Mitch had thought it was hard, finding Brody unconscious and watching him get treatment. And to be fair, it was hard. It was hard to see Brody fighting for his life, to see him gripped by seizures, unable to breathe on his own.
This, sitting here alone and idle in a waiting room, was a hell of a lot harder.
He’d been stupid to think that he could ever sit out on this case. It had seemed impossible yesterday to maintain a backup role for Brody, watching the action. But had he really thought that removing himself entirely would be better?
Mitch wasn’t someone who left shit up to fate. No, he was inherently a man of action. He was proactive. He didn’t wait for solutions; he made them.
How the hell had he forgotten that?
It had only taken the smallest slip up. He’d only had to let it go for a few hours.
And the whole damn thing had fallen apart.
Now, he had no choice. Up until this point, he’d had a lot of choices. He’d had choices about what to say, what to do, where to be. Those choices were gone now. The decisions were made for him.
Mitch had to live with that. No matter what happened, Mitch could only accept it.
But if Brody died?
If he never recovered?
Mitch couldn’t accept that.
He didn’t even know how.
Two weeks ago, he’d offered Brody family. He’d gone out and impulsively bought the guy a whole room full of furniture. He’d cleaned out his spare room, ready for the full commitment.
Then, at the first sign of difficulty, he’d wanted to bail. He knew it wasn’t that simple; he knew he’d had good reasons, for the sake of the team. He knew that Brody had been stubborn about this, determined to protect the team without compromising his cover. That didn’t change the simple fact that Mitch had promised to be there for Brody and he’d failed to follow through.
Now Brody was fighting for his life.
Mitch was sitting in a waiting room.
To think, this was what he’d wanted. He’d wanted out. He’d wanted to abdicate responsibility. He’d wanted to let someone else handle it for once.
Shit. Mitch needed to be careful what he wished for.
He was so lost in his thought, that he didn’t hear the sound of motion next to him. In fact, he didn’t realize that anyone had sat down next to him until he opened his eyes and sat Stephanie sitting next to him. On his other side was CJ and Ronnie. Beyond Stephanie, Summer was sitting rigidly in a chair.
For a long moment, no one said anything. Finally, Stephanie seemed to collect herself. This had obviously been her idea. “It’s all over the news,” she said. “Brody overdosed.”
She didn’t ask it; it wasn’t a question. It was a recitation of fact.
“I’m sorry,” CJ said, and she put a comforting hand on Mitch’s shoulder. “It must have been so hard to find him like that.”
“But, you know, it explains so much,” Ronnie said. “His behavior these last few weeks; how much he’s changed. If drugs were involved--”
CJ quickly interjected, “Addiction is a disease, Mitch. We can make sure he gets the help he needs.”
“And who knows,” Stephanie said, the words sounding just slightly forced. “If he can kick the habit, maybe he can make things right at Baywatch.”
“Sure,” Ronnie said, sounding much more enthusiastic about it. “And if we know, we can help him manage it.”
“We’re not here to judge him,” CJ assured him.
Stephanie nodded. “We’re here to support you,” she said. “Both of you.”
Mitch stared at them. He stared at the forced compassion on Stephanie’s face. He looked at the genuine concern on CJ’s. He even looked at Ronnie’s well intentioned support. He looked at Summer who hadn’t lifted her eyes off the floor since she sat down.
They’d come, which was something.
They were here.
They were even here, in a way, for Brody.
Because they thought Brody was using drugs. They thought he was a drug addict. They thought the last few weeks could be neatly explained away by Brody using drugs. They thought they could forgive Brody and help him recover.
And none of them, not one, had entertained any other possible thought.
None of them even seemed surprised.
They all thought it made total sense.
Of course Brody was a drug addict. Of course he was using. Of course he needed to go to rehab and work to earn his place back on the team. Of course Mitch was the hero for saving his life when Brody had so callously thrown it away.
The swell of anger in Mitch was as unexpected as it was strong.
He’d let the paramedics think what they wanted. He’d accept the doctor’s premature judgements. Hell, he’d let the press run whatever stories they wanted, and he’d let Ellerbee work the case anyway he saw fit.
But here? With his team? With his family?
With Brody’s family?
Mitch could do it here.
Not with them.
Brody had taken this case for them more than for himself. Brody had ripped himself apart for their benefit. Whether Mitch agreed with every decision, he knew that Brody had given himself up for them. For the team. For the family that he had chosen.
And here they were. Each and every one of them. Turning their back on him.
Mitch knew it wasn’t totally fair. He knew Brody had worked hard to alienate them.
But family was family.
It was a choice.
Mitch shook his head. “Brody’s not a drug addict.”
Stephanie’s face went blank, but CJ looked even more sympathetic. Ronnie was the one who spluttered to reply. “Well, addict is a strong word,” he said. “Maybe he just started using.”
