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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Family Issues (2/2)

December 26th, 2018 (03:30 pm)

Continued from Part One.



-o-

Mitch opened the door, fast, strong and sure.

The water that flooded inside as a response was faster, stronger, more sure.

The force of it nearly knocked Mitch off his feet, and it was all he could do to grab onto the door to avoid being swept back inside. From within, as the water rapidly started to rise, Mitch heard the faintest sound of Brody’s yell.

It sounded like his name.

As if Mitch needed more motivation to swim faster.

With a powerful kick, Mitch cut against the flow of water, pushing his way through it and out into the seabed. The rush of bubbles was disoriented, but Mitch’s instincts were strong. He oriented himself toward the surface, and pulled away from the downward current to swim up with fast, steady movements.

When he broke the surface, he wasn’t even breathless.

At least, not from oxygen deprivation.

The tightness in his chest, however, could easily be attributed to the inklings of his own panic.

Because here he was at the surface.

And Brody was still underwater.

Literally holding his breath, waiting for Mitch to return.

Shit.

Mitch was used to high pressure situations, but the thought of Brody drowning to death when Mitch promised he’d be back -- that shit was impossible to stomach.

Brody was alone right now.

Mitch wasn’t.

Stephanie was next to him, almost instantly, treading water next to him with a life preserver between them. “Mitch!” she said, sliding the preserver closer. “What the hell happened? We’d just gotten the armored car people here to open it--”

Mitch shook his head because there wasn’t time. “We were pinned down, taking on water,” he explained all in a rush.

Stephanie nodded, but she didn’t understand. “Let’s get you back to shore so we can talk--”

Mitch resisted, refusing to be pulled ashore. “No, Brody’s still down there, and he’s still trapped,” he said, more vehemently than before.

Her eyes widened.

“The debris shifted, so I was able to get out, but Brody was still stuck,” he said. “I had to open the door or he was going to drown--”

And he still might, if Mitch didn’t go back down.

Stephanie nodded toward CJ, Summer and Ronnie on the pier. “We’ll get the backup crew--”

For all that Stephanie was doing everything right, Mitch knew it was all right. “No,” he said. “I promised him I’d be back--”

“You just got out,” Stephanie reasoned, reaching for his arm. “Let’s get you back--”

Mitch pulled away again, more sharply than before. “I promised him,” he said. “Now give me an O2 mask, and let me go.”

She frowned, clearly trying to see if Mitch was injured in some way to provoke him like this. “Mitch--”

“I keep my promises,” he said, voice almost dangerous now. “And I’m sure as hell not going to break this one.”

Stephanie hesitated, a little taken aback by Mitch’s vehemence. But her eyes were on him, and she could see that he meant what he said now, just like he always did. Even if, for once, he wasn’t perfectly calm and collected.

Even if it felt like Mitch might start having a panic attack of his own if someone didn’t give him some O2.

“CJ,” Stephanie finally called up the pier. “Hand me the diving tank!”

CJ looked a little perplexed, but Ronnie reached down and grabbed it. CJ took it and tossed it down. From beside them, Summer hovered. She looked a little panicked herself. “Where’s Brody?”

Funny, Brody was panicking because he thought he was alone.

And here the rest of them were, panicking because they wanted him back.

Mitch might appreciate the irony later.

Right now, he had a rescue to complete and a promise to keep.

He took the tank from Stephanie, inhaling deeply.

Then he dove beneath the surface again.

-o-

Swimming down was always more time consuming in reality, but most people tended to panic more going up, when their oxygen reserves were dwindling.

Mitch had probably never swam faster.

And it had never felt longer.

Going under, Mitch’s dive was accurate, and it was easy to see the massive truck as it perched at the bottom of the ocean. It was mostly resting on all four wheels now, the weight of the water inside bringing it all the way to the bottom. That meant the structure was secure now.

It also meant that Brody was fully submerged.

