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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Rocks and Hard Places (1/10)

December 21st, 2018 (10:16 pm)

Title: Rocks and Hard Places

Rating: M

A/N: Yeah, there is nothing realistic about this fic. So if over the top melodramatic medical scenarios aren’t your thing, then why are you here? This is my fill for archaic medical treatment in hc_bingo. No beta.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Summary: Mitch doesn’t love anything more than the ocean. Except maybe he does.

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



-o-

Mitch Buchannon was oceanic.

Now, this was the kind of shit one said when they were jacked up on urchin venom and facing down a mad woman who wanted to kill them and take over the bay. It was the fantastical verbiage that one might associate with a force of nature or a demigod or whatever. If anyone else said it, it would sound ridiculous.

But when Mitch said it, it was just true.

Mitch was oceanic.

This wasn’t just because he was some lifeguard. Or even that he was a really good lifeguard. It was that he loved the ocean. He loved everything about it. He loved swimming in it; he loved surfing in it. He loved boating and fishing and exploring and all that shit. He loved watching it.

He loved watching people fall in love with it, too. He liked watching the locals, the ones who came back every day, rain or shine. He liked watching the surfers who never seemed to hold down a steady job but always showed up with their boards for a good wave. He liked watching the tourists on the beach, the ones who had never seen the ocean before. He liked watching as they marveled before it, understanding for the first time what Mitch had known since he was very, very young.

The ocean was amazing.

It was spectacular and impressive and vast and powerful. It was the thing that connected everyone, a force so irresistible that it demanded your immediate and uncompromising respect.

The ocean had been Mitch’s first love.

He was pretty sure it was his only love.

And to think, he was literally paid money to stand there and watch it.

Mitch knew he had the best job ever.

Smiling, he looked down the beach. The best job with the best team.

“Hey!” Brody called from the foot of the tower. “Aren’t you off duty?”

Mitch looked down at him, still smiling. It was the best team.

Even if he had to count Brody.

“Sure,” Mitch said. “But I’m just enjoying the view.”

Brody made a small face of indifference, climbing up the ramp to stand next to him. “I guess,” he said, falling into position next to Mitch, eyes turned out toward the horizon, too.

To be fair, Brody was a good lifeguard, too. And even though Mitch liked to give him shit, Brody was also a valued and respected member of Mitch’s beloved team. That wasn’t a distinction Mitch made lightly.

Besides, moments like this, Mitch was reminded of the constancy of the ocean. It made him far more likely to wax poetic and play nice.

“It’s a nice night, at least,” Brody observed from next to him.

“It’s a perfect night,” Mitch said. “I mean, look at it.”

Brody shrugged. “I meant the weather.”

“Sure, the weather. But I mean, look at the water. We’ve got the sun coming down, clear skies, a perfect breeze, the right waves,” Mitch said, soaking in every detail. “You couldn’t ask for more.”

Brody was quiet for a second, as he seemed to contemplate that. “I guess,” he said again. “Hey, you going to be home for dinner?”

Mitch stopped, suddenly getting the sense that Brody wasn’t taking this very seriously. “You guess?”

“Well, I was thinking about picking up a pizza, but if you want to cook something, I’m game,” he said.

Mitch shook his head. “I’m not talking about dinner. I’m talking about the ocean.”

Brody stopped, clearly trying to process whether or not he was supposed to take this comment seriously. “Okay,” he said.

When he didn’t elaborate, Mitch found his ire rising inexplicably. “I mean, you do see the ocean out there, right?”

“Sure,” Brody said, determining that this might have been a trick question.

“And it’s spectacular,” Mitch reminded him.

“It’s nice,” Brody said. “I told you, it’s a nice night.”

There was something very lacking in that answer. With a tourist, Mitch would let it slide. With a local, Mitch might chalk it up to a bad day.

But with one of his own?

With Brody?

Who lived in his house and who had been his pet project for four months?

“It’s not about the night,” Mitch said. He pointed out to the waves, where the sun was sinking lower. “It’s about the ocean!”

“Okay,” Brody said. “So that’s a no to dinner?”

Mitch stared at him.

Brody stared back.

For a moment, they stood there like that, before Brody shrugged again. “Well, I’ll pick up enough pizza for both of us,” he said. “When you’re done with the ocean or whatever, you can have some.”

With that, he headed back down the ramp, whistling to himself. As if this was still a perfect night to him. Mitch watched him, more shocked by the second while Brody made his way up the beach without even looking back as the sun crested low over the water, sending colorful rays of color into the darkening sky.

A perfect night with a perfect sunset over a perfect ocean.

Mitch could not ask for more.

-o-

Except, he could.

He tried to tell himself it wasn’t necessary. He really did try. But he couldn’t shake how much the interaction had bothered him.

How much it still bothered him.

Because he couldn’t understand how so much perfection could be ignored.

Brody had always been a little bit different. That was a polite way of saying it. He’d rode into Baywatch thinking he was all that, not realizing that his Olympic achievements meant nothing to Mitch or the ocean. It had been a fast learning curve, and Brody had ultimately held his own, but not without stumbles along the way.

Mitch had thought when Brody came through for the team, when he committed himself to Baywatch, that he got it. Because he understood what it meant to be on a team. He understood that there job was about life and death. He embraced his duty to the bay.

Was it possible that in all of that that Brody had missed the fundamental truth? The reason behind why all of this mattered?

Was it possible that Brody still didn’t appreciate the ocean?

This was the question Mitch was asking himself the whole way home. It was the question he asked himself while Brody stuffed his face with pizza while they watched a game on TV. It was the question he asked when Brody said goodnight, shuffling off to bed with a burp and a sigh.

He asked it to himself all night, as he paced on the back porch, unable to sleep. He asked it to himself in the morning when Brody drank his coffee and went out for his morning run. He asked it when Brody went to his assigned post at tower two, and he asked it all morning while at tower one, unable to take his eyes off tower two.

By all accounts, Brody was having a normal day. He was being attentive and friendly. He interacted well with beachgoers and other lifeguards. He made all appropriate actions, and he intervened when necessary. Watching Brody, he completely fit the part. Over the last few months, he’d become exactly the lifeguard Mitch had trained him to be.

