The choice had been easy, when you got right down to it. And not for the reasons that Larsen probably thought it was. For Brody, the choice had been easy because it didn’t really mattered what the DA offered him.
What mattered was that Brody could make a difference.
Not just for the bay or even for the state of California.
He could make a difference for Baywatch.
He could, when you got right down to it, save his family.
He’d never had a family before.
Mitch had ordered furniture for him this morning. Like, actual furniture. For his room.
Brody could do something for the people who had done so much for him.
If the state wanted to expunge his record in return, then fine, sure, whatever.
Last night, this morning, the last three weeks: he’d felt like a useless pile of pathetic shit. He still felt like a pile of pathetic shit, one whose on mother didn’t want him and who went around getting arrested for public intoxication, but damn it, he didn’t have to be useless.
Not this time.
It had to figure, the second he was absolutely positive that he was making the right choice, Mitch was convinced he was making the wrong one.
“Brody,” he said, dropping his voice low and casting an unnecessarily glance toward Ellerbee and Larsen. “Maybe we should talk about this.”
Normally, Mitch’s disapproval would make him think twice, but not this time. It couldn’t this time. Mitch was looking out for Brody, which was great. No one had ever looked out for Brody. Which was why Brody knew -- he finally knew and understood and just, like, knew -- that he had to return the favor now that he could.
Taking Brody by the arm, he pulled him aside, turning just slightly away from where Larsen was gathering up his papers and Ellerbee was staring, a little gobsmacked. He rotated Brody waiting until he was sure he had Brody’s complete and undivided attention. “Are you sure about this?” he asked. “What they’re asking you to do -- it’s dangerous. A lot more dangerous than they’re letting on.”
Mitch was probably right about that. Mitch was probably right that this was a terrible idea. Mitch was right about everything except that he was wrong about the fact that Brody should do it.
He had to do it.
He didn’t have a couple grand to drop on furniture. He couldn’t go back and stop himself from drinking and getting arrested. He couldn’t save Baywatch from the bad press he’d created in the last 24 hours. And he sure as hell couldn’t make his mother actually want him.
But he could do this.
He could stop Anikka Leeds or whoever the hell the latest maniac was.
Or, even if he couldn’t, he could try.
Brody had spent so much of his life running away from hard things, taking the easy way out. The only thing he’d ever worked at was the Olympics, and he’d still managed to sabotage all that effort with one spectacular hurl. Baywatch, though. Mitch. He wanted to see that through. He needed to.
All risks be damned.
“Maybe,” he said, not wanting to fight Mitch on the details. “But if what they’re saying is right about this chick, then she’s a huge risk. To the bay, to Baywatch. We have to stop her.”
“We don’t know what they’re saying is right,” Mitch hissed. “It’s speculation.”
Brody leveled him with a look. “And what do your balls say?”
Mitch glared at him, terse. “Don’t listen to my balls right now.”
“Oh, and you want to ask my girly balls?” Brody asked, ignoring the fact that he was within earshot of other, actual people. These were the people who had just reviewed his humiliating public record. Brody was done pretending like he still had pride for now.
Mitch blew out a breath, increasingly vexed. “We can fight Leeds in another way,” he said. “And we can fight your charges in another way, too. This deal they’re offering you, I think it’s sketchy. I bet a judge would agree with us.”
Ellerbee looked uncomfortable at the insinuation, but Larsen looked pretty content. He had Brody’s signature already. He was probably just hanging around for the show.
Or he just wanted to perfect his smirk.
Brody tried to keep his focus on Mitch. “I screwed up,” he said. “Like, big time. I went off the rails, I got drunk, I peed in public and, I don’t know, broke windows or some shit. I have to own up to that. I am owning up to that. I’ll accept the consequences, Mitch.”
“These consequences are shit,” Mitch said decisively. He pointed at Larsen. “And he knows it.”
“It’s a good deal, gentlemen,” Larsen said in a singsong voice.
Brody shrugged, not even looking. “The last deal I took, I thought it was shit, too,” he said. “I hated it, okay. I was miserable and angry and pissed off. But then it landed me at Baywatch. It gave me everything good in my life. So, who the hell knows. This might be the next best thing that happens to me.”
Mitch, stubborn as he was, refused to be swayed. “Or it gets you killed,” he said. “What am I supposed to do with a room full of new bedroom furniture if you get killed, huh?”
“Well, if I don’t take the deal, I go to prison,” Brody said. “So you still got a room full of unused furniture.”
At this, Mitch was obviously torn. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he thought this deal was unfair and too dangerous. But Brody could also see that, despite the fact that Mitch was reluctant to encourage Brody in this, he respected the fact that Brody had made a selfless choice.
Was it the right choice?
There was no way to know for sure.
But it was a good choice.
Brody was more confident about that ever.
Muttering a curse, Mitch sat bad, tacitly giving his consent.
“That’s that, then,” Brody said. “I’m in.”
“Well, that’s just swell,” Larsen said sarcastically, though he was clearly pleased by the outcome. “Now that my part in this lovely ordeal is over, I will entrust the details of your assignment to Officer Ellerbee.”
Ellerbee smiled weakly. Mitch’s vocal objections had made him cautious about the plan, but it was too late for any of them to back out now.
Larsen was on his feet now, his things collected. “I wish you all the best, Mr. Brody,” he said. “I do hope the next time that I see you that it will be in the witness stand when we bring Anikka Leeds to trial.”
