Brody woke up feeling bad.
His throat was on fire again, and his head felt fuzzy like his brain had been wrapped with gauze. Like, not his head, but his actual brain, and it muffled all the sound in his ears, too. Every part of him felt drained, like his legs and arms could have been dead weights only intended to hold him down. His chest ached, and he could feel each beat of his heart like it was a special sort of event.
Then, he opened his eyes to see Mitch, sitting right next to him.
“You’re a dumbass, you know that?” Mitch asked, but if he was trying to be stern, he was failing pretty badly. He looked downright relieved.
Funny, Brody didn’t feel so bad anymore.
But then he tried to speak -- and okay, he still felt kind of bad. It took several efforts before he managed to have enough saliva to produce sound, and after that it still took a second or two before discernible words came out of his mouth. Even then, they sounded strained and weak and barely audible. “What happened?”
Mitch laughed a little in that way that said it was super funny and not funny at all. “You were undercover,” he said. “Do you remember that?”
How could Brody forget? That stupid undercover assignment had run his life over the past few weeks. It had been all he could think about, all he could do. But Mitch was asking about something else, something more specific.
Brody’s eyes widened. Shit, he did remember. “She confessed,” he said, the words still sounding garbled. He ignored that, persisting anyway. “Did you get the confession?”
Mitch was already nodded before Brody could finish that butchered question. “We got the confession -- the one about the drugs and the one about her trying to kill you,” he said. “Not to mention, we were able to catch her in the act of a second attempt.”
That was good.
Well, some of it was good.
“Did she drug me again?” Brody asked, because that point seemed fuzzy to him.
“Obviously,” Mitch said. “But why didn’t you alert us when she did?”
“I didn’t see her do it,” Brody said. “I woke up and she was there, just, like, watching me.”
“Yeah, she’s a real peach that one,” Mitch observed. “But still. When you had the confession, you had to know she was going to make an attempt.”
“Well, I guess,” Brody said. He swallowed, experimentally wiggling his toes and fingers just to prove to himself that he still could. The effort was a little exhausting. “But I wanted to make sure I had everything you guys needed.”
“We told you to use the button,” Mitch reminded him. This time he was able to pull off stern a little better. A little, but not much.
“And I thought you’d come in,” Brody protested. “Actually, I kept worrying you’d bust in there before she could finish. I wanted to be thorough. You know, not half-ass things.”
“This is not the time for you to start displaying responsibility,” Mitch lectured him, but he was back to sounding farcical about it. “Seriously. You should have used the button. She nearly killed you.”
This made him think, but probably not as much as it should. His first case with Mitch had set sort of a high bar, and for as bad as all this had been, nearly drowning and having a gun to his head had been more traumatic in some ways. Getting drugged -- twice -- seemed a little less dramatic.
That was ironic, considering that Anikka seemed to have a flair for drama. But she wasn’t as polished, so she probably lack creativity in her execution.
Still, Brody shifted a little on the bed, just to see how it felt. He reminded himself that he’d had a minor heart attack, seizure and his heart had stopped.
Maybe Anikka did have this one over on her sister.
“I guess,” he said, and he wasn’t sure why he sounded noncommittal about it. It wasn’t like he doubted it. He knew that she’d almost killed him. And yet, Brody couldn’t think of a thing he’d actually change about this. “It’s just, I knew you were there, you know? And Ellerbee said we needed a confession.”
“Don’t say that Ellerbee or he may still throttle you,” Mitch said. “He’s almost as pissed as I am.”
“But the case--”
“Brody, screw the case,” Mitch said, and he said it so definitively that Brody kept his mouth shut. “We care about you more than the case. I care about you.”
This wasn’t actually news to Brody. Mitch was the dude who bailed him out of jail when he was drunk as a skunk, and he was the dude who listened to Brody confess the reality that his birth mother had tried to scam him out of money and Brody would have fallen for it if he had any. More than that, Mitch was the guy who went out and bought Brody bedroom furniture and saved his life twice -- on this job alone.
