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Baywatch fic: No Comment (5/5)

December 27th, 2018 (01:32 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE



-o-

Then, finally, someone else noticed the issue, too.

He suspected that Summer had to see it, given how much time she spent with Brody. She had to see the slight shift in his behavior, the way he smiled a little too fast, a little too much.

When she finally called Brody on it, Mitch could have hugged her.

He could have, but that would have been awkward. He wasn’t on a hugging basis with Summer, and they were at work still. Brody and Summer were waiting for him in his office while he finished up the paperwork; they all planned to head back to the house together because after a year, they could be ridiculously predictable and domestic and somehow Mitch didn’t feel like a third wheel at all.

Still, no hugs. He was behind a desk, and Summer was serious.

“You and that stupid card,” she said.

Mitch glanced up to see Brody fiddling with it absently. By now, the card was worn and bent. Most of the time, Brody seemed to be playing with it without even realizing it. Mitch had sort of taken it for granted, too. But Summer was staring at it, quite affixed.

“You can’t put it down,” she said, and it wasn’t quite a reprimand or a question, but something in between.

Brody made his typical face, that stupid one he made to act like something wasn’t a big deal when it clearly was. Brody could act on a case when he had to, but he sucked trying to convince people he cared about. “What? Sure I can.”

“Um, no,” Summer said. She crossed her legs, sitting back in the chair. “You really can’t. Did you even realize you had it out? Again?”

“It’s just excess energy; I have ADHD, you know, and Mitch is taking forever,” Brody said, and this was probably true but still a lie. For good measure, he shoved the card in his pocket. “See? It’s down.”

Summer, bless her, was wholly unimpressed. “You know what I’m saying.

Brody insisted on being willfully stupid. Maybe it was better that it was intentional, but that didn’t make it less moronic. “No, I don’t.”

She sighed, unyielding but still somehow sympathetic. “It’s okay if you’re interested in calling him back.”

Mitch had stopped doing his paperwork now, chest clenched at the plainness of the statement. Mitch hadn’t managed to say that out loud once, and now that he heard it said, he knew why.

He didn’t want Brody to answer anymore than Brody wanted to answer.

In true Brody form, he still didn’t answer. He was amazingly adept at ignoring obvious questions and their even more obvious answers.

“I’m not,” he said, lying like a rug. The look of feigned indignation was a nice touch, however.

Summer somehow looked both sympathetic and fed up at the same time. “I really think maybe you are.”

She was giving him every out.

Which was probably why he dug in deeper. “The card is no big deal. Really. It means, like, nothing.”

Summer didn’t miss a beat. “Matt, this isn’t about a card.”

“The trainer is no big deal,” Brody said in conciliation. “Trainers are always looking for the next big thing. It’s how they stay relevant at the top level.”

Summer shrugged, diffident. “Then throw the card away.”

It was a challenge, plain and simple. Mitch was all out staring now, watching their exchange like one might watch the winning point at Wimbledon.

Brody shrank from the challenge just as fast as Summer issued it. “Let’s not talk about it now,” he deflected.

“Matt,” she said, voice carrying both watching and disappointment.

He sat up a little straighter, smiling at her. “This is our night off,” he said. “No work tomorrow. So let’s just have some fun.”

He was charming when he wanted to be, and he clearly wanted to be right now. It was easier to be charming rather than being honest.

“Mitch, help me out here,” Summer said, turning toward Mitch for the first time since the argument began.

Embarrassed for gawking, Mitch made a pathetic ploy to get back to work, as if the paperwork had been riveting this whole time. Because Brody wasn’t the only coward right now. “I am not getting involved in your relationship,” he said.

It was a good policy.

It was also irrelevant to the situation.

Summer would easily call Brody on his bullshit; she was less keen to do so with Mitch. Still, she said, as if trying for a lesser agreement, “But you agree with me. Brody’s being weird about the card.”

Mitch wondered if that could be a trap, but then he realized that he wasn’t the one who needed to be trapped.

Did he?

At any rate, before he could compose an answer, Brody interjected himself forcibly back into the dialogue. “I’m not being weird,” he said, and he was managing to sound a little more nonchalant about it now. “I just don’t want to talk about some stupid card tonight. On our night off.”

Summer’s look was more than skeptical. “We’re literally just going back to your place and cooking whatever we find in the fridge,” she said.

“Well,” Brody said, fumbling a little now as he realized she had a point. “Then, let’s do something else. Something fun. Something that lets us forget all the shit of the week.”

Mitch was attempting to do his paperwork again, although his surreptitious glances were becoming longer and longer again between the couple.

“Like what?” Summer asked, and she sat back arms crossed over his chest.

“We don’t eat at home,” Brody said. “We go out. Someplace night, outdoor seating. We eat under the stars. Mitch won’t mind, right?”

“I’m really not involved in this conversation,” Mitch said, staring intently at his paperwork even though he no longer had any idea what it was about.

“See,” Brody said, seizing upon Mitch’s refusal to engage and presenting it as consent. “You and me, we’ll go out, do a proper date. The real thing. We can see a movie. Go clubbing, you know. Anything you want.”