“Again,” CJ added, a little awkwardly. She winced, like she was sorry to say it. “Everyone knows it was a drug conviction that got him into trouble after Rio.”
“You don’t need to protect him,” Stephanie said, more concretely than either of them. “He made some bad choices over the last few weeks--”
Mitch shook his head again, refusing to let her finish. “Brody didn’t do this to himself,” he said. CJ and Summer exchanged worried looks, and Stephanie looked like she’d seen this coming. “Brody’s not shooting up drugs behind tower one. That’s not what these last few weeks have been about.”
“So is it about the drug shipment then?” Stephanie asked. “Yeah, we know about that, too. The cops won’t confirm it, but it’s our beach. Of course we know.”
Mitch sighed, knowing that his denials would be harder for them to believe now. “There’s more going on--”
“Yeah,” Summer snapped, lifting her head. Her eyes were red. “Yeah, like Brody’s chosen drugs over his team. That’s what’s going on. You can say anything you want, Mitch, but he hasn’t acted like himself, and I would love another explanation, but I can’t find one. Can you?”
He could, that was the problem.
He really could.
He’d promised Brody he’d keep it a secret. But then, he’d also promised Brody he’d have his back. Mitch’s mistake had been letting go of the second promise instead of reassessing the first.
It had made sense, keeping Baywatch in the dark. For the cops, obviously keeping things as contained as possible was the smart thing to do. In any other context, it would have made sense.
This wasn’t any other context.
This was Baywatch.
Brody was so intent on being selfless, on taking responsibility for himself, that he hadn’t allowed him to think about the reality that family wasn’t just about sacrifices. Sometimes family was about sharing burdens.
Mitch should have let the team share this burden a hell of a lot earlier. Because Brody, as it turned out, needed a lot more care and attention than he’d probably realized.
“It was a case,” he said, and he was looking at Summer now. “Brody was working a case for Ellerbee. He was undercover, trying to infiltrate the new leadership structure at the Huntley.”
Summer’s face contorted for a moment, and she shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Wait, new leadership?” Stephanie said. “You mean Leeds’ little sister? That made headlines last month.”
“Yeah, she’s been taking over where her sister left off, and that includes a drug operation,” Mitch said. “Only this time, Baywatch was her direct target.”
“Revenge?” CJ asked. “She was coming after us?”
“She was,” Mitch said. “So Ellerbee thought that Leeds would be tempted to hire an inside man on Baywatch to undermine it.”
“And that’s why Brody was acting like a dick?” Ronnie asked.
“Exactly,” Mitch said. “And in turn, Brody was going to ask for a cut of the drug operation.”
“Which would be what the cops wanted to bust,” Stephanie said. She pursed her lips, tipping her head to the side. “Did Brody tell you this?”
“No, I was there when they offered him the deal,” Mitch said.
“The deal?” Summer asked.
“After his public intoxication charge,” Mitch said. “That shit was the only real thing about this. The DA threatened to revoke his previous plea deal and offered a new one instead. The trick being that Brody had to get dirt on Leeds to secure a conviction. This was the real thing.”
“You’re telling me that the last two weeks have been some kind of act?” Summer asked, her voice starting to rise. CJ reached across to her, but Summer jerked away. “This is all some operation?”
“He hated what he was doing to you guys, but he was doing it to protect you,” Mitch said.
“Or to save his own skin,” Stephanie said. “Mitch, he wanted to avoid jail.”
“I still don’t get why he couldn’t tell us,” CJ said.
Ronnie looked conflicted. “But if Mitch says it was undercover--”
“People have said a lot this week!” CJ shot back.
“I don’t know,” Stephanie said, shaking her head. “There’s only so much acting, and how did he end up with a syringe in his hand?”
“Because you guys got him fired this morning,” Mitch said, his own voice starting to gain intensity now. “Once Leeds found out, he was of no use to her. So she decided to eliminate him.”
Stephanie was the only one confident enough to take offense. “We didn’t do this,” she said. “He got himself fired.”
“We didn’t know, though,” Ronnie started.
“Does it matter?” CJ asked. “You can’t act like he acted and not expect consequences.”
“Sure, but we do know now,” Ronnie said. “I mean, what if Mitch is right--”
CJ groaned. “Why does he always have to be right?”
“And that doesn’t make any of this okay!” Stephanie said, a little forceful now. “I mean, even if Brody recovers, even if he gets help -- he still has to make this right.”
“You guys are missing the point,” Mitch said. “I’m not blaming you, but I’m also not blaming him. Brody needs us, guys. He was there for you, and now he needs you to be here for him.”
Summer scoffed. Loudly. “I was there,” she said. CJ tried to reach out again, but this time, Summer stood up and shook her head. “I tried to be there and he pushed me away. He told me we were done.”
