?

Log in

No account? Create an account
do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: (And I Believe That It’s Easier) For You To Let Me Go (2/3)

December 22nd, 2018 (05:01 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Mitch isn’t scared of things, and he’s sentimental about the right things but only in a positive sense. For example, he’s able to go to the same beach where he’s pulled someone out of the surf dead and still appreciate the beauty around him. This is part of his innate vibrancy; it’s part of what makes him Mitch Buchannon.

So, he’s not really sure why he feels a twinge of trepidation when he enters the Huntley. It’s been sold since Leeds’ death, but new management hasn’t bothered to change much about the place. This is probably because it is a nice place -- Leeds was a homicidal egomaniac, but she did have good taste.

Still, he’s a little surprised that no one seems to mind that the atmosphere is exactly the same. As if they don’t mind celebrating like said homicidal egomaniac.

Even though it’s just before the dinner hour, the Huntley is still pretty full. There’s a crowd gathered around the pool, and people are occupying most of the lounge chairs, sipping cocktails. A few people are eating dinner at the tables, and even though the sun’s still out, the mood lighting is already on. It has a dramatic effect across the surface of the pool, which just bothers Mitch more.

He’s never actually understood the appeal. Why go to a pool when the ocean is mere footsteps away? It doesn’t make sense.

That’s not why he’s feeling trepidation, though.

No, he hates seeing the pool because he remembers the last time he saw the pool. Brody, idiot that he was, had been drunk and tried taking a swing. Mitch hadn’t had to touch him to put Brody in his place, and he’d given Brody just enough slack to hang himself.

And Brody did. Spectacularly.

That time, Mitch had walked away. If Brody hadn’t followed him the next morning, repentant and saying all the right things, that might have been that.

That’s not how it is, though.

So the sense of deja vu that washes over Mitch is pretty unwelcome. Because he’s here, all business. And Brody has parked himself at the bar with a bottle in his hand.

Who the hell gave the kid a bottle before dinner?

Sighing, Mitch puts away the rest of his trepidation and crosses over to the bar. The rest of the party-goers have given Brody wide berth, so it’s not hard to find a seat next to the kid. Sitting down, he shakes his head at the bartender, and the woman picks up on his hint and stays away. For a moment, he sits, watching as Brody stares at the bottle in his hand. Brody gives no indication that he’s noticed Mitch, but Mitch is the kind of guy that is impossible to miss.

When Brody steadfastly refuses to acknowledge Mitch’s presence, Mitch swallows enough of his pride to do it for him. “Summer’s been looking for you,” he starts, because that seems like a diplomatic way to do it. It’s not a lie, not in the least. If it conveniently obfuscates the truth, then that’s just how it is. “And I couldn’t find you back at home.”

At that, Brody takes a swig from the bottle, but he still doesn’t look at Mitch. “It’s not my home,” he mutters, as if this suddenly matters now, after four months of crashing on Mitch’s cot.

Mitch decides to let it pass. Brody’s pissed and hurt; he’s also drunk. Mitch is going to have to pick his battles here, and better than he did this morning. “I think we should go back,” he says, making it a suggestion, not an order. “We could talk about a few things.”

Brody gives a short, bitter laugh. “What’s there to say?” he asks sharply. He closes his eyes as he takes another drink. He swallows hard, gritting his teeth before he opens his eyes again, still transfixed at the bottle. “I screwed up.”

It’s a lot of self pity, more than Mitch usually can stomach. He’s often a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, but he’s not one to tolerate wallowing. If Brody were sober, he might call him on this shit.

As it is, Brody is not sober.

As it is, Brody is wallowing as a direct result of Mitch’s refusal to listen.

He owes Brody this much. “We both screwed up,” he says. “The rescue this morning, CJ and Summer told me that you traded towers. You were the backup; you weren’t supposed to be the first one in. You should have told me.”

Brody doesn’t recognize the note of apology in Mitch’s voice. Nuance is often lost on him, and when he’s hammered, it’s clearly a more pronounced problem.

“I take this job seriously, very seriously,” Mitch continues to explain.

This time, Brody does look up at him. His face is screwed up in consternation. “And you think I don’t?”

The question is caustic, and though it sounds like it’s rhetorical, Mitch realizes quite quickly that it’s not. If for no other reason than the obvious answer is not the one Mitch’s gut would have given. Brody tries to take things seriously, but it’s like Mitch is waiting for the other shoe to fall. He respects Brody’s effort, but he hasn’t learned to trust him yet.

His silence is answer enough.

Brody looks back down at his drink before taking another long, hard drink. When he puts the bottle down again, it nearly leaves him breathless.