This, Mitch realized with a twinge of regret, was working. Summer was a tomboy and she didn’t need to be treated softly and coddled. But that didn’t mean that she didn’t like to be doted on from time to time. After a year, she and Brody had fallen into comfortable habits and patterns. She wasn’t stupid; she would recognize a good opportunity for a date when she saw one.

Even if that meant dropping the point.

“Anything?” she repeated, as if to make sure he wasn’t shitting with her.

Brody was solemn. “Anything.”

Her set shoulders eased a little, and she was moderately mollified, though she tried not to show just how much so. “Well,” she said haughtily. “You do owe me a nice date.”

Brody was ready, eager and more than willing. Some of this was legit -- he did love Summer, Mitch was confident of that -- but some of it was still relief that he had managed to not answer the question.

And, no doubt, relief that despite questions, the card was still tucked securely into his pocket.

His smile, at any rate, was genuine. “Then, you’ll get it. Tonight.”

This time, she allowed herself to smile back. “Fine,” she said. She glanced toward Mitch. “You don’t mind us bailing on you?”

Mitch shrugged, because he didn’t care about that even if he cared about other things. “Why should I care?” he said, even if they all knew he had plenty of reasons. Lots of reasons. So many reasons. “Less shit for me to clean up anyway.”

“See?” Brody said with a broad smile as he gestured at Mitch. He got to his feet. “Tonight’s going to be great.”

Summer got up after him, and she appeared to believe him. She had no reason to doubt him, not on this. “Okay,” she said. “Should I get changed? Where are we going?”

“You look great,” Brody assured her. “We’ll make it work.”

“Alright,” she said. She nodded at Mitch. “Have a good night.”

He waved wearily after her, feeling even worse when Brody turned back to salute him with a smile. “You want to workout in the morning?”

“You want to train tomorrow? After your big date?” Mitch asked.

Brody shrugged. “It’s not training,” he said. “Just working out.”

“You, uh, sure?” Mitch asked.

Brody hesitated; Summer was at the door.

The question, for all of its vagueness, lingered.

“Sure about what?” Brody finally asked.

Mitch sighed, waving his hand dismissively through the air. “Nothing,” he said. “Have a nice time.”

Brody scurried off, joining hands with Summer at the door as they exited his office together. Mitch watched them go, wishing that Summer’s advances had worked the way she intended. Because sure, she was getting a nice date out of it, but what about Brody? What about that damn card?

That wasn’t fair, though, and Mitch knew it. He lived with Brody, trained with Brody, did everything with Brody, and he hadn’t made Brody answer the question. Summer was the girlfriend; this wasn’t her job.

No, this job was plainly Mitch’s. As Brody’s family, it was the responsibility he’d taken on when he bought Brody bedroom furniture and promised him forever. This was his responsibility.

And Mitch never shirked his responsibilities.

Until this one.

Though, this was less shirking, more what the hell was he supposed to do?

Without an answer, he went back to his paperwork.

As if that was somehow going to help.

-o-

Mitch didn’t ask Brody when he got home. He didn’t ask him in the morning when they got up to train. He didn’t ask him at lunch when they grilled fish together, and he didn’t ask him in the afternoon when they cleaned up the garage and tended the yard.

The bottom line was: Mitch didn’t ask.

So Brody sure as hell didn’t answer.

-o-

Yet, the thing was, nothing was wrong. Everything was good. It was more than good. It was just perfect.

Brody did his job perfectly.

Brody was the perfect friend.

Brody trained perfectly.

Brody was the perfect boyfriend.

At home, Brody was even perfect. He was waking up on time, and he was actually picking up after himself more. Mitch had absolutely zero complaints about anything.

So why did nothing feel perfect? How was it possible for Brody to do everything right and still somehow get everything?

Well, the answer wasn’t anything that Brody was doing.

The answer was what he wasn’t doing.

One thing was missing; just one little thing. Try as Mitch might, he couldn’t ignore that forever.

Even if he really wished they could.

-o-

It took another day before Mitch decided this was unacceptable. Even if he were willing to let Brody run from whatever truth he was hiding, it wasn’t in Mitch’s nature to avoid things that were difficult. And that was exactly what he was doing. He was waffling and turning a blind eye willingly. This was not the kind person Mitch was.

It had just never been so hard before. Maybe this was why most people struggled to do the right thing. Because it was one thing to know what was right, but it was entirely another when you were afraid that the right thing might make things worse.

Uncertainty was a new feeling for Mitch.

All the more reason to confront Brody.

“Look,” Mitch said finally. He had come to the conclusion to talk about the card and the training at the beginning of the day. It had taken him the full length of the day to find the right moment. As in, the last possible moment of the day before Brody was going to bed. “I think we should talk.”

Brody blinked at him, ever earnest. “About the training? Because I was thinking if we switched it up--”

Mitch shook his head. “Not about the training,” he said. “I mean, kind of about the training.”

