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Baywatch fic: The Last Leg (2/9)

December 28th, 2018 (01:50 pm)

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
PART FOUR
PART FIVE
PART SIX
PART SEVEN
PART EIGHT
PART NINE




-o-

Brody was asleep within minutes, as he normally was. He didn’t move a muscle when Mitch went out to brush his teeth. Sleep was harder for Mitch, who was used to working on less sleep anyway. Besides, Brody was the one training his ass off. Mitch’s work was just as pressing but not nearly as physically demanding. He squeezed in his own workouts everyday, but he wasn’t coming close to Brody’s level of exertion.

Which meant when Brody crashed at 10 or 11 most nights, Mitch still had several hours to himself. Sometimes, he was productive and spent the time on racing details or training regimens. Sometimes, he watch some shows if his choosing or played a few mindless games on his phone. He often read the local news from the bay, and caught up with his personal messages.

The crew from Baywatch kept regular contact with Mitch, and with the days getting as hectic as they did before a race, Mitch didn’t have much time to keep up during the day. There were a few group messages on Facebook -- mostly silly things, just for fun -- and he had text chains back and forth with more than a handful. Ronnie was always overly polite in his, like he still thought it was possible that after two years on the team, Mitch might still revoke his status. CJ always provided fun anecdotes about the beach, and Summer usually asked about work related issues. And Brody. She started with work, but she always ended up talking about Brody. Apparently that was what a pining girlfriend did.

Stephanie also talked work, but her questions were less about general trends and more about practical realities. She’d taken over as a temporary lieutenant during Mitch’s more extended leaves, and while she was fully qualified, she seemed to like having her ideas double checked. She said it was to make sure that their decisions were joint in order to minimize discordance when he came back; he suspected she did it to make him feel like he was still connected.

Or, possibly, to make sure he didn’t forget he had to be connected. Stephanie aspired toward leadership, but he knew for a fact that she didn’t want him to go. She had to figure that keeping him in the loop would make him remember how much he still loved Baywatch.

Her latest question was about a revised way to schedule shifts. Mitch considered it, firing back a quick text. Tried that a two years ago. It’s more work than you think. Check the files in my office for details.

To his surprise, Stephanie’s reply was almost instant. I was hoping we could talk about it when you get back instead.

Mitch chuckled to himself. Subtle.

You up for a bit?

Mitch shrugged as he replied. Brody sleeps like a log, but I can’t do it at all this close to a race.

Within another couple of seconds, his phone started to ring. He answered it before the noise could disturb anyone nearby -- especially Brody. “Hey, Steph,” he said. “You’re up late tonight.”

“Scheduling,” she said. “I know you say changing it is nearly impossible, but this process is tedious.”

“It’s not that bad,” Mitch said. “I do it no problem.”

“You do it with lots of problems, and you know it,” she quipped back. “You just happen to have bigger problems at the moment so it makes you forget.”

That was a point Mitch couldn’t very well argue. “Like I said, I can never sleep this close to a race. Just thinking about it all. Keeps up me.”

She made a sound of commiseration. “This one seems worse than normal.”

“Well, it is the trials,” Mitch said, trying to sound like he was certain that was all it was. “The closer we get to the real deal, the more scrutiny there is.”

Across the line, she hesitated. “I know the press is going to write what it wants to write,” she started by saying, almost as a preface. “But there is a lot of coverage right now.”

Mitch was nodding along, somewhat resigned. “And you’re wondering how much is true?”

“I know he’s not drinking, and I know he’s not doing drugs,” she said quickly. “I know that’s not shit you’d tolerate, not now. And you’re with him all the time.”

“Sometimes I worry that we’ve gotten too strict,” Mitch admitted. “He could probably use a few hobbies outside of Netflix.”

“You said he likes art museums now,” Stephanie reminded him.

“Sure, but we can’t do that on a nightly basis,” Mitch said. “I just feel like sometimes the world is closing in on him. I don’t know.”

“And you,” she observed, more astute than Mitch had counted on.

“It’s not about me,” Mitch said.

“It’s okay to make it a little about you,” Stephanie said.

Mitch groaned, closing his eyes. “I’m just trying to do the right thing, is all,” he said. “If I’m pushing him too hard. If I’m not letting him let loose. If he’d be better off with a real coach.”

“He had a real coach, and that coach nearly killed him,” Stephanie said. “You’re doing the best you can; you’re there for him, all the time. There’s nothing more you could possibly offer.”

“But I don’t know what I’m doing, Steph,” Mitch said. “I mean, I’m making up training plans. I’m learning about stroke technique almost on the fly.”

“Brody’s never had a problem with his stroke or any of his technique,” Stephanie said. “That’s not why he bombed out at Rio. It was personal, and that’s what you’re providing. You’re his support system. The last thing Brody has ever needed was another person telling him what he’s doing wrong. The thing that changed him was having a friend.”

He opened his eyes again, brow creased. “And that was fine, back at Baywatch. But I pushed him back into this life. I led him this far, and now I don’t know if I’m enough.”

Stephanie’s laugh was short. “If you’re not enough, then nothing would be.”

That was too easy. He shook his head. “Maybe Summer should have come. She’s good for him.”

“Um, yeah,” she said. “But if Summer was there, he’d never even get in the pool. He’d be too busy trying to impress her.”

“But maybe he needs that. A distraction,” Mitch mused.

“To the point of losing races?” Stephanie asked.

“It’s not like he’s doing so hot this week,” Mitch pointed out.

She was quiet again at that. “So how accurate are the reports, then? About his performance this week?”

Mitch blew out a terse breath. “Pretty accurate,” he said, gut twisting with the confirmation. “He’s a mess this week.”

“But he’s like this before every race, right?” she asked. “That’s his thing. Suck beforehand, perform on the day. In Rio, he crashed and burned the second he thought he had it in the bag.”

That was a point. And yet, Mitch was still shaking his head. “This is different, though,” he said. “He’s barely keeping it together anymore. I mean, we had a good night just the two of us, and tomorrow’s our day off, but the second we get back in the pool, it’s like he just closes in on himself again. I feel like I’m letting him down, and I don’t know how to fix it.”

“You’re not letting him down,” Stephanie interjected quickly. “There’s no way.”

“But you’re not here,” Mitch said with emphasis. “It’s just gotten -- bad. The headaches are only part of it. The press messes with his head; it saps his confidence. It’s like he’s started to believe the hype that he’s going to fail.”

