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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Where My Demons Hide (2/3)

December 12th, 2018 (08:40 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Brody doesn’t actually remember how long it’s been. He doesn’t know the exact date or if these sorts of deals have expiration dates.

Things have just been going so well, is all.

Brody’s been swimming his best.

And he’s been happy, okay. Brody’s been happy.

When he qualifies for the Olympics, it’s an easy victory. He leaves the competition in the dust. He’s got no one close to him. His coach hugs him on the pool deck, tousling Brody’s hair and beaming at him with pride.

“That’s my boy!” he says, giving Brody an enthusiastic shake. “That’s my boy!”

Just like that, Brody’s stomach falls to his feet.

It’s time for someone to pay the price.

And Brody knows the only person around to settle Brody’s debt.

-o-

Everyone is celebrating, and sponsors are flocking to him. Everyone wants an autograph, and he’s getting invites to Good Morning America because the story of a foster kid going to the Olympics is, like, really exciting or something.

Brody fields these request with the same distraction. Sure, he’s cool with interviews. Whatever, he’ll wear your name brand. He’ll pose for pictures.

As long as his coach is right there with him.

Literally.

Always with him.

When his coach tries to sneak away from an interview, Brody draws the reporter over to him and says, “This guy has changed my life! You should ask him a few questions!”

There are other times when Brody is discussing terms with a sponsor and his coach tries to go call his wife. Brody shakes his head and speaks super loudly, “Only if you get some for my coach, too. What size are you again?”

Suddenly, he forgets how to go anywhere or do anything. He needs someone to walk with him to his hotel room and walk him to the pool. And there’s no way in hell he can eat alone, and he’s not going to go out to any parties, and he sticks with his coach like glue the entire plane ride home.

Seriously, when the dude pees, Brody lurks outside the bathroom, claiming he has to go next. Of course, he can’t possibly go next because he is afraid to leave his coach unattended in case a plane window blows out and he’s sucked into the air to his painful and horrible death.

That disturbing thought allows Brody to hold his pee the whole flight back.

Does it freak his coach out a little bit?

Yes, yes it does.

But apparently he’s never coached an Olympian before so he had nothing to compare it to.

Brody has a lot to compare it to. The fact that it’s been a week since his qualifying race, a week since he achieved the greatest honor in his life, and his coach is still alive?

That’s way, way better than the alternative.

Even if it does cost him a bladder infection.

-o-

Two weeks pass, and Brody starts to think maybe it’s okay.

Like, maybe, just maybe the curse is broken.

Because two weeks, okay.

Shit usually hits the fan a lot faster than that.

It could be a statutes of limitation or something.

Or what the hell, maybe Brody qualified for the Olympics all on his own, no curse involved. Now that’s a thought Brody’s not had before. That maybe he’s good enough, him just him. That maybe he got this far because of his own work and dedication and commitment and talent.

That’s a good thought, actually.

Brody likes that.

-o-

It’s also wrong.

Three weeks pass, and they’re back to training as normal in California. Brody has eased back a little, though he still begs his coach for a ride and claims that it’s too inconvenient to stay at his own place now that they’re in the home stretch. His coach doesn’t mind, for some reason. His wife makes up a bed for Brody in the TV room, and his kids tuck him in each night with borrowed stuff animals.

It’s pretty cool because the wife makes breakfast and the kids need help reading, and Brody’s bad at reading but he can master things at the third grade level, and Brody’s on his game completely in the pool.

And off it completely, curse-wise.

So when he’s at the pool, waiting for his coach to show up, he doesn’t think twice when he gets the text.

Just running a little late. Have to pick up the kids.

He thinks twice then.

He thinks three times.

A dozen times, all in a split second.

Because Brody’s wrong about most things in his life.

And he’s sure as hell wrong about the curse.

It’s not over.

It’s just waiting.

For the worst possible moment to call in Brody’s debt.

-o-

To his credit, Brody tries. He tries calling his coach, tries begging him to take the bus, to walk, to have the kids wait for his wife. He tries to go out himself, even if he doesn’t know where the school is and even if he’s got no chance to catch up with the guy.

He tries calling the wife; he tries calling the school. Something, anything. He has to stop this. He has to.

But three hours later, he’s still at the pool waiting.

When someone comes to tell him, Brody thinks he knows.

He doesn’t.

Because this time, there’s no horrible accident. There’s no coma with long term recovery. There’s no shattered dreams.

There’s just the fact that his coach is dead.

Nothing Brody tries is ever going to be good enough.

-o-

A carjacking gone bad, is what the local news says.

It’s some consolation that the kids weren’t with him.

He’s still not coming home, though.

He gets called for quotes, but Brody has nothing to say. What can he say? What could he possibly say? Everyone knows the guy was a good guy; everyone knows that it shouldn’t have been him. Everyone knows that Brody will never find another coach like him.

And if they don’t, then Brody doesn’t give a shit.

Because what he should say is that it’s his fault.

It’s his fault.

But Brody’s a coward in the end. The kind of dumbshit who gets drunk and makes deals with demons. And even if he told people the truth, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s cursed.

Brody can never let himself forget it again.

-o-

The day of the funeral, Brody doesn’t go. He doesn’t even send a card or flowers or make a donation to a cause or whatever the hell people are supposed to do to honor the dead. He doesn’t care what the press say, and he doesn’t care that it’ll break the wife’s heart.

Brody can’t face that, anymore than he can face the kids who will suffer for his success.

Instead Brody goes to the pool.

Which is the only place he’s belong this whole damn time.

-o-

Brody tries to train, but it’s not the same. His stroke is all off; his speeds are down. He’s floundering. And badly.

The problem is that he doesn’t want to do this anymore. He doesn’t give a shit about swimming. For all he cares, he could drown instead. What does it matter?

What does it matter if his foster mom has a heart attack or if his girlfriend has to relearn to walk? Who the hell cares if his best friend gave up all his dreams for his family or his coach died from a bullet to the chest, leaving his wife without any income?

Is the trade off supposed to be a gold medal? Two gold medals? Three of them? Is it all justified if Brody breaks a world record?

Really?

Really?

Brody’s done with this shit.

Brody’s done.