Mitch doesn’t abandon a rescue; it’s not in his nature. He’ll persist here, just like he always has. Though, he has to admit, he’d take a riptide over a drunk Brody anyday. “It’s something we’ll talk about, if you just come back home,” he explains stolidly.

Brody is already shaking his head. “Talk about it? You didn’t want to talk about it this morning.”

“And I know that I--”

“That you what, Mitch?” Brody asks, turning an incredulous stare at him. “You’re perfect, Mitch. You never do anything wrong. I don’t know if you’re here to apologize or to hear me apologize, but it doesn’t matter much, does it? Because we’ll end up back here, every single time. This same stupid place, where I’m the screw up and you’re the one who gets it all right. I’ve tried to change, Mitch, but I don’t think I can. I keep ending up here, don’t I? Every damn time.”

Mitch could explain that the incident on the beach this morning has nothing to do with Brody’s choice to return to the source of his shame and failure. He could suggest that getting drunk is a poor response to feeling dejected and abandoned. He could politely analyze the situation, speculating all the psychological pitfalls that has led Brody to make small mistakes into catastrophic failures. It’s a cycle of self perpetuating failure for Brody, and he lacks the emotional capacity to deal with inner doubt in a sufficient way.

These are things to work on, to be sure.

But Mitch knows that the first step of any save is not to belabor what the victim has done wrong.

No, the first step is to recognize that the victim needs help.

Then a trained lifeguard renders said help.

Collecting a breath, Mitch smiles patiently. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s get you home.”

Brody doesn’t recoil from him, but his laugh is almost a sneer. “Go home?”

“Sure, my place,” Mitch says. “We’ll get some water, pass out on the couch for a while. It’ll be great.”

It’s a magnanimous offer, all things considered. Mitch knows he’ll be mostly dragging Brody home, and he’ll be nursing his drunk ass off a hell of a hangover the next day. But Mitch will do this for Brody, because everyone deserves to be saved.

Everyone.

Brody shakes his head, lip curled. “Screw you,” he says, tipping the bottle up to his mouth again. Mitch isn’t here to pick a fight, but Brody’s already in defensive mode, ready for one.

“Brody--”

“No, seriously,” Brody says, more sharply this time. “Leave me the hell alone.”

Mitch bites back an emotional reply and settles for something tempered. “You’re drunk, Brody.”

It seems like the right thing to say; it seemed that way before, too. Brody still remembers, though. Drunk off his ass, he remember. Mitch sees the flash of recognition in his eyes, that they’ve played this game before. He’s learned enough not to pick a fight this time.

But he’s not learned enough to take an olive branch when it’s being offered.

Eyes on the bar, Brody scowls. “Yep,” he says, swirling the last of the liquid around in the bottle. “Tell me you didn’t know I’d be like this?”

“Well, I was hoping you would have learned,” Mitch admits.

Brody’s look up at him is dark, his smile almost sadistic. “Disappointing you is the only thing I’m good at.”

“Brody--”

“Fuck you, Mitch,” he says, downing the last of the bottle. Mitch caught him off guard this morning, hit him while he was down. Brody’s clearly got no intention of letting that happen again. “This was always how it was going to end, and you knew it before I did.”

“It doesn’t have to be like this, Brody,” Mitch interjects.

Brody laughs drunkenly, getting to his feet as he shoves the bottle away from him. He staggers, faltering on his feet as he takes a few steps toward the pool. “And if I want it to?”

Mitch gives him a look of warning, for his own sake more than anything. “You can’t undo every mistake.”

“Yeah,” Brody slurs, half tripping over his own feet. “That’s the point you made very clear this morning.”

That’s entirely to coherent for someone’s who entirely too smashed. For all that Brody’s looking for a fight, he’s in no state to start one. “Brody--”

But Brody is already stumbling away. He trips over a pool chair, barely righting himself as he turns back toward Mitch in a drunken gait. “Screw off, Mitch,” he says, wavering precariously. “You said it yourself, not everyone can be saved. And sometimes, they really don’t want to be either.”

With that, Brody staggers away into the crowd, looking for someone else to talk to and something else to drink.

-o-

Part of Mitch thinks he should follow Brody. That is why he came here, after all. To make things right with him.

However, Mitch can’t help but do a cost benefit analysis. Everything he said this morning was, technically, in line with his job responsibilities. Being a hard ass is part of being a lieutenant, and despite the fact that he’d been tough, it wasn’t like he’d fired Brody. Sure, he understood the desire to wallow, but to get flat-ass drunk? And act like a son of a bitch?

Needless to say, Brody didn’t make a compelling victim sometimes.

In fact, times like these, Mitch isn’t even sure that Brody wants to be saved. That’s a thing, sometimes, and it’s worse than fighting against a riptide. Mitch has dragged suicidal people out of the surf who are easier to handle than Brody when he’s on a bender.

