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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Baywatch fic: Time to Panic (1/2)

December 23rd, 2018 (01:05 pm)

Title: Time to Panic

Rating: M

Disclaimer: I got nothing.

A/N: Fills my phobia square for hc_bingo. Unbeta’ed.

Summary: Panic is only an option when all other options have been exhausted.

PART ONE
PART TWO



-o-

Mitch isn’t scared of anything.

It’s not that he’s too macho to be afraid. It’s not that he’s overly confident in his own abilities or naive about the realities of the world. It’s not that he’s egocentric and lacks an understanding of his own limited and finite capabilities in a vast, dangerous and wild world.

It’s just that Mitch knows all the stuff that can go wrong, and he’s accepted them. He doesn’t see fear as a very pragmatic tool in life, and it certainly doesn’t circumvent any of the potential disasters that most people are worried about. In essence, fear is kind of a waste of time.

He’s never had a reason to doubt that before, not in all his years as a Baywatch lifeguard, not once.

At least, not until today.

-o-

He’s not scared, though. Not at first.

One could argue that maybe he should be. After all, he’s chasing down some crazy case involving low level drug dealing that escalated into weapons trade and somehow he ends up pursuing a case of human trafficking. As it evolves, it doesn’t seem to ridiculous frankly. That’s how shit goes down in the bay, and Mitch has learned to roll with it.

He’s not even that scared when the threats start getting personal and someone smashes in the glass door of his house. Brody thinks this is an ominous sign and wants to call the police, but Mitch picks up the pieces, looks for evidence and goes to bed with cardboard duct taped over the opening.

Brody is unnerved by this come morning.

“This is bad, man. It’s really, really bad,” he says, expressing himself with his typical elegance over breakfast.

Mitch shrugs. “It just means we’re close.”

Brody’s face screws up incredulously. “Close? That means we’re, like, close to dying.”

“No, close to finishing this,” Mitch corrects him. He shrugs a little, not indifferent to the weight of his words but unswayed by Brody’s tendency toward hysteria. “We’ve got them scared.”

“Uh, that’s a mutual feeling, okay,” Brody says with an indignant snort. When Mitch doesn’t commiserate, Brody draws his brows together in concern. “Seriously? It doesn’t scare you?”

“Why should it?” Mitch asks.

“Because they can kill us,” Brody reminds him. “Like, kill us, kill us. And they can probably dispose of our bodies in a way that we’ll never be found. We’ll just be gone.”

Mitch rolls his eyes. “You can’t be scared of everything, Brody,” he lectures. “We’ll never get anything done.”

“Maybe,” Brody concedes. “But at least we’ll be alive.”

-o-

Brody’s not the one who makes the plans, though. If he was, they wouldn’t finish half their cases because he’s always getting nervous about them.

It’s not fear that makes Mitch reflect that Brody might have had a point this time around.

No, this time it’s entirely a practical conclusion.

It’s the only conclusion, really.

Because on the way home from work, Brody and Mitch are ambushed outside of HQ. Mitch turns in time to see Brody go down from a hard blow to the back of the head before someone suckerpunches him in the face and that’s that.

-o-

Still, this isn’t fear. Mitch feels compelled on that point. He wakes up in transit with his arms and legs bound tightly. He’s been thrown onto the deck of a boat, and he can feel the vessel skipping over the top of the water at a high rate of speed. It’s a small boat, motor based, and the general speed and trajectory suggests that they’re moving rapidly out into the open ocean.

He starts to test his bonds, looking around carefully to see if anyone is watching. He can hear voices nearby, but no one seems to be watching him directly. He’s flexing his fingers experimentally when he sees Brody trussed up next to him.

Brody’s arms and legs are also tied, but he’s not awake yet. There’s blood matting the side of his head, and some of it has trickled down his cheek. It’s drenched his ear and is soaking into the collar on his shirt.

Mitch’s stomach churns, but it’s still not fear. It’s just the growing sense that he needs to act, and he needs to act now.

But what’s he supposed to do? Even if he can get out of his bonds, he’s on a small boat going out to sea with a minimum of three attackers. He’d have to overpower all of them, regain control of the vessel without letting Brody get caught in the crossfire. It’s not an easy situation, to be sure, but Mitch is starting to come up with a plan when the boat starts to slow down.

He thinks maybe it’s a change in direction, but then it slows down more. He’s got no progress made by the time it comes to a stop.

Mitch’s heart is hammering; it’s adrenaline. A lot of adrenaline.

