Darius pulled up short as Duncan gave him the ultimatum. Duncan had just received word that it was no longer safe for Darius to remain at St. Julien's but wouldn't discuss with the priest the very specific nature of the threat. Only that he, Darius, was going to have to go incognito for a while, and Duncan wouldn't take no for an answer. This went against the very life that Darius had created for himself over the last thousand years. He might preach peace and tolerance and hadn't picked up a sword in anger in a long time, a whole lifetime ago, but he didn't frighten easily and could take care of himself. Darius turned from looking out the small window of the rectory kitchen and stared in disbelief at his close friend. "Duncan, I'm grateful for your concern, but I'm sure it can't be as serious as all that," he responded with his calming demeanor, the German accent not harsh and guttural, but rather, a soft cadence that undercut his ascetic appearance.
"Darius, I'm not about to let you get yourself killed. The church has given you their decision and they aren't known for leniency in these matters. Once certain people find out that you are no longer welcome here and have been forced to leave holy ground, it's going to be hunting season around Paris. How can you still owe loyalty to an organization who is so willing to sacrifice you to prove a point?"
Darius knew that his looming excommunication was fast becoming the hot topic among the Immortal community. Just a couple of days ago, Methos brought the rumor to his attention. An interesting rumor at that. He could see by the inquisitive expression on Duncan's face, that the younger man was quite curious to ascertain the actual story, to determine how true the gossip really was. Sometimes doing the right thing, however Christian, went against the tenets of the Holy Church. Somehow he didn't feel the overwhelming sense of loss that he at one time was sure that he would have experienced. Maybe Immortals could grow up, get older in a sense. Darius was by no means an intentional martyr, he had not gotten to that stage in his life yet. He could see the similarities between himself and Methos, literally his oldest friend both in age and experience. For the most part, time had stood still in little St. Julien's for him.
"The Church is like an Immortal in some ways. It's always here throughout the ravages of time and it looks to what it thinks is a better life somewhere in the past," reasoned Darius. "Duncan, if you are going to jeopardize yourself in this manner by lending me assistance, I would feel remiss if I didn't explain to you the whole story of how I came to be in this predicament." Duncan settled down in the chair across from Darius' favorite beaten-up upholstered chair in the small study. Darius poured the two of them some tea, and a pang of sadness washed through him as he realized that this was the last time in quite a long while for him to be able to share a quiet moment with a friend in what had become his home over the last few hundred years. He inhaled a deep breath and stared into the fire crackling merrily in the fireplace.
"Jamie was one of my students, like you. He came here right after I found my way to St. Julien's for the last time, about the time of the Inquisition. Until he arrived here on my doorstep, it seemed his past was consumed by his need to escape, his constant running from life and responsibility."
"Sounds like someone else we know," interjected Duncan.
"Except Methos is many years older than Jamie and he runs from things for much different reasons. As I was saying, when I met Jamie, he was truly a lost soul. Eventually he came to trust me and I began to teach him the things I have experienced through out my fairly long life. He would never confide in me why he was always running from things. One evening, he came to me and asked me about joining the priesthood. I was thrilled at the prospect, but I wholeheartedly agree that this life is not for everyone. I tried to make it clear to him that he needed to join only for the right reasons and that he had to confront God with a clear conscience. He left quietly that night and I didn't see him for another couple of days. I hoped fervently that I hadn't said something to drive him away; he had been making such wonderful progress." Darius paused and took a sip of the steaming fragrant tea from his mug, trying to put into his story into words that Duncan would understand.
"Three nights later, I was working in here at my desk, when there was a knock on the door. I voiced to the rapper that they were allowed to enter, and Jamie cautiously opened the door. He looked as if he had been crying and the haunted look in his eyes was so heart-wrenching."
"Jamie, where have you been? I've been quite concerned." Darius' smooth, slightly accented tenor voice caressed Jamie soothingly. Darius guided the younger man over to one of the chairs near the fireplace, then took his seat across the desperate Immortal. "Please, tell me what has you so upset."
"Darius, you wouldn't understand. And if I told you, you'd never want to see me, much less speak to me ever again," whispered Jamie softly. The tears welling up were evident in his wavering voice.
"There's nothing that you could ever say or do to make me turn my back on you," promised Darius.
"I think I'm in love, but the situation's all wrong. It would never work out and I'm miserable because of that." Jamie got up and walked over to gaze out at the moonlit garden from the small barred window. Darius stood to follow him.
"I don't think that things are as insurmountable as you might think. It's been in my experience that these things always work out for the best in the end." Darius put a comforting hand on his shoulder. Jamie turned around abruptly at the contact and grasped Darius' handsome face in his hands. Before the shock had time to register in Darius' vivid blue-green eyes, Jamie kissed him forcefully on the mouth. A split second later, Darius jerked away from the younger man, startled and speechless.
"Darius, I'm sorry. See this what I was talking about. I knew you would be angry with me, but I couldn't help it. I'm strongly attracted to you and I thought that maybe in time you could feel the same way."