This is why Mitch has always known, and he’s always told his lifeguards, that they can’t save everyone. They aren’t God. Some people can’t be saved.

Tonight, Mitch is confident that not everyone even wants to be saved.

Does he have a moral obligation to try anyway?

On the beach, maybe.

Here?

Is this a fight he wants to take on?

Mitch sighs, looking back toward the bartender, wondering if he should order a drink for himself and call it a night. When Brody’s sober in the morning, maybe he’ll show up, sheepish and ready to talk. Or, maybe he won’t.

The question is, is Mitch okay with that?

If he cuts Brody loose tonight, can Mitch live with the consequences? If he lets Brody swim his own race here, despite all obvious impediments, will Mitch be okay with him losing the fight? And if Brody doesn’t come back? If he doesn’t try to seek reconciliation?

For all that Brody tries to push people away, Mitch has seen the other side of him. He’s not the kid who apologized after making a total fool of himself. He’s not the kid who kept the investigation alive even when it got Mitch fired. He’s not the kid who found the flakka, rallied the team, went after Leeds. He’s not the kid who stood, shoulder to shoulder with him, to the very end.

The kid here tonight, that’s the jackass who showed up to qualifying with a permission slip. He’s High School Musical, One Direction, Troubled Youth.

The other kid, the one Mitch has come to respect over the last few months, he’s the one who Mitch kept on as a lifeguard even when he didn’t have to. He’s the one Mitch cleared to patrol his bay. That’s Brody. Not perfect, but trying.

And Mitch, for all his intentions, hasn’t exactly made it easy for him.

Which makes the fact that Brody keeps showing up, day after day, even more impressive. He wants this job. He wants this life. He wants this family.

In short, Brody’s a moron and an asshole, but he’s their moron and their asshole. Brody’s doing his best, but Mitch is not going to let the kid drown, no matter how hard he tries to get in over his head here. Brody’s made his choice, and Mitch cannot -- he will not -- turn his back on him now, not when Brody needs to be saved more than ever.

Especially not when it’s kind of his fault. He has to remember: he started this fight. He has to finish it.

That’s mildly encouraging at least. He’s the one who sent Brody into a tailspin. He has to believe that he has the ability to drag him out of it, too.

That’s the only answer he has. It’s the only one he needs.

Decided, he gets to his feet and he follows Brody into the turbulent waves of bar life.

-o-

Each step he takes, Mitch hates this more and more. He’s lived on the beach all his life; he knows all about the parties. But honestly, he’s never had the time or patience for them. He doesn’t dislike people for liking this scene, but he’s got to admit, he’ll never understand it.

It’s only too telling that Brody knows how to fit right in.

Change, Mitch reminds himself as he carefully disentangles himself from a posse of drunk women who seem to think he’s uniformly attractive. Brody’s trying to change.

Next, a gaggle of drunk men fall in line with him, and Mitch politely scoots away from them, too.

He suspects Brody probably needs to try harder than he does.

But he needs to be sober first. Besides, the sooner Mitch finds Brody, the sooner he can get the hell out of her with one drunk ass lifeguard Olympian in tow.

The things Mitch will do to get a save.

They know no bounds.

Someone offers to buy him a drink; another someone hurls, narrowly missing Mitch’s sandals.

Brody probably won’t remember this tomorrow.


Mitch will have to make sure he does.

Usually, Mitch doesn’t play any I-told-you-so games with the victims he’s saved, even when they deserve it.

As has been established, however, Matt Brody is a very, very special case.

-o-

He’s also not to be found.

Brody’s not pool side. He’s not at the bar inside. He’s not in the first three party rooms Mitch checks out. He’s not in the VIP room that Mitch technically has no access to but gains instant admission to with a pleasant smile.

Finally, he asks the bartender inside if there are any other rooms available to guests.

“No, the rest of the facility houses private offices, access rooms, that sort of thing,” he explains.

Mitch ponders this, scanning the room again. He sees plenty of people; none of them are Brody. “Any other exits?” he asks, trying to figure if Brody could have slipped by him somehow while he was looking. Not that that makes any sense to Mitch; Brody has nowhere to go, unless he’s drunk enough to go back to Mitch’s.

But then, Mitch knows Brody’s drunk. That doesn’t make him repentant. It just makes him stupid.

“Sure, there’s a back way out the alley,” the barman says. “Usually we use it for discreet pickups.”

“Anyone go out there tonight?” Mitch asks. He’s a lifeguard, through and through. But even Ellerbee knows by now that Mitch has a good sense of investigation to work with.

“We have a couple of VIPs who left just a few minutes ago,” the barman says.

“VIPs?” Mitch asks.

