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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Beggars and Choosers (2/2)

December 24th, 2018 (08:57 pm)

Continued from part one.



-o-

Mitch wakes up on an examination table.

Considering the kind of day he’s had, this is actually not the worse circumstances he’s been in.

Still, he sits bolt upright, ready to get the hell because: “Brody!”

There’s a startled looking nurse at his side, and just beyond her Stephanie sits up from a chair where she’s perched. “He’s having some tests run,” she says, nodding politely to the nurse as she steps around her. “We’re still waiting for news.”

This hardly seems like an adequate answer to Mitch, and he swings his legs over the edge of the bed. “I need to see him.”

The nurse looks anxious at this movement, but she doesn’t intervene when Stephanie plainly intercepts him. “You will,” she says. “But you’re still not cleared yet.”

Mitch says, “I’m fine.” Or, he tries to. The words get garbled when he coughs.

Stephanie doesn’t say I-told-you-so, but she’s thinking it. “I know you want to be there for him, but the best way to help him right now is to help yourself,” she coaches patiently.

She sounds like he might, if the situation were reversed. Like he would in any circumstance that didn’t involve Brody almost dying. Damn it, Brody’s really messing him up.

“They’re making sure you don’t develop breathing complications, by the way,” Stephanie says, answering the question he hasn’t thought to ask. “But they don’t think you have a concussion at least.”

Mitch remembers the blows to the head, and he realizes he still has a headache. It hasn’t seemed important, though. The tightness in his chest is a little harder to ignore, and Mitch isn’t sure if he’s relieved to know that some of it is probably smoke inhalation and not just the fact that he’s scared shitless over Brody’s well being. “Is the fire under control?” he asks, finally remembering the other implications of this morning’s events.

“The damage is pretty bad in the basement, but it’s surprisingly localized,” Stephanie answers. She’s clearly on top of this; no doubt, she’s been on the phone with Casey Jean sorting stuff out. That would be Mitch’s job most of the time. Were Mitch not in the hospital.

And mostly if he weren’t so screwed up over some smart ass Olympian who was never supposed to be here in the first place.

Not at HQ.

Not at Mitch’s house.

Not on Mitch’s beach.

How was it possible for one man to change so much?

And why had Mitch not noticed it until someone pointed a gun at his head?

“I should give a statement,” Mitch says, and he’s moving a step behind the pace now, and he’s struggling to keep up. “I know what happened.”

Stephanie nods along, just as patient as before. “I’m sure they’ll want to talk to you at some point, but we’ve already reviewed the security footage,” she says. “The two brothers who ambushed you have a long rap sheet in the area. It wasn’t hard to track them down. I heard from Ellerbee that they’re already in custody and they’re playing against each other. It’s just a question of who will sell the other out for the better plea deal. It sounds like an open and shut case.”

Mitch stares at her for a moment, not sure what to say. This is surprisingly well resolved. It’s neat and tidy and simple. The anticlimactic ending hardly fits with the trauma of this morning. Stephanie is talking about plea deals, and Mitch can still feel the feeling of a gun pressed against his head. She’s talking about how it’s in the bag, and Mitch still remembers Brody’s heart stopping in the ambulance.

He doesn’t blame her for taking the simple approach; it’s what he would have done.

Except for Brody.

That seems to be a thing now.

“They jimmied open one of the back entrances, and with budget cuts, we haven’t been able to update to an active security system,” she says. “Even the security footage is spotty. We saw them head up to your office. They must have hid.”

Mitch has to clear his throat, and he tries to get the tickle under control. “Behind the door,” he says, doing his best not to croak. “I wasn’t expecting trouble.”

Stephanie nods sympathetically. “None of us would have seen it coming,” she says. “But what did they want anyway? Seems pretty random. Ellerbee couldn’t find any evidence that they’d met you or anyone else at Baywatch before today.”

“They probably hadn’t,” Mitch confirms. He swallows hard, wincing at the pain it causes. “They said they were related to one of Leeds’ goons from a few months back. The one whose body got pulled out of the bay the next day.”

She seems a little amazed by that. “Really? So this was, what, then? Revenge?”

“I guess, yeah,” Mitch says. He coughs again, wrinkling his nose as he gets it under control. “They first came to try to clear their brother’s name, but when that failed, they ended up on revenge.”

