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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch (movie) fic: Just Lifeguards (1/3)

September 28th, 2018 (09:18 pm)
anxious

feeling: anxious

Title: Just Lifeguards

Disclaimer: Nope, not mine.

Rating: M (these boys swear a bunch)

A/N: So, in case someone doesn’t realize it, I’m basically just an h/c junkie. It’s basically all I write, and it is basically all I will ever write. Yes, I try to give the whump significance but at its core, it’s just because I like hurting my favorites. A lot. So, that’s what you’re going to get from me in various fantastical contexts. I worry sometimes that my fics will start to read redundant, but I suppose the best I can do is embrace it. My muse seems to do what it wants; I’m just along for the ride.

A/N 2: This is unbeta’ed. And I can’t type as fast as I think so sometimes stuff gets a little wonky. Apologies in advance. This also fills my hc_bingo square of major injury or illness. I know nothing about being a lifeguard or any actual first aid, so I make all of this stuff up off the top of my head and go with it. If you have a particular need for things to be well researched and accurate, I am not the writer for you.

Summary: We’re lifeguards. Firearm training isn’t covered in the handbook.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

Mitch has a case.

He’s aware that he’s a lifeguard and that lifeguards don’t technically have cases just like they don’t technically have jurisdiction but he honestly doesn’t care. People get all concerned about the rules and legalities; Mitch is just concerned about keeping his bay safe.

This is especially true when there is something actively threatening not just his beach or his ocean -- but his people.

Schools of manta ray, sand grifters, drug smuggling. Even murdering real estate tycoons. Mitch takes those all very seriously.

But when someone is stalking his lifeguards? Putting them at risk?

Well, Mitch takes that personally.

All bets are off.

-o-

It starts with CJ reporting a strange man standing beside her tower when she reported for duty early a few weeks ago. He lingered as she approached, and when she asked if he was okay, he finally bolted. It’s a public beach, people are weird and shy, so there hadn’t been much to it.

Until she saw him again the next day.

And then she saw him standing at the top of the ramp the day after that.

She’d called for backup at that point, and when Mitch came running, the guy didn’t come back the next day. To be safe, Mitch had put together a profile and contacted Ellerbee at the police station. There was nothing to be done for it, though, and Mitch remained vigilant as he always did.

Then, the guy showed up at Summer’s tower at the end of her shift. There were always stragglers, so it hadn’t bothered her. Not until he followed her all the way out to her Jeep in the parking lot before disappearing.

Ellerbee insisted that his hands were still tied, and Mitch upped his game.

He was frustrated, then, when Stephanie came into HQ after work one night, sporting fresh bruises on her arm and scraped knuckles. The man -- the same one, they were all sure -- tried to grab her, started to drag her off. She smashed his face in.

This time, Ellerbee agreed that action must be taken. He worked with Mitch to draw up a plan that involved police support.

“Remember,” Ellerbee told him sternly. “That means that the police are in charge. I don’t want no lifeguard trying to do shit because you all aren’t armed.”

“I know,” Mitch said.

“I’m serious,” Ellerbee said. “I get it, your beach, your people, but this guy -- whoever he is -- is escalating his behavior. Next time, he’s probably going to be armed. Maybe a knife. Hell, maybe he just unpacked a revolver and shoots the place up. Now, as lifeguards, you know what you’re looking for, so we’ll be in constant contact, but you have to let the police be the ones to engage.”

“I completely understand,” Mitch said.

-o-

Mitch understands.

He explains the plan in great detail to the team, telling them what to look for, when to report it, and how Ellerbee will have his beat cops running extra shifts up and down the beach until the guy is caught. He is explicit about this, about not engaging, about how backup is literally a call away.

Then he dismisses his lifeguards and asks Brody to hold back.

“Yo,” Mitch says, watching the others file out. “So I wanted to talk to you.”

Brody looks earnest; he’s been bothered by this case, too. “Yeah, sure. I think it’s great that we’ve got the cops working on this one for us. Crazy stalker dudes; completely not our thing.”

The last few lifeguards have left the room now. “Uh huh,” Mitch says dismissively. He looks at Brody, nonplussed. “We’re going to make it our thing.”

Brody blinks, looking genuinely confused. “But you just said that plan--”

“For everyone else,” Mitch says. “But for us?”

“I don’t understand,” Brody says, shaking his head.

“I have a different plan for us.”

Brody is starting to look vaguely distressed in that way of his. “But why?”

“Because we’re lifeguards, man!” Mitch exclaims.

Brody looks dubious.

“Just trust me,” Mitch says. “I’ll be great. I have a great plan.”

Because Mitch understands.

The cops have a functional plan to help.

Mitch has a better plan to get the job done.

-o-

Honestly, it’s not even Mitch’s most extreme plan. It’s not his most ridiculous or most dangerous or most unreasonable. He just wants to make sure that he and Brody have eyes on the beach and are in place to actively pursue a lead before tipping it off to Ellerbee.

“Because if we get Ellerbee involved, the dude has a chance to run,” Mitch explains, because he’s thought about this. “Looking suspicious might get someone questioned, but unless we can pinpoint actual evidence, Ellerbee won’t have anything to hold them on.”

Brody shakes his head; he’s having trouble keeping up. “But that’s why Ellerbee’s going to question the guy,” he says. “Right?”

“And the guy lies, gets away, comes back in a disguise, and then what?” Mitch prompts him.