He twists his hands, and looks at Brody, who hasn’t moved. He’s just starting to make some progress on the ropes when the voices approach and footsteps move toward him. Some people might choose to play dead, but Mitch can’t bring himself to do that.

Instead, he looks up at the first attacker’s face as he approaches.

“Let us go,” Mitch demands, feeling the bonds on his legs start to give.

The attacker grins. Mitch recognizes him from his investigation. The other two he can’t place yet, but he makes a strong mental image for future reference. He decides right then and there that these bastards are going down for sure.

All he has to do is get out of his bonds, overpower them and drag their asses back in.

“I think that sounds like a great idea,” the attacker says and he reaches down, passing over Mitch and going for Brody.

Mitch’s chest clenches -- that classic fight or flight response -- as Brody is ragdolled up. The other two attackers come over to help, supporting Brody’s bound form between them as Brody’s head drops forward limply.

“As far as I’m concerned,” the first one says, beaming at Mitch once more. “You’re free to go and do as you please.”

Without any further ado, the other two men hoist Brody up to the lip of the boat. Mitch barely has time to realize what they’re doing when they toss Brody over the side.

“No!” Mitch yells as he hears a splash. He thrashes in earnest now. “No!”

The ropes are giving way, but he’s not fast enough. His fearless determination isn’t enough either. The two men reach down, and it takes all three of the men to lift his struggling body up. They nearly drop him twice, Mitch is struggling so much, but he steels himself and thinks of Brody, unconscious and tied up, sinking in the water nearby.

His decision to stop fighting isn’t resignation, and it’s sure as hell not fear.

No, it’s the only way to save Brody.

Mitch braces himself and hits the water with his eyes wide open.

Because that’s how Mitch faces terrifying situations.

Ready, alert, prepared.

And never afraid.

-o-

Most people, when you get right down to it, they’re afraid of drowning. While this doesn’t mean that most people are afraid of water when they grow up, they still kind of are. It’s instinctual, Mitch assumes. To want to panic when you’re in over your head.

For most people.

But Mitch isn’t most people.

He hits the water with a sudden burst, and despite the fact that he knows he’s bound, he wills himself to stay calm and trusts the body’s natural buoyancy while he works at the restraints on his wrists. Within seconds, he’s able to propel himself to the surface with a constrained dolphin kick.

This gives him the ability to take a breath, but he’s not remotely surprised -- and therefore not remotely panicked -- when he quickly goes back under. He focuses all his effort on pulling a little harder with his wrists, feeling the rope start to give way as the water helps reduce the friction on his arms.

Most people in this situation would be so far into their fear by now that death would be almost an inevitability. No doubt, that’s what his attackers are counting on. If they had any idea just how good Mitch is at this stuff, surely they would have had a better plan than to drop him in the water and speed away, hoping for the turnout they want.

Theirs is an example of overconfidence.

Mitch is merely keenly aware of his own capabilities and he refuses to forget that, even under the most extreme examples of duress.

With a powerful kick, he breaks the surface once more for a solidifying breath. When he goes under, he’s already working, and this time, when he pulls hard at his hands, the knot slips and the rope comes free.

Enlivened by his success, Mitch claws to the surface again. With the next breath, he keeps his eyes open underwater and uses his hands to quickly pick apart the knot around his ankles. The whole process takes significantly less than a moment, and when he breaks the surface again, he’s able to tread water, absolutely no worse for wear.

That is, of course, the good news.

The bad news is that Brody is nowhere to be seen.

-o-

Obviously, Mitch knows that Brody’s underwater. It’s a natural deduction since he was thrown off the boat first and there’s no sign of him. Besides, there’s virtually no way Brody could surface, even if he had had the wherewithal to keep his panic in check. He’d been thoroughly unconscious when they threw him in. Brody would sink, drown and that would be that.

Except that’s not that.

Because Mitch is a lifeguard.

A really good lifeguard.

If there’s one thing he knows how to do it’s how to save someone underwater.

With that in mind, Mitch dives again. This time, his focus is outside of himself, and he assumes an innate search pattern, visually mapping out the ocean around him in a grid-like fashion, charting each plot as he swims in a straight line away from his starting point.

There’s no sign of Brody, so Mitch surfaces, swimming back to his starting point with strong strokes. From there, he dives again, this time moving in another direction, gauging the direction of the current for Brody’s most likely trajectory.

With the next dive, he tries deeper, taking into consideration that a full minute has past now; he knows how quickly someone can sink.

