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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Family Issues (1/2)

December 26th, 2018 (03:29 pm)

Title: Family Issues

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: Unbeta’ed. Fills my abandonment issues square for hc_bingo. This is the starting fic to a verse I’m completing, which I’m referring to as the Gold Medal Verse. The title will become clear in later fics.

Summary: A failure to trust, a fear of abandonment: you could call it anything you wanted, but right now, Mitch just had to figure out a way to put it to rest before Brody’s panic killed both of them.



-o-

Mitch had been a lifeguard for a long time. And he wasn’t some run of the mill lifeguard. No, Baywatch lifeguards were something special. Their sense of duty far surpassed any common definition one might hold for a lifeguard. So Mitch had taken on things that most people wouldn’t dream about.

He’d faced those obstacles and excelled.

Even with Leeds, he’d pulled through. Getting shot, poisoning himself, blowing people up: Mitch knew how to take this shit in stride. Truth be told, he knew that he’d face challenges like that again. He was cool with that; he was ready for anything.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just about him anymore.

Not when Matt Brody was at play.

The one variable Mitch never could have expected.

Was the one variable that was always going to catch him off guard.

-o-

To the point: it wasn’t the fact that they had an armored truck drive off the end of the pier after a robbery gone wrong. It wasn’t even the fact that one of the driver’s was still trapped inside the sinking vehicle. Mitch had been on higher risk rescues before, lots of times.

Brody hadn’t.

Two months on the job, Brody had nearly been killed in the line of duty twice, but he had not yet actually faced a rescue of this caliber. Brody had proven himself adept at fishing people out of the surf, but this was the first time the conditions were a little bit less predictable.

To his credit, he didn’t balk.

Much.

“So, we’re just going to dive down, into the sinking vehicle, and get the guy out,” Brody clarified as they hurriedly got into position at the edge of the pier. The car was rapidly sinking now, and there was a crowd of horrified onlookers. Police were pulling up, taking the suspects into custody, and Mitch knew reporters were on the scene.

“Yeah,” Mitch said. “The waters aren’t too rough today, shouldn’t be a problem.”

Brody frowned. “But why would it be a problem?”

“It’s a vehicle, sinking,” Mitch said, giving the area one last appraising look as he turned to the water. “No one wants to be in a vehicle when it sinks.”

Brody was not sure what to do with this information, but Mitch trusted he’d figure it out sooner or later. Mitch didn’t much care.

“We’re diving now,” he said, a wary glance at Brody. “Unless you need me to wait for backup.”

“No,” Brody said quickly, just a touch indignant. “I’m good. I’m with you. We’re in this together, right?”

Mitch gave a brief grin. “Together,” he agreed before diving off the end of the pier.

Together, he thought, as Brody hit the water right beside him.

-o-

Getting into the vehicle was easier than Mitch had anticipated. It was sinking slowly, leaving the door still partially exposed as it slowly took on water and started to descend. Despite their conversation on the pier, they had waited mere seconds to respond, and Brody was still new to the job, but that didn’t mean he was bad at it.

All that considered, they were within range within seconds of jumping in, and Mitch forced the door open a little farther to allow Brody better clearance inside.

Brody, following Mitch’s lead implicitly, eased his way inside and began cutting a strong path across the interior. When Mitch followed suit, he was struck by how dark the back of the truck was -- and how cluttered. He’d never given much thought to what was inside an armored truck before, but there were crates and other equipment, which were shifting wildly with the force of the water.

Suddenly, Brody was in front of him, all but shoving a victim into his arms. “She said there’s someone else!” Brody yelled over the sound of the rushing water and creaking vehicle.

“What?” Mitch said. “Reports were just one victim--”

“I caught a glimpse of him,” Brody said back, not bothering to hash the details of who had gotten what wrong. “You want me to take her?”

“No, I got her,” Mitch said, holding the gasping, near-hysterical woman. “You go back and get the other guy.”

At this, Brody hesitated. “By myself?” he asked. “In a sinking vehicle?”

“Uh, yeah,” Mitch said, matter of fact because this was not the time for one of Brody’s seemingly pragmatic yet woefully misguided arguments about procedure and policy. Like when he suggested to call the cops or animal control or something equally inane for a Baywatch lifeguard. “I’ll be back in just a few seconds once I get her clear.”

He was mildly relieved when Brody didn’t fight him, but he did look a little pale as he turned back toward the dim interior. Mitch didn’t have time to dwell on that, however. Instead, he guided the woman through the rising water toward the door, navigating them both out into the water right as the truck shifted and began to sink more vertically. The door was still exposed, but they were rapidly running out of time before it went all the way under.

Fortunately, he didn’t have to go far. Stephanie was already in the water with CJ and Ronnie nearby on the pier. Summer had taken position with a few other team members on the rocks near the beach, all poised to offer assistance as needed.

Mitch handed off the woman to Stephanie. “Brody said there’s another victim,” he reported. “I’m going to go back, and we’ll clear the rig.”

“It’s going down fast, Mitch,” Stephanie warned him. “You need to hurry before your exit is submerged.”

She was right, to an extent. A submerged exit made it harder, but not impossible. As long as they door was open, they were still able to move in and out freely, and the only constraint would be the diminishing air pockets within the rig.

“Have backup on standby,” Mitch advised, turning back.

“Already do -- ambulance is en route, and we’ve even got the armored car company on the way just in case,” Stephanie called after him.

Mitch kicked, swimming toward the entrance. Before bobbing his head under to enter, he turned back to Stephanie one more time. “I’ll be right back!”

She had no reason to doubt him; Mitch had no reason to doubt himself.

