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Baywatch fic: (And I Believe That It’s Easier) For You To Let Me Go (1/3)

December 22nd, 2018 (04:59 pm)

Title: (And I Believe That It’s Easier) For You To Let Me Go

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Warnings: This fic deals with an attempted abduction for the intent of human trafficking (the process is quickly thwarted). It also references date rape (references only) and includes a character being roofied.

A/N: This is a fill for my fighting square on hc_bingo. It’s not beta’ed, and it’s set post movie. Title with apologies to Christina Perri. Mind the warnings on this fic for possible triggery content.

Summary: Matt Brody is Mitch’s hardest save. (In other words, Matt Brody is a stupid asshole who needs to be saved more than anyone else Mitch has ever met)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Mitch doesn’t like to brag.

He knows it doesn’t always seem that way, given who he is and what he can do, but it’s actually true. He’s not a lifeguard for glory or praise. He doesn’t keep track of his saves to pat himself on the back or garner appreciation from the crowd. No, Mitch keeps track of his saves because he knows that each person matters.

Each person has a life of his or her own. They have family, friends. They have plans, ambitions. They matter, which is why saving their lives matters so much to Mitch.

He knows how many people he’s saved because he’s also very aware of how many he’s lost. He tries not to take it personally -- it’s part of the job, being a lifeguard -- but he still takes each loss hard. When he doesn’t see someone go under; when he’s not fast enough to pull them back to shore; when his best efforts aren’t just enough.

The ocean is a lot like life: beautiful and hard, all at once.

So, no, Mitch doesn’t like to brag.

But he’s sure as hell not going to sit back when lives are on the line. No failure is acceptable, not for him, and not for anyone on his team.

The rest of the team, they get that. They live and breathe it.

And then, there’s Matt Brody.

The first person Mitch has saved that he’s wondered if it was worth the effort.

-o-

Now, that’s not entirely fair. Brody didn’t get to the best start in Baywatch, but he’s made progress. In fact, he’s progressed to the point where Mitch uses his name on a somewhat regular basis. He’s made a choice to be a part of this team, and Mitch is one who is willing to value effort even when results are less than optimal.

And results with Brody are, needless to say, always a little mixed. He’s too young and too stupid for his own good, and while neither of those things are unforgivable sins, it does make him somewhat difficult to deal with. He still has a tendency to neglect official policies. Even with a study buddy, he doesn’t seem to be totally aware of everything in the lifeguarding handbook. Often, his solutions to problems are nonsensical, and for as much as Brody clearly wants to do good, he also clearly has no idea how to pull it off most of the time.

Now, Mitch can work with that; he can, and he does. He considers Brody a work in progress, which is okay.

Most of the time.

But when the pressure’s on.

When lives are at stake.

That’s when Brody’s got to be on his game, fully part of the team. That’s when Brody’s got to get it right.

He has, most of the time.

Today, however, Brody proves why he’s still Mitch’s most questionable save.

-o-

It starts with a call for backup from tower three.

In tower one, Mitch already knows who’s in tower three. He knows because he made the schedule, and he did morning rounds, and he waved to Brody as he set up for his morning shift. Brody was schedule to work until lunchtime, which meant that the 11 AM call would have come only from his limited stretch of the beach.

A backup call in and of itself is not cause for particular concern. It’s cause for action, but sometimes larger events do occur. There are policies and systems in place to allow for such things. So when the call comes in, Mitch makes sure that tower one is covered before grabbing his gear and sprinting into action.

Tower three isn’t that far away; he can make it faster on foot. When he arrives, a crowd has already gathered. CJ has one victim laid out on the ground; she’s performing chest compressions. Summer is rubbing the back of another. It’s Brody who is coming out of the surf, carrying the last one.

By the time Brody lays the young man out on the beach, Mitch can already see that they’re too late. Where CJ’s victim is starting to cough, Brody’s is blue in the face. Brody starts CPR, like he’s supposed to, and when Mitch goes to assist, he already has that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Working together, they’re fast and efficient.

And just not enough.

When the paramedics arrive, they call in a DOA.

Mitch oversees the cleanup, ushering away the crowd as the body is removed. When that’s in order, he turns, eyeing his lifeguards, one after another. Summer looks stricken. CJ’s shoulders are slumped. Brody is shell-shocked.

“Come on,” Mitch growls, moving back to headquarters. His ire is raised; his frustration is mounting. He’s pissed, and he’s vibing for a fight. “We need to talk.”