“The press talk shit, you know that.”

“Of course I do, and that’s what I tell him,” Mitch said. “But it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. If enough people tell him he’s going to screw it up, he’s going to lose his confidence and do just that. I’m one guy; I’m not sure I can counteract all of it.”

“But it’s less than a week, Mitch,” Stephanie said. “All you have to do is get him through this week. And once he’s on the team, that’s it, right?”

“Well, that’s not entirely it,” Mitch said. “There’s be more training and team stuff and--”

Stephanie cut him off. “But he’ll be on the team. He’ll have a plan, and he’ll be coming home. That means he’ll have his support system fully in place, and he’ll have the confidence of knowing he’s in. He’s got a place in the Olympics.”

“That can’t fix everything,” Mitch said, a little tentative.

“It fixes a lot,” Stephanie argued. “Brody’s problem is confidence. You saw how he was with us. He was a mess until he realized he was part of the team, really part of the team. Once he embraces his place with the Olympic team, the results should be similar. And sure, maybe he starts to lose it the days leading up, but he won’t be alone then either. We’ve all talked about it, Ronnie, CJ, Summer and I. We’re totally going when he gets in.”

The caveat was the one she was acknowledging without quite embracing: when he got in.

Mitch chewed his lip. “He has to get in, though.”

“That’s why I said: get him through this week. That’s your only goal. Do whatever it takes, just get him through this week.”

“You just sound so sure about that,” Mitch said uncertainly.

“And you sound like you’ve been away too long,” she returned. “You’ve forgotten that we are stronger as a team. That we’re family. We’re here for you just as much as we are here for Brody.”

He let out a tired breath. “I know,” he said. “I know you’re right.”

“Of course you do,” Stephanie said. “Just a few more days to go, and then you’re back at Baywatch, both of you. And no matter how it turns out, we’ll throw one hell of a party. This was about the journey, wasn’t it?”

“A journey we have to finish,” Mitch clarified.

“And maybe it ends with the trials,” Stephanie said. “But if I had to bet, I’d wager that we’ll all be buying our tickets for the Olympics next week.”

Mitch couldn’t help it; he smiled. “You sound pretty confident in that.”

“I believe in Brody,” she said. “And I believe in you. You’ll get through this week. One day at a time. You’ll see.”

-o-

Mitch had to get through the week.

One day at a time.

Looking ahead, honestly, a lot of the week was going to suck. Training and pressure and publicity and shit. Mitch wasn’t looking forward to the week.

Today, however, was going to be good.

As coach, trainer, publicist, security and driver, Mitch had arranged Brody’s schedule according to whatever specifications they agreed upon. Most other racers weren’t taking a full day to themselves in Chicago before the Olympic trials, but Mitch had to admit, it had worked in the past. Brody needed it.

Frankly, so did Mitch.

This would be their day to breathe, to reset their minds, to relax. It would provide the mental cleansing necessary to approach training and racing with a fresh mind and a fresh attitude.

That was probably bullshit, but Mitch didn’t care. They were still going to do it.

Because, like Stephanie said, one day at a time.

And if the week was going to suck.

Then Mitch needed at least one day to be good.

To make this hope a reality, Mitch left nothing to chance. He was up at his usual time, but he tiptoed out the door, closing it with exceeding care behind him as he left Brody sleeping for a morning workout of his own in the hotel gym. After working up a good sweat, he let himself back into the room with equal care, hitting the shower for a long, hot steam.

When he was out, as he’d planned, the hour was late enough to wake Brody. This was no hard task because in a shared hotel room, too much racket made it impossible to sleep anyway. However, doing it this way at least made it feel natural, like Brody had slept as late as he’d wanted and not as late as Mitch had meticulously planned.

Coming out of the bathroom, Brody was sitting up in bed as expected. Mitch was just in time. He caught Brody right as the younger man reached for his phone.

“Shower’s free,” Mitch said, straightening his shirt over his torso. “You’ll want to get in and out.”

Phone in hand, Brody didn’t unlock it. “What time does the museum open?”

“Ten,” Mitch said. “And it’s 8:30 right now. If you get in and out, we can get some breakfast before taking the car over there. With any luck, we’ll hit it right before it opens and avoid the worst of the lines.”

Mitch felt the tension unfurl in his stomach as Brody got to his feet, redepositing his phone on the table. “Guess that sounds like a plan,” he said, going over to his suitcase to retrieve some clothes. “You said this is a good one, right? The museum?”

“One of the best,” Mitch said. “So hurry your ass up.”

Brody waved him off as he retreated to the bathroom. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Just give me ten minutes.”

-o-

Mitch settled down, and for all that he didn’t want Brody on his phone, he certainly did his share of checking his own. The news was just as negative as it was yesterday, and more outlets were picking up the story. It was starting to making main page news by this point as the open of the trials rapidly approached. There were a few other stories, another comeback in the women’s bracket and a story of triumph for one of the younger swimmers who had battled cancer two years prior.

Those were compelling feel good stories, but they lacked controversies. The swimmers also lacked any real prospect of winning. Brody’s story, on the other hand, was all drama. The fact that he was slated to qualify at the top just made the speculation all the more intriguing to the common reader.

Mitch wasn’t stupid; he knew how the press work. He didn’t exactly begrudge anyone their part in the cycle, but he sort of did. The personal toll on Brody was more pronounced than he might have anticipated. Living it with Brody, he sometimes found it remarkable that Brody had kept himself together at all in Rio.

All the more reason his plan was essential. He had to deny that there was a problem, ignore that it was an issue and distract Brody to ensure that no complications arose. That wasn’t easy in the pool. At an art museum? It would be so much easier.

And a lot more fun.

It was a bit weird, thinking of it as fun. Mitch had never cared that much before, beyond a general appreciation for talent, but his shared interest with Brody had really taken root. Maybe it was seeing the effect art had on Brody; maybe it was just that art was as different from competitive swimming as you could get; maybe it was just an atmosphere that was quiet, neutral and apart.

Swimming was Brody’s passion. The beach was Brody’s home. A museum was their way of putting both aside. Was that the best reason? Who the hell was Mitch to say? His entire philosophy right now was deny, deny, deny. So if Brody wanted to go to art museums, then Mitch wasn’t going to disagree.

Brody was true to his word. Within ten minutes, he was dressed and out of the shower, toweling off his hair as Mitch pulled on his own dark hoodie. He was putting on his sunglasses when Brody made a face.

