by Sarah B.
Author's Note: This story is set in an alternate universe, where Horatio has command of a frigate named the 'Fidus Achates', with Bush and Archie as his lieutenants. Dr. Sebastian is an original character I created some time ago.
The following is kind of a 'story snippet', part of what might someday be a bigger story I haven't written yet! It just sort of formed in my head the other day and I thought I'd share it.
It would be soon.
Archie slumped forward, dangling listlessly from chains that hung from the ceiling of the squalid cell and bound his bleeding wrists in a cutting grip. His arms were spread wide, and if he had strength he knew he could stand and relieve the terrible agony in his chest and arms. But he could not stand; his strength had left him long ago.
It was hard to think; still Archie tried to focus his wandering thoughts and wondered if Horatio and Bush were still alive. When the Spanish had captured them they were separated, and Archie had no idea where the other two men had been taken; he had even gone so far as to fake a fit, hoping to provide a diversion so they could escape, but he had no idea if it worked. He hoped they were gone; certainly they could not survive here. He should not still be alive, he knew, but he seemed to have a special talent for survival, even when he would have preferred death. But, it would be soon....
Archie tried to shift his weight a little, and his legs slowly obeyed him, but the pain was so bad he bit his lip until it bled so he would not cry out. He wouldn't give the bastards the pleasure; they had beaten him until he could no longer stand, starved him to wear down his spirit, but he hadn't cried out once. They wanted him to, but instead he had fed off the pain, used it like a living thing to give him strength. He was an Englishman, a resurrected soul, and he knew they wanted to break him so they could say they were the superior race. But they weren't. Certainly Horatio and Bush would not cry out. And Archie decided, before the first blow fell, that he would not either.
But it had been so hard...
Voices echoed somewhere, two men arguing. Archie slowly opened his eyes, a useless waste of precious energy because there was no light in the cell; only a gray haze that seeped in under the door, and not much of that. Otherwise it was quiet; Archie could hear his own heart beating, shallow and slow, and thought in a daze that he must be in hell. Surely this was hell, all darkness and pain and chained-up hope. Isolation and abandonment forever. And he was trapped.
He was going to die, here. He was going to die.
Archie's head fell against his chest, and he felt a tear fall from one burning eye. He hoped that one of them, Horatio or Bush, had made it out of the garrison and gotten back to the Achates. They couldn't come back for him of course but perhaps they could tell his family...or Dr. Sebastian, he would want to know...that Archie was dead.
Archie felt his body cramping, great hollow spasms in a body long since spent. Soon.
In the near darkness Archie felt something move over his scalp, and a moment later a dark blotch appeared on the floor near where his legs were draped under him, battered and useless. Blood. Blood was dripping from his hair.
Archie stared at it for a moment, transfixed. Then old words echoed in his head, *this is the blood of my covenant, shed for you and for many. This do for remembrance of me*.
Another tear fell down Archie's cheek. It was Dr. Sebastian's voice, God, from so long ago it seemed. Years ago, shortly after the doctor came aboard Indefatigable, he and Archie had long talks about his beliefs, the church, about God and Christ. Archie had listened, fascinated by the story of a god who would come to earth and suffer for other men's sins but never believing the story applied to him. Dr. Sebastian always insisted it was true, said that Archie was as worthy as anyone, but Archie wasn't certain that he liked the idea of someone else suffering on his account. He always figured he was going to hell anyway.
And now, maybe, he was.
A door opened above him, screeching metal against unyielding stone. Archie's eyes went back to the splotch on the floor, only now it was two splotches. *for the remembrance of me*. Shedding blood. Pain, so much pain. Crucified, that's how Dr. Sebastian said that Christ was killed, and it was a terrible way to die.
'But if he had to die in any case, why not just be run through?' Archie had asked. 'It would seem more efficient, I would think.'
'Because God knew how men would look upon an easy death,' Dr. Sebastian had replied, 'He wanted you to know just how much He loved you. Enough to suffer greatly, so that you would believe and live the glories of the life He planned for you.'
Archie blinked dully; his mind was working slower now, they had left him alone to die. Was Dr. Sebastian there? No; no, he had dreamed it. Only voices in his head.
'So what happens if I believe? Everything just disappears as if it never happened?'
'What would you think if I said yes?'
'I would think you didn't know how things are. Some things never...they never...'