-o-

See, Mitch is known for being likeable, giving and generally amiable. He’ll give the shirt off his back if someone is truly in need, and he has a kind word and smile for everyone he meets. But Mitch Buchannon is also an animal when he has to be. You don’t get absolutely ripped in any other way, and it’s how he’s managed the best save record in Baywatch history.

When it comes to the job, Mitch is all business. He doesn’t tolerate sloppiness or laziness. That’s why Ronnie was a good fit from the start and why Brody had to earn it. Mitch didn’t accept failure from himself or his team when they were called into action.

So when failure did happen, for whatever reason, Mitch tended to handle it ruthlessly. He’ll fight against it with a tenacity that scares the shit out of people. He’s not unreasonable, but he trains his people to be the best of the best. When someone dies on their watch, they need to know why. They need to break down the excuses, identify the problems and do their very best to make sure it never happens again.

It means has to be a scary son of a bitch for a few minutes, but Mitch has always deemed that a worthwhile part of the process. Some fights, after all, were worth having. The performance record and team nature of Baywatch speaks for itself in that regard.

Still, when he wants to be imposing, he’s imposing.

The three lifeguards file in after him, and Mitch gets into a private office before he turns back to face them. This privacy is the only courtesy he will allow them right now.

“I want to know what happened,” he says, and it’s not an order in anything but tone. The lifeguards before him get the implication. CJ straightens -- she’s been through this before, so she understands it best -- and Summer grits her teeth. It’s Brody who flinches. Mitch does not relent. “I want to know now.”

CJ is the veteran here, so it’s only natural that she takes the lead. “The first incident was spotted from tower three, and I responded,” she explains. “When it became apparent that it was a double incident, Summer joined in. We were able to swim out and quickly use flotation devices to help secure the victims.”

Mitch nods along, piecing the story together in his head as she speaks.

“At this point, we were notified of a third incident, unrelated to the first two,” CJ continues. “That’s when Brody deployed.”

It’s mostly by the book in terms of her account.

Except one thing.

Mitch shakes his head, hoping he’s heard wrong. It’s easier when these things are bad luck; it’s a lot less so when it’s overt negligence. “Brody was the last one in the water?”

Pale faced, Brody still looks shell shocked by this entire situation. CJ answers for him. “Yes, he went in when we became aware of the third victim.”

“Brody was the last one in?” Mitch clarifies, because this point matters. “From tower three?”

The trio exchanges looks, as if not sure where Mitch is going.

Mitch knows where he’s going, though. He’s going there without any reserve. Because: “But Brody was duty in tower three,” he says. “So it makes no sense why lifeguards from tower 4 were the first ones in the water when I had a perfectly qualified lifeguard supposedly manning the beach at tower three.”

Brody’s mouth falls open. Summer blinks a few times, shaking her head. “But you don’t understand--” she starts.

He doesn’t let her finish. It’s not completely clear to him where Summer and Brody are at in their relationship, but he is fairly certain there is a relationship and that there is probably sex involved. This doesn’t particularly bother Mitch, and in other circumstances he would wish them well, but at work? When it’s a distraction? An excuse?

He shakes his head in return, adamant. “There’s nothing to understand,” he says harshly, eyes narrowing in at Brody who is shaking in his trunks now. “Your tower; you’re the first line of defense. You are never -- never -- last in the water.”

CJ frowns. “It wasn’t like that--”

Mitch takes a small but ominous step forward, unconsciously flexing his fists. This isn’t supposed to be physical, but his anger is so strong that he can’t very well hep himself. He’s given Brody a lot of chances, because that’s the right thing to do, but he’s always been aware that Brody is a bit of a liability. He’s trusted Brody with as much as he thinks the kid can handle, and he’s been hard as shit on him because Brody needs structure more than the rest of them. When he does good, Mitch lets him know.

When he screws up?

Well, Mitch ain’t going to let that slide. “It’s exactly like that,” he interjects, even more forcefully than before. Because Mitch is nice most of the time, but when he’s pissed, he’s pissed. There’s a reason he was able to blow Leeds up. He feels vaguely homicidal now, but without sea urchin to make him high, he’s pretty sure he’s just going to yell. A lot. He advances purposefully on Brody. “You’ll have your excuses, I’m sure. You’ll have easons and explanations, but a man is dead.”

He takes another step forward as the girls shy out of the way. “A man is dead on your watch,” Mitch continues.

Brody flinches again, more pronounced than before.

Mitch is close enough to jab a finger into Brody’s chest. “A man is dead and it’s on you,” he says with a finality that is delivered with the force of a blow to the stomach. “You, Brody. It’s on you.”