Clutching the oxygen closer, Mitch circumvented the now-open door, swimming into the murky interior. In the far corner, there was still a small air pocket left. Before looking for Brody, Mitch made his way to the air, surfacing for one quick breath to dive back down again.

He hadn’t needed the air yet.

But he had no way of knowing how long it would take to free Brody.

If Brody was even still conscious.

Mitch couldn’t have taken more than a minute; Brody could hold his breath a minute. If he didn’t panic, that was. Given how Mitch had left him, it wasn’t an assumption he felt safe making.

Still.

Mitch swam back toward the back of the van, noting the familiar barrels and then, there.

Brody was there.

His pale skin was like a ghost in the eerie darkness.

But his eyes were open.

They landed on Mitch.

Swimming forward, Mitch reached out, a hand on Brody’s shoulder with a smile.

See, he said with a squeeze on Brody’s shoulder. I promised.

The surprise on Brody’s face was indelible.

It changed to something else entirely when Mitch hooked him up to the oxygen tank and he took his first breath. A second breath, and he met Mitch’s gaze again.

A third breath, and there was no trace of surprise.

By now, Brody was breathing steady again.

His expression, easily discernible in the water, was one of acceptance.

The look he’d had on his face when Mitch made him an official member of the team.

Only better.

Mitch felt his own resolve solidify, and he turned his attention back to the debris. It had shifted again, and though it was still too heavy for Brody to lift on his own, Mitch could provide superior leverage from his position. When Mitch lifted, Brody did not need to be told to push. Working together, inch by inch, Brody was able to wiggle free.

Without waiting for an invitation, Mitch grabbed Brody around the chest and dragged him to the exit. Outside the truck, Brody pulled away and their eyes met. Mitch’s chest throbbed, but it had little to do with his need for oxygen. Underneath the oxygen mask, Brody grinned.

This time, they surfaced together.

-o-

Breaking the surface, it was a big to do. The Baywatch team was overjoyed to see them, and Summer nearly dragged Brody out of the water by herself when they finally hit dry land. If she’d been taking it slow before, Mitch was pretty sure this had moved them ahead at lightspeed. Their will-they-won’t-they dynamic had changed into hell-yes-they-are.

It was all well enough. There were plenty of questions from the police about the suspects and what evidence might still be underwater, and the armored car people were anxious to retrieve their cargo. Stephanie wanted to talk about paperwork, which was her own way of hovering to make sure he was okay. The press even wanted in, and by the time the he and Brody had been looked over by the paramedics, a lot of time had passed.

A lot of time to allow everyone to calm down, collect themselves, recover.

But, Mitch reflected as he saw Brody seated by himself on the pier, not enough time to forget.

Not that he necessarily wanted to forget. It might be easier, to conveniently not talk about what happened beneath the surface. But Mitch wasn’t one inclined to convenience.

Especially not when it mattered.

He had a feeling this one mattered.

Thus determined, he made his way toward Brody. Brody, seated on one of the benches, tensed when he saw Mitch coming. He appeared to look for some way to preoccupy himself, but when he came up with nothing, he attempted a bland smile instead.

“Summer’s gone off to get some food,” Brody explained unprompted as Mitch sat down next to him. “I know Steph wants us to get back to HQ for paperwork, but…”

Brody didn’t finish the thought. He didn’t have to.

Instead, Mitch asked, “You okay?”

“What? Yeah,” Brody said, a little too quickly, a lot too dismissively. “Clean bill of health. You can ask the medics.”

That was true, but it also wasn’t what Mitch had really been asking. He suspected Brody knew that as the younger man lapsed into an awkward silence.

Mitch would have preferred to let it be. Brody didn’t want to talk about it, and it wasn’t like Mitch thought people should be held accountable for their weakest moments. But he also didn’t want to ignore the weakness. Not when Mitch suspected he might be able to help.

Not when Mitch suspected that he had already invested too much in Brody not to help.