Except for the fact that he thought the ocean wasn’t that impressive.

Well, Mitch didn’t think two gold medals were all that impressive.

Okay, so maybe he did.

But still.

Mitch narrowed his eyes, chewing on his lip. He’d spent more time studying Brody than the ocean today, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Not true: there was one thing he could do about it.

He could find out why.

Not why did he stare at Brody all day.

But why did Brody not care about the ocean that much.

That was Mitch’s task this evening.

To find out why.

-o-

Resolved, Mitch closed down his tower at exactly the right time. Normally, he liked to stick around, be friendly, but he had a purpose tonight. A purpose that led him straight down the beach to tower two.

Brody was packing it in at a leisurely pace, making small talk with a straggler on the beach as he closed out his tower. He was coming down the ramp when he saw Mitch.

Of course he saw Mitch.

Mitch was standing right there at the bottom, waiting for him.

Obliviously, Brody smiled. “Hey!” he said, as if he were glad to see Mitch.

Well, he was glad, obviously. But he didn’t know that he should have been ready for a deep and intense conversation about the personal merits of the ocean.

Still, Mitch couldn’t lead with that. “How’d it go today?” he asked.

This was, of course, a dumb question. Mitch had watched him all day long. He knew exactly how things had gone today.

Brody still smiled brighter. “Good!”

The cheerfulness made Mitch intensify his gaze. Brody was too happy. For someone who didn’t care about the ocean, he sure enjoyed being in its proximity more than he had any right to. “Nice night,” Mitch said, as passive-aggressively as possibly.

“Sure is,” Brody said, taking a deep breath of ocean air.

Like that meant something to him.

Mitch gave up on pretenses. “Nice ocean.”

Brody looked surprised at that. “What?”

“The ocean,” Mitch repeated, humorlessly now. “It’s nice tonight. Don’t you think?”

Brody had always been slightly weirded out by Mitch’s constant references to the ocean. In this context, Mitch’s current comment probably seem equally weird but not unusual. He nodded politely. “Yeah, sure.”

For some reason, this only seemed to annoy Mitch more. The lackluster enthusiasm was more than Mitch could handle. “You really don’t see it, do you?”

Brody was finally beginning to sense that something was amiss, even if he seemed at a loss for what. “See what? The ocean?”

“Why it matters,” Mitch replied stolidly.

Brody understood then. He sighed. “This is about our conversation last night, isn’t it?” he said.

Mitch squared his shoulders, refusing to be cowed. “Yes.”

“Dude, you can’t be this hung up on this,” Brody told him, as if his opinion meant anything now that Mitch knew his thoughts about the ocean.

“Of course I am!” Mitch insisted.

“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it, okay?” Brody explained. “I get it, the ocean’s your thing. That’s cool. But it’s not my thing. I don’t get why that weirds you out so much.”

“Because you’re the one being weird,” Mitch argued. “It’s weird not to get this.”

He pointed a finger, jabbing it at the waves.

Brody let his shoulders sag. “You’re making way too big a deal out of this.”

“You need to make a bigger deal out of it,” Mitch argued.

Brody made a face. “It’s the ocean, okay. It’s nice.”

“Nice? You can’t just call it nice and pretend like that fixes anything,” Mitch told him.

“There’s nothing to fix, though,” Brody said.

Mitch shook his head, digging in his heels -- literally and figuratively. “You’re here all the time. You see it every day. How can you not love it?”

Brody opened his mouth, looking for an answer that might appease Mitch’s righteous anger. “I like it just fine.”

Mitch crossed his arms over his chest. “But you don’t love it.”

Brody shrugged, a futile gesture now. “Do I have to?”

“Yes!” Mitch insisted, voice raising dangerously.

A few people passing by balked, but Brody threw out his hands, his own voice rising in return. “Why?!”

“Because!” Mitch said, and he was yelling now. Well and truly yelling. “We’re lifeguards!”

A few people were actively staring now, and one looked ready to call 911 for fear of a fight breaking out.

Over the intrinsic value of the ocean.

Brody had noticed this, too. He lowered his voice, lowering the tension between them. “Dude, I think you need to chill,” he said. He slung his bag over his shoulder. “Look, I’m going to be late tonight. Summer and I have this thing.”

Mitch didn’t reply; Brody didn’t need one. Instead, Mitch watched as Brody made his way down the beach toward HQ.

As if that could be that.

Mitch looked out at the ocean, brooding.

That could never be that.

-o-

Back at home, Mitch was still brooding. He ate outside on the back porch, giving himself a view of the ocean for comfort. He liked the sound of the wave. He liked the smell of the air.

This was the perfect setting.

Brody was crazy.

There had to be a reason why.

There had to be an explanation.

Some kind of short circuit in his too-small brain.

Brody had been too involved with the team, too dedicated to the cause. Ever since their case with Leeds…

The thought made Mitch pause.

The case with Leeds had been more dramatic than most. Brody himself had taken the point, and nearly been killed because of it.

In fact, Mitch stopped chewing his dinner, and cocked his head. In fact, Brody had nearly been drowned.

At the bottom of the ocean.

His eyes lit up; that had to be it.

Brody didn’t hate the ocean.

He was scared of it.

PTSD explained everything.

-o-

Brody, of course, disagreed.

When he found Mitch waiting up for him at midnight when he rolled in late, he was taken aback. But when Mitch’s first question was, “Drowning is a terrible way to die, don’t you think?”

Brody looked like he wanted to cry.

Mitch took this as a good sign.

Until Brody said: “You’re still stuck on this, aren’t you?”

“I’m not stuck,” Mitch said. “You are. And it’s my fault for not seeing it sooner.”

Brody threw his bag down, and flopped heavily into a chair. “There’s nothing to see, man.”

“You nearly drowned in the bay just four months ago. When I found you, you were barely semiconscious. If I had been another ten seconds later, you would be dead.”

Brody grimaced. “Thank you for that positive reminder.”