-o-

Brody goes to the first bar he finds and drinks as much as the bartender will serve him. He hooks up with a girl, who tells him about this party, and Brody goes with her to wherever she wants to go for the promise of more alcohol. It doesn’t take him long to get wasted, because he’s still a lightweight when it comes to drinking, but he keeps drinking until his ability to be rational is completely gone.

At the party, people have started to recognize him, but Brody doesn’t actually care if his drunken image is plastered on social media anymore. Hs coach would tell him that’s a bad idea for lots of reasons, but the guy is dead so what does it matter?

By the time he stumbles out of the party, he thinks it must be late but he has no idea. He just knows it’s dark outside, and someone offers him a ride home but that’s hilarious. Brody hasn’t got a home and he hasn’t got a family so why the hell is this so hard?

He stumbles down the road and vomits under a streetlight. He doesn’t know where he is, because the street sign are too hard to read right now and no one seems to be driving right now. It’s just as well because Brody tries walking on the sidewalk but those things are so small. He doesn’t remember them being so small, but the street is much easier to navigate. And really, what’s the worst that could happen? That he gets hit by a car.

Brody trips and stops caring. His legs go out and he lies down, right there, in the middle of the road. Maybe this way a car will run him over. End this stupid curse once and for all.

He laughs and hiccups. He can’t die, not like this. He made a deal for success, and that’s what he’ll get no matter what he does. Brody can be lazy. He can be an asshole. He can be the worst human being in the world and he’ll still land on his feet.

Shit, Brody’s not even sure he can die anymore. He’s probably bulletproof, and he’s going to get gold at the Olympics no matter what he does.

The laugh turns to a cry. Shit, it turns to sobs, ugly and horrible, right there in the middle of the street. He cries until he vomits, ending up on his hands and knees as he gasps for air.

The process sobers him just enough that he looks up again. He still can’t read the street signs, and the road is still abandoned, but he realizes for the first time that he knows exactly where he is.

Two intersecting streets.

It’s a crossroads.

Brody staggers back to his feet, looking around him. He spins several times, looking for the girl. She’s supposed to be here, he thinks irrationally. She has to be here.

Still turning, Brody yells, “I’m ready to make a new deal!”

He turns, almost too fast. He falters but doesn’t quite fall.

“I’ll give you a better deal!” he says, voice pitching unevenly as it echoes back to him. “Anything you want!”

It doesn’t occur to him that he doesn’t have anything that she wants, that maybe she Exactly the deal she deems best. He can’t think about that, not when every person he’s ever cared about is worse off for knowing him.

“If you want disaster, you can have me,” Brody offers. He holds his arms out. “You can have me right now, okay? You can have me.”

The street light flickers, buzzing. There’s no other sound or movement in his abandoned crossroads.

“Come on!” he screams now. “Where the hell are you?”

He spins faster, as if he’s just missing her, like she’s playing hide and seek.

“Take me, you bitch!” he yells, and his voice breaks. He spins too fast and his feet tangle. He hits the ground and breaks with a sob. “Just take me!”

He cries harder, and this time he can’t stop. There’s just no way to stop. He sobs for the lives he’s ruined, the least of which is his own.

He cries because he knows she’s not coming.

She’s got absolutely no reason to come.

Because Brody, what is he offering? Himself? That’s a joke, the most hysterical joke of Brody’s entire stupid existence.

Why the hell would anyone want him?

-o-

It’s not clear to Brody how he makes it back to his apartment, and he passes out on the floor a few feet from the door. He sleeps there, face mashed against the carpet, and he only wakes up in the morning to vomit. When he’s done being sick, he slumps miserably back toward the couch and picks up his phone.

He’s got one new message.

Brody’s half tempted to put the phone back down. Even delete the message. Hell, he might as well throw the damn phone against the wall and hope it breaks. There’s no message he wants to hear.

He hesitates, however.

Because he suspects there’s a message he’s supposed to hear.

He dials into his voicemail, not sure if he’s optimistic or terrified. It’s not the press, though. It’s not the USOC rescinding his invitation. It’s not even his coach’s widow, calling to make sure he’s okay.

No, the message is from a coach.

“Look, I know it’s late in the game, and I’m not pretending we’ll be best friends or whatever,” the voice says. “But I can get you three gold medals if you work with me. I can promise you that.”

Brody could laugh; he could cry.

The full range of emotions assault him, and for a second, he’s not sure what to do.

This deal is never letting him go. This trade that his made -- his success for everyone around him -- it’s going to define him from here on out. He can’t break the deal; it won’t expire.

So what’s he supposed to do? He considers whether or not quitting swimming would help. Maybe, just maybe, if he never jumped into the pool again, maybe there’d be no price to pay. Maybe if he stopped winning, there’d be no need to even the score.

But could Brody do that?

Could he really?

Could he live without swimming? The one thing he was good at, the one thing that made him passionate, the only thing he wanted to do, like, ever? Without swimming, he felt like he was dead.

And that’s the other option, and he comes to it far more rationally than he might expect. If swimming is going to hurt other people and if Brody can’t live without swimming, then maybe the problem isn’t the people. Maybe it’s not swimming.

No, the common thread here is simple: Brody himself.

All he has to do is stop existing.

Shit.

He inhales and feels the flutter of his heart. As hard as his life has been, he’s never seriously considered it before. He’s never thought about taking a whole bottle of pills; he’s never thought about putting a bullet through his brain.

That’s one way to break a curse, he thinks.

Could he, though? Would it matter if he did? Would anyone even miss him? Is there anyone left on this stupid planet that cares?

There’s no one left to save.

No one left to protect.

Besides, Brody’s a coward. He’s a stupid, good for nothing coward. He’s the kind of idiot who gets drunk and makes bad deals with hot girls in the middle of the night.

Which means he’s also the kind of son of a bitch who won’t fall in his sword.

Or drown in his pool.

Brody closes his eyes, and he hates himself. He hates himself more than he’s ever hated anything ever. He hates everything about himself, he hates who he is, who he can never be. He hates how weak he is, how stupid he is, and he doesn’t blame anyone for ditching him. They’re the smart ones. They’re the ones who saw it.

They’re the ones who have always known that Brody’s worthless. He’s pathetic and selfish and a waste of space. The only thing he’s ever going to be good at is swimming.

His first mistake was trying to be something more.

Screw that, Brody decides as he opens his eyes.