And yet, it was still weird to hear.
Because it wasn’t an order or something. Mitch wasn’t commanding Brody to be or not to be or some other shit. He was telling Brody that they were equals, somehow. That they both cared about each other and that it mattered.
This probably seemed normal to everyone else in the world, people who had parents who loved them and families that celebrated holidays. Brody was still new to this, and he still sucked at it by all accounts.
Tiredly, he sighed. “This family shit,” he said finally. He looked at Mitch, apologetic and hopeful. “It’s hard.”
“Yeah,” Mitch said with a rueful chuckle. “And you sure as hell don’t make it easy.”
Brody wanted to disappear a little, but sinking down into the blankets wasn’t going to do him much good.
Especially since Mitch noticed.
Of course Mitch noticed.
Gently, Mitch reached out and nudged him, clearly mindful of his still healing body. “Don’t worry, though,” he said. “We’re working on it.”
Brody perked up, just a little. Just enough. “Together?”
Mitch rolled his eyes. “Yeah,” he said, and he only sounded like he wanted to regret it. There was no way he actually did. “Together.”
Mitch made it sound like that line was getting old.
But Brody knew better.
As far as Brody was concerned, that shit was never going to get old.
The thing about being a lifeguard was that the end of the case was the end of the case.
The thing about being a cop was that the case was never really over.
There was all this paperwork, all this legalese. There were court orders and legal motions, and lawyers were involved. It was immediately tedious to Mitch, and he was more than happy to let Ellerbee deal with that shit while Mitch handled the things that really mattered.
The day after Brody’s second incident, his status had officially been upgraded. He was no longer considered a critical patient, and his heart rate was stable enough to transfer him to a normal room. Mitch handled the details of this move, having taken over the point position from Stephanie, and he had already expertly mapped out Brody’s recovery schedule, charting the necessary tests and appointments to get him back on the track to full recovery.
The rest of the team had to go back to work, naturally. Baywatch couldn’t afford to let six of its elite stay off the beach for any period of time, but Stephanie did arrange their schedules accordingly so that Brody had a second visitor every morning and afternoon. Evenings were sort of a catch-all. No one was assigned to show up; they all showed up anyway.
Within two days, Brody was starting physical therapy and underwent daily stress tests to monitor his heart activity. At first, Mitch had refused to leave his side for any of this, but as Brody became increasingly alert, he also became increasingly difficult. Apparently, he didn’t like it when Mitch was around to see every intimate detail of his body.
He didn’t have the heart to tell Brody that he’d been hanging out in his hospital room for days. He was pretty sure he’d seen it all already.
All the same, it afforded him some free time, which merely allowed him to grab a bite to eat and get some cardio of his own in the halls. It was weird, maybe, but none of the nurses seemed to mind. When he was done with a particularly innovative arm routine, he was making his way back to Brody’s room when he saw a figure lurking outside of Brody’s door.
Immediately, his defenses flared. Anikka was in prison; so were her two goons. Still.
When the figure looked at him, Mitch realized it wasn’t anyone associated with Anikka.
No, it was Larsen, the district attorney who had orchestrated Brody’s deal.
Somehow, despite the fact that Larsen probably wasn’t here to kill Brody, Mitch found his presence almost more odious. He did not attempt to be friendly when he approached. Larsen made some attempt to shake his hand, but Mitch stared at him until Larsen smartly put his hand away.
“I was waiting for Mr. Brody,” Larsen explained.
“Figures you’d show up now,” Mitch said, crossing his arms over his chest. It made his biceps look huge. That was sort of the point. “When everything is done.”
Larsen, the bastard that he was, refused to be intimidated. “I’m a DA,” he said plaintively. “I work the case from a different angle, and while the police pulled their weight in the beginning, it’s my job that kicks into gear now.”
The fact that he had a point didn’t matter. Mitch didn’t give a shit. He hated this guy out of principle. “Then what do you need Brody for?”