He always said things he meant.

Always.

-o-

Except when circumstances prevented otherwise.

To be clear, that didn’t happen often. Mitch was usually well aware of his circumstances, and he usually took them fully into consideration when he made bold promises. He found it helpful in most situations, given that he often encountered people in life or death crises. It was his desire to provide hope as necessary, but he refused to make that hope false. He couldn’t do it; that wasn’t how he operated the bay.

It still happened, from time to time, when the situation shifted out of his control. When events spiralled beyond his ability to predict. Maybe he should have seen this one coming; maybe this one was, in fact, on him. Maybe the second victim; maybe the whole armored car with hostages going off the pier in the first place; maybe that pale look on Brody’s face before he left.

Mitch probably should have known something was up.

Still, it caught him by surprise when Brody came swimming at him, another victim on his arm. This one was a man, and he was conscious and alert, swimming along with Brody.

“This dude says he’s the last,” Brody reported, milling for a second at the entrance. “But I don’t know, man. Maybe we should make another sweep?”

Almost in response, the whole vehicle began to shudder, and Mitch remembered his promise to Stephanie. “We need to clear out,” he said. “Before this goes down.”

“But I thought you said it wasn’t a big deal?” Brody asked, a little incredulous.

“Well, of course it’s a little bit of a deal,” Mitch said. “Even if the door is open.”

“And you left me here alone?” Brody asked.

“Uh, this is great, but can we get out of here and argue later?” the victim asked reasonably.

Brody glowered, handing the man off. “I’m right behind you,” he said, keeping a close distance as Mitch navigated back toward the entrance.

The truck shimmied again.

This time, however, it lurched, rolling somewhat on its side with a sudden an unexpected force. Mitch compensated -- barely -- clutching onto the door as the man yelped in his arms. He was able to move with the rotation, and he sensed what was coming a second before it happened. Expertly, he used his raw strength to propel the man ahead of him, shoving him out the still open door a split second before the entrance disappeared beneath the waves with a rush of water.

He looked back in time to see Brody slipping on the shifting ground, the rush of water pushing him back as it flooded the compartment, sending the truck spinning wildly again as it rapidly began its descent.

Mitch promised Stephanie he’d come back.

But he’d promised Brody first.

He hesitated for a moment, but before he could call out Brody’s name, the movement of the water churned again, sending the vehicle tipping violently back in the other direction. The force was enough to send the debris smashing against things, and Mitch felt as barrel hit him with surprising force as he was thrust away from the door.

Slipping back, Mitch saw the doors to the van, now fully submerged, slam shut with the force of the water a second before he was slammed back against the wall of the van and everything went dark.

-o-

Mitch wasn’t afraid.

Dark, light, steady ground, shifting sands, riptide or calm seas: Mitch was never afraid. He knew that, no matter what situation he found himself in, he had the wherewithal to make the best choices possible. Mitch could be alone in mind, body and spirit; and he wasn’t afraid.

That said, he was mildly disconcerted.

Having been knocked out was never a good thing, though he didn’t quite lose track of time or space. He knew where he was; he knew what had happened. It just took him several long moments before he was open to open his eyes, focus and act on that knowledge of a most unfortunate turn of events.

He had deduced, almost instantaneously, that the influx of water had sent the van spinning. The force had dislodged the items inside, sending them tumbling around indiscriminately. Mitch had had no way to prevent that, just as he had no way of preventing being struck by said debris.

All of which was punctuated by the worst fact of all: the door had closed.

Mitch wasn’t an expert or anything on armored vehicles, but he had to surmise that they weren’t designed to be opened from the outside. That was, as best you could figure, the whole damn point. The locking mechanism had been damaged in the robbery, and one might hope that rendered it unable to lock, but Mitch could only conclude, given the fact that it was now locked, that it probably only rendered it unable to open again.

Which meant, in short, Mitch was trapped.

Inside an armored vehicle.

That had sunk to the bottom of the bay.

Grunting, he opened his eyes in an effort to move.

That was the next conclusion, made no more than a second after the first.

In the melee, Mitch had been thrown back against the wall. But that wasn’t all. He’d been thrown against the wall and trapped against it by the weight of one of the barrels.

In short, he was really trapped.

There were other conclusions to make, each one coming at Mitch more rapidly than the last and in no particular order of importance or immediacy. First, this had all happened in plain sight. The team was on the case. They would already be working at opening the door. Second, the victim was hopefully safe; he’d been mobile enough and Mitch had given him the best possible boost. Third, the closed door offered one marginal benefit: it slowed the influx of water. Slowed, Mitch realized, but not stopped. It was still flooding in through the crevices, now currently at Mitch’s lower waist.

Also: where the hell was Brody?

This conclusion probably should have been his first, given that Brody was his teammate, roommate and probably his friend. They had started this together, and Mitch had given his word that they would end it together as well. Brody had been behind him when the van went down, which meant he was still in here.

“Brody?” he called out, and he had to clear his throat a little before he tried again. “Brody, where are you?”

If Brody were the type to make things easy, he would have simply answered.

Brody never made things easy.

If he did, then he probably wouldn’t be Brody.

Still, easy or not, Mitch wasn’t about to give up. The interior of the van was dim, but Mitch’s eyesight was good, and he had plenty of experience working in dark conditions. It didn’t take long for his eyes to adjust, sorting through the shadows of the van as he tried to make sense of the scene around him.

The barrels and other debris was in disarray, but most of it was back up against the wall alongside Mitch. Clearly, this was a result of gravity, which meant that Brody had probably been forced this direction as well. Craning his neck, Mitch started to track the line of debris next to him, peering around the bulky objects as best he could for a sign of Brody.