Ronnie looked pained. “Summer--”
“No, you know what,” Summer said. “I came here for Mitch, not for Brody. So I’m out of here.”
She turned abruptly, walking away before anyone could stop her. After a beat, CJ got up, too. “I need to see if she’s okay,” she said, taking off behind her.
“CJ,” Ronnie called, and he was on his feet, too. He cast an anxious look back at Mitch. “Let me know if something changes. I’ll be back, I’ll be--”
But he was gone, too, heading off down the hallway after the girls.
That just left Stephanie.
Somehow, she looked less sympathetic than when she’d arrived. Mitch wasn’t sure if she was waiting for him to apologize -- or if he was waiting for her to apologize.
After a moment, she drew in a breath and tightened her jaw. Her eyebrows twitched, and she looked him in the eyes. “You really want me to believe this was all some act?”
“You think I’m lying?” Mitch asked.
“You lied to me for two weeks,” she reminded him. “And I still think you have a blind spot when it comes to Brody.”
“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said, because he couldn’t deny that sometimes he got so focused on one thing that he couldn’t see another. “But this wasn’t just me. It wasn’t even just Brody. Ellerbee and the entire DA’s office is behind this.”
She looked incredulous. “When have we ever let the police dictate what we do? What our team does?”
“And if they’d asked me to do it, maybe I would have done it differently,” Mitch admitted. “But they didn’t ask me. It wasn’t my ass on the line. It was Brody’s. He made the choice.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “That’s what it still comes back to. Brody’s choices. Brody’s consequences.”
“But we’re still a team,” Mitch insisted.
She laughed, a little coldly. “Are we?” she asked. “Because it hasn’t felt like that. And I’m pretty sure that was a choice both you and Brody made.”
“It was only supposed to last for two weeks,” Mitch said, clenching his teeth now. He had to remember that he wasn’t mad at Stephanie. He didn’t blame Stephanie. Even if he kind of wanted to at the moment. “Brody was the one who believed you would all understand, that the team would be strong enough to handle that.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” she said. “Brody’s been wrong about a lot of things.”
The color drained from Mitch’s face, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to rage or cry. Ultimately, he strove for neither and kept himself impassive.
She sighed, not quite with regret. “Maybe Brody can explain it to us when he wakes up,” she said, clearly making an effort to be diplomatic. “I should go, though. For the team.”
Mitch watched her get up. “I should stay,” he said, just as steadily as she had spoken. “For the team.”
She walked away, then. She didn’t look back.
Mitch didn’t call her back.
They would make this better; they would make this right. Him and Ellerbee. Him and Brody.
Once Brody woke up and gave his evidence. Once Brody helped close this case.
Once Brody woke up.
Mitch dropped his head into his hands again, closing his eyes in the motion of a prayer.
Brody had to be okay.
For the case.
For the team.
Mostly, though, for Mitch.
Mitch was still alone, still in the waiting room when the doctor returned. Sitting there like that, Mitch wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Honestly, he wasn’t sure it actually mattered. Brody had begged him for two weeks and Mitch had been reluctant to fulfill that promise. Now, however, Mitch understood that he would surrender as much time as was needed.
Any time at all.
As long as it brought Brody back to him.
Still, he was ready for the doctor to come. On his feet, crossing the waiting room, other visitors be damned. “How is he?” Mitch all but demanded.
The doctor, at least, seemed unfazed by Mitch’s forward behavior. Mitch counted this in the man’s favor: he knew what his job was and didn’t let anything bother him outside of that. “Well, it’s nothing you don’t know, really,” he said, and he paused to adjust his glasses, checking his notes as if to be sure. “It’s definitely cocaine in his system, but it seems to have been mixed with several other compounds. Stimulants and sedatives, which means this was a specialty cocktail of sorts.”
“Okay, so what does that mean for Brody?” Mitch asked. Of course it was a specialty cocktail; he didn’t doubt that Leeds Jr. had prepared it especially for Brody. This wasn’t designed to be a good trip; this was designed to be a fast, heavy, one-way trip.
“Nothing good, I’m afraid,” the doctor said, and he didn’t sound exactly sympathetic about it. There wasn’t any menace in his voice, but he wasn’t trying to make Mitch feel better. “The mix of drugs means that his body is facing a myriad of reactions. It’s affecting a wide range of his systems, and we’re having to work extra hard to make sure everything remains functional. In the short time since he’s been here, we’ve seen a decrease in kidney function, and some of his liver tests are starting to show signs of abnormalities. We’re dealing with those, and the medications seem to mostly be working, but we are extremely worried about the impact on his respiratory and circulatory systems.”
“Lungs and heart,” Mitch said.
