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Against All Odds

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I decide that it would be best to say some words over Brutus’s body. I know he probably can’t hear me, but it’s the thought that counts. I mention how he was noble, how simple his life was, stuff like that. Octavian looks at me like I’m crazy for saying this. Then, he talks about how we’ll keep Brutus’s body in his tent. I don’t quite know what he plans to do with it. Knowing him, he’ll probably do something sick, like dismember it and have his enemies eat it, or cut off its head and display it in the center of Rome for several days.

I’m only half-listening while he’s rambling on. I notice something- Brutus’s body seems to twitch, slightly. Is he alive? I think. No, he couldn’t be…

Octavian leaves, thank the gods, and I’m left alone with the body. I could tell something wasn’t right. Brutus didn’t look dead, at least, not yet. I crouch down beside him. “Brutus?” I cautiously whisper. He doesn’t move. I’m still not convinced he’s dead. I shake him lightly as I call out his name again, “Brutus.” He groans and opens his eyes. By some miracle, he’s alive. Immediately, I tear off a bit of my cloak and use it to start putting pressure on his chest. His breath hitches, and he starts struggling, trying to get away. The pressure I’m applying to his chest is painful for him, I know, but he’s lost a lot of blood, and he can’t afford to lose any more. I try to calm him down by whispering some encouraging words in his ear. “Don’t worry, you’re going to be alright…” I guess that worked because he stops struggling shortly after.

My mind is racing with thoughts on what to do next. I can’t tell Octavian that Brutus is alive, that’s for sure. Who knows what Octavian would do to him then? Torture him? Publicly humiliate him? I couldn’t let Brutus go through that.

I thought of an idea. Right there. On the spot. I’m a genius.

I will take Brutus to Egypt, where he can be safe and start a new life. I’ll get my men to search the battlefield for someone who looks like Brutus. We can keep them in Octavian’s tent. I want to call for my men to bring a stretcher for him, but he’s fading fast, and I don’t think they can make it in time.

I grab his hand and place the piece of my torn cloak in it before positioning his hand and the cloak over his wound. “Press down, okay?” he groans again, but I think he does what I say. He needs to keep pressure on the wound so he doesn’t bleed out further. I wrap the rest of my cloak around him before I gently pick him up. He’s pretty light. I always knew he wasn’t the strongest of men, or the heaviest, but I never expected him to be this easy to pick up. He’s so thin, I begin to wonder if he has even eaten in the past few days. I feel his head resting on my shoulder, and I run, as fast my legs can carry me, to the nearest medical tent.

I find it odd that I’m carrying him like this. I remember carrying the body of Caesar at the funeral. Even Caesar’s body was heavier than Brutus’s. It’s so unusual that I am now carrying the body of the man who killed him, in an effort to save his life.

“Try and stay awake, Brutus,” I attempt to encourage him, however, at this point, I’m not sure he can even hear me. I think I hear him groan a bit, but it’s hard to tell. I don’t know what would happen if he fell asleep, but I don’t think I want to find out.

I enter the medical tent to find it seemingly empty, save for one man. He’s about as tall as me, with dirty blond hair. His eyes are an odd mix of blue and green. He’s standing close to the entrance, but I rush past him and lie Brutus on the nearest cot that I see. His eyes are closed, and his breathing is heavy. The anguished expression on his face is the only indication to me that he is still awake. I peel my blood-soaked cloak from his body. I turn and see the man from the entrance has followed me.

“I am the surgeon,” he explains, “Lucius Cornelius Messala. What happened?”

I explain what happened, and the surgeon grimaces when I say the name “Brutus.”

“This man,” he looks down at Brutus in disgust, “is a traitor.”

“I can’t deny that,” I respond, “but you’re going to fix him.”

“No, I am not!”

“Yes, you are!” I’m kind of mad at this point, and I can tell he is, too. However, I don’t want to anger him further. “I will pay you handsomely. Please, help him.”

I can tell he’s conflicted. Surgeons don’t get payed a lot. “…How much?”

“I’ll tell you when we get to Egypt.”

“Egypt?”

“Yes, Egypt. I am going to take Brutus to Egypt where he can be safe. I need you to come along to take care of him.” He starts thinking about it, but I’m impatient, “Make up your mind! His life depends on it!”

Cornelius doesn’t say anything, but he turns his attention to Brutus. He grabs a knife and uses it to cut off Brutus’s tunic. There’s so much blood. I watch as Cornelius somehow manages to clean it all up. He takes a cloth and holds it over Brutus’s wound for what seems like a long time before cleaning the wound again with an herb and finally bandaging it. Brutus turns his head, but he doesn’t make a sound. Cornelius pours a cup of wine and makes him drink it, and I notice Brutus’s expression soften. I think he’s asleep now.

