Shit, Mitch just wanted to through the next two hours.
That was his mantra throughout the night, again and again in his head.
He had mentally prepared himself for a long, uncomfortable night. He had envisioned sleeping awkwardly in a chair, being roused from time to time to check on Brody’s condition. He envisioned waking up sore and worse for wear in the morning, but relieved that at least one night of the 48 hour timeline had been secured.
That wasn’t how it went, however.
Mitch didn’t get much sleep at all, because Brody’s condition rapidly deteriorated over the course of the night. It started with a decrease in his urine output, and the nurse was concerned about his latest bloodwork. As she had been explaining the way liver function was measured, Brody had abruptly decided to have a heart attack.
A minor heart attack, he was assured. Non-surgical intervention only, and it was quickly controlled with medication. There would be no lasting damage, according to the doctor on duty that night.
Mitch had never thought about how ironic the term “minor heart attack” was until, he saw his best friend, a two time Olympic gold medalist and one of the fastest swimmers in the world, suffer from one.
And to think, that wasn’t even the worst of it.
Several hours afterward, Brody’s vitals crashed again, and this time his heart gave out altogether. They weren’t calling this one a heart attack, but it didn’t really matter. Brody stopped breathing for three minutes and twenty-two seconds.
Yes, Mitch was keeping track.
This time, when the nurses tried to assure him that there was minimal chance of brain damage, Mitch wasn’t in the mood to be reassured.
The next two hours, Mitch had to remind himself. Get through the next two hours, then two more hours. And the next two days would come and go.
Perched wearily at Brody’s bedside come morning, Mitch had to admit that two hours seemed like a hell of a long time suddenly.
Maybe two days was a lifetime after all.
When the doctor from yesterday checked back in on his morning shift, he looked regretful at the action last night. He didn’t, however, look noticeably surprised. “The increase of cardiac meds seems to be helping him stabilize a little bit, but we have to watch for cascading failures today.”
Mitch was too tired to pretend he knew what was going on. “Cascading failures?”
“When one internal system starts to go, others tend to follow in these cases,” the doctor said. “The fact that we were able to restore cardiac function quickly is a good sign, but the kidneys and liver have continued to show signs of stress. And frankly, his heart is still being worked too hard. If he has another cardiac event, it’s not likely to be minor.”
“You’re saying he could get worse?” Mitch tried to clarify.
The doctor offered him a polite smile. “I’m saying there’s still more than a day left to go until the drug works its way out of his system,” he said. “I know that it probably doesn’t seem this way to you but last night was a success.”
“Brody had a heart attack,” Mitch reminded him.
The doctor was nonplussed. “A minor one.”
“His heart stopped beating,” Mitch added.
“And we got a rhythm back quickly with minimal interventions,” the doctor said. “Look, you’re a successful guy, right? I mean, I know about Baywatch.”
“We’re the best of the best,” Mitch said.
“So you have high standards,” the doctor said. Then he pointed around at the hospital room. “But in here, you have to measure things by a different standard. At this point, for Mr. Brody, sometimes success is nothing but the absence of failure.”
Mitch couldn’t help it; he scoffed. “Brody’s one of the Baywatch elite. He also has two gold medals and is one of the fastest swimmers in the world.”
The doctor patted Mitch on the arm with genuine sympathy this time. “And he’s still alive,” he said. “I can’t promise you what today or tomorrow will be like, but for now, your friend is still alive. I know it’s not much….”
Mitch cast a look at Brody, still alive despite the long and trying night. Mitch wanted more, sure. But, he sighed, and looked back at the doctor with understanding. “It’s enough.”
For the next two hours, next day and a half, it would be enough.
By the mid-morning, Mitch was feeling faint. When he stood, the room was starting to spin, and Mitch knew that staying with Brody meant that he had to be conscious. There was no way to avoid it; he had to take a break, even if only briefly.
After enlisting a nurse to watch Brody extra carefully while he was gone, Mitch made his way haggardly down the hall toward the cafeteria. He was nearly at the bank of elevators when he saw a familiar face.
Several familiar faces, actually.
Stephanie, CJ, Ronnie and even Summer.
Mitch stared at them blankly for a moment, wondering if this was in fact a hallucination. Given how hungry he was -- not to mention how exhausted -- the notion didn’t seem as ridiculous as it normally might. In fact, Mitch was about ready to roll with it.
But then, Stephanie started to speak. “So, um, Ellerbee came to HQ this morning, first thing,” she said. “He, uh, had a meeting with Casey Jean, and then, um, they called us into the office and sat us down.”
CJ started talking, too. “They told us that it was true,” she said. “Everything you said yesterday, and more. It was true.”
“Brody really was working undercover,” Ronnie said. “That’s why he was being an asshole. Not drugs.”
