Title: The Prayer
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Author’s Email: email@example.com
Permission to Archive: Please request the author’s consent.
Rating/Warnings: I’ll presume to say PG for the theme of mortality. Also note that the story is one big spoiler for "Secret of the Realm".
Characters: Phileas and Rebecca
Summary: Phileas reflects upon his and Rebecca’s encounter with divine intervention.
Disclaimer: Jules and company, and everything that goes with them, belong to Talisman Crest. I’m just having fun with them.
Notes: Well, here it is: my first SAJV fic.
It seems almost prerequisite to write about certain episodes of SAJV, and I've certainly fallen for them. This bit, from "Secret of the Realm", is one of those. It's not a "missing" scene, but an interpretation of an existing one, inspired by a nuance of Phileas’ behavior which intrigued me.
I should point out that this differs from my usual works by being written in first-person perspective, which is rare for me. However, Rebecca has had her say about the matter at hand more than once, so her counterpart demanded to be heard for a change. Would you say no to Phileas Fogg?
I am intimately acquainted with the touch of death.
One could never understand it without experiencing it. The feel of it lies somewhere in the vast mysterious gulf between sensation and emotion, something which we are not truly meant to know until it embraces us forever—and once having felt it only to live on, one is forever changed. What I can tell you is that it is neither cold, nor bitter, nor by any means frightening in itself.
What my cousin and I felt in that place was all of those things.
I thought Ambassador del Fuego to be mad when he rambled about "similars"… until I felt it. How can it be described? To slowly grow cold from the inside out: the body stiffening, becoming ever weaker, taking on the aspects of a corpse while the spirit still burns within. This was not death, but the gradual draining away of life, and there is literally a world’s difference between the two—for that place was not, can never be, a part of the world we know. Its very atmosphere drew away all vitality, all that one was and had ever been, to channel it into something… other.
Rebecca felt it too, and I watched it close over her. She became more pale than I have ever seen her, while dark clouds gathered beneath her eyes. But it was in her eyes themselves that the worst change came. The essence they reflected grew dull and inactive, even their sky-bright color seeming to fade.
Yet still she paced the metal deck of our cell, railing against our captivity and the onset of this monstrous condition.
After a time, I no longer paced. I was the first to feel the effects, and I was weakening more quickly than she; we both knew that. Once when I glanced out to the all but unconscious del Fuego’s cell, I wondered if there was something in the nature of women that gave Rebecca a greater endurance of this fading than us. Perhaps this was in some way an irritant to my pride, because I found myself unsteadily on my feet, matching her slow but unrelenting steps.
The Ambassador raised his head and watched us.
The pointless movement at least managed to stir the embers of my anger. Yet again, I went over each link of the chains that formed the bars of our cell, but they were as flawless as they had been the previous ten times I examined them. Angered further and weaker still, I paced again.
I was beginning to find new reason to keep moving. If I became quiet and still, I could almost feel an awareness of it… Of him. My similar, steadily drawing my life away.
When this process ran its course and I was no more, would he become as real in the natural world as I had been? Would he outlive my passing? Ambassador del Fuego had said that if he could die, his similar would die as well. I wondered if this applied only when the death was forcibly induced.
And I began to think.
"Rebecca." My voice sounded as worn and haggard as she looked and I felt. She paused in her own restless steps for a brief moment, her eyes meeting mine, and I continued.
"At this very minute—this very minute—one of our other selves could be addressing Her Majesty. Persuading her to—"
It seemed Rebecca did not understand that I was forming a conclusion. She interrupted me, as if she had taken my words as helpless rage against our plight. "I know that! That’s enough now, Phileas… Please." She stopped pacing, her back turned to me. She was angry, and she was still strong, whereas I could scarcely take another step.
I gazed at her, and my conclusion solidified, bringing with it an overwhelming sorrow. What I intended next would be the hardest thing I had ever asked of her.
To my surprise, she proved her thoughts were not unlike my own. Letting out a deep breath, she turned slowly, looking toward del Fuego’s cell. Her voice came in a quiet, ragged tone, one the Ambassador would not hear over the eerie winds that were heard but not felt.