It didn’t take long; Brody had been within arm’s reach the whole time. There was a case of something wedged between them, but Mitch was able to pull a few items out of the way until he had a clear view of the younger man.

The good news was that Brody was there and that his head was above water.

That was about the extent of the good news, however.

From Mitch’s vantage point, he could tell that Brody was trapped just like Mitch was -- only probably worse. Mitch was under a barrel, which was weighed down mostly by gravity. When the van shifted again -- which it would as the water levels rose -- it would like provide better leverage for Mitch to escape.

The series of cases that were on top of Brody were more extensive. In fact, Mitch had reason to worry about suffocation at this point.

“Brody?” he asked again, wincing as he snaked one of his arms free and reached toward him. He was able to give the other man’s shoulder a small push. “Brody, wake up.”

To his relief, Brody stirred, a groan slipping from his mouth. As his head lifted, Mitch caught sight of the gash along his hairline, which was still coating the far side of his face with blood.

“Come on, buddy,” Mitch cajoled, because now he had to worry about suffocation and head injuries. Not to mention water levels. Brody was lower than Mitch was; the water at his position was at his stomach. “You with me?”

Brody stirred again, this time blinking his eyes several times as he tried to get his bearing. It seemed to take more work than it should, but the truth was that Mitch just hated sitting there, helpless and idle, while Brody struggled to regain consciousness.

“That’s it,” Mitch coaxed.

Brody groaned again, but this time when he opened his eyes, they at least stayed that way.

Mitch grinned. “There you go.”

Brody, however, did not grin. As he took stock of the situation, he did not look mildly disconcerted.

He looked terrified.

“Shit,” he said. “Are we still in the truck?”

“Yeah,” Mitch confirmed. “It went down pretty fast.”

“Shit,” Brody said again, sounding more distressed than before as he tried to move. “I’m stuck,” he said, and he tried to move again. “Mitch, I’m stuck.”

“I know,” Mitch said. “I’m stuck, too. The barrels shifted quite a bit when the truck when down.”

Brody turned his head to look at Mitch for the first time. When they made eye contact, Brody’s panic levels visibly lessened. But he was still plainly not at ease with the situation. “That’s bad,” he said. “That’s bad, right?”

“Well,” Mitch said, and he tipped his head because it was a point he had to concede. “It’s not great.”

That seemed like an understatement to Brody, and he ogled Mitch for another second, like he was expecting something more. The blood was still leaking over the side of his face, but Mitch thought it probably was best not to mention the fact that Brody likely had a concussion to a near-panicking man trapped underwater in a locked truck.

Brody frowned. “You’re not telling me something.”

Again, Mitch couldn’t really lie. There was no lie that would be effective anyway. “I just want you to calm down first,” he said reasonably.

Brody shook his head. “Now I know you’re really not telling me something,” he said.

“You need to not freak out, okay?” Mitch said.

“But why would I freak out?” Brody asked. “Because I’m trapped in a sinking vehicle and I’ve got -- shit, have I got a head injury?”

He seemed to have noticed the blood for the first time, lifting his hand to his head and bringing it away coated with blood.

“You’re coherent, and you weren’t unconscious long,” Mitch assured him.

Brody put his hand back in the water and turned his increasingly disconcerted gaze back to Mitch. “So it’s something else? Something else you’re not telling me?”

“Seriously, man, I need you not to freak out right now,” Mitch said.

The fact that Mitch said this with an unruffled tone only seemed to aggravate Brody more. “We’re trapped in a sinking vehicle and I have a head injury,” he said, matter of fact. “Why wouldn’t I freak out?”

“Well,” Mitch said. “It’s just that things are actually a little worse than you think they are.”

Trapped, bleeding and sitting in rising water, Brody’s eyes goggled a bit. “Worse?” he asked, and he somehow managed to sound like a 10 year old when he said it.

Mitch sighed. He’d dragged this out too long as it was. “The door’s closed.”

The statement was not nearly as dramatic as the situation, Mitch knew that.

Brody knew it, too. He just wasn’t sure what to do with the implications.

His frown deepened, and he looked from Mitch down the length of the truck. “The door’s...closed?”

Head injury, stress of the situation, the fact that Brody wasn’t all that bright sometimes: there were plenty of reasons that Brody hadn’t put two and two together yet.

Patiently, Mitch nodded his head. “And this is an armored vehicle with expansive locking mechanisms designed for security, not safety.”

Brody nodded along, eyes studying the far door with slow understanding. “So, when it locks,” he ventured, but he seemed unable or unwilling to finish the thought.

Mitch was both able and willing. “It stays locked,” he concluded for Brody.

Wide eyed, Brody looked at Mitch again. “You’re saying we’re trapped in here? Like, trapped trapped?”

“I told you not to freak out,” Mitch said, a touch exasperated right now. Typically, Mitch was excessively understanding of victims. But this wasn’t a victim, at least not in a traditional sense. This was Brody, he was supposed to be a professional. And also, it was Brody.

As if reading Mitch’s mind, Brody’s face contorted in something akin to anger desperation. “But then you told me that we’re trapped!” he said. “And don’t think I haven’t figured out that the water level’s rising, okay. I know it’s rising. I know it’s rising fast.”

Mitch shrugged, not because it was an irrelevant detail but because it was a detail that was inevitable. It was also well outside their realm of control. “But it’s not like people don’t know we’re here,” he said reasonably. The armored truck going off the pier had been a spectacle; there were police and ambulance on site already, not to mention backup from Baywatch. If you were ever going to have a crisis in the water, this was exactly the way to do it.