Brody frowns, brow furrowing. “Ellerbee’s not dumb,” he says.

“But he’s a cop,” Mitch says. “He has to be a cop. We’re lifeguards. We don’t have jurisdictions and rules.”

“But I thought all that is why cops were able to do their job safely,” Brody says.

“Never mind that!” Mitch huffs. “This is the plan we’re following.”

Brody hesitates, a pained expression on his face. “I’m all for being proactive, Mitch. I mean, I get that, and I want to catch this guy. The idea that he’s checking out my friends -- my girlfriend -- I don’t like it,” he says. “But you said, man. We’re lifeguards. We have to be watching the water, not looking for suspicious creeps, which, by definition, is like half the white guys out there. Our profile’s not exactly specific, and if I’m checking out every white guy there is, then how am I watching the water?”

“The beach has always been part of our jurisdiction,” Mitch reminds him.

“I thought we didn’t have jurisdiction--”

“You know what I mean,” Mitch says curtly. “We protect the beach, not just from drowning. But from everything.”

“I know, I know, I do,” Brody says, even though it sounds like he doesn’t. “And yeah, of course, we’ll keep our eyes open. We’ll be more aware. But I don’t know. The cops are upping their patrols, right? They’re going to be right there.”

“And if we spot it first?” Mitch prompts him.

“Literally, you just explained this to the group,” Brody says. “We call it in, the cops show up, it’s done.”

“The cops ask a few questions, they’re hindered by protocol, the guy gets away,” Mitch says. “Our responsibility as lifeguards requires us to do more.”

“I’m really not sure you actually know what the definition of a lifeguard is in every other part of the country,” Brody says.

Mitch puffs up his chest, proud and defensive. “We define it differently here at Baywatch.”

“They why did you give a totally different set of directions to everyone else?” Brody asks.

Mitch glares at him a little. “Because I thought I could trust you to go above and beyond.”

“So you’re admitting that it’s not within our normal duties?”

“I’m saying that most of the team are targets for his guy,” he says. “I’m saying that I thought I could trust you to have my back on this one.”

Brody eyes him, a little suspicious. “Lifeguard backup?”

Mitch nods resolutely. “Yeah!”

Brody sighs, rolling his eyes. “That sounds like BS.”

“It’s an order,” Mitch counters.

“Ugh, fine,” Brody mutters, turning toward the door. “You’re the lieutenant.”

Mitch cocked a grin to follow. “And don’t you forget it.”

-o-

When Mitch is on duty, he’s completely, one hundred percent present. And, for the record, Mitch is always on duty. He has the most saves, the most interventions, and he’s stopped more crimes than the rest of his team combined. This is not because his team is full of slouches. No, it’s because Mitch actively redefines what it means to be a lifeguard.

So when he says that he’s on his game this morning, he’s really saying something.

He diligently watches his designated area, taking equal turns scanning the water for signs of distress and monitoring the beach for unusual or problematic behavior. As an extra precaution, he mentally catalogs every person on the beach, sorting them into groups of locals, vacationers and questionable entities. It helps that Mitch knows this bay well. Most of the locals, he knows by name, and he’s gotten pretty good at spotting vacationers.

As for the rest, there’s always a bit of a mixed element on the beach; it’s just the nature of the game. It’s a public beach, which means no one is overtly excluded, and Mitch has never been one to turn people away from the wonder of the water. That said, it’s this category of people that elicits his extra attention.

Most of them are harmless, and Mitch knows that.

But one of them out there is stalking his lifeguards.

Mitch will not tolerate that.

So if Mitch spends a little extra time watching the sand today, he thinks that’s not unwarranted.

After all, Mitch has stopped many disasters by watching the beach. He’s saved people from drowning before they even step foot in the water. He’s prevented domestic disputes, lost children, stolen items, fistfights, drunken brawls, sexual harassment and more. Just by being proactive.

From his spot in tower one, he has the best damn view, so the burden of responsibility falls on him. It’s no coincidence that he can see tower two from his perch. He momentarily trains his binoculars there, spotting Brody. He doesn’t exactly make a habit of checking up on his lifeguards. He just happens to check up on Brody more often than any of the rest.

He’s pleased to find that Brody, for all his bluff and blunder, is following Mitch’s lead exactly, actively scanning the water and the beach. Then Brody turns his binoculars toward Mitch. Directly at Mitch.

Mitch wonders if Brody sees something, and he leans forward to look harder.

Brody does the same thing.

Confused, Mitch looks down, to see if something is happening right next to him, so close that he’s missed it. There’s nothing out of the ordinary, however. Vexed, he looks back to Brody again.

Across the sand, Brody is smirking and giving him the finger.

Shit, Mitch thinks as he gets back to work.

This is what he gets for hiring Olympic gold medalists with a criminal record. Not to mention idiot smartasses from Iowa who probably grew up swimming with farm animals.

Glowering, Mitch gets back to work.

-o-

This is how the day goes. Mitch has to stop and save a few people, naturally; that is part of the job description. But actively scanning the beach is also part of the job description. Sure, they hire people who are physically up to the task, but they also look for people who are fully committed to paying attention.

It’s not about getting a tan.

That’s just what happens when you patrol the beach.

The fact that Brody is supposed to know this by now and still acts like an idiot is frustrating to Mitch. He’s not exactly dwelling on it, it’s just that he can’t get it out of his mind as he watches the beach for signs of suspicious activity.