“I’m just saying, it’s totally normal to be afraid after an incident like that,” Mitch said. “Your trepidation around the ocean is natural. I just wish you’d told me about it sooner.”

“But I don’t have trepidation around the water!” Brody exploded. “I mean, sure I’m more cautious around women with guns who are trying to kill me, but that wasn’t anything to do with the ocean.”

Mitch stopped, his well prepared speech falling flat now. “It’s not?”

“No,” Brody said, more emphatically than before. “It’s not.”

“Then you don’t like the ocean because…?”

“I don’t dislike the ocean!” Brody insisted. “I just don’t love it.”

Mitch’s expression flattened out. “There’s something with you.”

Brody groaned, getting back to his feet. “I’m going to bed.”

-o-

Mitch went to bed as well.

At least, he tried to. Really, he stayed awake, staring at the ceiling while he brooded some more.

So, Brody didn’t have PTSD.

Fine, there was another reason then. There was no way Brody could fit in so well at Baywatch if he didn’t love the ocean. Maybe it was something from his childhood. He had a messed up childhood, Mitch knew that. Growing up in Iowa, no less.

Iowa was a long way from California.

And it didn’t have beaches or oceans.

He chewed his lip, wondering if that was it.

There would be one way to find out.

-o-

He was waiting for Brody with a pot of coffee between them. When the younger man sat down for breakfast, Mitch asked. “Do you miss Iowa?”

Brody was still drowsy from sleep. “Iowa?” he said, pouring himself a cup. “Why?”

“Because it was your home,” Mitch said. “You grew up there.”

Brody made a face. “That hardly makes it a home,” he said. He snorted. “I didn’t have anything resembling a home until I came to Baywatch.”

Mitch sighed, feeling frustrated. “So you don’t secretly pine to go back to Iowa?”

“Uh, no,” Brody said. “But I am starting to secretly wonder if you’ve lost your mind.”

“Hey, you’re the freak around here,” Mitch shot back at him.

Brody got to his feet with a scoff. “Says the man who is waiting to ambush me with questions about my feelings on the ocean.”

“The ocean is amazing!” Mitch said.

“Sure, thing,” Brody said, taking his coffee cup back to his bedroom. “I’ll be ready for work in ten!”

-o-

Brody was ready in 10 minutes.

Mitch wasn’t.

Mitch wasn’t ever going to be ready, not when this issue was still utterly unresolved between them. But no matter how he tried, Brody remained lofty in his avoidance of the topic. Instead, he talked about other things. He was friendly and nice and kind. Worst of all, he acted like everything was normal.

Like indifference to the ocean didn’t matter at all.

-o-

It was much to Mitch’s chagrin that no one noticed it either. After a few days, he brought the topic up with Stephanie, whose first response was to shrug.

“You don’t think it’s a problem?”

“Not really,” she said.

“How is it not a problem?” Mitch demanded.

“Well, his performance on the job is great,” she said. “He had a rough start, sure, but after that? He’s been impeccable on duty. And everyone here loves him.”

“But he’s completely lukewarm about the ocean,” Mitch said. “As a lifeguard.”

“But if it doesn’t affect his job performance, then what does it matter?” Stephanie asked. “We’ve all got our things.”

“And all of our things are the ocean!” Mitch said.

She laughed. “I think you’re taking this a little personally, Mitch,” she said.

He was gaping as she got up to leave.

“He’s fine,” she said, patting him on the shoulder. “Maybe you should just let this one go.”

-o-

Mitch could not let it go.

To his credit, he tried. For three more days, he tried to grin and bear it. Brody said nothing more about it. He was affable and charming and prompt and good. But every time he did something right, Mitch could still see his indifferent, flippant shrug.

It’s nice.

It seemed less nice every second of every day.

Until finally, after shift on Friday night, Mitch couldn’t take it anymore.

“Okay, straight up,” Mitch said without preamble. “Tell me what your deal is with the ocean.”

Brody looked at him, far too earnest. “I don’t have a deal with the ocean,” he said. “I think you do, though.”

“But that’s my point,” Mitch said. “You should have a deal. I mean, you’re totally indifferent, and I’ve tried not to dwell on that this week but I keep coming back to it. You’re indifferent.”

Brody sighed. “I’m not indifferent?”

“You’re not?” Mitch pressed.

Brody fumbled for his next words, sighing again as he looked out at the ocean. The vista was damn near perfect today. The sky was blue, clear for miles and miles into the distance. The water was rich and deep, pulling against the sand with a fierce calm that defined the bay. It was spectacular.

But Brody looked back at Mitch, giving a small shake of his head. “I mean, I like it, and I can see why other people love it,” he said. “But I don’t know. Personally? I just don’t totally...get it.”

He said it gently, hedging almost. As if he were afraid of Mitch’s response.

As if he thought Mitch might flip out.

Then again, Brody didn’t get the ocean.

The epic, amazing ocean. The swelling tides that Mitch had spent his entire life around. The rolling waves that he’d spent his life memorizing. The sweeping expanse that still left him breathless and enthralled all these years later.

As if indifference to that might make Mitch flip out.

Of course it was going to make Mitch flip out.

“There’s nothing to get,” Mitch told him. “It’s the ocean.

The way he said it suggested that it was self evident. To Mitch, it was.

Brody, however, had been raised with zero appreciation for apparently anything. “Yeah, I know. It’s, like, water,” he said, more apologetically than before. He’d clearly been avoiding saying this all week, but he was too worn out by the ongoing process to try to lie now. “A lot of it. But just. Water.”

Mitch’s incredulity deepened profoundly. He’d come to this conversation wanting to talk.

Now, he felt the inexplicable urge to fight.

That was extreme, yes, but it felt vaguely like someone had just insulted his mother.

And Mitch loved his mother.

Almost has much as he loved the damn ocean. “You don’t have water like that back in Iowa,” he said in accusation.

“Exactly,” Brody said, sounding almost relieved that Mitch got his nonsensical point. “And I still went on to win two gold medals.”

It wasn’t vague anymore. This insult was deeply personal. Mitch wasn’t often moved to violence, but he wanted to throttle Brody right then and there. “Are you shitting me?”