When Summer started talking, her voice wavered badly. “He was trying to take down Leeds to protect Baywatch,” she said. “And when he got fired, she tried to kill him.”
So, if this was a hallucination, it was kind of a good one.
But that wasn’t what this was.
This was real.
This was a team, being a team.
This was a team, remembering how to be a family.
Sure, part of Mitch wanted to be pissed at them for not coming around earlier, but he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. He didn’t blame them.
And they were here, now.
When Brody needed them.
When Mitch needed them.
Stephanie inhaled tiredly. “Casey Jean is giving Brody his job back,” she said. “All the complaints are going to be removed from his file at Ellerbee’s insistence.”
“And he’s confident that he can force the DA to honor the deal, no matter how the case against Leeds turns out,” CJ said.
“And we know you were in a hard spot,” Ronnie said. “We know you didn’t have a choice anymore than Brody did.”
“So we’re here,” Summer said, and she had to swallow visibly to keep herself in check. “We’re here.”
Mitch’s chest ached. His throat was so tight he could hardly breathe.
And then, with the last of his strength, he smiled. “Good,” he said, with audible relief. “You’re just in time.”
Over a quick breakfast, Mitch caught the team up on Brody’s condition. He didn’t hold anything back, and he fully delineated the minor heart attack, the cardiac arrest, the lowered organ outputs. He explained how the two day and a half were critical, and he stressed that Brody wasn’t out of the woods yet.
The team responded exactly the way Mitch needed them to. Stephanie immediately created a schedule, giving them each rotating shifts to make sure someone was with Brody at all times. CJ was going to talk to the nurses to see if flowers and gifts were allowed in the ICU and to see how many people could be in the room at any given time. Ronnie thought up several activities to distract them while they wait, and he went off in search of magazines, decks of cards and mad lib books. Summer volunteered for first shift with a quiet determination that no one had any need to argue with.
Stephanie then dismissed the team, leaving just her and Mitch sitting at a table in the cafeteria with Mitch’s breakfast half eaten in front of him.
He was still tired; he was still hungry.
But the last two hours had definitely been a turn for the better.
“I’m not exactly sorry,” Stephanie said, breaking the silence between them. “I didn’t do anything over the last two weeks that I wouldn’t do again. I don’t think I was wrong.”
She was honest. Mitch had always liked that about Stephanie. She had the fortitude to do what Mitch did, and she had the inherent certainty in her choices that made her his right hand person.
The emotions had been running high for awhile now, and Mitch knew, he really did, that this wasn’t Stephanie’s fault. She had done everything just the way Mitch had taught her. She’d put the needs of Baywatch first, and she was protecting her team just as much as Mitch was.
She just didn’t have all the information Mitch did.
And who was he kidding? Brody was his blind spot.
That was an admission he was willing to make now.
It was a truth he would not deny.
“You weren’t wrong,” Mitch said. “If I had been in your place, I’m sure I’d have done the same thing.”
The admission made her waver unexpectedly. “I will this, though,” she said. “The fact that it was Brody made me quick to assume the worst. Anyone else on the team, and I probably would have looked for another explanation other than that he was a dick.”
“Well, he was a dick,” Mitch said, remembering not so fondly Brody’s antics over the last few weeks.
“I know,” she said. “And he deserved to be fired. But you were right in that I never tried to figure out what was wrong. If I’d been paying attention, I probably could have figured out that something was up.”
“We didn’t want you to find out,” Mitch said. “Especially Brody.”
“All the more reason I should have known,” Stephanie said. Before the moment dragged on, she drew herself, pounding her hand gently on the table. “I’m going to make sure Summer’s doing all right.”
“I’m surprised to see her here,” Mitch said.
“She took it harder than the rest of us,” Stephanie said. “I really don’t think we should her alone very long.”
Mitch pushed his half eaten breakfast aside. “I can go.”
Stephanie laughed a little, staring him down until he stopped.
“What?” he asked.
“You need to not go,” she said flatly. “You need to go rest, shower.” She pushed the tray back toward Mitch. “Finish eating.”
Mitch found himself scowling. “I’m fine.”
“No, you smell bad and look worse,” she said. “You’re no good to Brody like this. I think you’re going to fall over if I let you go.”
“Stephanie,” Mitch said. “This is my job.”
“No, Mitch,” she countered, utterly undeterred. “This is our job.”
In his muddled brain, it took him a minute to comprehend what she was saying.
A moment longer to understand the full implications of her statement.
As much as Mitch wanted to be in control of this situation, knowing that he wasn’t facing it alone was better.
Shit, it was a lot better.
“Okay,” he said, picking up his fork again. “When’s my shift?”