'I know. Some things always remain, but God takes everything in His care and gives you help to stand when you are falling, even in the worst times. In his Bible are words to comfort you when all else fails.'
Archie shook his head in the dimness, seeing that conversation again, the worn leather book in the doctor's hands and he felt himself peering at it and thinking, there can't be comfort for me, not after...
'He knows, doesn't he? I mean, God sees everything, right?'
Dr. Sebastian knew what he was talking about. He nodded.
'You're telling me *words* are going to make that better? Words are going to make...make these scars I have go away?'
Archie trembled, remembering his anger and feeling it mingle with the exhaustion and pain he now felt. No, not words...
The doctor's hand was resting against his head, and his dark brown eyes looked straight into Archie's without flinching. 'No, not words, Archie, it is His blood that heals you. What you have suffered, He has suffered too, to death, so that you would know that He understands and has wept with you all these years. Even if you do not believe, simply read it. Read it, and if it does not touch you return the book and we will speak no more about it.'
Blood. Suffering, crucifixion, not for him certainly. Archie took the book.
Clanking noises overhead, prisoners being moved no doubt. Archie coughed, tasted iron in his mouth.
He still had that Bible. It was in his cabin on the Achates, tucked in his cot so he wouldn't lose it. How many passages had he underlined? He hardly knew how to read it at first, the numbered verses confused him, but slowly he learned...
In the darkness Archie felt more tears falling, his eyes burning as he shivered against the chains. Fragments came to his mind and he whispered them because Dr. Sebastian had promised it would bring him strength. And he needed that strength to die well.
"The Lord is...is my shepherd...The Lord..." How did the rest of it go? Archie's mind would not work properly and he could only remember patches. He tried again. *I fear no evil, for thou art with me. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever...*
"So what is heaven like, then?"
The memory came back to him, a sunny day on Indefatigable as Dr. Sebastian stood on the taffrail smoking and Archie stood next to him, fingering the rosary beads the doctor always carried and regarding them curiously.
The doctor had looked at him, a little slyly perhaps, and Archie continued, "I've read that Bible all the way through, and it talks a great deal about heaven but never tells you what's actually in it besides God, Jesus, and a battalion of angels. It never tells you what it's *like*."
"That is because it is a mystery," Sebastian explained, "Only to be revealed to us when we die."
"Well, that's hardly an answer!"
Dr. Sebastian took another pull on his cigar and regarded the smoke thoughtfully, then asked, "What would you like it to be?"
"Heaven. If you could find Heaven just as you desired it, what would it hold for you?"
Another spasm took Archie, wracking his arms and coursing through his bruised frame like a ravenous beast. He shuddered and forced himself to think about his answer.
It was at once an easy answer, and a difficult one. What did Archie want? If he could have a Heaven, what would it have in it? He had to think.
Freedom from pain. The warm embrace of his mother. The knowledge that he had done some good, had not been a useless waste of life. The security of knowing that nothing could hurt him again.
Archie hadn't said these things, of course, not yet; he simply shrugged and watched the rosary beads sparkle in the sun.
Dr. Sebastian didn't press him either, thank goodness; he merely smiled and said, "Whatever you need, that will be the Heaven that God provides for you. We have the Lord's word on it, if we only trust Him. We have more than his word. We have His blood."
Blood. Archie's blood, another drop on the floor. Archie stared at it, wondered why it seemed wider than the ocean. His blood, given so Horatio and Bush could get away. No. No, it was wrong to think like that, to put any sacrifice he made in the same league with ...
Another sunny day on the taffrail. "So what you're saying is, all Jesus had to do was give the word, and a host of angels would have lifted him straight off that cross and carried him to Heaven?"
"And it was always up to him?"
"But he never did it? Agonizing pain, tortured by the people he came to save, and he never simply said, 'bullocks to you then'? Why not?"
Dr. Sebastian was smoking a cigar, and he flicked a few ashes into the sea. "Because he knew the will of his Father, that he had to die."
"The will of his Father! What father would want his son to suffer like that?"
"God did not want it. But He gave men free will, and through that free will they almost destroyed themselves. Through Christ He gave us the means to have our free will, and follow Him also. But He had to go through a mortal death so we would know the price He was willing to pay for our freedom."