The barman shrugs. “High payers. I don’t ask questions; I just serve the booze, and they get the good stuff. So when they want to make a quiet exit, I know I’m not supposed to say anything.”

Mitch frowns, contemplating this. It doesn’t surprise him, and it isn’t inherently wrong. He refuses to play favorites on the beach -- there’s no special privileges -- but at a private club, there’s bound to be some social stratification. Mitch knows that’s part of the game in places like this. But something still feels off about it. His balls are telling him something is amiss.

If Brody’s balls were here, they’d probably disagree in a high pitched girly girl voice.

That’s all the more reason for Mitch to pursue this doubt.

“Were these VIPs by chance Olympians?” Mitch asks.

“Doubt it,” the man replies with a chuckle. “But I think they were making nice with your Olympian friend.”

“You know Brody?” Mitch asks.

“Everyone knows Brody,” the barman says. “Barfed in the pool a few months ago, right? Kind of hard to forget that. People still talk about it; one of our specials is the Vomit Comet during happy hour.”

It’s only because Mitch is perfectly emotionally balanced that he can hear this kind of thing and not react like a thug. He wants to; he really does. Because he remembers that night, and not fondly. He’s sure Brody remembers it even less so. But if Mitch lets himself get caught up on that, he’ll never get to the truth. It’s the time to pick his battles, and Mitch is good at stuff like that. “So you saw him? With the VIPs?”

“Sure,” the barman says. “They bought him a few rounds of the good stuff.”

“And did he leave with them?” Mitch prompts.

The barkeep shrugs at this. “I do have a job here,” he says. “What goes on in the back, I couldn’t tell you.”

MItch sighs, feeling more than slightly exasperated at the man’s lack of interest in the details. Even for all his trained patience, Mitch finds the man’s willingness to look the other way to be a quality that is not in his favor. “Did you see Brody leave, then?”

The man shrugs. “Nope.”

“So he was just gone?” Mitch asks, unable to keep the skepticism from his voice.

“It’s a bar at a club, dude,” the man says, and now he’s the one being condescending. “Your buddy was drunk off his ass.”

“With drinks you happily served him,” Mitch points out.

The barkeep gives Mitch a withering look. “That is my job.”

“So you aren’t familiar with the law that states that a bartender has the responsibility to stop serving someone who is clearly not in control of their own faculties?” Mitch presses, pulling himself to full height and instinctively squaring his shoulders.

The man is duly intimidated. He straightens as well, but it’s less impressive. Anxious, he fidgets with his towel. “He was fine when I left him with the ladies and their bottle. By the time I got back to check on them, they were gone, okay? I do have other customers here, and it’s pretty busy tonight. There’s nothing illegal about any of that.”

Mitch doesn’t slacken his pose. It’s a bit much, perhaps, but scaring some sense into a lax barkeeper isn’t something he finds problematic. Brody’s not the only stupid asshole who’s going to come into a bar like this. It’d be nice to think there was a safety net somewhere.

Even when Mitch knows that safety net is supposed to be the network of friends and family each person deserves.

“So the back exit?” Mitch prompts.

The bartender points over his shoulder promptly. “Right back that way.”

“You don’t mind if I have a look, do you?” Mitch asks, presuming the answer as he steps around the bar.

“Whatever you need,” the bartender says. Mitch takes a step closer than necessary as he skirts by the bartender on his way back to the storage room. The barkeeper stiffens with a forced smile. “Sir.”

Mitch offers him his biggest, grandest smile. “Hey, man, thanks,” he says, patting him amiably on the shoulder, ignoring the way the other man flinches. “You’ve been a real help.”

-o-

Mitch isn’t one for bravado -- he means what he say, always -- but when he’s out of range of the bartender, he admittedly feels anxious. On the surface, he knows this is a ridiculous response. There’s no danger here; nothing actually suggests that anything amiss. The only unfortunate part of tonight is that Brody decided to go get drunk instead of dealing with his problems. In fact, at the back door, Mitch almost turns back to check the bathroom stalls instead. It seems more likely that the Olympian has passed out there.

But Mitch is here, following a different lead. Following his instincts. These are the instincts he’s always relied on at Baywatch, and it’s kept the bay safer than any other stretch of beach in California. Those instincts are the ones that allowed him to keep after Leeds, until ultimately bringing her to justice.

Or, you know, blowing her up.

Either way.

Mitch’s balls are never wrong.

And Mitch’s balls are telling him that something’s not right about this situation. It’s the same notion he gets when he knows -- just knows -- that someone is going under -- a split second before there’s a cry for help.

Or, worse, when there’s no cry for help.

When someone’s just gone.

That’s not how tonight is going, though. Brody’s a pain in the ass, but he’s not impossible. Mitch will bring him in, one way or another.

