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Baywatch fic: Belonging and Separation

December 24th, 2018 (11:15 am)

Title: Belonging and Separation

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: This has strong religious themes in it for some reason, though I wouldn’t say it’s espousing anything in particular. This my fill for my hc_bingo purgatory prompt, so there’s some discussion about heaven and hell and everything in between. Unbeta’ed.

Summary: All those times Brody picked hell. Maybe there’s still time to pick heaven.



-o-

When Brody was seven, he lived with this family for a while. They had, like, three kids of their own and maybe three other foster kids besides Brody. There was even this girl they had adopted from China or something, Brody honestly wasn’t there long enough to pay attention. But the thing about this family, the thing that still stands out, is that the dad was this pastor.

Religious types weren’t expressly uncommon in foster care; you ran across them every now and then. But Brody never made it long in those places, given his propensity for swearing, stealing and general malfeasance. And he knew from the moment he got to this family, it’d never work. The girls all wore these prim and proper dresses with their hair down, and the boys had to wear stupid looking khakis with collared shirts. They kept trying to part Brody’s hair down the side, and it seemed to be a supreme insult that he could never keep it like that very long.

But those things weren’t the thing. The thing was that they went to church every Sunday, prayed at every meal and did devotionals each morning.

Brody hadn’t known what a devotional was. Honestly, he still didn’t. It was just this boring time where they read shit and talked about God being good. Brody slept through most of the church services, and he learned to say that he was thankful for a warm home when it was his turn to pray, but those devotionals.

You couldn’t quite get out of them.

Most of the time, they were utter nonsense to Brody. Shit about arks and whales swallowing people. There was this time God parted some stupid sea and killed a bunch of people and it was super miraculous or something. And, like, Jesus seemed like sort of a cool guy, healing people, but the guy spoke in riddles all the time and Brody never did understand why anyone would want to die for someone else, much less a complete stranger or a total asshole like Brody was when he was seven.

But then there was this devotional about heaven.

And one more about hell.

Heaven was perfection with emerald streets and a glistening stone throne room. Christ rode around on some white horse, and there were, like, entire choirs of angels singing about how awesome he was.

Brody didn’t quite get why that was so cool, but he had to admit, when compared to hell, it was the place to be.

Hell was a pit of fire, okay? Like, literal fire. There was this story about a rich dude who died and could see heaven across a chasm. All he wanted was for a drop of water on his tongue because hell was so terrible. A single drop of water.

Straight up, the dude didn’t get it.

Because he was in hell.

And when you were in hell, heaven wasn’t an option.

It wasn’t until later, like years later, that Brody thought about that image a little more. The rich dude dead in hell, looking across the expanse toward the splendor of heaven. And the chasm in between.

But what was in that chasm?

Brody didn’t figure he’d find out.

Until, of course, one day he did.

-o-

(Purgatory, they call it. A place between heaven and hell. You’re not saved; you’re not condemned. You don’t know what you are, but you’re waiting to find out. Some people will leave happy; some people will be dragged out kicking and screaming. But nobody stays in purgatory. Nobody.)

-o-

Brody’s not seven anymore. He’s 25 and he’s not gone to church in basically forever. He doesn’t think about heaven. He doesn’t think about hell.

He thinks about the here and now.

He thinks about Baywatch and saving a life.

That’s all there is, after all. Given how the rest of his life has gone, it actually seems like more than enough. He’s got a job he likes, he’s got a girl who likes him, and he’s got a best friend who sticks by him. What more could Brody possibly hope to find in this life or the next?

Nothing is the answer.

Brody wants nothing.

He could live like this forever, he thinks.

Until, apparently, he can’t.

-o-

(Heaven is paradise, he remembers. That’s what he’s told. It’s paradise. You want for nothing. There are no tears; there is no suffering. Baywatch probably isn’t heaven, but it’s pretty damn close.)

-o-

It’s just your typical save on a very typical day. Brody likes this part of the job in a lot of ways. Not that he likes to see anyone suffering, but he sort of thinks that’s a given with or without him. It’s not like his presence as a lifeguard makes people suffer. He just like that he’s given the chance to pull them back.