In fact, he’s so angry while looking at the beach that he already has in mind the points he’ll make to Brody tonight about attitude, following orders and being a positive member of the team. He’ll sit Brody down and make sure he understands that the Leeds case wasn’t the aberration. It was par for the whole damn course.

Not the whole nearly dying part. That’s not what lifeguards do. But they do take risks. They put themselves out there because the people, the beach, the bay -- all that comes first.

He’s got half of his speech mentally prepared when the CB in his tower crackles to life.

“Come in, Tower One, come in.”

Mitch is vaguely surprised; it’s been quiet today overall. No calls for backup. He picks up his receiver. “Tower One here.”

“Yeah, it’s Brody at Tower Two,” comes the static laden voice.

Mitch finds himself scowling. “Shouldn’t you be working?”

“Uh, I am,” Brody’s voice comes back to him.

“Then why are you making social calls on the CB!” Mitch hisses.

“I’m not,” Brody says, sounding annoyed now. “You said to call you if I saw anything suspicious.”

“And you acted like that was some impossible tasks,” Mitch snaps back.

“No, I merely questioned whether it was within our jurisdiction,” Brody says.

Mitch is glaring at the radio for the lack of something better to project his frustrations onto. “And I told you it is!”

“Which is why I’m calling you to report suspicious activity!” Brody is almost yelling back.

“You are?”

“Yes!”

“Oh,” Mitch says. “Where?”

“Down the beach, halfway between tower two and tower three,” Brody says. “Nothing definitive, but definitely a guy who looks off.”

“Great,” Mitch says, grabbing his gear instinctively.

“You want me to call it in?” Brody asks.

“What? No,” Mitch says. “I’m coming over; we’ll check it out.”

“Mitch--”

“Shut up and stay there,” Mitch orders. “And don’t take your eyes off the target.”

It’s hard to tell if Brody groans over the crackle of the CB as Mitch puts the receiver back.

Either way, it doesn’t matter.

Mitch is on the case.

-o-

Mitch jogs his way over to tower two, smiling at people as he passes in order to allay their concerns. Lifeguards running on beaches is a thing; usually a thing that makes people nervous. Most people realize that running means that there is an incident on the beach and they are properly concerned or worried. Other people just like to see lifeguards run in their swimsuits. Honestly, Mitch doesn’t have a problem with either.

All part of being a lifeguard, as far as he’s concerned.

When he gets to tower two, Brody is still dutifully manning his post. Mitch attempts to be discreet as he climbs up the ramp, coming up alongside him. “What do you got?”

Brody tips his head toward tower three. “It’s a white dude, probably in his 30s, but it’s hard to tell with the size of the sunhat he’s wear,” he reports. “Long hair, which isn’t put up, and he’s the only dude here wearing long pants, long sleeves and shoes with socks.”

Mitch squints down the beach, and Brody hands him the binoculars.

“Not to mention, he’s got the biggest sunglasses possible,” Brody adds. “And he’s literally got no gear. He’s just sitting there.”


He’s right where Brody said he was, and Brody’s description is dead on. The guy does stick out like a sore thumb. “Yeah, definitely not here for your typical day at the beach,” Mitch observes, watching him for a moment to gauge any behavioral cues.

“I’ve watched him for a bit, and despite the fact that he looks weird, he’s not actually doing anything wrong,” Brody says. “But I don’t know. He fits the profile. I thought maybe we should call it in?”

“No, you made the right call,” Mitch says, putting the binoculars down again.

“Great,” Brody says, reaching for the CB. “Ellerbee is just on the other channel--”

“No, not Ellerbee,” Mitch says. “You made the right call to me.”

Brody’s face actually falls a little.

“Look,” Mitch says. “Right now, we’ve just got a weird guy. There are weridoes up and down this beach all the time and most of them are harmless. We can’t turn over everyone to Ellerbee who acts different.”

“But I thought that was what we were supposed to do,” Brody says. “As per your briefing. This morning.”

Brody keeps saying this like it’s going to make some kind of difference. He’s being a little denser than usual today.

“We’re supposed to identify strange behavior and follow up,” Mitch clarifies.

“By contacting Ellerbee,” Brody prompts him, as if hoping this will make Mitch remember.

It does make Mitch remember. It makes him remember how frustrating working a case with Brody can be. “If we call Ellerbee now, all he can do is question the guy. The guy gets spooked, knows we’re onto him, and he’s gone. Our one chance is done.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not the way Ellerbee said it,” Brody ventures.

“But that’s the way it plays out,” Mitch reasons. “Ellerbee’s a cop; he has restrictions. We’re lifeguards!”

“Dude, Ellerbee is right over at tower four so it’d be super easy for him to question the dude, run his ID, all that shit,” Brody says, pointing down the beach. He’s almost whining now. “I can literally see him right now.”

“And we’re closer,” Mitch tells him. “Not to mention, we’re better suited to gauge whether or not a beach goer belongs here. Given that we’re lifeguards. All we have to do is check it out.”

This further distresses Brody. “We?”

“Yeah,” Mitch says. “You and me. We.”

Brody’s shoulders slump; he gestures to the water. “But what about the water?” he says, a little pleadingly now. “Do you remember what happened last time you pulled me off the beach for a case?”

“Uh, yeah,” Mitch says, starting down the ramp. “We stopped a major drug trafficking operation, put a stop to massive real estate fraud and prevented a murder plot.”