There’s no point in being something that he’s clearly not.

Teeth gritting, Brody brings up the caller list again and returns the call. When a voice answers on the other end, Brody’s voice is surprisingly steady.

“Hi, this is Matt Brody,” he says. “I’m calling about a swim coach.”

-o-

So Brody’s new coach.

He’s really good.

Like, really good.

He’s also a total and complete asshole.

Seriously, he takes the concept of asshole to a whole new level, and that’s saying something for a guy like Brody, a guy who perfected the art of assholery when he was a teenager. This guy is mean, he’s petty, he’s vindictive, he’s callous. Brody sincerely hates everything about him in a way that he’s never hated anyone before.

Brody’s hate crappy foster parents before, ones that he really didn’t like and ones that he messed with just because it amused him. He’s had some terrible foster siblings, ones who tormented him and stole his food. One dude even peed on Brody’s clothes because apparently that’s a super funny thing to do to a nine year old. There were a few times when he was in group homes where the kids were really bad, they kind who broke out, stole shit and got into fights. And Brody wasn’t fond of a lot of them.

All of this is to say, Brody hates this coach more.

The guy can’t be bothered to call him by his first name. He’s no longer Matt, or even Matthew. He’s just Brody, like he refuses to acknowledge that Brody has any personal attributes whatsoever. This fits with the rest of their relationship, however. As a coach, he is relentless, and not just in that positive way that coaches can be relentless to bring out your best. He’s relentless in the careless way, the way that doesn’t give a shit about how you’re feeling or what you’re doing. He will work Brody to the point of exhaustion because he’s completely indifferent to the fact that Brody’s about to pass out.

The truth is, Brody thinks the guy takes pleasure in making Brody miserable. The first time Brody is almost too sore to practice after a heavy day of training, the coach asks if he’s okay. When Brody reluctantly admits that he’s not, the coach doubles his work load that day. Brody learns quickly not to admit pain, to show no weakness.

It doesn’t matter much. The coach still pushes all his physical and emotional limits.

And the he shatters them and ignores the pieces as Brody trips over them.

There’s nothing to offset the hard work, either. This isn’t one of those relationships where you work hard and play hard. The guy doesn’t give a shit what color Brody’s speedos are, and the only reason they eat together is so that he can monitor Brody’s lunch, throwing out the items he deems unnecessary. This is weight training, as he calls it, and he wants Brody to slim down his waist and bulk up in his arms instead. A six pack is not enough; Brody has to be completely chiseled before he even considers allowing Brody to have something that tastes good.

Every ounce of feedback is critical. Like, all of it. There’s never a word about what Brody’s doing well. It’s all about how much Brody sucks and how lucky Brody is that a real coach got ahold of him to turn him into something worthwhile. He doesn’t want to know about Brody’s friends or family. This is well enough, as Brody has none of either. But he also doesn’t ask if Brody has hobbies or interests or preferences. In fact, as far as the coach is concerned, Brody only exists for the pool.

That is to say, he’s the first guy who actually gets it.

He’s the perfect coach for Brody; perfect. He never talks about his personal life, and honestly, Brody doesn’t want to know shit about this guy. In all seriousness, Brody learns to hold his breath longer than ever just so he can stay under water for a few extra seconds and not hear this asshole yapping about how “foster boy” is never going to win unless there’s a miracle.

This is a business arrangement, straight up. The coach takes a straight cut off Brody’s income, and that’s all there is between them.

This is how Brody gets to the Olympics.

More than that, however, this is how he does it without ruining anyone else’s life.

Except his own, of course.

That point is notwithstanding.

-o-

Brody trains and trains and trains and train. His existence narrows; his entire life dwindles down until he is nothing outside of the pool. His body is perfectly honed for swimming, and his entire purpose in life is to come in first.

It’s only when he gets there, when he’s taking practice laps in the pool and settling into Olympic Village, that he realizes that he’s scared.

Not just scared.

He’s terrified.

He’s spent years working for this. He’s made every possible sacrifice you can imagine -- and a lot that you probably can’t. He’s sold out his chance for family, love, and friendship.

For this.

And all Brody can think is: what if it’s not worth it?

What if he’s done all this?

And it still doesn’t make him happy.

-o-

Then there’s the issue of the team.

The issue is: Brody doesn’t know what the hell to do with a team. He easily qualifies for a relay, but honestly, he doesn’t want to do it. His coach all but insists, telling him that an extra gold medal will bring them all an extra payday. He threatens to quit, leaving Brody out to dry if he doesn’t do it.

The other guys are a little nicer about it, and they try to hang out with him, but it’s just like starting a new school. No one actually gives a shit about the new kid unless he can do something. He’s been in too many foster home with too many parents who looked at him and saw dollar signs. He’s got this asshole coach who looks at him and sees world records.

These guys, when they look at him, they see gold medals.

Brody’s foster mom won him over. Monica stole his heart. Grant was his best friend. His old coach was the only mentor he ever had.

Those are people who have tempted Brody to ignore his deal.

These guys?

They need Brody. They don’t him, though.

And Brody has absolutely no need or desire for them.

-o-

Besides, the reason he’s here -- the only reason he’s here -- is to swim.

You know, win races.

And that’s exactly what Brody does.

He swims perfect, faster than he ever has, faster than anyone else in the pool. He breaks the world record and wins two golds.

It’s perfect, okay.

It’s absolutely perfect.

All those years; all those sacrifices.

Brody thinks for one glorious moment that they might have been worth it after all.

-o-

It doesn’t last.

Of course it doesn’t last.

Why the hell can it never last?

-o-

Brody has one night before his last race, which is cool and all. Gives him time to rest, and at least he can hide from his coach in Olympic Village. He’s ready to chill, because winning two gold medals is exhausting, okay, but as he browses on his phone, he finds a voicemail message.

From his foster mom.

She tells him how they’ve watched every race, and how they knew he could do it, how they saw just how special he was way back when they lived together. They’re proud of him.

Brody is simultaneously moved and terrified. Sure, it feels good to hear someone say positive things, but Brody’s life is all swimming now. Swimming. That’s it. There’s no family, no sentiment. These medals are supposed to be won with no strings attached.

It’s a fluke he tells himself, but he cracks open a beer anyway, just to help himself chill. He can’t be thinking of liabilities before a big race. He can’t.