He gets to be on the other side of the chasm now. He gets to reach across from heaven and pull people out of their torment.

Brody finds that gratifying actually. Maybe that’s why Jesus went ahead and let them nail him to a slab or wood or whatever.

Not that Brody intends to die. Like, he’s a lifeguard, not a martyr. Dying is really not part of the plan.

Brody’s bad at making plans, though.

And he’s super used to not getting what he wants.

-o-

(Heaven lasts forever. That should have been Brody’s first clue. Nothing lasts forever. Not even Baywatch. Shit, not even him.)

-o-

It’s a boat accident and there’s, like, this jet ski that gets submerged and there are all these victims and it’s a mess, right? It’s chaos and it’s a mess.

Mitch takes point, saving, like, five people by himself. Brody fixates on saving just one.

Just the dude trapped to his jet ski as it submerged.

The underwater stuff is hard because you can’t see very well and you have to hold your breath and all that. This one is harder because the jet ski is sinking fast and the dude is super panicked. He’s thrashing and flailing, and he doesn’t seem to get the fact that Brody’s there to save him. He’s hanging all over Brody as he tries to cut through the cord securing him to the jet ski, and he’s in such a frantic hurry to surface that he kicks hard enough to push Brody back.

A second kick that he doesn’t seem coming clocks him upside the head, right in the temple.

That seems to be the way Brody’s life works.

You get one shot to do it right.

Screw it up, and there’s no second chances.

There’s just darkness.

There’s just nothing at all.

-o-

(Hell isn’t fire, another foster mom tells him later. She says that it’s the absence of God. Brody’s not sure about this God thing, but the absence makes sense. The absence of stability, the absence of love. The absence of a home, the absence of a family. Brody’s made a life getting used to the absences. He’s made a life in the void left behind. Maybe hell is a vacuum, and maybe Brody’s been here all along.)

-o-

The thing is that it doesn’t take a lot to drown. It’s easy, right? It’s just so easy. You swallow some water, swallow some more. Within 20 seconds, you’re dead.

This process slows down when you’re awake and fighting. That’s why swimmers, the good ones anyway, don’t drown very much. The know how to find the surface.

When you’re unconscious, however, you can’t find anything.

When you’re unconscious, you’re just dead.

-o-

(A couple of foster parents, they’d been super concerned with the state of Brody’s soul. Like, that was a thing they talked about, and he could hear them praying about it when he was supposed to be in bed and not sneaking out and doing shit. He always thought that was weird, all this concern about the life to come. Brody had enough shit to think about in this life, which was why he didn’t give the afterlife a second thought. When your life already feels like hell, you can’t imagine it getting worse. Brody’s good at being wrong, though. Really, really good.)

-o-

It’s funny because Brody knows he’s dying. Like, he’s unconscious and he’s underwater and the water is filling his lungs and he knows that’s it. He feels himself separate from his body, and the detachment is both reassuring and terrifying.

He knows that there’s nothing he can do to stop this.

He knows he probably deserves whatever comes next.

It’s just so funny to watch himself die, to watch himself drown, to watch it all slip away from him like he never had it in the first place. All he can think is that it’s probably always been meant to be this way. Growing up, going to the Olympics, all the stupid, shitty choices he’s made. He created his own version of hell.

Baywatch, this heaven, is the illusion.

Only death provides clarity for life.

-o-

(But grace is a thing, isn’t it? That’s what they all told him about. That’s what all their so-called evangelizing came back to. There’s someone out there who has died for you. There’s someone out there who sees you, all the messes you make, all the bad things you do, and still makes the choice to sacrifice themselves. They always told him that in grandiose terms, like it’s some big deal. He might have believed them if any of those people had wanted him to stick around for more than a couple of months. He doesn’t think about those people much, just like he doesn’t think about grace. Just like he doesn’t think about crazy weirdos who go around and put their lives on the line for an asshole like Brody.)