Brody looked at him, apparently realizing for the first time that he might have said something questionable. “No, I mean, sure, it’s pretty.”

Pretty was a term to describe the print of your grandmother’s floral wallpaper. This was the ocean. Vast, spectacular, powerful, awe-inspiring -- and more. It wasn’t pretty.

Brody shrugged as he continued. “And I mean, it’s not even super useful, right? You can’t even drink it.”

“You do realize that it’s a major source of industry around the world,” Mitch pointed out. “And that without it, you wouldn’t have a paying job.”

“Well, okay,” Brody said, as if conceding that point was inconsequential to his overall argument. “But it’s not even that much fun.”

Mitch was aghast now. The ocean was the only thing fun in Mitch’s life. The ocean was for swimming, sailing, boating, jet skiing, snorkeling, fishing. And there were things like parasailing, canoeing, paddle boats -- and more. Shit, Mitch knew of so many things to do with the ocean that he didn’t even know where to start.

“And what exactly is your idea of fun, farm boy?” Mitch asked, more caustically than he probably should have. But less caustically than he felt.

Brody looked even more taken aback by the obvious anger in Mitch’s expression. “Dude, the beach, I get, okay,” he said. “We’ve got like these tiny, pathetic beaches in Iowa that fit like three people. They aren’t even big enough for a volleyball net. So the beach here, with running and tanning and sand buggies -- that shit’s cool. It’s just...if I want to go swimming or something....I don’t know. I feel like I can do better than the ocean.”

“But the swimming in the ocean is an actual challenge,” Mitch persisted, determined to make Brody understand. He was a dimwitted, Olympic athlete from Iowa who had clearly taken in too much chlorine during his time training in a landlocked state in a foster system that had clearly deprived him of his ability to see and appreciate beauty. He needed to understand, clearly. “The pool -- that’s a cop out for swimming. Anyone can do that.”

Brody squared himself toward Mitch. Mitch had stepped on his turf now, and he was ready to fight back with a bit more passion. All hint of apology was gone; all indication of reticence had fully evaporated. “And that’s what makes it perfect,” Brody said. “The ocean has too many variables. It doesn’t allow you to focus on any technical skills. It’s all brute force and sheer luck. The pool allows you to sort the people who know how to swim from the people who have no form. The ocean’s just a crapshoot.”

“And that’s what makes it so amazing!” Mitch insisted.

Brody shrugged, utterly noncommittal. “Amazing, okay. Just not that much fun.”

“Fine,” Mitch conceded with force. “But it’s not all swimming, you know. What about boats?”

Brody raised his eyebrows. “What about them?”

Mitch gestured to the ocean pointedly. “They’re fun. You can go parasailing or something. And jet skis. You like jet skis.”

“Sure, I guess,” Brody said, looking a little unnerved by Mitch’s obvious passion now.

Mitch could hardly believe his ears. How could he have worked with Brody all these months and failed to grasp that Brody didn’t understand the ocean at all? Damn it, he’d spent too much time chasing down criminals to remember the most basic thing about being a lifeguard.

Okay, not the most basic thing. The most basic thing was saving lives.

And fine, the second most basic thing was that Baywatch was family.

But the third most basic thing was: the ocean was beautiful. How could you patrol the bay if you didn’t know that?

Mitch stared Brody down. Hard. “Maybe?”

Brody sighed, clearly wanting an out to the argument now. It was a sign of his lack of passion that he was willing to fold so quickly. “It’s cool, man,” Brody said, even though it was most definitely not cool. “I’m just not really an ocean kind of guy. It’s fine and all, but you know. Whatever.”

He shrugged.

Like that was that.

Mitch shook his head. “No.”

Brody almost grimaced. “No?”

“I’m sorry, but no,” Mitch said. “Usually I try to respect the opinions of others, but this one, I just can’t. If you’re going to be a part of the Baywatch team, then this viewpoint is simply unacceptable.”

It was more declarative than Mitch had intended, but once he said it, he couldn’t take it back. He didn’t want to take it back.

“What does that even mean?” Brody asked.

“It means, you have to love the ocean to be a part of Baywatch,” Mitch said decisively.

“Or what?” Brody asked. “You’ll fire me?”

Mitch hemmed himself in, knowing that he could never make that one stick. “No,” he said. “But I will convince you otherwise.”

Brody was looking more skeptical by the minute. “How?”

Mitch had no idea how, but he could think on his feet. And he knew how to talk in an authoritative way that made it sound like he was serious even when he was spewing bullshit. And honestly, he was so big that no one made a point of questioning him, not even Brody. At least, not when he was sober.

“Clearly, you just need more focused time to appreciate it,” Mitch said, honing in on what he was sure was a brilliant idea.

“I’ve been here for four months, dude,” Brody said.

“And clearly, you have not done any of it right,” Mitch concluded.

Brody scoffed, blowing out a breath of malcontent. “Okay…”

“To be fair, I do take some responsibility,” Mitch said. “I’ve had you working a lot, and I let you stay at my place and I haven’t taken you out to learn about the things you can do here.”

“I don’t need a tour guide,” Brody told him.

“You might, if you move to California and don’t try anything,” Mitch pointed out.

“I get home from work and I’m tired,” Brody said. “I’m on the beach all day. It’s normal to want to hang out at home.”

“Uh, not when you have the ocean in your backyard,” Mitch pointed out.

Brody looked forlornly down the beach, as if hoping that someone might come to his rescue this time. “You really are the weirdest dude.”

Mitch could feel his anger fully abating now. He didn’t need to be angry. Not when he had a plan. Not when he had a really good plan that would fix everything. “And you will learn why.”

“Yeah,” Brody said slowly with a wince. “That’s not super compelling.”

Confidence restored, Mitch shrugged. “Remember the part where I’m your boss and control your schedule?”

Brody had been polite overall so far. Weirded out, indignant, but polite, as if he understood this to be a mere difference of opinion.

But this caught him even more off guard than all the rest. “You’re pulling rank on me?” he asked. “Over this?”

“Desperate times,” Mitch told him. “You’ll thank me.”