Worse, he knows how deep this ocean is.

He surfaces again, still no sign of Brody. People don’t drown instantly, not even while unconscious. Still, it’s safe to say that Mitch is running out of time to complete a successful rescue.

That’s the rational conclusion, and it gives him the jolt of adrenaline he needs to stay focused. That’s what Mitch does, you see. He takes the impetus that makes most people panic and he channels it toward something productive. That’s how he stays cool, calm and totally collected under all types of pressures. That’s why he’s the best at what he does, why he can do it all day and every day.

Sure, it’s not usually someone he knows.

Sure, it’s not usually one of his team.

Sure, it’s not usually Brody.

But there’s no time to think about that.

Mitch dives again.

Because, really, there’s just no time.

Mitch is feeling the pressure now. It’s pulsing through him, starting to pound in his head. He’s not afraid of failure because he’s too focused on success. He can’t be scared of losing something when he’s completely fixated on making the save.

Mitch tells himself again and again.

He tells it to himself as his lungs start to burn and he’s not going to cry, he’s not, he’s not, he’s absolutely not.

Then, there.

To the left, suspended in the water. Still bound, still floating, still.

With empowered strokes, Mitch closes the gap toward Brody, wrapping an arm around his chest and pulling him close. He kicks to the surface, because that’s the job. It’s textbook.

And Mitch has this completely and one hundred percent under control.

-o-

Mostly.

Mitch has this mostly under control. Like, 90 percent.

Maybe 80.

Because he breaks the surface and takes a gulping breath.

Brody, hoisted up in his arms, head leaned back against his shoulder, does not.

And for a second, the briefest of moments, Mitch thinks he’s too late, that Brody’s already dead. He thinks he’s failed, because that happens sometimes, because Mitch isn’t some kind of damn superhero. People die sometimes. Victims can’t always be pulled back from the brink.

Underwater for a minute while unconscious? Miles from shore? No solid surface for compressions?

Mitch shouldn’t be surprised.

Except this is Brody.

This is Brody.

“Brody,” Mitch says, not quite recognizing the uneven canter of his own voice. “Brody, wake up.”

It’s the adrenaline, is all. It can do that to you.

Brody still doesn’t wake, though. He’s pale, still, and--

Shit.

Mitch’s mind stops working a little bit. He can’t make it parse.

Shit, shit, shit.

“Brody,” he says, jostling him now. He uses a hand to press Brody’s chest up into the air, hyper extending his airway and forcing his lungs out. “Wake up!”

The obvious conclusion is so obvious but Mitch can’t think it. He doesn’t know how.

He doesn’t want to know how.

He’s made more impressive saves.

He has.

His fingers are shaking a little as he floats Brody on top of the water. He supports Brody’s upper body with one arm, using his other hand to pinch off Brody’s nose. Still forcing his legs to tread, he bends over, mouth to mouth, breathing for Brody and watching as the air fills his lungs.

Brody’s dead, he thinks, somewhere deep inside of him. Brody’s dead.

He breathes for Brody again.

Something twinges uncomfortably in his stomach. Something he can’t quite place.

Before he can give it a name, Brody splutters, coughing and retching as he brings up seawater. Cold, shivering, pale.

And utterly alive.

-o-

It’s tempting, if only momentarily, to relish the small victory. After all, Brody being alive isn’t really small. That’s huge. That’s everything. Mitch isn’t even sure how the scenario would play out if it wasn’t true.

All the same, Mitch is Mitch. He can’t allow himself to stop there. Brody’s Alice, sure, but they’re still dumped at sea, miles from shore with minimal prospects of recovery in any timely fashion. Someone will probably happen by eventually, but it could be hours. It could be days.

Not even Mitch can survive days at sea with no back up or support.

The natural next step is to start swimming. Mitch has a good sense of direction. He’s confident that he can move in the direction of shore. He’s also decently confid not that he is physically able to make the swim. Given his conditioning and his familiarity with ocean waters, it’s not an outlandish thought. He knows, logically speaking, that he doesn’t even have to get all the way to shore. All he has to do is make it to the major shipping lanes and he’s bound to be spotted by a passing vessel.

That’s Mitch, though.

Mitch is not the only factor in play right now.

In his arms, Brody is still struggling to catch his breath. The water has washed some of the blood away, but not enough. The wound may even be bleeding still. Under normal conditions, Mitch would think Brody’s up for the swim. Currently? With a head injury?

It’s questionable.