Stephanie relaxed, glancing down at her notes. “I have you down at noon,” she said. “You’ll be relieving CJ and Ronnie.”
“Sounds good,” he said, and he piled up some eggs on his fork. “Thanks for coming back.”
Stephanie got to her feet. “You and Brody played us for two weeks,” she said. “I think you can give us a day to play catch up.”
“As long as it takes,” Mitch told her.
She inclined her head before starting away toward Brody’s room. “As long as it takes.”
Mitch hadn’t necessarily want to take a break, but he couldn’t deny how much better he felt after taking one. After finishing his breakfast, he ate a second breakfast out of sheer hunger. Then, he sweet talked one of the nurses and got access to a shower and a bed. Part of him worried that if he laid down to sleep that he wouldn’t wake up in time, but who was Mitch kidding? When he set his mind to something, he was pretty much unstoppable.
He’d doubted that over the last few weeks, but with his team reunited, he wasn’t inclined to believe it again.
At any rate, he was asleep before he could second guess himself.
He woke up exactly at 11:50, which gave him enough time to take a piss, grab a drink and head back up to Brody’s room, exactly as planned.
He worried that he might be getting overly optimistic about this, but this was Baywatch he was talking about. He didn’t need to be optimistic. Not when they were that good.
Brody wasn’t on his own anymore.
Mitch had to believe that would make all the difference.
As good as he felt now, stepping back onto the ICU ward was still a sobering sort of thing. It didn’t help that other people clinging to each other and crying all over the place, and it really didn’t help that Mitch knew that Brody was still fighting for his life a short distance away. Mitch could be optimistic about the future, sure. But he had to be real about the present, too.
In fact, he could overlook the deep twinge of trepidation as he approached Brody’s room. He’d been gone for hours -- hours -- and in that amount of time last night, Brody had nearly died -- twice. What if something had happened? What if no one had told him?
His heart was racing by the time he opened the door.
The sight before him was both a relief and anything but.
Because there was Brody, still alive.
There was Brody, still intubated with a machine breathing for him. His complexion looked a little waxy today, and he seemed smaller and weaker than Mitch remembered him.
By the bed, Ronnie was sitting in the chair, CJ perched on his lap. They looked up at Mitch and smiled, though Mitch could see that it was a measured gestured from each of them. As Mitch let the door close behind him, CJ got up first with Ronnie right behind her.
“Hey,” CJ said, winding her arm around Ronnie as they approached him. “You’re a little early.”
“A little,” Mitch said, glancing distracted between the couple and Brody. “Is he doing okay?”
“Uh, yeah,” CJ said. “The nurses say so, and the doctor did rounds awhile ago. He said there was nothing new to report.”
No news was good news, Mitch remembered. “His kidneys and liver?”
“Unchanged,” CJ said.
“The doctor did sound pleased about that,” Ronnie added in. “And, uh, he said that his heart was doing better, too.”
That was good, then. Brody had struggled throughout the night, but it seemed that being around the team was a good thing for him after all.
Mitch looked from Brody back to CJ and Ronnie. Ronnie had his fingers resting on CJ’s hip, and she seemed to be hugging him as close as she could without making a scene. Whatever fight they’d had several days ago in Mitch’s office, it seemed to be resolved now. They were back to their normal selves. That was good, too.
Everyone on this team needed to heal in his or her own way, and it seemed that CJ and Ronnie had gotten it under control at least. It was a start anyway.
“We spent some time reading to him this morning,” CJ said, and she disentangled herself from Ronnie long enough to snag a few of the items from the table. She flashed them at Mitch. “I figured sports was probably a thing for Brody, even though swimming doesn’t get much coverage.”
“And I told her that he probably doesn’t like to read about what other people are doing in pools,” Ronnie said.
“Right,” CJ said, so we also went with fitness.”
“Which, I learned a lot,” Ronnie said. “Do people actually do those workouts that they have in Men’s Health? Because those seem, like, ridiculous.”
“No, they seem like workouts,” CJ said. “And anyway, we also did some Mad Libs.”
“But CJ uses the word dick, like, all the time,” Ronnie said.
“What? It’s for Brody,” she said. “He’d like that, wouldn’t he?”
They both looked at Mitch, expectantly.
That was when he realized he was actually still a part of this conversation. That made it sound like a bad thing, like he didn’t want to be part of the conversation. The truth was that Mitch was just marveling at how well these two were when they were together.
How well they all were when they were together.
How had this been so hard in the first place?
“Yeah,” Mitch said, remembering to speak. “Brody loves dicks.”
CJ chuckled. For some reason, Ronnie actually blushed.
Mitch shook his head. “You know what I mean.”