“Uh, yeah,” Brody said, clearly not placated like he should have been. “But how are they going to unlocked the freakin’ door? I mean, do they have keys? There are keys right?”

That would have been a nice, easy way to assuage Brody’s fears

Except Mitch had already thought about that.

This time, he did hedge. Just a little. “I’m pretty sure the locking mechanism was probably damaged during the robbery,” he admitted. “If it were as easy as using a key, I think we’d be out by now.”

Brody’s mouth dropped open. “Dude, you keep making this worse!” he said. “How the hell do you keep making this situation seem worse?”

“You’re being dramatic,” Mitch reprimanded him.

Brody was not reprimanded, however. “Because getting locked in the back of a sinking armored truck while it fills up with water is dramatic.”

“There are contingencies in place, you know that,” Mitch reasoned.

Brody stared at him for a second. “Contingencies,” he repeated. “For this?”

“Sure,” Mitch said, but his voice lacked its usual confidence.

Brody noticed, the bastard. “Contingencies for armored trucks filling with water with people trapped inside?”

When he said it like that, it did sound slightly ridiculous.

Still, Mitch wasn’t about to concede this point. Not when he was technically right. “There are contingencies for all unexpected situations; that’s what we do at Baywatch,” he said, and his voice regained its strength again. “There are people working out there right now, no question. And in here, just judging by the size and the rate of flow, I’d say we have an hour before this thing fills and we lose the air pockets. Easy.”

It wasn’t that Brody was stubborn; in fact, Brody could be quite malleable when you got right down to it. It was just that he was so concrete in his understanding of things. Hypotheticals were never easy for Brody to grasp, and he rarely swayed by complex logic when common sense seemed to dictate otherwise.

In short, Brody was convinced by the here and now. The future to him always seemed unstable and ambiguous. Mitch could hope to train that out of him at some point, but it had only been two months.

“An hour?” Brody asked, sounding even less convinced than before.

“An hour,” Mitch confirmed, and he felt his frustrations ease a little. This wasn’t Brody’s fault, after all. It was hard to blame him, even when it always seemed like the convenient option. Mitch shrugged one shoulder, mustering up a small smile for Brody’s benefit. “And that’s not so bad when we’re in this together, right?”

It might seem counterintuitive that the guy who didn’t know shit about teamwork was the one who craved the team atmosphere the most. In truth, that had caught Mitch off guard; he’d never expected Brody to want to be on the team, to fight to be a part of the team like he had. It had been that -- more than any of his other feats -- that had driven Mitch to give Brody a second chance.

And a third chance.

And probably a fourth chance.

Shit, it’d only been two months. How many chances would it be?

Brody nodded, a little reluctantly, but Mitch had found the sweet spot and they both knew it. Not logic, not shame, not promises of hope.

Just that he wasn’t alone.

It was worth another chance, at the very least.

“Right,” Brody agreed, and he sounded somewhat resolved this time as he held Mitch’s gaze through the dimness. “We’re in this together.”

-o-

Brody was solidified by the idea of together.

He was less solidified by the reality of an hour.

If Mitch had to be honest, he had not given his estimate of an hour much thought. That wasn’t exactly true; he’d calculated it with plenty of thought. But he hadn’t thought about the implications.

An hour, most days, was not a particularly long time.

But when you were trapped in a sinking vehicle, Mitch had to admit, it felt kind of long.

And then far too short at the same time.

Normally, Mitch didn’t go in for those kind of contradictions, but this one was impossible to ignore. Ultimately, it was too much time to think about how little time they had.

This wasn’t pleasant to think about, especially since Mitch knew he was powerless to do anything about it right now.

If Mitch found it unpleasant, Brody found it moreso.

He was restless, alternating between being morose and anxious. He would go several minutes saying nothing, staring limpidly at the locked door. Then, he would start to ramble, as if he couldn’t stand his own silence any longer. “This is crazy, you know?” he said, and he bit his lip, shaking his head. “I mean, it’s crazy, right?”

Clearly, Brody was looking for some kind of affirmation, though Mitch wasn’t sure why. “I told you from the start, being a lifeguard is more complicated than you think.”

“Sure,” Brody said, because he’d acclimated to that much after two months. He still wanted to call the cops more than Mitch would like, but he’d taken to the idea of cases better than Mitch had expected. “But I mean, we’re in an armored car. A sinking armored car.”

Mitch shrugged, shifting his legs just slightly under the weight of the barrel. He kept hoping that the rising water levels would ease the burden, but the water was covering his legs now; it still wasn’t enough to move.

That only went to Brody’s point, however; this was new for him, too, but he couldn’t say that it was unusual. Baywatch lifeguards had a propensity for extreme situations.

Or, at the very least, Mitch had a propensity for extreme situations.

“Stuff happens,” he said. “You just have to go with it.”

“Stuff, yeah,” Brody said, because in two months, Mitch knew the younger man had chased down sand grifters, completed boat rescues, recovered people from parasailing accidents and more. He’d tracked a low level drug dealer and stopped a scam that targeted tourists. “But, like, this is life and death.”

Mitch was unswayed by that argument. “We deal with life and death every day,” he said. “That is the universal definition of a lifeguard.”

Brody rolled his eyes. His face was still bleeding, and Mitch could trace the sluggish rivulets as they rolled down Brody’s neck now. The water was clearly up to Brody’s navel by this point. “But not our life and death,” he said. “Like, we’re supposed to save people. Not be the ones needing to be saved.”

That was probably a valid point, a point more valid than Mitch cared to acquiesce to right now.