“Well, we need Brody for a lot of things,” Larsen said. “I mean, you do realize he’s going to be working closely with the DA’s office for the duration of this case. We’ll need lots of testimony, and he’ll need to make signed statements, and if Leeds doesn’t take a plea deal, then he’ll have to be available for trial--”
None of this was what Mitch wanted to hear.
That was why he liked being a lifeguard.
None of this shit was his concern.
Shaking his head, Mitch stood his ground. “Before he lifts a finger to help you, you better tell me you’re here to help him.”
Larsen stared at him, for a moment almost contemplating whether or not to screw with Mitch on this front. He seriously considered it, but then he wisely seemed to think better of it. “Of course,” he said. He held up the file in his hand. “I have the paperwork right here.”
Mitch raised his eyebrows, expectant.
“It’s paperwork that verifies that Mr. Brody fulfilled his end of the bargain,” he said. “Regardless of the outcome of the case at this point, Mr. Brody has provided sufficient evidence for the DA’s office that has allowed us to draw up charges against Ms. Leeds. The paperwork has been signed off on by the DA’s office.”
Mitch eyed him, inherently skeptical.
Larsen held out the file at him, jabbing at Mitch until he took it. “Look it over, see for yourself,” he said. “Your friend Mr. Brody no longer has a criminal record. He’s clear.”
Mitch opened the file. In truth, he wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but as he flipped through a few pages, he looked back at Larsen. The guy was a jackass, but Mitch didn’t peg him for a liar. Guys like Larsen didn’t care enough about what people thought of them to lie. It was probably why he made a good district attorney.
Closing the file, Mitch drew himself back up.
Larsen shrugged. “The only reason I’m here is because I thought he’d like to know,” he said. “I mean, I could have made him wait, but by all accounts, it’s been a long two weeks.”
And longer still until the case had worked its way through the court system. Now that Larsen had gotten what he needed from Brody, he could only hope that the guy would focus his opportunistic mindset on someone who deserved it, like Leeds. “I can give it to him,” Mitch offered, and they both knew it wasn’t an innocent offer. “Unless you need to make it official or whatever.”
Larsen held up his hands; he actually looked somewhat relieved. “It’s already official, like I said,” he explained. “Believe it or not, I was trying to be nice. I don’t usually make house calls.”
That much Mitch actually believed. It was possible -- likely, even -- that Larsen had made an impossible deal that he had never expected Brody to fulfill. That fact made Mitch hate Larsen a little more, but it also made his presence here seem all that much more genuine. Brody’s tenacity had saved Larsen a lot of work. Though he was reluctant to admit it, Larsen was probably grateful.
“Well, I’m just glad that it’s over,” Mitch said, forcing himself to ease his stance toward Larsen out of the merest shreds of respect.
“I would remind him, if I were you, that his clean record is something that covers past offenses,” Larsen said. “If he continues with any reckless or stupid behavior in the future, he’s starting from scratch.”
And no doubt, he wouldn’t be able to cash in any favors with their resident DA.
That said, Mitch wouldn’t expect that.
Just like he didn’t expect Brody to be perfect. The kid had a lot to learn, more than Mitch probably knew even now. But he wasn’t going to be facing it alone.
Mitch shook his head, a weary smile on his face. “I’m glad you’re one of the good guys, Larsen,” he said, barely managing to extend his hand. Larsen took it with the slightest of hesitations. “Or I’d probably have to kick your ass.”
“And then I’d probably have to charge you with assault,” Larsen quipped back. When they let go of the handshake, Larsen adjusted his tie. “By the way, you may be called as a witness as well. I assume I can count on your cooperation.”
Mitch inclined his head. “I finish what I start,” he said. “No matter what.”
Larsen lingered, one last moment. “You know, I have admit, this one surprised me,” he said. “When I saw the file on your friend Mr. Brody, I thought there was no way this would. I thought he’d crash and burn.”
“And you still offered him the deal?” Mitch asked.