"What about him? You want me to kill him, don’t you?"
Of course, that would make the most sense to her. A stranger, in particular a desperately weak and suffering stranger who had already expressed a desire to die—such a man she could terminate. No life is taken without the losing of a bit of one’s own in the balance, but this death would be justifiable to her. Enough so, at least, for her to commit the deed against an innocent man.
But an innocent man was not the sacrifice I had in mind.
I looked at del Fuego, watching him slump against the chains and struggle to remain conscious. Even if he were an acceptable choice, I doubted there was anything Rebecca could do to reach him across the distance between the cells. She would have found a way, I had no doubt, rather than consent to carry out the alternative I purposed—but I would not permit it. I took a step closer to her, finding her eyes with my own, and spoke in a solemn whisper.
"No. He is a messenger of the Grail—the Holy Grail. Maybe the last. The only one able to protect… that."
I pointed toward the mysteriously self-lit golden sphere that stood across from our cell. Rebecca had called it beautiful. What I saw was something grim yet coveted, a relic and a symbol, tarnished but still revered—tarnished by blood, and revered for a power I could not pretend to understand.
She was looking at it too. In that moment, as it filled her gaze, and she realized all that it meant… I said the words.
"You have to kill me, Rebecca."
She turned, and stood for a long moment staring into my face. I know not what she was searching me for, because she knew me better—she knew the tones of my voice too well—to suspect for a moment that I was not mortally serious. I looked into her eyes, knowing that it would be for the last time, and let her see the fullness of my resolve.
Without a convenient weapon, it takes a surprising amount of strength to do away with one’s self—more than I had left. My life, and death, lay literally in Rebecca’s hands.
Finally, with a wordless sound of anger and disgust, she walked away from me. She could go only so far as the shelf-like metal bench which protruded from the rear wall of the cell; she sat down upon it, wrapping her arms around herself, and stared at me with hooded eyes full of defiant reproval.
And I looked away.
I had to lock up everything, deep inside of myself. I had to. If she saw my eyes again, and knew what I felt, all would be lost. She would never be able to do what was necessary. My emotions were all that was still alive within me, and even those must be smothered before Rebecca could believe that there was no hope.
Movement had grown almost painful with the stiffness. Slowly I crossed to the shelf-bench adjacent to her own. I would not sit beside her; I would let her feel my presence as little as I possibly could. So we sat, isolated, with no sound but the haunting voices carried on that nonexistent wind, as I built up the walls I needed to break hers down.
Only when I was certain I had closed myself to her completely did I glance at her again. She had not moved, still drawn into herself, shivering as at last even the warmth of her body began to ebb away. Yes. I felt that in myself, as well.
"If my similar vanishes in front of Her Majesty… that is our only hope."
"I am not arguing this with you, Phileas." She stared blankly at a point in the middle distance beyond her. "If anyone dies, it should be me. It’s my duty."
While I had fully expected this from her, the words still fired my anger, and I used it to further harden myself. My tone grew sharper. "Duty? Your duty? Your duty is to protect him." I pointed toward del Fuego, and then to the Grail. "It is your duty to protect that. It’s your duty to live."
Rebecca was silent. I drew a breath, and repeated the vital words. "It’s your duty to live. I’m under no such obligation."
She would not live for long. A little while longer than I would, perhaps, but inevitably she too would succumb to the void. My only fear was that at the end of it might lay something less, and something far worse, than death. If so, she would face it alone.
She was an agent of the Secret Service. She had accepted the risks long ago.
"You have to kill me now." I watched her shake her head, then turn away with an expression of pain as my voice grew more insistent. "Rebecca… you must. Kill me now. Now!"
She might as well have turned to stone. Very well then. A few moments more to feel the darkness pressing in, to know that our lives were over already.
I waited, and I thought of Verne, grateful for the twist of fate that had left him behind in London. If he had been brought to this place, I would have given odds that all hope for the world itself was lost. It was so bitterly unfair, the wonderful madness inside his head—the instinct, the unnatural inspiration, which he feared in himself and which darker souls coveted.