“I do,” CJ said, and her fingers laced with Ronnie’s, and she glanced back toward Brody for a moment. “I really do. I just think I forgot for a bit.”
She looked down, her guilt easy enough to trace.
“We all did,” Ronnie told her gently.
She sighed. “But I’m not usually like that,” she said. She looked up at Mitch again, a little imploring. “I always look past appearances, you know? I like to give people the benefit of the doubt because we all have bad days. Bad weeks, even. But with Brody, I don’t know. I just didn’t.”
“Well, he did make it hard,” Mitch said.
“Which is why this was so much easier when I hated him,” Ronnie said. “I mean, being friends with him has never been easy because just walking down the beach is like a continually reminder of all the things I’m not. But I can’t hate him.”
“I never should have pushed you to do it,” CJ told him.
“Hey,” Mitch interjected. “You two didn’t do anything wrong, okay? Brody was trying to get you guys to hate him. You were doing what he wanted. All this means is that he did his job well.”
“Too well,” CJ reflected ruefully.
“And still it wasn’t enough, was it?” Ronnie said miserably. “I mean, is there any chance they’re still going to get Leeds after this?”
“Ellerbee is working on it,” Mitch said. He reached out, clapping both CJ and Ronnie on the shoulders. “And I know what we’re capable of when we’re working together.”
“United,” CJ said.
Ronnie beamed. “The way Baywatch is meant to be.”
“Now,” Mitch said. “I believe this is my shift.”
CJ glanced at her phone again. “Yeah, you’re right on time now.”
“Summer’s supposed to be here, too,” Ronnie said.
“She’ll be here,” CJ said.
“Either way,” Mitch said. “I’ve got this.”
“Good,” CJ said. She turned back to Brody, crossing over to the bed. She leaned down and gently kissed his cheek.
Ronnie followed her, and he made a forced casual motion. “Don’t do all the Mad Libs without me, okay?” he said to Brody’s unconscious figure.
Brody didn’t reply, and CJ and Ronnie both turned back, a little more subdued this time.
“You’ll call us?” CJ asked.
“Of course,” Mitch said. “See you guys later.”
They nodded as they exited, holding hands as they went out the door together.
Mitch stood there, watching for a moment. That was the way it was supposed to be. It felt good to have some portion of the world fall back into place at least.
He turned back to the bed, sighing as he crossed over to Brody. He sat down heavily, glancing around at the items that CJ and Ronnie had left for them. He picked up the Mad Libs, flipping through a couple of the pages. “Wow,” he said. “That is a lot of dick references. Even for you.”
Brody’s chest rose and fell; his eyes remained closed.
Mitch opened to a new page, clearing his throat loudly and reaching for a pencil. “Let’s see here,” he said. “An adjective.”
With that, Mitch started filling in the blanks.
It wouldn’t be a story that made a lot of sense to anyone else.
But Brody would get it.
As far as Mitch was concerned, that was really all that mattered.
Mitch wasn’t keeping track of the time, but he knew that Summer was late when she finally showed up. This time, he knew it was her. He could tell by the way the door opened almost reluctantly, how it stayed open longer than it should.
When Mitch looked back, Summer was framed in the doorway, looking like she wasn’t sure she wanted to come in.
There was no reason to push her, so Mitch smiled at her gently. “Hey,” he said easily. “Brody and I have been doing some Mad Libs. But I’ve come to realize that every noun I think of related to the ocean, so it’s getting a little redundant.”
She didn’t laugh; she didn’t smile. She didn’t even move.
Mitch let go of the air of casualness. “He’s doing better, I think,” he tried instead. “A lot better than he was last night.”
The reassurance wasn’t what she was looking for either.
Finally, Mitch got to his feet. “Summer--”
She shook her head. For a second as he took a step toward her, it looked like she might run.
“Summer,” he said again, just as steadily as before but keeping his feet planted on the floor. “I know this is hard.”
Her breathing caught on the word, and she blinked fast a few times. “Hard?” she repeated, voice a little breathless. “Mitch, this is more than hard.”
This time, when he approached, she didn’t run. Carefully, Mitch guided her inside, letting the door close gently behind them. “I know,” he said. “But I also know there aren’t really words to describe it. It’s just something you know.”
She followed him to the foot of Brody’s bed, and there she stopped short. As she looked at Brody, her expression twisted with pain. “It’s just -- I hated him, this past week,” she admitted. Her eyebrows knitted together. “I really, really hated him.”
“He was an asshole to everyone, but especially you,” Mitch said. “Brody broke your heart.”
Her breathing caught again, and this time she had to wipe her eyes a little viciously.
“It only worked because you both loved each other so much,” he said.
She turned from Brody, looking at Mitch in surprise. “What?”