For the time being, Brody didn’t actually need him to reply. “I mean,” he continued with a short, quasi-hysterical grunt. “I thought that shit with Leeds was a one-off.”

That much Mitch had to agree with. “Well, that was pretty extreme, even for Baywatch,” he said. “I can honestly tell you that is the first time I’ve met with someone who was actively trying to sabotage and kill us directly.”

For some reason, Brody’s look was more incredulous than before, despite the fact that Mitch was actually agreeing with him. “But, like, we’re here,” he said. “Dying. Like, again.”

Now Mitch shook his head. “This is totally different.”

Brody, for reasons that would always defy logic, wanted to argue that. “Um, not sure how.”

Mitch felt his exasperation rising once again. It had been all of five minutes since they’d been trapped. Five minutes.

If the water levels didn’t make that seem ridiculous, Brody definitely would.

“Because Leeds was actively trying to kill us; it was a plot,” Mitch argued. “This, right now? This is an accident.”

“I’m really not sure if the fact that this is an accident makes me feel better,” Brody reflected, dropping his hands into the water as if to measure how much higher the water level had climbed in those scant fives minutes.

“You didn’t say it was better,” Mitch said. “You said it was the same.”

“Well, dead is dead, right?” Brody said. “It all sucks, if you ask me.”

“But this is what we do!”

Brody looked at him, his expression surprisingly deadpan. “I am actually amazed that you can say that with a straight face.”

Sitting side by side, stuck in a sinking armored vehicle with the door lock, Mitch had to admit that Brody’s perspective wasn’t completely invalid. He rolled his eyes this time. “Fine, so it’s a little unusual.”

Brody’s eyebrows went up. “A little?”

That was as far as Mitch’s concession would go. “It’s an unpredictable job.”

“Yeah, only the way you do it,” Brody said. “I’ve been around lifeguards my whole life, and none of them have had experiences like this.”

“Because you grew up swimming in pools, which are boring and pointless,” Mitch said.

“Uh, as opposed to you, who thinks he can single-handedly control the ocean,” Brody said. “The whole freakin’ ocean.”

“Not the ocean, just the bay,” Mitch said. “And I don’t think I can control it; I just think I can navigate it.”

“You’re such a control freak that you can’t even admit you’re a control freak,” Brody said.

Mitch scoffed, feeling the water start to splash up his spine a little. “I’m thorough. To save lives.”

Brody nodded, matter of fact. “That’s worked super well this time.”

“Oh, shut up,” Mitch snapped. “We’re going to get out of here because I’ve trained the team to respond to these situations. I’m doing it right.”

Brody blew out a breath. His high energy anxiety gave way again; he was back to being morose. He let his head tip back and his shoulders slumped as he looked miserably at the ceiling. “Whatever, man,” he said. “I just really want to get out of here.”

Just that fast, Mitch felt his exasperation drain out of him. The situation did suck; the fact that Brody knew that was hard to hold against him, even if Mitch kind of still wanted to. Somehow, over the last two months, Brody had become less a pain in his ass and more his friend.

Or, inexplicably, still a pain in his ass and somehow his friend. There was a lot about Brody he still didn’t get, but the younger man had earned his place with Baywatch. And Baywatch was family. Mitch had to stand by that.

Especially now.

“Hey,” he cajoled, willing Brody to look at him. “We’re going to get out of here.”

Brody tipped his head to the side again, but his look was baleful.

“I’m serious,” Mitch said. “I mean, now that the truck is at the bottom of the bay, we’re stationary. Working with the locking mechanism will be a lot easier that way. They’re going to get us out.”

“You know, I’ve been trapped at the bottom of the bay before in a locked box,” Brody said. He looked up, almost as if he could see the surface through the top of the truck that enclosed them in. “It didn’t go so well.”

“I got you out in time,” Mitch reminded him.

Brody glanced at him. “You had to do rescue breathing,” he said. “Like, actual mouth to mouth.”

“And you liked it a lot, as I recall,” Mitch joked, because some opportunities were too good to pass up. And it was easier to joke about that than to confess that Mitch remembered the last time better than he wanted to. That he remembered Brody’s pale features, still and silent at the bottom of the bay. That for a few moments, he thought he’d been too late.

Brody didn’t smile, though.

Damn it.

Mitch didn’t want to do serious right now.

Now when things were so, well, serious.

“My point is that it’s not easy,” Brody said. “And shit can go wrong way faster than it can go right.”

Mitch shook his head almost instinctually. “Fine, so it’s complicated,” he said. “But that’s why we’re the best. That’s why I only hired the best, I only train the best. Because we deal with complicated every day. And we win. So, I trust our team.”

He said it with such certainty, such unrelenting fortitude, that Brody looked nearly convinced. “You do?”

“Of course,” Mitch said, not allowing himself to hesitate for a moment. Then, he drove home the point. “Don’t you?”

Because Brody wanted to be on this team. He chose to be on this team. Mitch knew that it was important to him -- important enough to make him change.

But that didn’t mean necessarily that Brody had learned to trust them yet, Mitch realized.

The way that they trusted Brody.

The way that Mitch trusted Brody.

The question appeared vexing to Brody, and it took him several long moments as the water continued to flood into the back of the truck for him to think. Even then, his answer was uncertain. “I guess.”

Two months was enough time for most people. Hell, most people trusted Baywatch within two minutes. Brody was a special case, for some reason. Brody was just different.

Mitch didn’t have to know why to know that he needed to keep at it. He wasn’t sure what bothered him more: the fact that Brody didn’t know how to trust very well or the fact that it was possible for someone to not be 100 percent convinced of Baywatch’s ability to do anything.