The doctor nodded, apparently a little glad he didn’t have to spell everything out. “His vitals are all over the place, even after several hours of intervention,” he explained. “We’ve intubated him, which is helping us control his oxygenation levels, but the stress on his heart is significant right now.”
“People keep talking about a heart attack,” Mitch ventured, because he needed to know. If the last two weeks had confirmed anything to him, it was that the truth was best. Even when it was hard as hell.
“Heart complications are common after overdoses, especially ones of this nature,” the doctor said. “We have him monitored, and we are using several medications as preemptive measures, but until the drug is out of his system, there’s really only so much we can do.”
“So, what, then?” Mitch prompted. “Is there another procedure? More tests?”
“We will perform tests and procedures as warranted by changes in his condition,” the doctor said. “But really, I think we’re at the wait and see point.”
Mitch didn’t want to appear ungrateful or skeptical, but it was a hard thing to hear. Harder still to think about. Medical help was supposed to fix things. Just like police support was supposed to make sure everything was safe. Nothing was that easy, though. Mitch had known that all along, but he’d let himself believe otherwise for Brody’s sake.
He sort of wished this time he could have been wrong. “There’s really nothing we can do?”
The doctor sighed. “We monitor. We respond,” he said. “But really, it’s up to him. He needs to fight. He needs to know he still has something to fight for. Sometimes, patients suffering from an overdose of some sort, they sort of lose hope. It’s the sort of thing that can sometimes cause shame, and that shame can be a detriment to recovery. Your friend Mr. Brody needs a reason to fight.”
“Well, he has one,” Mitch said. “He has a team, a job, a family.”
Even as he said the words, they nearly died in his throat, leaving a funny taste behind. He had to swallow hard to continue.
“He has me,” he said. “And no matter what stupid stuff he does, he’s always going to have me.”
At this, the doctor smiled faintly. “Then, make sure he knows that,” he said. Then, he checked back at the chart. “We have transferred him up to a room in the ICU. We’re probably going to be keeping him there for a few days while his vitals are unstable. We try to limit the activity up there, so if there are other people who will be visiting…”
“Just me,” Mitch said stolidly, trying not to flinch at how singular that felt. “For now. Just me.”
Ever the professional, the doctor inclined his head. “Then I’ll trust you not to be rowdy,” he said. “If you’d like to follow me.”
Mitch was already keeping pace, even before the man had finished speaking.
After all this, it wasn’t like Mitch was about to be left behind.
Mitch had been resolved, unquestioningly committed. He knew what he had to do, and he knew beyond all doubts that he would do it. No matter what.
That same resolve, however, faltered badly when he entered the ICU ward.
It nearly fell apart when the doctor left him with Brody, renewing his instructions to be quiet and present and reminding Mitch that nursing staff was always nearby if there should be problems. This time, Mitch could barely acknowledge him. Because as soon as he saw Brody, Mitch’s unquestioned commitment was unquestionably rattled.
Brody didn’t look maybe quite as bad as Mitch had feared. He was pale, but not colorless, and there were monitors and an IV but, most of it was hidden by a drawn hospital blanket. The tube coming out of his mouth had been taped down, but other than that, Brody looked somehow peaceful. Like he was sleeping.
That made it all the more unsettling.
Because Brody had appeared one way to the team all week, and they’d all believed him. Mitch couldn’t take him at appearances now. Not when his history with Brody told him better. Brody was the kind of guy who could drown without making a single sign of distress when he wanted to.
Everyone else was okay with letting him do that this time.
Not Mitch, though.
Sighing, Mitch crossed over to the bed, hovering uncertainly for a moment. He had wanted to be here, but now that he was here, he was realizing that waiting with Brody in person wasn’t that much different than waiting in the other room. Mitch was still helpless; he was still idle. All he could do was sit. And hope.
But that was what his job was now. It didn’t have to change things for Mitch. It just had to change things for Brody.
Brody needed to know he wasn’t alone.
He had a reason to fight.
That thought was solidifying. It was the reminder Mitch needed about what his resolve was for. This wasn’t about him. This wasn’t about a case.
This was just about Brody.
Bringing Brody home.
His determination coalescing again, Mitch reached for the chair that was pushed up against a wall nearby. He dragged it over, settling it close to the bed before sitting down. Then, he drew himself closer still, reaching out and picking up Brody’s hand. He folded the limp fingers into his own and sighed.
“It’s not over yet,” he said, keeping his voice steady and calm over the sound of the machines. The stillness on Brody’s features didn’t waver, but Mitch didn’t let that deter him. “You kept saying, just a few more days. Well, it’s my turn to ask you. Just a few more days, Brody. You have to fight for just a few more days.”
Brody’s chest rose and fell; his heart monitor beeped an unsteady rhythm. His eyes remained closed, his face impassive.