-o-

The thing about drowning around a bunch of lifeguards is that you’re drowning around a bunch of lifeguards. It’s literally their job to save total strangers, and, like, they’re good at it. Baywatch lifeguards are the best of the best. They’re relentless and committed and selfless and just plain good.

And all that is when it’s a total stranger they’re dragging out of the surf.

When it’s one of their own?

Well, Brody’s never understood grace before.

Maybe he does now.

-o-

(Purgatory isn’t heaven; purgatory isn’t hell. Purgatory is the place in between, it’s the chasm that spans from one side of eternity to the next. It’s a place where you’re not saved and you’re not condemned. He used to think it was a place where you waited for your fate to be decided, but he’s got other ideas now. Maybe it’s the place where you get to decide. Where you still get to choose what you want. All those times Brody picked hell. Maybe there’s still time to pick heaven.)

-o-

He wakes up on the beach. He can feel the sand, coarse and hot on his skin. His chest is tight, and his throat constricts as he tries to breathe and chokes on water instead. As he starts to cough, strong hands pick him up, rolling him to his side. The movement is just fast enough for Brody to start retching. He can taste the salt water as it burns up his throat, and he gags until the next breath he takes is finally clear and deep.

When he finally rolls back onto the sand, he’s still not sure what happened. He takes a moment, trying to put the pieces together. He remembers the jet ski, and he remembers the water. He remembers taking a blow to the head and thinking that his time had finally come.

But now he’s on the beach and his chest hurts like a son of a bitch, and there’s Mitch, haloed by the sun, leaning over him.

Mitch looks terrified.

All the other details probably mean more, but that’s the one that sinks in.

Mitch isn’t scared of anything, but he’s scared shitless right now.

“You okay? You back with me?” Mitch asks.

Brody has to think about that. He has to think about the way his lungs feel when he breathes, the way his throat burns when he swallows. He has to count the beats of his heart for several seconds just to be sure.

“Brody,” Mitch says, almost demanding it this time. He holds Brody by the shoulder, leaning down to look Brody in the eyes. “Are you back with me?”

He looks up through the fringe of his bangs and wonders if Mitch knows what he’s asking. He wonders if Mitch thinks about heaven and hell and the chasm between them. He wonders if Mitch knows that for the first time in his life, Brody feels like he’s not stuck in that chasm and it’s the weirdest feeling.

The coolest feeling.

He nods, short and rapid. “Yeah,” he says, still breathing heavily to catch his breath against the pull of his chest. “Yeah. I’m back with you.”

Mitch visibly relaxes, his relief palpable. Brody has made a choice here, but so has Mitch.

Because Brody had drowned out there, and Mitch had dragged his dead body back to the shore and brought him back to life with his bare hands. Because as Brody was thinking about the afterlife, Mitch was thinking about life after Brody.

All those people who were worried about Brody’s soul, not one of them bothered to save his life. They didn’t get it, probably. That by saving a life, maybe you could save a soul, too.

That’s probably not what Mitch has tried to do, but he’s still sitting in front of Brody, hand on his shoulder, as if that alone can secure Brody to this tenuous life. Brody’s alive because of Mitch. Brody’s alive.

“Come on,” Mitch says, helping him to his feet. He stands close enough to catch him if he falls again.

But Brody’s feet are steadier than either one of them expects. He looks up at Mitch, in a little bit of awe. “You saved my life.”

Mitch looks surprised. Then, almost belatedly, he remembers to scoff. “Someone has to,” he says. “You’re sure as hell not going to pull it off all by yourself.”

Brody grins despite himself. Because okay, fine. He’s not sure about fiery pits or emerald streets. He’s not even sure about chasms so wide and vast that you can get lost in them forever. Maybe that’s the sort of thing you can’t figure out. Not when he’s still got this life to live.

-o-

(Grace is a free gift, but salvation is a choice. Brody’s never cared much to choose before, but he does now.

He does now.)

-o-

Brody’s never believed in much of anything, but he believes in this: hell is separation.

Heaven is belonging.

And that’s all that really matters in the end.