Darius tried to gather his scrambled thoughts, while attempting to formulate an answer that would not only be the truth but also not harmful to Jamie. He had no idea that Jamie was attracted to men, much less him. "Jamie, I don't know quite how to put this. I want to be honest but I don't want to hurt you either. I love you like a son, nothing more. If I was ever going to have physical relationship with another person, that person would most definitely be female. I just will never feel that kind of emotion toward you. Can you understand that?"
"But why did you join the priesthood then? From what I've seen, you've been faithful to your vows as far as women were concerned. So I only assumed...," Jamie drifted off.
"I keep my vows for my own reasons, not because there isn't an outlet for my physical emotions," replied Darius sharply. For a split second, Jamie got a glimpse of the old Darius, the person before the transformation that changed warrior into peacemaker. The glittering coldness to his eyes was frightening and Jamie could now see how that Darius had made a name for himself prior to the life-changing Quickening. Jamie visibly recoiled from this sudden outburst, but the coldness fleetingly departed as fast as it set in. Darius gazed back steadily at Jamie and said quietly, "I understand now why you are always so frightened of the outside world. It's fear of their lack of understanding, isn't it?"
Jamie nodded quietly. "I've been treated as some sort of freak of nature or an abomination my entire existence. I thought maybe here I could finally find some peace."
Darius took Jamie's hand in his and replied, "You can if you truly desire it."
"Well, Jamie learned to be a priest and a damned good one I might add. He had a lot of wonderful qualities that became very apparent after he shook the yoke of fear off his shoulders. He was such an asset to the Church," explained Darius wistfully. Duncan regarded his former teacher in a whole new light.
"Darius, I don't know if I could have done what you did if I was in your shoes. To be kissed like that by a guy, it's just unnatural."
"Duncan, you're reacting like that segment of society, a rather large part of it actually, that can't or won't comprehend that it's just another form of love. I'm not saying it's for me, but I can't condemn it. Jamie's a person with the same needs that any other person has, his sexual preference is just different."
"You said he was an asset to the Church. I'm going to take a big leap here and guess that Jamie has to have something to do with your excommunication," Duncan surmised.
"Jamie served faithfully as a priest from soon after I trained him until five years ago. About a year ago, I get a call from him saying he's coming to visit...."
"Darius, I would like you meet a friend of mine," bubbled a gregarious Jamie. Darius didn't think he had ever seen the young man quite so happy before. "This is Brandon. Brandon, this is my long-time friend, Darius." A frail, thin, but very attractive young man of about thirty-five reached out a delicate hand for Darius to shake. Darius regretted grasping his hand so firmly as he felt the bones in Brandon's hand grate together and the mortal man visibly winced.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Darius," replied Brandon. His smooth, slightly feminine voice had a touch of the American Southeast to it. He dressed well, although his face was showing some haggard lines about his eyes and mouth. Jamie almost appeared to support Brandon as the three men made their way around to Darius' rectory, where they were able to get better acquainted.
"There was a purpose beyond introductions to Jamie's visit, however. Brandon is in the last stages of AIDS and Jamie wanted the two of them to be married. Jamie had left the priesthood when he entered a relationship with Brandon, which caused quite a stir at the time. But then Jamie and Brandon decided to make their union legal in the eyes of God and asked me to perform the service. I had quite a couple of restless nights to ruminate over it and it wasn't an easy decision to reach. But how could I not marry two people who were so much in love? To keep things short, the Church found out, rather quickly I might add, and I was brought up before an inquisition. The ultimatum was this: recant my actions, deny the legality of the marriage, and accept some form of minor punishment - It's not like they can burn me at the stake in this day and age - or be excommunicated. As we're sitting here discussing the finer points of starting a new life outside the walls of Holy Mother Church, I don't think I have to elucidate anymore on my decision." Darius gave a wry smile to his former student. Duncan was silent for a moment, pondering the enormity of Darius' decision. It wasn't like Darius had bared his neck in sacrifice for someone he loved, he had also sacrificed his soul and his way of life.
"Duncan, if I am to be traveling in your company for a while, may I ask that we make one stop before returning to Seacouver."
"Anywhere, Darius. Where do you have in mind?"
"I would like to see Jamie and Brandon one last time. I understand from Jamie's last letter that Brandon most likely won't live out the next few months. I would like to bask in their happiness and maybe get this decision I have made in perspective once more."
Duncan and Darius disembarked the large airliner and made their way through the main terminal in the Atlanta airport. Darius was in awe of the enormous size of the airport as well as the leaps that technology had taken in the last hundred or so years. He had used to be an avid follower of science and it's technological developments but somewhere along the line, he had fallen behind somehow. He had called Jamie prior to leaving Paris, a city that was as close to home for him as anywhere else in the world, well, except maybe Bavaria.
Jamie was waiting impatiently at the baggage pickup and threw his arms effusively around Darius as the two men greeted each other. Darius decorously unwrapped himself from his excited friend and introduced Duncan to the other Immortal. "Darius, I never thought you'd ever take me up on my offer to come and visit us here."
"I was asked to leave the Church, Jamie."
"Because of the wedding, right?"
"Yes, but don't let it trouble you. How is Brandon?"