“Do we really have to bother with all that?” he asked. He was relaxed enough that the question didn’t sound pathetic. It just sounded whiny.

Mitch adjusted his sunglasses. Just because the casual nature of the whine was reassuring, that didn’t mean Mitch was about to let it slide. “Yes,” he said flatly. “We may not be in the pool, but you’re still Matt Brody.”

Brody reluctantly picked up his own jacket. “Has the coverage really been so bad?”

It had been worse, but Mitch wasn’t about to say that. “I don’t give a shit about the coverage,” he said. “I just don’t want photographers chasing us all day while you’re making me stare at paint splatters on canvas.”

Putting on his sunglasses, Brody looked at Mitch quite seriously. “It’s called modern art,” he said. “It’s a thing. And it’s ironic, too. Because technically, the phase known as modern art started as early as 1860 and ended in the 1970s. Isn’t that bogus? That modern art isn’t even modern anymore?”

Ever since Mitch had explained to Brody he value of reading museum placards, his ability to spout random facts about art and artists had expanded exponentially. Proof that Brody could continue to surprise him.

Mitch endorsed that, he did. He just couldn’t quite muster up the same passion. “Whatever, Picasso,” he said. “Let’s just get this show on the road.”

Brody was opening his mouth, about to say something else, but Mitch shook his head.

“And no commentary about Picasso, okay?” Mitch said as he opened the door to their room and let Brody out. Brody looked disappointed on his way out, and Mitch rolled his eyes behind his dark shades. He chortled, letting the door close behind them. “I prefer Dali anyway.”

-o-

They ate breakfast at the hotel quickly, though not quite quickly enough. Brody engaged in a lively if one-sided discussion about the comparisons between Dali and Picasso, offering a surprising commentary on his knowledge of Spanish modernism that Mitch had no ability to agree with or disagree with since he knew very little about it.

Still, he said enough to keep Brody pleasantly antagonized until his whole breakfast was gone and he hadn’t once thought to check his phone. Brody was good at what he did, be it modern art or swimming. Mitch, however, was just as good at his own tasks. Lifeguarding, to be sure, but apparently being a distraction was another skill to consider mastered.

In addition to his brilliant choice of morning conversation, Mitch had taken time to arrange alternative passage out of the hotel with the front desk staff. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought to try this earlier; any building had to have multiple exits. The trick was to get permission to use them. Given the swarm of reporters at the front door, which blocked passage for paying guests, the front desk staff had only been too willing to accommodate Mitch with access to one of the employee entrances, which led straight to the garage.

This meant that leaving and entering the hotel would now be streamlined, minimizing Brody’s stress and eliminating a few unnecessary photo opportunities for over enthusiastic journalists.

Brody was indeed pleased by the development. He, of course, seemed to think this made them secret agents or something. Mitch found it somewhat tedious, but Brody’s enjoyment made the whole thing worthwhile.

That was what this was about, after all. That was why Mitch had started this journey. To make sure that Brody came into his own, realized his true self and embraced who he was with no reservations and doubts.

That sounded grandiose in theory.


In practical application, it just meant Brody ran through a parking garage like he was a spy.

Mitch just followed after.

Whatever worked.

-o-

The whole way to the museum, Brody talked. His mood had completely rebounded, and there was no sign of the malaise from earlier in the week. If he was thinking about his poor press performance or his abysmal pool times, he certainly wasn’t showing it.

Instead, he jabbered on about their plans for the day. He wanted to visit the whole museum, all the exhibits and displays. If possible, he wanted to hit the older stuff before noon, stopping for lunch before allotting the afternoon for modern art and other variations.

Mitch had no objections to any of this; he also had no real opinion. He was more concerned by slipping past reporters, successfully navigating Chicago’s traffic and keeping Brody from picking up his phone to check anything. When he wanted to bring up a map of the museum, Mitch quickly discouraged him. “They’ll have maps there, dude.”

“But if we looked it up--”

“I need you to watch for traffic,” Mitch said instead, pretending to be fully focused on the intense throng of traffic in front of him.

Obediently, Brody helped, directing him through the lines of cars until he was so preoccupied that there was no time to think of anything else until Mitch found a parking spot not far from the museum.

After that, distracting Brody was no problem at all. For all that Brody as an adult -- and a crass, jaded, messed up adult at that -- he was as buoyant as a little kid on a field trip. The first time Mitch had taken Brody to a museum, he hadn’t gotten it. Mitch had only done it out of desperation. But Brody had embraced it as a pastime. Mitch had thought initially that Brody just like how it made him feel cultured and educated, when he was clearly raised to be neither. Then he considered that maybe Brody was living a lost childhood, enjoying the typical trips that kids usually got taken on by their parents.

But, within the months that had passed, Brody had come to really like it. Like, genuinely so. Each time they traveled to a new city, his first thought was about the quality of the pools and the altitude. He was a competitive swimmer, after all. His second thought, however, was always about the best art museums in the area.

Mitch had no particular passion for art or museums for that matter. He didn’t even give much of a shit about competitive swimming. But he liked Brody.

That was too simplistic.

Brody was his. His pet project, his protege, his roommate, his best friend, his family. His. Brody had fully invested in Mitch’s world, and Mitch could only think to reciprocate. Considering that past attempts to support Brody had involved an undercover drug sting and a year on the road as a coach, going to the occasional museum seemed relatively easy.

Plus, it made Brody so damn happy.

Mitch got tired of the demands of the road. He had nearly broken under the strain of Brody’s undercover operation. But going to museums? That shit never got old.

Because if Mitch got tired of looking at the same piece of art twenty times, all he had to do was look at Brody instead and the whole damn thing was worthwhile.

It didn’t matter that it was culturally enriching or educationally provoking. What mattered was that it was a real hobby outside of the pool. A landlocked pastime that grounded Brody enough that he could forget about the water, if only for a little bit.

That was good.

That was more than good, it was downright necessary.

Besides, it was a sign that Brody had changed. Well and truly changed -- and he was still changing.

Maybe that was why it mattered.

More than almost any of the rest.

-o-

“Like, Georgia O’Keefe,” Brody was saying during their tour of the modern art after lunch. “That’s modernism. Right?”


“Sure, but she actually paints images,” Mitch argued back, though by this point he wasn’t sure what he actually trying to prove. “Pollock and his ilk, it’s just paint splatters.”

Brody shook his head, clearly dismayed. “That’s, like, reductive, or something. Modernism is about experimentation. I mean, that’s a thing, right?”