Mitch didn’t let go this time. “And if you can’t, you know, that’s okay,” he said. “Because I’ve been there, man. And you carried on when I couldn’t. So I’m going to return the favor this time.”
He gave Brody’s fingers a squeeze, just enough to make sure his presence was known.
“I’ve got this one,” he promised. It was more than a promise; it was a vow. It was every bit of faith Mitch had left within him. “You can count on me.”
The last few weeks, Mitch had been so aware of time. It had practically been a countdown for him, one more day, one more week.
In the hospital, though, time lost all meaning for Mitch. It didn’t matter how many minutes had passed. It didn’t even matter if hours had slipped by. Mitch could have sat there for weeks, for all he gave a shit.
Time was no longer measured like that.
Time was measured by each breath Brody took, each downbeat of Brody’s heart.
Everything else, all other considerations, were utterly superfluous.
Mitch didn’t need to worry about the future. Whatever shit was coming, it was coming no matter what Mitch did now. All he needed to do was worry about the moment.
So he held onto Brody’s hand and let all the rest go.
Mitch had been so intent on doing this alone that he was surprised by a sound at the door. He figured it was probably the nurses -- they checked often in the ICU, but Mitch had not quite mastered their schedules yet -- but when he turned to look, Ellerbee was there instead.
For Mitch, seeing Brody had been hard.
Ellerbee looked like he was about to lose his shit.
“Damn it,” he said, his shoulders falling. “It really is that bad, isn’t it?”
Mitch sat back a little, putting Brody’s hand down gently to turn toward Ellerbee. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s that bad.”
Ellerbee sighed, still crestfallen when he came in. “I was going to come sooner, I was, but the case, and I thought, shit--” His voice broke off with a pained expression. “I think I just didn’t want to face it.”
It would have been easy to blame Ellerbee. This had been his operation, his case. Mitch hadn’t challenged him on that for once, and it had gone wrong.
But Mitch couldn’t bring himself to find any malice.
Not when Ellerbee was here. Not for Mitch; not to be polite. But because he gave a shit about Brody. That was more than Mitch could say for anyone else.
“He’s unstable, but hanging on,” he said. “The doctor seemed to think it was just a matter of time.”
Ellerbee laughed at the irony. “I kept telling him, just two more days.”
“I know,” Mitch said, looking regretfully back at Brody. “The doctor says two more days, too, so at least we’ve got the timeline down.”
They were keeping the conversation light, almost like a banter, but neither of them could maintain any pretense that this wasn’t the worst possible outcome.
“I’m sorry, man,” Ellerbee said, shaking his head. “I failed him. I told him he’d be fine, I’d be there if he needed back up, and I wasn’t. I just wasn’t.”
“You did what you could,” Mitch said. “This one got away from us. I was supposed to have his back in Baywatch, but I didn’t see this coming.”
Ellerbee watched Brody for several seconds before swearing again. “I thought we had it,” he said, darkly wistful. Every word dripped with regret. “If I had thought, even for a moment that he was in danger, I would have pulled him, Mitch. I would have blown the op myself. If I had thought…”
Ellerbee’s recriminations actually made Mitch feel better. As hard as this was, it was nice not to be alone. This was what he might have hoped from the team. It wasn’t about blame, but it was about concern. It was about being scared shitless that Brody wouldn’t get through this.
It also gave Mitch the ability to offer comfort. He smiled sympathetically at Ellerbee. “You did everything you could,” he said. “I know that.”
But Ellerbee was not so easily comforted. He chewed his lip, watching Brody in the bed. “I should have talked the DA out of it,” he said. “This whole thing was unfair to him. You were right about that. It probably wouldn’t have held up in court, but I’d seen the work you two can do. And he wanted to, you know? But I never should have pursued it.”
It was always a thing, hearing Ellerbee admit he was right. And Mitch had been right. This case had been doomed, and it’d put too much on Brody. Still, Mitch shook his head. “We all made choices on this,” he said. “You and me. Brody.”
He fell silent, eyes resting on Brody. He sighed.
“We all have to own to those choices,” he said, feeling his mood darken again. The solidarity helped, but it didn’t change the reality of this aftermath.
“He’s got determination, grit,” Ellerbee said with a nod to rally himself. “And I know he’s got you in his corner.”
Mitch had no response to that. He wanted to think that was enough. He just wasn’t sure anymore.
“Where’s the team?” Ellerbee asked, glancing around, as if someone might be hiding in the corner. “I thought I’d have to fight my way in here.”
Mitch couldn’t bring himself to look at Ellerbee this time. He kept his eyes on Brody, forcing himself through the constriction in his throat. “They, uh, are kind of pissed off right now.”