Brody looks positively incredulous now. “And are you forgetting about the part where you got fired and I nearly got killed -- twice! Not to mention you getting shot--”

“That’s not going to happen on every case,” Mitch corrects him impatiently.

“It shouldn’t happen on any case,” Brody tells him. “Because we’re lifeguards. Firearm training isn’t covered in the handbook.”

“We have to be prepared for everything,” Mitch replies, because that answer is perfect for every situation, especially where Brody is concerned.

Brody’s look of incredulity deepens to nearly comical levels. “Even combat training?”

“Anything I say, jackass,” Mitch says, and he’s not trying not to show how much he relishes this. Because this is a serious case, but messing with Brody is always a good time. “Remember who’s in charge here, and my lieutenant balls outrank your weird three year old girl balls every day of the week.”

Brody sighs, clearly aware that this line of argument is not going to get him anywhere. He’s learning, at least. Even if only by degrees. “I’ll do what you say because I have to,” he says, raising one finger to be menacing. It does not have the desired effect on Mitch. “But leave my balls out of it.”

“If you want to leave your balls behind, that’s up to you,” Mitch grunts, starting back down the ramp. “Now let’s move.”

He doesn’t look back; he doesn’t have to.

All his pissing and moaning aside, Mitch knows Brody is just a step behind him.

-o-

Brody is Mitch’s most vocal dissenter. Brody will question his decisions, suggest strange alterations to Baywatch policy to suit his interests, and he’s about the only lifeguard on duty who has the audacity to ask why when Mitch comes up with their latest case.

That said, Brody is also Mitch’s most loyal follower. Somehow, Brody is always the first one to follow Mitch into the action, no matter how ill advised said action will be. He may question their role as lifeguards more than anyone else, but he’s also the one who lives up to Mitch’s definition more than the rest. How this is possible, Mitch isn’t totally sure. Mitch figures that Brody has mixed instincts in this regard, and his sense of self preservation is coming face to face with his desire to play nice with the team.

In this regard, Mitch knows he has to cut Brody some slack. Being a good team member is not something Brody is well versed in, even if he is eager to learn. Being a selfish asshole, on the other hand, comes naturally to him. So it’s not a surprise that he questions Mitch even if he ultimately chooses to fall in line.

Although, a few months into the job, Mitch had sort of hoped that Brody would be past that. Brody had ended up all in for the Leeds job, and he’s been a stellar lifeguard ever since. He knows the rules; he plays by the book. He’s had a lot of saves, and he’s grown more in a short amount of time than any other lifeguard on Baywatch.

So why is he still pulling shit like this? Why does he still question Mitch’s choices when Mitch has been proven right every single time? It’s like there’s some disconnect, like Brody knows what it means to be a lifeguard but when it comes to the practical application, things just get crossed.

Mitch will have to figure that out. Maybe some more training. An extended mentoring. Until Brody’s first and last instinct is to be the lifeguard Mitch needs him to be.

As far as Mitch is concerned, that training can start now.

With their stalker on the beach.

They make their approach easily enough, acting like they’re on patrol. No one sees this as anything out of the ordinary; patrol is part of what they do. Usually it’s not in pairs, but it’s also not unprecedented. Mitch directs them in a casual path, but he doesn’t quite meander as they cut closer toward the man. When they draw closer, Mitch stops them, positioning himself so he has a view of the guy while Brody is facing the ocean.

“Okay,” Mitch says, keeping his voice low as he eyes the man. The man has noticed him, but he seems twitchy. Sweaty maybe. But he is wearing far too much clothing for the hot day. “We’ll split up here, get him surrounded. You take the six o’clock.”

Brody gives him the look; that look that only Brody musters up; that look that says he has no idea what Mitch is talking about. “Six o’clock? Are we talking military time again because I don’t know what 6 AM has to do with this.”

Mitch lets out a huff of exasperation. “Six o’clock,” Mitch says, pointing in the direction he means. “It’s about directionality.”

“Then why didn’t you just point?” Brody asks.

“Can you please try not to be stupid for the next five minutes?”

“I’m not stupid,” Brody retorts, sounding basically completely stupid. “This whole tactic is stupid.”

“No, it’s smart,” Mitch says, leaving no room for argument as he keeps the man pinned in his sights. “Now, I’ll go that way; you go that way.”

Brody seems to know which way to go now, but he can’t make it easy. Of course not. “And do what exactly?”

“Cut off all possible lines of flight,” Mitch says, because this seems entirely self evident to him.

“But why is he running?” Brody asks.

“He won’t be, if we’re discreet,” Mitch says. “You can be discreet, right?”

“Mitch, we’re wearing red swimsuits with big letters that say LIFEGUARD, which is what we are, by the way,” he counters. “Our whole thing is to not be discreet.’

This is getting on Mitch’s nerves. He has better things to do. Like catching stalkers on beaches that are targeting his employees. “Just shut up,” he hisses. The man is still there; he shows no signs of moving, but there’s still something twitchy about him. “And do your job.”

Brody is somber; serious for a moment. “I really think we should just get Ellerbee for this one.”

“There’s no jurisdiction for Ellerbee to hold him,” Mitch argues.

“Just to stalk him?” Brody asks.

“Observing, we’re observing,” Mitch says, not letting his gaze waver, no matter how utterly ridiculous and frustrating Brody is at the moment. “That’s what lifeguards do.”

