?

Log in

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

Baywatch fic: No Comment (2/5)

December 27th, 2018 (01:25 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE




-o-

After all the excitement, the crowd ebbed away. Soon, all of the Baywatch crew had retired, with Summer bidding farewell to Brody, asking if they were still on for lunch tomorrow before she left the rest to them. CJ and Ronnie had packed up many of the decorations, and Stephanie had helped the caterer and DJ clear out their things. What was left, however, Mitch took responsibility for himself.

The fact that Brody was with him, by this point, was basically a given.

Brody was filling trash bags with the rest of the empty plates while Mitch finished loading up the chairs and tent pieces into the back of his truck. He would have to return them to the rental place tomorrow, and he watched as Brody dumped the remaining trash into the dumpster behind HQ. When he made his way over to the car, he gave it a once over before his eyes settled on Mitch.

“You really shouldn’t have gone through so much trouble,” he said. “Is this why you kept taking phone calls outside this week?”

So Brody had noticed. Mitch had thought the kid was too preoccupied with other things to care. He should have known by now to stop underestimating him. “A little,” he said. “Also, you sing when you cook. It can be distracting.”

“I sing well,” Brody said. “You should be grateful.”

“Uh huh,” Mitch commented, securing the last few pieces. He looked at Brody, then glanced out at the water. “You had a hell of a rescue tonight.”

“Eh,” Brody said, and this indifference was feigned. And indifference wasn’t the right word; it was more acceptance. Brody knew the value of what he did, but he attributed none of that value to himself. He gave a small grin. “Just another day at the office, right?”

Mitch chuckled, closing the back hatch on the truck. “Right,” he said. Their days had a tendency to be dramatic when a rescue was involved, but this rescue was hardly typical, even for them. After hours, during a strong tide, close to the pier -- Brody hadn’t hesitated.

And it wasn’t just that. All of his lifeguards had grit.

Brody also hadn’t been slowed down by any of it. Mitch had been skeptical of how a kid who swam in pools for a living would fare swimming in the ocean. Most people didn’t make the transition seamlessly.

Brody did, though.

Brody had.

Now, he was strong and fast.

Which was to say, a day in the office for Brody? Wasn’t like a day in the office for the rest of his lifeguards. Not with Brody’s skills.

There was a time when Brody would have been sure to point that out to everyone.

Now, he seemed perfectly content to pretend like it wasn’t the case at all. Mitch wasn’t sure if Brody couldn’t see it, but he had to think he could. Brody wasn’t as dumb as he made out sometimes, and he knew his own swimming skills. Mitch had wanted him to learn humility, but Mitch wasn’t sure that was what this was anymore.

But why did it matter?

Why did it bother Mitch?

Now, of all times?

“Come on,” Brody told him, making his way to the passenger’s seat. “We’ve got an early day tomorrow, don’t we?”

Broken from his reverie, Mitch followed suit. It was easy to fall into a rhythm with Brody; it was easy to fall into familiar and well worn patterns. He liked to think about how those patterns were good for Brody. He couldn’t deny that the might be good for him, too. “Very early,” Mitch said, opening his door. They both climbed in, closing their doors behind them. “You’ll need to be up at 6.”

Brody nodded. “I’ll set my alarm.”

Mitch rolled his eyes, starting the car.

“What?” Brody said, not missing the motion. “I will!”

“Uh huh,” Mitch said, putting it into gear.

“Seriously, I will be up at 6,” Brody said. “Just wait and see!”

-o-

Brody was up at six.

Because Mitch woke him up.

Did Mitch need to say I told you so after a year together?

No, he didn’t.

But it was a lot more fun when he did.

-o-

Despite the fact that they rolled into Baywatch so early that the beach was mostly deserted, they weren’t actually the first ones there. Sure, there were a few other early risers up and down the beach, and Casey Jean was notoriously early, but all of that was to be expected. What was not to be expected, however, was the young woman carrying a notebook and pencil waiting for them at the front door to HQ.

Mitch had never seen her before, but he knew exactly who she was. Pencil ready, keen eyes, practically bounding for a headline.

This was a reporter.

Six months ago, Mitch had gotten quite accustomed to the press. News coverage had always been sort of a thing -- making impressive saves could sometimes make the local news, and reporters had often sought Mitch out for quotes about weather conditions and sun warnings. Occasionally, he was quoted about local crimes or organizational efforts. Six months ago, however, the press had nearly taken up residence on the beach.

All because of Brody.

It had started with a puff piece about Brody’s first six months at Baywatch, but Brody had leveraged that after his arrest in order to make inroads as an undercover agent. Sometimes Mitch still couldn’t believe that had happened. For all the crazy shit Mitch had orchestrated at Baywatch, Brody playing a turncoat for a revenge-based drug deal did sound fantastical, even for them.

The thing was, Brody had been good at it. All of it.

Especially the press.

Brody had known perfectly how to work the press, and he’d been innate at generating controversy just by opening his mouth. Undoubtedly, his story at Baywatch did make a nice feel-good story.

But when he started up with antics?

Well that was news that made Yahoo headlines around the world.

This reporter had to know that.

Mitch knew it.

Brody knew it better than either of them.

That was why during their approach to HQ, Brody progressive tried to make himself disappear. He’d ID’d the girl just as fast as Mitch had, and he made a not-so-subtle attempt to literally hide himself behind Mitch.

This would sound ridiculous, and it would be ridiculous for any other pair of people. The fact was that Mitch was huge. And Brody was tiny. For them, it kind of worked.

At least, it might have worked.

Were this girl not a reporter with the clear intent of finding Brody.

“Matt Brody?” she asked.

Brody tried to ignore her, attempting to skirt around Mitch to sneak in the door. She circumvented him, stepping in front of Mitch and bring them all to a stop.

“Matt Brody?”

“Uh, yeah,” Brody said, forcing his best attempt at a smile. It looked pained. Very pained. “Look, I need to get to work before I’m late--”

She barely blinked. “Your shift doesn’t start for another 20 minutes.”

Brody made a face. “How do you--”

“That’s when the first shift starts,” she said, matter of fact. “Everyone knows that.”

Mitch nodded at Brody like he should have known better.

Brody glared at him, clearly as a non-thanks for his not-help.

That didn’t make sense, but Mitch was confident that was how Brody was thinking it in his head. They really had spent a lot of time together.

“Okay,” Brody said. He drew a breath of resignation and let it out. “Uh, what did you need?”