“At me?” Ellerbee asked, and his voice sounded like the idea unnerved him. “I’m not saying I don’t have it coming--”
Mitch cleared his throat. “No,” he said. “I mean, maybe. But they’re pissed at Brody. I don’t think they’re ready to forgive him for how he’s acted over the last few weeks.”
Ellerbee was silent for a few moments, and Mitch dared to look at him. Ellerbee’s faced was screwed up in surprise, and he took several more long moments to figure out what he wanted to say. “So they think he did this? To himself?”
With a weary nod, Mitch couldn’t find any way to deny it. “Yeah,” he said. “And that’s after I told them the truth.”
Ellerbee’s eyes widened. “You--?”
“Yeah,” Mitch said. “I know I probably wasn’t supposed to, but I couldn’t stand to have the team believe that Brody took drugs on his own. That he betrayed them and them essentially tried to kill myself.”
If Mitch was expecting anger, he was, for once, pleasantly disappointed. “Honestly, I expected you to tell them a lot sooner,” he said. “I didn’t figure we’d get through day one without you spilling the beans.”
“I would have, too,” Mitch said. He tipped his head toward Brody. “But this was his op, and he didn’t want to. I tried to follow his lead.”
With this, Ellerbee let out a long, heavy breath. “So where are they?” he asked. “I mean, if you told them the truth, why do they still think he did this?”
Mitch shrugged, letting his gaze linger back on Brody. “He did his job a little too well, I guess,” he said. “They were all so mad at him that the idea that it was for a greater cause was something they didn’t know what to do with yet.”
Ellerbee’s face set into a frown. “That’s not fair, man,” he said. “Brody deserves their support. Hell, after a cocaine overdose? The boy’s going to need it.”
“I know,” Mitch said, more wary than before. “And if I went and tracked them down, talked to them each in person, I could probably make them understand why we did it this way. But I can’t leave him.”
“No, no,” Ellerbee said in agreement. “You have to stay. Your boy needs you now.”
They were both silent again, the stillness punctuated only by the sound of the machine breathing for Brody and the irregular cadence of his heart monitor.
“You want me to talk to them?” Ellerbee offered. “I could brief them in, make it official. That might change their minds.”
It was a kind offer, and Mitch knew it came from a good place. Sure, Ellerbee felt bad about how this had turned out, and he even felt like he had some responsibility in this. But that wasn’t what this offer was about. He cared about Mitch; he cared about Brody. He wanted to do the right thing.
He was just too spent to know what to do with it.
With one shoulder, he shrugged. “Wouldn’t that be bad for the case?”
“Well, you did already tell them,” Ellerbee reminded him. But then he shrugged as well. “Case is a mess anyway.”
It wasn’t good news, naturally. But it also wasn’t really news, either. “Are we going to lose Leeds?”
Ellerbee scoffed like Mitch had just insulted him. “Hell, no, that bitch is going down,” he said. That outburst of bravado was something, but Ellerbee hemmed himself back in quickly. “I mean, it’s not going to be a slam dunk or anything, but I sure as hell ain’t planning on letting her get away.”
Mitch heard the bravado, and he heard the passion behind it. He also heard the inevitable emptiness of the words. “This was all for nothing,” he said softly, voice barely audible of the sound of the machines while Brody slept in medicated oblivion. “Wasn’t it?”
“No, hell, no,” Ellerbee said again, with a little more conviction, a little less bravado. He came around until he was able to see Mitch’s face, even while Mitch was facing Brody. “Look, I just said it will be harder than we planned. But it doesn’t mean we’re back at square one. We have mountains of evidence from Brody over the last week and a half.”
“Most of it circumstantial or hearsay,” Mitch reminded him.
“You can still use enough of it to build a case,” Ellerbee countered. “Plus, we have an active crime scene now. She may have tried to frame Brody for the drug shipment on the beach, but the fact is we got a drug shipment on the beach. I’ve got a whole team down there, processing like you wouldn’t believe. We’re going to get something her, man. She’s not as good as she thinks she is, and she’s not as good as her sister. We’re going to nail her ass one way or another.”
Mitch could hear the conviction, but he could find himself solidified by it. Nothing would rally him now, not with Brody unconscious and struggling to survive. The situation was too precarious; Brody was too precarious.
And if Brody fell, Mitch wasn’t confident that he could still stay standing anymore.
“Besides, we got ourselves a witness to attempted murder,” Ellerbee said. “By trying to off Brody, Leeds opened herself up to a whole new investigation, and Brody’s testimony for that case will be more than enough to throw her away for good.”
There was truth to that, and it was a point that Mitch had not perhaps considered.
Still, he watched the machine as it breathed for Brody. He looked at the IV passing along medicine that was design to give Brody one last shot of surviving this.
“And if he doesn’t live long enough to tell us?” Mitch asked with a hollow tone.
Ellerbee reached over, nudging him. “Don’t talk like that,” he said. “That’s not how you roll.”
