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Death By Drowning

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Nearly drowning is one of Cody's least favorite things. Especially in front of women -- cops -- one particular lady cop. Way to ruin anyone's day.

He's okay -- he can't breathe yet, can hardly focus his eyes, truth be told, much less get up off the ground, or more importantly, let go of Nick -- but he's not in trouble, hasn't aspirated enough water to end up in hospital or do anything worse than puke on Nick's shoes again

"The ambulance is coming, Nick. How's he doing?"

Cody could really do without Joanna's measured vowels right now. She's not sobbing and clinging, which is a step up from the last time Nick pulled him out of the water in front of a chick -- Bonita? Bettina? -- Nick will know; but her calm professionalism seems out of place.

All he needs is a quiet place with Nick, he doesn't want paramedics and hospitals and people, but it doesn't seem like he's gonna get a choice. Unless maybe he can make a miraculous recovery…

"Okay, big guy, easy does it."

He couldn't have done it on his own, but Nick, strength, security, safety, is everywhere at once, and next thing Cody's sitting up, leaning forward, arms resting on his thighs. His head's spinning, his guts are churning, and Nick's just in time, shifting angles so that he spews salt water harmlessly into the sand, and not over either of them. Or Joanna.

"Take it easy. Lean on me. Here." Nick's wiping his face with a wet towel, holding him steady, holding him up. "I know, and maybe you'd feel better if you stayed down, but I kinda think all that water you swallowed has gotta come up, you know?"

Cody's guts agree with Nick, several more times, until he's a shivering wreck, aching all over. Just in time for the paramedics to have a turn, with blood pressure cuffs and bright lights and questions.

"Yeah, I'll take him home and keep an eye on him. He didn't hit his head, I know that." Nick's glib reassurances are standard practice, hospital admissions are for open wounds, broken bones, real serious stuff. The kind of stuff that could kill you.

Cody does his bit, gets his eyes open, sits up unaided. "Yeah, I'm mainly just shaken up."

It's almost true, blood-oxygen levels aside. He'd dived in after some small-time crook, he remembers that much; partly showing off for Joanna, partly sheer indignation that the rat-bastard was on his pier with his filthy… coke? Diamonds? Stolen cars?

That's too much, he can't remember and his head's spinning again, he's gonna be sick and everything hurts so fucking much --

"Easy, man. C'mon, I gotcha, okay? Okay?"

Cody spits bile, shuts his eyes, and holds on. Don't let go don't let go don't let go --

"Open your eyes, or they're gonna put you in the hospital," Nick says in his ear, low, commanding. It is what it is. "On three, we're gonna stand up, and we're gonna walk right back to the Riptide. Got it?"

Cody's got it. He can't stand, it's impossible, but not as impossible as a ward full of people and a night away from Nick. He opens his eyes as Nick counts in his ear.

"Three," Nick says, and boosts, and Cody's on his feet, not even swaying, plastering a grin on his face and leaning most of his weight on Nick.

"Thanks," Cody says to the paramedics, and then they're walking, one foot in front of the other, fifty yards as long as fifty miles. He hesitates at the companionway but Nick keeps marching -- "No choice, pal, can't stop now" -- and then at last, at last, they're on board, inside, away.

First, the shower. Cody recoils from it -- the last thing he wants right now is more water, over his head, in his eyes -- but Nick's firm and ignores his fussing (the water's too hot, I don't wanna wash my hair right now, I think I'm gonna throw up again).

"So throw up," Nick says conversationally, moving Cody more fully under the shower-head so he can rinse the shampoo away. "It's only water anyway, huh?" A hand gives Cody's belly an apologetic rub, but everything else stays businesslike. That's important, it's how it works, how they work.

"Guys! Guys!" Murray bursts in, and Cody vaguely remembers he was stationed down the far end of the pier with a listening device maybe, or the newest thing in cameras. "I got arrested but luckily Joanna -- but she said you were okay, Cody. You are okay, right? Nick, is he okay?"

"He's gonna be fine, Boz," Nick says, and turns off the water. "Can you get me some sweats? Some for me, and some for him?"

Murray's gone again in a whirl of assurances, and Cody wants to cry, wants to cling, wants to fall down in a heap on the floor of the head and stay there for a century. Maybe two.