She smiled now in a perfunctory and satisfied sort of way. “News got around about the save you made last night,” she said. “There’s been some amateur footage that’s gone viral in the local community, and then when we learned it was actually during your anniversary celebration, well, the story seemed to almost write itself.”

Brody pressed his lips together. “Well, then, you don’t need a quote from me.”

There was no way Brody was that lucky. “I was hoping for an interview.”

“I don’t really think--”

“Something retrospective, chronicling your shift from Olympic training to professional lifeguarding,” she said. “You never officially announced your retirement from swimming, but are we to assume that your one year anniversary party indicates that you have no intention of returning?”

Brody was starting to blush. “Uh, well, I -- I mean, I don’t know.”

“I talked to several other people in the swimming community, and they all expressed surprise that you hadn’t started training again,” she continued. “Your record for the 200 is still untouched, and several sources are quoted as saying you still in your prime. But you haven’t competed at all in the last year, is that correct?”

Brody was nearly beet red now as he fumbled for an answer. “Well, I’ve been, you know, busy--”

“With Baywatch,” she supplied, pencil ready. “So do you plan on officially retiring to make your home here in the Emerald Bay?”

Brody’s mouth opened, and his face wasn’t blank. It was full of a thousand thoughts, a thousand considerations.

A thousand doubts.

Shit, Mitch realized, as he took in the expression on Brody’s face.

That was a question Brody hadn’t thought about. Brody hadn’t let himself think about.

Worse, it was a question Mitch hadn’t even considered.

The past year, the two of them at Baywatch, it had seemed like everything.

The fact was, however, that Brody had two gold medals and a world record. He was still young, and he was just as strong as ever. Stronger, probably. The idea that Brody could go back to competitive swimming again…

Mitch hadn’t thought about it.

“I have no comment,” Brody said, the words rushed as he pushed past her. “I just -- I need to get ready for work.”

Abruptly, he let himself inside, the door closing on the girl. She jotted a few things down in her notebook and gave a look up at Mitch. “You’re his boss and friend, Mitch Buchannon, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” Mitch said, distracted while he watched Brody rush down the hall and disappear from sight.

The girl held out her card. “It’d be a nice piece,” she told him. “Feel good. Nothing bad. He’s a local hero, and people are fascinated by him. People care about him. If one of their own was to go for the Olympics -- well, that would sell a lot of papers.”

Mitch accepted the card with a note of hesitation. “I’ll, um. Let him know.”

She smiled. “Thanks,” she said. “And if you have any comment--”

Mitch shook his head, rolling his eyes as he walked past her as well, stuffing the business card in his pocket as he went.

-o-

He found Brody in the locker room, presumably to get ready. His effort to actually get ready was a bit more than lackluster, however. Not treading quietly, Mitch made his way to his own locker, making a racket as he opened it up.

Brody seemed only somewhat galvanized by Mitch’s presence; his effort to get ready only heightened marginally.

So, apparently this was a thing.

Mitch cleared his throat, trying to decide if he had the time and energy to do this now.

He glanced at Brody, still a little slumped, his hangdog expression impossible to overlook.

It was definitely a thing.

“The press still weird you out?” Mitch asked, figuring that starting with an assumption would at least help cut through the bullshit of evasive guessing games Brody might otherwise try.

“What?” Brody asked, attempting to look startled without being startled at all.

“The press,” Mitch said again, even though it should have been unnecessary. “You still seem weird around them after what happened six months ago.”

Brody gave a little snort. “You mean the part where I hammed for the cameras and talked shit about Baywatch?”

Mitch gave a little shrug. “I’m not saying that I blame you,” he said. “It was just, I don’t know. You got good coverage when Leeds took her own plea deal. Everyone knows you’re a hero.”

Brody rolled his eyes a little, shaking his head. “They’re all just, I don’t know, moments,” he said, making a little face. “None of them tell the whole story.”

That was surprisingly insightful for Brody, though maybe there wasn’t much surprise. With Brody, there was almost always more to the story.

Which was why Mitch was pretty sure there was more to this situation as well. “I just thought you were cool with it, that’s all.”

“The press?” Brody asked, eyes up. “I mean, I guess. I don’t really see the point in giving interviews or anything.”

“Sure, but no comment?” Mitch asked him quizzically. “You’ve never pulled out a no-comment.”

Brody sighed a little because he knew Mitch had a point. “It’s not the press, okay. I’ve dealt with good press, bad press, all press,” he said. “It’s not the press.”

“Not the press,” Mitch repeated. He frowned, mentally going over what else it could be. Then he remembered the look on Brody’s face. Not when he saw the reporter, but when she asked the question. “The question. About the Olympics.”

Brody didn’t deny it, but he only bobbed his head marginally in response. He wasn’t looking at Mitch anymore.

Mitch gave up the pretense of getting ready for work. Instead, he looked fully at Brody. “This is the idea of training?”

This time, Brody looked dejected. He slammed his locker shut and slumped down to the bench, face red again. “Maybe,” he said. The he shrugged. “Yeah.”

Mitch sat down next to him. “In what way?”

Brody sighed. “Well, it’s just not the first time, you know,” he admitted. “People ask me that, like, all the time.”

For some reason, that caught Mitch completely off guard. He spent nearly all his time with Brody. They worked on adjacent towers, they worked similar shifts. They commuted together, ran together, lived together. Mitch knew Brody better than Brody could possibly know himself, and he’d never heard the question.

Not once.

“Seriously?” Mitch asked. “When?”

This time, Brody looked embarrassed. “It’s not the press,” he clarified. “They’ve never asked before, but you know, people. Like on the beach. When I’m doing patrol and making chitchat. Sometimes when they come up, looking for selfies or autographs or whatever. They all want to know if I’ve started training. If I’m doing the next one.”

How did Mitch not know this? Mitch made it his business to know everything in his beach, everything about his people. People were either very discreet or Brody had been trying to hide it.

One more good look at Brody told Mitch which one was true.

Evasive and miserable, Brody still wouldn’t make eye contact. He hated this question. He hadn’t wanted Mitch to hear it.

The real unknown, then, was why.

“What do you say?” Mitch prodded carefully.

Somehow, that startled Brody. He looked up at Mitch, almost desperate in his offense. “I say I’m happy here at Baywatch,” he said, suddenly adamant where he had been reserved before. “I tell them Baywatch is my home, the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

It was a good answer, and one vehemently spoken. There was no doubt Brody was sincere, but there was something odd about it. Like he was trying too hard.