Brody is less and less on task with this one. He’s not trying to be discreet. His voice is way too loud and he’s looking wherever he wants with no indication that he’s trying to remain unobtrusive in their keyed pursuit. “I’m not sure you actually know what the definition of a lifeguard is,” he says. “Like, maybe you’ve been on the job too long that you’ve forgotten what it says in the job description.”

Mitch glances away from his mark to give Brody a perturbed glare. “You’re the low idiot on the totem pole, I’m the celebrated veteran who also happens to be your boss.”

Finally -- finally -- Brody throws up his hands. Literally. The man glances at them anxiously and Mitch bites back a curse as Brody finally acquiesces. “Fine!” he says, starting off in the general direction of six o’clock, muttering the whole way. “Be a lifeguard, they said. Get a tan, they said. It’ll rehab your image. It’ll be great!”

This is not the plan Mitch had.

He sets off in the opposite direction, the man still clearly locked in his sights.

Fortunately, Mitch has never needed Matt Brody to finish a case.

And he’s not about to start now.

-o-

Mitch is completely focused.

This is why he’s so good at what he does. He sets his mind to something, and that’s all there is. He cannot be swayed; he will not be swayed.

So the strange dude on the beach?

Will have a complete description for the police with an accurate assessment of his movement over a period of time. It’ll be great for building a profile and narrowing in on him as a suspect in the case.

Focus as he is, he doesn’t see Brody until after the kid yells his name.

In fact, he doesn’t see Brody at all; he sees a flash of red shorts and a blue shirt sprinting across the beach on Mitch’s six o’clock.

“Mitch!” Brody screams.

Mitch is frozen; Brody is blowing this. He’s blowing their surveillance. Mitch looks at the guy, who is clearly spooked now, ready to run.

Brody, moron that he is, is still running. He screams louder. “Mitch! Duck!”

This doesn’t make any sense to Mitch.

Until he sees the other guy, the only one who’s standing still as everyone around them turns to flee. Mitch doesn’t get a good look at him, but he sees the steely look in his eye as he lifts his hand and something glints in the summer sun.

“Mitch!” Brody yells once more, coming between him and the man before stopping just short of Mitch, stopping abruptly at a sound that cuts across the beach with a deafening retort.

Brody’s not running anymore, but the mark is gone. Mitch looks to Brody, not sure why he’s decided to be such an asshole now. Why did he compromised their position? Why did he give their pursuit away? And why the hell did he stop there?

And why the hell is he looking at Mitch like that?

Eyes wide; mouth open. Brody looks down at his chest, lifting his fingers up and blotting at a stain on his chest.

He pulls his fingers away, looking at them as they glint red in the sunlight.

Brody doesn’t understand.

Mitch doesn’t understand.

The second man.

Brody’s sprint.

The sound.

The blood?

Brody looks at Mitch again, meeting his gaze. This time, Brody understands. This time, he gets it.

Mitch still doesn’t have a clue.

None of it makes sense; not a single piece of it. Mitch had a plan; Mitch had a case; Mitch had it all figured out.

And now Brody is standing there with blood on his fingers while the rest of the beach clears and a loud noise reverberates over the sound of their fleeing screams.

Then Brody blinks.

He swallows convulsively, color draining from his face as his knees go weak and he hits the sand.

He blinks again before crumpling all the way to the ground.

Then Mitch sees the man behind Brody, the one looking straight at him with a gun in his hand.

Now it makes sense; the critical piece falls into place. Mitch had a plan; Mitch had a case; Mitch had it all figured out.

He also had the wrong guy.

He’d been so busy watching the wrong one that he totally missed the pulling the trigger.

And putting a bullet right through Brody’s back.

-o-

Mitch is only frozen in his place for a fraction of a second.

It’s barely the blink of an eye, the downbeat of a heart. It’s not a full breath; it’s not a full thought.

A fraction of a second when Mitch can’t think, can’t move, can’t comprehend what the hell just happened. It comes at him at once -- the myriad of sensations and thoughts and emotions -- and he’s faced with the horrible conclusion that he should have seen this coming.

It’s only a fraction of a second.

It’s a whole lot longer than what he usually takes.

It feels like a lifetime.

Not his life, of course.

Brody’s.

A fraction of a second too long.

Before Mitch remembers: he’s a lifeguard.

Just like that, he springs into action.

With long strides, he cuts a path to Brody, going to his knees by the other man’s side. This much, at least, is instincts, but the sight of the blood almost makes him freeze again.

Blood is something he’s dealt with before, but usually not in these quantities. Because when Mitch looks at Brody, it’s honestly all he can see. Blood. Everywhere. And more spilling out with every second that passes.

Mitch curses. He’s especially adept at CPR, but he knows the basics of first aid. He knows how to assess a wound.

But first he has to see the damn thing.

There’s nothing he can do about the blood, but Brody’s hands are grappling at the injury, his head lifting off the sand in some vain attempt to see it better.

This whole situation feels frantic, which is why Mitch has to be calm.

“Okay, let me see,” he says, taking Brody’s hands in his own. “You need to let me see.”

Brody’s not completely listening to him. He fights, rocking back and forth to strain his head, hands slipping through Mitch’s own, the blood making them hard to hold.

“Brody, I need to see,” Mitch says again, firm and resolute. Not panicked. Not panicked. He ignores the blood, takes the fingers and clapses them in his own. “Let me see.”

Brody’s still not listening, straining against him even as Mitch easily pushes his hands to his side. When he presses them into the sand, Brody tries to lift them again, but Mitch is faster and now that he’s in position, there’s not much Brody can do.