“I get it if you want to do more weights, we can work it in,” Brody said. “I’m totally cool--”

“Brody,” Mitch said, and he sounded exasperated now, though he wasn’t primarily exasperated with Brody. “Look, it’s not what we’re doing. It’s why. I mean, working out is one thing. Training, though--”

Brody rolled his eyes with an overabundance of affectation. “So we call it different things,” he said. “It’s all the same.”

“It’s not, though,” Mitch said. He frowned a little, chewing on his lower lip. “And I think the difference has to do with that card in your pocket.”

Brody’s well trained look of incredulity made its predictable appearance. “Are we still talking about the stupid card?”

“Is the stupid card still in your pocket?” Mitch asked.

Brody’s instinct was to protest. He stopped short, however, when he realized he had no desire to outright lie to Mitch right now. “It’s just a card.”

This time, Mitch let out a long breath. “You’ve said that so many times that I think you must believe that on some level,” he said. “But if it’s just a card, then why can’t you let it go?”

Brody pulled it out, flashing it at Mitch as if that proved something. “I don’t need this card,” he said. He tossed it on the coffee table between them. “See?”

Mitch looked at the card; he looked at Brody, looking at the card. His face was red; he was breathing heavily. And his damn eyes didn’t leave the card.

The card itself was bent, folded and worn at the corners.

“You know,” Mitch said. “It is okay if you don’t want to throw away the card.”

Brody snorted, sitting back with a huff as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Somehow I doubt that.”

“It is,” Mitch said, and this much he knew he could say truthfully. “It’s just. You have to know why.”

“Why what?” Brody snapped.

Mitch was as steady as he could be. “Why do you want to keep it?”

For a moment, Brody’s face was frozen somewhere between incredulity and terror. Somewhere between rejection and hope.

Then, he looked at the card.

Adamantly, he shook his head. “This is bullshit,” he muttered, getting to his feet. “You need to drop this, Mitch.”

He stalked away toward his bedroom in a dramatic huff.

It might have been effective.

Really, it might have.

If he hadn’t grabbed that business card first.

-o-

Mitch woke up the next morning, hoping that a good workout could bring them on even ground. He was found left wanting.

Because he’d been found left behind.

Brody was already gone, started on his morning training without Mitch. When Mitch checked in Brody’s room, the card was sitting, propped up next to his gold medals.

-o-

Mitch had intended to exercise some himself, but he found that without Brody, he sort of lacked the motivation. Instead, he went on a half hearted run, which took him up and down the beach until he ended up at Baywatch.

Of course he ended up at Baywatch. It was kind of his default.

He came to a stop outside of tower one, where Stephanie had pulled weekend duty. She smiled as Mitch came up the ramp.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” she said. “You’ve been better about taking your days off these days.”

These days was a euphemism for this year, which was another way of saying that Brody had mellowed him in some ways.

And made him a freak in others.

“Just went for a jog,” he said, and it was the truth. “Sort of ended up here, and I thought I’d say hi.”

“Well, hi,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t like to see you, but I thought you’d be out there with Brody.”

“Out where?” he asked.

She nodded out to the water, and Mitch followed her line of sight. Beyond the sunbathers, beyond the kids paying in the waves. Back toward the surfers where a single solitary figure was swimming hard and strong against the current.

He wasn’t exactly surprised, but then, he wasn’t sure what he was exactly.

“I had been looking for you,” Stephanie continued. “Thought you might be out by the pier timing him or something. Usually I see the two of you together.”

“Yeah, well,” Mitch said, watching as Brody took even, perfect strokes against the waves. “He’s gotten a little intense.”

Stephanie inclined her head in agreement. “I guess it’s not really surprising,” she said. “I mean, we all knew he did win two gold medals. I guess now we can see how.”

She had a point with that. They had met Brody in the aftermath. They had seen him performed, but the disappointment of his failure had overshadowed all the rest. It had been easy to make Brody’s swimming a punchline in the beginning.

Now, watching him swim, no one was laughing anymore.

“Well,” Mitch said, wondering how long Brody had been going this morning. His stroke showed no signs of fatigue. “He’s always been good. We knew that.”

“Good?” Stephanie asked, eyebrows raised. “Mitch, he’s really good. I mean, I’m actually surprised we haven’t had more coaches knocking on the door trying to recruit him.”

Inexplicably, Mitch found himself on the defensive. “Swimming in the ocean isn’t the same thing,” he said, too aware that he sounded like Brody, reciting his own fall back excuses without even knowing what the excuses were trying to cover up.

Stephanie scoffed. “Yeah, it’s harder, you know that,” she said. She shook her head, looking out at Brody again. “He’d be unstoppable in a pool.”

Her voice was almost wistful, and Mitch couldn’t help the look of suspicion he gave her. “You want him to go?”

“No,” Stephanie said. “But I have been trying to figure out if we need to prepare for it.”

“Why?” Mitch asked.

“Because he carries a huge load around here at Baywatch,” she explained. “If he left--”

“No,” Mitch said, shaking his head. “Why do you think we need to consider preparing for it at all?”