Brody blinks in apparent surprise. For all his months on the team, sometimes it still seems like he doesn’t fully grasp the life and death nature of the job. Sure, it’s easy when there’s a gun to your head, but the waves can be just as deadly as a bullet to the brain. Brody needs to understand that; he needs to learn it. They’re not just fighting bad guys. They’re fighting mother nature.

That’s why you have to be oceanic, damn it.

“So tell me,” Mitch seethes, staring daggers at Brody. “What could you possibly tell me to make that seem better?”

Brody is genuinely shaken, and for once, he’s dumbed to muteness.

It’s CJ who intervenes. “Mitch, please, let us explain--”

He turns a perilous glare at her, and she appropriately pulls back.

Summer steps forward slightly. “There’s more to the story,” she says, as if trying to be reasonable.

But Mitch doesn’t find it reasonable that a man is dead. Accident happen, that’s what this job is about, but to be last out of his own tower? When he should have been first.

Mitch shakes his head. “I’m not looking for your reasons,” he says. “We’ve all got to pull our weight to be a part of this team, no exceptions.”

Summer closes her mouth.

Brody swallows hard.

Mitch huffs in disgust. “You keep screwing up, Brody, and you keep telling me you’ll stop,” he says. “When it’s the small stuff, I can take it. But when it’s this stuff? When people die? I can’t take that. Not as a lieutenant, not as a lifeguard, not as a human being who knows how to give a damn about the world around me. All your excuses, they’re about you, Brody.”

Brody looks down, not hiding the tremble in his stance.

That just pisses Mitch off even more. Brody’s scared shitless now, but where was that fear when it counted? Where was that motivation when it was needed?

He lets out a long, hot angry breath. “You’re on leave today, all of you,” he says. “It’s protocol pending an investigation, and I’ll need full reports documented from all of you. CJ and Summer, you can give yours this afternoon and hopefully be cleared for duty again tomorrow.”

At this, Brody looks up, surprised.

Mitch answers his unasked question. “You can take several days while we figure this out,” he says curtly. “I’ll let you know when we need your official statement.”

“Days?” Brody asks, the first word this entire time.

Figures; the first word is all about him. “Or longer, depending on how this plays out,” Mitch tells him.

This makes Brody’s shoulders drop. “But this is my job--”

“No, your job is to save lives,” Mitch reminds him. “And how did that go today?”

It’s a low blow, and it registered on Brody’s face palpably. The hint of self assertion dies as quickly as it comes, and Mitch takes some satisfaction in that. Brody needs to learn, and he’s not the kind of son of a bitch who learns things the easy way. It has to be hard; it has to be rough. Or the lesson never gets through that thick skull of his.

“That’s all,” he grits out. “Summer, CJ, I’ll have you set up in separate rooms.”

CJ looks down, and Summer steals a sideways glance at Brody. Brody, stricken, is only looking at Mitch, as if desperate for him to reconsider.

Mitch is no mood to reconsider. Not when the police are tracking down a dead man’s relatives to explain that a happy day at the beach has ended in tragedy. “Brody, get the hell out of here,” he orders. “When and if I want your report, I’ll call you.”

There’s no room for argument. There’s no time for comfort.

Brody has learned enough not to fight that.

Dejected, he drops his head, accepting the criticism. Without a word, he skirts around Mitch, not looking up as he exits the room.

Maybe that’ll be a lesson learned for once.

God knows, it’s about damn time.

Because there’s second chances, and there’s third chances. But Brody is on about his 20th chance, and Mitch is starting to wonder if his decision to pull the Olympic swimmer back onboard the team was the right decision.

Or if it’s going to bite him in the ass yet.

-o-

Within five minutes, Mitch is starting to calm down as the fight drains out of him. Anger is one thing, and it’s useful in the moment, but Mitch isn’t irrational, not even about these sorts of thing.

Within fifteen minutes, he’s taken CJ’s full report. She explains how Brody switched towers with her that morning, upon her request. There had been some problems with ogling from a few teenage boys on her tower. Brody had offered to cover it for her to throw them off.

Within thirty minutes, Mitch has taken Summer’s report. She explains that Brody was the last called in, and he was the one who spotted the second incident. He hadn’t been late; he’d been proactive.

Within an hour, he concludes, much to his chagrin, that maybe he had been a little hasty.

It’s a funny feeling, then.

Saying things you don’t mean.

Someone’s learning a lesson today.

And Mitch just wishes it had been Brody.