Also, Brody’s bleeding like a stuck pig. So this isn’t exactly a fair comparison.

“Okay,” Mitch says, doing his best to wipe away the blood. It smears over the front of Brody’s swim shirt, but Mitch narrows in on the hole that’s been ripped through the fabric. “Okay.”

He says it like it means something. Like he knows what the hell is wrong or what the hell to do.

That’s a total lie, though.

There’s a hole in Brody’s chest. A big hole. In perspective, Mitch can reason that it’s not that big -- Brody would be dead if it were huge -- but in the heat of the moment, it’s safe to say that any hole in Brody’s chest is going to seem disproportionately large.

And it gushes blood, pulsing with it in fact.

Brody is still lifting his head, trying to see. “Shit,” is all he says, and as much as Mitch is trying not to panic, Brody already seems on the cusp of it. “Shit.”

Mitch doesn’t say anything, even if he silently agrees. It takes him another second to process the location of the wound. It’s not a shoulder shot, but it’s on the opposite side of Brody’s heart. It’s probably hit the lungs, Mitch can only guess, but that’s not the worst of it.

No, because Mitch remembers that Brody was looking at him when this happened.

That means that the shot came from behind him.

Which means.

This time, Mitch does curse. “It’s an exit wound,” he breathes.

Brody all but cries. “I’ve been shot,” he says, sounding like he can’t believe it.

That’s why it looks so big. It is big. Exit wounds are always bigger. It’s science or something. It also means Brody is bleeding from a wound to the back as well.

Brody’s chest hitches, and his mouth falls open. He’s gaping, literally gasping for air. “I’ve been shot,” he says again, as if he’s trying to convince himself that it’s real. Or not real. Mitch isn’t sure which.

Mitch isn’t sure which for himself, either.

All he knows is that he has to stop the bleeding.

He looks at the blood, still spilling in vast quantities from Brody’s chest.

He has to try, anyway, before Brody bleeds to death on this very beach.

Gritting his teeth together, Mitch straightens his arms and presses down as hard as he can, putting pressure directly on the wound. He understands, from his copious experience with CPR, how much force is warranted, but it’s harder to do when Brody shudders in pain beneath him.

Mitch doesn’t relent. He hopes, he really has to hope, that this can stem the flow from the front, and with enough direct pressure, he might be able to use gravity and the ground to slow the flow from the entrance wound as well.

He looks up, remembering the next important step of being a lifeguard. He’s a first line of defense in situations like this (not like this, there have never been situation like this), but he needs back up.

“Someone call 911!” he yells at no one in particular.

The crowd has dispersed and gathered, a few lingering closer than the rest. They’re holding phones. Someone says, “Already on their way!”

Mitch doesn’t know if that’s true; he has no way of checking.

He looks back at Brody and loses that train of thought entirely anyway. Because now, Brody’s head has dropped back to the sand. Maybe he’s too weak to hold it up. Maybe he’s given up on it. In either case, he’s looking at Mitch with wide, terrified blue eyes.

Mitch wants to swear again. The word gets caught in his throat.

Brody blinks a few times, tears welling in his eyes as his breathing staggers and Mitch can feel his pulse falter under his pressure.

Swallowing hard, Mitch musters up his voice. “What the hell did you do?” he demands, and it’s harsher than he means. A growl.

Starting to tremble, Brody’s breathing is turning shallow now as he wets his lips and tries to speak. “I’ve been shot.”

He still sounds surprised.

Mostly, he sounds scared shitless.

And Mitch doesn’t understand it at all. “But how?” he asks.

“The dude,” Brody says, clearly working to find his voice. The pronunciation is breathless. “Y-you didn’t see him. I mean, not the creepy one. The. The other one. Green hat. D-dorky Hawaiian trunks. Flamingo umbrella.”

It’s a pained recitation that is unsettlingly precise. This not only speaks to Brody’s attention to detail in this case, but the fact that Mitch didn’t see it.

At all.

“Where, though?” Mitch asks, keeping the pressure steady, no matter how much it looked like it hurt Brody, even if tears were starting to slip from his eyes, running back into his hair. “I was watching the mark!”

Brody shakes his head, and it’s not clear what he’s disagreeing with. It’s not clear that he knows what he’s disagreeing with. Nothing is clear anymore except the amount of blood welling up between Mitch’s clenched fingers. “I saw -- a gun,” Brody says, and his eyebrows knit together. Concern; confusion. “He was -- he was going to shoot. You.”

That’s why Brody ran. That’s why Brody blew their discreet cover. That’s why Brody came between them.

That’s why.

But Mitch still doesn’t understand why.

He screws his face up, looking at Brody like he’s speaking gibberish. “And you jumped in the way,” Mitch concludes the story. It’s not quite a statement. It’s not quite a question. It’s a dawning realization that Mitch has no idea what to actually do with.

Brody blinks a few more times. He’s crying more now, his breathing more jagged as the tremors increase over the length of his body. “He was -- he was -- going to shoot you.”

Mitch’s arms are starting to ache; his fingers feel like they’re locking up from the constant pressure. “And he shot you instead.”

Brody’s face breaks, momentarily dissolving into a sob. “Shit, Mitch.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Mitch says, the words coming reflexively in response to Brody’s increasing fear. He says it even though the whole in Brody’s chest is too big and there’s just too much blood. “Don’t worry about it.”