Almost as if on cue, Brody groans. He’s still reclined against Mitch, his head tipped back against Mitch’s shoulder while Mitch treads water for both of them. Eyes fluttering, Brody groans again, deciding to keep his eyes closed as he speaks.

“Mitch?” he croaks. His bound hands come out of the water, probing at the bloody lump on the side of his head with a hiss. “What the hell?”

This is a point when Mitch knows most people would sugarcoat things. It’s not Mitch’s style, however. “We got kidnapped,” he announces. “They dropped us out at sea.”

“We got kidnapped. They dropped us out at sea.”

Brody is distressed by this answer. He opens his eyes, lifting his head off Mitch’s shoulder but not quite pulling out of Mitch’s grasp. “Why?”

Still keeping them both afloat, Mitch shrugs, “Well, probably to kill us.”

Brody takes this revelation a little better than Mitch expects. It’s possible that Brody’s been on Baywatch long enough that he’s getting used to the near death experiences. They do happen more than Mitch likes to admit, and Brody seems unusually prone to ending up in peril.

“Oh,” Brody says. He’s silent for a moment as he contemplates this. “So, like, is now a good time to panic?”

Mitch can’t help it if the question is annoying. He’s aware that the situation is concerning, but panic is not what they do. It is progress, however, that Brody is asking for permission to panic. Three months ago, he probably would have commenced panicking without restraint.

“No,” Mitch tells him stolidly.

It’s a credit to how much they’ve been through that Brody takes him at his word. “Great,” Brody says, sinking back against Mitch in exhaustion. “Just checking.”

-o-

Mitch is grateful that Brody believes him.

Now it’s up to him to make sure that faith isn’t misplaced.

Given all that Brody has been through, Mitch allows him several minutes to recover. When his breathing is well under control, Mitch attends to Brody’s bonds. By the time his arms and legs are free, Brody seems sufficiently coherent to take things to the next level.

“Our best bet is to swim for it,” Mitch says.

Treading water on his own now, Brody squints in the general direction of shore. “And how far is it back?”

Mitch has no way to say for sure. “Miles,” he estimates.

He’s pretty nonchalant in the declaration, but Brody looks skeptical. “Like, miles miles?”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Mitch says.

“Just miles,” Brody says. “Like we could be talking five miles.”

“Or ten,” Mitch says. “It’s hard to say.”

Brody gawks at him. Brody’s the best damn swimmer on Mitch’s team, but he’s a sprinter. Even with the training he’s done since joining Baywatch, there’s no way Brody is used to a casual ten mile swim. Mitch knows that, but he’s not ready to concede it any more than Brody is ready to accept it. “You want us to swim for ten miles?

“It’s better than staying here and dying,” Mitch reasons, and some might call him stubborn at this point. He prefers to think of himself as plaintively realistic.

Brody’s brow darkens. “That doesn’t actually make me feel better.”

“I don’t care about how you feel,” Mitch tells him. “I care about getting back to shore.”

There’s no real argument to that, but Brody shakes his head wearily. “I’m pretty woozy, man.”

This isn’t exactly a surprise, but miles out at sea, there’s no possible way to indulge it right now. “We have to try.”

“And if I can’t make it?” Brody asks. “Can I panic then?”

“No one is panicking,” Mitch says. “Panic is only an option when all other options have been exhausted.”

Brody is increasingly critical. “And how is that not a time to panic, then?”

“Because panic is the acceptance of impending failure. It’s the resignation to the worst possible outcome,” he says. “It’s giving in to fear.”

“And if we have good reason to be afraid?” Brody asks.

“If we get to that point, I’ll let you know,” Mitch says. “Now, let’s swim.”

He sets out, a strong but steady clip, Brody swimming in his wake without protest.

-o-

By all accounts, this is a good and solid plan. They’re lifeguards, after all. Brody is an Olympic swimmer with two gold medals.

It’s also November, and the water is cold. They’re miles from shore and there’s no sun. When you throw in the fact that Brody’s got a head injury that’s probably still bleeding, it’s actually impressive that they make it as far as they do.

As it is, it’s not far enough. Within 20 minutes, Brody is noticeably lagging. When about a half hour passes, he pulls to a stop and vomits for a while. Mitch offers to stop, to let them rest, but Brody pushes on.

That push is apparently his last. He makes it another ten minutes before Mitch catches him before he passes out. Even then, Mitch has to prop Brody up, treading water underneath the gray sky while he tries to reassess exactly what the last 45 minutes have done for them.

The answer, admittedly, isn’t good.