“You’re an asshole,” Brody said in revelation.

“An asshole who knows how to love the ocean,” Mitch said, utterly undeterred. “You, me, tomorrow. We’re doing the ocean.”

“That sounds vaguely dirty,” Brody told im.

“Only to you,” Mitch said.

Brody shook his head, truly perturbed now. “I can’t believe you’re pushing this so much,” he said. “This isn’t that big of a deal!”

Mitch was not backing down now. Not on this beach. Not next to this ocean. Not with Brody. “You made the choice to protect this bay,” he said. “You have to love it.”

“The choice was about being a lifeguard at Baywatch,” Brody said. “I can love things just fine from the shore.”

Mitch raised his chin, diffident. “I don’t accept that answer.”

“Dude, you can’t make someone love something, Mitch!” Brody said. “That’s not a choice!”

“I can, and you will,” Mitch said. “You’re right when you say there is no choice.”

Brody groaned, turning his head to sky. “This is total bullshit, man!”

Bullshit, maybe. But Brody was used to bullshit. He was very used to Mitch’s bullshit. “One Saturday,” Mitch said, laying out the terms. “One Saturday with me on the water or you can look for new employment.”

With a darkening expression, Brody eyed him carefully. “You wouldn’t.”

“Eh,” Mitch said. “Maybe not. But I would put you on the early shift every day for the foreseeable future. Especially on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Brody scoffed. “I don’t care.”

“And of course I’d give Summer the late shift,” Mitch added. “Every time.”

It was a step too far; Brody was ready to call his bluff. “There’s no way you could pull that off.”

“Fine,” Mitch said. “Then I’ll make you pay rent.”

Brody hemmed back a curse. “This really matters to you, doesn’t it?”

“You’re beginning to get the point,” Mitch said. “Do this or I will make your life hell.”

Exasperated, Brody threw up his hands. “Fine!”

Mitch smiled broadly, as if this had been a friendly little chat. “Good choice.”

“Yeah,” Brody snapped. “Not sure that this one counts as a choice, jackass.”

“That’s what they call being stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Mitch told him with a wink.

“Yeah, and the only way out is through the damn ocean,” Brody muttered as he stalked away.

“Be ready at 0600!” Mitch called after him.

Brody’s only reply was to lift a finger in protest.

-o-

So Mitch had a plan.

But only in theory.

He realized after Brody walked off that he had to make it a reality now. Somehow he had to plan and execute a day-long boat trip in less than 12 hours.

First obstacle: Mitch didn’t actually own a boat.

He used boats all the time -- in an official capacity. All of his savings had been plunked down in his house, and Baywatch was an elite team, but they were still lifeguards. Paid by the city. The thing with Leeds had given them some job security, but it was silly to think that they made good money.

And did Mitch mention the house he bought on the beach?

Mitch was comfortable, but there was a lot of free money going around to buy boats. Besides, as best he could figure, he didn’t need one. He got to use boats on the job all the time. How was he supposed to know that he would one day have to convince his friend and coworker to like the ocean?

It was an obstacle, sure, but it wasn’t insurmountable. Because Mitch Buchannon was oceanic

And he was also the most popular guy on the bay.

Everyone liked him.

Everyone owed him a favor.

And to help Brody see the light, Mitch could cash in as many favors as it took.

-o-

For all that this trip had been planned in haste and under some duress, Mitch was actually pretty excited about it by morning. He’d had to stay up late making arrangements, and he’d had to hit a 24-hour store to stock up on supplies. But by 0600, he was packed and ready to go, the boat waiting in the harbor and the appropriate paperwork filed for safety reasons.

Plus, the weather outside was awesome. The day looked like it was going to be warm, breezy and sunny. The water was expected to be a little choppy, but nothing too tumultuous. There was a small risk of storms later in the day, but overall, the forecast suggested that this would be a perfect day to be on the water.

A perfect day to enjoy the perfect water.

The only thing missing was Brody.

At 0601, Brody shuffled out of his bedroom. He looked at Mitch, packed and ready with a cup of coffee to go. Then he shook his head. “I really don’t have a choice, do I?” he asked sleepily.

“Nope,” Mitch said. He held out the coffee to Brody. “If you don’t love the ocean after today, you never will.”

Brody took the coffee with a contemptuous look. “You said it,” he mumbled, taking a drink. “Not me. Remember that.”

Mitch rolled his eyes. “It’s going to be a great trip!” he said. “Now load up!”

-o-

Mitch loaded.

Brody watched him with even less enthusiasm than before.

Still, when it was time to cast off, Brody was on board.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Mitch directed the boat out to the wide open ocean ahead of them, the morning sun at his back and the salt air fresh in his face with Brody slumped by his side.

It was definitely a start.

-o-

Within an hour, Mitch had successfully navigated them away from shore. Brody, as obliged, was seated next to him at the controls, looking vaguely disgruntled by the whole experience. He was here, but he was making it clear that he was not here willingly.

With enough distance between them and the land, Mitch shut down the engine for a while, letting them drift in the water. He went over to the fridge and opened it, pulling out a few of the items he’d packed.

Orange juice and doughnuts.

It wasn’t Mitch’s first choice for breakfast, but today wasn’t about him. If he was going to win Brody over, it couldn’t hurt to appeal to his tastes a little bit. Besides, if Brody associated the ocean with other positive things in his life, that could only work in Mitch’s favor.

He handed a jelly filled long john to Brody.

Brody took it, though he looked reluctant.

“It’s not a trap,” Mitch said, sitting down next to him to take a bite of his fritter.

“It feels like a trap,” Brody said, taking a small but distrustful bite of the donut.

“The point is to enjoy ourselves,” Mitch reminded him, giving one of the small bottles of orange juice to Brody.

Brody took it, still looking reluctant.

“You may as well enjoy yourself,” Mitch suggested, cracking his bottle open.

Brody took another bite of his donut, more resentfully now. “I didn’t make a choice to be here.”

“Technically, you did,” Mitch said.

Brody shoved more donut into his mouth so he had to talk around it. “Technically, you’re a dick.”

Mitch took a bite of his own donut.