He made his way to the door, pausing before he opened it and turning back with a dramatic flourish. “But, just for your reference, I will be checking in to track your progress,” he said. He gave a friendly little smile that was entirely misplaced. “I wouldn’t want to think that the state isn’t getting your full cooperation. Because if you go halfway on us, we may very well go halfway on you.”
He opened the door with a shrug.
“Or, you know,” he said. “All the way, straight to prison.”
With that, he left, and Ellerbee had to get up to close the door behind him. When he sat back down, he looked even more uncomfortable than before. “Look, I’m sorry about him,” he said. “He’s a total asshole.”
It was Mitch who scoffed, deep and bitter. “You think?”
Ellerbee sat back down, hands up defensively. “I’m a beat cop, man,” he said. “I sit down with the DA basically never. I’ve never met the dude.”
This seemed reasonable to Brody.
Mitch didn’t agree. He shook his head with a venomous stare. “You told me last night that everything was going to be fine.”
“I admit now that my words last night were, perhaps, slightly oversimplified,” he said. “But I stand by it, Mitch. I said things will be fine, and I still believe that this is going to be fine.”
“And how exactly do you figure that?” Mitch asked sharply.
“Because we’re working the case, the three of us,” Ellerbee said, and he actually sounded enthused about that part. They’d both come a long way from the Leeds case, him and Ellerbee. So it was an enthusiasm Brody could at least understand. “We on this together; we’re a team now. And hey, at least this time, you actually do have jurisdiction.”
As might have been expected, Mitch was not to be placated. “Sure, but there’s a lot more on the line this time,” he said. “I mean, I came into this meeting worried about jail time, but now we’re risking Brody’s life in what is clearly an operation that has been thrown together at the last minute.”
To that, Ellerbee took some offense. “And you’re going to tell me that your plan to take down Leeds Sr. was super well planned? Like somehow you getting shot and poisoning yourself was part of some intricate plan that was police approved?”
Brody watched the exchange like some people who would watch a tennis match. The volleys back and forth were targeted, hard and often to the point. But each player was skilled at this game; they didn’t miss.
Honestly, it was pretty impressive.
And completely besides the point.
Brody shook his head, sitting forward to interject himself into this conversation once more. This was, after all, ultimately about him. “What happened before doesn’t matter, and it also doesn’t matter what either of you think about whether or not Larsen is full of shit,” he said. “What matters is that I’m doing this. So how the hell am I going to pull this off?”
Mitch wanted to argue more -- he was a tenacious son of a bitch like that -- but he was also trying to respect Brody’s autonomy or something. At any rate, Brody had a point and Mitch closed his mouth, directing his eyes at Ellerbee. The ball was in his court now.
Ellerbee flashed Brody a look of gratitude. “The endgame is getting her to tell you the details of the drug network, names of suppliers, shipment locations, distribution points, that kind of thing,” he said, laying it out. “But ain’t none of that going to happen until she recognizes you as an asset.”
Brody thought about Ronnie and his surreal dance to attract Leeds, and he hoped it wouldn’t be so hard for him. “How do we do that?”
“Well, honestly, you’ve already started the process,” Ellerbee admitted. He looked just a trace sheepish. “Your arrest last night made local headlines.”
That was supposed to be good news for the plan.
It didn’t feel like good news, though.
It was all Brody could do to keep his head up, like he wasn’t being routinely humiliated in this room. It was his own fault, he reminded himself. He deserved this.
“But,” Ellerbee continued. “You need to follow up. I’m not sure Anikka will come looking for you, but if you show up in her path, she’s not going to pass up the chance to use you. She’s less proactive than her sister, but just as opportunistic.”
“So, what,” Brody speculated. “I go hang out at the Huntley? Play the scene?”
“Not just play,” Ellerbee said. “Work it. I mean, you do have a, well, a certain, I don’t know…”
Ellerbee was fumbling politely. Brody was a dim bulb, maybe, but this one wasn’t hard. He sighed. “I have a reputation as a party boy,” he said, because that was the only part of his reputation that survived Rio.
Ellerbee was clearly glad that Brody had said it, and not him. “Leeds Jr. is not the professional her sister was,” he explained. “She doesn’t just like to host a party, she wants to be a part of it. We think your, um, style will attract her attention.”
So far, this made sense. But Brody frowned, scrutinizing the next step. “And how does that transition into her bringing me into the drug trade.”
“It doesn’t,” Mitch supplied. He was still pissed this was happening, but he was an investigation whore. He couldn’t help but join in. “But if you start talking about Baywatch, how you’re unhappy there, how limiting it is, she’ll probably start working you for dirt.”
Ellerbee nodded along, clearly energized by Mitch’s contribution. “And that’s when you offer to give up info on Baywatch in exchange for a new career opportunity.”
Brody was glad that he’d managed to follow the plan so far. “I ask her to get in on the drifts in exchange for taking down Baywatch.”
Ellerbee slapped his hand on the table, beaming with satisfaction. “Exactly,” he said. “A regular undercover op would take weeks, months. But you’re such a perfect candidate that I think two weeks is completely doable.”
The way Ellerbee said it did make it sound easy. Like, really easy. Two weeks and Brody could fix a lifetime of stupidity. That wasn’t a bad trade off. At all.