In this context, Mitch wasn’t sure what that meant.

Like, really. Usually he had a notion, but Brody had him at a loss here.

“So that’s it?” he finally asked, when he could think of nothing else to say. Because if that were it, Brody wouldn’t be like this.

Brody’s shrug was his most feeble yet. “I don’t know; I guess.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie, as best Mitch could tell. At least, it wasn’t a malicious lie. And really, it was such a lackluster untruth that Mitch could hardly count it as a lie of intent.

Which was to say, Brody was probably lying to himself more than Mitch at this point.

That was the reason he couldn’t let it slide.

“Well, it’s true, right?” Mitch prompted him gently. “About Baywatch?”

Brody looked up fast, almost as if he was appalled that he had implied otherwise. “Of course it is,” he said, and he was confident in this. Earnest, too. “Shit, Mitch. Baywatch is everything to me. I’ve never been better, never been happier than I am here. All the rest -- I mean, that’s just all the rest.”

In some ways, it was a resounding answer. Reaffirming and reassuring.

But there was something about it, something about the way the words all the rest hung in the air with a haunted tone. Because for a guy like Mitch, Baywatch was really all there was. For a guy like Brody, Mitch had to acknowledge that there was more. Even if Brody himself wasn’t quite ready to contend with it.

Mitch tipped his head, considering Brody even more astutely now. “So why didn’t you just say that to the reporter out there?” he asked. “Why the no comment?”

That was the question, and Brody knew it. He looked down, face inscrutable. “I don’t know,” he said with a voice that was trying too hard to be dismissive. Instead of confronting it further, Brody got to his feet. “Come on. We’re going to be late. Shift starts in a few minutes.”

The fact that it was true was a point notwithstanding.

The fact that Brody was willing to look at the time when he was usually otherwise distracted was something to keep track of.

-o-

The day started without any other deviations from normal. By the time the crowd started gathering on the beach, Mitch was in his spot at tower one. Just down the beach, Brody had taken up his location at tower two. Since it was summer, the crowds were as large as ever, and tourist competed for space with locals. With so many people in the water, every lifeguard on duty had their hands full, monitoring for signs of activity and distress.

Still, somehow, no matter how hard Mitch tried, he kept finding himself examining the action on tower two.

Not the beach, to be clear.

But actually tower two.

Mitch kept catching himself staring at Brody.

This was weird enough. It was weirder still when all Brody was doing was watching the beach and the sand. There really wasn’t anything to watch. Just Brody, being Brody. Doing his work. Like he always did.

That was the thing, though. It had only been a year. A good year, a long year, a complicated year. But a year. When you got right down to it, that wasn’t as long as Mitch sometimes thought it was. A year ago, Brody had been a different person with different plans. Mitch knew for sure that Brody had changed as a person, but did he know for sure that his plans had changed? That his dreams had changed?

After all, Brody had been forced to join Baywatch. It had been a part of his plea deal. Sure, Brody had wanted to stay out of jail, which had been a driving factor in all of this, but Thorpe had talked about this as a PR opportunity. Had Brody wanted to rehab his image at the time? Had he been looking for a path back to competitive swimming?

Even now, while he dutifully manned his post at Baywatch, did Brody still think about it? Was it a possibility?

Shit, the reporter had asked a good question. By Brody’s account, a lot of people had asked the question. Everyone had asked it except Mitch.

He just hadn’t even considered it. He hadn’t thought that life existed outside of Baywatch. Not for him, anyway. And not for Brody.

That didn’t make the assumption true, however.

Mitch sighed, tearing his gaze away from tower two as he looked out over the beach again. He never made assumptions in his job. He could never assume that a swimmer was going to be okay. He could never assume that a jetski would stop in time. He couldn’t assume that the manta ray would just go on their merry way. Assumptions got people killed, and Mitch had trained himself ruthlessly against them.

So why had he been lazy with Brody?

It wasn’t laziness, though. Not really. It was just that Mitch had been so happy with the way things were that he hadn’t wanted to think otherwise. It was just that Mitch hadn’t wanted more, so why would he envision a situation with more? More complications, more drama, more possibility for contention?

Mitch made a visual sweep of the beach, lingering on a pair of small children who were herded back from the water at the last moment by their father. He lingered on a boy and girl, who were flirting in the waves, spending more time watching each other then the next one that washed over them. They moved farther up the sand to make out.

Then, Mitch was back at tower two.

There was Brody, still astutely at work. It was easy to think that Brody was focused on the job because he loved it, and not possibly because he didn’t want to think about other things. Both could be true.

Brody had said no comment this morning. He hadn’t told the reporter it was a silly question. No comment was relevant. Because Brody didn’t want to answer the question.

More to the point, he didn’t want to answer it around Mitch.

Which meant it was probably a good question to ask.

Really, it was a question Brody probably needed to answer.

The more Brody didn’t want to answer it was more reason that he should. Mitch couldn’t give a shit about the press or the reporter and her fluff piece story. At the same time, he couldn’t deny that it might be good for Brody to sit down and take stock a year in. At the very least, he would have to answer the questions for himself.

Mitch put down the binoculars for a second, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the business card the reporter had handed him this morning. One interview, not because anyone else needed to know or deserved to know, but because Brody needed to be able to verbalize his own thoughts, his own intentions.

For any other Baywatch employee, Mitch would never be so presumptuous.

But this was Brody.

Mitch was going to be extremely presumptuous.

Every single damn time.

-o-

The rest of the day, at least, was typical. Sure, Mitch had to save five people from drowning, but seeing as no one actually did drown, he could count it as a good day.

For some reason, it didn’t seem all that good.

Okay, for a Brody reason.

Mitch had spent much of the day trying to decide what bothered him more: the idea of Brody not giving he interview of the idea of him not giving it.

On the one hand, he knew Brody probably needed to make a personal stand.

On the other hand, Mitch was kind of anxious about what that stand might actually be.

The bottom line was, of course, that this wasn’t about Mitch. He could be scared, nervous, anxious or indifferent. Ultimately, this was about Brody. And Mitch had invested too much in Brody to back out on that now.

Still, it wasn’t a conversation he particularly relished.

Therefore, true to form, Mitch insisted on having it the second he got home before Brody could even get a dish dirty. Not for a lack of effort, though. Brody was already in the kitchen, rooting through the fridge when Mitch stared him down across the counter and said, “You need to call the reporter.”