Opening the back door, Mitch finds that the bartender was at least accurate in its description. It’s a narrow alley, wide enough for a car and well kept. There’s a dumpster, but it’s tidy and tucked out of the way, clearly to make room for any private traffic in the area. No doubt, Leeds used this for her own nefarious purposes, though Mitch can see how it might serve VIP needs of lesser seriousness.

But all thoughts of it being innocuous are quickly doused when he sees the three women, piling into a car. They’re good looking girls, and they’re dressed to impress, but Mitch isn’t looking at their defined muscles and sleek hairstyles.

No, he’s looking at the limp body they’re forcibly maneuvering into the car in front of them.

A limp body he recognizes for its stupid blonde tips and terrible side buzz.

“Hey!” Mitch says, moving quickly to intercede.

One of the girls yelps, slipping into the car around Brody promptly. Another stops, pulls up in surprise to look at Mitch, leaving the last one to barely hold up Brody’s slack form before he falls against the open car door instead.

“Excuse me, ladies,” Mitch says. “But that’s my friend, there.”

He makes a nod to Brody, whose eyes are open but there’s not a hint of coherency in his expression. Dazed, he lolls against the car, only upright thanks to the one woman’s grip.

The other woman smiles at him broadly, undeterred. “We didn’t know he was with anyone,” she explains, as though completely reasonable. “Given his current state of intoxication, we felt bad leaving him alone.”

This story, on the surface, would almost seem plausible. Brody is clearly in no condition to be on his own.

However, therein lies the dilemma. Drunk as he was, it’s only been fifteen minutes since he last saw Brody. He knows Brody is capable of being a dumbass, and when he fails, he likes to do so spectacularly. But how much would Brody have had to drink to get to this state this quickly?

Standing there, Brody’s not just drunk.

He’s completely out of it.

The women are completely holding him upright; they would have had to walk him out of there. Brody’s not tall, but he’s all lean muscle. It would have taken all three of them to get the job done.

This means they’re either good Samaritans, like the woman suggests.

Or there’s something a little more sinister at play here.

But Mitch looks at her, dolled up, well kept and perfectly composed. She hasn’t had a single drop to drink tonight. The other woman, holding Brody up, is totally sober, too, and the third woman had the sense of mind to get into the driver’s seat, which means she’s not hammered. If they’re sober, that means they weren’t sharing drinks with Brody. They were buying a drunk man more drinks before taking him out a back exit while a bartender looked the other way.

Quickly, Mitch assesses the rest of the situation. The girls aren’t carrying purses. There’s no license plate on the car.

“Well, he’s not alone,” Mitch says, keeping his voice measured while he considers his next possible move. Victims disappear from time to time, and some of them wash up dead on the shores. Some of them never show up at all. These girls don’t look like murderers, but they’re not innocent, either. He steps forward. “I’d be happy to take him home.”

The woman smiles, gesturing toward Brody. “Definitely,” she says smoothly. “So glad you showed up. I was worried about him.”

The second woman exchanges a nervous look with the first. The one in the driver’s seat has the engine idling. They’re the followers then; the first is the ringleader. They don’t want Brody dead.

No, they want to drive him to the docks and sell him.

How does Mitch know this?

The same way he knows everything.

Maybe it’s the ocean, telling him its secrets.

Maybe it’s his balls, giving him his instincts.

Maybe it’s just a good head on good shoulders, and a job that affords him a lot of time to think.

“I appreciate you looking out for him,” Mitch says, now assessing first the general look and description of each woman in case he needs to give Ellerbee a statement later. Then, he considers how hard it would be to overpower them himself. Three on one, and Mitch still likes his odds, but Brody’s in the crossfire, and there’s no telling if these women are armed. It’s not a chance he wants to take. “But I’ll take it from here.”

The woman in front is assessing him in equal measure. She knows, in an instant, that he knows. She knows that her farce is good, but it’s not quite good enough. She knows that she has a choice here, and her next move will determine if she gets away or not.

It’s clear to Mitch that this woman is willing to sacrifice her friends to get the hell out.

That makes Mitch want to stop her even more.

The problem is, of course, that Mitch isn’t willing to make the same sacrifice.

No, he came here for Brody.

He’s leaving with Brody, first and foremost.

“Great,” she says, turning back to her cohort. She moves back toward Brody, taking his wrist in her hand. She turns back toward Mitch, smiling brilliantly. “I hope he knows how lucky he is.”

Mitch tenses, ready to pounce if needed.

The second woman edges toward the open backseat.

The first pulls Brody toward her, and his feet stumble as he complies.

It’s all Mitch can do to wait for his moment.

“I’d stay and chat, but I think you have your hands full with this one,” she jokes coarsely, yanking Brody toward her and then forcibly pushing him toward Mitch. “Catch!”