The perfect day had a less than perfect start.

But it wasn’t over yet.

Not by a long shot.

-o-

The first activity Mitch had planned was fishing.

He’d gotten the lowdown from the guys at the harbor, so he knew where the fish were biting. He’d stocked up with the right poles and the right bait to give them the best odds possible. Fishing wasn’t Mitch’s first choice for fun, but he enjoyed it well enough. Besides, it was a nice, tangible activity. It had palpable results, which a guy like Brody, with his two gold medals, might appreciate.

“You know you can fish from the dock, right?” Brody asked, as he took one of the poles.

“But you can’t catch the same fish by the dock,” Mitch said, setting up his own pole. “Deep water fishing is something that great fishermen crave.”

“Too bad I’m not a fisherman,” Brody quipped.

Mitch cast out his line, waiting for Brody to begrudgingly do the same. “After today,” Mitch promised. “You will be.”

-o-

Brody hadn’t wanted to fish, but the son of a bitch caught the biggest fish of the day. When Mitch said they’d keep it, cook it up for lunch, Brody actually looked a little impressed.

Mitch smiled to himself as he packed the fish on ice.

His plan was starting to work already.

-o-

Then, because the ocean was awesome, it gave them dolphins.

Brody was a grown man, but everyone loved dolphins.

Everyone.

“That’s a school, then?” Brody asked while the dolphins frolicked off the port side.

“Looks like it,” Mitch said smugly, as though he’d been the one to make them manifest.

“I’ve never seen one this close before!”

“Amazing, right?” Mitch asked.

Brody was too busy enjoying himself to reply.

-o-

All things considered, Mitch was feeling pretty good about things by lunch. He started up the grill, leaving Brody to get it ready while Mitch prepared the fish. He gutted it discreetly -- no sense in risking Brody having a weak stomach for blood -- and Brody already had the sides going when Mitch came back with the meat.

“Hell of a morning, huh?” Mitch asked.

Brody grinned at him. “Yeah.”

Mitch watched as Brody tended the food on the grill, taking in the smell of cooking food on the ocean breeze. “You can’t get this sort of thing on land.”

Brody chuckled, but didn’t say anything.

Mitch frowned a little. “Right?”

“Well,” Brody said, still laughing. “I mean, you could. They sell really good fish down at that place on the bay. Next to the Huntley? I took Summer there, and the fish and chips was killer.”

Surely, brody was being obtuse.

Willfully and stupidly obtuse.

“We literally just caught this ourselves,” Mitch reminded him.

Brody stammered slightly, recognizing that he’d stepped back onto thin ice. “Sure,” he said. “But, you know, they buy it at the fish market fresh the same day, too. So, you know. It’s all fresh.”

“But you caught this with your own two hands,” Mitch told him, even more pointedly than before. “On the ocean.”

Brody understood the implication now. He nodded, a strange and forced motion. “You’re right, man. Totally right.”

Brody was humoring now.

The bastard was telling him what he wanted to hear.

Son of a bitch.

Mitch shook his head, mouth falling open indignantly. “You still don’t get it.”

“Get what?” Brody said. “We’re having a nice time, you and me--”

Mitch refused that answer. “How can you still not get it?!”

The look Brody gave him was weary and pleading. For whatever reason, this didn’t seem to be a fight he thought was worth fighting. Which was ridiculous, because this was the only fight worth fighting. “Can we please not do this?” he asked.

But they were already doing this. “We’re out here, living the dream,” Mitch said, making a wide motion to the ocean around them. “And you still couldn’t care less.”

Brody drew a breath. “Mitch--”

Mitch couldn’t stop now. Not if he wanted to. Which, for the record, he did not. “How can you not care?!”

Maybe it was the tone. Maybe it was the location. Maybe it was the fact that Mitch kept asking him the same question twenty times. Brody exploded. “Because it’s water!” he said, with a desperate shrug. He pointed to it, just as emphatically as Mitch had. “It’s just water! Lots and lots of water, and I’ve seen water all my life! Even in Iowa!”

And it was on now. “You don’t have water like this in Iowa,” Mitch said. “This is not like some pool you swim laps in.”

“Uh, I know,” Brody said. “It’s a lot less accessible, as I have already told you multiple times.”

“A pool is man’s cheap alternative to nature,” Mitch told him. “I mean, you can’t replicate this. The sound of the waves; the feel of the breeze; the taste of the salt. It’s the very definition of beauty.”

“And danger,” Brody said. “I mean, come on. There’s like super dangerous shit out here.”

“I thought you weren’t scared of it,” Mitch protested.

“I’m not, but I’m practical,” Brody said. “If you’re looking to swim, the ocean’s not the best place for it.”

“Because the ocean is not your recreational outlet,” Mitch snapped.

“I thought that’s why you wanted me to come out here,” Brody argued.

Mitch ground his teeth together, trying not to seethe. “I want you to appreciate it,” he said, adding extra definition to the last word. “The ocean is magnificent.”

“Fine, it’s magnificent,” Brody said dismissively. “It’s just not super functional or whatever. I mean, it’s so big. It divides entire continents and whatever.”

“Because it hosts entire ecosystems,” Mitch interjected sternly.

“Cool, that’s super cool for the ecosystems and the little animals and whatever,” Brody said with a vacant gesture. “But you know what it’s not that great for? People. Who want to have fun.”

“Oh come on,” Mitch said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I know you like the beach.”

“The beach, sure,” Brody said. “I like getting a tan and being in a place where you literally never have to put on real clothes.”

Mitch shook his head; they were getting off point. “The ocean is your job.”

“Dude, I get that,” Brody said, nodding with a bit more enthusiasm now. “And I get that if people used their common sense and didn’t swim in the ocean, I wouldn’t have a job. But I also know that they’d be a whole lot safer.”

Mitch wrinkled his nose, staring at Brody in consternation. “You are positively the worst lifeguard I have ever hired,” he said. “I should fire you right now.”

Brody’s mouth fell open in protest. “You can’t fire me now!” he said. “I went on this stupid trip with you and listened to all your silly shit about the ocean!”