This is going well until he checks his email. There’s a lot of shit there, from sponsors and journalists and stuff, but there’s this one he doesn’t expect.

Mostly because the last time he saw Monica, he’d told get they were over while she was in a hospital bed. He hopes, irrationally, that her email is to tell him he’s a dick, that he doesn’t deserve gold medals or anything good in life. He wants her to tell him she still hates him and that she hopes he drowns.

Instead, he reads with a sick feeling in his gut, she says that she thinks it’s cool he’s made something if his life. She’s happy and healthy and engaged and stuff, and she’s glad he’s found a way to be happy too. She’s rooting for her m, anyway.

Brody can’t with that.

Okay. He can’t.

He doesn’t have relationships. He’s an asshole. Everyone is supposed to hate him.

That’s how this works. That’s how he can swim without being scared.

And now, here he is, day before his last race, and he’s scared shitless.

One more night, he assures himself. He can last one more night.

That resolve lasts all of five minutes.

He can’t last another second. Grabbing his shit, he ditches the room, looking for anything to take his mind off everything.

-o-

Naturally, Brody ends up at a bar.

Because alcohol always helps.

He’s a little relieved to find he’s not the only one. His whole relay team is there, and they invite him to sit down when he stands by their table long enough and they realize he’s not leaving.

This is good, he decides, ordering a drink. They can talk about swimming.

Only swimming.

Brody likes talking about swimming, and these guys know nothing about him, so it’s not like they can start asking personal questions and become friends or something equally ridiculous.

Truth be told, however, the conversation’s a little awkward. So Brody asks them: “Looking forward to the race tomorrow?”

It’s a really dumb questions. They’re all here, at the Olympics. Of course they’re looking forward to the race tomorrow. They’re Olympic swimmers. What else are they going to be doing?


The guys chuckle and make noncommittal answers before trying to drown themselves in their beers. Then, one of them nods his head at Brody: “What about you, man? You nervous for tomorrow?”

This is small talk, Brody remembers vaguely from back when he allowed himself to have conversations with people. He’s never been good at small talk, however, but he appreciates that it is talk.

And it is really small.

“You know, yeah,” Brody says. “I am nervous. Like, really nervous.”

He says this because it seems like not a weird thing to say. He doesn’t have to elaborate that he’s nervous because when he was in high school, he got drunk and made a deal with a demon which has cursed him to be the best swimmer in the world without a single person in the world to love him.

Shit, Brody thinks as he takes a drink and tries not to think any more. He needs to stop that.

One of the guys snorts. “You can’t be nervous,” he says.

He sounds good natured enough.

Another says, “Yeah, you’re swimming lights out so far.”

This is also very good natured. Brody likes this. Teammates. Is that what this is? Are they bonding? Is Brody being too friendly?

The other grunts. “No shit, man,” he says. “If you don’t come through for me, I’m going home empty handed and that means I’m going to lose out on all my sponsors.”

“And this is totally my last chance,” the first says.

“Oh, I know,” the second agrees. “I was so relieved when they put you on the anchor leg of this thing because I thought I finally have a chance to go out on top.”

This is all somehow less good to Brody.

He’s not sure why.

It is, strictly speaking, talking about swimming.

It is also completely impersonal, which is supposed to be a good thing.

The three guys laugh, and suddenly it sounds hollow to Brody. They poke at each other, and the first bobs his head toward Brody. “Do what you have to do to get those nerves under control, dude. We need you at 100 percent tomorrow.”

“So don’t bother with your little sob stories or whatever,” the third agrees. “You’re here to swim, nothing else, man. You swim or you catch a flight home that none of us are on.”

Brody’s not smiling anymore. Not even to be polite. At least these guys are reminding him that they’re not friends.

“The only thing you’re good for, Brody, is swimming,” the second says. He shrugs, utterly indifferent to the fact that Brody feels like he wants to puke. “So do what you have to do and get your ass in the pool and win us that medal.”

They all look at him now, as if this is some kind of resounding pep talk. As if Brody’s supposed to feel better.

And honestly, shouldn’t he?

Isn’t this what he wanted?

Brody blinks, his eyes stinging inexplicably.

He doesn’t know what he wants.

He just knows he doesn’t want to be here, with these assholes, for another second.

“Well, that’s great,” he says, even though he doesn’t make it sound like it’s great. “I’m going to go get another drink.”

With that, he pushes back from the table and starts away.

“Just be ready for tomorrow!” one of them calls after him.

Brody turns around long enough for a mock salute. He turns it into a middle finger when the trio starts laughing again, back to their inside jokes and other shit. It’s all shit. So much shit that Brody can’t even think straight. When he makes it to the bar, he’s actually bewildered and he orders a drink without even realizing the words are coming out of his mouth.

Words come out; beer goes in. That works, Brody tries to assure himself. That much works.

-o-

Brody’s not quite drunk when the other guys leave the bar. He’s still just on this side of sober when he asks the bartender to cash out his tab. He’s waiting for his change when his phone buzzes.

He probably should ignore it, but he likes his phone, and he has nothing else in his life but his phone, and maybe his sadistic son of a bitch coach might have something nice to say to him.


It’s not his coach, though.

It’s Grant.

How is it Grant? Why has Brody not changed his phone number? What the hell?

Awesome Olympics! I haven’t missed a single race! You’re living the dream!!!!

Grant always has liked to use too many exclamation points. It’s goofy and endearing and what the hell is Grant doing texting him goofy and endearing texts now? Now!

Grant’s supposed to be moving on with his life. He’s not supposed to remember Brody or think about him or care about him. They’re not friends anymore.

Why doesn’t anyone get this?

Well, some people get it. Assholes get it.

But why don’t good people get it?


Probably because they’re good people who love Brody even when he treats them like shit, even when he doesn’t deserve it, and he never deserves it. And that’s not just the curse; that’s just Brody. Brody’s the guy who makes curses, which just proves why he doesn’t deserve to have people care about him.

But it’s worse than that, isn’t it? It’s a lot worse.

Because people still care about him.

His foster mom, his ex-girlfriend, the best friend. If they still care about him, that means that there are still people out there to be called to account for Brody’s success. He’s already won two gold medals. Does that mean his foster mom will have another heart attack? Will Monica be in another car accident? Will Grant’s mom die this time?

