear at the still tender bullet wound, but Mitch ignores the sensation. Snarling, he calls out in his loudest voice. “Hey! We need some help in here!” while not losing count of his compressions. Under his ministrations, Brody’s body jerks with the pressure, but the darkening hue in his lips on becomes more pronounced.

Trying not to make this personal, Mitch leans down to breathe for Brody again.

He tries, instead, to remember that this is a job to him. This is what he does. He saves lives.

Except this isn’t just a job to him.

This is a family.

Stephanie, Summer, CJ, Ronnie -- Brody.

They’re his family.

And Brody’s screwed up, and he’s been a pain in the ass, and he’s been difficult and cocky and wrong and stupid, but he’s also stayed. He’s stuck around; he’s proved himself. He’s chosen this team, this family -- and Mitch has accepted him into the fold.

It would have been easier to write him off. It would have been easy to cut his ass on the first day of training, all threats from Thorpe notwithstanding. He could have fired Brody countless times for countless offenses. For being stupid, for being reckless, for breaking protocol, for defying authority. For just not giving a shit.

He didn’t, though, because Brody came back. When he screwed up, he didn’t lie about it or hide it. He stayed.

That had counted for something.

He pounds harder on Brody’s chest, feeling the ribs crack as the color starts to bleed away from his face. He can still remember finding Brody on the bottom of the ocean, thinking that he’d been in time. He can remember dragging himself out of the brine, sea urchin attached to his neck as he stormed up toward Leeds who had her gun pointed at Brody’s head. He’d been in time then, too.

He breathes for Brody again while he hears a scuffle at the door.

Brody doesn’t move; he’s still dead.

Mitch may not be in time now.

He’s seen Brody grow up in the last few months. He’s seen him go from a lonely, isolated jackass to someone who actually gives a damn, who wants to do better. He’s become someone who trusts other people, thereby earning their trust in return.

“Don’t blow it now,” Mitch grunts, barely noticing as a nurse calls for a crash cart. “Don’t you dare ditch us now, Brody.”

Brody doesn’t respond for once.

He shows no signs that he’s coming back.

“You can’t screw up again, not like this,” Mitch growls, ignoring the fresh blood as it break through his bandaged shoulder. “Don’t go.”

Brody, for once, isn’t listening. Pale and lifeless, Brody has no comeback, no quip, no argument. Brody’s just gone.

And when the doctors finally pull Mitch away, he has no choice but to let go, too.

-o-

Summer comes back, no more than ten minutes later, with two cups of coffee and a smile.

When she rounds the corner to Mitch’s room, however, her stomach does a flip. At first, she fears that something has happened to Mitch, some after effect of the poison or a complication from the gunshot wound.

Standing in the doorway to the room, however, Mitch is conscious and awake on the floor. The doctors and the nurses are barely acknowledging him, despite the fact that he’s bleeding. Instead, they’re crowded around another figure.

Summer takes a step inside and nearly drops the coffee as her breath catches in her throat.

Because there, on the ground, is Brody.

Ten minutes ago, they’d been flirting.

Now, Brody is being actively resuscitated. His shirt has been cut open, and a doctor is studiously inserting a tube down his throat. When he’s finished, another brings up a pair of paddles and calls out, “Clear!”

The shock jolts Brody, lifting his upper body off the ground. Brody doesn’t respond, but Summer feels it cut through her with an intensity that nearly takes her to her knees.

Someone resumes chest compressions while a nurse squeezes the bag attached to the tube. Trembling, Summer puts the coffee down, reaching over to help Mitch to his feet. Shakily, Mitch lumbers up. He towers over her, but she can feel that his posture is almost as unsteady as hers.

The paddles whine again, and they’re placed on Brody’s exposed chest.

“Clear!”

Summer thinks she’s prepared this time, but her own heart clenches as Brody falls limply to the ground again.

She tries to think how this happened.

But she knows.

The coughing, the breathing, the wincing, the exhaustion. “Secondary drowning,” she breathes.