A coworker might let things be.

A friend wouldn’t.

Mitch cleared his throat. “Look,” he started, feeling his face flush a little. “About what happened down there.”

Brody’s face immediately flushed as well, much faster, much more crimson. “I’m sorry I totally freaked out,” he said, words in a rush. “I swear, it’s not how I always act under pressure.”

Mitch knew that. Two months and he’d seen Brody thrive under pressure.

This wasn’t the same thing, though. Mitch knew it. He had a feeling Brody did, too.

“This was a different kind of pressure,” Mitch said, careful and diplomatic. “That kind of stress isn’t typical, not even for us.”

Brody shrugged, somewhat bleakly. “Maybe,” he said. “I just. I don’t know. Thought I was going to die.”

Mitch continued to nod along. “I know,” he said. Then, he hesitated, glancing at Brody as he added, “But I did say I was coming back.”

With a sigh, Brody seemed to resign himself to the inevitability if the conversation. “I know,” he said, sounding guilty. He looked at Mitch. “You don’t get it, though. All the shit people say and never mean.”

Mitch was resolute. “Not me.”

Brody’s expression broke for a moment. He sat up a little, looking up as he regained his composure. “You say that, but I know people, okay. Even good people,” he said. “They change their minds. They have to once they realize that, whatever, I’m just not worth the effort. I mean, I get it. It’s not hard to see the calculation, okay. I’m not worth much, and you’re going to figure it out sooner or later, too.”

Brody was denigrating himself, but Mitch was taking it personally. He bristled, realizing too clearly that he took it personally because Brody was his own now. Better or worse, Brody was his.

It had taken him two months to come to that conclusion.

He didn’t want Brody to take longer.

The case today had proven that neither of them could afford that.

“I didn’t put you on this team because you’re not worth anything,” Mitch said. “I put you on the team because you belonged here.”

Brody’s day shook his head. “But I know I’m the rookie,” he said. “I’m the guy just barely off probation. This case today, I mean, it shows what we’ve known all along. I’m the weak link. You’re probably better off without me.”

Mitch sat back a little, eyes narrowed. This wasn’t the conversation he’d come prepared for, and he’d come prepared for a difficult conversation. Even so, this one didn’t compute. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Brody sat back as well, but his eyes were wide in surprise. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Mitch screwed up his face. “I’m trying to tell you it’s okay,” he said. “That whatever shit you’ve got going on in that messed up head of yours, it’s okay.”

Brody stared at him, blinking for a moment. “Really?”

“Yes,” Mitch said, a touch of exasperation in his expression. “What are you talking about?”

Brody stammered slightly. “Well, uh. I thought you were going to reprimand me. You know, for freaking out.”

Mitch did his best not to be indignant. But he was very indignant. “But why would I do that?”

“Because it’s not good for a lifeguard to freak out in high pressure situations?” Brody said, though he sounded less certain than before.

“Well, it’s not,” Mitch said. “But you were calm that entire rescue. You only freaked out when I had to leave you. You only lost it when you thought you were alone.”

Mitch said it more plainly than he had perhaps intended, but the soft and gentle approach clearly was not going to be the most effective for Brody.

Still, just because it was an effective approach didn’t mean it was a comfortable one.

Mitch felt his face flush again.

Brody, sitting next to him, stiffened. He said nothing, as if he could not acknowledge it and then it somehow wouldn’t be true.

With a sigh, Mitch knew he’d come too far to back down now. This was a conversation they were going to finish. Hopefully for the better. “Look, I know there’s a lot about you I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, you were a big story at Rio. The shit you’d been through. A foster kid, right?”

Brody’s face darkened as he withdrew somewhat. “I hated that story.”

“Why?” Mitch asked.

Brody huffed. “Because I didn’t want it to, like, be all there was,” he said. “I mean, it’s not that impressive that I win races because my parents didn’t want me. Seriously, though. The fact that I went through different foster homes and shit, that just made me want to swim faster.”