She makes a face of disgust. “That seems random, though,” she reasons. “You didn’t shoot the guy. I thought Leeds did.”

Mitch’s lips twist up ruefully. It’s pretty cute to hear someone else talk about reasonable things. Mitch spent a good part of the morning trying to be reasonable, and that ended up pretty much horrible. “She did,” he says. “But family, you know. It makes you do crazy shit you don’t think you’ll do.”

Like kidnapping and robbery.

Assault and attempted murder.

Or, you know, begging.

Stephanie still doesn’t seem completely convinced. Mitch understands; she’s the cool and collected one this time around. Mitch remembers how that used to feel.

He remembers it because it’s not how he feels anymore.

“That just seems so -- I don’t know -- extreme?” she asks, as if she can’t quite bring herself to grasp it.

And why would she? He knows Stephanie, and he knows that she’s an excellent team player. He knows that she’s friends with lots of people, and he knows that she has a brother who lives in San Francisco and that she visits her mother in Sacramento on holidays. But there’s the easy kind of family, the kind that is predictable, safe and reliable. And then there’s the kind of encompassing family, the kind that changes you completely.

Maybe family’s not even the right word for it.

Maybe it’s really just about love.

Not the over the moon feeling of romance, but the deep commitment to another human being that redefines who you are and what you do. Sometimes it’s not even something you know you feel. Sometimes it’s not something you readily define.

Until you’re forced to.

Down the metaphorical barrel of a gun.

Or, in Mitch’s case, a literal one.

Stephanie’s not been there, not yet. Mitch sort of hopes she never has to be.

But, then again, he sort of hopes she does. Mitch wonders what his life would have been like without Brody, but he doesn’t wonder long. Ultimately, he doesn’t want to know.

“Yeah, it is extreme,” Mitch agrees, and he’s not really thinking about the two idiots back in the office and whether or not they loved their brother or were just stupid. He’s not sure it matters what their motives were. All that matters is his own motives. “But when you care about someone else, when you really care, it changes you. And sometimes you don’t even realize it until you’re in over your head.”

Stephanie narrows her eyes at him, because she knows that he’s not just talking about two assholes with guns who assaulted lifeguards in a misguided attempt for justice or revenge. She probably knows because she’s probably seen it. She probably can sense the difference, even if she can’t quite identify it.

Mitch clears his throat, coughing a few more times as he reluctantly sits back in the bed.

Stephanie smiles at him, a little apologetic. “They said you were pretty upset about Brody,” she says, which is a nice way of saying that he freaked the hell out and everyone knows it.

Mitch doesn’t bother being embarrassed. “They made me watch,” he explains. “While they beat him up, put a gun to his head. They made me watch.”

He doesn’t have to tell her how hard that was. He doesn’t have to tell her how scared it made him.

Instead, she nods again. “You want me to go check on him?

Mitch is instantly grateful. “Could you?”

“Of course,” she says. Then, she hesitates. “That’s what family does, right?”

At that, Mitch has to smile.

Stephanie starts to the door, leveling him with one last look of warning. “But you better stay in that bed until you’re cleared by a doctor,” she says. “Or I will keep you there at gunpoint myself.”

“That really won’t be necessary,” Mitch says.

“You have my word,” he vows, and he’ll do it, too, because he doesn’t say shit he doesn’t mean.

Also, it’s kind of nice to have someone ask him for once.

He’s grateful that Stephanie doesn’t make him beg.

-o-

After Stephanie leaves, Mitch lets the nurse check him over. She’s pretty thorough, and as she asks about the quality of his breathing, he has to admit, it’s not great. She nods along sympathetically, telling him that smoke inhalation is no walk in the park. Some people suffer from airway compromise even hours after the event.

She’s as sweet as can be, but Mitch knows an effective threat when he hears one. She’s making sure his ass stays put.

Mitch doesn’t have much choice in the matter anyway. He made a promise to Stephanie, and Mitch keeps his word. That much hasn’t changed about him, at least. Besides, within minutes, he’s inundated by the rest of the Baywatch staff.

CJ and Ronnie show up first, hand in hand, and it’s impossible to say for sure who’s more freaked out. CJ up and hugs him, saying she can’t believe it, but Ronnie looks pale and shellshocked, like he’s the one who just got held hostage with a gun pressed to his head.