"Hey," Nick says, and again, "hey," so gentle, so very gentle that Cody knows he's over the line, breaking the rules.

He grabs blindly for a towel, determined to be okay, to do his share, keep up his side of the bargain. Because that's what it is, isn't it, Nick will hold him up, hold him together, just as long as he's strong enough.

Right now, all he feels is weak and unworthy, all he wants is permission to let go, to break down. He's not strong enough now, he never was, it's an act and he knows it, but please God Nick never finds out.

Nick takes the sweats from Murray then closes the door -- "make a pot of coffee, Murray, okay? Just give us a minute, you know?" -- and clicks the lock, something they never do onboard.

"Do you need to be in the hospital, guy? Cody? Talk to me, man. Come on." Nick takes the towel out of his hands, sits him on the toilet, squats in front of him. "Tell me what's wrong."

Sitting is better. Cody leans forward, drops his head between his knees, strength returning. Great. A fainting fit. Perfect. "No hospital."

"Okay. I made you stand for too long, huh? And you were probably right, it probably was too hot." Nick grimaces as Cody raises his head. "Sorry, man. I should'a listened. I just wanted to make you comfortable, you know?"

Nick sounds guilty and apologetic, and most of all uncertain. "Maybe I should just let you finish up on your own, yeah?"

Cody looks at his partner, his tower of strength, his safety net. He's supposed to say "Yes" and give them both space to regroup, but they're off the script, the rules are already broken.

"I'm not strong enough to do it on my own, Nick," is what he says, and he doesn't know if he's talking about getting dressed, or getting through the rest of the day, or getting through the rest of his life. It's blazingly accurate for all three.

Nick hesitates, but he looks pleased. Not scared, not angry, not scornful. Not even businesslike. He grabs Cody's sweats, and stands up.

"Neither am I, man. So next time you wanna jump in the harbor after some lowlife, just do me a favor and stay on solid ground, you know?"

Cody stands up, leans on Nick and takes the sweats. He's impressed -- Nick's got them back on course seamlessly, painlessly, admitted everything and nothing all at once.

"Because you asked so nicely, buddy, I'll think about it."

--

Next, a nap. Joanna's upstairs, he can hear her voice, wanting a statement, reassurance he's okay, a check-in on their "friendship" vibe that isn't quite the same as how she acts with the other guys.

Cody wants to go up, would go up, but Nick puts an arm around him, shakes his head, and guides him to the stateroom instead.

It's pretty rare for Cody to hit the wall; they both know how to dig deep, find strength where there's none, courage when hope is gone. But he sits on his bunk and looks at Nick, and somehow he's as close to giving up, giving way, as he's ever been.

"Give me one minute," Nick says, short and clipped, and he squeezes Cody's shoulder hard.

Cody puts his hand where Nick's was and lowers his head. He's back underwater, grabbing at the fugitive's heels, grappling, struggling, taken by surprise at his opponent's strength and fury.

He has time to realize the guy is high on something before he's truly in trouble -- before he comes up for air to find the pier above him instead of the surface, and his escape blocked by a violent thug who apparently can breathe underwater.

"It's okay. I got to you in time, huh? You're okay."

Cody looks up to find Nick back, his tone and expression too gentle, too soft. He nods, lays down when Nick guides him, grabs Nick's hand when Nick sits on the edge of the bunk.

Too needy, his brain says, asking too much; but Nick's squeezing his hand tight, and rubbing his shoulder with the other hand, looking scared and vulnerable and just as needy as Cody feels.

"Joanna says the guy was high on crystal meth. He would'a killed you if he could, and not even cared if he died doing it. You know? I --" Nick stops. "Listen, just get some rest, okay? Joanna's gonna come back for our statements tonight. She's bringing pizza."

"Sounds great," Cody manages, and then, "I didn't realize he was high until we started fighting. I wouldn't go after someone like that if I knew."

"I know. Yeah, I know that." Nick's steadier now; he lets go long enough to pull a blanket over Cody. "Take a nap, big guy. Check out for awhile. You're gonna hit the wall, you know?"

Cody rolls over and closes his eyes, expecting at any moment Nick to get up, move away. But he falls asleep with Nick's hip against his back, and Nick's fingers gentle on the back of his neck.