“I had nothing to lose,” Larsen said. He shook his head, as if this point truly vexed him. “He might be able to change his life, you know. After all this. He might actually be able to make something of his second chance.”
Mitch shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Nah,” he said, walking past Larsen and patting him on the shoulder. “I think he already has.”
During Olympic training, Brody had been asked to work himself out until he couldn’t walk. No joke, it was physically grueling to the extent that drinking hadn’t been recreational for him. It had been therapeutic. And he lived like that for months. Years. You didn’t win gold medals by luck or chance. You had to know how to sweat.
And after all that, Brody had never sweat as much as he had in PT.
Seriously, those trainers made his Olympic coaches look like freakin’ saint.
The worst part about it was that Brody wasn’t even trying to break some world record.
He was trying to walk across the room.
When they deposited him back in his bed after his latest session, Brody almost wished he had died. It would have been less humiliating. At this rate, he would never be a viable candidate in the pool again.
Much less a Baywatch lifeguard.
He was going to be that stupid, pathetic lifeguard who got transferred upstairs in HQ to do public relations and paperwork.
When Mitch came in, Brody was still breathless and feeling quite sorry for himself. Normally he liked the company, but he wasn’t sure he wanted it right now while he was staring miserably at the way his future seemed to be closing in around him.
“Hey,” Mitch said, sounding chipper. Mitch was always chipper. He was a guy who always had something to be chipper about. “How was PT?”
Brody gave him a scathing look.
Mitch made a face that suggested mild sympathy. “You know what they’ve said,” he explained, not for the first time. “You have to be patient. It’s been less than a week. There’s no lasting damage to your heart, so you’re going to make a full recovery, but get real, man. It took you two weeks to take down Leeds. Give yourself just as much time to recover, if not more.”
This was reasonable.
Brody didn’t feel reasonable. He felt tired, sore, achy and helpless.
“This totally sucks, though,” he said. “I can, like, feel my muscles going flabby.”
Mitch arched his eyebrows. “You worried that you won’t look good in your speedos anymore?”
Brody glared at Mitch. “I just feel like I’m never going to be myself again,” he said crossly. “Like I’m just -- less.”
It was a dumb explanation, but Brody didn’t know how else to say it. He was too tired to think that hard anyway.
Fortunately, this much at least Mitch seemed to take seriously. “You’ll get there,” he said. “Just be patient.”
“Mitch, you didn’t see me in there,” Brody protested.
“Because you don’t want me to see you in there,” Mitch reminded him.
“Because I’m pathetic!” Brody said. “I mean, no wonder I got drugged twice! They were asking me to do, like, sit ups, and I basically died after five. Do you know how many I used to be able to do?”
“I do,” Mitch said. “And I’m pretty sure your core strength has nothing to do with you getting drugged. I think you’re tired and you’re looking for anything to blame.”
This also sounded reasonable, and Brody was too miserable to deny anything. Instead, he flopped back and threw his arm over his eyes. “I’ll never pass the qualifiers at Baywatch after this. I have ruined my career.”
Mitch reached over and actually lifted his arm. He was still looking patient, but there was just a touch of annoyance now. “You haven’t,” he said. “You’ll get there even if I have to train with you myself.”
Brody made a face. “So you can remind me how weak I am?”
Mitch rolled his eyes. “You’re being ridiculous.”
Brody put his arms back down, shrugging. “I feel like shit.”
“Well, cheer up,” Mitch said, and he pulled out a file folder. Brody had no idea why that was supposed to make him feel better, but Mitch held it out to him anyway. “I come bearing good news.”
It still just looked like a shitty file folder with shitty paperwork he didn’t want to do. Brody made no effort to take it.
Mitch finally dropped it on him. “I got that from Larsen.”
That name made Brody do a double take. “Wait, Larsen? The DA?”
Brody picked it up slowly. “Why would Larsen give you anything?”
“He brought it for you,” Mitch said. “But I figured you didn’t need to see his smug face.”