In some ways, Mitch doesn’t like to be reminded of his weakness. But, then again, maybe it’s good for him. After all, being the victim of a crime isn’t a fall from grace. It just means you’re human, and maybe the team could use the reminder.

Maybe Mitch could use the reminder.

Summer comes in not long after them, and it’s clear from the start that she’s been crying. She’s trying not to show it, but her eyes are red and her nose keeps running intermittently while she tries to ask how he’s doing. She doesn’t talk about Brody noticeably, but she doesn’t need to. They both know why she’s crying.

Mitch finds this strangely solidifying, actually. Summer’s always been a rough and tumble type, and she’s been dogged and determined and anything but prone to emotional outbursts. In the time since Brody joined Baywatch, it’s been clear to everyone that they like each other, but for all that Brody follows after her like a lost puppy, she maintains a safe distance. She says that they’re taking it slow, and Mitch has no thoughts on their relationship choices.

But there’s nothing slow about her feelings today. Mitch gets it. There’s nothing quite like almost losing someone to make you realize that you have them in the first place. It seems quite likely to Mitch that Summer’s maybe relationship with Brody will take on some additional certainty after this.

“It’s okay, you know,” is all Mitch can say ultimately. It’s the best and only consolation he has.

She wipes her nose. “What?”

“To care about him,” Mitch says, and he shrugs one shoulder because there’s a futility in this realization that he’s just come to himself today. “He’s changed a lot of things for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s changed a lot for you, too.”

Her faces wavers, and it’s all she can do to keep from crying. She manages a smile, a small half-laugh of self deprecation. “I told myself it was nothing, we were having fun,” she admits. She has to wipe a tear from her eye before it falls. “But I think I might love him, you know? I think I might.”

Mitch smiles and hands her a tissue.

But yeah, he knows.

He knows better than she can possibly imagine.

-o-

When the door to his room opens again, Mitch braces himself. He’s not sure for what, but he’s still on edge after all this, and even if the others have meant well, it’s exhausting doing what he does. He hasn’t quite appreciated that he’s not used to doing it all alone like he has today.

At least, not anymore.

It’s getting a be redundant, a bit trite to say that’s something Brody’s change.

But.

That’s something that Brody’s changed.

So he wants to see Brody walk through that door.

He’ll settle for Stephanie, especially when she smiles. She’s being polite and measured, sure. But it’s not strained. Mitch knows in an instant that it’s not terrible news. After the day he’s had, not terrible is actually kind of good.

“How is it?” Mitch asks, demands, whatever.


Stephanie makes her way to the bed with a little sigh. “His concussion is pretty serious, and there’s some swelling that they’re monitoring in his brain or something,” she explains, making a vague notion to her own head as if to demonstrate. “But they’re pretty confident that it’ll go down on his own without surgery. His knee is badly bruised but nothing’s broken. He’s got a few cracked ribs, and they’ve set his nose. Most of the damage is superficial once you get beyond the concussion.”

Mitch tries not to think about brain surgery; he’s just not quite there yet.

“The smoke inhalation is the more serious concern,” she continues. He appreciates that she doesn’t beat around the bush; she doesn’t hesitate or hedge. She says what she means, and that’s a genuine relief. “He’s not breathing on his own yet, but his vitals are doing really well on the ventilator. They have to wait for the swelling to go down in his lungs and airway, but they sounded optimistic that he’d get off the vent sometime tomorrow.”

When the alternative is Brody being dead, Mitch knows Stephanie is right: this is pretty good news.

For some reason, after Mitch hears it, it still feels kind of like bad news.

Brody all but stumbled into a hostage situation this morning. He probably doesn’t even remember what happened. All he knows is that he was looking for Mitch and -- bam! His whole life changed.

Of course, it’s been that way since day one for both of them. Brody’s change has just always been more dramatic, more fundamental, more obvious. But maybe no less profound.

It doesn’t seem fair that the change requires such sacrifice.

Mostly, it just doesn’t seem fair.

Mitch hates to think that maybe the dramatics aren’t for Brody. Maybe the dramatics are for Mitch. Maybe he has to find Brody at the bottom of the bay in a cage. Maybe he needs to see Brody with a gun to his head. Maybe he needs to watch as Brody’s heart stops in the back of an ambulance. Otherwise, would Mitch even understand the change?