Brody is falling with force, tumbling head first toward the pavement. As the women scramble into the car, the doors slam as the tires screech away down the alley. Mitch has no time to watch for that, though. He’s too busy reaching out, following the woman’s advice despite himself. He’s fast enough, though.

Mitch is always just fast enough.

Catch, she’d said.

As Mitch does just that, he wishes he could say for sure this would be the last time.

-o-

The only way to stop the fall is to use his own body, which is actually a tactic Mitch rarely uses in the field. He knows that on the water, it’s dangerous to risk your own personal safety to save someone else. This may seem cruel, but Mitch knows better than most that incapacitating yourself only means that two people drown instead of one.

That said, Mitch also knows he’s not on the water right now.

Even if it seems like Brody’s drowning.

Twisting himself around, he catches Brody, cushioning the smaller man as they hit the pavement in the alleyway. The force of the impact is enough to jar him, and he feels his skin scrape against the cement. He winces, but pushes aside the soreness as he shifts himself back up into a sitting position, Brody easily cradled in his grasp.

The whirlwind of movement has only served to disorient Brody even more. He’s conscious, but that’s a generous term Mitch only uses because Brody’s eyes just happen to be open. He’s got no sense of awareness, and he seems not to know where he is or what exactly is happening.

This is disconcerting, but it’s not the most relevant fact to start with. Every rescue needs to start with the basics. First, Brody’s breathing. This means he’s alive, and that’s a good starting point for any recovery. There’s no sign of visible injury, but when Mitch presses his fingers to Brody’s pulse, the beat of his heart is rapid and fast. His breathing, though unstrained, is shallow and uneven. Worse, his eyes are glassy and unfocused; the blue irises are smaller than usual with his pupils wider than they should be, even accounting for the dimness of impending night.

This physical description doesn’t indicate drunkness.

No, Brody’s been drugged.

Roofied, probably.

The date rape drug is quick, tasteless and gets to the point. It makes the victim compliant -- and it almost always ensures that the victim remembers nothing in the morning. This is bad when it’s used for date rape. Mitch has even more doubts that the three women simply wanted to take advantage of Brody. If Mitch had been a minute later, there’s a good chance Brody would have woken up to a new life entirely.

Gritting his teeth, Mitch looks down the now-vacant alley. The car has gone, leaving nothing but a pair of smudged tire tracks in its wake. Mitch mentally goes over the make and model in his head; he knows that will be of some use to the cops, but he also knows that if the women were as professional and Mitch suspects, they’ll ditch the car and any other evidence before Mitch can get Brody out of this alley.

Sighing, Mitch looks back to Brody. Up close, Mitch can see that the drug has done more than eliminate Brody’s inhibitions. It’s left him utterly raw and vulnerable. Some people act like assholes, and one might suspect Brody would be one of them. But Brody is cowering, trembling weakly. His eyes are wet.

In short, he’s alone and terrified.

As if Mitch needs to feel worse about the way tonight has gone.

For a second, Mitch hesitates. The smart thing to do is to call Ellerbee and stay on the scene until the cops show up. That way, he can delineate the critical evidence in person and make sure all appropriate leads are followed as promptly as possible. This will increase the odds of making an actual arrest in the case, which Mitch would very much like.

It would also get the paramedics involved, and Brody could be properly assessed. While his vitals are fine and he seems stable, side effects are possible. Mitch generally prefers to be safe rather than sorry after a rescue; mandatory paramedic checks are part and parcel of how he operates Baywatch.

Holding Brody’s shaking form, Mitch can’t bring himself to do it. If he makes the call, if he stays to give a statement right here, right now, if Brody is taken into the hospital -- well, the press will catch hold of it. Story like this? Human trafficking with a former Olympian as the target? The Vomit Comet would get a whole new run in the press.

And Brody would hate the publicity.

The kid went to get hammered, and that’s not admirable. But Brody’s come too far to be skewered for a misstep.

Mitch knows the press won’t learn that lesson.

Mitch might for himself, though.

Resigned, Mitch shifts Brody’s weight, carefully supporting the younger man as he maneuvers himself to his feet. Brody is easy enough to lift, and pulling the slack form over his shoulder requires little effort. He takes a moment to make sure Brody is secure, holding Brody’s wrist firmly as he turns to head back into the bar.

-o-

Under normal circumstances, carrying someone in a fireman’s carry elicits concern and surprise.

In a nightclub on a Friday night?

No one hardly notices.

This reinforces the fact that Mitch really hates the party scene. It also reminds him why Brody probably has taken solace there in the past. It’s a great way to get lost when you want to forget everything, including yourself.

At the bar, Mitch stops and smiles.