See, Mitch was a stubborn one. This point would not die until Brody acceded. “I guarantee you, they’re out there right now,” Mitch said, and he gestured toward the door. “CJ and Ronnie. Stephanie. Summer.”

He ended with Summer for a reason. Because the only thing Brody wanted as much as he wanted to be a part of Baywatch was Summer. He crushed hard on Summer, and Summer was taking it slow with him. More props to her for wanting to be sure, but it made Brody trail after her a bit like a lost little puppy.

So the idea that Summer was outside? That she might be working to save Brody’s life?

Well, that had to count for something.

All it elicited, however, was a vague, small smile. “Yeah. I guess.”

Suddenly, Mitch knew this wasn’t just about losing an argument. For some reason, it felt a little like he was losing Brody, all over again, at the bottom of the bay.

“And you’re not alone in the cage this time,” Mitch reminded him, trying to lighten his voice in a friendly sort of way. “I’m here, too.”

Brody nodded again, his smile a little more defined. “Yeah.”

“See,” Mitch said, with more confidence than Brody’s response or the situation warranted. “It’s all going to be fine.”

-o-

Mitch’s proclamation was valid.

For about five more minutes.

See, Mitch had made pretty accurate calculations about the rate of the water level rising, and he was confident that there would be a significant air pocket in the truck for about an hour, or 45 more minutes at this point.

The thing was, Mitch hadn’t taken all factors into account. Those air pockets would rise along with the water levels. If Mitch and Brody were free to move around, they could rise as well.

They weren’t free, however.

They were trapped.

They were trapped low.

So that hour Mitch had projected? The one he’d used to reassure Brody?

Yeah, it wasn’t exactly valid.

At all.

At the rate the vehicle was filling and their relative positions, they had thirty minutes, tops. And they had been here 15 minutes at least. Worse, Brody was lower. That cut a good five minutes off his time compared to Mitch.

Which meant there were about five minutes left until Brody drowned.

Mitch came to this conclusion as calmly as he could. He still believed that the team was working outside to rescue them. Quickly. That was good.

He also knew that the team would be working under the impression that Mitch and Brody were free, which meant they didn’t realize the timeline had narrowed. That was less good.

So far, Brody hadn’t realized Mitch’s mistake just. But while Brody’s mathematical and scientific skills were worse off than his logical reason, he wasn’t a moron. He knew how to look at a situation and realize that something had been horribly screwed up.

In fact, Mitch suspected it was only out of deference that Brody didn’t say something sooner.

“Uh, Mitch,” Brody said as the water rose up over his shoulders. “Are you sure that we’ve got an hour?”

It would be easier to lie to Brody. But Mitch didn’t like lies. Even when he knew the truth was going to make someone freak out. He just had to be gentle and measured and calm. He could do this; he and Brody could do this. “Until the van fills up? Sure,” Mitch said. Then, he let an apology color his features. “However, I didn’t take our current positions into account with that estimate.”

Brody swallowed, but mercifully didn’t freak out. “So how does the estimate change when you do take it into account?”

There was no easy way to say it. So Mitch just said it. “Our current position might make it somewhat less than an hour.”

Brody looked at him, forehead crinkled. “Somewhat less?” he asked in dismay.

Mitch sighed. It was time to own up “Ten minutes,” he said. “For me.”

“And for me?” Brody asked, now aghast.

“Five,” Mitch confirmed, seeing no way to avoid it.

Brody’s look of incredulity might have been humorous were it not so justified. And were they not five minutes from a likely death. “Five minutes?!”

“Which is still more than enough time,” Mitch tried to say.

“For me to die!” Brody interjected back.

“They are working out there--”

“And they’re going to be too late!” Brody insisted, getting increasingly agitated and not without some cause, Mitch knew that.

But he also knew it wasn’t going to help in any way, shape or form. Brody had to learn to deal with shit within your purview and to let the rest go. If Brody wanted to be on the team, he had to let himself be part of that team. “You have to trust--”

“Why?” Brody demanded, proving that after two months, he still didn’t quite get it. “Why do I have to trust?”

“Because what else do you have right now?” Mitch leveled back at him.

Brody stared at him, but the protests never came. There was something hard to read in Brody’s expression, something deeply inscrutable as if Brody himself didn’t know what he was thinking. Like trust was such a foreign concept that it left him speechless.

Finally, as if in defeat, Brody dropped his head back with a groan. “This sucks. This sucks so much.”

That much, Mitch could agree with at this point. The water was rising to his chest now, and he was still just as stuck as ever with no way to know for sure what was going on outside. No matter what he said to Brody, that kind of trust was hard, even for a guy like Mitch in these situations.

They could argue and they could banter, but in the end, they were still stuck in a truck filling with water at the bottom of the bay.

With a sigh, Mitch nodded his agreement. “I know, man, it does.”

Brody lifted his head wearily. “I guess if I’m going to die, I am glad I don’t have to do it alone.”

Mitch’s defenses flared, a little unexpectedly. Despite the fact that Mitch had made the calculations and he had been the one to announce the limited timeline, he could not stand to hear Brody talk like it was a done deal. Like death was inevitable.

Because there was no way in hell Mitch was prepared to think about Brody drowning right next to him while Mitch did nothing.

No way in hell.

“You’re not going to die,” Mitch told him.

“I might,” Brody said tepidly. “You might, too.”

The defeatist bullshit wasn’t something Mitch could tolerate. His defensive tendencies turned hard. He shook his head, almost ruthlessly. “That’s true every day we step of our towers,” Mitch told him.

Mitch was ready to fight this point, but Brody had no fight left. Shaking his head, he sighed again. “Maybe you’re right.”