This isn’t Mitch’s fault.

But maybe it sort of is.

“Can I see him?” Mitch finally asks.

Stephanie is not surprised by his question, but she looks a little perturbed. “You promised to stay here until you were discharged.”

“So?” Mitch asks. “Get a doctor then.”

She sighs, shaking her head. “You’re incorrigible when it comes to Brody,” she comments. “You do know that, right?”

“It’s something I’m learning to embrace,” Mitch acknowledges, because none of these changes are going to make a liar out of him. “Now come one. Don’t make me beg.”

Stephanie rolls her eyes, moving back toward the door. “I’ll see what I can do.”

-o-

When Stephanie comes back, she has a doctor in tow. She politely excuses herself for Mitch’s examination, and Mitch submits willingly to all the requests the doctor makes of him. He blinks and breathes and turns his head. He opens his mouth and coughs on command. He follows a light with his eyes and responds to questions clearly and concisely.

When he’s done, the doctor looks more or less satisfied, and he declares that there’s no indication of complication from the smoke inhalation or blows to the head. He lectures Mitch on the symptoms to watch out for before saying that he’s cleared to leave.

This is good, Mitch knows, but he finds himself hedging, looking for a favor.

“What about Brody?”

The doctor barely glances up from the chart he’s finishing for Mitch’s discharge. “The one you came in with? He’s not my patient.”

“Sure,” Mitch says, moderately dismissive. “But he’s been admitted.”

The doctor puts down the tablet where he’s managing Mitch’s chart, shrugging a little. “You sound like you know as much as I do.”

“I want to stay with him,” Mitch declares.

“Well, visiting hours—“ the doctor starts.

Mitch is shaking his head before he finishes. “I need to stay with him. Until he wakes up.”

The doctor regards this request, judging carefully the weight behind it. Mitch is not impolite, but he’s determined, and the doctor is clearly trying to figure out what the appropriate response is. “I believe, from what I know, your friend is sedated and closely monitored. He’s not waking up tonight, and he’s definitely not alone.”

Mitch knows this, but he also knows it doesn’t matter the way the doctor thinks it does. The doctor doesn’t understand, not really. He doesn’t understand that Brody needs him.

That Mitch needs Brody. “Trust me,” he says, earnest and emphatic. “I need to be with him.”

The doctor wrinkles his brow. “The point is for you to go home, rest. That’s what your body needs.”

It’s not that Mitch doesn’t think he’s right or has a point, but it’s just that Mitch knows the doctor can’t possibly understand. Hell, Mitch hadn’t understood yesterday. He hadn’t come close to grasping it until someone has held Brody at gunpoint and made the unspoken realities impossible to ignore.

Because Mitch needs things he didn’t know he needed.

“I understand,” Mitch says, and he’s patient and obliging for this. For Brody, he’s proven that nothing is off limits. “But I can’t rest unless I know he’s okay. I can’t leave him.”

Mitch isn’t going for excuses or explanations. He’s just going with the truth and hoping like hell that it’s enough. That this doctor will recognize that Mitch is the kind of guy who doesn’t say shit he doesn’t mean, and that’s really all Mitch has to go with.

The doctor is wavering. “Exceptions are made regarding visiting hours,” he says. “But it’s usually just for family.”

Well, that makes it easy then. Mitch doesn’t flinch; he doesn’t hesitate. “He is my family,” he says, and it matters that he says it this way. It’d be easy to say that he’s Brody’s family, but he has to embrace the fact that Brody is his as well. “The only family I’ve got.”

The doctor is straight out waffling now, because Mitch is sure he hears sob stories all the time, some probably even more compelling that Mitch’s on the surface. But Mitch knows that something has changed inside of him. Something has holistically resolved. It’s a steadfastness at his core that defines him, along with Baywatch and the ocean.

That’s why people innately trust him; because they can see that something sure and confident defines him. It’s why victims never doubt him; why lifeguards will always follow him.

Why this doctor can’t deny that Mitch’s appeal is strong.

“I’d have to talk to a few people,” the doctor says, and he’s the one who’s hedging now.

Mitch probably doesn’t need to, but he finds that it’s getting easier for him. In fact, it’s starting to feel almost expected where Brody is involved. Mitch wants to hate him for it, which would be easier if he didn’t care about him so damn much.