Shit, Brody thinks his throat starting to constrict. This isn’t happening.

It can’t be happening.

If he goes out there tomorrow, if he brings home another goal, he’s resigning himself to the fact that something terrible is going to happen to these people. Maybe to all of them because this is the Olympics. The world stage. And Brody’s already won two.

“Here you go,” the bartender says, handing Brody his change.

“You know what,” Brody says, feeling numb now. “Nevermind. Give me another.”

“Don’t you have a race tomorrow?” the bartender asks.

Brody pulls out a wad of bills and slaps it on the table. “Give me another.”

He insists on this. He has to insist. Because good things come with bad in Brody’s life. And there have been too many good things.

So it’s time to create some bad.

-o-

Brody drinks until the bar closes, and he has vague memories of dancing on a table and making out with a few girls who don’t speak English. He buys shots for the whole bar at one point, and when the room finally shuts down, he’s the last one to head out.

He doesn’t make it all the way back, but stops in a crossroads.

All he can do is laugh.

He laughs so hard that finally he just cries.

There’s no one there to see him, hear him or generally give a shit.

There’s just no one there.

-o-

Brody’s hungover the next day. Seriously hungover. When he tells the guys he feels like crap, they don’t look amused. “You better not screw this up, Brody.”

“Yeah, you’ve got to be good for something.”

“You hold yourself together for this race. After that, you can up and die for all I care.”

Well, that’s reassuring.

-o-

It’s about swimming.

Brody made a deal, remember.

Success in the pool.

And the universe can take whatever it wants from the rest of Brody’s life.

Good for bad.

Good for bad.

This time, however, Bordy doesn’t take the good.

Instead, he creates the bad.

And he makes sure everyone knows it when he vomits in the pool and comes in dead last.

-o-

So, losing like that? After the expectations were crazy high? With the world watching? When everyone knows it’s your own damn fault?

That sucks.

Yeah, it sucks a lot.

It had seemed like the better way to go -- humiliate himself to protect the people he cares about -- but in the aftermath Brody can’t do much. He makes it a day while his coach up and quits, while his teammates bad mouth him to every reporter they can find and while his sponsors drop him one by one.

No one will talk to him except reporters, who just want a quick quote to milk the headline of his epic fall from grace.

Plus, it’s not like anyone is calling him up or dropping him a line now. No one wants anything to do with him. Brody’s alone, which is probably normal.

But now swimming’s gone, too.

Brody got exactly what he wanted.

Except it’s not what he wants.

It’s nothing.

Brody’s nothing.

And Brody doesn’t know what the hell he’s supposed to do.

-o-

Mostly, he drinks. He has five days until his flight out, and he goes to the seediest bars he can find in order to avoid people recognizing him. It doesn’t work. They still recognizing him and hail him as the Vomit Comet.

All Brody can do is let them buy him drinks until he’s too wasted to care.

-o-

The alcohol doesn’t really help, though. He drinks until he can’t taste it, and he drinks until he’s not sure if he’ll ever be sober again. He drinks until it makes him puke, and then he just drinks so much.

He’s trying to forget, but he still remembers. He remembers everything.

He drinks until he thinks about finding one of those mountains people talk about, climb up it and just jumping off.

When someone offers him some drugs instead, it seems like the less dramatic choice.

-o-

In two days, Brody tries every drug they’ll offer him. He’s smoked weed before, but this shit ain’t weed. This is the real stuff, and Brody doesn’t think he actually likes it, but it makes time funny and it makes being a person a little less cumbersome. When he runs out of money, they offer to cut him a deal.

Brody’s not sure who they are.

But that’s never stopped him before.

Brody’s super good at making questionable deals with complete strangers. At least these guys don’t ask him to kiss over it.

They just want him to make a small shipment back to he US for them. That’s all. No big deal.

Brody’s lost more than he knew he could already.

What more could possibly go wrong?

-o-

Answer: everything.

Of course.

Brody’s picked up at the airport in LAX and detained. He’s walked out of the airport in handcuffs before being transferred to the LAPD for questioning. Brody’s cooperative if only because he’s just now starting to realize what he’s done.

He’s brought drugs into the United States.

Illegally.

This is drug trafficking.

Now Brody’s not just a disgrace with no money and no friends.

He’s also a criminal.


Because sometimes bad things?

Just come with more bad things.

-o-

When the DA comes to him and says he thinks Brody has potential, that he deserves a second chance, Brody isn’t sure if this is the curse working his favor. By all accounts, he should go to prison and probably just never come out because he knows his value to society is nonexistent.

That said, Brody thinks jail sounds like the worst, and honestly, he’d probably get himself killed if that happened. And really, it’s not like he’s going to fight this in court. Brody has no one he’s trying to protect, and he doesn’t want to go to trial. He’s guilty; he knows he’s guilty. The whole world knows he’s guilty.

He’s not sure why any of that warrants a second chance.

But Brody signs the papers anyway.

He has a history, after all, of making quick deals without reading the fine print.

-o-

Brody’s really not sure what he expects, but he’s given a letter and told to report to Baywatch.

What’s Baywatch, Brody asks?

Lifeguards.

Lifeguards, Brody asks.

Consider it community service, they tell him. Consider it your chance to rehab your image. Consider it anything you want, just do it.

Seeing as Brody’s on probation, it’s not like he has any other choice.

-o-

Brody sells as much of his shit as he can, and he subleases his place upstate. He only keeps what’s not worth anything -- mostly, clothing that is too worn to be sold -- and dumps it all in a duffle bag. The only items of value that he does keep are his phone -- because, seriously, it’s his phone -- his motorcycle -- because he has to drive somewhere -- and the gold medals.

This is maybe sentimental.

But it’s also just his way of reminding himself.

The good comes with bad.

At least this time, it’s all on him. No one else is suffering for his stupidity. At least, no one that doesn’t deserve a little of bad karma. These consequences are his, and he gets to live them.

He stuffs the good into his duffle bag and hits the road for Baywatch.

He’s ready to face the bad.

-o-

To be fair, it does start out bad.