Archie saw the sea, glittering jewels of sunlight sparkling from sky-blue depths. He shook his head at it. "If Jesus had given up, would God have banished him from Heaven? I mean, from what you're saying he would have been a failure then."
For a few moments Dr. Sebastian didn't answer, merely puffed on his cigar. Then he said, "God loved his son, who was another part of Himself. There is no answer in the Bible for your question, but I believe He would have forgiven him. But there would have been little joy in Heaven at his homecoming."
Archie watched the waves for a little while. "I suppose as it was he got a pretty grand welcoming."
Dr. Sebastian smiled. "I am certain no celebration on earth could match it. And someday, when I stand in the Lord's presence, I will only ask that He gives a bit of the same welcome to the ones that I hold dear."
Embarrassed, Archie had shrugged. "I'll never do anything that merits that kind of bother. If I make it there at all."
"Don't underestimate yourself, Archie. I have seen a courage in you that is impressive indeed."
Courage. Archie coughed weakly, winced as pain shot through his shoulders. Whatever he had, he would not have it for much longer. The dizziness that had been building within him was increasing, and he couldn't breathe. His hands were by turns ripped with pain and paralyzed with numbness, and there was a huge cluster of agonies in his middle. Was this what being crucified felt like? Archie tried to draw a full breath, but it was impossible.
Oh God, he thought desperately, oh God. Help me.
Dr. Sebastian always had Bible verses for times of despair, and Archie knew some but nothing would come. There were long flowery poems appealing to the Lord for help but in his agony Archie lost all memory and simply prayed, God, help me. It hurts. Look after Horatio and Bush, and Wellard, get them home safe. Everything hurts. Do something...
"You're not afraid to die, then? Not at all?"
"No. I do not wish to die in pain, of course, and I am not hurrying to the task. But I do not fear death. That is the great gift that God gives us through His son."
"But - but what if you're wrong? What if what comes after death isn't what you think it is?"
"Then I have lost nothing, for my beliefs have given me nothing but peace and stability in this world. But I believe the promises that have been made, and because of them I know that in the next world I shall see my wife and son again, and we will never be parted. Never."
Archie squinted at the floor, feeling it tilt up beneath him, then back again. He didn't want to die; but was there really peace in thinking that death wasn't the end after all? He closed his eyes and imagined that if he opened them again his mother would be standing there, young and beautiful and alive again. The pain would be over, his scars would be gone, and she would smile at him at tell him she was proud of him, they were all proud of him, he had done well. And his friends would be safe.
It was all he wanted. But he did not want it yet...
He couldn't breathe. His body trembled with exhaustion. Another drop of blood slipped lifelessly to the floor.
*God, please help me.*
'You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or the arrow that flies by day.'
The words were clear. Dr. Sebastian's voice, sharing some Bible verse some night long ago, but Archie thought he had forgotten. He thought...
'Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand - '
Archie's voice was a pale whisper: "But it...shall not approach you..."
*Because you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High your dwelling place. No evil will befall you...He will give His angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, let you strike your foot against a stone.*
Archie trembled, remembering the quiet power in those words. Dr. Sebastian believed God would look out for him, not matter what happened. God would send angels...
Fighting the shadows that threatened to claim him, Archie struggled to hear the words, to *believe* the words that the doctor promised would help him. He pictured angels around him, holding him up, giving him their light, only because he had asked for it. Asked God for it, who he had never trusted before...
Whether it was his wounds, or exhaustion, or starvation, Archie didn't know, but he almost felt...warm. Not a physical warmth, but something around him that was diaphanous and undefinable. It was still dark as night in the cell, but in his delirious thoughts Archie imagined that he could almost see light, just enough to make it a few more moments perhaps but that was everything. He wasn't alone in the cell - oh, Horatio would scoff if he knew - but in the midst of the blood and the weariness and the crushing pain Archie felt...something. Something there, comforting him.
He leaned into it, because it was the only solace he had. But at the same time he stared into the blackness with pleading eyes and whispered, "Look after them, please."
It was his final hope.
Then the vision faded, and Archie heard the sound of a cell door opening on its rusty hinges, echoing down the hallway. The guards were coming back for him, perhaps this time they would beat him to death. With a supreme effort Archie brought his legs around and placed his feet on the floor, determined that they would not see him weak or defeated, not even if he was dying. He would show them what an Englishman was made of...