Brody was holding an armful of food, ranging from tomatoes to celery to mayonnaise. Sometimes Mitch was convinced that as a child, Brody hadn’t been fed all that much given what he chose to eat call a meal sometimes. “What?”

Mitch took the card, which was still tucked into his pocket. He put in on the counter.

Brody looked at it, blankly for a moment. Then he started putting items around it, giving it wide berth. “Uh, why?”

“Because,” Mitch said. “She had some good questions.”

“She literally only asked me one question,” Brody said.

Mitch gave a him look, hoping Brody might see that was the point.

“Besides,” Brody said, starting to wash a tomato. “We don’t do what we do for the press coverage. Right?”

“That’s not why we do it, but you know we leverage it,” Mitch said. “What you did with Leeds is just one example. But a lot of Casey Jean’s job is to make us look good. Of course we need positive press coverage. We’re publicly funded.”

Brody put the tomato down, clearly somewhat vexed by this reply. It hadn’t been what he was expected. More to the point, it also hadn’t been what he was hoping to hear. “Yeah. Um,” he said, and he actually tipped his head to the side to think of an answer. “I just don’t. I don’t know. Have a good relationship with the press, I think.”

This was a bit more of the truth, and Mitch couldn’t fault Brody for it. Brody did have a tumultuous relationship with the press. While his work on the Leeds case had made him a bonafide hero, the press had happily played up his downfall more than once. Reporters liked him well enough when he could sell a few fluff pieces for them; they downright loved him when he was a clickbait for disaster.

Mitch could only imagine the full extent of it. He didn’t spend a lot of time reading gossip stories or following celebrities, but Brody’s antics in the Olympics had made enough headlines that even Mitch had read about them. If the few pieces of mostly professional writing had caught Mitch’s attention, he couldn’t imagine what the more sensationalized outlets had done with Brody’s story.

Though, it was safe to assume, you didn’t get dubbed the Vomit Comet due to a positive relationship with the press.

That said, Brody was young, attractive and talented. And he’d proven multiple times that he could be articulate and charming when he put his mind to it. Brody was probably nervous about being the Vomit Comet again, but there was no doubt that he could be the golden boy if he made that choice.

That was the choice, though.

“You’re fine with the press, once you stop trying so hard,” Mitch said. “Seriously, you’ve learned to be humble and generous. You’re selfless. When you spend too much time dwelling on yourself, sure, you tend to screw things up. But when you’re honestly talking about the bigger picture -- you’re good, man. You always are.”

Brody did not look convinced in the slightest.

In fact, if anything, he looked more skeptical now than when the conversation had started. “I don’t know,” he said, which was a polite way of telling Mitch that he was sure that he wa off his rocker with this one.

Mitch, however, wasn’t someone who gave up easily. Or at all. “Think about it,” Mitch said. “We’re out there at the beach celebrating your one year anniversary on the job.”

Brody shook his head to interject. “There were three of us being celebrated, and Ronnie and Summer--”

“Are great, don’t get me wrong,” Mitch said. “They’re invaluable members of Baywatch, and I love them.”

Brody looked mildly pleased at the concession.

Until Mitch continued: “But the press doesn’t give a shit about them.”

Crestfallen a bit, Brody did not seem ready to give up either. “That doesn’t make me more important than them,” he persisted. “I just happen to have more headlines in the past.”

“Because you won two gold medals!” Mitch said, a little louder than he intended.

Brody seemed to startle a little at that. “No, it’s because I hurled in the pool and then got arrested for trying to smuggle drugs.”

“By all accounts, your efforts to drug smuggle were pretty pathetic,” Mitch said.

“Yeah, pretty sure that doesn’t make it somehow less bad,” Brody shot back.

“I’m not saying drug smuggling is good,” Mitch said, a touch exasperated now. “But why do you think anyone gave a shit about you and your pathetic attempts to smuggle drugs?”

“Because I’m an idiot?” Brody asked.

Mitch sighed, endeavoring for patient. It was worse than trying to teach the kid to load a dishwasher. “Because you won two gold medals,” he said, enunciating the words more stolidly now. “You can’t fall off a pedestal unless you’re on one. You were always a good story, Brody. Sometimes you just let the narrative veer off. This is your chance to take it back.”

“But I don’t care about the narrative or whatever,” Brody said, making a wide gesture with his arms. “Why can’t I just be a normal lifeguard like the rest of the team?”

That sounded good, actually. In truth, wasn’t that what Mitch wanted?

But he had to contend with the fact that Brody said no comment. He had to face the reality that Brody did look at his medals each night, no matter how he tried to spin it.

Mitch wasn’t sure what difference that made.

Neither did Brody.

That was what needed to be addressed.

“Because you have two gold medals in your bedroom,” Mitch said. “And that’s something none of the rest of us have, not even me.”

Brody was starting to look a little desperate. “I told you, they don’t mean anything.”

“Then that’s what you tell the reporter,” Mitch said. “No comment isn’t a declaration of anything. You can’t no comment your way into the Olympics, and you can’t no comment your way onto this team.”

Brody shook his head. “The Olympics aren’t even a thing. I haven’t trained, I don’t have a coach. It’s not a thing, Mitch. It’s not.”

Mitch pushed the card across to him a little closer. “Don’t tell me that,” he said. “Tell her.”

This time, Brody did look crestfallen. Mitch reached over, snatching the tomatoes. “I think we have some bacon,” he said. “I’ll make dinner.”

“But I--” Brody started.

Mitch gave him a look. “You have a phone call to make.”

Brody looked exactly like a whining child trying to get out of doing his homework. “Now?”

Mitch opened the freezer. “Now.”

Brody groaned. “Mitch--”

“Give the girl a headline,” Mitch said. “And give us -- and yourself -- closure.”

“People talk to me about closer, but I honestly have no idea what it is,” Brody said.

“It’s when someone can ask you about the Olympics, and you have an answer,” Mitch said. “And that answer isn’t no comment.

-o-

Mitch made BLTs that night.

Brody made a phone call.

At dinner, Brody slumped down into his seat, half throwing the card at Mitch. “She wants to follow me around,” he said. “Like, I don’t even get it. She wants to do something, she said, in depth.”

Mitch considered it, taking a bite of his sandwich. “Sounds like she wants to get a thorough picture of who you are.”

Brody wrinkled his nose. “Why would anyone want that?”

“Tough to say, jackass, but I’m glad you’re going to humor her,” he replied.

“So you think it’s a good idea? Her following me around for a week?” Brody asked, clearly hoping Mitch would say no, absolutely not, it was the worst idea ever.