Mitch, however, was starting to sulk again. For a dude that had everything, he really could be pretty mood when he didn’t get his way. This was probably because he usually go this way. Like, almost always. “And if it doesn’t work? Do we have a backup plan?”
This curbed Ellerbee’s enthusiasm, but only a little. “We’re not putting him in over his head, I promise,” he said. “We’re in this together.”
Mitch was unmoved. “And what about documentation?” he asked. “If this doesn’t work, then how can we be sure that Larsen will stand by the deal? I can’t imagine he’s just going to take Brody’s word for it. Even yours.”
Brody thought it was a good sign that this suggestion didn’t seem to catch Ellerbee off guard. Instead, he reached into his pocket and produce a small device, putting it on the table between them. “I’m already one step ahead of you,” he said. “Now this isn’t fancy tech or nothing, but it’s small and it should get the job done even if you use it in your pocket.”
Brody picked it up, studying it and hoping that he was putting together enough pieces to not look like an idiot here. “It’s a recording device?”
Ellerbee nodded. “Fits on your keychain, looks just like any other fab,” he said. “Clarity’s pretty good, so it should pick up what you say, but it does have a few limitations.”
Brody was fine with this; Mitch, inevitably, was not. “What kind of limitations?” he demanded.
“It’s not a live feed, obviously,” Ellerbee explained. “So it’s not a replacement for a wire. We won’t be able to track you and extract you in real time. On top of that, the battery life is limited. You can get a few hours use out of it, but you’ll want to pick and choose your spots.”
“But I can activate it in my pocket, right?” Brody said. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”
“Exactly,” Ellerbee said. “And you can turn it into me each day, and I’ll get you a new one.”
This all sounded pretty much on the up and up to Brody. Or at least as up and up as a covert operation into drug dealing could sound. But Brody had been talked into sketchier things with far fewer safeties in place, so he wasn’t about to get picky about shit now.
Mitch was still shaking his head, brow furrowed, ever serious. “You want him to get in on the drug operation,” he said. “If he’s supposed to be part of a buy, then you have to be there for backup.”
“Honestly we’re hoping to get enough talk from her without keeping Brody into a real drug exchange,” Ellerbee said. “But if we get to that point, we can hook him up with a wire, give a full team of backup. Until that point, though, I can’t imagine there’s much of a risk.”
Brody actually found that pretty reassuring.
Mitch was still an insistent killjoy “That’s easy for you to say.”
Ellerbee actually looked offended this time. “You know that it’s not, man,” he said. “You two are my brothers, you know that. I’d never put Brody at risk on my watch, no matter what the jackasses at the DA’s office say or do.”
This did little to mollify Mitch, so Brody intervened. “Mitch,” he said, looking at his friend. “This is fine. Really. More than fine. I trust Ellerbee.”
Mitch sighed, glowering away from Ellerbee as he dropped his voice intently. “This isn’t fine. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It was a funny moment, an odd reversal. A smile twisted on Brody’s lips. “It’s kind of funny, actually, being on the other side of this argument now.”
Mitch’s scowl indicated that he’d noticed the irony, too. Just hours ago, Mitch had been insisting that it was fine, that they had to trust Ellerbee. And here they were, playing the opposite roles with relish.
Finally, he sighed. “I just want you to be safe,” he said, almost like a confession.
It made Brody’s chest swell slightly with an unfamiliar sensation. Love? Protection? Family?
It was like Mitch had just bought him the whole damn furniture store for him and then some.
Brody nodded back at him, just as intent. “And I want Baywatch to be safe.”
From across the table, Ellerbee scoffed loudly. “And I want you all safe, dumbasses.”
This time, Mitch allowed himself to smile. He eased back in his chair, and regarded Ellerbee with a more businesslike attitude. “If Brody’s undercover, then how are you going to meet with him daily?”
“Well, I think you may have solved that problem for us,” Ellerbee said. “You’re here. You’re already in the know. And you live with Brody. You’re a perfect proxy.”
Mitch considered this. “We could do the handoff during my morning run,” he said.
“I usually see you on my circuit as it is,” he said. “We can stop, break for water. It won’t look weird.”
“And no one will see me in contact with the cops,” Brody said, liking the way this plan was coming together. Mostly because it focused on him and Mitch. That had always worked out for him. Always. “It’ll work.”
Mitch drew a breath, looking for Ellerbee to Brody. “Yeah,” he said finally. “I think it’ll work.”
Brody found that he was grinning. “Awesome,” he said. “So when do we get started?”
Ellerbee was smiling as well now. “Let the news cycle do its thing today,” he said. “Then you hit the beach tomorrow, make a scene.”
“Then tomorrow night, you head to the Huntley to blow off steam,” Mitch continued.
“There we go,” Brody said with a reaffirming nod. He’d come into this room feeling like shit. He had to admit, he was going to leave feeling pretty damn optimistic. Sure, the deal was ambitious. Yeah, he was being asked to go undercover and infiltrate a drug ring. And okay, so he was trying to take down the sister of the lady who had almost killed him twice. Naturally, he still had to face his friends with a public intoxication charge and try to get them to hate him. It was all good, though. Because he was working with Mitch.
And together, they were invincible.
Even if that wasn’t true, Mitch had bought him bedroom furniture.
At this point, there was no one Brody had ever trusted more.
He got to his feet, feeling more ready for this than he had anything in his life. “Let’s go save the bay!”
Leaving the police station, Brody was in good spirits.
This only made Mitch feel even worse about the situation.