The guy in charge of Baywatch is a total dick. Like, probably not really, but he’s one of those people who has everything together and everyone likes him and he’s smart and strong and popular. Guys like that never make life easier for idiots like Brody, who need second chances and letters of recommendation just to get his feet in the door.

Not even two gold medals and a world record in the 200 mean shit to this guy, and Brody knows he’s supposed to have a good attitude about this and all, but come on. Brody sucks at, like, everything in life, but he doesn’t suck at swimming. He can be a lifeguard. He’s supposed to be a lifeguard.

Who the hell does Mitch Buchannon think he is?

-o-

Mitch Buchannon is the guy who thinks he can teach Brody a lesson. He’s the guy who thinks he can show Brody up to bring him down a peg or two. He thinks he can teach Brody about respect and being part of a team.

The joke’s on Mitch. Because Brody doesn’t give a shit about respect and he strives to not be part of a team. He’s already been brought down all the pegs in the freakin’ world, and he’s no stranger to absolute humiliation.

Brody’s already at rock bottom.

All he’s got is this job.

Which means Mitch is stuck with him.

-o-

Worse, Brody’s stuck with Mitch.

The guy is a psycho. It’s unnerving, really. Brody’s homeless and broke, so he ends up staying with the dude, and that just makes it weirder. All his weird ocean talk is strange enough on the beach, but he listens to a CB radio. All night. Because of no reason.

And don’t even get Brody started on the fishtank.

He has a Little Mitch.

Who the hell makes a Little Mitch to pose in a fishtank?

He’s also a complete dick at work. He is all over Brody about being late, and he throws out all the donuts Brody bought. Then he takes him on a rescue without teaching him anything and wonders why the hell Brody screwed it up.

What the hell kind of training program is this where recruits are supposed to speed toward fire and see people die?

After a few days of training to be a lifeguard, Brody’s convinced that he’s the only person there who actually knows what lifeguards do.

-o-

Brody tells himself he hates it. He tells himself he doesn’t need it. He tells himself this is a job, this is a plea deal, this is his penance or whatever.

That’s what he tells himself.

Even if he thinks Stephanie is actually a really good leader. Even if he thinks CJ is super nice. Even if he thinks Ronnie really does deserve to be there. Even if thinks Summer is the most amazing girl he’s ever met in his entire life.

Even if Mitch talks about Baywatch being more than a job, it’s a way of life, it’s a family.

Even if Brody wants that.

More than he wanted two gold medals.

-o-

The more Brody starts to think maybe there’s something to this whole thing.

The more he knows he can’t.

Okay, he can’t.

This is supposed to be shit.

So Brody, being Brody, does the only thing he can.

He makes it shit.

-o-

It’s not hard. The whole idea of infiltrating the Huntley is ridiculous, and Brody playing lookout is basically the most hilarious idea ever. Brody hates that he’s doing this, and he hates that he’s so lonely that he wants to do this, and he hates that no one likes him and that he feels like he’s always drowning on dry land anymore.

He hates that he’s got no one to talk to, and he hates that everything thinks he’s a dick even though that’s exactly what he is. He hates that there’s a foster family who tried their best, a girl who said she loved him, and a best friend who said their time together was the best. There’s even a family without a father who said Brody would always have a place.

He hates that he made a deal and still blew it.

Then, Victoria Leeds gives him a drink.

The, she gives him the whole damn bottle.

That’s all Brody needs for now.

-o-

So, Brody crashes and burns. Brody takes a potential good thing and rips it to pieces because that’s what he does. He squanders his second chances with a toast and a cheer.

In the morning, when he wakes up, he’s not hungover enough to forget that it’s not the drinking he regrets.

Because last night, when Mitch walked away from him, it was hatred or anger in his face.

No, it was disappointment.

It’s the look that his foster mom gave him when he walked away. It was the look Monica gave him when he said it was over. It was the look Grant gave him when he left him at his family’s farm. It was the look his coach’s wife gave him when he never called her back.

All these years, he’s put the swimming above the rest.

What’s he got to show for it?

Two gold medals?

Suddenly, it’s just not enough.

Somehow, he thinks he got the raw end of the deal.

-o-


Mitch gives him a second chance.

Brody’s going to take it.

For the plea deal, of course.

That’s the only way to salvage his career.

That’s totally and absolutely the only reason he’s doing this.

-o-

Until, of course, it’s not.

Because Mitch has him running through a morgue. Because Mitch has him explaining lifeguard pursuit to a pissed off cop. Because Mitch has him dressed up as a girl -- a really hot girl, thank you -- to find drugs. Because Mitch gets fired and Brody’s left in charge and he’s supposed to finish the investigation and keep the team together.

When he ends up on a cage on the back of a boat, he has no clue why he’s doing this.

His last thought before he passes out under the water is that, whatever his reason, it was probably worth it.

-o-

This is the bad.

This is the bad.

It’s so bad.

It’s terrible, the people are mean and crazy and weird, and Brody’s miserable and outcast and it’s shit, okay. It’s shit.

-o-

It’s shit when Mitch drags him to the barge. It’s shit when he gets shot at. It’s shit when Mitch takes a bullet and falls overboard. It’s shit when Leeds lifts the gun.

It’s so much shit that Brody walks up to her, putting his head against the muzzle, daring her to do it.

Begging her to do it.

Impulsive, she calls it.

Long overdue is what Brody knows it is.

-o-

Brody’s ready to die, maybe.

Mitch isn’t ready to let him.

The guy literally poisons himself to stop Leeds and save the bay.

Saving Brody is incidental.

Probably.

-o-

A few weeks later, Brody’s made an official member of the team.

He’s not going to lie: it’s the best moment of his life.

And yes, he’s counting standing on the podium at Rio.

This still wins, hands down.

Maybe none of this is as incidental as Brody hoped.

-o-

It takes another month before Brody realizes what’s happening. Another month of working his job, living with Mitch and hanging out with Summer. Another month of making friends, settling in, saving lives. Another month of belonging.

Another month of the perfect life.

Brody ignores that for as long as he possibly can.

But he can’t ignore it forever. Not when he loves Summer. Not when Mitch is his best friend. Not when he wakes up every day excited to go to work.

There’s a truth Brody can’t afford to forget.

A curse Brody will always bear.

The good comes at a price.

And it’s always the people he cares about who are called on to settle the score.

-o-

Brody considers that maybe Baywatch is different.