It was an agreement of the worst possible kind, but Mitch would take it. To not hear Brody talk about his own impending death like it was a forgone conclusion, Mitch would damn well take it. “Of course I’m right.”

Brody closed his eyes for a moment, letting his pale face dip back, facing up once more. “You know, last time, at the bottom of the bay, I was alone,” he reflected quietly. “I thought I was going to die alone.”

“I found you, though,” Mitch reminded him, almost insistent on that point. “I got you out.”


Brody opened his eyes, looking at Mitch. “Yeah,” he said, smiling faintly. “Yeah, you did.”

-o-

The water rose.

Brody’s neck was starting to go under.

Mitch felt the weight of the water on his chest.

The weight of everything.

The minutes dwindled.

And the water rose higher still.

-o-

Then, something happened.

Well, a lot had happened, but this was unexpected.

In a good way for once.

See, as the water filled the base of the vehicle, it behaved just the way Mitch had predicted. It shifted. The whole truck groaned, and Brody yelped in surprise, but Mitch braced himself in anticipation. It was unsettling as the truck rocked, finally careening into a different angle as it sank a little deeper into the bay.

The motion was over quickly, and it hadn’t been as dramatic as it sounded. It afforded Brody maybe two extra minutes of air, but it did something far more important.

It shifted the weight of the barrels.

Incidental in the grander scheme of things, but enough to give Mitch a newfound leverage.

More than enough.

Mitch didn’t hesitate to capitalize. With the shift of the weight, Mitch felt a surge of adrenaline. When he pushed against the barrel, this time it moved.

Encouraged, Mitch pushed again, using all of his brute strength to push it up and up until finally he was able to wriggle free.

“Holy shit,” Brody said, and he started to struggle against his own impediments. “You’re free!”

“The weight shifted,” Mitch said, quickly going to aid Brody. “Gave me some leverage.”

Brody didn’t need to be instructed on this point. He pushed and wriggled, and Mitch judged the best location to provide additional pressure.

Breath short, Brody shook his head with a scowl. “It’s not working!” he yelled, face going red as he worked hard against the weight. “Why the hell isn’t it working?”

From his new position, Mitch could easily see why. Brody was covered by not just one -- but multiple items. They were criss crossed over each other, laid under and over at indeterminate angles. With enough time and patience, Mitch could find a way to undo the mess, lifting the pieces off Brody one by one.

Time, however, was not a luxury he had right now.

Well, it wasn’t a luxury Brody had.

Not with the water lapping against his chin.

“It’s going to have to shift a lot more before this moves,” Mitch said, and he looked around, assessing his next move.

On the ground, Brody looked like he hadn’t quite grasped that last part. “But how are we going to make it shift?” he asked.

Mitch nodded his head along as he did the mental calculations again. “Once the compartment is flooded, it’ll be much easier.”

Brody gaped at him. “But if the compartment’s flooded, then I’m dead!”

“Not necessarily,” Mitch muttered, because right now he legitimately didn’t have time for Brody’s panic.

Over Brody’s protests, Mitch moved through the interior of the truck, making his way over the debris back to the door. From here, it was much easier to see the situation they were dealing with. Armored cars, after all, were designed to be impenetrable from the outside.

Not from the inside.

No one was worried about someone breaking in from the inside.

In fact, someone being locked inside incidentally would be a far more dangerous venture. These weren’t bank vaults with automatic timers and that shit. These were trucks.

Of course there was a release mechanism.

Mitch found it, running his hands over it.

Then, he looked back to Brody.

Still trapped, still bleeding and still very, very incredulous.

Mind made up, Mitch trudged back through the water. When he got close enough, he lowered himself down in the water until he was face to face with Brody. The situation was chaotic, so he wanted Brody to be clear on what was about to happen next.

“Okay, so I found a release,” he explained.

“A release?” Brody asked, apparently dumbfounded by the word.

“For the door,” Mitch said. “So we can get out.”

Brody blinked a few times. But then he shook his head. “But if we open the door, won’t it flood more quickly?”

“Well, yeah,” Mitch said. “But we’ll be able to get out.”

“But water will rush in,” Brody said, eyes going even water as his breathing visibly started to worsen. He had to hold his head up a little bit to keep his chin clear of the rising water. “I’ll drown.”

“Well, you’re about two minutes from drowning anyway,” Mitch said, trying to be reasonable.

Brody did not think this was a reasonable reaction at all. He looked distraught.

Mitch had to admit, that probably wasn’t the most comforting approach. He tried again. “You just have hold your breath for a minute,” he said. “Once I open the door, I can surface and get some supplemental oxygen to tide you over until we can get this off you.”

It really was a pretty good plan, all things considered. It wasn’t like Mitch had a lot to work with or a lot of time to prep. Given their compromised situation, it was better than Brody could have hoped for.

And yet, still, Brody wasn’t convinced. “You’re going to leave me here?” he asked, voice sounding suddenly younger than he was. “You’re just going to go and leave me here?”

“I’m coming back,” Mitch said.

Brody spluttered, actually spitting water out of his mouth. “It’s not that easy, though.”

“Of course it is,” Mitch said, too aware of how much time Brody was wasting with this.

“No,” Brody said, and he was almost pleading now. “You can’t go.”

Victims did all sorts of strange shit when they were scared. They lost their reason; they lost their sense. They gibbered and dithered and were generally hard to placate sometimes.

With the water over his chin now, Mitch had to allow Brody this: he was a victim now.

And he desperately needed Mitch to save him.

“I have to go,” Mitch said steadily.

Brody’s breathing hitched again. “But I’ll be alone.”