She looked surprised by his question, somewhat taken aback. “Well, he is an Olympic swimmer,” she said. “That’s part of him, and that’s never going to change. There’s a very limited window for people to compete on that level, and Brody has to know that his will probably close after this next Olympics.”

For some reason, Mitch had never thought about it so bluntly. That this was, in fact, Brody’s last chance to race for the Olympics.

This was his last chance to prove himself, to redeem himself.

Maybe his last chance to be himself.

Stephanie looked back out at Brody, shrugging. “We’re just lucky that he’s not interested.”

She sounded so sure, so content.

Mitch felt a little sick, and it was hard to force words out around the sudden tightness in his throat. “Yeah,” he said. “Lucky.”

Together they watched as Brody reached his turning point. He stopped, treading water for a bit, dipping his head back as his chest heaved in exhaustion. Then, with a breath of ragged determination, he turned back and started home again.

-o-

Mitch spent the rest of the day brooding.

That wasn’t typically his thing. He didn’t brood just like he didn’t doubt or wallow or anything like that. A year ago, this would have been unheard of for Mitch.

But it wasn’t a year ago.

It was now.

Things had changed.

Mitch had to reckon with the idea that he had changed, too.

The thing that was weird about it was that change didn’t have to be necessarily good or bad. It could just be different. It could be both good and bad. And that was as comforting as it was terrifying.

Because Brody.

Brody had become a part of his life, and Mitch had been so set on being Brody’s anchor that he hadn’t actually recognized that Brody was kind of his anchor as well. That was silly, of course. Mitch had never needed an anchor. He had never needed anything outside of himself.

Yet, here he was.

Afraid to flounder.

That was what it was, in the end. Mitch was afraid of how things would change if Brody answered the question. He could justify the avoidance fifteen different ways. He could say that he’d given Brody every chance; he had. He could say that he’d expressed support for any outcome; he definitely had. He could say that Brody was happy just the way he was.

Because Brody was happy. Brody was great. Brody was better than he’d ever been. Even these past few weeks, Brody had been the heart and soul of the team. He’d been a great friend to Ronnie. He’d been a kindred spirit to CJ. He’d been a reliable team member to Stephanie.

And Summer. He was great with Summer. He’d watched her blossom with Brody’s love. It wasn’t that she’d ever needed him, but he brought out parts of her that she’d kept hidden before. He made her comfortable in herself in a whole new way. And that was good. It was really, really good.

Mitch could see better than anyone, better than Brody himself, just who he’d become. That he’d become a good man, the best version of himself.

But there was a catch.

Because all those things Mitch had seen. All those parts of Brody Mitch had accepted, embraced and supported.

He’d never seen the Olympian that he saw today on the beach.

The Olympian that had been there the whole time. The Olympian that had been too ashamed, too embarrassed, too scared to show himself.

Brody wasn’t the only one who was scared, though.

Mitch was scared, too.

Of how much he’d changed.

Of how much he could change again if he made Brody answer that question.

Shit.

Mitch didn’t want to do this.

That was probably why he needed to do it.

And it was why he needed to do it now before he lost all his nerve.

-o-

Mitch had to get up early to beat Brody to the punch, which was why he just didn’t bother sleeping. He found it too hard to sleep anyway; he was restless and anxious. Whatever the reason, he was the first one in the kitchen that next morning, and Brody startled in surprise when he saw him.

He recovered quickly, however. He could have played pissed after their talk a few nights ago, but Brody opted for indifference like nothing had ever happened. “You up for something hardcore this morning?” he asked. “I was thinking about a few things.”

“Yeah, I’m game,” Mitch said. “I had a few ideas, too.”

Brody hesitated, a little surprised by Mitch’s ready acquiescence. “You do?”

“Sure,” Mitch said. “I thought, let’s change it up. Let’s go to the pool.”

Brody stopped dead, freezing entirely and staring like he thought he’d misheard Mitch. Like he hoped against hope that he’d misheard him. “What?” he said, trying and failing to laugh. “No way, man.”

Mitch was undeterred. He had put this off too long. “It might be fun,” he suggested.

Brody looked appalled, like he’d suggested that screwing a whale might be fun, too. “You hate the pool.”

There was no reason to deny it; this wasn’t about Mitch anyway. “Maybe,” he said. “But you don’t.”

It occurred to Mitch that was, in fact, the first and only time he’d ever made this offer to Brody. In a full year of living together, Mitch had never once asked about going to the pool despite the fact that he knew Brody was an accomplished pool swimmer. The thought, moreover, had never even occurred to him.

Mitch had been everything to Brody; there was no denying it. It wasn’t like Mitch had short changed him in any capacity. He’d given all of him -- and that did mean all of himself -- for Brody’s physical and mental well being.

But only on his terms.

That was a hard truth to think about, harder still to sit there and own up to face to face. Maybe Brody hadn’t missed pool swimming. Maybe he’d never missed racing. But Mitch hadn’t asked him.

Mitch had never thought to ask him.

It made Brody’s look of shock and incredulity that much harder to take. “Dude,” Brody said, his voice wobbling a little. “There’s, like, a whole ocean out there. Why would we need some tiny box of water?”