“We missed it,” Mitch confirms.

“I was going to stay with him tonight to be sure,” Summer says, and her voice sounds small as the doctor injects something into the fresh IV they’ve put into Brody’s arm. “How did this happen?”

The paddles are applied again, the voltage increased. Summer is numb when Brody hits the ground, just as lifeless as before.

“We screwed up,” Mitch admits, but the words sound dead in his mouth. “And we let him get away from us.”

CPR continues as someone brings in a gurney. Summer watches as they roll Brody to his side, before placing him on the board and lifting him up to the gurney’s surface. He looks small -- diminutive. He’d wanted so badly to do the right thing; he’d tried so hard to be a better person. He’d wanted to kiss her, just in case he never got the chance.

She wishes she had let him now.

Because Summer wants the chance.

The heart monitor resounds with a flatline, and Summer thinks she might be sick.

Next to her, Mitch seems smaller, too. “We lost him.”

Summer thinks it’s more than that.

Maybe this time they’ve lost everything.

-o-

Honestly, Brody isn’t sure he wants to wake up.

His life has never been an easy one, and he’s the type of guy who can never succeed without failing spectacularly in turn. It’s a little irrational, but he wonders if his parents saw this in him when he was born, and he wonders if that’s why he bounced from foster home to foster home. Because sure, he could do a lot of great things, but Matt Brody’s a screw up.

The shrink from the USOC had deemed it part of a self fulfilling prophecy. She’d explained that Brody was trying to sabotage himself because he was afraid of being successful. She’d suggested that the drinking and the girls and the erratic behavior were his way to cushion what he presumed to be impending failure. She said it was probably because he’d been abandoned by his family and bounced through the system.

She’s recommended therapy and antidepressants. His coach had said that could wait until after Brody won three golds for the team.

Brody had said screw you to them all. He’d won the two for himself and drank himself into oblivion before the team event, hurling his way into infamy. His coach had dropped him faster than his sponsors. The shrink, to her credit, had reached out, but Brody didn’t need to hear her say I told you so in big words he didn’t understand and then hit him with a bill he could never pay.

If he was going to crash and burn, then he was going to crash and burn with style. Okay, not style, but he was still going for it. His coach stole his savings; sponsors thought he was toxic. He was too hungover to ever race in the pool. When he got picked up for DUI, his mugshot didn’t even look that hot, but some idiot judge had thought, huh, maybe this kid needs another chance to be an absolute asshole.

Brody had expected Baywatch to be more of the same. But the people at Baywatch, they weren’t the same. They did the right thing because it was the right thing. They weren’t in it for glory, gold medals or sponsors. And as much as Brody wanted to hate Mitch Buchannon, he wanted to be him more. He wanted to be liked; he wanted to be respected. But more than that, he wanted a job that meant something. He wanted relationships with depth. He wanted to wake up feeling like his life was worth something.

Course, Brody had gone and screwed that up, too. And when he pulled it out in the end, when he played the hero, when Mitch called him by his name -- well, it didn’t get better than that.

All things considered, the only place to go was down.

So Brody’s really not sure he wants to wake up anymore.

Because all he can think is that if he does, he’s going to have another chance to blow it.

Thing is, Brody doesn’t get to choose.

The universe doesn’t give a rat’s ass about him, but Mitch and Summer, the rest of them, they do.

So when they call him back, Brody has no choice but to obey.

Opening his eyes is disoriented, and he’s overcome by a range of sensations he can’t quite place. He’s passed out in some weird situations before, but the pressure in his chest is almost too much to take, and his throat feels like it’s on fire. His entire body feels weak and out of place, and he’s about ready to barf when someone squeezes his hand.

Feeling panicked, he blinks a few times, trying to get his sticky eyes to focus. That’s when he remembers why he woke up in the first place.

Summer’s there, fingers locked around his. She’s smiling at him, though her eyes look wet and red. “Hey,” she says. “Welcome back.”

He wants to ask where he’s been, but it probably doesn’t matter. He’s too tired to care.