They’ve made it two miles at best. That’s not insignificant, but it’s not a pace that they can maintain, especially before nightfall. Their chances of rescue diminish significantly at night when visibility will make them excessively difficult to find. They would have to swim another five to ten miles in order to get back into major traffic lanes, and that could be possible if they were in peak form, but Brody’s current state is indicative of the failure of such a scheme.

Still, Mitch wonders if there’s an argument to be made for going as far as they can. Making Brody swim will get them closer to shore while also keeping Brody moving, which is increasingly important with a head injury and the risks of hypothermia in these cold, deep waters.

That said, he has to look at Brody. He’s regaining consciousness, but his eyes aren’t clear. His speech is already markedly slowed. This could be the concussion, it could be shock, it could even be the early stages of hypothermia for all that Mitch knows. The expenditure of energy for Brody at this point is likely to not net any gains. If anything, it’s likely to make him go downhill faster.

So that’s the question, then. Do they get further and hope that it gets them rescued sooner, or do they stay put and conserve their energy with the probability of rescue being higher the next day.

Mitch is used to making hard decisions without doubt.

This decision, though, is shrouded in doubt.

Indecision isn’t something he quite knows what to do with.

It’s one step back from fear.

One important step.

“Come on,” he says to Brody, because he’s not going to make compromises that matter. Brody can’t swim, but Mitch can, and Mitch will bend the whole damn universe to his will if he has the power in his body to do so. “Let’s go.”

-o-

Swimming to shore with a victim is not an easy task. It’s actually something they train their lifeguards on pretty extensively. As he recalls, Brody needed quite a bit of assistance in the matter; he didn’t understand the logistics, and he kept trying to drown people while he tried to save them.

Mitch, fortunately, is an old pro. He has the form perfected, and he knows how to support the victim to keep them above water while also making strong forward motion. It’s effective for saving lives, but it’s meant to be a short-distance maneuver.

Most saves are within reach of the shore. If something is farther out, there is always a boat nearby to provide the necessary backup and support. Simply put, it’s not easy to swim any distance while carrying someone else.

Not even for Mitch.

Mitch makes it farther than one might expect.

Still, within another 45 minutes, his leg is cramping and he’s got a stitch in his side. He pulls up, feeling himself struggle to stay afloat for a moment, and he bobs up and down in the water for a moment while he splutters and does his best to keep Brody above the surface.

That’s another thing he trains his lifeguards on: never exhaust yourself during a rescue. If you go down, then there’s no way at all to save the victim. It’s a rookie mistake; he feels like an amateur as his heart skips a beat and he wonders if he’s going to be able to recover from this fast enough.

He goes under again, the cramp in his side intensifying, and he’s trying to kick with his one leg when something buoys him up unexpectedly. He comes back to the surface, blinking a few times when he realizes that Brody’s right in front of him. He’s not propped up on Mitch anymore.

No, this time, he’s the one propping Mitch up, using one hand to guide Mitch up by the arm as he watches with concern.

“What the hell?”

“I’m good, I’m good,” Mitch says, and it’s not exactly a lie even if it’s not exactly the truth. With the added support, he’s able to reach down and start massaging his leg. “Just got a cramp.”

“Because you’re swimming in cold water carrying too much weight,” Brody reminds him. At least he’s coherent again. “Shit. You scared me.”

“There’s no reason to be scared,” Mitch chides him, feeling the muscle start to slowly loosen.

Brody shakes his head, as if he’s too weary to fight about this right now. “I’ve got nothing without you.”

“That’s not true,” Mitch says, flexing his toes as he starts to move his leg a little more.

Brody’s pale face is accentuated by the blood that still stains his head. Small red rivulets seem to continue to run down his neck as he treads slowly next to Mitch. “I’ve been more or less unconscious for the last, what, 30 minutes?”

“45,” Mitch corrects.

“45,” Brody says. “And if you’d gone down any one of those times? If you’d gone down five minutes earlier? We’d both be dead.”

“You just needed to rest a little,” Mitch tells him. With the cramp in his leg abating, he’s able to massage at his side. “That’s all we both need.”

Brody sighs. “Really? You think what we need is rest?”

“Well, and a rescue,” Mitch concedes.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Brody says. “I don’t think I can make it to shore.”

Mitch feels somehow galvanized by Brody’s dismissal. It’s not because Mitch is contrary; he just happens to like a challenge. “You haven’t even tried.”

“Uh, I did,” Brody says. “I barfed and passed out, remember? Or did you forget because you nearly got a cramp and drowned?”