The bartender takes stock of him and Brody, and appears entirely unsure what to do. Mitch could play that up, but he’d like to get this issue settled. He shifts Brody awkwardly on his shoulder. He’d like to get it settled soon.

“So,” Mitch says. “Found my friend.”

The bartender looks unsure. “Is he okay?”

“Not really. He’s been drugged by your so-called VIPs,” Mitch explains.

The bartender now looks positively afraid.

“I’m sure you didn’t know,” Mitch says, being nicer than he needs to be. “And I’m sure the thought of being incidentally complicit in probable kidnapping is appalling to you.”

The man gives a nod, mouth hanging open.

“So I fully trust that you’ll call the cops and file a full report about the incident. You can give an explicit description of the women, document the timeline of their movements, and any other details you remember,” Mitch continues. “They were driving a four door black sedan. A Cadillac, for what that’s worth. Fresh tire tracks are in the alley.”

The man twitches, but doesn’t complain, eyes flicking from Brody’s still form to Mitch’s dangerous smile.

“Ask specifically for Ellerbee,” Mitch instructs. “Tell him that Mitch Buchannon can corroborate your story, and that I’ll be available for a full statement tomorrow morning.”

“And, um,” the bartender manages to say. “The victim?”

“Will be available for questioning and processing tomorrow,” Mitch says. “Ellerbee will know I’m good for it.”

The man is stumbling with his words now.

“I can count on you,” Mitch says, and he lets his smile fall. “Right?”

Convulsively, the bartender nods. “Of course,” he says, voice croaking. “Of course.”

Mitch is inclined to believe him since fear is a powerful motivator. All the same, he inclines his head. “So you’ll be making that call…?”

Shaken, the bartender reaches into his pocket for his cell phone. “Right now,” he says, using shaking fingers to dial 911. He is still watching Mitch anxiously when the line connects and he says, “Um, police? Yes, I’d like to report an attempted kidnapping. Yes. At the Huntley.”

From across the bar, Mitch lets himself smile again. “Don’t forget,” he instructs. “Ask for Ellerbee. Tell him Mitch Buchannon sent you.”

“Can I talk to Ellerbee?” the bartender parrots. “I’ve got a message from Mitch Buchannon.”

Feeling good that things are well in hand, Mitch decides it’s time to attend to more pressing matters. Sure, Mitch knows the case is important. Mitch always thinks the case is important.

But the victim always comes first.

He turns away from the bartender, giving more information to the 911 operator. He keeps his grip on Brody firm as he navigates through the crowd and to the exit.

The victim always comes first.

-o-

It’s not a long walk back to Mitch’s apartment, but carrying an oversized man-child over his shoulder makes it feel longer than it should. He gets a number of second looks, but all Mitch has to do is smile and wave, and people assume that he’s got the situation well in hand.

That’s the image Mitch is trying to project; it’s the one he always projects.

Truthfully, he’s not sure it’s one he feels at the moment. He’s doubting himself with every step, wondering if he should have let the paramedics take a look at Brody after all. More than that, wondering if he should have taken Brody’s statement right away after the incident this morning to avoid this entire mess. No doubt, Brody’s responsible for his own choices, and they’ll sure as hell talk about Brody’s choices, but Mitch’s choices have consequences too.

He just hopes like hell this time he’s made the right one.

At his place, he quickly unlocks the door. His first instinct is to take Brody to the cot in the backroom, but that seems to sparse, too small, too uncomfortable. Not sure what else to do, he lowers Brody to the couch instead, supporting his head all the way down to the pillow.

At first, Brody’s eyes are closed, but the movement downward seems to make him stir. Dazedly, he opens his eyes, blinking slowly a few times as if trying -- and utterly failing -- to get his bearings.

Brody’s lost, but then, he’s always been lost. It’s time to make sure he realizes that he’s actually been found.

“Easy, buttercup,” Mitch says, resting a heavy hand on Brody’s arm when the younger man seems vaguely disconcerted. “You’re home now; you’re safe.”

Home, Mitch says. His home; it’s not clear if Brody knows it’s his. But then, with a cot and a CB radio, it’d be hard to tell.

Still, when Mitch gives his arm a squeeze, Brody visibly relaxes. His breathing starts to even out, and when his eyelids start to droop, Brody doesn’t fight it. Mitch holds on until Brody is clearly asleep again.

Just then, his phone pings. Absently, Mitch withdraws his hand, pulling his phone out of his pocket. He’s surprised, though he shouldn’t be, when Ellerbee’s name comes up.

Since the incident with Leeds, he and Ellerbee have been on better terms. In fact, given Mitch’s ability to consistently sniff out crime on the beach, Ellerbee had finally just given Mitch access to his direct line, just in case. Mitch had used it about a dozen times, all in the name of duty.