Mitch hadn’t exactly expected that reaction. It occurred to him belatedly that Brody and Summer might not have defined their relationship that way yet. In fact, knowing Brody, he likely had not said anything of that nature at all. Not to her face.
Maybe it wasn’t his place.
But screw that, of course it was Mitch’s place.
And standing there, in Brody’s hospital room with Summer ready to break in a thousand pieces, of course this was the time.
“Brody loves you, Summer,” Mitch said. “You were the only thing that nearly destroyed this entire operation when it started. I had to remind him not to be nice to you even when being like a dick to everyone else was second nature.”
“He loves me,” she clarified, and her voice sounded taut, like it was barely composed.
“Of course he does,” Mitch said. “I mean, I get it, the guy might not have said it to you yet, but it’s obvious.”
“Obvious now,” she said. She laughed a little, a small scoff. She shook her head, wiping her eyes again as she looked at Brody. “That’s the sort of thing you say at times like this.”
“Maybe,” Mitch relented. “But that doesn’t make it less true.”
She exhaled again, giving Mitch a desperate look. “I’m just so confused right now,” she said. “I’m not even sure who he is anymore. What parts of him are real and what parts are made up.”
“He’s kind of complicated, I’ll give you that,” Mitch said. “This week more than most.”
“But it’s more than this week or last week,” she said. “What about the three weeks before that?”
Mitch had been so preoccupied with the case that he hadn’t given much thought to that. This hadn’t started with the case. This hadn’t even started with Brody’s arrest. It had started three weeks before when Brody saved a kid and his birth mother read a story about him. This had started with Brody being so desperate for a family that he was willing to implode.
Funny, everything that had changed, that much hadn’t.
He was going to have to talk to Brody about limits and watching out for himself.
“There is more to the story,” Mitch said. “Things that not even Ellerbee knows about. Stuff not related to the case.”
Summer frowned again, looking even more vexed than before. “More than Leeds and the drugs?”
“Yeah,” Mitch said. “A lot more.”
She shrugged, all but demanding an explanation. “Like what?”
Mitch sighed, giving Brody a long wayward look. This hadn’t been a conversation he’d intended to have, but then, none of this was something that they had intended. Mitch had pushed the limits when he told the team the truth about Brody’s involvement in the operation, but that had been a tactical decision. To tell Summer the truth about Brody’s motivations? About what had started all this?
That wasn’t such a clear call. Some secrets weren’t his to share.
But Brody trusted him.
And as much as Brody might value his privacy, Mitch knew he valued Summer more. If it hadn’t been for the case, he would have told her. Brody, more than anything, wouldn’t want Summer to feel this way. Especially not on his account.
“The public intoxication charge,” Mitch said finally, his decision made.
“That was what started the deal, right?” Summer asked.
“Yeah,” Mitch said. “But did you ever ask yourself why Brody went out and got himself so drunk that he was pissing in alleys and destroying shit?”
She blinked, as if trying to remember. She had, probably. But two weeks ago before Brody had broke her heart. “I guess,” she said slowly.
Mitch drew a breath, and started to tell the story. He told her about the positive press, about how it made the national news. He told her about the emails from a woman claiming to be his birth mother, credible emails with promises of reunion and family. Promises that came up short when Brody admitted he was broke with nothing to offer except love.
He told her about the silence.
The resounding silence that told Brody what he’d been told all his life: that he just wasn’t worth it.
Summer listened, increasingly dumbfounded. When Mitch concluded, she turned her stricken gaze back to Brody. “Shit,” she said. She closed her eyes and shook her head before looking at Mitch again. “No wonder he was so weird. That would screw anyone up, especially someone who had spent their whole life wondering.”
Mitch nodded. “I know,” he said. “And I think he was going to tell you, but then he got arrested and this came up. Before he was even sober enough to talk to you, he was put on this case. He didn’t have a chance to explain.”
She was still reeling from this news, which explained so much and made everything so much worse in equal measures. There had been enough secrets, however. They would all just have to contend with the truth.
“I hated him,” she said again, shaking her head again. This time, when tears leaked out, she wasn’t able to catch them all. She looked at him with longing and regret. “I mean, I know I’ve said that, but I don’t think I can do it justice. I mean, I hated him. I wanted terrible, horrible things to happen to him.”
Her face started to crumble, and she only just kept her composure as she looked at Mitch.
“And then it did,” she said. She swiped at her cheeks again, though the effort was in vain by now. “I wanted this to happen to him. I wanted it.”
“Summer, hey,” he said, reaching out and taking her by the arm. He dipped his head, willing her to hold his gaze. “This isn’t on you. I didn’t tell you any of that to make you feel guilty.”