“It still affected you, though. It made you who you are,” Mitch pointed out, treading a bit more carefully now. “I mean, how many foster homes did you go through anyway?”

Brody shrugged, trying to be indifferent, but he was a little stiff still. “Three -- well, three long term ones,” he said. He shook his head. “There were always lots of temporary placement and you know, whatever.”

Mitch didn’t know whatever, but he could make a few educated guesses. If not by his short knowledge of the foster care system, then by Brody’s pronounced abandonment issues. “That’s not what most people have to go through,” he said, because Brody probably knew that but he probably didn’t know what that meant. Shit, Mitch hadn’t known what it mean until Brody was having a panic attack about being left alone. “When you came to Baywatch, you had nothing. No one. All your sponsors had dropped you; all your coaches had quit. No family to call for support. All you had was two gold medals and a letter of recommendation. So no wonder they mattered to you.”

In response, Brody winced. “Well, it’s not like anyone had a reason to stay,” he said. “I did barf in a pool and then went around giving interviews that showed just how much of an asshole I could be. I didn’t like me by the time I came to Baywatch; I didn’t exactly expect anyone else to.”

“You were definitely an unlikeable asshole, don’t get me wrong,” Mitch said, because that was still a point Brody needed to learn from. “But family sticks by you through that shit. Family is what keeps you ground. And you didn’t have family. I never thought about it.”

Brody exhaled heavily, and he shook his head again. “You don’t need to think about it,” he said, almost as if he hoped Mitch wouldn’t. “It’s the past. Some shitty sob story that no one needs to hear.”

“No one but you, maybe,” Mitch retorted. “Brody, what happened down there in that truck, that was tied to all this other stuff. Your past -- one as complicated as yours -- is going to affect you and not in a good way. You can’t sit here and pretend like you’re not screwed up.”

The color was draining from Brody face again. “So, what, then?” he asked, suddenly a little hoarse. “You are going to reprimand me? Or what? Fire me?”

Patience was the most Mitch could strive for, and Brody never did make it easy. It would be easier to fire him at this point. Or just not talk about it at all.

But Brody was his now. His responsibility, his coworker, his roommates. His friend.

Damn it.

Brody had been scared Mitch would leave him because that last point still wasn’t clear to him. Because as much as Mitch sometimes wanted to kick Brody to the curb, Brody was living in actual fear that it was going to happen someday.

“Brody, no,” he said. He drew a breath and faced the younger lifeguard. “You need to understand that you’re not alone anymore. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve been through, no one’s going to abandon you now. You’re part of this team, my team, no matter what. I will always stand by that. Always.”

Brody was caught by that, transfixed as much by Mitch’s words as by the confidence of his gaze. His mouth opened slightly, but he didn’t have any words to answer.

Mitch inclined his head gently. “Do you understand?”

Mitch had asked that question underwater, holding fast until Brody had nodded.

Here, on dry land, Brody was able to come up with an answer that was a bit more nuanced. A bit more honest. “Not really,” he confessed. “Like, I’ve spent a lot of time, right. My whole life, really. Just trying to earn my way in. Because it was always the same. One mistake, and I was out. Coaches, sponsors, foster parents -- none of them stuck because I always messed things up. I mean, that’s probably why my parents didn’t want me in the first place. Everyone figures out I’m not worth it.”

Mitch shook his head, more confident than ever. “That’s not how it is at Baywatch,” he said. “You know we’re different.”

“Is it, though?” Brody asked. “I barely earned a spot on this team, and if I hadn’t almost been killed on the case with Leeds, you probably wouldn’t have taken pity on me at all.”

“Dude,” Mitch said, sitting back. This time he was marginally offended. “You think you got this job out of pity?”

“Well, it couldn’t be for my knowledge of lifeguard policy,” Brody said with a sardonic tone of self deprecation.