Maybe it doesn’t fall under the deal’s jurisdiction.

Baywatch, after all, has nothing to do with competitive swimming. He’s not winning races anymore. He’s not even gaining personal acclaim or endorsements or anything like that. By all accounts, Brody is living a normal, humble sort of life. He hasn’t even been in a pool since Rio.

So it probably doesn’t count.

Except, what if it does?

After all, his curse has never just brought him success in the pool. Like, why else would the family in Iowa want to keep him like he was their own? They wouldn’t. That had to be the curse.

And seriously, Monica? Falling in love with him? That’s a joke. It’s obviously the curse.

As for Grant, well, that dude never needed Brody. Brody was the freeloader in that relationship. Therefore: curse.

Even the coach. His amazing, awesome coach who treated him right and didn’t charge him much and brought him into his home. That shit doesn’t happen, okay. It doesn’t. That only happens when you sell your soul at a crossroads.

Sure, Brody’s success in the pool was pretty great. But when you got down to it, Brody knows what he valued more.

The good always comes with bad.

Baywatch is probably not an exception to that rule.

And that’s it, the end of the story. Brody can’t control it.

He can control how the bad plays out, however.

Fortunately, Brody has experience in ruining his life for shits and giggles.

-o-

The good news is, being a screw up is second nature to Brody. It’s just so easy. Too easy. It’s just allowing every bad impulse that passes through his head to be carried through to completion. So yes, he gawks at other women while out with Summer. Of course, he starts to forget their dates. And he completely acts like she’s the crazy one when she calls him on it.

He’s flippant to Stephanie about rules. He’s diminutive to CJ about her ability to lifeguard when she looks so damn fine. He treats Ronnie like tech support because why the hell not. He goes out drinking when he shouldn’t, and he shows up to work hungover. When Mitch reminds him to get his act together, Brody snorts and asks what the hell he’s going to do about it.

Summer stops talking to him, and the team won’t eat lunch with him. He gets a note from his parole officer, saying that he just has to make it through another six months before the deal is satisfied.

That’s the only motivation he needs.

A deal with an end date?

Is the most beautiful thing in the whole wide world.

-o-

Brody makes it another month like this. He makes it through a month of being the biggest dickwad he can until nearly everyone can barely tolerate his presence. He takes to eating lunch alone, and he skips team meetings and reports directly for duty instead. Brody has plenty of practice being alone, at least.

On his own more often, he considers the pool at the local gym where he’s managed to afford a membership as a friend of Mitch’s. They’ve got this pool there, and it’s not Olympic sized or anything, but you can swim laps.

Brody tries to remember the last time he swam laps.

It was before Baywatch distracted him.

But Baywatch isn’t a permanent things for Brody, and he can always comes back to swimming.

Every time he stands at a crossroads, it comes back to swimming.

-o-

The thing is, Brody has thrown away a lot of relationships. It’s part of what he does. It’s who he is. His foster parents, they let him go to college without looking back. Monica never called him up, asking him to reconsider. Grant texts him every now and then, but it’s not like he’s invited Brody to visit him on the family farm. And his coach’s widow doesn’t worry about what he’s doing.

People move on.

And with a guy like Brody, that’s not actually very hard as best he can figure. Even most of the Baywatch crew, they seem pretty used to living without a second thought for Brody.

Everyone moves on.

Everyone except Mitch Buchannon.

-o-

There’s just something not normal about Mitch. Maybe it’s the way he talks about the ocean all the time. Maybe it’s because he’s so big that he doesn’t even look real. Maybe it’s the fact that he says exactly what he means and never regrets his decisions because he always makes the right ones.

Honestly, there are a lot of weird things about Mitch.

But the fact that he can’t let Brody implode at Baywatch like he is so clearly trying to do is probably the weirdest yet.

In fact, when Brody shows up late to work for the third time in a week, he doesn’t fire Brody like he’s supposed to. No, instead, Mitch drags his ass out onto the beach and demands to know what’s going on.

“What do you mean?” Brody asks, like there’s sincerely nothing going wrong.

And really, it’s not an act. There isn’t anything wrong. It’s just Brody being Brody. The same bastard who no one ever wanted. The one who laid it all on the line at a crossroads for his own personal gain.

The fact that he’s managed to screw up success as well as he has just proves what everyone has always known.

Brody’s not worth shit.

So what the hell does Mitch think is possibly going on?

Mitch stares at him, like none of that is obvious to him. “You’re acting like a dick,” he points out.

Again the way he says this is far too much of a revelation. He’s the dude who had Brody nailed the first day he showed up here. He’s he one who looked at Brody and saw a selfish, immature dickwad who didn’t actually deserve the chances he’d been given.

How he’s managed to forget in a few short months, Brody isn’t sure. “I’m just being me,” he says, defensively. As if that’s some amazing defense that doesn’t make him out to be a dick.

Mitch shakes his head, refusing the answer. “No, you’re not,” he says. “I’ve seen you these last few months. I’ve seen the way you give yourself up for the job. You love it on the beach, and you love being part of a team. You’re a part of Baywatch. That’s who you are.”

Brody feels color rise in his cheeks, and he hopes he can play it off as anger. “Whatever.”

Mitch shakes his head, even more adamant than before. “Not whatever,” he says, jabbing a finger at Brody’s chest. “In the span of a month, you’ve gone from my most trusted team member to the guy who I can’t count on to turn off the lights.’

“I told you I was sorry about the lights,” Brody says. “Geez, it was one day at home--”

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” Mitch says. “Don’t get distracted.”

But Brody wants to be distracted. He wants so badly to be distracted to not have this conversation because the more he has this conversation the less he’s sure he’ll say the things he has to say. “I don’t know what to tell you,” Brody says, sounding as not sorry as he possibly can. “I guess you didn’t know me all that well.”

Really, that’s a good line. It works. It should convince Mitch that the Brody he thought he knew isn’t the Brody that actually exists and mostly it should convince Mitch to shut the hell up and let Brody destroy everything that matters in his life in relative peace.

Is that so much to ask?

Apparently, yes.

Mitch crosses his arms over his chest. “There’s something going on.”

That’s laughable.

So Brody laughs. “No, there’s not.”

Mitch doesn’t laugh. “Yes, there is.”