Brody is starting to cry again. “Shit,” he says again, as if that somehow makes this situation clearer for him. “I’ve been shot.”

He sounds more surprised each time he says it.

More terrified.

Mitch forces himself to stay calm. “You’re going to be okay,” he says, and it’s a stupid, audacious kind of lie. The one you tell someone because you want them to feel better not because it’s true. And it means nothing as Brody’s face goes pale as fast as the sand around him is going red.

Brody can’t see that, but he knows. His body tries to twist, bucking weakly against Mitch’s unyielding pressure. “But, like, I’ve been shot,” he pants, almost hysterical now. “It hurts.”

“I know, but I’ve got you,” Mitch assures him, and that usually works on people. But most of the people Mitch saves haven’t been shot. In fact, none of them have been shot. Mitch can do CPR and the Heimlich, and he’s applied bandages and sunscreen, but gunshots? He’s not trained for gunshots. “I’ve got you.”

Brody’s heart flutters against Mitch’s fingers, which are now coated in Brody’s blood. “Am I dying?”

Mitch’s stomach hurts; his chest hurts. His whole body hurts and he’s not the one with a hole ripped through his chest. “No,” he says, shaking his head. He’s adamant not because it’s true, but because he needs to believe it. Brody needs to believe it.

Brody’s a contrary son of a bitch, sometimes. His face crumples again. “I think I’m dying.”

Mitch’s own resolve feels like it’s flagging. “You’re not,” he insists, because he wants to believe it, more than he’s ever wanted anything.

With a strangled gasp, Brody starts to strain even more. There’s a wet quality to his breath now, and Mitch can almost feel it as it pulls painfully in his damaged lung. No matter how much Brody tries to breathe, it seems to be a losing proposition now, and Brody’s eyes start to go a little wild. “I’m a -- I’m a lifeguard,” Brody says, and he sounds surprised. So damn surprised. “Why am I shot?”

Somewhere, Mitch can hear the sirens. He hears the crowd tittering behind him, and someone says, “Help’s almost here!”

Mitch can’t hear them, though, not really. He’s too focused on the sound of Brody’s fading voice, which makes him sound younger than he is, too young. And there’s too much blood. It’s everywhere. He sees it, covering his own hands, spilling over Brody’s chest. The sand beneath them is starting to congeal.

Why can’t Mitch stop the blood?

“Shit, Mitch,” Brody says, and something gurgles in his chest. Brody chokes for a second, spluttering for air and bringing up blood instead as it flecks his lips. “I can’t…”

“Brody,” Mitch says, and Brody chokes again, spraying more blood as he coughs. “Stay with me.”

This time, Mitch knows that Brody tries. Brody’s a contrary son of a bitch, but he loves Baywatch. He’d never leave, not Baywatch, not Mitch. Not unless he had absolutely no choice. Almost simultaneously, Brody’s breathing tapers off to a desperate wheeze while Mitch feels his pulse start to hammer erratically in his chest.

“Brody!” he yells, his most demanding, unwavering voice.

But Brody’s eyes have rolled back and his eyelids have closed.

He’s gone.

He’s gone.

There’s nothing else Mitch can do.

Then, suddenly, he’s wrenched back, and he falls hard on his ass. He’s too shocked to fight, and he watches numbly as a pair of medics take over, one swiftly sliding into place over Brody’s chest to apply pressure while another starts to assess Brody’s vitals.

They can do something.

They’re trained for this.

Mitch watches as they set up oxygen, apply a pressure bandage, rolling Brody over to secure a second bandage into place before setting up on IV and hooking Brody up to a portable monitor. One of them inserts a tube into Brody’s chest, which drains with blood while Brody’s chest rises.

That’s why they’re paramedics.

They talk about blood pressure, oxygenation, heart rate and collapsed lungs. He’s going to need a few units of blood for sure, and they may have to tube him. If they scoop and run, they reason, they might just have a chance. Brody might have a chance.

And that’s why Mitch is just a lifeguard.

They load Brody onto a stretcher, and they don’t hesitate or look back as the crowd parts for them. Brody is moved to the waiting ambulance, packed up with the doors closed and sirens on as it starts out from crowded beachside to the hospital nearby.

Mitch is still standing there.

Just another civilian in the crowd.

-o-

It takes Mitch several long seconds to realize he’s not alone. In fact, he probably would not have noticed at all, but Ellerbee pats him on the shoulder consolingly.

“You found our guy, then,” the beat cop says apologetically.

It’s only then that Mitch sees several more officers have gathered, already canvassing and securing the scene, starting to gather up witnesses. They know exactly what to do. They’re cops, after all. This is their job.

“Brody,” Mitch starts, but his voice sounds strange. He clears his throat and tries again. “Brody ID’d him. I didn’t get a good look.”

If Ellerbee is disappointed that he’s not getting a good description, he hides it well. “The beach was full. We had lots of witnesses. Several of my cops already have a working description. We’ll cross reference the reports, but you better believe we’re already looking for the guy.”

He’s so matter of fact about it that Mitch doesn’t know what to do. This is as much his case as Ellerbee and he’s got nothing.

Because, Mitch realizes dimly, Ellerbee is a cop. Mitch? He’s just a lifeguard.

Ellerbee pats him on the shoulder again. “Come on, man.”

Mitch looks at him, confused. “Why?”

Ellerbee is unusually patient for one. “Because you’re covered in blood, my man.”