“Of course it is,” Mitch said. “I’m just saying that in terms of talent, O’Keefe’s got some. You’re going to have to convince me on Pollock.”

Brody was almost comically apoplectic. A few other museum patrons gave them curious glances, which Mitch ignored and Brody hardly noticed. “If you threw shit on a canvas, it’d never look that good.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Mitch conceded. “But it’s just messy. I don’t know. Seems kind of dumb.”

Brody was nodding with abject enthusiasm. “That’s the point!” he said. “They look, like, easy. They look dumb and messy. But they’re still valuable. You’re making something out of nothing. That’s why this whole abstract thing works. You don’t need to look the part of something. You just have to give your version of reality with nothing held back.”

Brody was talking about modern art.

And probably a whole lot more.

Mitch had a pretty idea why making something out of nothing and presenting a the messy but best version of your reality meant something to Brody. It made sense for a guy who screwed up as much as Brody to want something that reflected that anything could be reshaped into a work of art.

Even splatters of paint.

Or disgraced Olympic swimmers.

“Whatever,” Mitch said without any venom. “A least O’Keefe’s look like something I can recognize.”

That was the thing, though. When Brody looked at messy canvases, he saw something he recognized, too.

And Mitch had no opinion on modern art.

But he sure as hell had an opinion about that.

-o-

Given the size of Chicago’s art museum, it took them the better part of the day. Mitch could have been in and out in a few hours, but Brody had taken it quite seriously. As promised, he procured a map at the start, and they made their way meticulously through each exhibited before finally ending in the gift shop in the late afternoon.

Mitch was ready to go, and even Brody was keen to bust out and get some ice cream. But one thing that Brody loved about traveling was souvenirs. It was probably Mitch’s mistake for suggesting that they could pick some up in the first place, but it was another lost childhood activity that Brody was now embracing as an adult. Over the last year, he had picked up t-shirts, posters, Christmas ornaments, pens and more from every stop on their swimming tour.

Every stop.

Even airports.

In Chicago, Brody quickly found a book for himself along with a magnet. Mitch was checking his watch while Brody browsed through the items to find something for Summer.

That was what good boyfriends did for their long distance girlfriends apparently. Mitch had no judgment on that, but he was sort of ready to leave. He could have left well enough alone, but Mitch’s entire relationship with Brody was about not leaving well enough alone.

Like, ever.

So when he saw Brody pick out a keychain, he raised his eyebrow in quizzical skepticism.

Brody immediately noticed. “What?”

Mitch looked at Brody; he looked at the keychain. When Brody stared back at him blankly, Mitch finally elaborated. “You’re getting her a keychain?”

Brody looked at the keychain with some disappointment. “What’s wrong with it? Do you think I should get the other one?”

As Brody reached to pick up another, Mitch shook his head. Brody was getting good at modern art, and he was better than Mitch would ever be in a swimming pool, but there were still some things he didn’t get.

Mitch found that strangely reassuring. He liked it probably a little more than he should. That Brody still had problems Mitch could fix. Problems that didn’t involve emotional implosions, negative press and swim times. “It’s just that it’s a keychain,” he said. “I kind of thought that you and Summer were past the keychain point after all this time. It has been years, dude.”

“So?” Brody asked, looking with renewed concern at the keychain. “What’s the keychain point?”

“I think the only way she’s going to look kindly upon a keychain is if there’s a key attached to it,” Mitch said.

Brody looked up, dismayed once more. “But she only comes over when one of us is there.”

Mitch stared at him, waiting for Brody to put the pieces together.

Brody shook his head, still working on it. “And, like, what’s she going to do? Move in? It’s a two bedroom place. There’s no room for three.”

Inclining his head, Mitch knew Brody was so damn close.

Then, the understanding dawned on Brody. “Oh,” he said, looking at the keychain again. His eyes widened as he put it back. “Right.”

Mitch nodded in commiseration. Brody had grown a lot in the last two years. He was pretty sure he hadn’t grown quite enough to move in with his girlfriend.

Looking distressed, Brody reached for the next closest item. It was a stuffed teddy bear wearing a shirt with the museum’s name on it. “What about this?” he asked, a little desperate. “Soft, cuddly, cute?”

“That’s a winner,” Mitch said, patting Brody on the shoulder. “Now let’s go pay, Casanova.”

-o-

By the time they headed toward the exit, it was hard to say who was more pleased with the day. Brody had allowed himself to be fully consumed by the museum, and he’d engaged on topics widely, not one of them having anything to do with the trials, swimming pools or the press. While Brody may not have given any of those topics a second thought, Mitch had certainly dwelled on them. However, seeing Brody so happy was pretty irresistible. This was one of those rare times when Mitch thought, just for the day, he was doing everything right.

With that heady feeling, Mitch had his guard down. When a little kid approached Brody, paper and pen in hand, his parents just a step behind, there was no reason to be remotely concerned. If anything, Mitch thought it was a good omen.

“Are you Matt Brody?” the kid asked, wide eyed with wonder as he looked up at Brody.

Brody had long since ditched the majority of his disguise. They’d put their hoodies down, and Brody had insisted that he couldn’t appreciate the art through sunglasses. In truth, Mitch had been reluctant but it hadn’t been a problem. Brody was well known on the swimming circuit, but here? In an art museum?

He was just another dude with a strange penchant for modern art. No one had given them a second look all day until his little kid.

Brody looked startled, and he glanced at Mitch as if for confirmation of what to do. Mitch stepped closer while the boy’s parents rushed in to explain.

“He’s really into swimming,” the father explained. “He watches it all the time.”

“We got him in private lessons just this year, and his coach had him study the best swimmers out there right now,” the mother added with an adoring smile at Brody. She looked enamored. “You were right up there, top of the list.”

The boy, who was probably about 8 years old, nodded in holistic agreement. “You’re shorter than a lot of the best swimmers, but you make up for it with form,” the boy said earnestly. “I’ve been trying to do your dolphin kick for months.”

The boy was still holding up the paper and pen, and Brody was fumbling for a reply while his cheeks burned scarlet. Bad press, he was used to. Good press, while less daunting, was far more foreign to him.

For a moment, it looked like Brody wanted to run. So Mitch eased closer to him, an arm carefully at Brody back as he addressed the boy. “It’s a pretty good kick,” he agreed with a warm smile. “I haven’t mastered it yet, either.”