Those are points that are far too valid. Mitch finds that he cannot in good conscience deny them. “Okay, fine,” he says. “So we don’t swim to shore. We stay put. Conserve our energy, focus on staying awake.”

Mitch says it in a positive tone. Some might call it optimism. Mitch prefers to think of it as a motivational tactic based on a realistic assessment of his own capacity.

Brody seems to resign himself to it as a statement that takes too much energy to protest. “You’re really not scared yet, are you?”

Mitch is getting his strength back, the pain well in hand now. “Of course not,” he says, and he’s treading water on his own now. “Fear is the enemy.”

“I sort of thought that the people who dropped us in the ocean might be our enemy,” Brody murmurs.

“Well, them, too,” Mitch says with a shrug.

That, at least, elicits a laugh. “You’re full of shit, Mitch.”

“Maybe,” Mitch agrees, grinning back. “But that shit very well may keep you alive.”

“There you go then,” Brody says, easing back as he let go of Mitch’s arm for a more comfortable treading movement. “The best shit I’ve ever had.”

The best, maybe.

Mitch just has to believe it’s enough.

-o-

The thing is, their plan is good in theory. By all accounts, it is the right choice, weighing factors like the weather, the time of day and Brody’s physical limitations at the moment. Conceptually, treading water to conserve energy is the smartest, most logical choice they can make.

In application, however, it doesn’t seem quite so good.

See, the problem with treading water for hours on end in cold water isn’t that it’s not smart.

It’s that it’s long.

And when something is long in these conditions, it’s hard.

When something is hard, you have a lot higher risk of failure.

Worse, Mitch is a man of action. This plan of his is all about inaction. That makes him restless and frustrated.

Brody, by contrast, is faring much worse.

He fades in and out of conversation; one second, he seems to be following fine. The next, his eyes look vacant and his gaze distant. Sometimes he seems to forget where he is and what he’s doing, and there are times when he seems to forget to keep treading so that Mitch has to grab him to keep him above the surface.

Mitch knows that the water is cold, and that with blood loss and a concussion, Brody is probably not handling the drop in his body temperature particularly well. Staying put is the best long term game plan, but it does make the risk of hypothermia ever more pressing. He has to keep Brody moving somehow.

And if he can’t keep Brody moving, he has to keep him talking.

Anything to keep him awake.

That means it’s time for a new plan: less treading water for Brody. A lot more talking.

The good news is that Brody likes to talk.

Brody likes to talk about sports and swimming. He likes to talk about weight training and core exercises. He likes talking about diet plans, beer brands and cheap dive bars. He even likes talking about Summer and how he’s not sure how to be a good boyfriend. He likes talking about cartoons and board games and the video game Call of Duty. Sometimes Brody even likes to talk about work and lifeguard technique and questions about the handbook.

So, most of the time, talking isn’t Brody’s problem.

The problem is that Mitch usually gets frustrated listening.

Today, though? Out at sea with hypothermia likely to set in?

Mitch will talk about anything.

“I’m just saying,” Brody says with a little added inflection. “Little Mitch needs a friend.”

“You seriously want to buy a custom made Brody figure for the fish tank?” Mitch asks skeptically.

“You have like ten Little Mitches,” Brody points out.

“And you always say it’s weird,” Mitch counters.

“Well, if I’m going to be living there, then I should represent,” Brody insists. “It just seems--”

He cuts off with a sneeze that sends his nose into the water. He recovers quickly, but he’s wincing as he wheezes.

“Oh, shit,” he mutters. “That’s so damn cold.”

Mitch reaches out to rub Brody’s arms.

He shakes his head. “I want a Little Brody, man,” he says. “We’re making a Little Brody.”

There are countless jokes to make to that, but Mitch finds that this time, he doesn’t have it in him to make a punchline. “Whatever you say, buddy,” he assures Brody instead. “When we hit dry land, we’ll make a Little Brody.”

Brody is marginally mollified. But he shrugs. “After we get warm, first.”

Mitch chuckles, wiggling his own fingers and toes to keep the circulation strong. “After we get warm.”

-o-

After several hours have passed, the afternoon is starting to abate. As evening approaches, Mitch can feel the temperature dropping. He also feels a twinge of trepidation at the thought of night.

It’s a twinge, is all.

The smallest, fraction of a second.

That’s not fear.

That’s a normal autonomical reaction to a high stress situation.

A spike of adrenaline is absolutely necessary for the long term survival in a situation like this.