“All of which revealed the fact that you completely emotionally incompetent,” Mitch determined flatly. “If you can’t accept the ocean, then you cannot be a lifeguard.”

“No, no way,” Brody said, adamantly shaking his head. He pointed at himself. “I’m the lifeguard who gets it better than the rest. I appreciate that the ocean is overrated, so I know that people are going to act unusually stupid around the water when they should just stay on the beach where they belong. I deserve a promotion.”

The worst part about it was that he was serious.

Brody was fully committed to this point.

All of this work.

All of this time.

And Brody was a moron.

Mitch shook his head, disgust creeping in now. “Shut up.”

Brody rocked back on his heels, poking at the food on the grill again. “Hey, this was your idea.”

“I’m going to push you overboard and let you drown,” Mitch said. “You’d deserve it.”

With a grunt, Brody fiddled with the foiled packets. “Yeah, and I’m really going to love the ocean if I’m dead in it.”

Mitch huffed, pushing Brody out of the way and grabbing the kitchen utensils from him. “Shut up,” he said again. “And go sit down or something. I’m cooking.”

Brody looked indignant, but he wasn’t stupid enough to challenge Mitch physically for a position of dominance. “And what am I supposed to do?”

“Sit there and stare at the ocean,” Mitch ordered tersely. “Maybe if you stare at it long enough, the salt water will penetrate your brain and you’ll get it.”

With a grunt of disgust, Brody flopped down in one of the deck chairs. “Might be a while.”

“Whatever,” Mitch said, adding the fish to the fire. “We’ve got all day.”

-o-

All day.

Mitch had hoped to have achieved his goal by now, but Mitch was a persistent son of a bitch. He was determined. He didn’t quit when things got hard.

As he served lunch, he did so with new resolve.

He had one day to prove to Brody, once and for all, what being a lifeguard was all about.

-o-

Mitch wasn’t exactly happy, but he had done his best to put his foul mood behind him for the sake of his goal. He let Brody clean up after lunch while he checked the map and got their bearings. There were a few maintenance tasks to perform, which he did with no fuss, and by the time Brody was done and awkwardly skulking nearby, Mitch was ready for a new tactic.

This one, he was sure, would appeal to Brody.

It was an activity that couldn’t be completed on shore.

It was an activity that wasn’t inherently dangerous or comparable to any other activity that Brody had already mastered.

This one was all about the ocean. It’s ebb and flow, understanding its rhythm and experiencing the freedom.

“Okay,” Mitch announced, turning to face Brody. “We’re going to pull anchor.”

Brody looked mildly hopeful. “Should I start the engine?”

“No,” Mitch said. “We’re not going back.”

Brody was visibly disappointed by this. “Oh.”

“We’re going to extend the sails, catch the wind,” he explained, nodding toward the mast. He had used it judiciously on the ride out, supplementing the engine’s work with the natural pull of the wind. The dual-purpose boat was excellent for situations like this, when you wanted the freedom of sailing without its limitations. That made it the best of both worlds, which was exactly what a lightweight like Brody needed. Mitch beamed at him. “We’re going to sail.”

Brody’s response was not as dynamic as he might have hoped. “Sail? What have we been doing?”

Mitch sighed. “We’ve been using the engine,” he said. “The sail is just wind power.”

“So, we literally go where the wind pushes out,” Brody said.

“Well, there’s more to it than that,” Mitch said.

“Are you sure?” Brody asked, sounding unduly skeptical.

Mitch flushed red, remembering his purpose here. His purpose was not to wring Brody’s neck and throw him overboard. His purpose was to bring the idiot back into the fold of Baywatch where he could understand and appreciate the ocean like he was supposed to.

“Yes,” Mitch said. “Now come here.”

Brody obeyed, albeit reluctantly.

“Good,” Mitch instructed, handing him a rope line. “Now, let me show you.”

-o-

Brody could be stubborn and short-sighted, but when he made a choice to try, then he really was fairly teachable. After some initial hiccups at Baywatch, he’d come into his own quite nicely, and Mitch had seen him make similar strides in his personal life while living under Mitch’s roof these past few months.

Therefore, Mitch had no reason to be surprised when Brody was a quick study at sailing. Brody was in good physical shape, and he clearly understood the concepts of racing and speed. He had worked on the water enough at Baywatch to have a basic understanding of it, and it only took minimal instruction to help him start pulling the ropes -- literally.

Still, he was kind of surprised. Because for as much as Brody acted like he was indifferent to the water, he was really good on it. His natural aptitude made him a good fit, and Mitch couldn’t help but think that Brody could be downright oceanic if he wanted to be.

That was the sticking point, wasn’t it?

If he wanted to be.

Mitch could only hope that after a positive day out on the water, his young protege might finally realized that was what he wanted. Mitch was making this a hard sell for sure.

But the ocean was doing its part, too.

“Dude!” Brody called over the sound of the wind as they skimmed over the waves. “What is that?”

Mitch looked out, following Brody’s eyeline. He shifted his weight to slow down the boat, giving them a better look.

Brody instinctively mimicked him, and the boat slowed considerably, just in time to see a spout of water break the surface not far away.

Mitch grinned, and glanced at Brody, who still had no idea.

“Here,” Mitch said, guiding the boat a little closer. “Just give it a second.”

Brody followed suit, but still seemed uncertain as to what was going on. “But what--”

He didn’t get to finish the question.

Not when a humpback whale came lurching out of the water in a beautiful arc. It crested, moving toward the water on its back with one fin in the air, almost in a perfect wave as it crashed back down mere feet from their boat.

“What the hell?!” Brody exclaimed while Mitch laughed. “Is that -- what--”

“A whale,” Mitch said, grinning widely. He pointed out several more puffs of water stretching out along the horizon. “We must have hit a family group moving south.”

Brody was all but gaping now. “Are you serious?”

“You bet I am,” Mitch said, steering them to skirt along the outside of the family group, which was moving rapidly in the other direction. He gave Brody a glance, relishing the shock and wonder he saw. “Can’t have that in a pool now, can you?”

Brody, for once, had no reply.

What reply could there be?