Brody seemed to remember to breathe again, and he took the paper with only a moment’s hesitation more. “What’s your name?”

“Elijah,” the boy said, beaming now. “Elijah Barrett.”

Brody started scribbling a note, and Mitch watched as his hand shook. “Well, Elijah, I started at about your age, and all it takes is hard work and dedication,” he said, finishing with a quick scrawl of his signature. He handed the paper back to the boy with the pen. He smiled. “I’m sure you’ll get there someday.”

The boy accepted the paper with awe. He turned his face up to his parents with giddy excitement as he showed them the note and signature.

“Thank you so much,” the mother gushed.

“This really means a lot,” the dad said.

“No problem,” Brody replied, warming to his position as role model quite suddenly. He was inherently good at this, and the last one to figure it out was him. “It’s great to meet other swimmers.”

The family trotted away, leaving Mitch and Brody behind. In the aftermath, Brody looked awed. Like he was the one surprised by the encounter and not the kid. After all, the kid had met his idol, but Brody was the one coming to terms that he was capable of such a role. Not physically, because that had been true since Rio. But humanistically, that Brody was finally in an emotional state that made him able to recognize the role being cast upon him.

And he finally had the discipline, self respect and fortitude to respond appropriately. In short, for the first time in his life, he was able to see that he could deserve such a role, and that it might not be a disaster for once.

The d path of the realization on Brody’s face was almost comical. Mitch nudged him with a grin. “See?” he said. “It’s not all bad.”

Brody laughed, hoarse and breathless. “Are you sure about that? It seems more terrifying than ever.”

Mitch gave him a look. “This is called good press,” he said. “It means not everyone out there wants to see you fail.”

“Yeah, and that’s worse,” Brody said with a scoff. He gestured after the family, who was now out of sight. “I mean, the press will have a story to run no matter what I do. But that kid? He’s watching me to win. If I screw up, I’m letting him down.”

It figured that Brody would find a way to be stressed out by the cutest interaction in the world. Brody had grown a lot as a person, but his insecurities were still there, more raw and vulnerable than ever.

That was a huge reason why Brody needed to finish this Olympic pursuit.

And a huge reason why he may not get there.

“You’re here for you,” Mitch reminded him, using a hand to massage Brody’s shoulder. “You have to ignore the press, but the people who support you? The ones who want you to succeed? Embrace them. Use their positive vibes. Let that carry you as much as you can, especially when everything else seems like it’s going to shit.”

“But I don’t even know which version of me is real,” Brody said. “The screw up or the hero.”

Mitch winced sympathetically. “You can’t control what people think, only who you are,” he said. “You do that with your integrity, not your times. It’s time to be you, man. Trust yourself. That’s the audience that matters most, right in here.”

He thumped Brody lightly on the chest to accentuate his point.

“You make it sound so easy,” Brody said.

“No, not easy,” Mitch corrected him. “It’s like you told the kid. It takes practice, right? Determination? You’ll get there.”

Brody gave him a skeptical look.

“What?” Mitch said. “It’s good advice. You should follow it.”

“I was talking about swimming,” Brody reminded him.

“And I’m talking about life,” Mitch said. He nudged Brody again. “Now come on. We still have a few hours to burn before dinner.”

Brody perked up immediately. “Ice cream?”

Mitch rolled his eyes, leading the way to the exit. “Yeah, we can get ice cream.”

-o-

Mitch might make a show of exasperation, but he was having a good time. A great time, really. So he’d roll his eyes and act put out, but hell yeah he was getting ice cream. Honestly, after lingering in a damn art museum all day, the ice cream was his favorite part.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t going to make Brody work for it.

This wasn’t about building his character or anything.

It was just because he was Mitch and Brody was Brody, and of course he was going to make Brody work for that shit.

“Like, I don’t want soft serve,” Brody said as they made their way through the lobby to one of the exits. “Soft serve is shit.”

“It’s ice cream, dude,” Mitch said, nodding politely to a security guard as they exited.

“But I want peanut butter,” Brody said.

“Well, they can mix those stupid little cups in,” Mitch pointed out, pushing open the door to the afternoon outside.

Brody pushed open the door next to him, shaking his head with surprising vehemence. Or, it would have been surprising, if they hadn’t had this conversation after every art museum they had visited in the last year. Mitch was nothing if not fond of his routines. “No, like, peanut butter, actual peanut butter. Mixed into the ice cream, but not too mixed. It has to be chunky. Like chunks of peanut butter, legit peanut butter, in chocolate hard serve ice cream.”

Mitch snorted as they started down the steps. “That’s weirdly specific.”

Brody kept his pace. “But it’s what I want.

“Whatever, dude,” Mitch said, eyeing the street to make out the fastest direction to their car.

“Not whatever,” Brody protested. “I mean, do you know a place?”

“I know a place, but how would I possibly know that they have legit peanut butter and chocolate hard serve ice cream?” Mitch said.

Brody pulled on his arm, drawing him up short. He looked up at Mitch in some distress. “You don’t know a place?”

Mitch rolled his eyes again. “Of course I know a place, asshole,” he said. “You get the same damn ice cream in every city. I looked it up online last night. There’s a place on the way.”

Brody’s face brightened considerably. “Thanks, Mitch,” he said. “You’re the best.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mitch said, starting them down the street again. They were parked around the corner, closer to the entrance. “Now come on.”

Brody followed him, just a step behind as they rounded the corner. Mitch saw the crowd in front of the museum, but he didn’t quite grasp its significance fast enough. Because in the split second when Mitch was trying to figure out why the art museum was so popular in the late afternoon, the crowd realized who had turned the corner.

The crowd, as it turned out, had been waiting expectantly.

Mitch had not.

That gave the crowd the edge.

And it left Mitch with nowhere to turn while the horde of reporters descended on them once more.

It took Mitch a second to realize it.

It took Brody a second more. He was still explaining why hard serve ice cream was so important when the cameras started flashing, and he stood frozen and transfixed while their path was thoroughly cut off.

“Matt, why are you not racing today?”

“Does this mean that you are pulling out of the trials?”

“Matt, is your health a factor right now?”

“What do you say about reports of your drinking?”

“Have you been using drugs?”

Brody was caught with panic, mouth hanging open in shock. It took Mitch another split second to take him by the arm, manhandling their way through the crowd. Stunned, Brody followed clumsily behind him while the cameras continued to flash.

“What is your current physical state?”

“Do you think your time is better spent in the pool?”