-o-

The thing is, Mitch isn’t exactly sorry because he hadn’t exactly been wrong. It’s his job to fight for the best performance of his team. In this context, his response to the situation had been warranted at the time, and there’s ample evidence to suggest that his tough love approach works on the team. He knows when to play it up, and he knows when to turn it off. It’s honestly never been a problem before.

Except he can’t get the look on Brody’s face out of his head. Brody is still new at this, and he’s been involved in some tough cases before, but he hasn’t had time to learn how to accept such things. But it’s more than that. Mitch can’t stop thinking about the way Brody didn’t look him in the eye when he walked out of the office. He can’t stop thinking about the dejected slump of his shoulders, like he was some kind of kicked puppy.

Mitch doesn’t kick puppies.

Damn it, his lifeguards aren’t supposed to be puppies.

Especially when they’re cocky, stupid assholes like Matt Brody.

And Mitch knows there’s more to Brody than that, and he knows Brody has earned his place, so why is this so damn hard? In all the times he’s fought with Brody before, Mitch has never had an issue with it because he’s always been the one in the right and Brody’s always been the one apologizing. He’s failed to appreciate how hard it is to approach a fight from the other side.

“Tough day, huh?”

Mitch is shaken from his reverie. He’s been in his office for the better part of the hour, going over the reports he’s taken from Summer and CJ. He’s been sitting here, trying to figure out if he wants to call in Brody to give his report. So far, all he’s managed to do is think himself into circles regarding the Olympian with respect issues.

In his doorway, Stephanie is leaned against the frame with a look of commiseration. She’s clearly just come off duty, wet hair and sand on her legs. “I heard,” she says, apologetically. “The riptide was pretty fierce this morning.”

“Yeah, sounds like it was a lot of bad luck and bad timing,” Mitch admits, shuffling the papers to the back of his desk with a sigh.

Stephanie takes that as an invitation to come inside. “Summer and CJ were pretty shaken up.”

“I gave them the day off, maybe two if they need it,” Mitch says.

Stephanie nods in agreement. “With the increased funding we got after exposing Leeds, we’ve been able to hire more support staff,” she says. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I know,” Mitch says.

She tips her head to the side. “Then why do you sound like it is?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Mitch says, trying to deflect her question.

She raises her eyebrows.

“Brody was involved, too,” Mitch explains under her look.

Her expression turns guarded. After Mitch, Stephanie has been the hardest one for Brody to win over. “He’s been by the book lately,” she observes cautiously. “But his history…”

“That’s the problem. I made the same assumptions,” he says. “And I didn’t give him a chance to explain what happened before I sent him on leave. It’s like we had a fight, and I didn’t even let him get his guard up before I started throwing punches.”

“You put all three on leave for the investigation,” Stephanie says. “It’s all standard procedure.”

“Sure, but I didn’t even take his statement,” Mitch says. “I just sent him home. I got so pissed, and I doubted his judgement and…”

He trails off, giving a weak shrug.

“Hey,” she says, sitting down in the chair across from his desk. “We make tough calls in tough situations. You were only doing what seemed best to you. You have to be tough on the team; incidents like this morning prove why.”

“I know, I know,” Mitch says. “But...I don’t know. I just assumed he screwed up.”

“It’s not like he hasn’t given you a reason, Mitch,” Stephanie reminds him.

“And it’s not like he hasn’t kept on proving himself after each mistakes,” Mitch says. He sighs again, shaking his head. “With Brody, it’s just different.”

“Well, he’s not a typical member of our team,” Stephanie agrees, a little coy. They won’t forget the way Brody joined the team, even if a lot has happened since then. “That’s why he needs more discipline than the rest of them. He just does.”

“But I didn’t even try to trust him,” Mitch says. “That’s not how this family works.”

This time, it’s Stephanie who sighs. “Yeah, probably,” she says. “I probably would have done the same thing as you, though.”

“I’m not sure that makes it right,” Mitch says tired.

Stephanie gives a small, reassuring shrug. “Maybe,” she says. “But he’ll get over it.”

Mitch snorts. “And why do you think that?”

“Because we’ve gotten over all of his shit, each and every time he’s done it,” she points out, and they don’t need to delineate. The motorcycle in the water. Diving straight into the flames. Getting drunk instead of playing lookout. Taking Mitch’s job when he was clearly unqualified. The history is there, but Stephanie smiles anyway. “Because that’s how family works.”

And that’s why Stephanie is so good at what she does. She’s taken every lesson, and she’s learned it -- and excelled. She’ll be a damn good lieutenant herself one day. She’d make a hell of a good captain even. Mitch smiles gratefully at her. “I should go talk to him, shouldn’t I?” he deduces.