That’s Mitch’s reasoning, anyway. And since he’s cool, calm and collected, he has no reason to start doubting his choices now.

Even Brody, who is more prone to panicking, seems to be taking this situation a lot better than he expected. He hasn’t freaked out once. When Mitch asks him why not, Brody lays on his back for a little bit to rest as he laughs. “I’m too tired to freak out,” he admits. “Fear requires way too much energy, and that’s, like, the one thing I definitely don’t have right now.”

Mitch isn’t sure why, but he feels like he needs to make this point. “Well, there’s nothing to actually be afraid of,” he says.

Brody lifts his head, moving back into a position to tread water as he gives Mitch a critical look.

Mitch rolls his eyes, but he acknowledges Brody’s unspoken rebuttal. “I just mean that we’re here, we’re together, we’re alive, we have a plan,” he says. “Fear would only hold us back from accomplishing that plan. Fear isn’t going to help.”

“Yeah, I’m not so sure it would actually make this worse,” Brody says.

“Of course it would,” Mitch says, a little more forceful now. “Fear’s nothing but a state of mind, and it’s a state of mind we can’t afford. Now more than ever.”

“Dude,” Brody says. His teeth have started to chatter on and off now, and his skin is a colorless shade of white. “We’ve been dumped at sea. It’s cold and night is coming. Like, I think we’re entitled to a little fear.”

“Who cares if we’re entitled,” Mitch says, keeping his own treading steady and unfailing. “The fear is pointless.”

Brody observes him for a moment, quelling his chattering teeth as he thinks. “You’re seriously not scared, are you?” he says, and it’s less a question and more of a conclusion. “Like, not at all.”

Mitch has to shrug. “Not at all,” he confirms.

Despite the fact that Brody had made the conclusion himself, he still seems incredulously. “But, like, how? How are you not even a little scared?”

It’s not really a question Mitch wants to answer, but there’s also nothing else to do at the moment. And if it can help Brody stay awake and fighting, then okay. “It’s just, we’re in a bad situation, sure, I know that as well as you do,” he says. “But we have to focus on the things we can control and not fixate on the shit that’s out of our hands.”

“But that’s the shit that’s scary,” Brody reminds him.

“Why?” Mitch asks. “Because it’s unknown?”

“Yes!” Brody says. This time, his teeth start to chatter again and he uses one hand at a time to rub his arms. “Shit, Mitch. Aren’t you scared of anything?”

That’s an honest, simple question.

This is Mitch’s honest, simple answer: “Not really.”

Brody shakes his head, though the movement seems to be smaller than normal. “You have to be,” he says. “Everyone’s scared of something.”

“I’m not,” Mitch concludes.

“Spiders,” Brody ventures.

Mitch shakes his head.

“Snakes,” Brody tries. When Mitch shakes his head again, Brody presses on. “Clowns.”

“Clowns?” Mitch repeats.

“Clowns are creepy as hell,” Brody says. “Big hair that is all stiff and weird. White faces with mouths that are just, like, way too big. And the way they laugh all the time, even when shit isn’t funny. It’s not right, man.”

Mitch makes a face. “What birthday parties did you go to?”

“None,” Brody says. “And clowns are one reason I’m super glad that I never had any friends.”

“That’s really not normal,” Mitch tells him.

“And neither is having no fear!” Brody says. His voice rises a little, but that only makes it sound shakier than before. He blinks rapidly a few times as he tries to stop himself from shivering too much. “I mean, sharks, right? You’re scared of sharks.”

Mitch actually thinks this must be a joke. “What?”

But Brody is increasingly genuine. It’s oddly disconcerting how genuine he is when he looks so pale. “Are you scared of sharks?”

“No,” Mitch says, and he resists the urge to reach out and warm Brody, who has started to shiver more now, so much that he doesn’t seem to be catching himself doing it anymore. Mitch can’t focus on that, so he focuses on this: “Sharks are magnificent creatures who are an integral part of the marine food chain. They deserve our respect and our protection.”

Despite how cold he obviously is, Brody seems far more preoccupied with this at the moment. “They’re, like, vicious predators who are probably circling us right now, looking for the kill.”

This is a pretty stupid conversation, but any distraction for Brody that makes him forget that the life is slowly being leached out of him is probably for the best. “You do realize that the actual prevalence of shark encounters with humans in the wild is not that high.”

Brody is resolute now when he shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he says, and he’s starting to stutter a few of his words. “I saw Jaws. It was terrifying.”