“Can you comment on the reports that you’ve relapsed?”

Mitch was good under pressure. That was the thing. He could take a stressful situation, assess it, and plan the perfect escape. Then, without fail, he executed that escape. Usually this was in the water, but Mitch was getting plenty of experience on dry land thanks to Brody.

Because underwater or above, Mitch’s protective instincts knew no bounds when Brody was involved.

“No comment,” Mitch said on Brody’s behalf, fingers still laced around Brody’s wrist as he led him through. “No comment at all at this time.”

“Do you feel good about your performance in the pool this week?”

“How is your personal life influencing your time in the water?”

Mitch had successfully guided Brody through the thickest part of the throng, and now the reporters trailed alongside them as Mitch made wide, undeterred strides toward the parking lot. Brody struggled to keep pace with Mitch’s long legs. As he stumbled, more cameras flashed.

“Are you currently suffering from health setbacks?”

“When was the last time you had a drink?”

Heart pounding, Mitch moved as fast as he dared, allowing Brody’s fumbling pace to keep up. It was his instinct to pull people from danger, and Mitch was pretty sure that this crowd of reporters and their incessant questions was just as dangerous as a riptide to Brody.

He glanced back, taking in Brody’s pale, pinched features.

More dangerous, maybe.

“Is it possible that you’re not ready to perform at this level?”

“Is it true that you have struggle with sobriety during the last two years?”

“What do you say to reports that you’re nowhere near ready to compete this week?”

With the car in sight, Mitch was moving at full speed ahead now. It was like swimming to shore that last stretch, strong, steady strokes to pull through the current no matter how much his chest was burning. On the water, it was about oxygen. On the streets of Chicago, Mitch was pretty sure it was more emotional than anything.

The effect was very much the same.

With pure adrenaline, Mitch was almost at a jog now, Brody keeping pace behind him. The cameras were still flashing wildly, and Mitch could barely make out the questions as they were hurled at Brody indiscriminately.

“Can you comment on reports that you are mixing prescription medications with alcohol?”

“Are you confident that you’ll pass the drug tests?”

“What do you say to people who think you’re more talk than action?”

They were at the car now, and Mitch unlocked it with a vicious speed, hurling the door open so fast that he nearly clipped Brody in the process. As it was, he all but shoved Brody into the seat, mindful of the rapidfire flashes as he hastily closed the door on Brody, wishing like hell he’d thought to get a car with tinted windows at the rental place.

Shit, that was probably why he just needed a driver. Limos had seemed too decadent and unnecessary at the time, but the privacy and ease of pick up suddenly seemed more and more like a necessity.

Brody was safe, at least. Mitch started around to his side of the car, but the mob of reporters had caught up with him. Worse, now that they sensed their quarry was getting away, they were closing in with even more vigor than before. Mitch hadn’t actually thought that was possible, but the newfound aggressive turn was suddenly pressing.

“As the coach, do you feel it is your responsibility to police his behavior?”

“How are you dealing with his health setbacks right now?”

“Do you have thoughts on whether or not he’ll be fit to race?”

“No comment,” Mitch gritted out yet again. He had to forcibly shoulder his way past a few reporters as he rounded to the driver’s door. His pittance of a statement didn’t deter them at all, and more microphones were pushed into his face. Mitch held them back as he attempted to open his door.

The reporters didn’t take the hint.

Or, more likely, they took the hint and promptly ignored it.

“Do you think your lack of coaching experience is part of the reason for his downfall?”

“Is he aware that his performance is off the rigorous pace of the competition?”

“Do you think this comeback will still be worthwhile if he fails to qualify this week?”

That last one stung, making Mitch bristled.

That was the question, though, wasn’t it? Mitch had always told Brody to do his best, to take this as far as it could go -- but what if this was it? What if they had maxed it out? What if Brody started something he couldn’t finish? Or, more appropriately, what if the ending just wasn’t an Olympic gold medal or two?

What if it ended in the pool in Chicago?


What if it ended right here, in this damn parking lot, surrounding by a mob of reporters?

Would Mitch recognize the end if he came? Would he know how to accept it, how to embrace it?

Would he know how to help Brody accept it?

Shit.

Shit.

For a split second, Mitch was frozen, all the questions spinning in his head while the answers he’d never say were caught painfully in his throat. He didn’t owe these assholes any answers, not a one. But Brody? He might owe Brody a few.

He just didn’t know what they were.

Jaw set, Mitch continued climbing into a car, shoving the microphones away as he got in. He couldn’t make out their distinct voices anymore, just the cacophony as he reached for the door handle and said, “Come to the race. What happens there will answer all your questions.”

The answer was clear, definitive.

It only encouraged them to ask more.

Mitch tried to be mindful as he closed the door, the multitude of hands and cameras making it impossible to get done. He has to try several times, pushing away hands in the process, before he finally got the door closed enough to start the car at all. Even as he engine rumbled top life, cameras were almost pressed up against the glass, still flashing wildly as Mitch spared Brody a glance in the passenger’s seat.

Sitting there, he looked smaller than he should. Younger. How a guy like that managed to fold in on himself quite that way was still remarkable to Mitch. How someone who had accomplished so much could still look like he felt worthy of so little -- was actually a little hard to take.

Especially when it was your best friend.

With that, Mitch was at a loss.

A total loss.

It was Brody who spoke first. A small, halting voice. The words were still unsettlingly clear. “Can we still get ice cream?”

The fact that he sounded like a 12 year old twisted Mitch’s stomach into knots. It was a stupid, almost inappropriate question. He knew that Brody knew better, and yet, it was a question that mattered, a question that offered the keenest insight into Brody’s needs and wants.

And his ability to deny, deny, deny with the best of them.

“Sorry, buddy,” Mitch said, putting the car into gear and eyeing the crowd, still pressing in on all sides. “Pretty sure we’d better skip the park, too.”

Inexplicably, Brody looked even more resolutely crestfallen. “But can we get the ice cream to go?”

It was such a stupidly naive question that, for a moment, Mitch had to think Brody was joking. Brody was kind of an idiot sometimes, but he wasn’t that stupid.

But this wasn’t about stupidity.

This was about desperation.

Deny, deny, deny.

Mitch actually winced. With the reporters still screaming at them through the glass, at least it seemed like Mitch had a valid excuse. “We need to get out of here,” he said, keeping his foot on the brake while tapping the gas in warning to the swarming crowd.