Given that Brody wanted to see no one, Mitch had made an accurate guess.
“Open it,” Mitch ordered.
It looked like paperwork.
A lot of paperwork.
Brody shook his head. “But what--”
Mitch’s patience finally gave way. “It’s your deal!” he said.
Brody looked at the papers, which still looked really like papers. Then he looked at Mitch, hoping that he would not be forced to actually read the papers. “The plea deal?” he asked.
Mitch nodded, and he was grinning now. “It’s official,” he announced with some amount of actual pride. “You no longer have a criminal record.”
That sort of undercut the pride. You were supposed to be proud when people broke records or made discoveries or were inherently good.
Not when they managed to wipe out their criminal history.
Because good people didn’t have criminal histories in the first place.
Brody’s tempered response had dampened Mitch’s smile. “You’re not happy,” he said. “I was really counting on you being more happy.”
“No, it’s good,” Brody said, flipping through the papers again, although they still meant nothing to him. “It’s just. I don’t know.”
Mitch gave him a look of skepticism. “This whole case was about this deal.”
And it wasn’t.
Not that brody was completely altruistic -- prison sounded like a terrible idea for a guy like him, really terrible -- but he knew he could have been talked into this investigation for a lot less. He’d done this for Baywatch.
This file cleared Brody.
But his friends had already shown him how much this victory meant.
Brody cocked his head, thoughtful. “I guess it just doesn’t change as much as I thought it would.”
“You do know how many things are better for you now that you don’t have a criminal record, right?” Mitch asked, because he sounded vaguely concerned that Brody didn’t know. “I mean, even the drug charges after Rio. It’s gone, man.”
“I know,” Brody said, and it wasn’t his intention to sound ungrateful or flippant. It was just: “But it doesn’t change, I don’t know, me. It doesn’t change Baywatch.”
Mitch’s face looked funny for a moment. A little surprised. A little proud.
A little like he’d already known this shit already.
He reached out, nudging Brody with familiarity. “Well, however you feel about it, this is your second chance.”
Now, Brody was finally grinning. Not because Mitch was right.
But because he was wrong for all the best reasons. “Nah,” Brody said, closing up the file and handing it back to Mitch. “Pretty sure I already got that.”
Mitch took the file, and this time there was nothing inscrutable about his expression. This time, straight up, it was all pride.
“Then you better stop trying to screw it up by dying, asshole,” Mitch said, swatting at his head. “Because you’ve worked hard for it.”
Brody huffed, stifling a groan as he tried to duck away. “And I think I still have to work hard for it.”
“That’s the truth,” Mitch said, sitting back in his chair, beaming. “And don’t you forget it.”
He wouldn’t forget it.
Most of all, he didn’t want to.
Mitch didn’t actually want to leave Brody alone.
However, he had to leave Brody alone.
Because if he didn’t, Brody was probably going to get really pissed off at him. That seemed like a ridiculous response, but apparently Mitch was hovering. Brody tolerated coddling (Mitch knew he liked it but wanted to deny it), but he did have his limits like any adult man probably did. Mitch had just been disappointed that their definitions of that limit were different.
Prior to this case, they probably would have been more in line with one another. However, Mitch had seen Brody nearly die a few too many times. If anything, Brody was lucky that Mitch was showing restraint.
Still, Mitch could be an adult about this. He could act mature.
Brody was clearing all his medical checks. For all his whining about it, he was actually doing exceptionally well at physical therapy. He didn’t need a babysitter. And as much as he might want one, it was clear that he and Mitch would have to find a happy medium after this incident.
A medium that involved Brody not getting drugged and Mitch not keeping him on a leash.
In theory, that was relatively easy.
In practical application, it meant that Mitch had to go back to work.
A little, not a lot. Stephanie had offered to put him back on full shifts, but Mitch had declined. The rest of the team was back to it, though they still took their off shifts in the hospital to keep Brody from going stir crazy. Summer had scaled back, though not as much as Mitch, and she would often pop up in Brody’s room when Mitch wasn’t expecting her.