But he was telling the truth.

Shit, he was telling the truth.

“Brody, you had a rough start, okay, I admit that,” Mitch said. “I went out of my way to show you up when you got here because you were a cocky asshole who showed no regard for the team. But you proved yourself. When I was ready to cut you loose, you showed me that I was wrong about you. And so when the time came, I didn’t put you on this team out of pity or obligation. I did it because you belong with us, here. You belong with me.”

Brody was trembling now. Fear, horror, hope, confusion: all of it and then some.

Mitch continued. “Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t get to act like shit. That doesn’t mean you get a free pass on being a moron,” he said. “But it does mean that it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to have issues. We all get scared.”

Brody’s eyes went up. “You don’t get scared.”

“When I realized that you were going to run out of air first and that there was nothing I could do about it, I was,” Mitch admitted. “The thought of watching you die scared me shitless.”

The eyebrows went down just as fast as they had risen. “It did?”

The question was so damn sincere that Mitch’s chest actually clenched. “You’re my team, Brody,” he said. Then he sighed because it was about time he admitted it for both their sakes. “You’re my family. Of course it did.”

This time, something shifted in Brody’s expression as he studied Mitch in the few seconds that followed. Beyond confusion. Beyond denial.

Hope was taking root.

And understanding was coming with it.

“You really do mean that,” he said, sounding like he was in a little bit of awe. “Don’t you?”

Now was not the time to flinch, and Mitch wasn’t about to screw it up. He was steady, uncompromising. A rock. “I told you,” he said. He allowed himself the smallest hint of a rueful smile. “I never say things I don’t mean.”

In return, Brody grinned. “That’s cool, man,” he said. “Thank you.”

“So we cool, then?” Mitch asked. “Next time, we can talk about your fears before they become problems in the field?”

Brody nodded with him. “And next time I’ll believe you when you tell me that you’re not going to leave me alone to die.”

“That would be helpful,” Mitch agreed.

“Though it’d be more helpful if we didn’t almost die all the time,” Brody pointed out. “This is, what, the second case in two months?”

“Eh, it’s Baywatch,” Mitch said. “If we’re going to accept you for all your weaknesses, then you have to accept us, too.”

Brody chuckled. “I can probably do that,” he agreed. Then, he hesitated. “Just, you know, one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

Hedging now, Brody made a shrug as he winced. “About what happened down there.”

“I told you, it’s cool,” Mitch said. “We’ll work on the abandonment thing so you don’t have to be afraid of it anymore.”

“Yeah, yeah, no, that’s cool, that’s cool,” Brody said. “I just, uh. I mean. You’re not going, I don’t know, tell everyone that I, uh…”

Brody was having trouble finishing the thought due to his obvious embarrassment.

Mitch had been pretty nice to Brody throughout this.

He could afford this cheap shot.

“Cried like a little girl?” Mitch prompted.

Brody frowned. “I was going to say freaked out.”

“Oh, well,” Mitch said with feigned underplay. “That, too.”

Not for the first time, not for the last time, Brody blushed again, but this time, he didn’t have to look away.

Breaking into a smile, Mitch patted his arm. “It’s a family issue now, between you and me,” he said. “And you know you can trust me with it.”

Brody had a lot of doubt, and he’d continued to have a lot of doubts. But that much, he believed. He smiled back. “Thanks.”

Mitch drew away, still smiling. This had been about Brody’s fear of abandonment, but Brody wasn’t the only person in the world who wanted someone to count on, someone to be there with them for the good and the bad. Mitch knew that Baywatch was family, but he’d lived a alone a long time. Longer than he realized. The thought of losing that had scared him almost as much as the thought of being alone had scared Brody.

It was just that Mitch knew how to hide it better is all. “That’s what family’s for,” he said, and it was as much for Brody as it was for himself.

Because no one wanted to be alone.

Not even Mitch Buchannon.