Passepartout would protect Verne with his life. If there was any chance for him at all, it was with my servant… my friend.
I felt the cold pressure of the place. No time.
At last I dared another glance at Rebecca. Her eyes were half-closed now, and perhaps she had been crying; it was difficult to tell in the harsh, bright, strangely dark light that was omnipresent. I only knew that she was beautiful. Worn to the point of collapse, pale as death, angered and grieving… and still so utterly beautiful.
And then I banished even that thought to a place she could not reach.
I didn’t look at her, but instead looked straight ahead, my gaze intent upon the opposite wall as I carefully chose my words. If she refused me again, I could do no more, and my failure would be complete. I would have lost to her one last time, in a wager upon which might depend the fate of the world. My life, and my blood on her hands, would be the merest of stakes by comparison.
"We are dying anyway," I said quietly. "It just might be too late."
And then, very slowly, she straightened. I had broken through at last.
Rebecca stood up with a gaunt, shadowed grace, and took a step forward. For a moment I feared I might not be able to move at all, but I managed to rise, and gripping the chains of our cage to steady myself, I crossed over to stand before her. I faced away from her; no eye contact. It was more vitally important than ever. The things I could not hide there may have sealed the breach I had made in her defenses.
Slowly I shed my coat, letting it drop at arm’s length. The sound of it meeting the deck was only a little softer than that of a falling body.
I fixed my eyes upon the Grail, that implacable mystery for which I was to die; perhaps it would be a more meaningful fate than I had any right to expect. I waited. Rebecca knew several swift and fatal ways to strike—I had taught each one to her myself. She stood close behind me now, and her left arm slid around me, her taut and trembling fingers slowly reaching toward my throat.
So be it, then.
Just as I had closed my eyes, a shudder passed through her. She clasped her hand over my heart, and I felt her cheek press against my shoulder.
"Oh, I can’t do it," she breathed, and her voice was broken with the strain of a sob that went unreleased.
I came all too close to letting go.
Her voice and her touch drove a savage grief into my heart, and I nearly, so very nearly turned. I nearly took her into my arms and held her with all the strength I had left.
In reality, I did not move, and if my face betrayed any sign of the devastation that lay within, she could not see it. Daring to turn my head—just enough to see her face from the corner of my eye—I raised my voice.
"Yes you can, now do it now!"
Rebecca started and trembled, her expression twisting with bitter anger and disgust. I looked away, at the moment feeling precisely the same way about myself. Her last memory of me, as she sat beside my dead body and felt her own life slip away, would be of harshness and hurt.
It didn’t matter anymore. I knew I had finally pushed her far enough to do it.
My heart was hammering in my chest as once more I steadied my eyes on the Grail. It had changed; or perhaps my own vision had. The sphere seemed brighter now, more golden. It was beautiful. It was worth my life, my soul, and more.
Rebecca’s hand twitched and moved, rising again toward my neck.
Then I did something I had not done since the death of my brother. I closed my eyes, and my lips moved silently over three feeble words: a prayer.
Please… forgive her.
Whatever lay beyond life, I had no expectations of being reunited with Rebecca. She was no innocent, yet her deeds had never reached to her soul as mine had. Only this one—the killing of one who loved her, no matter how vital and how willing the sacrifice—only this, I feared for her sake.
Her fingers found my throat, seeking the very pressure points I had once shown her. I closed my eyes for the last time, feeling my pulse quicken beneath her touch; how bitter an irony a desire granted can be.
Rebecca began to squeeze…
And a sudden burst of light forced my eyes open.
I make no pretense that I understand what happened. I don’t believe I want to.
I could tell you of the escape—of cells unlocking by themselves, of fighting our way through with a strength we had long ago lost, and of a brilliant white light that blinded only the guards. I could tell you of the aftermath—when for a little while the walls came down, and at last I did hold Rebecca, until she ceased to fear herself.
But it’s all beside the point.
And if, from time to time, when Rebecca goes into danger without me, I should chance to whisper a word or two to the One who heard me that day…
Well, anything is possible.
© 2002 Jordanna Morgan