Archie tried to push himself up, but even that little effort caused his entire body to scream in pain. He gasped and fell forward on his knees, agony reawakening in every cell of his being as his arms were jerked away from his body. He felt black oblivion rushing in close and could not resist it. With only the slightest of gasps he tumbled toward the nothingness.
And then, slowly, he heard voices piercing that void, far away and close at the same time.
"Archie! Archie - "
"Carefully, remove the chains first, they are choking him."
Hands on him. Arms encircling his body, gentle but they were shaking. Archie tried to open his eyes and failed.
Suddenly horrific pain exploded in his wrists, and Archie tried to pull them away; but someone was holding him.
"Hold still, Archie, just one more - got it."
"He's bleeding - "
"Lay him down, quickly, I can dress his wounds."
The arms clutched him tighter, and Archie could not help crying out as his cramped arms fell to his sides.
"It's all right, Archie," Someone was cradling him close. Horatio 's voice. "It's all right, we've come for you."
Archie felt himself being lowered onto something soft and tried again to open his eyes. At first there was only grayness; then shadows, then the dim outlines of three people bending over him. Archie could not see their faces, but felt strong and gentle hands washing his wrists. Familiar hands... then he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. "Doctor?"
"Sh, Archie," A hand on his forehead, rougher than Horatio's. It was Bush. "Don't try to speak, I'm sure it pains you."
"Your plan worked," Horatio again. Archie felt a cool, damp cloth on his face. "It was brilliant, we were able to get away almost without a fight and returned to claim the garrison. You saved our lives, Archie."
"Give him this to drink," came Dr. Sebastian's voice, low and soothing. Archie felt Bush's hands lifting his head and opened his eyes again.
The faces were more distinct now, Bush just above him looking grim and dirty; Horatio holding a flask and looking very worried; and Dr. Sebastian, not looking at his face but wrapping a white bandage around one mangled wrist.
Breathing was still very painful; still, Archie managed a tiny lungful and whispered, "I do hope ... you locked the door behind you."
Dr. Sebastian smiled, and Archie thought he heard Bush chuckle a bit. Horatio, however, looked a little confused for a moment, then said, "Archie, the doctor wants you to drink this water, and then he has something else for you. It will help with...it will help you sleep."
Archie nodded; he knew what the doctor knew, that the best way to get him back to the Achates was to render him unconscious. He opened his mouth a little, and drank the water eagerly. Then Horatio produced another flask, and offered Archie a few mouthfuls of its bitter draught.
"Rest now, Mr. Kennedy," Bush said, giving Archie's brow a gentle stroke as he eased his head down. "We are all in your debt."
"Yes, Archie, there is a hero's welcome for you back on the Achates. Come, Mr. Bush, let's prepare the litter..."
Archie nodded, certain he would appreciate those words later. Later, but now...the horrible pain was ebbing, replaced by a drowsy fullness. He still hurt, but there were caring hands upon him and helpful souls to guide him home to the Achates. Everything had turned out all right, everyone was saved, and he was going home.
Not his final home, not yet. But he had felt the warm embrace, heard beloved voices, and was there any doubt that the Heaven he reached for would one day be like this? Just like this, when his work was done, but now he had to get well and continue to fight for his country and his friends, and shed his blood for them too. He could not give up his life yet; his work was not yet done.
Falling again, but there was no agony this time, no frightening oblivion. Only a soft and cushioning peace. But there was something...with a great effort Archie focused on Dr. Sebastian, who was still kneeling beside him and dressing a bad wound in his side. Slowly, Archie raised his left hand and placed in on the doctor's sleeve. Dr. Sebastian saw this and leaned over, his brown eyes concerned. "Yes, Archie?"
Archie tightened his grip a little and whispered, "I think...I'll keep the Bible. Thank you."
The doctor looked into Archie's eyes, and there was endless understanding in them, two souls scarred in different ways yet knowing the joy there would be when those scars were made smooth. Dr. Sebastian closed his hand over Archie's and said softly, "With all my heart it is yours, Archie. Go to sleep and when you awake we will be on the Achates and going home."
Archie knew his smile was weak but he returned it all the same, and closed his eyes as the waters of sleep drifted over him. His friends were around him, his strength would return, and then he would be whole again. Someday, he knew, it would be over. Perhaps even soon. Someday...
But not yet.