A lot worse, actually.
To be fair, he’d probably been a little naive going into the meeting. He had no experience with legal matters, honestly. He knew very little about real police work, which was why he and Ellerbee had failed to get along for so many years. He probably should have known that it wouldn’t be simple to just write off a charge of public intoxication.
But what the hell was this? An undercover operation? Inside the Huntley? To take down Leeds’ little sister?
Brody was right: this did sound like an entertaining but unrealistic TV show.
And Brody had just signed himself away to it, no matter what the outcome might be.
Watching him as they drove back to the house, Mitch wanted to feel better that Brody’s spirits had improved. He’d been so withdrawn this morning, and watching him in the meeting, getting talked down to by Larsen -- that’d been hard on both of them.
But seeing Brody look eager, almost excited.
It only reminded him that Mitch wasn’t the only one naive about some things.
Brody thought he could do this.
Worse, Brody really wanted to do this.
He thought it was his calling, his obligation, his chance to make amends, to prove himself. Whatever the hell it was about, Brody was all in. Gung ho.
In retrospect, Mitch had to consider the reality that this attitude was probably his own fault. When Brody had first arrived at Baywatch, he’d been a total dick, and really oblivious and lazy. But he’d also been the one -- the only one, Mitch had to remind himself -- who had suggested that police work be left entirely to the police.
Mitch, by contrast, had browbeat Brody into submission, insisting that they not leave things to the cops. He’d been the one to make Brody break into the morgue. He’d been the one who got Brody to apprehend a motorbike for a high speed chase across a public park. He’d even talked Brody into going undercover to break into a private facility to look for drugs.
(The fact that Brody had chosen to do so as a woman was not Mitch’s fault, however. He wasn’t sure what that was all about, but that one at least wasn’t on him.)
Mitch had told him to keep up the investigation. He’d dragged Brody out of the ocean and told him yep, they were going after Leeds without backup and without an actual plan.
After all this time, Mitch had to come to terms with the fact that Brody believed him now.
He no longer saw his plea deal as an ill-advised attempt for the DA to profit off his peril.
No, he actually saw it as his responsibility, his chance to do the right thing.
Just like he thought Mitch would.
By the time they pulled into the driveway, Brody was practically whistling.
Mitch felt as worse as he’d ever felt.
He turned off the car, feeling sluggish as Brody bounded out of the car, making a quick dash to the door. By the time Mitch got out, he was already there, turning back. “Hey, you hungry?” he called. “We were there for, like, hours. Can we do dinner?”
“Uh, yeah,” Mitch said, for the lack of something better to say as he closed his door and made his way after Brody. He’d lost track of time at the station; he’d lost track of everything. “I’m sure we have something in the fridge.”
Brody probably heard him, but he was already inside, and Mitch followed behind him by several steps, closing the door behind him as he entered. Brody was already in the kitchen, and Mitch could hear him shuffling around in the fridge. Mitch had to take a moment, just to breathe, just to think.
Just yesterday, he’d been standing in this house thinking about how much he’d like to throttle Brody for being an asshole and an idiot. Three weeks before that, he’d stood here, thinking how well their life together worked.
And what about two months ago?
Before Brody had ever showed up on his beach?
Mitch dropped his keys on the table, rubbing a hand over his face.
There was no way to go back. There was nothing he could do. Brody had chosen to face the future. Mitch had no choice but to do the same.
He tried to remind himself that Brody had no choice, either, but it sure as hell felt like he did. The way he was acting, anyway.
By the time Mitch made his way into the kitchen, Brody had already taken a few things out. He held up a package of frozen fish. “I thought we’d grill, if you think that’s okay,” he said. “You can do that thing, you do, you know like with the spices.”
He was talking and Mitch recognized the words coming out of his mouth, but none of it made any sense to Mitch. It was too surreal, too disjointed. Last night -- like, literally, last night -- Brody had drunken himself into a stupid and confessed that his birth mother had contacted him in an attempt to extort him for money. Finding out he was broke, she’d cut him off again and left him in a tailspin that ended with a public intoxication charge.
No, scratch that.
The tailspin had led to a plea deal that involved dangerous undercover work and Mitch dropping a few thousand on bedroom furniture. There was no clear indication to Mitch how this would end up yet.
And still, Brody was standing there, like everything was normal.
Talking about dinner.
“Like, you know,” Brody went on. “You rub, like, oil on it or something.”
Mitch blinked, realizing that Brody was actually expecting some kind of response here. “A marinade?”
“Yes!” Brody said, clapping his hands together. “You could do that marinade thing that you do and, like, I can make salad. Because you taught me how to chop vegetables now, and I think I can pull it off--”
He was rambling, gathering more supplies out of the fridge. Soon, a whole pile of vegetables were on the counter, and Brody was talking about slicing potatoes.
And to think, he’d been giving the kid pep talks at lunch.
Maybe this was denial.
His or Brody’s, he wasn’t sure.
Brody just lacked the common sense to express it properly just like he lacked the common sense to do most things like a normal, functional human being.
As Brody held up a potato peeler with a quizzical expression, Mitch had to shake his head. “Are you really sure about this?”
Brody stopped, the peeler still in his hand. “About the potatoes?” he asked. “Or, like, the fish? Because I saw some burgers--”
“No,” Mitch said, bringing himself back to the moment at hand. This wasn’t yesterday. It wasn’t three weeks ago. It sure as hell wasn’t three months ago. This was today. This was now. “I mean, about the deal. The case.”