In truth, Mitch didn’t love it. He didn’t love anything that distracted his lifeguards from their normal duties. But he knew Brody would be so keen on not talking to the reporter that his job performance wouldn’t suffer. If anything, he’d be even more focused to avoid answering any questions. “Sure,” Mitch said. “I’ll clear it with Casey Jean in the morning, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Brody looked downright miserable. “I still don’t get why it’s me,” he said. “Summer’s prettier. And I mean, look at Ronnie. He’s totally a good story. A feel good story. It would feel better than this one.”

“They all have good stories,” Mitch agreed. “But the press wants you.”

“And you’re just going to give me to them?” Brody asked with more than a hint of melodrama.

Mitch chuckled. “I’ve had you all to myself for a year,” he said. “I think it’s about time I shared you with someone else.”

Brody shook his head, finally picking up his sandwich. “This conversation is weird as shit.”

“You probably shouldn’t talk like that tomorrow,” Mitch advised.

“I should probably kick your ass,” Brody grumbled before taking a bite.

“Remember to sit up, smile,” Mitch coached unnecessarily. “Maybe go without your shirt tomorrow. Just for photo ops.”

Brody replied by giving him the finger.

Mitch just grinned.

-o-

Brody helped clean up after dinner.

Help was a generous description. He was in the kitchen when clean up was underway. His contributions to the outcome were questionable. It was, frankly, impressive that someone with such skill in the water had absolutely zero ability to mind himself.

Then again, someone had taught Brody to swim.

Mitch was probably one of the first to teach him to be a person.

Oh well, Mitch decided as he finished up by himself that night. There was a reason the press wanted to interview Brody for his swimming.

Because his housekeeping skills were certainly nothing to write about.

-o-

They hung out separately for most of the evening, with Mitch doing some extra weight training and Brody going for a run before crashing on the couch with his phone. Mitch drank a protein shake and ate some chicken for a snack before catching up on a little reading. By the time he was ready to turn in, Brody was already in his bedroom. Mitch passed by on his way to his own room, and he was going to say goodnight when he stopped himself short.

Because, from within the room, Mitch could hear talking.

Not talking. Muttering.

Mitch wondered if Summer had slipped in at some point; he did come over, and there were occasionally closed door sessions that Mitch reminded himself were none of his business. Brody could technically jack off wherever he wanted now that he was using his own sheets on his own bed in his own room.

If that was the case, then it was none of Mitch’s business -- at least, it was no business that Mitch needed.

He listened a little closer, and it was clear that the muttering wasn’t anything fun or mutual. Usually, when Summer was over, there was more laughing and giggling. This sounded quite anxious.

Quite one-sided, too.

Yeah, Mitch deduced within two additional seconds. Brody was in there by himself, talking to himself.

After the initial realization, it was less weird than Mitch thought it might be. Actually, it seemed like it might make sense; in fact, Mitch wondered why he hadn’t caught Brody muttering to himself before, given all their time together. Although Mitch had no reason for it, it did rather seem like talking to himself would be a Brody sort of thing to do.

With this thought process engaged in his mind, it took Mitch several additional seconds to figure out what Brody was talking about.

“It’s just an interview, you’ve given interviews,” Brody was saying to himself. Mitch could hear the sound of Brody’s feet on the tile floor, back and forth, back and forth. “And hey, this one’s not, like, on live TV. So, you know. No one’s going to make animated GIFs that will live on the internet forever.”

Clearly, he was speaking from experience.

Brody turned again, a little more abruptly than before, although his voice remained hushed and under his breath. “This time, you can tell the truth, all you have to do is tell the truth,” he continued on, trying to sound upbeat despite his whispered tones. “See, it’s different when the truth is good.”

Mitch could vaguely remember disastrous clips from Brody’s failed press tour after the Olympics. Where he abdicated all blame, wore ridiculous teeth jewelry and didn’t know what it meant to be dyslexic.

“And if all else fails, you talk about Baywatch,” Brody continued. He paused for a moment, the sound of his footfalls stilling. “Just talk about how Baywatch is more than a team, it’s a family. It’s a family that’s saved my life.”

Mitch couldn’t help it if his heart swelled, just a little.

Brody started pacing again. “Sure, I’ve won two gold medals, but at Baywatch, I’ve saved lives,” he murmured, a little emphatic on that last point. Well, sure, yeah, I’ll always think a little about the Olympics, you know. The what-ifs. And I can’t say that I don’t sort of want to go back or something, just to, you know, see. Prove to myself that I can do it. The right way, I mean. I want to prove I can do it the right way.”

He stopped again, and this time Mitch felt his chest clench. Brody had never admitted that out loud to Mitch, not even a little. He would add that to the list of things that really shouldn’t have been a surprise.

And still somehow were.

There was movement inside again as Brody’s pacing started up once more. “It’s just, what I do now, what I do with Baywatch, that’s more important,” he said, and the sentiment was right but it felt forced somehow. Like it was true, but not quite the whole story. “I’ve proven myself here. I don’t need anything else.”

With a groan, Brody made the bed squeak as he flopped heavily onto it. “Ugh, you’re just a moron, Matt,” he muttered, and that was perhaps his most decisive statement of all. The only part of the whole soliloquy that Brody didn’t doubt.

And the only part Mitch didn’t know what to do with.

Feeling suddenly flummoxed, Mitch took pity on them both and knocked.

“What?” Brody asked, sounding purely miserable.

This time, Mitch opened the door, taking a step inside. Brody was on the bed, arm thrown over his face.

Mitch felt like he was intruding with a burst of awkwardness. What the hell was he going to say anyway?

“I was, uh, just making sure you were okay,” he said. Brody peered at him from under his arm, and Mitch amended quickly. “With the whole interview thing.”

Brody lifted his arm over his eyes again. “No,” he said conversely. “But like that matters.”

The dejection in Brody’s voice made Mitch feel just a touch guilty. He did believe that giving the interview would help Brody process whatever it was he was struggling with right now, but he didn’t take particular pleasure in emotionally torturing him. Casual torture in good fun -- that was one thing. But he didn’t want to truly cause Brody distress. “It does,” he said, a little gentler now. “If you really don’t want to do this, then it’s not like I’m going to make you. You do get to make this choice.”