“Please,” Mitch begs, head held high and dignity in his expression. There’s no shame in this; there’s no shame in family. “Please, let me be with him.”

The doctor nods, his concerns assuaged. “Okay,” he says, smiling gently. “Let’s see what we can do.”

-o-

In the past, Mitch knew how to make things happen for himself.

It’s a whole new ballgame with Brody involved. Caring about someone in that regard is inherently reckless, which is why Mitch has probably never felt the need to get married or move in with someone before this point. He had always thought he was just doing Brody a favor, but the depth of making himself available for Brody….

Well, that’s left him reckless, too.

Which means, quite frankly, he’s not always going to have his shit together. Most of the time that’s not going to mean some idiot breaks into his office and holds him at gunpoint. It does mean, however, that sometimes Mitch has got to admit he’s got no power to do things himself. He’s going to need help, and he’s got no shame in asking for it.

Even if he has to beg for it sometimes.

The thing is, Mitch isn’t the only good person in the world. In fact, most people, when given the chance and resources, like to do nice things for other people. This doctor is no exception.

He goes off and talks to the nurses, and then he consults with Brody’s doctor. When he’s done, he amends Mitch’s chart to keep him checked into the hospital until tomorrow, explaining that the observation is standard in many cases anyway, and it will allow him to be transferred upstairs to a room.

A room that he can conveniently share with Brody.

The doctor goes above and beyond, clearing the move with Mitch’s insurance to mitigate extraneous expenses, but Mitch doesn’t really care. He even allows himself to be moved in a wheelchair through the hospital, keeping on a few monitors just for good measure.

He’d take a bullet for Brody.

So staying in the hospital for an extra night?

Seems like no big deal at all.

-o-

Brody is getting a repeat scan when they check him into the ward. The day has been long, and visiting hours are finishing up for the night as he gets settled. He’s preparing for the long haul when there’s a knock at his door.

At first, he expects it to be a doctor or a nurse -- or even Brody again.

He’s not exactly surprised, however, when he sees his team.

The rest of his family, as it is.

Baywatch has always been his family; that much has never changed. Except it has, hasn’t it? Mitch isn’t sure how, he isn’t sure why. But it seems to him that caring about Brody has made him open up parts of himself that he didn’t realize he was closing off. There’s a price to pay for being the collected one; there’s a consequence he’s never measured for being the impeccable leader, always reliable.

He’s still collected; he’s still a leader.

But he needs more from them.

Just like he’ll be able to give more, as well.

That’s the lesson Brody probably never meant to teach him, the lesson Mitch never thought he needed to learn.

Yet, here it is.

Here he is.

And he says a small prayer of thanks when he sees them, each and every one.

It’s funny how it’s almost like seeing them for the first time. How he noticed the details he’s always taken for granted. The way Stephanie holds herself a little straighter when it matters. The way CJ always smiles, even when things get tough. The way Ronnie wears all his emotions on his face, unabashed and unremitting. The way Summer tries to be strong even when she’s breaking inside.

These aren’t revelations to him, not really, but they look different to him now. It’s not them who’s changed; it’s him.

Damn it, Brody.

Fortunately, as Mitch is not as his best, the team is more than ready to fill in the gaps for him. For once, he’s willing to let them.

As for now, Stephanie is clearly taking point, but CJ’s not far behind. She’s holding Ronnie by the hand, who looks just as unnerved as he did earlier. Stephanie’s certainly got the harder job, keeping a barely composed Summer from falling entirely to pieces.

Their concerns are a bit by the book, but they still seem sincere. Mitch smiles when they order him, quite firmly, to rest and take it easy. He kind of likes it when CJ fusses, and he doesn’t mind when Ronnie balks awkwardly about hospital food. Stephanie is quite orderly about keeping them on time, and he can tell that she’s got them on a schedule that both meshes with visiting hours and keeps Mitch’s stimulation to a minimum.

“We’ll be back in the morning,” Stephanie says, and she says it like they’ve worked that plan out together but Mitch knows she made the plan and they merely agreed. She looks at the team, and then she rests her eyes on Mitch. “Ellerbee will be by in the morning. He wants to take a statement to square the case away.”

Mitch nods along; he has no particular objection to this, though the thought of talking about what happened this morning is not his favorite thing to think about.