“…Is he going to be okay?” I finally ask after an uncomfortably long silence.

“It’s too soon to tell. Let’s just hope his wound doesn’t get infected.”

“Alright. It’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen on the way to Egypt.” He doesn’t object.

-

I rush to put this plan further into motion. I tell Cornelius to keep an eye on Brutus as I exit the tent. I organize my men and tell them of the plan. They don’t seem very happy, so I promise them a reward once we get to Egypt. They perk up a bit after that.

They find a body that looks a bit like Brutus, and I tell them to put it in Octavian’s tent. I worry that he may suspect something, but I remember that I have seen Brutus many more times than he has, and he probably wouldn’t be able to recognize him, anyway.

I want to leave as soon as possible, hopefully before Octavian has time to get a close look at the body we put in his tent. Cornelius gets some of my men to place Brutus on a stretcher and carry him to my ship. We get a few last minute supplies, I say a quick goodbye to Octavian and Lepidus, and we set sail from there.

Cornelius gets Brutus settled in a bunk on the ship. It’s small, but it will do. I go in and check on him after a while. Cornelius isn’t in the cabin, but I’m sure he’ll be back soon.

Brutus is lying still, almost as still as a corpse. I worry for a second that he actually is a corpse, but the rising and falling of his chest tells me otherwise. A blanket is draped over his thin form. His eyes are closed, and his features are soft. His skin is so pale, it mimics the color of the white bandages wrapped around his chest. I can see dark circles under his eyes. I don’t imagine he has gotten very much sleep in the past few days, maybe even weeks. I’m glad he’s finally resting now.

I stay by him for a few minutes until Cornelius comes back. He places his hand on Brutus’s head and he checks his bandages. I notice a bit of blood seeping through.

“How is he?” I whisper.

“Well…” Cornelius says, “He’s breathing.” He looks at me intently. “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” he sighs, “I don’t know what you’re thinking… He’s the enemy.”

“He is no longer our enemy. We won the battle, and I think he deserves better,” I try to explain, “You have to admit, out of all of the conspirators, he was the least awful. He didn’t kill Caesar out of jealousy like the others did.”

Cornelius shakes his head, “You’ll regret this. I’m sure of it. Once Octavius finds out what you’re doing, you’re as good as dead.”

“That’s a chance I’m willing to take,” I’m confident in my response, “I’m positive he won’t find out. Look at all the lengths I’ve gone through to carry this whole plan out. I hired you to come with me and take care of him, I placed the body of someone who looked like him in Octavian’s tent…”

“We can’t keep this up forever.”

“We can and we will,” I sigh, “We have to.”

“Antonius…” He turns away, “Fine. Whatever you say. I’ll continue helping you,” he turns back to me, “Just don’t forget to pay me when we get to Egypt.”

“I won’t, I promise,” a small smile crosses my lips, “Thank you.”

-

Brutus was small, but he could scream really loud.

Cornelius stitches up Brutus’s wound as other men hold him down. Brutus tosses and turns, squirming, trying to get away. His eyes are wide with fear. He’s acting as if these men are trying to murder him or something.

I go over to him and help hold him down. “Brutus!” I shout, trying to get his attention. I can’t tell if he can’t hear me or if he’s just not listening. I try a different approach. “Shhh, Brutus…” I say, trying to sound as non-threatening as possible, “Calm down, they’re only trying to help,” I explain. I guess he listens this time, because he stops fighting and he goes quiet. He’s struggling to catch his breath, like a fish out of water.

He has tears in his eyes, and he looks like he’s seen a ghost. He’s staring right at me, shaking “C-Cassius?” his voice cracks as he weakly calls out the name.

I don’t quite know how to respond to this. Is he asking for Cassius? Does he remember that Cassius is dead? I honestly don’t know. The only thing I can think to say is “I’m not Cassius.”

Brutus doesn’t fight any more as Cornelius finishes and wraps up his wound. He stares at me the whole time. Cornelius and the other men leave, and I am left alone with Brutus. I sit beside him on the edge of the bed. He slowly sits up and hugs me. I’m surprised he’s able to do that, considering how weak he is. He buries his face in my neck and starts crying. “Cassius….” He softly weeps. “Cassius, I’m sorry…” It’s then that I begin to wonder how intimate Brutus and Cassius were. I had heard rumors, but I didn’t think any of them were true.

I hug him back, not quite sure what to do, “Shhh, it’s okay…” I lightly rub his back, trying to comfort him as he trembles and sobs in my arms.

“I-It hurts…” he cries.