Her breathing was rapid now, and she sniffled. “I know, I know,” she rambled. “I just -- shit. I just want to have a chance. I want him to have a chance.” She inhaled tremulously, her face nearly breaking again. “A chance for him to make it up to me.”
The tears were falling faster than she could stop them now, and Mitch did the only thing left to do: he took her in his arms, pressing himself against her as her control shattered and she started to cry.
For a moment, that was all there was. Her broken sobs in his steady arms. All against the backdrop of Brody’s quiet struggle to live. This wasn’t any of them at their best, but there was no place to hide here.
More importantly, there was no reason to hide either.
Mitch held fast until her sobs started to ease and then taper off. When she finally pulled back, she looked like a mess, but her gaze wasn’t as reluctant as it was before. She looked at Mitch, somehow grateful. “I’m sorry. For this.”
“We’ve all been at less than our best the last few weeks,” Mitch told her, because that much at least was true. “The fact that you’re here at all says everything.”
“What, though?” she asked, taking to wiping her face and trying to regain a semblance of composure.
“That you love him, too,” Mitch replied, this time not even missing a beat.
Her composure faltered again, but this time with a smile. The look turned sad as she looked at Brody again. “I still hate seeing him like this,” she said. “I just wish I could something.”
“You are,” Mitch told her.
“Sitting here?” she asked, skeptical.
“Yeah,” Mitch said, and this was so much easier to tell to someone else; much harder to believe when it was being told to you. Fortunately, Mitch was good at rallying people to a cause. Especially a cause as worthy as Brody. “Look, last night, he crashed and burned, several times. He was spiraling the drain, Summer.”
It was a little bit harsher than he intended, but Mitch hurriedly made his point.
“Today, though? With you and the others around?” Mitch said. “He’s doing so much better. You, especially. If he knows you’re here, that you’re going to stand by him, then you’re giving him all the motivation in the world to live. And right now, that’s what he needs.”
Summer thought about that, her eyes resting on Brody once more. “I don’t know why I should believe you either,” she said, but her entire demeanor had softened. “You lied to me, too.”
“I know,” Mitch said. “And I know I had good reasons, but I’m still sorry for it.”
Summer stepped closer to Brody, resting her hand on his arm. “Yeah,” she said softly. “Me, too.”
Mitch stepped back, letting himself melt back toward the wall. Summer needed this moment, more than he did.
Come to think of it, Brody probably did, too.
Still, Mitch couldn’t bring himself to leave.
Instead, he slipped to the wall, watching as Summer ran her hand up his arm, before lacing her fingers through his hair, pressing it back against his head. She hesitated, then, letting her fingers rest here before she bent over and pressed a slow kiss into his cheek.
On the monitors, Brody showed no signs of change.
Standing on the wall, watching, Mitch knew that everything had changed.
This time, for the better.
It had been a hell of a two weeks, and Mitch had been hanging on to these last 48 hours like a lifeline. A promise that they would, in fact, be over.
Then, without any warning, Brody decided to do it on his own timeline. Because this was Brody they were talking about. He could never follow a plan without throwing a few wrenches into it.
For once, Brody at least worked things out for the better.
That night, during Mitch’s shift with him, Brody started to stir. Then, he started to struggle. At first, Mitch feared the worst, but he quickly realized that Brody’s eyes were open. Brody was trying to breathe.
He was fighting the vent.
The monitors blared, and Mitch was moving to the door to call for help when a nurse came in to check on them. She had Mitch stand out of way at first, but as she called for the doctor, Brody was still struggling. She strained to keep him from hurting himself and Mitch didn’t want to wait anymore. Coming alongside the nurse, Mitch took Brody’s other arm and held it down. But, more importantly, he leaned over Brody, staying fast until Brody’s terrified gaze locked with his own.
“Hey, buddy,” Mitch said. He was grinning now. Seriously, wildly grinning. “Welcome back.”
Brody was confused, pained and pretty scared.
But he calmed at Mitch’s voice.
He eased into Mitch’s touch.
He wasn’t alone.
That much Brody understood.
And that much was all Brody needed.
That much was all either of them needed.
They weren’t alone anymore.
When the doctor arrived, Mitch was asked to leave while Brody was checked over and extubated. By the time the others arrived, Mitch told them the good news mere minutes before the doctor came out and made it official.
“It’s a remarkable turnaround,” the doctor said, and he actually sounded impressed. “There seem to be no neurological deficits, and his responses are all in order. His kidneys and liver seem to be back to normal function, but we are still watching his heart. We’ll need to keep him here for awhile to continue to monitor his progress, but I think at this point, we can stop thinking about survival and start focusing more on recovery.”
Ronnie and CJ hugged, and Summer looked like she was crying again, though no one was about to call her on that. Stephanie smiled.