With a sigh, Brody removed the arm from his face and sat up to look at Mitch. Somehow, he looked more miserable than before, like he hated that Mitch had given him the out. Because now, if he did it, it was his choice and he had no one else to blame. Clearly, Brody wanted someone to blame, and a year ago, he probably wouldn’t have hesitated to keep laying it on Mitch. He’d matured enough over the last year, however. “No, it’s fine,” he said, a bit resigned now. “I just don’t get it, you know? Why everyone cares so much. About me. What I do.”

“Well, it’s been a year,” Mitch said.

Brody made a face. “So?”

“So,” Mitch said, gesturing with one hand. “You should know why it matters after a year.”

It was plain that Brody still didn’t. “Why what matters? The interview or the Olympics or…?”

Mitch dropped his hand again. He didn’t have a clear answer for that, even if he was inclined to make it easy for Brody this time. “That’s for you to decide,” he said. “It’s the fact that you can’t answer the questions that means you probably should.”

Brody scoffed a little, but it was without much malice. “Thanks for that wonderfully cryptic answer,” he said. “Super helpful there.”

“I do what I can,” Mitch said with a magnanimous smile. “And hey, early shift tomorrow. I thought I’d work out first. You want to tag along?”

That much at least didn’t cause Brody any anxiety. These were the simple things; the comfortable rhythm they had together. “Yeah, sure,” Brody said. He bobbed his head toward the alarm clock on his bedside table. “Alarm’s already set. So you won’t need to wake me up tomorrow, okay?”

Mitch nodded, moving back toward the door. “Sure.”

“I mean it!” Brody called after him.

Turning back, Mitch was as genuine as possible. “Of course,” he assured Brody.

Before turning his back again and rolling his eyes.

-o-

Mitch heard Brody’s alarm go off.

Brody didn’t.

After five minutes, Mitch woke Brody up, as he’d expected.

Because some things changed a lot in a year.

Other things, most decidedly, did not.

-o-

Brody was slow to wake up, but once he got going, he really did get going. It just took two cups of coffee and a grown man to dump him on the floor each morning. Mitch found that exasperating, but he often found the effort worthwhile. Brody was an apt workout partner.

That wasn’t something Mitch took lightly. The thing was, Mitch wasn’t casual about his workouts. You didn’t get to be as big at Mitch because you were casual. Most people, quite frankly, couldn’t keep up with Mitch.

Brody was perhaps the only exception. It was true that Brody couldn’t come close to matching Mitch with weights, but their head to head competition on the beach a year ago hadn’t been fair. Mitch had waited until after Brody had exhausted himself on the first course -- a course, for the record, Mitch couldn’t pass himself -- before subjecting him to a range of power lifting activities that were skewed heavily in Mitch’s favor. Of course Brody had lost; Mitch had made sure of it in order to make a point.

The point had been made, quite abundantly. But Mitch couldn’t deny that he’d learned a few things about Brody that day, too.

First, the guy was an animal. He was in shape on a level that genuinely impressed Mitch.

Second, he was willing to push himself. Brody hadn’t flinched at the prospect of the first course, which was a course most people laughed at because it looked so ridiculous. Those who attempted it, usually quit within the first minute. Brody had completed it and then followed Mitch carrying massively heavy objects across the sand. And the kicker was that he almost completed it.

Third, he might just be the only person who could keep up with Mitch. In a fair workout, anyway.

Over the last year, Mitch had taken to working out with Brody on a few times a week. They usually focused on doing cardio together and they took pleasure in trying to kick each other’s asses while jogging or swimming. Sometimes Mitch helped Brody with weights; occasionally, Brody convinced Mitch to try climbing like some damn monkey.

It wasn’t just a matter of convenience. It wasn’t even that they were friends. Brody could keep pace with Mitch -- in fact, Brody could challenge his pace from time to time. If Mitch were honest -- and he was relieved that no one had ever asked, not even Brody -- Mitch was often more winded than Brody after jogging anymore.

In short, this wasn’t a one-sided relationship, not like most people might assume from knowing Brody’s story. No, this was mutual. A two-way street.

Mitch knew that.

He just hoped Brody had figured it out after a year as well.

Because Mitch didn’t really want to say it out loud. Instead, he threw Brody a bottle of water after their jogged and asked, “You want first shower?”

“Ugh,” Brody grunted, cracking open the water. “You can go first. I’m just going to sit here and eat. You wore me out today, man.”

Mitch grinned, tousling Brody’s hair obnoxiously as he made his way to the bathroom. “Got to get you up to snuff, pool boy.”

Brody swatted his hand away. “I haven’t swam in a pool all year!”

“And it shows!” Mitch called back, managing not to limp from the soreness in his own muscles before he got to his bedroom. Maybe someday Mitch would show how much Brody challenged him. He started the shower in his bathroom, and huffed a chuckled. Not today, he resolved, hopping in.

Not today.

-o-

Because today was about Brody’s confessions, not Mitch’s.

Brody dragged himself the whole way in. He barely smiled when the reporter met them at the entrance at HQ, and he slumped miserably in a chair when Mitch took them all to Casey Jean’s office to explain the situation. Brody looked like he wanted to cry when Casey Jean thought it sounded like a perfectly good idea. As long as Brody and the rest of the team was okay with it, of course.

They all looked at Brody.

He sighed. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. He forced the most painful looking smile ever. “It sounds great.”

-o-

Next things next, Mitch told the rest of the team. They often had team meetings, just to go over current beach conditions and other important notes. At the end of the list of mandatory updates, Mitch put away his clipboard and cleared his throat.

“There’s one other matter to discuss today,” he said. The group drew to curious attention; they were a smart group. They knew something was up. Everyone looked eager to know; everyone except Brody, who looked even more miserable than ever. Mitch cleared his throat. “In light of the events last night, local news has expressed some interest in additional coverage of what we do here at Baywatch.”

The journalist, who was just to the side of Mitch, waved a little, unprompted. It was strangely endearing and utterly unprofessional al at the same time. The crew regarded her with a mix of uncertainty and interest.

“While we all know that this is a group effort, the local paper wants to do an in depth piece about our very own Matt Brody,” Mitch said, making it a little grander than necessary. Just to mess with Brody. It was amusing to watch him squirm. “After all, he has had a rather heroic streak lately.”

There was a murmur of excitement. Brody actually put a hand over his face.

Mitch found himself grinning. “That’s why Amelia Cordon is here,” he said, gesturing politely to the girl. In Casey Jean’s office, she had insisted that Mitch just call her Amelia, and standing before the group of lifeguards, she waved again, unnecessarily. “She’s going to shadow Brody during his duties this week, and she’s express interest in talking to the rest of you as well. Brody is the focus of her pieces, but she may use others here as reference.”