By the looks on their faces, it was clear Brody and Summer hadn’t been expecting him either.
It was all fine by Mitch. Brody’s heart had been cleared for strenuous activity a few days ago.
As for Mitch, he opted for shorter shifts, mostly in the office. This gave him the ability to check back on Brody frequently while also allowing Brody some semblance of privacy.
For the record, this wasn’t mostly about privacy. This was mostly about the fact that Brody needed to know that Mitch still trusted Brody. Sure, the whole team knew of Brody’s true loyalties now, but Brody himself was probably doubting his actual capabilities. The DA might have been happy with his work, but Brody was keenly aware that he’d nearly gotten himself killed a few times on this one. His confidence in the team was at an all time high; his confidence in himself would take some work.
In other words, Brody needed a little distance. If Mitch hovered, he was reinforcing the idea that Brody needed someone to hover. And Mitch wanted Brody to know that he could do it on his own.
But he also wanted to hover.
So he worked weird sections of time and pretended like it full time to make Brody feel like he was doing shit on his own without actually doing too much shit on his own.
It was a little weird and complicated, but this case had been weird and complicated.
With Brody around, this team was going to be weird and complicated.
In the best way possible.
Still, as Brody regained his strength, Mitch felt like his own was flagging. He was ready for Brody to be ready for work so Mitch could go back to his regular routine. Of course, he would probably be better accepting that with Brody in his life, regular was always going to be a little exhausting.
It would be better when they hit the beach together, though. When they could be lifeguards again. That was where their bond had been born. That was where it had been tested and proven. That was where real recovery would take place. That was the only normal that mattered.
On his way back to the hospital after a few hours of paperwork, he ran into Ellerbee coming outside. They greeted each other warmly.
“I was just visiting with our boy,” Ellerbee said enthusiastically. “He’s looking a lot better, even from the day before.”
“His appetite’s gotten better, so he’s had more energy,” Mitch explained. “Originally, they wanted to keep him longer, but the doctor said that he looks good for an early release tomorrow.”
Ellerbee grinned. “That’s awesome,” he said.
“Yeah,” Mitch said, and this never failed to make him smile either. He couldn’t get over it, how a week ago Brody had been barely alive and now it seemed like nothing would stop him. “I think he’s pretty anxious to get back to work. I keep telling him not to rush it or anything, but I can tell he’s not listening.”
“Like either of you have ever listened to things you didn’t want to hear,” Ellerbee chided him lightly. “You have only yourself to blame. You can’t make yourself a protege and then complain that he’s learned too well.”
“I’m not that bad,” Mitch protested.
Ellerbee managed to pull off a look of disbelief. “No, you’re worse,” he said. “Fortunately, you’re good at anything you put your mind to, so it mostly turns out okay.”
Mostly. Mitch snorted. He wondered how long it would take before this case was filed under the mostly category.
Or, more to the point, when it already had been.
“Anyway, he’ll be back on the beach in no time,” Ellerbee said. He gave Mitch a friendly shove. “And you two will be hitting me up for our next case.”
Mitch snorted again, this time with incredulity. Not enough time had passed for that one to fly. “Next case is yours, man.”
“Shit,” Ellerbee said in surprise. “You did take this one hard, didn’t you?”
“Uh, Brody almost died. Like, twice,” Mitch said. “There was mouth to mouth involved.”
“You give mouth to mouth all the time,” Ellerbee said.
“He had a seizure,” Mitch said. “And a minor heart attack. Honestly, we’re lucky he’s even alive.”
“Huh,” Ellerbee said. “I never thought I’d see the day that Mitch Buchannon turned tail.”
“Hey, I’m not turning tail,” Mitch said, holding up a finger to be menacing even if he wasn’t remotely fooling Ellerbee. “I’m just saying, that I get it a little better now. I get that you’re a cop and do cop shit. We’re lifeguards. Those things are not completely interchangeable.”