Brody stop laughing long enough to glare. “No, there’s not.”

Mitch draws himself to full height and stares Brody down. “Yes, there is, and you’re going to tell me what it is or I’m going to kick your puny ass up and down this beach.”

Brody knows the threat is supposed to be intimidating, especially since he knows Mitch could do it. But he also knows Mitch won’t.

At least, he hopes he won’t.

Brody wants to win this argument, and he’d prefer to do so without getting beat up publically. “I just, I don’t know,” Brody says, and gives a vague gesture. “This is just me, okay?”

“It was you,” Mitch agrees with a hint of dissention. “But you changed. I have seen you change.”

Brody makes a face like this offends him.

It doesn’t offend him necessarily, but it does hurt.

All his life, he’s wondered if he can change. And here he is, finding out that he can in all the best ways.

And it’s up to him to disprove it.

Worse, it’s up to him to change back.

“You don’t know a thing about it,” he says, and he has to grit his teeth together because he’s not going to cry. There’s no way he’s actually upset about this. He’s not. He can leave people behind and break their hearts. In fact, outside of swimming, it’s the only thing he’s good at. He lifts his chin defiantly. “Baywatch was always a temporary thing to me. You know I have to be here. Once I’m done, you better believe I’m getting right back in the pool, picking up where I left off.”

Brody feels proud of that point because it’s all bam, there you are, in your face! And actually it’s kind of true.

Mitch is still not impressed. “I might believe that,” he says. “If you had actually been in the pool once since coming here.”

Brody’s mouth opens to protest, but the words don’t form.

Shit.

He has a point.

So far, he’s looked at the pool. He’s thought about the pool. But he hasn’t jumped in.

Because he hasn’t wanted to.

He closes his mouth and doesn’t bother protesting. “Whatever.”

“You think you can make this go away? You think you can make me go away?”

Brody gives him a look. “Yes,” he answers because he’s always been able to do it before. Every single time Brody has an innate ability to repulse people. He is fairly confident it is a skill he was born with.

“Well, you can’t,” Mitch says, and he says it unironically. Dead serious. “Because you’re family, man. You are family whether you like it or not. And there’s nothing you can say or do that’s going to change that.”

Damn it, what’s Brody supposed to do with that?

Mitch only says things he means.

Which means he means this.

Which means he’s going to fight for Brody.

Even if it means fighting against Brody to get the job done.

This is no good.

No good at all.

“Well, knock yourself out,” Brody says, aiming for indifference. He pulls it off pretty well, actually. “You’re just going to figure out that I’m not worth the effort.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Mitch says.

Brody throws his arms wide as he walks away. “Yeah,” he promises. “I’m sure you will.”

-o-

Yeah, that’s supposed to be that. Brody’s walked away from a lot of people, and it’s not usually this hard.

Okay, so it’s always hard, in that way that it rips out your soul and makes you want to die. But practically speaking, it tends to be relatively easy. He always imagines that most people are relieved to be rid of him.

Mitch has never been like most people.

The guy is relentless. Like, epically so. As soon as Brody makes it his business to leave, Mitch makes it his business to make Brody stay. The more Brody tries to make a clean break, Mitch insists on holding him tighter and closer than ever.

This is presumably in the name of family, but Brody suspects Mitch also can’t stand the idea of letting Brody win. So if Brody picks one course of action, Mitch will invariably choose the other.

It’s one thing when they’re on a case or training or whatever.

It’s another when it’s basically Brody’s entire life that Mitch is trying to salvage.

That’s not an exaggeration.

His entire freakin’ life.

Mitch starts early each morning, literally wak8ng Brody up. When a simple reminder t9 get out of bed is t enough, Mitch forcibly throws the covers back on the cot and eventually hoists him to his feet while Brody bitches in protest.

Brody finally concede defeat when Mitch threatens to strip him and wash his hair for him.

It’s fine. Brody will be to work on time like Mitch wants. He needs to fulfill 5e plea deal anyway. That’s just business.

At work, Mitch tries to include Brody in the chitchat, but Brody successfully thwarts that much. He’s not quite getting along with the rest , though Mitch seems to have enlisted them to stop actively disliking Brody. No doubt, they’re being polite for Mitch, not for Brody, so he can make that work.

That doesn’t stop Mitch from eating lunch with Brody. Every single day. He makes sure to tell lots of funny stories, which require Mitch to laugh frequently, so much so that even Brody smiles eventually. Mostly because Mitch is so transparent and ridiculous and it’s just funny okay. Laughing doesn’t mean they’re friends.

It doesn’t.

Things don’t get any easier after work. Before Brody can sneak off duty, Mitch always finds him, all but dragging him back to the house. This seems overbearing, but Mitch is so damn nice about it that it’s hard to really object. To keep Brody from running off, Mitch has started to cook full meals on a nightly basis, and they spend their evenings watching movies, catching up on sports and play video games.

On weekends, before Brody has a chance to step out and be useless, Mitch packs them up for a day of whatever. They exercise, they go boating, they try surfing, they even go shopping. Is it weird to have your boss and roommate plan every second of your life? Yes, yes it is. But Mitch isn’t controlling; he’s thoughtful. He does shit he knows Brody will like, and Brody has to remind himself that this isn’t permanent every single day.

Because it’s not permanent. Even Mitch, epic Mitch Buchannon, will figure it out eventually: Brody’s not worth it. Brody would just like this conclusion to be before Brody wreaks havoc on the good thing that’s going on at Baywatch. Brody’s a ticking time bomb, in a sense. He knows he’s going to go off sooner than later, but if he controls the detonation, at least no one will get hurt.

Well, no one but him.

But since when did he count anyway?

Finally, after several weeks of Mitch’s enduring generosity and hospitality, Brody cannot abide it any longer. He’s getting soft; he’s starting to forget what this is all about.

What he’s all about.

He has to remember who he is.

That’s why he goes to bed early one night, waiting until he hears Mitch settle down as well. Then he eases out of bed, still fully dressed, slips on his sandals and straight up sneaks out the back door like he’s 15 again.

Since that worked so well for him then.

At this point, Brody tries to tell himself, what does he have to lose?

He refuses to let himself answer the question.

-o-

(It’s everything, by the way. Brody, despite his best efforts, has everything to lose.)