There was ongoing hushed conversation. In another place of work, Mitch might have to worry about jealousy, but his crew wasn’t like that. They didn’t do this for any kind of glory or recognition. And they all knew that good press was good press; the better the press, the better their funding. Given the fact that they all wanted to stay employed, it was a collective win.

For everyone, it seemed, except Brody.

Brody was trying to actively make himself disappear. The effort was both unnecessary and also totally ridiculous.

All the more reason to draw attention to it. Obviously, Mitch gestured to Brody to make his efforts absolutely pointless. Was is a little cruel? Yes, yes it was. Because yes, he loved Brody and would do anything for him. But he also loved to torment him when he deserved it.

Maybe he didn’t quite deserve it now, but whatever. He didn’t not deserve it, so all was fair in love and new stories. Mitch and Brody were close enough that they could do shit to one another and it was all in total good fun.

“Ms. Cordon has waivers for each of you to sign in order to give permission for your photo to be taken,” he explained. “If you don’t want to be used in any way, there is no obligation to sign anything and we’ll leave you alone.”

Amelia was beaming now. This was clearly one of her first major assignments.

Her energetic attitude was perfectly paired with Brody’s pained expression. He looked like he might actually want to die.

“Her presence is entirely observational,” he said, and he gave a look of warning to Amelia. “She’s under strict orders to stay out of the way, especially during a rescue.”

He looked back at his crew. They were nodding along. They would be totally cool with this.

“Everyone is encouraged to go about business as usual,” he said. “She wants an accurate picture of what we do here, and I do not want her presence to compromise our work in any way. I’ve already talked to Brody about this--”

Brody looked up at him, like he wanted to run away.

“--and he’s assured me that this will in no way affect the quality of his work,” Mitch concluded. “Which is why I see no reason not to let Ms. Cordon write her article.”

There was more murmuring, before Stephanie spoke over them. “What kind of article is it exactly?”

Amelia stepped forward, stealing a cautious look at Mitch who nodded at her to answer. “Well, like Mitch said, this is going to be an in-depth piece, and we’d like to look at it as a character profile,” she said. “Matt Brody is already a known household name, and we would love to chronicle his evolution from Olympian to trusted lifeguard. We think there’s substantial interest locally and nationally about how Brody came to be where he is, and how Baywatch has changed him -- and the bay -- for the better.”

Brody was beet red now, and there was no feasible way to hide it as the team looked at him.

Amelia smiled at him as well. “I want to tell everyone how he got here,” she said. “And we want to talk about what comes next.”

This time, when the crowd murmured, Mitch felt his smile freeze on his face.

What came next?

What if Mitch didn’t want to know what came next?

What if he wanted right now?

Then he probably shouldn’t have made Brody do this interview.

Shit, he sighed, realizing that Amelia was looking at him again. He cleared his throat, giving the crowd a perfunctory nod. “Ms. Cordon will have waivers for you to sign on your way out. If you have questions or concerns, please just let me know,” he managed to say, his voice belying nothing. The only person who could have seen through his bravado was Brody, and Brody was too busy maintaining his own bravado to notice. “All right, crew. Let’s have a great day out there!”

The team clapped and started filing out. He turned to Brody and Amelia. “You two ready to go?”

“Completely,” Amelia said eagerly. “Is it okay if I use a recording device? I mean, I’m going to take notes and all but still.”

Mitch shrugged, glancing at Brody.

“Oh, why not,” he said, shaking his head in exasperation. With a warning glance from Mitch, Brody mustered a polite smile for Amelia. “My life is an open book.”

Mitch watched them go with just the slightest twinge of trepidation.

How bad could it be, he assuaged himself. He’d survived one whole year of Brody in his life.

What could possibly happen in one week to change that?


-o-

The first half day was without incident. Down the beach, Mitch still had a good view of Brody, who appeared to be doing his best to keep as busy as possible. He made more interventions than necessary, and he had an increased fondness for checking in with basically anyone within his vicinity that wasn’t holding a recording device.

If this was intended as a deterrent for Amelia, it did not have the desired effect. Every time Mitch glanced toward tower two, Amelia was writing vigorously. No doubt, she was making notes about Brody’s dedication to the job, his ability to be charming with people, and his seemingly effortless charisma in the line of duty.

Mitch stopped himself, and looked back at the beach again. He wasn’t the one who was supposed to be waxing poetic about Brody. He could wait to read it in print and then mock Brody mercilessly about being the golden boy.

He spared another glance toward tower two, because that was the thing. That was why Amelia was here. Brody was the golden boy, and everyone knew it.

Well, everyone except Brody.

Back on point, Mitch scanned the beach. This week might change that, for better or for worse.

There was no way of avoiding that now.

-o-

At lunch, Mitch found Brody devouring a plate of chicken and vegetables at their favorite food truck. Mitch plopped down next to him, grinning. “Where’s your entourage?”

“Amelia?” Brody asked with his mouth full. He swallowed and gave a nod toward the far end of the pier. “I told her that I didn’t know for sure how many people were on the beach in a given day, so she’s taking a rough count.”

Mitch frowned, watching as Amelia visibly muttered numbers under her breath. “We have data on that.”

“I know,” Brody said.

“So you can give it to her,” Mitch said.

“And not have a chance to eat alone? In quiet? Without someone asking me why I like brussel sprouts?” Brody asked, abjectly incredulous.

Mitch gave Brody’s lunch a fresh appraisal. “You really like brussel sprouts?”

“Shit, I like anything I don’t have to eat when someone is quoting me,” he said, shoveling another bite of food into his mouth. “And actually, I do like brussel sprouts. They have good texture.”

Mitch shrugged a little, considering the texture of brussel sprouts. Then, he remembered that brussel sprouts weren’t that important. “So it’s that bad?”

“Ugh,” Brody said. “She keeps asking questions.”

“Well, that is her job,” Mitch reminded him.

“But who the hell thinks about why we investigate some disturbances and watch others?” he asked. “It’s just shit you know, right?”

“She’s just trying to get a sense of what you do,” Mitch explained.

Brody shook his head morosely. “She wants to sit down with me on my break this afternoon,” he said. “For more in-depth conversation.”

Mitch tried not to be too much of a bastard. There was a fine line between torturing Brody in good spirits and torturing him maliciously. Brody was clearly struggling with this, and Mitch didn’t want him to implode. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Brody’s look was baleful. “What if she asks questions?”