Brody had willfully forgotten that the crowd was here at all. This was part of the ignore, ignore, ignore plan. He kept his eyes on Mitch; wholly and frustratingly on Mitch. “But can we get it on the way?”

What the hell was Brody still talking about ice cream? Had Mitch trained him that well? Outside the pool, apparently. In the pool, well, that was the test.

If only Mitch could get them out of here.

He pressed on the gas again, lurching just slightly, careful and aware of the people in his way. He might have hated these journalists, but he didn’t want to kill them. Not even when they reported trashy nonsense and speculation about Brody. Not even when their incessant coverage damaged Brody’s sense of self and his ability to emotionally self regulate.

He tapped on the gas again, a little harder. He didn’t want to kill them, but he kind of wanted to terrify them for the moment.

There were a few yelps as people started to scatter away from the front of the car. A few, but not all. Others simply rounded back to the sides, still looking for a better shot.

“Anything that involves getting out of the car sounds pretty sketchy to me right now,” Mitch said. He honked on the horn, glaring at as many journalists as he could. “All this attention? I’ll bet we pick up more than a few tails after we leave here. Another stop would be another chaotic mess.”

He honked again, gesturing angrily for more people to move. He was pissed, but not at Brody. Of course, that was a hard point to delineate, given the circumstances. Tired, worn out and frustrated, Mitch was having a hard time keeping cynicism at bay. He was a long way from the beach right now, and he was feeling that separation more particularly than usual. He wasn’t known for being a sarcastic kind of guy, but what the hell. A lot of shit had changed.

He spared a glance at Brody, who was still watching him with ever earnest blue eyes.

Mitch bit back another curse. When had their roles reversed? When had Mitch become the skeptic and Brody the true believer?”

Shit.

Mitch looked back out the window, honking a few more times before Brody had a chance to reply and ruin Mitch’s composure even more.

With another volley of honks, Mitch pressed on the gas, lurching the car forward another couple of inches. One of the journalists slammed on the hood in anger -- as if Mitch was the one in the wrong here -- while the others finally started to bleed away from the mob.

“Come on, come on!” Mitch yelled despite the fact that the windows were all closed. He ducked down, trying to make sure he had a good view of the area to see how clear it was. With a glower, he yelled at the lingering photographer. “Move out of the way!”

In response, the photographer snapped a picture of Mitch, and it took all of Mitch’s resolve not to flash him the finger.

That would be one hell of a photo op.

Mitch just wasn’t sure if he’d regret it later or not.

For Brody’s sake, he was opting for decorum.

He honked again.

At least a sliver of it.

“It’s just, I don’t know,” Brody said. “I like ice cream.”

Mitch did his best not to look abjectly incredulous. Which was how he felt. Their car was being mobbed by overzealous journalists hankering for a negative story about Brody to share with the world, and the kid was sitting there, looking morose over ice cream. Mitch understood deny, deny, deny and ignore, ignore, ignore as well as anyone, but seriously. He had his limits.

Or did he?

He’d gotten awfully far into this process acting like everything was fine when he had no actual clue. Maybe he was running around talking about ice cream, but he was the asshole who planned a day off for an art museum a few days before the Olympic trials. They were each fixated on apt distractions. It was a defensive mechanism to cope with the weight of the emotional chaos surrounding them.

That shit, Mitch could handle. Brody, on the other hand, was clearly at the edge of himself. The fact that he wasn’t drinking or going out and doing something reckless was probably a sign of growth. Mitch should probably be embracing his questions about ice cream for the progress that they were.

Mitch should also be moving the damn car and getting them the hell out of here.

Priorities had to be what priorities had to be.

“I know, okay,” Mitch said, trying and failing to loosen the tension in his jaw as he attempted to move the car forward again. “But we just have a bit of a situation here.”

That was understatement. A laughable understatement. But no one was laughing right now.

With another boost of the gas pedal, the car jerked forward and Mitch glared provocatively as the lingering reporter held his ground. Mitch was a respected, well trained and decorated lifeguard from the most elite program in the world. But here he was, playing chicken with a reporter in Chicago.

Playing and currently losing.

“But we always get ice cream after the art museum,” Brody said, and it sort of sounded like he was whining, except that wasn’t quite it. He was pleading a little. Begging almost. For some semblance of normal. Brody had always responded well to routine; in fact, he needed it. Without reliable, predictable and safe patterns, he was prone to falling back on routines that were less safe.

The ones Mitch had come on the road to prevent.

“I know, I know,” he said, breathing somewhat heavily now. “I just -- I need to get out of here first, buddy.”

By this time, the back and forth game of chicken had allowed him to pull forward out of the parking spot and, even with the crowd still following them, Mitch was able to make his way to the edge of the parking lot while the most aggressive of the bunch slapped the roof and hood of the car as they inched their way along.

Mitch was busy trying to pull out without hitting anyone and trying to keep Brody from sulking like a toddler about ice cream that he almost didn’t see the other car careening around the corner of the parking lot. Its tires squealed as it came to an abrupt stop, and Mitch had to veer away in order to avoid a collision. With a muffled curse, he spared a look to make sure Brody was okay at the sudden stop before seeing the other car’s window open.

And a camera appeared.

Amid the flurry of flashes, Mitch felt his temper flare dangerously. Big and burly as he was, he was a man who knew how to retain control of his emotions. He wasn’t prone to anger, and he rarely engaged in conflict unless absolutely necessary.

Of course, Brody’s former coach would probably disagree, but Lawson was an asshole. He deserved worse than he got as far as Mitch was concerned. But he could testify that Mitch was not a man to be trifled with, especially when you put other people in danger.

Especially when you put Brody in danger.

Frustrated, Mitch continued to pull the car in the other direction, hitting the gas a little harder to get the hell out of there. The near collision had created a fresh commotion among the photographers, who seemed to be bickering with each other about who had the right of way. Mitch would leave them to it, and get the hell out while he could.

He had to move fast and strong and sure. That was always his approach in the water. When you saw your spot, you took it, no hesitation. That was how you saved lives.

But Mitch wasn’t in the water.

He knew that, of course. But he knew it a lot better when he turned his head a fraction of a second too late, not leaving him enough time to compensate for the other car coming around the bed and right at him. He swerved, hitting the brakes, but impact was inevitable.

It was also harder than Mitch expected.

At a low speed in a parking lot, it might best be described as a fender bender. But as sudden and expected as it was, Mitch was still thrown forward, and he swore when he realized that in his haste, he hadn’t fastened his seat belt.

