Nick was still not entirely sure he was pleased to have Kevin's company, but it was a fabulous day, they were on the boat, there was just enough wind to keep things comfortable, and Kevin had brought a fine, fine lunch with him, a super-abundance of sandwiches, and cupcakes, and ice-cream. So Nick was standing at the wheel with a comfortably full belly, a cold bottle of beer, and no real ability left to hang on to his grudge.
Kevin was sitting beside him, not speaking, just staring forward at the expanse of sea.
"So," Nick said, when he could stand it no longer, "how come you wanted to take a trip on my boat?"
"I need a—actually, there's two things I need," Kevin said.
Nick thought that was asking a lot, after Kevin upped and left them like that, but... he took another pull at the beer bottle and waited, pointedly, for Kevin to explain.
"I need, no, I want to ask, you to forgive me," Kevin said.
"For leaving y'all. I hope you understood why I had to go."
"I... guess." He'd talked to Brian about it all, a lot, because he wasn't sure that it did make sense, Kevin leaving the group. Brian had managed to be a Backstreet Boy and a father, why couldn't Kevin?
"And it's working out real good," Kevin went on. "Y'all are doing just fine without me. I knew it would be okay."
In some ways, Nick thought, it was kinda nicer not having Kevin's slightly intimidating self present every time they discussed what they were doing. Not having to take Kevin's opinion into account on every decision. He felt a bit guilty about that, though, and he thought probably the others did too, so he wasn't going to say anything.
"So. Are we good, Nicky?"
"Don't call me that," Nick replied automatically even though Kevin hadn't called him Nicky in years. And all of a sudden everything was easy. He turned, met Kevin's eyes, and grinned. "Yeah. We're good."
"Will the boat go crazy if I give you an old-fashioned, manly hug?"
Nick rolled his eyes, throttled back a little, and turned to bring Kevin in for that hug. It was nice. He'd... actually missed this.
After a few minutes he muttered something about steering, and they let go one another. Nick made a bigger thing than he needed to of checking the course, and settled back to steering. "What was the other thing?"
"Well," Kevin said, and the weird thing was, he sounded embarrassed. Which Kevin never did. "You're the Ambassador to Dolphins, right?"
Nick stared. He hadn't even expected Kevin to know about that, and he if did know, Nick thought he'd have made fun like the other guys did. Because it was kinda funny, and it wasn't like he'd asked for—"What has that got to do with anything?" he blurted.
"I, um." Kevin combed both hands back through his hair, a sign he wasn't at all sure of himself. "I'm going to need someone to communicate with."
"And me being a Dolphin Ambassador helps with that how?"
"See, I need to get away. I know it sounds irresponsible, but I talked with Kristin and she understands. And Mason's too small right now to—anyway, it's not like I'll be gone for ever. I just, you know, it was very unfortunate I had to grow up in Kentucky."
"I thought you loved Kentucky," said Nick, baffled.
"Yes, yes, I do, but it's a long way from the sea, and, well. I just need to know you'll be here for me when I need to come home."
"Uh." What? "Sure," Nick said, because what else could he possibly say?
"It's the freedom," Kevin mused, staring out to sea. "Out there in the ocean, no photographers, no auditions, no responsibilities."
"That's why I have a boat," said Nick. "Are you thinking of getting a boat? Because I know this guy—"
"No, no, don't need a boat. I just wanted to be sure that you'd, uh, be willing to communicate. If you should be out on your fine boat and happen to see a dolphin that looks like it wants to talk."
Nick fought the urge to look around for the camera. Somebody had to be filming this. But there was nothing else in sight on the water, and he hadn't let anyone on board except Kevin. Who had lost his mind, it looked like. "So," he began with care, "if I see a talking dolphin—"
"It won't actually talk, Nick. Not in English, anyway."
"Okay, a dolphin making, like, signs with its flippers, I should... pull up alongside?"
"Exactly." Kevin smiled at him. Nick felt like he'd just solved a problem in theoretical physics by pinning the tail on the donkey, because he had no clue what they were talking about here.
Kevin seemed happy. Kevin was now taking off his Hawaiian shirt and his shorts, and whistling to himself. Hell, if he just wanted to go skinny-dipping in the ocean, he could have said. Nick stopped the engine and dropped the rope ladder over the side. But Kevin apparently wasn't going to bother with the ladder. Kevin stood on the side of the boat (there was a proper name for it, but Nick never remembered the proper names for boat stuff and didn't see that it mattered) and dived, and—
—somehow what splashed into the water was not Kevin, long and pink and naked, but a streamlined gray shape with fins and a tail.
The dolphin squeaked at him from the water.
Nick thought, Oh.
That was unexpected.
After a moment he stopped staring and thought, Okay, then, what the hell, and dropped his shorts onto the deck (he could remember that one) and went over the side. Wow, shit, that was cold!
The dolphin nosed at him excitedly. Nick splashed it. It splashed back, waving a handy flipper through the water. Cool. Cautiously, he reached a hand forward to stroke the creature. It—Kevin—didn't seem to mind. Its skin was rubbery, not smooth exactly, but not rough either. Nick had petted dolphins before, in fact, he'd swum with—"How about a tow?" he suggested, and the dolphin, Kevin-the-dolphin, nodded enthusiastically and rolled over in the water to offer his dorsal fin.
Kevin-the-dolphin was way more fun than Kevin-the-not-dolphin. They streaked through the waves, did jumps and swam underwater, they played catch with a passing piece of seaweed, and eventually Kevin towed Nick gently back to the boat, and pushed him helpfully up the rope ladder. Nick was exhausted, but this had definitely been about the most incredible afternoon of his life.
"Thanks," he said, breathlessly, and reached for a towel. That definitely sounded like a squeak of 'You're welcome'.
The dolphin squeaked at him again, and this time it sounded like goodbye. He leaned over to pat its sleek gray head—it lifted up in the water so he could reach. "Have fun, Kev," Nick said, and the dolphin snorted through its blowhole, then turned and splashed back down into the water.
It gathered speed, streaking towards the setting sun, leaping sometimes from the water in sheer joy. No photographers, no appearances, no responsibilities. Nick watched until he could no longer see the darting speck against the orange sky.
He started up the engine, set a course for home and went down into the cabin for some clothes.
He wasn't even going to try to explain this to Brian.