She squeezes his fingers a little harder, jostling his hand. “We’ve been worried about you,” she says.

Brody struggles to breath, and hears a distant beep. Tears sting at his eyes, and he comprehends something in her words.

We.

Weakly, he turns his head. On the other side, Mitch is sitting in a chair. He’s got a thick bandage on his arm, but he’s smiling too.

Brody wants to understand.

He really does.

Somehow, as if reading Brody’s mind, Mitch leans forward, resting a hand on Brody’s arm. The touch is gentler than Brody remembers; fatherly, almost. “You were in a bad accident,” he says. “But don’t worry, this time it’s not your fault.”

Summer half chokes on a laugh that turns into a sob. She sniffles loudly as she adds, “But we’re still all very worried.”

Brody doesn’t deserve this; Brody doesn’t deserve anything. He’s not sure how they can like him, when he can’t stand himself. He can’t grasp how they can accept him, when he wants to reject everything that he’s ever done. The drinking, the drugs, the stupid antics: they help him forget.

Now, suddenly, all he wants to do is remember.

He’s made a lifetime of leaving before he’s kicked to the curb.

This time, he just wants to stay.

Summer wraps her fingers tighter still, and Mitch’s hand is steady on his.

“Relax, okay,” Mitch advises him.

Brody gives him a pleading, desperate look.

Mitch smiles in acknowledgement. Somehow, he gets it. And somehow, he still cares. “I promise,” he coaxes, voice deep and reassuring as Brody’s energy flags again. “You’re not going anywhere, Brody.”

It’s not a fight Brody’s going to win, and he’s already closing his eyes before he realizes just how inevitable it is. He’s not sure what’s going on, and he’s got no reason to expect things are going to be better if and when he wakes up again.

But he has Mitch’s word, and Summer’s right here.

That seems like a hell of a good place to start.

-o-

Mitch stays.

Technically, he’s discharged in the morning, but he’s on such good terms with the doctors and nurses that they readily agree to let him stay for Brody’s sake. It’s not hospital protocol, but Brody’s got no family to call, no next of kin to give a shit, and given that he’s a gold medalist and now a local hero for saving the bay, it seems like good form to bend the rules.

Especially since he’s not doing very well.

Dry drowning can be a fatal complication, and they didn’t catch it early. While they had been able to revive Brody after five minutes of interventions, his lungs had remained wet and pneumonia had set in. With his poor oxygen saturation, they’d made the choice to keep him intubated, and talk had started that Brody might not even be the same if he did wake up.

Mitch doesn’t let himself think that maybe the fact that Brody was already a dim bulb might work to their advantage this time.

No, that is completely irrelevant.

The important thing is that Brody is going to wake up.

And Mitch had camped out in the hospital room to prove it.

The rest of the team had visited, but he’d had to talk Summer into going home to rest and recuperate. Summer isn’t admitting it yet, but her feelings for Brody would be something to contend with. It wouldn’t be good for her to be here all the time, not when things are still touch and go.

No, Mitch had decided, that’s his job.

Over the impending few days, Mitch had not wavered from this. He’d been the one to notice when Brody first regained consciousness. He was the one who had pointed out that Brody was triggering the vent more often. He’d been there when he was intubated, and he was the one who watched Brody gag and gasp when they extubated him, too. He sure as hell was going to be the first thing the kid saw when he woke up for real.

Mitch is resolved in this.

So when Brody does open his eyes, four days after his near-drowning, Mitch isn’t even surprised.

“About time,” he announces instead.

Brody looks up, utterly bewildered. “What?”

“Nothing,” Mitch says with a congenial smile. “It’s just good to see you awake.”

This seems to distress Brody slightly. “I can’t remember what happened.”

At this, Mitch frowns slightly. While Brody doesn’t seem to have any deficits, he knows that amnesia after oxygen deprivation and prolonged sedation is not uncommon. “You don’t remember the stuff with Leeds?”

“No, she’s a crazy bitch and you blew her up,” Brody croaks, obviously in pain. Tears water in his blue eyes. “You, like, really blew her up.”