“For a minute, maybe two, tops,” Mitch said. “We’re not that far down, here. It won’t take me long to surface and there’s support staff on the surface--”

But Brody was shaking his head, even more rapidly than before. “I’m going to die here,” he said, and he swallowed a mouthful of water inadvertently. “By myself. I’m going to die.”

Mitch didn’t have time for this; well, Brody didn’t have time for this. And since Mitch wasn’t about to let Brody die, it was just all not enough time for this.

Whatever this was.

Brody was trained, he was experienced.

So what the hell was this?

“You’re not going to die here,” Mitch said, but his patience was starting to fail him now. “I’m coming back.”

Brody had come close to panicking before. He’d been scared, nervous, anxious, and unreasonably on edge. But those flashes of panic were nothing compared to this.

Now, Mitch could almost see it in Brody’s eyes, as he lost control of his emotions. He could almost see the doubt take over, overwhelming him completely. Whereas Mitch’s reassurances had buoyed him up before, now they were almost falling on deaf ears.

Brody wasn’t choosing not to listen at this point.

As the terror gripped him, he actually couldn’t listen.

Mitch had seen it before in some victims. Panic attacks.

It made rescues that much more difficult.

And this one?

Was nearly impossible.

He needed Brody calm and collected, ready for what was to come. If Mitch opened the door without Brody being in control of his wits, then the younger man was going to drown, no doubt, straight away, long before Mitch could make it back down with supplemental oxygen.

Mitch still wanted to avoid that, if he could.

And with Brody, he had to think he could.

“You have to listen to me,” Mitch coached him now, finding Brody’s shoulders and resting his hands on them in an attempt to center him. “I’m coming back.”

Brody was crying now, though it was clear that he wasn’t quite aware of it as his panic truly took hold. “Please, don’t go,” he said between halting breaths as he spit more water. He gagged for a moment, and then added. “Just stay.”

“But if I stay, we’ll both die,” Mitch said. “I have to go.”

Convulsively, Brody choked on the water again as his breathing continue to stagger out of control. “I don’t want to be alone.”

It was telling. Most people who panicked begged for Mitch to save them.

Brody wasn’t asking to be saved.

He didn’t want to be alone.

It was also telling that this was the thing that made Brody panic. Not being trapped, not the rising water levels: the idea that Mitch was going to leave.

“But I’m coming back,” Mitch said, giving Brody’s shoulders a little shake for good measure. “I swear to you, I’m coming back.”

Mitch had a tendency to speak in a way that made people believe him. His calm, his strength -- usually worked every time.

Brody, as was probably to be expected, was an exception to that rule.

The calmer Mitch was, the more frantic Brody became.

Sobbing now, Brody alternated his words with coughing. “Everyone makes those promises, but no one means it,” he rambled frantically. “People say shit, and they don’t mean it. No one means it. No one stays, not when it matters. They all leave, they leave. They just leave.”

This was no time to play shrink, but damn. What kind of shit did Brody have to go through to come to that conclusion?

“Not me,” Mitch said, as resolute as he could. “You know that I don’t say shit I don’t mean.”

Brody stilled, meeting Mitch’s eyes through his tears. “No one’s ever come back,” he said, voice no more than a whisper now. “No one ever comes back.”

When Brody first showed up at Baywatch, Mitch had pegged him as too selfish to be a team player. He’d been right: Brody could be selfish, and he did struggle being part of a team.

But maybe -- just maybe -- the one didn’t cause the other. Maybe they were both the result of the same fundamental problem Brody had. Maybe Brody didn’t know how to be selfless because he’d never been part of a team before, not really. Maybe he’d never been part of a family that made it easy to trust.

Maybe Brody was a lot more screwed up than Mitch had ever realized.

Maybe the Vomit Comet wasn’t just made by a series of disastrous choices on Brody’s part.

Maybe it was made by a lifelong turn of events that told Brody that nothing lasts and no one stays.

A failure to trust, a fear of abandonment: you could call it anything you wanted, but right now, Mitch just had to figure out a way to put it to rest before Brody’s panic killed both of them.

Lifting his hands out of the water, Mitch let go of Brody’s shoulders and gripped his face instead. “You need to listen to me, very clearly right now, because we are almost out of time,” Mitch said, face so close to Brody that their noses were almost touching. He could feel Brody’s breathing quicken and his heart pound beneath his skin as Mitch refused to loosen his grip. “I don’t know what shit other people have told you. I don’t know what promises people made that they didn’t follow through on. But I’m not like those other people. I said I’m coming back, and I swear to God, I am coming back.”

Brody’s blue eyes were unnaturally bright in the dimness, but Mitch did not let go.

“You need to understand this point,” Mitch said, letting each word drop heavily into the air between them. “I am coming back. Do you understand?”

His face in Mitch’s hand, Brody blinked again, He swallowed, stilled his breathing and then, eyes still locked on Mitch in barely controlled terror, he nodded.

It wasn’t much, but Mitch didn’t have time to worry about more. As it was, he held on for one last second, willing Brody to understand that what happened next wasn’t the end.

Because Mitch did have to leave.

In order to save Brody’s life.

He had to leave now.

“When I open the door, you hold your breath,” he ordered. “You hold your breath and you wait for me, okay? You wait for me.”

Brody nodded again, a little surer than before.

The water was over Brody’s mouth, and he had to tip his head back just to get a breath, and Mitch let go, charging back across the filling truck to the release mechanism on the door. He heard Brody yelp and gargle, and Mitch couldn’t afford another second.

He grasped the latch.

Mitch took a breath, said a prayer, and pulled open the door.

NEXT