“I know, I know…” I really do feel bad for him. I wish there was something I could do to alleviate his pain.

“Please don’t leave…”

“I won’t,” I reassure him, “I promise.”

He doesn’t stop crying. He cries and cries until my neck is soaking wet. I have never seen him this upset. Every time I had seen him at the Senate, he was calm and collected.

I hum, softly, in an effort to calm him. I used to hum to my children when they were sick or couldn’t sleep. It worked then, and it appears to be working now because Brutus’s cries are growing quieter. It isn’t long before he falls asleep.

I gently lie him back down. He seems at peace. As I wipe the tears from his face, I notice how much younger he looks when he’s asleep. I pull the covers over him, making sure he’s warm and comfortable before I leave.

--

I watch as he tosses and turns, fading in and out of consciousness. He’s restless and delirious, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do for him. Once, he tossed and turned so violently that he tore his stitches, and Cornelius had to redo them. He mumbles things in his sleep, but I can’t hear what he says. Occasionally, he wakes up and turns to look at me. He doesn’t say anything, he just stares, his lips parted, his foggy, unfocused brown eyes gazing into mine before blinking a few times and finally closing. Sometimes he wakes up screaming, only to fall asleep again a few seconds later. I don’t know if this is normal. Cornelius doesn’t seem concerned.

That is, until Brutus starts running fever.

Brutus is getting worse. He’s paler, and his skin is as hot as fire. He gets seasick a lot, but luckily Cornelius is always by his side, so he’s there for him when he vomits. Brutus doesn’t wake up as often, and he’s even less coherent than he was before, if that’s even possible.

I go into his cabin one day, and I see that he’s shaking. He is so drenched in sweat that the blankets are clinging to him, yet he’s shivering as if it’s the middle of winter. I look around, and I don’t see Cornelius. I don’t want to leave Brutus alone, so I tell one of Cornelius’s assistants, who happened to be standing not too far from the cabin, to keep an eye on him.

Cornelius is on the other side of the ship, pouring a cup of wine. “What are you doing?” I ask, “Brutus is suffering, and you’re pouring yourself a glass of wine?”

He frowns, glaring at me, “It’s not for me, it’s for him,” he hands it to me, “Make him drink this. His wound is infected, and I need to clean it. I don’t want to have to hold him down again.”

I go back to Brutus’s room, dismissing the servant. “Cass…?” I hear him weakly call out. I place a hand on his forehead, and I feel that he’s still burning with fever. “Cassius?”

“I’m sorry, Brutus, Cassius isn’t here,” I whisper. I gently lift his head and hold the cup to his lips, allowing him to drink. I make sure he drinks all of it before I rest his head back on the pillow.

He closes his eyes, but he doesn’t fall asleep. I can see his eyebrows furrowed together, almost as though he’s trying desperately to stay awake. I don’t understand why he’s doing that. If I were in his position, I’d want to sleep as much as possible. “Go to sleep, Brutus,” I whisper. I watch as he relaxes, giving in and allowing himself to sleep.

--

Cornelius undoes the bandages on Brutus’s chest, and the scent of rotting flesh fills the room. It honestly smells like death, and I’m very concerned. Cornelius removes the stitches, and the smell gets even worse. He appears unfazed. I have a feeling that he’s done things like this many times before. He’s already so old, so experience, but I know that he’s only about 30. I begin to wonder about his life, but I know that now is not the time to ask him about it.

He applies an herb to Brutus’s wound. Brutus doesn’t react, he just lies there, quietly. He’s pale and sickly but he appears to be sleeping soundly. Cornelius cleans the wound more and applies new bandages. He doesn’t redo the stitching.

“Is he going to be okay?” I whisper.

Cornelius sighs. “To be honest with you, I don’t think he will survive the night.”

“What?!?” I’m glad he’s being honest with me, but I’m shocked, “What are we going to do?”

“Nothing. We’ve done all we can,” he doesn’t seem very concerned. I have a feeling he’s dealt with these kinds of situations numerous times. “I’ll watch him. Who knows? He may surprise us.”

I stay for most of the night, watching Brutus with Cornelius. Cornelius dabs a cold cloth on Brutus’s forehead, trying to fight away his fever. Brutus doesn’t stir, not once, which surprises me since I’ve spent the last few days watching him restlessly toss and turn. His pale, bandaged chest evenly rises and falls with each breath.

I go outside for some fresh air. I stretch out my arms and yawn loudly before looking out into the distance. I see a light, far off, and I think it’s a star at first. It isn’t long before I realize what it really is: a lighthouse.

I smile. Soon, we will be in Egypt.

I only hope Brutus can make it til then.