“Yeah,” Mitch says, considering for the first time whether or not that might be classified as overkill. “But do you remember the drowning?”

“Sure,” Brody says, swallowing with difficulty again. The tube down his throat is gone now, but it’s clear the kid is still feeling it. “But I thought you saved me.”

“Ah,” Mitch says, feeling relieved that Brody seems more coherent than originally thought. “We haven’t taught you about dry drowning yet.”

This seems to distress Brody. “Dry drowning?”

“It’s a complication of swallowing too much water,” Mitch says. “I should have be monitoring you for symptoms; you should have had a complete physical the moment we brought you up. This one’s on me.”

Mitch feels like this is a proper explanation and appropriate responsibility.

Brody does not seem placated. “But then why did you kiss me underwater if it didn’t help?”

It is some measure of self control not to roll his eyes. Instead, he smiles kindly. “We haven’t covered all instances of rescue breathing yet either, have we?” he presumes.

Brody seems inclined to argue, but too tired to pull it off. Instead, he shakes his head wearily. “How the hell did anyone promote me to lieutenant?”

There are ready answers for that that have to do with Leeds’ bribe money and Thorpe’s corruption, but those details will come back to Brody soon enough. “If it makes you feel any better, you’re not a lieutenant anymore,” Mitch supplies. “You’ve been fired.”

Mitch means this to be good news, but when he says it, it occurs to him how it can be construed otherwise. Brody’s face visibly falls, and he slumps pathetically into his pillow. “Oh,” he says, looking something like a kicked puppy. “Figures.”

Fortunately, Mitch is well equipped to make people feel better with a smile alone. And he’s got more than a smile for Brody right now. “You’ve been fired as lieutenant,” he clarifies. “But as a newly restored lieutenant, I’m pleased to tell you that we currently have a position open for lifeguard at Baywatch.”

Brody’s face brightens. “Really?”

Mitch cannot help but beam; the kid is far too proud not to notice. “Yep,” he says with a resounding nod. “But are you done screwing things up?”

He means it as a joke, but Brody doesn’t laugh. His brow creases. “I’ve spent my whole life screwing up,” he explains. “I’m not sure I’ll ever break the habit.”

That’s not exactly the answer he’s expecting, nor is it exactly what he wants to hear. It is, however, the truth.

Brody gathers a ragged breath. “But I can try,” he says, no flashy promises, not over the top assurances. There’s a humility about him now, not self deprecating, but understanding of who he is as a person and what he needs to work on. “What I can tell you for sure is that I’m not going anywhere. I want to be a part of this team, Mitch. I really want to stay.”

There’s a lot to that, more than Mitch probably has allowed himself to comprehend. Because, truth be told, he doesn’t know a lot about Matt Brody. He doesn’t know a lot about who he was as an Olympic swimmer or why he took all the best chances in the world and drank them down the drain. He doesn’t know how a kid from Iowa ended up on a beach in Southern California, and he doesn’t quite know how two gold medals can mean everything and nothing all at the same time.

He knows that Brody, in truth, has nowhere else to go, so his declaration isn’t worth all that much. He also knows, however, that there’s no place else Brody wants to be. And sure, the kid doesn’t know a lot about lifeguarding, but after a few months with the team, he knows a lot more about family now.

In the end, Mitch has always known that’s what matters most. There are some things you can teach, but there are some things you just have to know.

It took some time, it took some crazy shit, but Brody has figured that out now.

That’s why he wants to stay.

And that’s what makes the proposition so enticing.

Because sure, Mitch can run Baywatch without Brody, but ultimately, he doesn’t want to. Because that’s what family is, in the end. The choice to stay when the best option is to cut and run.

The choice to come back, even when it could cost you everything.

The choice to be, because there’s nothing else you want more.

Mitch finds himself smiling broadly. “Okay, Brody,” he says, and in the bed, Brody sits up a little taller, daring to be expectant almost for the first time since he’s known the kid. “Welcome home.”