Ellerbee shook his head. “Nah. I’m not buying it.”
“You think I want to do this again?” Mitch pointed out.
“No, but I think you can’t help yourself,” Ellerbee said. “And even if you can convince me that you’ve learned better, do you really think this has taught any of the rest of them that lesson? Especially Brody?”
That thought made Mitch stop.
He hadn’t thought about that.
He didn’t want to think about it.
All he can do was sigh. In resignation, he laughed and shook his head. “Probably not.”
Ellerbee, at least, knew he had no high ground on to stand on in this one. Instead, he offered Mitch an olive branch. “So, I’ll see you on the next one?”
Mitch nodded. “Yeah, man,” he said. “I guess you will.”
Rocking on his heels, Ellerbee inclined his head one more time. “I’d say the next one has to be easier than this,” he said. “But I don’t want to go tempting fate.”
Mitch agreed, patting Ellerbee’s shoulder as he passed. “Especially not where Brody is concerned.”
Going inside the hospital, Mitch couldn’t find it in himself to be wary about the proposition. After all, he’d been looking for normal.
And what was more normal than Mitch tracking down a case?
That answer was simple: Mitch tracking down a case with his team.
In light of everything, it did make him a little nervous.
But mostly, Mitch couldn’t deny it, it made him smile.
Maybe it was a little early for optimism, but Mitch was one of those kinds of people. He saw the good in everything, even when most people couldn’t even start. And this time?
Brody was alive, he was recovering, his team was together. All that had happened, as close as they’d come, seeing the good in this--
--was as easy as it’d ever been.
Brody had been so, so ready to leave the hospital. He’d been begging the doctor for, like, days, and he’d been pushing himself in PT and taking all his meds and doing all the right shit just so they would give him those damn release forms and convince Mitch that yes, Brody was actually going to be okay.
He’d really wanted it.
And then, when it happened, when the papers were signed and his bag was packed, Brody was starting to have second thoughts.
Not that he liked the hospital. It had shitty food and he was always being poked and prodded and nurses walked in on him, like, all the time, and people were always listening to his heart beat like it was some super amazing awesome special thing.
But the hospital was safe.
This wasn’t Brody and PTSD or something. Brody wasn’t scared that people were going to corner him in storage closets and give him drugs. No, Brody was scared that they’d release him and then he’d have to live his life again. Like, without screwing it up.
He had a clean bill of health. More than that, he had a clean legal slate. No convictions.
Those things weren’t the most important things in the world to him, but he was suddenly aroused with a terrifying notion that he had to maintain them. Like, he could get himself killed again. He could go on a bender and get himself arrested. And then all of this would be for nothing and everyone would discover that Brody was some stupid joke that they should have left for dead in that storage room.
It was a fear of failure.
And Brody was stricken with it for the first time in a long, long time.
Probably because this was the first time in a long time that he’d really known how much he had to lose.
As if sensing his fear, Mitch patted him on the shoulder. “You think you’ve got everything?”
Brody had his paperwork, his clothes, the items he’s amassed during his stay.
But did he have his pride? Self control?
Shit, Brody didn’t know how to check those off.
“I think we’re good,” Summer said for him, coming up along his other said. She wound her arm around him with a smile. “You ready?”
Brody had to say yes because he’d been the one to ask for this. He didn’t want to say no.
Therefore, he said nothing, hoping that maybe Summer and Mitch wouldn’t notice.
Mitch noticed. “Brody? You okay?”
“Uh, yeah,” Brody said, and it was a terrible lie. Like, it was stupid. And it was poorly delivered. “I just. Um.”
He was actually making it worse.
“You’re scared, right?” Mitch said, because he seemed to know. Mitch always knew.
“No,” Brody said, out of reflex. He winced. “Yes.”
Summer drew around to look him in the eyes. “But why?” she asked. “The doctor says you’re fine. You have to take it easy, but--”
She was really pretty and it was sexy, her caring about him like this, but Summer didn’t get it.