His chest hit the wheel, pushing the air from his lungs. He was jerked forward and then back abruptly, whipping his neck with some force.

For a second, that was all there was. A searing pain in his chest and a spinning sensation in his head. Slowly, he came back to himself and he had the wherewithal to put the car into park and kill the engine, taking a long moment just to breathe.

Shit.

He had to breathe.

Blinking a few times, the pain started to abate, and he became aware of the fact that he was not, in fact, seriously injured. In fact, with several more inhalations, he was able to conclude that he was, in fact, just fine. Bruised, likely. Pissed off, entirely. Embarrassed, hell yeah.

But fine.

He could work with fine.

Then, he remembered that he wasn’t alone in the car.

Looking up, his eyes locked on Brody, who stared at him with wide blue eyes back.

“Were we in a car accident?” Brody asked, and he sounded even younger than before, and his question was even more nonsensical than the ones about ice cream.

“Yeah,” Mitch said. “It was low speed, though. We’re fine.”

Brody blinked at him, as if he wasn’t quite sure what Mitch was saying. “Low speed?” he asked, catching his breath. He grimaced visibly, reaching his hand up to his opposite shoulder. “Feels like high impact.”

Mitch swallowed hard, looking outside where the crowd had gathered once more. They were still taking pictures, almost at a faster rate than ever. The crash hadn’t done much damage to the car, probably.

But Mitch looked back to Brody again.

He had a feeling the impact did a hell of a lot of damage to all of Mitch’s plans and all of Brody’s dreams.

Closing his eyes, Mitch wet his lips and sought for some self control.

So much for one good day.

-o-

Of course, the day was bound to get worse.

Because inside the car, Mitch was fuming and ready to rage.

But he still had to get out of the car.

Shit.

He forced himself to take a breath, taking stock of the situation on the inside first. The car was off and was probably still functional, all things considered. He looked at Brody again. His face had recovered some of its color by now, but his expression was clenched with pain.

It didn’t matter if the car was functional.

Brody, on the other hand.

“You okay?” Mitch asked, doing his best to ignore the flash of cameras just outside the window.

Brody swallowed convulsively, nodding tautly. “Yeah.”

In the long list of things that Mitch deemed it acceptable to cover with deny, deny, deny, Brody’s health was never one of them. If Brody was trying to deflect him now, Mitch wasn’t going to let that slide.

At all.

“Seriously, man,” Mitch said, focused intently on the younger man now. “Tell me what you’re feeling?”

Brody sniffled, avoiding Mitch’s gaze and nodding outside instead. “I think we’re the ones responsible for that accident,” he said. “I mean, we hit him, right? So it’s our fault?”

“Because we were being stalked by the damn paparazzi,” Mitch said tersely. “But I need you to look at me, okay? Did you hit your head?”

It seemed like an apt question, given Brody’s dazed look and pained expression. He had at least thought to put on his seatbelt, for what that was worth. “No, I’m fine,” Brody repeated, somehow managing to sound less fine the more he said it as he gripped his shoulder a little tighter.

Mitch leaned down, trying to keep Brody’s eye contact. “Are you sure?” he pressed, gauging the shell shocked expression. To be fair, he’d looked like a deer in the headlights since they were first ambushed. “Look at me.”

Brody complied, and Mitch was relieved to see that, though dazed, his eyes were clear. He was able to move them in unison and focus appropriately.

Mitch lifted a hand, gesturing toward Brody’s head. “You sure you didn’t hit anything?”

There was no visible sign of blood anywhere, but Mitch was trained in first aid. He lifted a hand, running it along the sides of Brody’s skull before the younger man could protest.

“I’m fine,” he said again, this time adding a bit of vigor to his voice. It only served to make him sound whiny this time. He stiffened but didn’t pull away as Mitch held Brody’s chin, tilting his head from side to side to better examine the movement and dilation of his eyes.

Mitch was tense and angry, but he had to concede. Brody’s head was fine.

He dropped his hand, still regarding Brody critically while the ruckus continued outside. He still couldn’t shake the idea that something was desperately not fine with this situation, something was not fine with Brody.

While Mitch ignored the outside world, Brody was utterly preoccupied. “I think we should call the cops.”

That at least sounded familiar. Brody always wanted to call the cops. Always.

So Mitch’s response was true to form. “What?” he asked, incredulous once more. “Why would we call the cops?”

Brody nodded earnestly outside. “Because we caused an accident,” he said. “You’re supposed to report an accident to the police.”

That sounded like something Brody had learned, possibly from the lifeguard handbook. Either that or something that Ellerbee had coached him on specifically. Brody had come into the job with no actual knowledge about lifeguarding. All this time later, he somehow knew the code in and out with almost more accuracy than Mitch. That could be because Summer was a motivating study buddy or because Brody was more than capable of excelling when he felt committed to a goal.

All the same, Mitch shook his head. “You know that I never call the cops until it’s absolutely necessary.”

“And it’s necessary now,” Brody said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re on a case or something. This is an accident. In Chicago. We have to call the cops.”

“Uh, yeah, it’s different,” Mitch said. Outside, the other driver was knocking on the door. The cameras were still flashing, capitalizing on the moment. “We call the cops here, we don’t have a friendly face. There’s no Ellerbee to watch our back.”

Brody looked back at Mitch. The dazed expression had faded at least, but he was still clutching his shoulder. “But Mitch, I can’t be in legal trouble. Not this time,” he said. “And driving away from the scene of an accident -- that’s a crime, right? That’s illegal.”

Shit. Of course it was illegal.

Shit.

How did Brody know that?

And shit.

Why did that have to apply now?

He couldn’t much deny the fact that there was no way around it, either. The other driver was making a big scene by this point, gesturing melodramatically to his car as though Mitch had totaled it. With cameras still rolling, even if driving away wasn’t illegal (Mitch suspected it was), it would still be headlines of the worst possible variety.

A car accident was going to be bad enough.

An arrest warrant with Brody walking into a police station for questioning?

Mitch didn’t have to be a publicist to know that was shit.

Next to him, Brody was still watching him, shoulder immobilized. He could almost read the headlines with Brody’s picture splashed over the front page.

Olympic Redemption Put On Hold With Traffic Violation

Mitch sighed.

Brody didn’t need this.

No one needed this.

But this was all they had.

“Fine,” Mitch said, taking his phone out of his pocket with an air of resignation. “This time we call the cops.”