--

He wakes up unrested and anxious with his head in Nick's lap, fear swirling like dark water at the edges of consciousness. "Safe now," Nick's saying, and "just a dream," and "Cody, I gotcha."

Don't let go. Don't let go. "Yeah," Cody manages, "thanks," but he's stuck on the part where he should sit up, laugh it off, make a space between himself and Nick. He can't.

Sorry, he thinks, hold me, Nick, I'm still scared. "What time is it?"

"Joanna just got here. Maybe a raincheck, huh? Maybe tomorrow?"

Maybe next week, next month, never. "Nah, I'm okay," he says instead, and sits up. He's a little light-headed still, there's aches in his shoulder and back. But he's okay, he can do this, he will do this. It's how they work.

"Sure?" Nick asks, still with that same careful gentleness, the kind reserved for the worst of close calls.

"I won't break," Cody says wryly, and finds his feet. "C'mon, buddy. If I don't go up there now, I never will."

Nick gets it, gets him, and just nods.

The pizza's good, and sits okay in Cody's churned up gut. He gets his statement down with a half-dozen prompts from Nick and Murray and thinks he's doing okay at chatty and cheerful for Joanna.

Nick goes down to the galley and returns with drinks -- beer for himself, soda for Murray, wine for Joanna and milk for Cody -- and Cody realizes he's not fooling anyone. He drinks the milk, shuffles closer to Nick on the bench seat, and says to Joanna, "I'm pretty tired, to be honest. Sorry."

She's understanding, of course she is, and collects her paperwork together. They've got a date on Friday -- a group, him and Nick, Boz, Joanna, a girl from the Contessa, and Murray's latest conquest. Just friends. Or something more.

"See you Friday, Jo," he says, and settles for a wave. It's nothing yet and maybe it never will be. Cody doesn't know, doesn't even know yet what he wants it to be, and right now it's making his head hurt.

Right now, he's safe with Nick, strong arm around his shoulders, hands on him as he crawls back into bed. Nick almost, almost tucks him in and Cody opens his mouth to make some smartass crack.

"I know, I'm not your mom, and you're at least as tough as superman," Nick preempts him. "You gotta know I thought I was too late this time, you know? I thought I wasn't gonna be strong enough, I thought I wouldn't get to you in time, I thought -- you know?"

"Oh, hell," Cody says; he thinks Nick's crying, but he can't be sure because his own vision's gone blurry. "Get the light, willya?"

"Friday," Nick says as the room goes dark. He perches on the edge of Cody's bunk, gives Cody's shoulder a squeeze. "You don't mind if I duck out, right? I been meaning to overhaul Mimi, you know, and I guess I'll be kind of tired. I don't figure I'll be good company for Cassie, you know?"

Cody lifts his hand, lays his fingers over Nick's where they rest beside his collarbone. Working on Mimi isn't exactly his favorite thing, and he's spent countless hours on schemes and plots to get out of it, over the years. "If that's how we're spending Friday, I guess we better postpone dinner til next week, huh? I guess the girls'll understand."

"Are you sure you're gonna be up to it?" Nick asks, and Cody knows he's being given an out. Nick knows his feelings about choppers in general and the Mimi in particular.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Cody says wryly. All schemes aside (they never work anyway) working with Nick is his favorite thing to do, and he can't ignore the half-share he owns in the old chopper. As much as he'd like to, Nick won't let him.

Nick sighs and retreats to his own bunk. "All right, then," he says, "sleep well. And, uh, call me if -- if you need anything. Okay?"

Cody's absurdly touched. It's unspoken between them anyhow -- nightmare, illness, injury, or just plain sleeplessness, they've shared the darkness a thousand times or more over the years -- but this is something more. Permission to show his belly, and Cody thinks he likes it.

"Don't I always?" he says, and it sounds flippant, but it's all the truth he has.

"I dunno, big guy. I hope so, because I'm good for it, you know?"

Cody wants to be flippant again, but Nick's raw and off-balance, and this isn't fair. He hates mushy stuff and Nick won't thank him for melodrama, but somehow, he needs an answer.

Cody closes his eyes and thinks of all the times his buddy's come through for him, the certain knowledge that someone has his back, he's not alone. In the end, of course, there's only one answer that makes any sense.

"Yeah, Nick," he says. "I know."