Brody stopped and stared at him, blank.
“You being undercover,” Mitch clarified, even though it seemed unnecessary. “Taking down Leeds or Leeds’ sister or whoever the hell it is.”
To make this harder, Brody actually looked surprised. Like he didn’t expect this kind of response from Mitch. “Of course I am,” he said. “I signed the papers, didn’t I?”
“I know you did,” Mitch said. “But you have to understand. You don’t have to take the deal. I know you’re scared about going to prison, but--”
“This isn’t just about prison,” Brody said, and he almost looked offended. He put down the potato peeler. “You have to know that I’m not just doing this to save my own skin. You heard Ellerbee. The bay is at risk. Baywatch is at risk. This isn’t just about me.”
Really, Mitch should have been happy. Given the fact that Brody had come to Baywatch as a selfish bastard, this selfless attitude was a sign that he was, in fact, learning and growing. That, despite all setbacks, Brody was starting to understand what it meant to be a part of a family. He was becoming a better person.
Unfortunately, his innately reckless streak was showing no signs of leaving. Combining recklessness with selflessness was something Mitch hadn’t full anticipated.
He had to face it now, though.
“We don’t need you to fight this battle on your own,” he said. “If we say no to this deal, we can fight it with the rest of the team, like we always do.”
Brody was shaking his head before Mitch finished talking, ever adamant. “She hasn’t gotten herself established yet, so this is our window of opportunity,” he said. “And my arrest is the perfect in. Ellerbee knows it. The DA sure as hell knows it. And you do, too.”
“But this is risky,” Mitch said.
Brody made a face. “But it’s always been risky,” he said, and he had every right to call Mitch on this. “You’ve always asked me to take risks.”
“But I was always there,” Mitch said.
“And you’ll still be there,” Brody argued. He sighed. “I thought you understood why I had to do this. Not just the plea deal, but Baywatch. You reminded me just this morning what this team is about. You told me to make a choice. So, I’m making it.”
He had Mitch with that one.
He had him.
That was what he’d said. He’d explained family as a choice you make, and then he’d asked Brody to make that choice.
And here the kid was, making the choice.
Mitch had to respect it.
He had to.
Brody had let him spend thousands on bedroom furniture.
Now Mitch had to let Brody go undercover on the most poorly conceived police operation ever.
Somehow, Mitch felt like he was getting the short end of the stick.
“Okay,” he said, because in the end, there was nothing else to say. Brody knew the risks. He knew the consequences. At least he was making this decision with his eyes wide open this time. “But you follow directions. You listen to Ellerbee, and you listen to me. If things get out of hand, you get out of there. Immediately.”
Brody’s expression lightened again and he grinned, that stupid, lopsided grin. “It’s only two weeks, Mitch.”
Two weeks. Three weeks. Months. “That’s long enough,” Mitch told him soberly. Then, to lighten the mood, he added, “That’s how long it takes to deliver furniture.”
At that, Brody laughed. “Yeah, well,” he reflected. “Two weeks of whatever this is going to be is a price I’m willing to pay to save Baywatch.”
Mitch nodded along, trying to keep his smile. He didn’t quite succeed. “And what about you?”
Brody grew quieter. “Well, I’ll save myself, too,” he said. “It is a plea deal.”
“I’m not talking about your record,” Mitch told him flatly.
Brody was serious now. “I know,” he said. “And that’s why I’m glad you’re going to have my back on this one. I’m not doing it alone.”
Mitch still had his doubts. Mitch still had lots and lots of doubts. But Brody had found the heart of it. Brody had found the secret trigger to make Mitch do anything he wanted him to do. Because what the hell did the doubts mean when Brody was offering him family?
Now it was Mitch’s turn to choose it.
He nodded. “No,” he said. “You’re not doing it alone.”
Brody’s grin widened even more, and Mitch forced himself to keep breathing.
“Now, come on,” he said. “Tomorrow you have to save Baywatch, but tonight, I’m going to teach you how to use a marinade.”
Brody was eager to follow him, that was what was going to save his life.
Mitch had to hope, anyway.
He really had to hope.
It had been a long few days. A long few weeks.
Shit, Brody had had a really long life.
But the last 12 hours had been, like, amazing.
He and Mitch had cooked together. Mitch had shown him how to use a potato peeler and marinade fish. Brody sucked at both, and he broke, like, two dishes while cleaning up, but Mitch hadn’t even cared. Because they were united. They were brothers.
It was the best 12 hours of his life.
To think, getting drunk and being charged with public intoxication had started it all.
Naturally, he forced himself to remember that that wasn’t the lesson.
The lesson was not to take it for granted.
Brody got up the next morning, confident that this time, unlike all the times before, he wouldn’t. This time, he’d get it right.
He carried this resolve with him as he got ready for work. He maintained this resolve as he ate breakfast and stuffed Ellerbee’s recording device into his pocket with his keys. It carried him as Mitch drove them into work.
And then he got to work.
That was when he realized that he didn’t know what the hell resolve actually was.
Shit, he had just been arrested for public intoxication. Sure, he’d signed a plea deal and his path toward ultimate redemption, but the only person who knew that was Mitch.
Stephanie didn’t know it, as she gave him that look down her nose.
CJ didn’t know it, as she gave him that sympathetic smile.