If Brody thought that using Mitch’s own derogatory opinions in his defense would help, he was wrong in this case. It only made Mitch feel worse, more determined than ever to change this situation one way or another.

“So?” Mitch said. “That doesn’t mean that pools don’t have some value.”

The steadiness in Mitch’s disposition seemed to destabilize Brody further. He shrank back, shaking his head. “If this is about that card, Mitch, it’s silly,” he said, sounding more desperate by the second. “There’s no way I’m leaving Baywatch. Like, no way. At all. Baywatch is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Hands down.”

“So far, yeah,” Mitch said. “But who’s to say what comes next?”

Brody almost looked panicked at the insinuation. “Baywatch,” he said, as emphatically as he could. “Baywatch comes next. Shit, Mitch, it’s only been a year.”

“Brody,” Mitch said. “You can’t be scared to try new things--”

Brody almost exploded at the suggestion. “Yes, I can!” he said. “Mitch. Shit. Like, shit. Of course I’m scared. Leaving Baywatch -- it’s terrifying. Life on my own, going after my own things -- you know I’ll suck at it. You know it. I’m bad at things on my own.”

“You’re not, though,” Mitch argued. “Even if you’re shitty at relationships and making smart choices about drinking and partying, you’re not bad at swimming. You’re the opposite of bad.”

Brody pulled back, shaking his head defensively. “What? You want me to leave?” he asked, hurt and angry all at once. But mostly, evasive. “You want to get rid of me?”

“Of course not--” Mitch started to explain.

Brody didn’t let him finish. He nodded abruptly, looking somehow self satisfied. “Then that’s all there is to it. It’s, like, totally settled,” he said with a resolve that wasn’t reflected in his face. “I don’t need the Olympics. Because I’m staying right here, where I am, at Baywatch. And that’s that.”

-o-

Brody said that was that, and he made a flouncing sort of exit as he went to do anything but swim in a pool for training that morning. Mitch went along with him, and they decidedly did not talk about the Olympics or pools for the rest of the morning.

Because that couldn’t possibly be that.

-o-

But Mitch had his doubts.

Watching him throughout the rest of the day, he had to have doubts. Maybe Brody was right; maybe that was that.

After all, Brody had actually answered the question this time. Mitch had asked him flat out, and Brody had said no, definitively.

And there was zero indication from Brody’s activities that day that there was a reason to doubt him. By all accounts, Mitch had done his due diligence, and Brody’s answer had been consistent and clear.

This meant one of two things.

First, Brody was in more denial than Mitch had thought. It was going to take drastic action to break Brody of this mindset -- and there was no guarantee that breaking Brody wouldn’t completely break him -- and their relationship.

Or second, that Mitch was in denial.

Maybe in Mitch’s self flagellation, he’d gotten so stuck on the idea that Brody was hiding something that he read too much into Brody’s action. Maybe he’d misinterpreted the whole damn thing.

There were arguments in favor of the second option, arguments that he had not fully considered over the course of the last few weeks. Mainly, Brody wasn’t lying about his feelings for Baywatch. Mitch knew that Brody was wholly committed to Baywatch. He also knew that Brody wasn’t exaggerating when he said that Baywatch had saved his life. Baywatch had made Brody a much better person, and no one knew that more than Brody himself.

There was no way Brody would jeopardize that for anything.

Possibly not even another shot at the Olympics.

Therefore, it was possible that Brody had, in fact, made his peace with staying. Maybe he carried the card around to remind himself of his decision, to reinforce his commitment to stay. Maybe he looked at it to remind himself of who had been and who he was now.

Maybe this was over.

Maybe Mitch just needed to let it go, once and for all.

Maybe that was actually that.

Maybe.

-o-

Except:

At a meeting after work, Stephanie was reviewing water conditions for the week, stressing the strength of the riptide at the moment. It was all typical stuff, nothing out of the ordinary, exactly the kind of reminders they used to coach the team and keep the beach safe.

“So bottom line,” Stephanie said. “Conserve energy when you’re swimming. You don’t need to go fast, just keep steady. No one is going to win a race here. This isn’t the Olympics, right, Brody?”

It was a joke; everyone knew it was a joke.

Especially Brody.

But try as he did -- and Mitch could see that he was trying -- his response was tepid, lackluster. Barely a smile.

“Right,” he said, because that was the right answer.

Not necessarily the real answer.

-o-

And:

At lunch one day, Ronnie suggested he get an extra serving of fries instead of opting for something healthier. After all, Ronnie quipped, “It’s not like you need to stay in Olympic shape forever, man!”

Brody tried to laugh.

He didn’t order the fries, however.

-o-

Finally:

“We can stay out late this time, though,” Summer argued. “I mean, I get it, I know you like working out, but it’s not like you’re in training or anything.”

“Maybe,” Brody said, suddenly withdrawn. He shrugged away from her. “Maybe we just do a rain check tonight. I’m pretty wiped.”

Summer gaped, taken by surprise. “But I thought you wanted to see the movie.”