“Well, I think that’s a given,” Mitch said, trying his best not to be too snarky, but Brody did make it hard.

“No, I mean, about why I do shit,” he said. “I don’t mind talking about all the ways I’ve screwed up. I mean, fine, whatever, that’s old news. But what if she wants to know about my plans?”

“Do you know your plans?” Mitch asked, trying not to show how curious he was.

Brody’s face contorted, the objection quickly replaced with confused. He pressed his lips together, plainly at a loss, and was only saved from answering when Summer came up and sat at his other side.

“Hey!” she said, smiling brightly as she nudged Brody a little. “How’s Baywatch’s brightest celebrity?”

As upbeat as she was, it only seemed to make Brody slump more. “I don’t want to be a celebrity.”

Summer rolled her eyes. “Oh, you get so silly about this.”

“No, I get realistic,” Brody said. “You both know how I feel about the press.”

“That was when you were a trainwreck -- no offense,” she said.

He did look moderately offended, though clearly not for the right reasons. He fully accepted that he was a trainwreck; he just seemed less able to grasp the fact that he no longer was one. “I just feel like there’s something bad to come from it,” Brody said, casting a suspicious glance toward Amelia, who was being positively lovely with her current interview subject. “All those interviews after the Olympics were horrible.”

“Uh, well, you were trying not to take responsibility for barfing in the pool,” Summer reminded him. It was a little gentle, but she didn’t mince her words. That was one thing Mitch liked about what Brody and Summer had: they were honest about shit in a way many couples might not have been. “You do much better when you’re not trying to cover up some stupid mistake you made.”

“But all I do is make mistakes,” Brody said, as if this was some inalienable truth.

“Dude, that’s not true, not in months,” Mitch said. “Even the last time you nabbed headlines -- that was on your terms. And for the best reason.”

“I was undercover and telling everyone how bad Baywatch was,” Brody said. “You all hated me. All of you. A lot.”

“Sure, but we got over it,” Summer said, and to be fair to Brody’s incredulous look, she was a little flippant about how dramatically the team had been divided. Brody’s press antics had nearly ripped the team apart. “You did what you had to do.”

Brody couldn’t argue that, and he wouldn’t. Brody had been the one making that choice, he’d been the one driving it. Mitch knew beyond all doubt that Brody didn’t regret what he did for the team, not even with nearly dying twice. But Mitch also knew that Brody has learned a few lessons from that experience.

None more salient than this: mind the press.

Brody might have been persistently negative with Mitch. With Summer, he was a little softer. That was the difference between best friends and girlfriends.

For Summer, he smiled. “I know. I just used to be such an asshole. I used to just say the stupidest shit, and it always went badly.”

Mitch swallow a bite, taking a sip. “That’s not being bad with the press. That’s being bad with you.”

Brody turned toward him with a frown. “Yeah, not sure that actually makes me feel better.”

Summer leaned on his arm supportively. “It should, though,” she concurred with Mitch. “You’ve changed a lot. And for the better.”

Mitch had been telling Brody this in countless ways over the last year. All the same, he plainly had his doubts. Still, he leaned back against Summer. “Well, I’ve had some help.”

Her eyes brightened, smile widening. “So the press should be a breeze,” she said. Pulling away a little, she energetically started in on her lunch. “Everyone else is excited. I mean, it’s cool, right?”

Brody looked like it was anything but cool. For Summer, however, he kept himself keenly diplomatic. “I didn’t really want it to be a thing, though,” he said. “I mean, we don’t exactly need any distractions around here.”

That was a good sentiment on most levels. It was just that Baywatch was nothing but distractions. Just six months ago, Brody had staged the most epic distractions of all, and yet here he was, trying to be the mature one.

Mitch couldn’t let that one slide. “At least this one is a good distraction for once,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got no major cases right now, and our performance numbers are solid. This is one time we can afford a little positive distraction.”

Brody gave him a look that suggested betrayal.

Summer, however, beamed. “See?” she said. “This is a great thing. We all think so.”

Brody fiddled with his food, uncertain. He looked less confident than before, which mean that maybe their positive diatribe was finally beginning to sink it. Finally, Mitch reflected ironically; it had only taken a year. “Really?” he asked, but this time there was the faintest note of hope in his voice.

Her smile turned sweet as she laced her arm through the crook in his. “Sure,” she said easily. She kissed him. “Maybe we can celebrate later. Just the two of us.”

That perked Brody up for the first time all day. “That sounds good,” he said. His smile faded a little as Amelia made her way back over. With a stifled groan. Brody gathered his things and got up. “Guess I should get back at it.”

“You could let her sit with us,” Summer suggested.

Brody was already on his feet, shaking his head. “Nah, I’d prefer to just face this on my own. I’m sure she’ll get to you eventually.”

Amelia greeted him as he crossed toward her, and Mitch watched with Summer as the two retreated back toward the beach.

“He really does hate this, doesn’t he?” she asked.

“Passionately,” Mitch affirmed.

Summer was still watching them, Brody’s stiff posture impossible to miss. “Then why did he agree to it?”

Mitch felt slightly guilty, but he would still stand by his choice. “I told him it was a good idea.

At this, Summer turned to him. “Why?”

“Because you’ve seen him just as much as I have,” Mitch said. “Everyone else can see that he’s changed, but he still thinks he’s going to screw it up. I think that fear is holding him back.”

She thought about this, looking out toward Brody again. “Holding him back from what?”

That was the question, wasn’t it? Who would Brody be if he truly believed in himself? What he choose if he really thought he could achieve anything? “Hard to say,” Mitch conceded. “That’s for him to figure out.”

Together, they were quiet for a moment as Brody and Amelia grew farther from view. Summer chewed her lip for a moment. “But he’s okay, though.” She flicked her gaze to Mitch, concerned. “Right?”

“Yeah, sure,” Mitch said, hoping that he sounded more confident than he felt.

“He’s not going to, you know,” Summer hedged. “Crash and burn?”

“No,” Mitch said, this time mustering up some vigor. Too much, too fast. “He’s going to be fine.”

Summer nodded, less convinced than before. “You’ll stick close to him?” she asked. “Just to be sure?”

That, at least, was an answer Mitch could give without hesitation. “Hell, yeah.”

Summer breathed with visible relief. “Thank God.”

Because trust was important for a guy like Brody.

But so was a safety net.

They loved him enough for the former.

They loved him too much not to need the latter.