“Formalities,” CJ informs him, sensing his mild apprehension. “I mean, they got these guys on camera.”

“Yeah, and I mean, that family thing?” Ronnie interjects. “They really must not care that much. I heard that they both are lobbying for a better deal.”

Family, Mitch thinks with irony. He can appreciate it now. Those two assholes came in to avenge their brother, but they proved they don’t know the meaning of the concept. Brody wanders in after Mitch, gets knocked out quickly and says nothing, and he teaches all of them the indelible lesson.

All their talk, those two jackasses showed Mitch nothing.

Brody hasn’t said more than two words to him all day and taught him everything he can’t possibly forget.

Stephanie nods in a perfunctory fashion. “It’s a done deal,” she says. “And you’ll be getting out of here tomorrow. And I’m sure Brody will be not long after you.”

“He really doesn’t like being left behind,” CJ agrees sagely.

“I used to think, watching him, that he was just trying to one-up you all the time,” Ronnie says. “But I think he just wants to be more like you.”

Nuance is a hell of a thing, when you get right down to it. There’s a fine line between competition and emulation, and an even finer line between necessity and choice. Mitch isn’t sure which one is which, honestly: is he living with Brody because he chooses that? Or is it because Brody needs him?

And he needs Brody?

He’s got a head injury; it’s been a traumatic day.

The answers still stand.

Stephanie smiles, effectively signalling to the group that their time is up. “Well, I think you both need to be more careful,” she comments somewhat ruefully. “Hostage situations at HQ? That’s a new one for us.”

She’s not exactly joking, but it still makes Mitch smile while also causing his throat to tighten. He can still remember his wrists tied to a chair, and the blood dripping from Brody’s nose.

Stephanie can sense this, and she makes a point to pat Mitch on the arm. “We will have to explain to Brody that these theatrics are not necessary,” she says. “Tomorrow, when he wakes out.”

That comment is willfully optimistic, but it is spoken with enough fortitude to be a comfort. It isn’t just that his team was here. It is that they all believed in Brody as much as Mitch did. They have no way of knowing if the swelling in Brody’s head would go down or if he would start to breathe again on his own, but knowledge isn’t the end all, be all. Belief, on the other hand, counts for a lot.

“Thanks, guys,” Mitch says, his hoarse voice a little stronger now.

Stephanie starts to walk to the door, CJ and Ronnie a step behind. Summer hesitates, though, and Stephanie shuts the door while Summer lingers.

She had been resolved to be strong before. Just the two of them, that resolve wavers.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she says, words fast and hurried. She presses her lips together before continuing. “And I’m glad you’re going to be here with him tonight.”

He can tell that she is being sincere, even if it’s obvious she wants to stay as well. It is a part she doesn’t know how to play just yet. A person she isn’t sure how to be. The girlfriend.

“You need to keep him safe,” she says. She swallows. “I need him to be safe.”

The sudden and unexpected nature of need is something Mitch understands now. Better than he wants to maybe.

He isn’t so blind as to make promises he can’t keep, and he’s still too proud to offer trite cliches. Instead, he holds Summer’s gaze and promises the most uncompromising truth he knows after today. “I’d do anything for him,” he says. “Anything.”

And, more importantly, everything.

Summer smiles, eyes still a little watery.

“I’ll make sure he keeps fighting,” Mitch assures her. “I’m pretty sure he loves you.”

She nods, and this time she has to wipe away a tear before it falls. “Yeah,” she agrees. “But I’m pretty sure he loves you more.”

With that, she hugs him quickly before Mitch can think of a response.

It’s only when she’s gone that he realizes it doesn’t need a response. Summer hadn’t spoken in jealousy. No, she had spoken in relief. Because Mitch completes a part of Brody, and that makes him a better friend, a better lifeguard, a better boyfriend.

He just hopes the others see that Brody completes Mitch, too.

Also for the better.

Always for the better.

-o-

It seems to take forever for Brody to be wheeled back into the room. Mitch is anxious to see him, but he can’t help the way his heart sinks the minute he does.

Brody is still unconscious, eyes closed and head bandaged. The bruising on his face has started to deepen throughout the day, leaving him looking badly mottled. His nose has gotten pretty swollen, but it’s been set, and the bloody clothes have been replaced with a generic hospital gown.