Ronnie didn’t know it, as he tried to crack an awkward joke before clearing his throat and practically running away.
Not even Summer knew, as she came up and gave him a tentative kiss. “Hey,” she said, gently pulling him to the side. “Mitch said some stuff was up, but he, uh, didn’t go into details.”
That was nice of him, in theory.
But then, it also would have been way easier if she knew everything and Brody didn’t have to confess to getting drunk and getting arrested.
“And I don’t know,” she said, shrugging her shoulders for affection. “Then I saw the news.”
Oh, so at least she did know that she was dating a total moron.
So it might have been nice if Mitch had told her why. Not why she was dating him -- no one would ever really figure that one out -- but why he was an idiot.
But then, he wasn’t exactly sure how much Mitch knew. He sort of remembered confessing his horrible sob story about his brithy mother, but given the charges and the plea deal and the undercover work, they hadn’t actually talked about it.
Honestly, Brody hadn’t thought about it. He’d been so focused on getting his record cleared and saving Baywatch that he hadn’t thought about the fact that for the next two weeks, everyone he cared about had to think he was a douche.
“Oh,” Brody said, because at this point, he was in a legitimate quandary about what to say and how to say it. “Yeah.”
She looked at him, clearly waiting for more. To be fair, she was probably entitled to more. Brody hadn’t contacted her at all in the last day and a half, and he’d been really shitty for the few weeks before that. He owed her an explanation.
But what explanation could he give?
“Um,” he said. “It was a stupid thing to do.”
She looked at him like he might be crazy now. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “But why? What happened? That’s not like you.”
It actually was like him, it was just that Summer knew the best possible version of him. She couldn’t possibly understand that being a dick was part of his nature and that being at Baywatch had taught him to fight against that.
It just didn’t always work.
He forced a smile. “It was, uh,” he said, fumbling. He couldn’t tell her about the plea deal. But should he tell her about his mother? The thought of it made him flush with shame and embarrassment again. Saving the bay, that was easy. Letting people see just how screwed up he actually was -- that was a taller order. “I had some bad news.”
“Sure,” she said, still not satisfied. “That’s what you said for three whole weeks, Brody. I’m trying to be patient here. Understanding. But I think I deserve an explanation.”
She was right; she was so right.
Part of Brody wanted to comply.
But when he looked at her, held her close, he knew he couldn’t. To tell her the truth about his mother would be to tell her the truth about everything. Brody had never been a guy who could half-ass things. He gave something his all, or he gave it nothing. He was ready to make that commitment to Summer, honest to God, he was, but not while he had to keep her in the dark about the undercover work and the plea deal. That was too hard.
Looking at her, he wondered if he could tell her.
He trusted her. She wouldn’t tell. It might work. It could work. “Maybe we should go somewhere,” he said. “For dinner, I mean. Talk about things. In private.”
She nodded, looking eager. Looking relieved. “I’d like that,” she said. She laughed slightly, almost in relief. “A lot.”
He grinned, feeling his chest swell. “Great.”
“I want to be there for you,” she said. “And these past three weeks -- I swear, they’ve nearly been a breaking point for me. So I’m so glad to hear you say that we can talk about it.”
Brody was moving to kiss her, when Mitch cleared his throat from behind. Brody startled, looking back.
Summer drew back, smiling politely as she tucked her hair behind her ear. “Anyway,” she said. “It’s a date. For tonight.”
Brody nodded at her as she walked away toward the beach. “You bet,” he called after her.
Mitch waited until she was out of range. Then he looked at Brody, hard and long.
“What?” Brody asked.
Mitch glared him at him like he’d done something wrong. With a huff, he grabbed Brody and pulled him to the side. “What are you doing?”
“Uh,” Brody said, giving Mitch a look of incredulity. “Planning a date with my girlfriend.”
Mitch continued to look at him, in that way that Brody knew he was supposed to get something.
He sighed, fully exasperated. “What?”
“You can’t plan a date for dinner tonight,” Mitch hissed at him. “You have to work tonight. Meeting Leeds?”
He’d been undercover less than a day and he’d already forgotten. “Well,” he said, fumbling for an answer. “I can take her with me?”
It was Mitch’s turn to be absolutely incredulous. “You do realize what it’s probably going to take to get the attention of Leeds’ sister?”
To be frank, no, Brody didn’t know.
Shit, he hadn’t even thought about it.
It was occurring to him now that he probably should have.
He looked at Mitch, aware of how needy he probably looked. He had to assume it was a reflection of how needy he actually felt at the moment. He’d agreed to work undercover to infiltrate a drug operation. He knew the right word was infiltration this time, but that didn’t mean he knew how to do it unless he could pull on a wig, a dress and put on some makeup and call it a day. “No?” he said, his confidence wavering more and more precariously. “I just sort of thought it’d happen.”
Mitch sighed, somehow managing not to appear entirely exasperated. “You have to make an impression. That means you can’t just go to the bar and have a few drinks,” he said. “You’re going to have to party. Dance. Do whatever it is you do when you party.”
“Do you really not know how to party?” Brody asked, suddenly taken aback by the notion.
“Not like you do, I would imagine,” Mitch shot back.
“You really need to let go every now and then,” Brody returned, a little worried that Mitch didn’t know how to cut loose.
“Your partying just got you arrested, which is why you’re in this mess,” Mitch snapped.
Brody was duly silenced.