“It was a movie full of Hollywood hype,” Mitch says. “You can never believe shit you see in movies.”

“They have really big teeth, though,” Brody says. “Anything with teeth that big is going to be terrifying. Especially when you’re abandoned at sea without a boat. While bleeding.”

He gestures to his still leaking head wound as evidence.

Mitch arches his eyebrows with renewed skepticism. “You do know that if we die out here, it’s probably not going to be a shark attack. Hypothermia is much more likely to kill us.”

Brody stares at him, shaking his head. “You’re really not good at this think-about-anything-other-than-the-truth game, are you?”

Mitch huffs a little. He’s not indignant except he is a little. “You’re still missing the point, though,” he says. “You can’t let fear in, especially now. It’s all in your head.”

“Uh, yeah!” Brody says. He wets his lips with a barely suppressed shudder. “That’s, like, the very definition of fear. In your head.”

“And if it’s in your head, then you can control it,” Mitch tells him, and it’s his turn to be emphatic now. “You can choose to not let it control you.”

Brody is already shaking his head before he finishes. “No, you can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Mitch says.

Brody is plaintive about this, even if is skin is starting to look translucent and his eyes look dull. “Nope.”

Clearly, this is a line of argument that Mitch will never be able to properly refute. Therefore, he attempts a different tact. “Okay, then tell me a fear you have.”

Brody eyes him, like he suspects it’s a trick. In his current state, he can’t tell, though. To be fair, Mitch is pretty sure Brody wouldn’t be able to figure it out even if he did have full control of his faculties and wasn’t impaired by a head wound and a lowered body temperature. “Besides sharks?”

Mitch can be patient with this. Stranded and freezing, miles from shore, about all Mitch can do is be patient. “Besides sharks.”

Brody actually thinks about this, and it occurs to Mitch for the first time that Brody might have a list of phobias that he’s actually considering. Like he’s gauging which one of his personal nightmares is most pressing. “Confined spaces,” is the one he concludes upon.

For some reason, Mitch is taken aback. “Claustrophobia?”

Brody nods, short, little nods that still convey the point clearly enough.

Mitch scoffs before he can stop himself. “Well, that one’s easy enough to overcome,” he says. “All you have to do is train your mind to remember that there’s space outside.”

“Nope,” Brody disagrees. “Doesn’t work.”

“Then, you think of something else,” Mitch argues. “Close your eyes, and you don’t even have to see how close the walls are. You just think about other things.”

“And if there aren’t other things?” Brody asks.

“There are always other things,” Mitch returns.

“But they’re not always better things,” Brody says, and it sounds like he’s being a smart ass now, which Mitch knows is probably a good sign but it’s still kind of annoying.

“That’s still a mental choice you’re making,” Mitch says. “When you say that, you’ve already resigned yourself to a horrible situation. Of course you’d feel scared.”

This train of thought seems a bit too advanced for Brody, though Mitch suspects that has something to do with the head injury and the cold. He musters a muddled thought to reply. “What if you’re shoved into small spaces against your will.”

Mitch levels a look at him. “The morgue totally doesn’t count.”

Miraculous, Brody doesn’t choose to disagree. “Closets, though.”

“But who sits in closets?” Mitch asks.

“You can get locked in closets,” Brody tells him, like that is very much a thing that happens.

Mitch has no idea how, though. “But how does that even happen? What kind of closet even locks in the first place?”

“Lots of them, and if they don’t lock, you can put things in front of them,” Brody says, and it dawns on Mitch quite slowly that Brody might know what he’s talking about here. “I mean, it can be a joke. It can be, like, hazing. It can be punishment. People can play hide and seek and then forget about you for hours. I don’t know, loads of shit.”

Mitch has to stare at him for a long, hard second. Brody’s not joking is the thing.

How is Brody not joking?

This is a kid who didn’t go to birthday parties and got locked in closets on a semi-consistent basis. And Mitch wonders why he has such a hard time being a normal, functional adult.

The effort to fully psychoanalyze Brody is a bit too much for Mitch at the moment. He’s not exactly in prime condition himself anymore. With a hint of resignation, Mitch shakes his head. “Well, then there’s good news.”

Brody frowns somehow.

Mitch pulls the corners of his lips up for a smile. “You’re definitely not in a confined space at the moment.”

Brody laughs at that, his hoarse voice ringing across the vast expanse of the ocean around them. “You’re right about that,” he says, his own mouth twitching up in a tired smile. “You’re definitely right about that.”