She lifts her shoulders. “Well, you do need his official report to close the investigation,” she says. “Casey Jean’s a stickler for these things.”

Mitch lifts a finger, pointing at Stephanie in agreement. “She is that,” he says. “So I should go talk to him for Casey Jean.”

Stephanie nods along with a knowing grin. “For Casey Jean.”

Mitch is already on his feet, moving around his desk as Stephanie gets to her feet. “Thanks,” he says, pausing.

“Nothing you haven’t done for all of us from time to time,” she tells him.

“Still,” he says. “I needed the reminder of what this team was all about.”

“Well, I did learn from the best,” she says.

He gives her a decisive nod, moving toward the door. There’s no need to tell her that he’s only as good as she is, as they all are. That they’re all in this together. Stephanie knows that; they all know that.

Everyone but Brody.

So maybe there’s a lesson for Brody in here after all.

-o-

Mitch searches the rest of headquarters first.

This is perhaps an overly optimistic way to go about things, but seeing as Baywatch is a family, it is not uncommon for lifeguards to hang out in their free time. Lots of lifeguards read, watch tv, play video games, and so on. This is because they genuinely like each other, not, contrary to popular belief, that they have no other life.

He finds CJ and Summer still around, but there’s no sign of Brody. It’s disappointing but probably not too surprising. Mitch takes out his phone, and he brings up Brody’s number.

“Um, it’s not on,” Summer interjects from the couch where she’s sitting.

“What?” Mitch looks up.

“You’re calling Brody, right?” she asks. “I’ve already tried a couple of times, but it goes straight to voicemail. I don’t think he has it on.”

“Oh,” he says, finger moving away from the call button.

“It’s not like him,” Summer admits, almost like she’s confessing.

Mitch moves closer to her, picking up on her unbidden anxiety.

“He always answers when I call,” she says. “Like, right away. Unless he’s on duty, I mean. And, well, he’s not on duty.”

She’s rambling a little bit, and Mitch notices now that she’s perched a little stiffly on the sofa. From the nearby chair, CJ exchanges a knowing look with Mitch. Summer’s clearly unnerved by this development, even if it’s not clear why.

“I was thinking of going over there,” she continues, as if trying to sound indifferent. Summer’s played it hard to get with Brody, and she’s the strong, independent type. She wouldn’t want to be typecast as a worrying girlfriend, especially if she’s not ready to admit the girlfriend part.

“I tried calling, too,” CJ adds, trying to be helpful. “But I told Summer, he probably needs some time alone. Mornings like this -- they can be intense. We’ve all needed space to think sometimes.”

“Sure,” Mitch says, understanding what CJ is trying to do. As much as Summer wants to go check on Brody, she also doesn’t want to do it. She’s not ready yet; she’s not sure what it would mean if she did. CJ is trying to keep Summer within her comfort zone, because that’s what’s best for Summer. What’s best for Brody, however…. “Well, I could always just stop over there.”

Summer looks positively relieved.

Mitch smiles, wishing the rest of this fight could be so easily resolved. “I have to take his report anyway,” he says. “Besides, he still hasn’t got a place of his own. He’s been crashing at my place.”

It occurs to Mitch how awkward that is now, considering how he sent Brody away. Things can seem perfectly dramatic in the moment, but in retrospect, it’s not always so simple. The only place where Brody could conceivably lick his wounds after their fight would be the one place he wouldn’t want to be vulnerable.

“And you know, his phone may not even work right now,” Mitch offers helpfully if completely unnecessarily. Fixing Brody, that’s going to be harder. Fixing Summer and CJ, he’s got a handle on that. “I tried to get him on an affordable plan while I was at Sprint, but I swear to God, that man doesn’t know how to properly balance a checkbook.”

He’s making a joke, which is actually the truth, but he says it with enough affection that he hopes it’s effective.

It’s not.

As if Mitch could have screwed today up more.

Summer wets her lips, and hesitates. But finally, she shakes her head. “He’s trying, you know,” she says.

“The checkbook thing’s not a big deal,” Mitch tries to say.

Summer shakes her head again. “On the job,” she clarifies. “With Baywatch. He’s really, really trying. I mean, we’ve spent a lot of nights studying together, and he’s been training harder, even though you made us full lifeguards. He takes this seriously, and he’s changed a lot, Mitch. He’s changed.”

There’s no joking out of this. So maybe Mitch’s tough love approach has more implications than he realized. Kindly, he steps closer to the couch, sitting himself down on the opposite end. “It’s my job to be harsh sometimes,” he explains gently. “You know why, Summer. I know you do.”