It was true, and Mitch knew that. However, convincing himself of a truth he once held to be self-evident was harder than it should have been. Brody had changed a lot since arriving at Baywatch. Mitch just hadn’t realized how much Baywatch had changed, too.
How much he had changed.
“I was supposed to be there for him,” he finally replied.
“I know,” Ellerbee said, and he didn’t offer any cliches this time. “But you’re here for him now. Looks like he could definitely use a friend right now.”
That was the hardest part about it, Mitch realized. Seeing Brody in a hospital bed was unsettling for a lot of reasons, but mostly because Brody was so isolated. Brody had thrived in a team context; he had all but flourished with the idea of family.
After all that, he’d been cast aside again. Everyone had their reasons, but it still would look the same to the kid who had been bounced through foster care his whole life. He had tested his own value and come up wanting.
Mitch didn’t know how to stomach that.
Worse, Mitch kept asking himself this question: “What if I’m not enough?”
To his surprise, Ellerbee actually laughed at that. “Have you met this boy?” he asked. He laughed again. “There ain’t nothing that Brody wouldn’t do for you, Mitch. And all hyperbole aside, I mean this shit. Nothing.”
It wasn’t a point that Mitch needed made for him. He’d seen it, the past two weeks more clearly than ever. Brody had made his sacrifices in the name of the team, because he thought that was what Mitch would do. Brody had tried so damn hard.
Somehow, Brody had still ended up alone. He’d given everything he had for his team, and no one had been there for him when he needed it. He’d followed Mitch’s example of selflessness, but Mitch was nowhere to be found when he was getting drugged by Leeds.
Mitch had seen what alienated the team had done to Brody. He had seen what his mother’s rejection had done to him previously. And shit, he knew that the mess of a kid who showed up on his beach all those weeks ago was evidence of what a lifetime of being left behind looked like.
It changed a person, and it wasn’t something you just let go of.
And whether Mitch intended to or not, he played into the same damn pattern.
“And if he thinks I abandoned him?” Mitch queried, a little hesitant.
Ellerbee made a face, one that suggested that he truly had no idea what Mitch was talking about. “You didn’t, though, and Brody knows that,” he said. “He’d never think otherwise.”
Ellerbee sounded so sure, so confident. Mitch wanted to believe him.
But all he could believe was that Brody was fighting for his life and Mitch had done nothing to prevent it. He wouldn’t be consoled about this. He wouldn’t be okay, not until Brody woke up and made it okay.
After several long moments of silence, Ellerbee sighed. “Do you, uh, want me to stay, or…?”
“You have the case,” Mitch said.
“It’s not like I’m the only cop in the bay,” Ellerbee said. “I’m not even the only cop working this case. I can stay, for Brody, you know. For you.”
The others had offered to stay, too, but their offers had felt hollow. Ellerbee’s, at least, felt legitimate. He was worried about Brody, and Mitch could use the company.
Still, he shook his head. “The case needs you.”
This time, Ellerbee seemed somewhat wearied by the insistence. “You know I got my priorities better than that,” he said. “You’re all here, blaming yourself, but I know I have to carry some of this. And I have every intention of doing that.”
Mitch looked up at Ellerbee again. “Which is why you need to be on the case,” he said. “This can’t be for nothing. Brody can’t have done all this just to have the case come up blank.”
This was a compelling argument, and they both knew it. Still, Ellerbee was quiet for a moment, turning his eyes from Mitch back to Brody. He scratched his neck absently, then drew a breath. “I’ll check back in a lot,” he said. “And if something happens, I want you to call me.”
“Of course,” Mitch said, his own tired eyes going back to Brody.
“And I really can stay, Mitch,” Ellerbee said earnestly. “I want to stay.”
Mitch felt his chest clench, this time in solidarity. He looked back at the cop gratefully. “I know,” he said. “But you need to do your job. For Brody.”
Between the two of them, that was the card that neither of them could trump. Gathering himself again, Ellerbee fixed his gaze on Mitch. “Okay, I’ll do my job, but on one condition.”
Mitch tilted his head to the side. “What?”
“You do yours,” Ellerbee told him, matter of fact and to the point. He pointed at Mitch, sweeping his finger toward Brody in a back and forth movement. “You stay with him, watch his stupid ass, and make sure he gets better. You hear me?”
This time, the conviction made him smile. “I’m not going anywhere,” he promised.
“Sure as hell better now,” Ellerbee muttered, making his way to the door. “And you call me--”
“I will,” Mitch agreed, lifting his hand in a tired wave goodbye.
He waited until the door was closed and Ellerbee’s footsteps had dissipated down the hall. Then, he looked back at Brody.
“Well,” he said, picking up Brody’s hand again. “It’s just you and me again, buddy.”