For all of them, Mitch shook the doctor’s hand. “Thank you, for everything,” he said.
“I can only take credit for so much,” he said humbly. “Mr. Brody did quite a bit of the hard work himself, and if I may be frank, I think you all were instrumental in getting him this far.”
They thanked the doctor again -- and again, just for good measure -- before hugging each other in relief. They knew that it was true, of course. That they had helped get Brody this far.
What the doctor should have implied, however, was that they were going to get him the rest of the way, too.
Mitch had no doubt about that.
At least, he had no doubts until he went in to see Brody.
They were asked to go in one at a time for now, in order to keep Brody from being overstimulated. His heart was still recovering from the minor heart attack, so the official stance from the doctor was that minimizing surprises and activities was essential for the time being.
Mitch had been prepared to let Summer go in first, but she had all but insisted that Mitch take his turn.
Under other circumstances, Mitch might have demurred.
But who was he kidding?
Or course he wanted to see Brody first.
That he was confident about.
The doubt set in later.
Not when he saw Brody, because Brody was awake. He was conscious and alert. He knew exactly who Mitch was, and he was breathing on his own.
No, the doubt kicked in when the first thing out of Brody’s mouth was, “Did we get Anikka?”
It wasn’t that Mitch hadn’t thought about the case at all since Brody had been overdosed, but it was just that he hadn’t thought about the case at all. That had been Ellerbee’s job; Mitch’s job had been Brody. That had been a clean and easy separation while Brody was unconscious.
Now that he was awake, Mitch could tell that this wasn’t going to be so clean or easy.
Still, Mitch was going to try not to talk about it now.
He smiled, easing into the chair by Brody’s bed. “We don’t need to worry about that now,” Mitch said, trying to be easily dismissive without being flippant. “You just woke up, man.”
Brody was not to be deterred. Weak as he was -- the kid couldn’t even lift his head off the pillow yet, and his voice was barely louder than a whisper -- he was utterly focused on this point. “She changed the plan, man,” he croaked. “She decided to cut me loose, and then she was going to frame me instead, but the shipment on the beach wasn’t the real thing and-and--”
Brody’s voice broke off, garbled and raw, and he gagged for a moment while Mitch hastily provided him with some water. Brody drank it, meager sips, before he took a railing breath and honed in on Mitch again.
“We got to stop her,” Brody said. “Before she gets too established.”
That was a good point, and no doubt it was the point that Ellerbee had been driving since things went south. He hadn’t even realized how much he hadn’t missed talking about the case.
Until here he was, talking about the case.
Which was stupid since the case had nearly killed Brody. Stupider still since Brody had only woken up an hour ago. He wondered if Brody had any idea just how close this had come to being a murder case.
“Ellerbee is working on it,” Mitch said, because outright deflection wasn’t going to work. He could only hope to appease Brody.
Brody had become too much like Mitch, however. He didn’t know when to quit, even when it was in his own obvious best interest. “I have to talk to him,” he rasped. He reached out, as if to grab something, but the only thing in range was Mitch’s arms. His fingers clasped weakly around them. “I need to tell him what I know.”
“You will,” Mitch said. “Just, you know, not now.”
This time, Brody actually had the blind audacity to try to sit up. He didn’t get very far, but Mitch pressed him back down to the bed for good measure. Still, Brody struggled. “We have to stop her.”
“Dude, I know,” Mitch said, feeling vaguely frustrated now. He had been looking forward to enjoying seeing Brody conscious, but this was a little ridiculous. “But you just woke up. You had a minor heart attack last night, and you didn’t have a recorder on you when you last talked to Leeds. The cops are trying to find other evidence, but it’s going to take some time.”
Brody seemed to take this personally. Distressed, he started to try to get up again, but Mitch was still holding him down so all he did was mewl pathetically. “We have to finish this case, Mitch. We have to.”
The way he said it was so desperate that Mitch felt himself waver.
But for what?
What could Brody possibly do?
Brody sank back, surrendering against Mitch’s grip. “She doesn’t know I was undercover,” he said.
Mitch stopped at that, his fingers loosening in the shock. “What?”
“She doesn’t know I was undercover,” Brody said again, a little more vehement this time even though every word still sounded like it was being ripped from his throat.
Mitch had known that was a possibility, but he hadn’t actually considered the relevance of that fact until Brody said it to him.
Looking at him like that.
Mitch let go, suppressing the urge to swear. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, even though he knew it did matter. He could still hope, couldn’t he? There was nothing wrong with hope. He shook his head, as if that somehow proved his point. “You’re out.”
“But you said they still needed evidence,” Brody said.
“Sure, evidence they will get from someplace else,” Mitch said.