This is the first text Ellerbee had ever sent him, however.

It’s not a social text, Mitch presumes.

He glances at it, eyebrows quirked sardonically. It’s also not a happy one, not that anything with Ellerbee is ever happy.

WHAT THE HELL????

The all caps infer the level of rage. The multiple question marks denote superlative disbelief. In short, Ellerbee is feeling fine tonight.

With a glance toward Brody, Mitch settles back into a chair of his own. Will give my statement tomorrow.

Ellerbee has never been one for small talk, at least. HUMAN TRAFFICKING. As best Mitch can figure, this is a question, indictment and statement of discontent all at once. Clearly, Ellerbee wants to know what the hell Mitch has stumbled into this time.

Will explain tomorrow in my statement, Mitch types diplomatically.

TONIGHT, MAN. TONIGHT.

It’s not an unreasonable request. Ellerbee is bombastic and a bit of a jerk, but he’s not a bad cop, all things considered. With a case like human trafficking falling into his lap, Ellerbee no doubt wants to know as much as he can -- now. The instinct is good, and Mitch would indulge it if he could.

He looks at Brody again, breathing shallow and eyes moving under his lids even in sleep. He types out his response more stolidly than before. Nothing I have to say can’t wait until morning.

There’s a longer pause this time, and Mitch can almost feel Ellerbee’s internal struggle without being in the same room as him. When the reply comes, it’s more subdued than before. You better have a damn good reason, man.

It’s not quite a threat, though Ellerbee would probably prefer to think it was. There’s a level of trust between them; Mitch has earned some leeway, but he’s been careful not to expend it unnecessarily.

He’s still looking at Brody, passed out on the couch.

He’s saved it just for a moment like this.

Wearily, Mitch pens his reply. The best, he explains, because he’s not looking for another fight tonight. Trust me.

-o-

The night has been very dramatic, but Mitch knows it’s not over yet. It’s not particularly late yet, but Mitch finds himself just this side of exhausted. Mitch would very much like to call it an early night, but he stops himself when he looks at Brody.

This fight, as long and tiresome as it is, hasn’t been resolved at all.

Brody’s passed out on the couch, so it’s not like he’s going to need Mitch’s company. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need Mitch at all, though. No, Brody’s hammered and drugged, and while Mitch is confident there is no human trafficking in his living room, he also knows that the side effects for such conditions are worth noting. Mitch made the decision to forgo medical attention, which means he has to assume that responsibility.

Which means while Brody gets to sleep it off, Mitch needs to keep watch.

All night long.

Wearily, he gets to his feet and heads to the kitchen to put on a cup of coffee. Most of the time, a rescue is about speed and adrenaline. This one seems to be about persistence.

“You owe me, brah,” Mitch grumbles as he starts the coffee machine.

On the couch, Brody sleeps, dead to the world, and Mitch tries not to think about how much worse this could have been. While he’s in the kitchen, he pours some water for Brody and grabs his latest book from the counter before heads back to the living room to settle himself down for the night.

He sighs, trying to make himself comfortable. It’s like he’s in deep water now, and it’s a long, long way back to shore.

Mitch can make it, though.

It’s not like he actually has a choice.

-o-

For several hours, it’s a quiet, steady sort of thing. Mitch drinks his coffee, and he reads his book, keeping a keen eye on Brody over the top of his book. During this time, Brody doesn’t so much as twitch. Apparently, the drug had been at a strong enough dose to really put him out -- either that, or Brody couldn’t handle his liquor very well. Probably both.

This is idle speculation, and it’s enough to keep Mitch awake for a little bit. He spends a little time texting the others. He lets them know that Brody is fine, he’s safe, but he leaves it vague. When Summer says she’s still trying to call, Mitch explains that Brody’s had a little too much to drink and he’ll be in a better state to talk in the morning.

No doubt, everyone will be quite agitated when they find out it’s a little more than alcohol. Mitch isn’t set on lying to them, but he’s also not sure if this is his secret to share. Sure, they all agree that Brody needs a little extra handling sometimes, but the last thing he actually wants is their pity. There’s a fine line between the two, and Mitch knows that, but this time he thinks he’ll defer to Brody.

This train of thought keeps him awake past midnight, but when the clock starts to head toward one, Mitch remembers that he’s a morning person more than anything else. Most people think he’s part superhero, but even superheroes need to sleep.

And, to be fair, it’s been a long day.

That’s irony, of course. Mitch hardly worked at all today. But if today has taught him anything, it’s that not all saves happen on the beach.

He blinks slowly, the book drooping in his hands.

Just the easy ones.

This time, when his eyes fall close, he doesn’t bother to open them. He just needs a moment’s rest, is all. Just a brief reprieve.