The monitors beeped; the machines buzzed.
Brody eyes remained closed.
Mitch closed his fingers a little tighter, trying to keep smiling. “And I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “So you better not either.”
Mitch knew he was in this thing for the long haul, but it only took several hours before he wondered how long he could feasibly do this. That was ironic, of course. He wasn’t actually doing anything. Logically, he had to think that Brody wouldn’t know if he were here or not, seeing how unconscious he was.
And yet, Mitch couldn’t bring himself to leave, not even for a moment. He had a real crisis of conscience when he had to take a piss, and he felt so bad for stepping out at all that he refused to excuse himself for dinner, instead accepting a bag of chips and a bottle of water from a charitable nurse.
The doctor made rounds later in the evening, and he said that Brody was doing as well as can be expected. At this point, the doctor argued, no news was probably good news, but he made no promises about what the next 24 hours might bring.
He did, however, agree to give Mitch special permission to stay with Brody overnight. Maybe Mitch just looked that trustworthy, but Mitch also suspected that Brody just looked that needy.
It was still early when Mitch felt himself getting tired, and he doubted that he would manage to stay awake until 9. Then, as he was dozing off reading a magazine, he was jarred back to consciousness by a sudden sound.
At first, Mitch feared it was a monitor, that something was wrong with Brody.
But Brody was unchanged; his monitors still the same.
Then, Mitch realized that the sound was coming from him
Embarrassed, he hastily pulled out his phone. He frowned when he didn’t recognize the number, and he considered ignoring it. But, with the nature of the case, he thought it was possible that someone else from the police department of the DA’s office might call him. He couldn’t take the chance of missing something important.
Therefore, Mitch got up, patting Brody gently on the arm as he stepped away. In a hushed voice, he answered the call as he made his way away from the bed. Brody wasn’t actually sleeping -- waking him up wasn’t a concern anyway -- but it still felt wrong to jabber next to him.
“Hello?” said a voice on the other end of the line. “Is this Mitch Buchannon?”
As the doctor had insinuated, no news was good news. News, therefore, generally made Mitch nervous.
An unknown caller, asking for Mitch?
Made him extra nervous.
“Yeah,” Mitch said, glancing back anxiously at Brody. “This is Mitch.”
“Good,” the voice said -- it was a woman. “This is Cynthia from the furniture store.”
She said it like he should know what she was talking about.
Mitch had no idea what she was talking about.
His entire day had been betrayal and near death experiences and massive conflict.
“I’m calling to confirm delivery for the bedroom pieces your ordered two weeks ago,” she continued.
Of course MItch knew what she was talking about. Shit, how could he not know what she was talking about.
There was a rush of relief that this wasn’t something worse.
But the relief turned bittersweet.
For Brody’s room.
Except Brody was in a damn hospital.
“Will you be available for delivery in two days?” Cynthia asked in a perky and professional way.
Mitch had waited two weeks.
And now he wasn’t sure if the last two days were going to be worth it or not.
Would Brody even be able to come home in two days?
Would Brody be able to come home at all?
“Sir?” Cynthia asked. “Is there a problem with that date?”
“No,” Mitch said, finding his voice and forcing it to function. “No, it’s, uh, fine.”
Because he wasn’t going to cancel the delivery. He couldn’t do that, not to Brody and not to himself. He had to believe that two days was more than enough time. That two days was just the start. Brody was coming home, and so Brody needed furniture.
“Two days?” Mitch confirmed, blinking back tears that he was not going to admit to almost crying.
“Yes,” Cynthia said, sounding relieved. “We will look forward to seeing you then!”
Mitch didn’t answer; he just disconnected the phone. He took a moment, facing the wall, as he remembered how to breathe again. Remembered how to think.
That didn’t seem so long.
He looked back to Brody, who hadn’t moved on the bed.
Two days didn’t have to be a lifetime.
It could just be two days.
Mitch crossed back over to Brody, forcing himself to smile as he sat back down and drew up close to the bed. “Your furniture is coming,” he said, trying to make his voice sound light and conversational. “They just confirmed it now. Two days from now.”
He watched Brody, the pale cast of his skin, the tape securing the tube to his mouth, the uneven beat of his heart on the monitor.
Mitch swallowed hard, keeping the emotions in check.
“Two days, buddy,” Mitch said, even as his voice started to falter “Two days and you’ll have a room of your own.”
He remembered how happy that thought had made Brody. He remembered the shy smile on Brody’s face when he realized that Mitch was serious. He remembered how right it had felt, how much they’d both wanted this.
Mitch nodded, and this time, his smile couldn’t hold. “Two days,” he said, and his voice broke and he wiped at his eyes before the tears fell. “And we get everything we want.”
Mitch would hold on for Brody.
He just had to hope that Brody would hold on for Mitch.