Brody was undaunted. It didn’t seem possible for someone to be so close to death one minute and than so utterly hard-headed the next. “It still has to be me,” he said. “If we’re going to finish this quickly, I’m the only option.”
Mitch wanted to say no.
He was supposed to say no.
But for some reason, all he could say was: “You’ll lie here, you’ll rest, if I call Ellerbee?”
Brody nodded, completely earnest.
“You won’t move a damn muscle?” Mitch clarified.
“Fine,” Mitch relented, and he got out his phone. “But we’re only going to talk.”
The others were in disbelief when Mitch told them what had happened. They seemed to think Mitch must be joking.
“You actually called Ellerbee?” Stephanie asked, as if she was hoping she’d misheard him.
“Well, Ellerbee would want to see Brody, you know, as a friend,” Ronnie said, trying to be helpful.
CJ gave him a look to let him know that he was not being helpful. “Brody already said he wants to talk about the case.”
“And that’s all it’s going to be,” Mitch promised. “Brody needs to have some closure about this. He won’t calm down unless we let him talk to Ellerbee. He did risk his life for this.”
In that, Mitch at least had a compelling point. Ronnie was swayed by it, and CJ was at least softened. Stephanie was still wondering if Mitch had lost his shit.
It was Summer and Summer alone who saw through him. She scoffed. “Brody destroyed all his relationships, everything he worked so hard for over the last few months, and the reason he did it was for this case,” she said. “If you really think that he’s just going to talk to Ellerbee, then you guys are really dumb.”
Mitch shrugged, feeling helpless. He was helpless. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Call Ellerbee, of course,” Summer said. “But this time, we all talk to Ellerbee. Together.”
That idea worked. For CJ and Ronnie and even Stephanie.
Really, it worked for Mitch, too. In fact, he was a little surprised he hadn’t thought of himself. He was off his game for sure.
That was why it was nice to have backup on this one.
He nodded, resolute now. “We talk to Ellerbee together,” he said. “But someone’s going to have to con the nurses into letting all of us into that room.”
CJ smirked. “Leave that to us,” she said, tugging Ronnie’s hand.
“To us?” Ronnie asked, stumbling after her.
CJ rolled her eyes. “To us.”
Stephanie sighed. “I’ll make sure we have some paper, something to write with.”
She disappeared down the hall, too.
That left Summer and Mitch, and Summer stared at Mitch hard. “Are you sure he’s ready for this? He’s stable enough?”
“He won’t be stable if we don’t do this,” Mitch said. “You know how much he was willing to risk for this case. If we try to keep him out of it now--”
“He’s likely to go get himself killed,” Summer concluded. She nodded, mostly to herself. “Then I guess it’s time to beat this case.”
“Yeah,” Mitch agreed, with a small shake of his head. “It’s way past time.”
CJ and Ronnie talked to the nurses, who referred them to the doctor. He as skeptical, as anyone naturally would be when being told that a patient who had just suffered a heart attack was going to be included on tense discussions regarding an ongoing police investigation. But the fact that Brody had made a miraculous recovery did work in their favor. The doctor eyed them all carefully and seemed to come to the conclusion that Brody was not your typical case, and the crazy lifeguards in front of him were probably why.
Plus, CJ and Ronnie totally bribed the nurses with doughnuts and free coffee. Stephanie returned, equipped pens, paper and clipboards because she was prepared like that, and while Mitch called Ellerbee to set things up, Summer stayed with Brody to keep him calm.
The funny thing was that the most questionable part of the plan so far as that Summer would keep Brody calm. Brody was so turned on by Summer that Mitch was sure that calm would be the last thing on his groggy mind, but Mitch was trusting that if Brody’s body could handle undercover work, then he could probably handle a hot girl holding his hand.
Especially if it was a girl he happened to love.
When Ellerbee arrived, the team was more than ready to go, but Ellerbee showed signs of hesitation.
“You did say he just woke up, right?” Ellerbee asked. “I mean, I’m glad he’s okay and all, but shouldn’t we let him rest.”
“We tried that, and he objected,” Mitch said.
“Sure, but you remember the part about the heart attack?”
“Minor heart attack,” Mitch amended because that was where he was at with shit now. “And yeah, I mean, I was there.”
Ellerbee looked increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. “And you’re cool with this?”
“Does it matter?” Mitch asked. “Brody’s set on doing this, and none of us is about to let Brody tackle this alone this time. So if he’s doing it, then I think the rest of us have to be committed.”
Ellerbee had no argument to that. There were plenty of arguments, but none that any of them were about to voice at the time. The choice was made; there was no turning back.
“All right,” Ellerbee said. He held up a finger of warning. “But he’s not going to have an active role, you hear? I’ll hear his evidence and talk him through where we’re at, but Brody is out.”