“I just mean that you have to play it up in the club without getting drunk and arrested,” he said. “You have to spend lots of time there, hanging out at the bar dancing to the music. And if Leeds shows up, you have to pull out all the stops.”
“I have to flirt with her?” Brody asked, for some reason feeling scandalized.
“You’ll have to read her,” Mitch said. “But maybe. You want her to like you, and you want her to think that you like her.”
Brody thought about that. That was how it’d worked with the first Leeds. That time, he hadn’t been trying. Literally. He’d been doing the opposite of trying.
Of course, that time, he’d nearly gotten killed.
So maybe trying was a good thing.
“And think about it, man,” Mitch continued with a slight nudge to his arm. “Don’t you think Summer will be suspicious if you start hanging out with another woman when you’re supposed to be on a date with her? Especially if she finds out that you’re flirting with Leeds’ sister?”
It was a scenario Brody could imagine.
It did not end well for him.
Suddenly, Mitch’s trepidation yesterday made a little bit of sense to him. “Well,” he ventured awkwardly. “When you put it like that.”
Mitch pressed his lips together in a thin line, glancing around as a few people filed past them, only sparing a wary glance at Brody. “You have to be fully invested in this if you’re going to do it,” Mitch whispered hotly to him. “You can’t let on that you’re undercover. Not even a little. Not even for a second.”
The way Mitch said that made it sound super serious. Brody wanted to respond appropriately. It was just, well, he wasn’t sure how. “Okay,” he said with a tentative nod. Then he leaned in closer, biting his lip. “So, uh. What do I do?”
He was aware, at least on some level, that this was a question he probably should have asked yesterday. He probably should have gotten advice from Ellerbee. He probably should have had some kind of training.
Mitch probably had a point about some of this.
Brody was in pretty deep.
And he might have been a lifeguard, but he knew from personal experience that anyone could drown.
Especially when you were locked in a cage and tossed in the bay.
This time, though, Brody was pretty sure he’d gotten in the cage willingly.
Mitch, mercifully, was still going to take pity on him. “You sell it, and not just to Leeds. You have to sell it to everyone,” he said. “If Leeds is going to try to turn you, she’s going to do her homework. If your life at Baywatch seems to be going well, there’s no way she’s going to believe you want to sell out. You have to be at odds with the team here. The more visible the rift, the better.”
This was more than Brody had thought about. Frankly, it was more than he’d anticipated. Shit, for all his convictions this was another poorly conceived plan that he was ill equipped to execute. “So, what, then,” Brody said, still trying to put all the pieces together. “I’ve got play a part or something?”
“Yeah,” Mitch said, as if this should have been entirely obvious. “You play the part of a smart ass who doesn’t give a shit about his coworkers.”
It wasn’t like he didn’t know how to do that. He did. It was the part he’d played for most of his life. Like, all his life up until he showed up on Baywatch and these lifeguards had changed everything. So it wasn’t that he was ill equipped; he wasn’t. It was that for the first time in his life, he didn’t want to play that part.
He thought of Summer, and how shitty he’d been to her over the last few weeks. And she was still giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Disconcerted, he frowned. “Even with Summer?”
“Especially with Summer,” Mitch replied without hesitation.
This was more crushing than Brody could have possibly predicted. All of this was coming as something of a shock to him, but he’d not taken into account just how hard it would be. His motives for this whole thing were pure. The plea deal aside, he would do this just because it was the right thing to do. Because he was uniquely positioned to be able to help his team, his family. He had to do it because he finally understood, for the first time in his life, what it meant to have a family.
In that context, two weeks of being at odds was a small price to pay. In theory, it was totally worth it.
In practical application, however, Brody was beginning to realize that it was not really that small of a price. The limitations of said price were already becoming a hard toll to pay.
He hated the way his friends had looked at him this morning.
He hated the way Summer’s trust had been strained so badly.
And this was just day one.
Of two weeks.
He swallowed. Hard.
Mitch noticed. “It’s not too late,” he said. “You can opt out of this, right here, right now. No questions asked from me. We’ll get this done another way. The plea deal, your charges, Leeds’ attempt to take down Baywatch. We don’t need to do it like this.”
This wasn’t about need, though.
It was a choice, right?
This whole thing was a choice.
You chose family.
So Brody chose this.
He shook his head, finding himself adamant. “No,” he said. “This is the best way. This is the fastest way. We do it like this. We do it for Baywatch.”
Mitch sighed, but didn’t disagree.
Huh, Brody thought as he ready to report for his shift at tower two, so this was what resolve was.
Mitch found it unsettling that Brody had come into work that morning thinking that things could be business as usual. Despite the fact that he was under orders to alienate his Baywatch team and ingratiate himself to Leeds. It was unsettling that he hadn’t realized the full implications of it.
It was not, however, unsurprising.
Brody was the kind of guy who often failed to think things through, which was one of the reasons Mitch had been against this from the start. He had suspected, on a variety of levels, that Brody didn’t fully know what he was getting himself into. In broad strokes, sure, but in the nitty gritty?
Well, that just wasn’t Brody’s forte.
That was why he was better in a team.
To think, what might have happened if Mitch hadn’t insisted on sitting in the meeting with the DA? If Brody had gone into this with Ellerbee alone?
Either Brody would have lost his plea deal instantly or he’d be dead within a week.