“I do,” Summer says. “You know I do. But...you didn’t even listen to him. You just...assumed.”

Mitch had rather hoped that part would be glossed over in the subsequent retellings of this morning’s events. Needless to say, Mitch’s life was much less complicated before Matt Brody came along. “I know,” he says, because he’s a big man in more ways than one. He’ll take it. “I know he’s doing his best, I do.”

Her eyes are glinting now. “I’m just not sure Brody knows it.”

Her voice falters in that, wavering on Brody’s name. It says more about their undefined relationship than any label ever could. It’s a glimpse of vulnerability in Summer, and it’s a glimpse of vulnerability in Brody, too. For all that Brody’s slept on his couch and trained under Mitch’s tutelage, there’s a lot they don’t talk about. They’re guys, after all. Mitch talks about the sea; he doesn’t talk about deep dark secrets and emotional traumas. The fight and bicker; they make up with grunts and beers.

Not that Mitch won’t tread in deep waters, but he’s not about to force it. He’s been willing to let Brody take the lead.

It’s only here, sitting with Summer and CJ, that he realizes how ridiculous that is.

He can trust Brody in the surf, but he can’t trust the kid in his own damn head. That’s what the altercation this morning was really about. Not what happened on the beach, but what happened in both their heads. For all that Mitch has accused Brody of being selfish, he’s also completely in denial about his own vulnerabilities. He doesn’t talk about his past, not any of it. It’s easy to assume it’s because he’s embarrassed by it, but Brody’s more than the Vomit Comet. Mitch had just assumed that he’d find that out in good time.

And then he broke Brody’s spirit and tarnished his understanding of family.

Mitch really isn’t pulling his punches today.

That’s discouraging.

But it’s something Mitch can and will make right.

He pats Summer on the shoulder as steadily as he can. “Don’t worry,” he promises her. “We’ll make sure he does.”

-o-

Mitch isn’t scared of anything, and in general, he doesn’t dread a lot of things. He’s not intimidated, and he genuinely loves what he does and who he works with.

Yes, that even includes Brody.

So when he experiences a twinge of trepidation when he reaches his own front door, it’s a little on the weird side.

His life was a lot easier before some hotshot gold winning swimmer from Iowa showed up.

Mitch, however, has never backed away from a challenge.

He’s not about to start now.

Opening the door, he lets himself inside. Instinctively, he’s already listening for signs of movement. He’s always been open to taking in strays as needed over the years, but other than that, he’s mostly lived alone. He hasn’t fully realized just how much he’s gotten used to having Brody around, to the point that he knows when he steps inside that the kid isn’t here.

Still. Mitch closes the door behind him. “Brody?”

Tossing his keys on the table, he winds his way through the main living space. Brody’s actually been a low maintenance house guest. He will occasionally watch TV, but he doesn’t eat shit that Mitch says not to touch in the fridge. After some gentle coaching about how to use dish soap, Brody’s even managed to clean up after himself a fair amount. He’s made his presence as minimally visible as possible throughout most of the place.

This has always seemed appropriate to Mitch, given that the kid is living rent-free.

Going through his house now, however, it seems a little sad. There’s no sign of Brody anywhere. Hell, the kid doesn’t even leave his sink in the bathroom. The only square footage he takes up is the small storage room where Mitch does his laundry and listens to the CB. Even there, Brody’s things are sparse.

Brody’s cot is made up every morning, not well, mind you, but the kid puts some effort into it. His bag is always packed, and standing in the empty room that day, Mitch realizes just how little actually has. Everything Brody owns fits into a single duffle bag. He has a phone, five shirts, two pairs of pants and a few personal toiletries. Besides the two gold medals, the only thing Brody has that’s worth shit is his phone, which only has service half the time.

Mitch wonders how come he never noticed before. How small Brody’s existence is.

Probably because Brody’s never complained about it. Not once.

Sure, Mitch thought this would be a short-term thing. Of course, this is Mitch technically doing Brody a favor. Mitch had been nice enough to let the kid crash on his cot and not ask too many question.

Standing there, looking at the entirety of Brody’s life packed into a ragged duffle bag, however, it doesn’t seem all that nice. Four months, and Brody’s still sleeping on a cot and living out of a damn bag listening to CB radio keep him up every night.

Sighing, Mitch finishes checking the house, but he knows what he finds before he looks. Brody’s not there.

Because when Mitch sent Brody home for the day, he conveniently forgot that Brody doesn’t have a home.

Great, Mitch thinks to himself.

Another fantastic lesson learned.