It was a perfect day.

On a perfect ocean.

Mitch would make Brody oceanic yet.

-o-

They sailed a little longer, with Mitch doing the majority of the navigating. By mid afternoon, they’d enjoyed the water for a few good hours, not a single word of complaint between them. Mitch dared to think that this meant that Brody was starting to get it.

When the wind died down, however, Brody had a spare moment to look out at the horizon, taking in the vastness in all directions.

He frowned.

“You know where we are, right?” Brody asked.

Mitch gave their surroundings a shrug. “We have navigation equipment for a reason.”

Brody nodded a little, but didn’t look convinced. “Because this far out, we don’t have any reference points.”

Mitch lifted his eyebrows. “And what do you know about reference points?”

Brody gave him a nonplussed look. “I’m new to this, but I’m not a complete idiot.”

Mitch wanted to disagree, but he didn’t comment.

Brody shifted on his feet, looking out anxiously again. “How far out are we anyway?”

“I haven’t charted it exactly, but 10 miles give or take,” Mitch said. “We’re about as far out as I planned to go.”

This answer did not seem to be a comfort to Brody. “And we can make it back?”

“Sure,” Mitch said. “Once we lower most of the sails, we’ll hit the engine back up again. It makes good time and lets us plot a direct course back.”

Brody considered this, for surely he knew that it sounded reasonable. Still, he cocked his head. “What if something happened?”

Mitch shrugged, maintaining a few small adjustments to the rigging. “I don’t even know what that means.”

“It’s just we’re so far out,” Brody said. “If something happens, would anyone even find us?”

“Yes,” Mitch said. “Because the boat has advanced communication systems.”

“And if something happens to the boat?” Brody asked.

“Dude!” Mitch said. “You can’t mitigate everything. You just have to enjoy and appreciate the experience.”

The moment he said it, he knew that he hadn’t gotten through to Brody yet. Brody wasn’t convinced. He didn’t look out at the ocean with appreciation or enjoyable.

He just looked anxious.

“Come on, man,” Mitch cajoled. “You’ve had fun sailing. You liked seeing those whales.”

“Well, sure,” Brody said. “But I also like getting back safely.”

Mitch secured the ropes he was working and stood back, staring at Brody with incomprehension. “You’re the guy who literally stole a motorcycle and drove it off the pier your first day on the job,” he said. “You dove into fire. And you’re worried about what’s safe?”

This did not appear to have occurred to Brody. At least, not in this context. “Those were all close to shore,” he said. “With our teammates nearby.”

Mitch shrugged. “I’m here.”


“You’re one dude, Mitch,” Brody said. He pointed out at the horizon. “This is the whole ocean.”

“And that’s what makes it so spectacular,” Mitch said, honing in on that idea. “I mean, that inherent power. It’s beautiful.”

Brody’s lips turned up ruefully. “I think maybe my self preservation skills have improved over the last few months, too,” he quipped. “I just can’t justify it.”

Mitch groaned. “You don’t have to justify it -- it’s the ocean!”


“But it’s not normal to be so indifferent to the fact that this can kill you!” Brody insisted.

“Uh, you’re the one who’s not normal,” Mitch said, unwilling to yield. “Everyone loves the ocean.”

Brody stood back, crossing his arms over his chest. “We don’t even know what’s under us right now. If we were to capsize--”

“Which, we’re not--”

“--if we were,” Brody continued insistently. “Would there be sharks?”

Mitch shrugged. “Somewhere probably.”

“And whales?”

“We just saw some not long ago.”

“So if we fell into the water, we’d be swimming with whales,” Brody clarified.

“I don’t know, it’s possible,” Mitch said.

“And that doesn’t bother you?” Brody asked.

“Why should it?” Mitch countered. “Are you scared of whales?”

Brody’s mouth opened, but he closed it.

Mitch was too shocked to make it a joke. “Really?”

Brody blushed scarlet, and he tried to look like he might be able to muster up a denial. When he was unable to do so, he attempted to retain his composure, like this wasn’t the weirdest conversation either of them had ever had. “Maybe.”

Mitch couldn’t help himself. “But why are you scared of whales? You’re not Jonah. They’re not going to eat you.”

Motioning to the water, Brody let go of his composure. “Did you see that one a while ago? It was huge. It could crush us. Things aren’t supposed to be that big. They’re just not.”

Mitch still wanted to think this much, at least, had to be a joke. Brody’s utter seriousness was making that hard. “Again,” he explained, patiently and slowly. “That’s part of their beauty.”

Brody was shaking his head in avid disagreement now. “No, mean, your definition of beauty seems to just be big. Which is only marginally better than your previous definition which seemed to be dangerous.”

This was getting too ridiculous. Indifference to the ocean. A fear of whales. Maybe Brody was a lost cause after all. “Whales are commonly regarded as some of the most magnificent animals on earth,” Mitch explained, because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t let it drop. “And they live in what is regarded as one of the most magnificent natural landscapes.”

Brody was looking increasingly unconvinced, as if every valid point only served to cement his own impossible opinion. “You keep saying that.”

“Because it’s true!”

“Now magnificent is also a code word for big and dangerous,” Brody said, as though he somehow felt justified.

Mitch hardly knew what to say. “You’re impossible, you know that?”

“Yet, you’re the one who dragged me out here on a boat,” Brody said with a gesture that indicated disbelief. Like he was somehow the one struggling to comprehend this situation. “Remember?”

Mitch was deadpanned in his reply. “Yes, and I’m very sorry for it,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were so scared of whales.”

Face flushing again, Brody shook his hands in frustration. “This isn’t about whales!”

“Right,” Mitch said. “Just your unnatural dislike of the ocean.”

Brody sighed, wholly unamused. “If it makes you feel better, I think I like the ocean better than you right now.”

“Is it because I’m big?” Mitch asked with feigned seriousness. “Like a whale?”

Brody stared at him, increasingly frustrated. “Can we go home now? Back to Baywatch? Please?”

Mitch snorted slightly, reaching for the rigging again. “You promised me a day, jackass,” he said. “And I’m getting the whole damn day.”