The soot has been mostly cleared away, but it still seems to sit heavily around his mouth and eyes, and Mitch can see it lining his ears and dusting his hair. It’s also visible in his fingernails and along the lines of his hands, which have been arranged neatly on top of the sheet that covers him. An IV is strung from his air, and there wires attached to the monitors at his gurney’s side.

All of this is bad, but it’s nothing compared to the tube that is coming out of his mouth because Brody’s still not breathing on his own.

The doctors and nurses can tell him how it’s not as bad as it looks, how Brody’s really doing pretty well all things considered. But they’re not considering the things Mitch is considering. They’re not considering the way Brody had walked into HQ this morning, looking for Mitch. They’re not considering the way Brody had been beaten senseless and then beaten again. They’re not considering the way he’d roused to Mitch’s plea in the fire before Mitch had to drag his ass through the flames.

They’re not considering the fact that Mitch watched as Brody’s heart stopped.

And that Mitch is pretty sure his own heart stopped at the same time.

They can’t consider it, not really. They can’t possible consider how much Brody means to Mitch, how much more than even he himself realized. They can’t know, after all, that Mitch has found out just how much he needs Brody.

Because he’s finally been faced with the prospect of losing him.

So no, it’s not easier when Brody’s back with him.

It may not even be better this time, if he’s being completely honest.

But as Mitch settles in for the night, he thinks it’s probably how it’s meant to be.

And he’d have it no other way.

-o-

Mitch is supposed to sleep, and he knows that Brody’s unconscious, but somehow, none of the practical details matter. Mitch usually lets himself be preoccupied with these things; he’s thorough and methodical. He has to pay attention to details because that’s how you save lives.

At least, that’s how you save lives most of the time.

Somehow, just him and Brody, the details matter less and the broad strokes are the things he can’t ignore. Or at least they’re the things he shouldn’t ignore.

Besides, in the stillness of the night, it’s just him and Brody, finally.

Just him and Brody.

Mitch sits there, watching as Brody sleeps, watching as he breathes. He watches every drip of the IV, every rise and fall of his chest. The minutes wear on, and Mitch is faced with the possibility of losing Brody all over again.

There’s no gun to his head this time, but the pressure is just as real, just as intense, just as paralyzing. The idea of losing Brody is so encompassing that Mitch hardly knows what to do.

That’s not true; he knows what to do.

He’s just not sure he’s strong enough to be that weak.

Because he’s Mitch Buchannon. He doesn’t have to beg because he accepts the shit that happens.

Not this time, though.

In his life, he’s always thought the biggest risks were physical, and he’s never minded those. He never expected to find the most daunting risk to be the emotional ones, the ones that require him to do nothing but open himself up and admit that he has needs, that he’s attached.

You find out what matters when under duress.

You find out who you are when the chips are down.

You find out what you can’t compromise.

You find out what you can.

That night, Mitch holds Brody’s hand and begs him to stay alive, to stay with him, to stay.

Mitch begs all night long.

-o-

By the time dawn breaks, Mitch is understandably exhausted. Still, the idea of sleeping without making sure that Brody is okay is almost more than he can tolerate. Sitting there, Mitch sighs a little, reaching up to smooth the hair back from Brody’s forehead.

“You think you can do me a solid this time and wake up?” Mitch asks, a little rueful. “It’d be nice to put this whole shitty mess behind us.”

Mitch has barely sat back in his chair, wearily checking the time on his phone, when Brody shifts on the bed. At first, Mitch thinks it’s a fluke, but when he finally gets his eyes to focus, he realizes that Brody is actually moving. His eyes are confused but open, hands moving as he actively gags on the vent.

The surge of adrenaline is probably a little lackluster at this point, but it’s enough to get Mitch out of his chair, leaned over Brody as he gently pushes his hands back down and aligns himself so his face is in Brody’s line of vision.

“Hey, Brody, hey,” he says.

Brody’s eyes are wide, darting wildly as he continues to strain against Mitch’s grip. He gags again on the vent as Mitch speaks a little louder.

“Matt,” he tries this time. “You’re okay. Matt, do you hear me? You’re okay. I’m here.”

This time, Brody’s eyes focus, and the eye contact is long and genuine. Beneath Mitch’s touch, Brody’s struggling stops, although Mitch can still feel his body trembling.