Brody sure as hell better be worth all this shit.

-o-

It’s not a long walk back to HQ, but he’s a bit relieved that Summer and CJ have finally left. If he knows CJ -- and he does know CJ -- she’s probably taken Summer back to her place to hang out and unwind. It’s a thing they like to do as lifeguards after a failed save; they spend their time in solidarity, remembering why they do this job in the first place. The worst thing that can be done is for one of them to go off alone and think it’s all their fault.

No, the irony is not lost on Mitch. He knows what he asked Brody to do. He’d done it in frustration and disappointment, which is understandable. That doesn’t make it right.

That’s why he’s going to rectify it.

As soon as he figures out where the kid has gone.

The problem is, he’s checked his place. He’s checked HQ. Unless Brody’s out under a pier somewhere, he honestly doesn’t know what else he does for fun. Uncertain, Mitch heads over to the locker room, hoping perhaps for some clue from Brody’s belongings before he has to scour the beach for him. Brody’s locker is easy enough to find, and even if there’s a lock, Mitch knows how to hit it just right so it pops open for him.

It’s a bit of an invasion of privacy, but it’s not like he’s going to use anything against the kid. He just wants a clue as to where he is right now. Maybe a fitness club. A loyalty card to a favorite restaurant.

What Mitch finds, however, is surprising.

Because there’s no sign of any personal affiliations. No indication that Brody has any hobbies or outlets outside of work. His extra swimsuit and a change of clothes are there. But on top, piled almost purposefully, are Brody’s wallet and phone. These are commonly left in locker -- they’re lifeguards, electronics and personal identification are not great for the water -- but everyone picks them up before checking out.

Weirder still, both gold medals are shoved to the back, almost as if they’d been thrown there. Brody’s demonstrated that he’s more than a pair of medals, but Mitch knows they still mean something. Mitch doesn’t see them, like, ever, so he’d assumed they were back in the bag at his place. Apparently, Brody doesn’t show them off, but he also never quite leaves them behind. The decision to leave them here, with his phone and other personal effects...

Is weird.

And probably not without significance.

This whole thing is weird.

Mitch is starting to think there’s a lot more to Brody than he’s let himself quite realize.

-o-

Mitch needs answers. He knows he could ask Summer, but he also knows that implying that something might be amiss with Brody will only worry her more. So, Mitch settles for the next best thing.

Ronnie is dutifully manning tower three when Mitch approaches. He’s the most dutiful of all Mitch’s lifeguards, always active in his monitoring and never distracted by girls in bikinis -- minus the one he’s currently banging.

Still, he’s all smiles for Mitch.

“Hey!” he says, and he always sounds like he’s genuinely happy to see Mitch. Because he is. Ronnie loves his job at Baywatch with a passion that makes Mitch so glad he gave Ronnie the chance to don the trunks. “What’s up, my man?”

Ronnie is also hopelessly awkward with trying to sound casual and cool. It’s okay, though. Mitch thinks it’s endearing.

“Well, kind of a rough day, actually,” Mitch says.

Ronnie sobers quickly; he obviously knew this and feels silly for being so casual a second earlier. “Right, sorry,” he says. “Is CJ okay?”

“She’s a pro at this,” Mitch assures him. “I mean, none of us find it easy, but she understands that it happens.”

Ronnie nods, though he’s clearly processing all the ways to make CJ feel better after his shift. That’s nice, Mitch thinks. He’s happy for the two of them. But right now he still has other concerns.

“I am a bit worried about Brody, though,” Mitch continues, conveniently not mentioning that he’s responsible for at least part of the situation where Brody is concerned. It’s not a secret, but it’s also not a necessary detail right now. “He took it kind of hard.”

Ronnie, though still vigilant on the beach, frowns. “Well, I imagine your debrief helped,” he says earnestly. “I mean, when we had that close call last week, I thought I was the worst lifeguard in the world -- I was ready to quit, man -- but you talked me out of it. You listened to me, made me realize that we’re all human and that we can only do what we can do. Talking to you, Mitch. Changes everything.”

This is not the stark juxtaposition Mitch came for. In fact, when delineated so clearly, he’s able to see that he may call Brody by his real name, but he hasn’t quite considered the Olympian to be equal with the rest of his lifeguards. Sure, he’s declared Brody a full lifeguard, but he’s still kept him on the tightest leash around here.

Stephanie’s right, he’s not without reason.

Except for that he kind of is.

All his talk about family, and he’s being a shitty example right now.

Clearing his throat, Mitch keeps the smile plastered over his face. “Even so,” he says. “Brody’s gone off, and I’d like to have a follow up conversation with him. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find him.”