Looking down, there’s even more blood than Mitch remembers. He wonders how Brody has any left. “It’s not mine.”

“I figured,” Ellerbee drawls. “But I figure you still belong at the hospital.”

This seems obvious the way Ellerbee says it, but Mitch can’t quite figure out why. He’s brain is slower than it should be. Shock, he thinks, but he’s not sure what to do with it. In his mind, he’s still scoping out the wrong guy on the beach whole Brody comes running, yelling his name. “Why?” he asks, wondering if Brody’s there yet, if the ambulance has unloaded Brody into the ER, where trained doctors and nurses are treating him. “I’m just a lifeguard.”

Ellerbee gives him a look. It’s a funny look, one Mitch thinks isn’t warranted because Ellerbee has always been the first to tell him his place. He has every right to rub this in Mitch’s face, to tell him I-told-you-so. But this time he actually looks sorry instead. “You do know that you’re the reason Brody’s alive, right?”

Mitch knows that he’s the reason Brody is shot. His quizzical look speaks for itself.

“That much blood, man,” Ellerbee says. “Brody would have bled out without first aid. By the time I got here, it probably would have been too late.”

Mitch is shaking his head. He can’t listen to platitudes, especially not ones that make him out to be some kind of hero and not a lifeguard utterly out of his depth.

This is a new place for him to be, almost entirely. He’d thought getting fired was hard, being thrust from the purpose he knew he had for his life. This, though. This is finding out that his purpose is not as clear as it used to be, that maybe being a lifeguard isn’t the quintessential element of existence like he once believed.

All he’s ever wanted to be is a lifeguard.

Now, standing with blood stained hands on a beach he calls his own, he’s not sure that’s actually enough.

Next to him, Ellerbee draws a long breath and lets it out. He cajoles Mitch with a pat on the shoulder again. “Come on,” he says, motioning back toward the parking lot. “Let’s get you cleaned up a bit. You can give me an informal statement.”

The words almost don’t even make sense to him. “Statement?”

“About what you saw,” Ellerbee says. “Nothing too formal, and then we’ll get you down to the hospital.”

Usually Mitch is the one giving orders and making plans. This time, he can’t even get his brain to function. “I don’t -- I don’t know.”

“It’s cool, it’s cool,” Ellerbee says, like he knows exactly what’s going on. It occurs to Mitch that Ellerbee may in fact know exactly what’s going on. He’s a cop; this is a crime scene. “Look, the scene is being secured. I told you. I’ve got officers already canvassing the scene and taking witness accounts. Backup is on the way.”

“Backup?” Mitch asks, watching as Ellerbee’s fellow cops do the work Ellerbee says they’re doing. He wonders why he’s not noticed how efficient they are before. How many are there within minutes.

“Sure, I mean, we’re going to need a manhunt,” Ellerbee continues, because he’s thought of this already. He’s thought of everything, like a proper cop would. “I mean, I am just assuming this is our guy.”

Our guy, Mitch thinks dumbly. He thinks about the twitchy guy in the long pants and the too-big hat. Mitch can provide a thorough description of him, but all he remembers about the other guy is what Brody told him before he passed out. “Hawaiian trunks. Green hat. Flamingo umbrella.”

Ellerbee is somewhat impressed. “So you did see him.”

“No, Brody had eyes on him,” Mitch says, and he remembers the panicked look on Brody’s face when he ran. The terrified look in his eyes as he struggled for breath. “That’s his ID. He gave it to me, when he was, when he was--”

Mitch can’t bring himself to finish.

Mercifully, Ellerbee understands more than Mitch is saying. “Well, all the more reason for us to get to work.”

Mitch looks at him, almost for the first time since he arrived on the scene. Ellerbee wanted this to be a joint op from the beginning. It hadn’t occurred to Mitch that Ellerbee was the one doing him a favor sometimes. “Us?”

“Well, me and my cops on the scene,” he says. “You do yours.”

This seems ridiculous now. Like, really ridiculous. Mitch ran into this with a life preserver. He’s not even wearing shoes. “I’m a lifeguard,” he says, as if he realizes for the first time what the actual implications of that are. He’s not ready for a gun fight. He’s not ready.

“And a friend,” Ellerbee says. “I mean, Brody’s your boy. Far as I can tell, you got the most important job of all, helping him pull through this.”

These are the kind of things you say to someone in shock. These are the things you say to someone who’s just been through hell and doesn’t have their feet quite on solid ground. These are the things Mitch has always said to the people he’s pulled out of the water, the families of the victims he’s not able to say.

He’s always meant them, of course.

But he’s never really thought about them.

What they mean.

The implications.

Mitch isn’t sure it means anything.

You go to the beach, looking for a nice, relaxing day, and you come home one family member short. You want to learn how to surf, and you take your board out and get dragged to shore not breathing. It’s your golden years, and you want to walk on quiet beaches, holding hands in the surf, but forty years of marriage ends with tragedy.

You’re a lifeguard, and you want to keep your beach safe, but you get your best friend shot right in front of you.

It doesn’t mean anything.

“You got something to change into at HQ?” Ellerbee asks, but he’s already steering Mitch away from the beach. “Let’s go find out before we borrow a squad car and check on Brody.”

Mitch isn’t sure if that sounds like a good idea or a bad idea. The best idea or the worst.

Shit, Mitch isn’t sure of anything.

Instead, he follows Ellerbee, step by step, away from the beach.