As it was, they both had their work cut out for them. Brody’s role was more dangerous, more pressing and more obvious, but Mitch felt the weight of his supporting part just as keenly. Brody was going to need backup in all possible ways. To stay alive, sure. And to stay grounded. Because these two weeks were going to be hell.
That wasn’t to say, however, that Brody wasn’t well disposed to pull it off. As much as Brody had failed to realize what it meant to alienate his Baywatch family, he had all the skills needed to pull it off. All he had to do was forget the last two months.
And live like he had for the previous 25 years.
In truth, Mitch found this part unsettling, too. Brody may have been caught off guard by the extent of what he had to do, but he was damn good at it once he put his mind to it. You could criticize Brody in a lot of ways, but when he committed to something, he really committed. It was plain to see it, watching him work now, how he’d managed to win two gold medals.
He was relentless.
In the pool, it surely meant endless training at an impossible clip.
It meant that Brody was the biggest jackass you ever met. He was flippant, and he was crude. He was unkind and brash. He refused to acknowledge others; he looked for the easy way out. And he made sure to play it up every single chance he got.
At lunch, he mooched a meal off of Ronnie before making jokes about his weight that weren’t quite as funny as he made them out to be. Ronnie laughed, but he wasn’t sure what the joke was.
With CJ, Brody leered at her breasts long enough for it to almost be a thing before suggesting in front of everyone that she was looking perkier now, though he didn’t quite elaborate on why. Then, just to really put things together, he cracked a joke about Ronnie’s size (“Big boys make a big impact, am I right?”), which carried just enough insinuation that no one laughed and CJ turned red. It was just shy of sexual harassment, but only just. A little more, and Mitch would have willingly fired Brody out of principle. That shit didn’t fly on his team, on his beach, and Brody knew that. Undercover or not, Brody at least had the common sense to not do something to get himself fired outright.
And for all of that, Brody’s most brazen act of defiance was actually with Stephanie. With CJ and Ronnie, he was just meaner than normal. But with Stephanie? He was disobedient. Of all of Brody’s risk moves, that was by far the riskiest. It didn’t stop Brody, however.
At this point, Mitch wasn’t sure what would.
Worse, he had to sit back and watch it happen. Like a damn train wreck.
As Stephanie went over a few things to watch for on the beach in the afternoon, he tapped his foot, made spit balls and hummed to himself. When she asked if Brody was listening, he rolled his eyes.
Then Brody ogled girls on the beach, played on his phone and showed up late to a meeting after work. And he did it effortlessly. Naturally.
Just like he had the first day on the beach.
That day, two months ago, Mitch had assumed that being a jackass was just who Brody was.
Seeing him act that way now, knowing it was a facade, Mitch wondered if it had been an act that first day, too. If Brody had just been pretending not to care to hide the fact that he was terrified of failure and rejection.
It wasn’t exactly a pleasant thought.
Then again, none of this was pleasant.
Probably, for any of them.
Stephanie was the first one to give voice to her concerns, stopping by tower one while doing a patrol up and down the beach. “He’s acting a little off,” she observed, nodding down the beach to tower two. Brody was visibly messing with his phone, just enough to look distracted but Mitch could see that he was just as focused on the beach as anything. “Not exactly what I’d expect.”
That was saying something. Stephanie had been one of the hardest sells when it came to Brody. She’d disliked him pretty strongly, for his attitude, for his lack of respect for the natural order of things, for the fact that she’d taken the job that should have been hers.
The fact that he’d won Stephanie over had always been a point in Brody’s favor.
Stephanie, however, was never one for blind loyalty.
She’d be the first one in all of this to call Brody out on his shit.
The first one to want to cut him loose, should the occasion arise.
Mitch would have to watch her in particular. Sure, he had to watch out for Summer’s heart, but Stephanie’s head? Could undo this faster than anything else. They needed to convince Stephanie that Brody was a problem -- a real problem -- but Mitch couldn’t let it get into her head that he had to go.
Therein was one of Mitch’s tasks. Having Brody’s back wasn’t just against Leeds.
It was going to be right here, on Baywatch, too.
“Everyone gets an off day every now and then,” he said. “Even Brody.”
Stephanie remained resolutely skeptical, watching as Brody made a show of using his binoculars to look at two girls applying sunscreen to one another. “Yeah, it’s been three weeks,” she said. “And given that he just got arrested…”
“We both knew he came with baggage,” he said, with a shrug that was too dismissive. He wanted to act like that was enough of a disclaimer, even when he knew it wasn’t.
She arched her eyebrows. “Baggage is fine,” she said. “But the safety of this beach--”
Mitch waved a hand at her. “He’s doing the job, all right?” he said curtly. “As long as he’s doing the job, then we’re good.”
She made a little noise in the back of her throat.
Mitch turned to look at her. “What?”
She shrugged with unconvincing nonchalance. It was the exact affectation she was going for. “And here I thought Baywatch wasn’t just a job.”
He huffed a little, bemused with no smile. “All the more reason we have to cut him a little slack,” he said. When Stephanie still didn’t look convinced, he softened. “You have to trust me. It’s fine.”
“Is it, though?” she asked, letting the question hang in the air between them.
Mitch looked out across the sand; Brody was back on his phone again, smirking to himself while Stephanie stalked away across the sand.
Mitch sighed, shaking his head.
Was it okay?
Would it ever be okay?
Honestly, Mitch didn’t have a clue.
He just knew that the next two weeks were going to be very, very long.