“Have you checked with Summer?” Ronnie asks, pausing to look keenly through his binoculars at something down beach.

Mitch instinctively follows his gaze, and sees a small domestic tussle that will amount to nothing. He looks back at Ronnie. “She’s having a rough day, too,” he says. “And she hasn’t seen him.”

Ronnie puts the binoculars back down, apparently satisfied. “And you’ve looked at your place?”

“Sure, but he hasn’t been back,” Mitch says. “He’s not at HQ, so I’m not sure where to look next.”

“Well, he did used to sleep under the pier,” Ronnie suggests. “But I did patrol an hour ago and he wasn’t there.”

All of which, Mitch has already considered.

Ronnie gives a small, off handed shrug. “Well, he’s had a rough day, right?”

“Yeah, the incident this morning...wasn’t an easy one,” Mitch concedes.

“Well, we’ve all seen how Brody deals with rough days,” Ronnie says.

“Yeah, usually by falling asleep on my couch,” Mitch says.

But Ronnie shakes his head. “Before that,” he says. “When he’s well and truly ready to screw up.”

Then Mitch remembers why he’s had a hard time trusting Brody completely in the first place. He’s forgiven, but it’s hard to forget the incident at Leeds’ club, where Brody got drunk and barfed in a pool when he was supposed to be a lookout. It’s the same move he pulled back in Rio; no doubt, it’s something of a fallback for him. “You think he’s getting smashed?”

Ronnie looks apologetic at the insinuation. “I’m just saying, we’ve seen him do it before.”

Mitch nods, considering this implication seriously. “But where would he go?”

“Um, someplace close,” Ronnie says. “And cheap. The guy’s totally broke most of the time.”

Cheap and close, Mitch thinks. There’s more to Brody than that. He’s steeped in learned failure, and some habits die hard no matter how hard you try. He’s watched Brody take one step forward just to take two back. For Brody, if a mistake is worth making once, he will make in again and again and again. If he’s fighting a fight he can’t win, he’ll take a dive the only way he knows how. Mitch won’t forget Brody’s face in the pool before he vomited or the sound of his voice as he embraced that humiliation with another round. If he’s fallen back into old habits….

Suddenly, Mitch knows exactly where Brody is.

“Thanks, Ronnie,” Mitch says, slapping the other man on the shoulder.

Ronnie looks genuinely pleased with the compliment. “Anytime.”

“Also,” Mitch says as he turns to leave. “That domestic dispute is about to break into a fist fight, so you better get on that.”

Ronnie has his binoculars up again, aghast. “But -- but--” he splutters.

But Mitch is already gone.

Ronnie can handle a fistfight.

Mitch has bigger concerns right now.

-o-

At this point, it’s getting to be late in the afternoon. The dinner rush will be starting in a bit, and since it’s a Friday night, Mitch knows the bars along the bay will be hopping. The beaches are always manned extra strong these nights, because when the partying spills out from the bars, things can get interesting.

That’s never been Mitch’s scene, and ever since they took down Leeds, Brody has spent most of his time out with Summer or drinking beers with Mitch while they watch baseball on the TV. Still, the rumors about Brody’s party days are impossible to overlook.

Besides, if Brody’s looking to screw himself over, there’s only one place he’ll go. One place where he’s already pulled the feat off in a spectacular sort of way. It’s the place where he relived his persona as the Vomit Comet. It’s the place where he nearly cost himself a place on the Baywatch team forever. If Brody is looking to make the same mistakes and lose the same fights, there’s one place to go to enshrine himself in self fulfilling failure.

The Huntley.

True, there’s no actual evidence that Brody would go that route, but something about this situation strikes Mitch as likely. He has been living with Brody for the better part of four months. And he’s provided structure for the kid because he knows that bad habits are especially hard to break, and Brody’s bad habits? Are second nature.

There’s a cliche about a dog and vomit.

It works for Brody in more ways than one.

After their morning conversation -- rather, morning fight -- Brody probably felt disconnected from the team. Like he’d blown it.

So if he’s going to blow it, he might as well really blow it.

It’s not exactly sane reasoning, which is why it makes plenty of sense for Brody.

Mitch makes it to the Huntley fast enough, but outside, he hesitates. The last time he was here, he’d left the kid with no intention of coming back. Even now, he wonders if it would have been easier if he’d stuck to that.

But Mitch believes that every save is worth it.

Even the most difficult ones.

With this resolve, Mitch takes a steadying breath and enters the Huntley for the second time in his life.