“We can catch a matinee this weekend,” Brody said noncommittally.

“Matt, if this is about training--”

“I’m just tired, Summer,” he said, and for her, he managed a smile and a kiss. “That’s all.”

-o-

Conclusion:

That wasn’t all.

Shit.

That wasn’t even close to all.

-o-

If he needed to be sure, Brody was quiet at dinner that night, cleaning up in silence before turning in early without a single word about training in the morning. When Mitch walked past his room, Brody was on the bed, facing the shelves, eyes fixed on the gold medals.

And the worn card placed between them.

Mitch saw something raw in that moment, with Brody poised before his greatest success and his greatest failure.

The thing he wanted most.

The thing he feared the most.

For all Brody wanted to forget, all he could do was remember.

And for all that Mitch didn’t want to see, the more he couldn’t look away.

That something that was missing?

Yeah, it was still missing.

-o-

Mitch sat on his own bed. He didn’t have any gold medals to look at, but there was a picture of him and Brody on the dresser. Smiling on the beach, matching Baywatch swimsuits. Brothers.

Brody looked so happy. Mitch looked so happy. They were so damn happy.

That light in Brody’s eyes, captured by the camera. The light that had come to life when Brody earned a place on the team. The light that had only grown since Mitch offered Brody a place in his home and family.

The light that was missing now.

Not missing, maybe. Just obscured.

By the loss of something else. It was a nuanced thing to understand, how you could be fulfilled with one thing but feel the loss of something else so keenly. It would be easy to be offended, as if Baywatch were suddenly not enough for Brody, but Mitch knew that was a limited way to think about it. It was okay to have other interests, other outlets. Baywatch was family, but not exclusively so. Brody’s value didn’t hinge on his position as a lifeguard.

Mitch was able to acknowledge that, when he made himself face it. That was his fear, plain and simple.

But what was Brody scared of? Was it really the press? Was he scared of trusting himself? Was he scared to leave the team and do life on his own?

Brody wanted to train. Brody wanted to call that coach. He had the skills. He had the support structure. When the others dismissed the idea in good nature, Brody looked crushed. Because Brody sat there, staring at his medals because he was scared to face his mistakes.

Brody was secure in his team. He was secure in his family. He was secure in his strength and speed.

But he was scared of the pool. He was scared of racing. He was scared of being the Vomit Comet again, and for the rest of his life. He wanted to race but the idea of failure was so paralyzing that he was willing to accept a half lived life wherein his greatest ambition was nothing but a punchline.

Sure, leaving the team scared Brody. He didn’t like the idea. But that wasn’t the thing holding him back. The more Brody said the medals didn’t mean anything, the more Mitch had to acknowledge that they meant everything. They meant all the good. All the bad.

Brody didn’t know how to deal with that. He couldn’t face the ambiguity. For all that Brody needed to grow after Rio as a person, that didn’t change the fact that he was still a world class swimmer. Brody was better than good. He was downright impressive. Changing as a person didn’t mean that he was no longer a swimmer.

The question was, then, what did it mean?

Could he still be a swimmer?

Could he be better person at the same time?

Could those two critical parts of Brody coexist?

Brody was scared to find out.

So why did he need to face that fear? Brody was happy with his life now. He could do this forever and it’d be comfortable and meaningful and good. Brody was good on the job, and he was excelling as a person. He was a friend, boyfriend, teammate, brother. It was so damn easy to say that was that and be done with it.

But Brody would always be a lesser version of himself until he faced the fear. He would always wonder what if. You had to do the hard stuff, even when it was scary.

Especially when it was scary.

It was possible Brody would crash and burn at the Olympics.

Or he might become the best version of himself.

They would never know, though. Not until Brody got in the pool, called that number and faced that fear.

Mitch looked at the picture a little longer, feeling his own resolve harden in the face of that daunting notion.

It was clear to Mitch that, on his own, Brody wasn’t going to face that fear. He was going to use every excuse he could think of, cling to every justification he could muster, and let it hold him back until it destroyed him.

Mitch cared about Brody too much to let that happen.

Shit, he loved the idiot.

He was going to make Brody face his fear.

Even if it meant facing his own.

-o-

So, Mitch had made up his mind.

There was still the problem of getting Brody to comply. Brody could be stubborn, and he was being willfully obtuse about this whole situation. He had avoided direct lines of questioning, and his ability to deny the truth was actually so complete that Mitch didn’t count it as a lie. Brody had no idea that he felt the way he did, and he was never going to have an idea until Mitch shoved his ass in a pool.

That sounded like hyperbole, but it wasn’t. Mitch didn’t say shit he didn’t mean. Ever.

But how would he get Brody to a pool in the first place?

Well, asking wasn’t going to work. Orders would be questionably effective. Mitch could coerce, beg, plead, demand.

Or he could just drag Brody forcibly into a car and refuse to tell him why.

That was how Mitch came to stalking Brody on his morning jog, following along behind him on the beach, driving carefully until he was running parallel with Brody’s path as he rolled down the window.

“Hey, jackass,” he called.