Mitch can’t help it; he smiles so wide that he thinks he might actually cry.

“You’re okay,” he says again, and he says it like an unparalleled, uncompromised, universal truth. “We’re okay.”

Because Mitch doesn’t say shit he doesn’t mean.

And no one knows it better than Matt Brody.

-o-

The doctors are called in hastily, and they are quick to extubate Brody and check the swelling in his brain. They say it’s pretty remarkable, how quickly Brody has rebounded.

Mitch doesn’t disagree, but he doesn’t actually think it’s that remarkable.

Brody woke up because Mitch finally had the decency to ask.

And Brody would always have the decency not to say no.

They might work, the two of them

They really might work after all.

-o-

After Brody is extubated, they take him for some scans. They apparently want to make sure he’s okay and not dying and shit like that. Since Mitch is all for Brody not being dead, he can only acquiesce, though it’s also not like he has any real authority in the matter.

Mitch wants to sit and wait, but he promptly falls asleep. He’s just planning on closing his eyes for a second, but an hour later, they’re rolling back into the room.

It makes Mitch feel better to see him, for sure.

He also feels a little relieved that Brody looks as tired as Mitch feels.

Not that he actually wants Brody to feel bad, but it’s kind of nice, being in this thing together.

And this time they’re both actually conscious.

After Brody is settled back into the bed, he looks over at Mitch, weary and expectant. “They told me I was held hostage,” he says -- croaks, really. He sounds horrible, voice strained and weak. He has to swallow, a process that still looks like it hurts him. “Is that for real?”

Mitch sighs sympathetically. “Yeah, it is,” he says. “We both were.”

This seems to be difficult for Brody to comprehend. His confusion is only accentuated by the fact that one of his eyes is still swollen shut and his nose is puffy and red. “Like, I get how they’d get me,” he says, working up more saliva into his mouth to continue. “But you?”

“I’m not a superhero,” Mitch protests. “They ambushed me on a day off when HQ was empty. No one’s ever there.”

Brody looks like he doesn’t know what to make of this. He shakes his head with a wince. “I was there.”

He says this so matter of fact, so self evident. It hurts a little. “You shouldn’t have been,” he says tightly.

“I was coming after you,” Brody says. “But I don’t remember anything else.”

That seems fitting, actually. Brody remembers coming for Mitch, and the rest probably doesn’t matter as much as the cops or the rest of the team think it does.

Besides, Brody doesn’t need to remember.

Mitch remembers well enough for everyone involved.

“Probably for the best,” Mitch tells him in commiseration. “It wasn’t the best day. For either of us.”

That’s the short way of saying it, the easy way. It glosses over the details, the harrowing bits and the demeaning parts. He honestly doesn’t expect that to be enough for Brody, but for now, it kind of is.

“Huh,” Brody says, and he looks distantly at the wall as if considering that. Then he looks at Mitch. “Well, I’m glad you were there.”

It’s such a simple, almost reductive way to look at it. And maybe Brody’s too tired to give a shit now. Maybe his life has just sucked so much over the years that this one hardly bothers him. Maybe the pain meds are just that good right now.

Or maybe Brody just trusts Mitch. Completely. Unwavering.

Brody didn’t need to be held at the barrel of a gun to realize it.

No, that one’s on Mitch.

“Well,” Mitch says, doing his best not to falter now. “I wish you hadn’t been.”

Brody yawns, but cuts it off with another grimace as he blinks sleepily. “All part of the job,” he murmurs, settling back into the pillows.

“Getting held hostage is not part of the job,” Mitch tells him.

Brody seems unimpressed by that detail, and he shrugs like he knows better.

This time, he actually might.

“This job has me doing lots of shit I never thought I’d do,” he says. He open his eyes a little for another look at Mitch. “It’s not so bad.”

It’s probably not a surprise that Brody’s right about that bit.

“No,” Mitch agrees, because all this begging has not been without its benefits. Mitch doesn’t want to do it again of course, but maybe it’s not so bad to realize that he’s willing to. “It’s really not.”

Brody’s eyes start to drift close again, and he hums a little before he asks, “Will you be here? When I wake up?”

“Of course,” Mitch says, watching with some relief as Brody starts to slip back into a comfortable, healing sleep. “There’s no place else I’d be.”