Mitch, bastard that he was, got it.
He sighed. “I think Brody’s scared of having to go out there and make his own choices,” he said. Summer looked to Mitch, surprised. Mitch looked at Brody, knowing. “Since your last choices didn’t necessarily turn out the way you wanted.”
“I just -- I don’t want to screw it up,” Brody said. “And, like, in here, I can’t, you know? In here, everything is safe and I’m monitored and no one’s giving me hard choices. But out there? In life?”
“Brody,” Summer said, taking his hand again. “You’re going to do fine.”
“And, even if you don’t, you’re not exactly going to be alone,” Mitch pointed out.
Brody’s shoulder slumped. “I know that you mean that in a good way, but I can’t let you babysit me your whole life.”
“It’s not about babysitting you,” Mitch told him. “It’s about the fact that you’ll talk to us when you need to talk. You won’t close us off.”
Summer nodded along. “We all need that from time to time.”
“Some of us more than others,” Mitch said.
That was a thing, and Brody knew it. Brody knew it because these people knew the worst shit about him. They knew about the things that hurt him and the ways he hurt himself. They knew about his mistakes as much as his successes.
And they still liked him anyway.
“This is a family thing,” Brody concluded. “Right?”
“Right,” Mitch said. “Now come on.”
Summer gave his hand a small tug. “I think we’re ready to go,” she said. “If you are.”
Brody looked at Summer.
He looked at Mitch.
“Yeah,” he said, finally. “Yeah, I think I am.”
They were quiet on the way back to Mitch’s place. Brody had been prepared for a quiet homecoming, an easy settling in. Even so, he wasn’t surprise when the rest of the Baywatch crew was there. Stephanie had organized for catering. CJ had put up decorations. Ronnie had made the decorations.
“Easy now,” Mitch said before festivities could begin. “Let Brody put his stuff away.”
Brody took that opportunity to duck through the crowd, grinning, as he made his way back to the spare room. He opened the closed door, moving to dump his bag on the floor, but the unfamiliar shadows made him stop.
Confused, he turned on the light.
That was when he saw that it wasn’t Mitch’s spare room at all anymore.
No, it was Brody’s bedroom.
The bed he’d picked out was arranged neatly on the far wall, fresh bedding and pillows on top. The bedside table featured his lamp and the clock radio. The dresser was on another wall, and a few of his personal items were laid out on top. The piece of art was hung carefully, and the shelves where Mitch’s crap had once been had been cleaned off. Picture frames had been placed on the shelves, featuring shots of his antics and friends at Baywatch. Even his two gold medals were displayed.
Still taking it in, Brody was awestruck. There was a knock at the door behind him, and Mitch asked, “Can I come in?”
Brody turned, gaping at him. “You did this?”
“The team helped a little,” Mitch said. “And you picked it all out.”
Brody turned back around, looking at it again. “You did this.”
“I told you I would,” Mitch said. “It took a little longer than expected, but you did go and try to die a few times--”
Mitch was joking, but Brody wasn’t laughing.
Shit, Brody was about to cry.
Looking back at Mitch, Brody had no more pride. He had no more self control.
All he had was all he needed: family.
Crossing over, he hugged Mitch.
Mitch, to his credit, barely startled. Instead, he hugged back.
Pulling away, Brody tried to draw a few breaths to steady himself. It wasn’t easy, knowing what Mitch had done for him. And it wasn’t just buying furniture and decorating a room.
“Thank you,” he said, because there was no other way to say it. “Thank you.”
Mitch smiled, because he understood. He knew what this was; he’d known it before Brody did. He’d known it when he made the offer.
He’d known it when Brody accepted.
Mitch nodded at him, quiet and resolute. “Welcome home.”
Brody grinned, the truest, widest grin of his life.
Now that Brody had arrived, he knew he’d never leave.
More importantly, he knew that Mitch would never let him.