"About as well as can be expected. He decided that he'd rather be at home than in the hospital, which means we'll have less time together but we agreed it would be better spent. He's waiting to see you. He's busy like always. They've got him helping direct one of those charity things."
"It's not too much for him?"
"One of his best friends watches out for him when I'm not there and I couldn't keep Brandon away from the stage if I tied him down to the bed. He'd find some way to get there."
The three men made their way through the horrible construction and rush hour traffic to a small, suburban studio in one of the better neighborhoods. Jamie led them upstairs to the second floor, where people were rehearsing lines, blocking parts, warming their singing voices - the cacophony of the performing arts. Duncan and Darius continued to follow Jamie over to the side where the sound system was set up. A pale, very handsome but somewhat emaciated Brandon was seated in a wheelchair arguing good-naturedly with one of the sound technicians. A brilliant smile lit up his face as he recognized Darius.
just in time to see one of my greatest triumphs. And to believe,
she was right under my nose all along." Brandon extended one thin
arm and pointed in the direction of the platform that was being used as
an impromptu stage by the troupe. One of the most breathtaking women
Darius had ever seen was giving last minute directions to the sound guy
off to the side. She was fairly tall with a medium build, curves
in all the right places, a finely sculpted face and shining raven tresses.
But what captured Darius' attention were her eyes, a warm chocolate brown
that sparkled in the incandescent overhead lighting of the studio.
Merriment shone within them at the moment as she smiled slightly in the
Simplistic guitar riffs resonated from the speakers as the band began to play the number that the woman on stage was prepare to perform. Two other men had joined her on stage as well. The man on her left, who was playing an acoustic guitar began to sing:
And I'd give forever to touch you
Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now
And all I can taste is your sweet lips
And all I can breathe is your life
And sooner or later it's over
I just don't want to miss you tonight
The chorus began with all three singers joining in. Darius could pick out her lilting voice, harmonizing with the other male voices. As he listened to the words, they had a special meaning to him as an Immortal. He looked for a split second over at Jamie and Duncan and could see that the song was having the same effect on both of them.
And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
On the next verse, the dark-haired angel's lone voice appeared strong, yet gentle. There was inexplicable yearning to her music, as if she understood the Immortals' emotions. But that was impossible, she was mortal - of that Darius was certain.
And you can't fight the tears that ain't comin'
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
You bleed just to know your alive
And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
The audience of performers and stage crew alike clapped profusely for the singers, who bowed comically before straighting up their instrument. The dark-haired woman made her way over to the small group of men. She bent down and planted a big kiss on Brandon's cheek. Darius was somewhat confused by this. But Jamie was quite comfortable with this show of affection.
"Honey, you get better every time I hear you," drawled Brandon. The woman smiled back her thanks. "You know, all you have to ever do is ask and I could have you on stages across the country."
"Brandon," she replied, playful remonstration in her sultry voice. "You know me better than that. Anyway, you are forgetting your manners by not introducing your handsome friends."
Jamie spoke up, "Rachel, this is Duncan MacLeod and Father Darius." Darius winced at the faux pas but thought better than to mention it. "Duncan, Darius, this is Rachel Schein."
"How nice to me you all." Rachel replied, extending her hand in greeting. Duncan took her hand and brushed a kiss across her knuckles. Darius didn't quite know how to respond, he had been presented as a priest to her, so he chose to shake her hand. He took her small hand in his larger one, and was very surprised at the firm grip she gave back. She regarded him warmly, "So you are the illustrious Father Darius. Jamie and Brandon have told me so much about you."
Darius blushed at the compliment and stammered, "I hope good things, Ms. Schein."
"Ah, you're Bavarian??," queried Rachel after hearing his warm tenor lap around her senses like the gentle ocean waves against the shore.
"Well, um, sort of," responded Darius, confused as to why she would guess that particular region of Germany.
"I thought your accent sounded familar." She turned her attention back to Brandon. "So what did you think?"
"It was wonderful," interjected Duncan. "What an unusual song."
Brandon beamed, "I know Rachel doesn't like to brag, so I will have to do it for her. Can you believe that she only perform for charity, never for money. With a voice like that, I tell you."
"So what do you do for a living, Ms. Schein?," inquired Duncan. He had glanced a couple of times in Darius' direction, curious at the way his close friend was acting around this woman. Could it be that Darius felt something for her? Duncan knew that the priest had one time held feelings towards Grace Chandel, but his vows had prevented him from acting upon those emotions. Now that Darius no longer belonged to the Church, would he relate to women any differently?
At that moment, one of the stage crew called for some assistance from Rachel and Brandon, so she was forced to excuse herself, then she wheeled Brandon over to the problem, which Brandon began to settle with his usual calm assurance and aplomb. As she walked away, Jamie replied quietly, "Rachel is Brandon's doctor. She has kept him alive this long, but she is my savior as well. She helps me to have the strength and the patience to face watching Brandon go through this travesty. She has proven to be a wonderful friend to both of us."
Darius watched from afar, this beautiful woman who turned out to be supportive of those whom he called friend. Somehow he knew in the deep recesses of his mind that his life was going to be anything but normal from now on. Something about Rachel reminded him of a diaphanous memory from his past, too ethereal to grasp except perhaps in a dream.