Brody gave him a critical look as he kept his pace. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Going for a drive,” Mitch said, mindful if Brody next to him and the beach before him. He was using a work vehicle, which made this legal.

“Uh, we are only supposed to drive on the beach for official business,” Brody reminded him.

It figured that Brody would remembered that detail. Mitch refused to let that stop him. A year with Brody had taught him the value of bending the rules from time to time. “This is official business.”

Brody looked even more skeptical, not slowing his jog at all. “How?”

“Get in the car and see,” Mitch said.

Brody shook his head, eyes out on the beach. “I’m not on duty.”

“Get in the car,” Mitch said. “We’re lifeguards at Baywatch we’re always on duty.”

Brody looked even less convinced than before somehow. “I’m working out,” he said, as if that was an excuse.

Mitch hardened his face. “Get in the damn car, Brody.”

Brody gave him an incredulous look. “No.”

“Get in the damn car before I drag your ass off the beach and shove you in there,l Mitch said.

“Screw you, Mitch,” he said, and this time he slowed down a little. “What the hell—“

Mitch slammed the car into parked, seeing his chance. He opened his door, stepped out and easily caught Brody by the scruff of his neck before forcibly hauling his ass toward the car. Brody yelped in protest, but he had no tone to fight as Mitch opened the back door and shoved Brody inside. As he toppled unceremoniously, Mitch slammed the door shut and climbed into the front.

Mitch never said shit he didn’t mean. He glanced at Brody, shocked and gaping in the backseat.

Never.

-o-

Brody was shocked at first.

Then he was pissed.

When they pulled up outside their gym, he was confused.

Finally, he was downright terrified when Mitch dragged his ass through the showers and forced him step by step to the pool deck.

“Mitch, what the hell? You dragged me off the beach to bring me here? To a pool?” Brody asked. He was trying -- hard -- to be incredulous, but Mitch could still read the fear in his stance as he visibly stepped away from the pool to face Mitch. “Why they hell are we at a pool?”

It was almost funny to have Brody ask the question.

Brody, who has been training all week.

Brody, who pined over his gold medals.

Brody, who carried around a trainer’s card like it was a life preserver.

Brody, the Olympic gold medalist himself.

“You can’t run from this,” Mitch said, and he crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s time for you to face this.”

“Face what?” Brody asked, spluttering a little. “It’s a pool!”

“Yeah, and you’re scared shitless by it,” Mitch said.

Brody’s face contorted. “I’ve been swimming in pools my whole life,” he protested.

“And you haven’t set foot in one since you barfed in the last one,” Mitch said stolidly.

“Because I have a job,” Brody said, his voice starting to rise. “I have responsibilities.”

“Maybe,” Mitch said, shrugging a little. “And also because you’re scared.”

“I’m not scared,” Brody shot back, far too defensively.

“I think you’re about to piss yourself you’re so scared,” Mitch taunted.

It worked. Brody’s face darkened even more, and he squared his shoulders, bringing himself to his full and unimpressive height. “You’re full of shit.”

“And you’re scared of jumping in that pool,” Mitch said.

Brody stepped forward, as if to menace Mitch. It was the same move he used at the Huntley, about a year go. Mitch was confident that Brody’s venture to intimidate Mitch was going to fail just as spectacularly this time around.

He also had to hope that the aftermath would be just as solidifying.

“I don’t have to sit here and do this,” Brody said, and he tried to stalk off.

Mitch easily stepped in his way, his broad chest an imposing force. “You’re getting in that pool first.”

“Why?” Brody retorted. “Because you said so?”


“Yeah,” Mitch said. “And because you need to face your fear.”

“This is bullshit!” Brody said, and he was yelling now.

Mitch had tipped off the front desk, asking for a few favors to get the place to themselves for a bit, and it was clear that he’d made the right call here. He wanted Brody to face his fears; not be humiliated by them.

Of course, right now Brody was too angry to recognize any other emotion right now.

Mitch took a step forward, forcing Brody back a step. “Then get in the pool and prove me wrong.”

Brody’s brow furrowed deeply. “Screw you, man,” he said.

Mitch took another step, edging Brody back to the side of the deep end. “After you swim.”

“I swim every day!” Brody protested, inching back another step. He glanced down, minding his feet just a little.

“And you’ve got the speed,” Mitch agreed. “So this is no big deal.”

Brody was all but panicking now, face red and eyes bright. He shook his head. “This is bullshit.”

“If you’re too scared--”

Brody practically growled. “I’m no scared!” he raged, surging toward Mitch with a shove that did absolutely nothing to dislodge Mitch.

Mitch had been waiting for it. Hell, he’d been baiting Brody to this point from the start. All so he could shove Brody back.

Brody, who should have seen it coming, didn’t see it coming. He stumbled backward, his feet finding no purchase and he started to pinwheel. The rage in his eyes bled away for the moment, leaving the fear raw and vulnerable as he fell back into the pool, hitting the water with a splash.

When he surfaced, treading water and spitting out water, the rage was back. “What the hell!”


Mitch stood his ground at the side of the pool. “I told you,” he said. “You have to face your fears.”

“But I’m not scared of the water!” Brody yelled back.

“I know,” Mitch said. “But you’re scared to compete.”

Deeply set in his denial, that was an answer Brody had failed to anticipate. “What?”

Mitch sighed, less aggressive in his stance now. “You’re scared to get out there, in front of people again and compete,” he explained. “You’re scared that when it’s just you, you’ll make an ass of yourself again, and it’ll be just like Rio, just like the Huntley -- all over again.”

Still treading water, Brody’s face drained of its color.

Mitch squatted down, his voice even more controlled than before. “You’re afraid of being the Vomit Comet for the rest of your life, and you think as long as you don’t get in the pool, you can avoid it,” he said. “You’re afraid that if you do get in the pool, you’re just going to confirm every bad thing people said about you, every bad thing you ever believed about yourself.”

By this point, it was hard to tell if Brody was going to get out of the pool and try to kick his ass or just break down into tears. He ultimately did neither, screwing his face up as he shook his head. “Are you going to pretend like I don’t have a reason to?” he asked. “Shit, Mitch. Are you really going to sit there and act like I shouldn’t be scared?”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re scared,” Mitch said. “But if you don’t face the fear down, you’re always going to be scared. If you don’t get back in the pool to race, you will be the Vomit Comet for the rest of your life. The only way to shake all of that is to get in the pool and race. Prove everyone else wrong. Prove yourself wrong.”

Brody’s chest was hitching, and he shook his head. “What does that even mean?”

“It means, swim some laps, call the trainer, enter a race,” Mitch said. “I don’t know any of this shit, but you do.”

Brody let out a breath of disbelief. “If I do that, any of it, I have to leave Baywatch. Training is a full time job. You don’t make it to the Olympics by giving up your weekends.”

“So you cut back, you take a leave,” Mitch said. “Baywatch is going to be here; the Olympics won’t always be.”

Almost desperate now, Brody pulled himself to the edge of the pool. “I won’t make it without Baywatch,” he said, and it wasn’t so much as a confession as an affirmation of what they both knew. “I won’t.”

“Brody, don’t you remember? Baywatch isn’t a job; it’s a family,” he said. “You may have to leave the job, sure. But you’ll never leave Baywatch. You can’t. We’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Brody was primed to protest, and he inhaled sharply. The words, however, didn’t come. His composure, which had been marginal, slipped. “You will?”

A year together. A year as family. A year of growth.

And Brody still had that fundamental, nagging doubt. He still learning what family was all about. He was still learning what he himself was all about.

What he had to trust, though, right now, was that he knew exactly what Mitch was all about.

“Of course,” Mitch said, not hesitating for a second. “You’re scared to do this on your own, but you’re not going to be on your own. Not this time.”

“What if I don’t make it?” Brody asked, voice cracking a little. “What if I can’t win races anymore?”

Mitch shrugged not because he believed that Brody wouldn’t be able to do it, but to show Brody that it didn’t matter. “Then we’ll be here for you.”

Almost more pained was the next question. “ And if I do make it?”

Mitch smiled this time. “Then we’ll be there are the next Olympics, cheering you on.”

This time, Brody thought about it.

He really thought about it.

It was the first time since this began that Brody had actually thought about it.

That was a step in the right direction at least. “Look, if you don’t want to race, then I don’t give a shit,” Mitch said. “But if you’re just scared to do it, then you’ve got to.”

Brody swallowed, and his eyes were watery when he looked at Mitch. “I am scared, Mitch.”

Mitch nodded. “I know,” he said, no condemnation, no joking now. “But you’re not alone this time. You’ve got a team. A real team behind you. And if you want me to, I will stand here on this pool and watch you swim every lap.”

“You promise?” Brody asked.

“If that’s what you want,” Mitch pledged. “You just have to tell me the truth when I ask what you want to do next.”

-o-

Brody didn’t answer in words yet again.

But he swam for an hour straight that morning, back and forth, back and forth.

Mitch was true to his word. He watched every lap.

And he kept time, too.

True, Brody hadn’t asked this of him. It hadn’t even crossed Brody’s mind. All Brody had needed was to face the idea of it; he’d face the realities later.

Keeping time was for Mitch’s sake, however. After all, he’d made Brody face his fears. Mitch had to face his, too.

They both had to trust that they’d survive whatever came next together.

Always together.

-o-

Brody raced hard that day. For that day, it was more than enough. They got back to Mitch’s place and took it easy, cooking a big meal together and hanging out just the two of them. They laughed and joked; the best time they’d had all year.

The next day, however, necessitated another step. Mitch watched as Brody picked up the card, pulled out his phone and dialed the number. “Hi, yeah, um, this is Matt Brody,” he said, looking to Mitch, who nodded in support. Brody took a breath, blew it out and then continued to speak, “I was wondering if that offer for training was still on the table.”

Brody was still scared; hell, Mitch was a little scared, too. The team would be shocked; they might even take it badly at first. But it was time to find out. It was time to face it. It was time to overcome.

And time would only tell what tomorrow would bring.