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Highlander Fanfic: A Matter of Faith

Highlander Fanfic: A Matter of Faith
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Summary: In 1794, Darius wakes with a vision of his on death on the guillotine. He has a choice -- run for his life, or believe that even this can become a miracle.
Disclaimer: The fine folks who created Highlander still own all this. Yay!
Warnings: Angst, a bit. It's the French Revolution, so -- beheadings.

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Behold, though I walk through the valley of

The storm of hate in the Place de la Grève was familiar to Darius. In the year 32 B.C., he had visited the circuses of Rome and seen the mobs scream for blood. Those ancient faces, these faces of 1794—the only difference was that the Rome of those days had been beautiful, and this Paris stank of squalor. He held fast to a wooden slat as his tumbril rolled slowly toward the rising shadow of the guillotine, and tried to bring his mind to order.

Behold, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Warm spittle hit his cheek. The child who’d spit on him grinned, an urchin’s charming smile except for the perfect chill of his eyes. Another proud young revolutionary, he clutched a toy guillotine in his hands and worked the blade mockingly as Darius stared.

Behold, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear

The cart creaked to a stop. Darius swallowed hard and let go the slat; his fingers ached with strain. Beside him, an old woman in the faded elegance of an aristo wept, her gray hair straggling about her face, all dignity fled. He would have put an arm around her for comfort but their wrists were chained.

He was near the back of the tumbril. He watched as the first of the prisoners—Emil Dulcenet, tutor to the Vicomte du Mont’s children—was unlocked and dragged away. Dulcenet shouted his innocence, and the huge crowd gathered for the day’s slaughter mocked and laughed. As the sun rose behind the guillotine like an unblinking bloody eye, the man was strapped into place for his death.

Darius forced himself to watch the blade fall, its edge catching the sunlight in a macabrely beautiful glitter. Thump. Blood fountained over the crowd, delighting those who’d taken seats to assure just that privilege.

The severed head tumbled into a waiting basket. The approving roar was like the thunder of a giant beast.

God forgive them. Darius crossed himself as best he could and tried to form a prayer for the man’s soul. He had hoped that the executions would at least hold some measure of dignity, but this was like animals in a slaughterhouse—and worse. There was no peace here. God had turned his face away.

... shadow of death, I will fear no—

He heard a chant taken up by the crowd closest to the tumbril—a word that sent chills down his back as it grew stronger and built like an ocean wave.

Priest. Priest. Priest. Priest.

The soldiers, ever sensitive to the moods of the mob, shoved aside the other victims and came to him. He stood very still as they unlocked the chains from his wrists. They refused to meet his gaze, not from any crisis of conscience but simple indifference. One of them shoved him out of the tumbril hard enough to make him trip on the uneven cobbles—slick with drops of blood—and he fell to one knee.

He had sensed, buried deep in the overwhelming confusion of the moment, the presence of another Immortal nearby. In normal times he would have felt some need for caution, but what was the threat from one man out of so many crying for his death? At least he was not dying unremembered.

His thoughts were brought to a halt as a hand was extended to help him rise. He took it, looked up into a dirt-smeared face surrounded by tangled oily hair, the tricolor cockade of the Revolution pinned to a battered cap. The face of a friend.

Methos’ eyes were full of rage and torment. He said, with his usual economy of words, "I’ll get you out of here."

"No," Darius blurted, appalled. Bad enough for one of them to die today, but both? Combined, they had lived eight thousand years. He couldn’t bear for it to end this way. "No! Do nothing. For the love of God, save yourself—at least you will receive the Quickening, it won’t all be lost."

Methos flinched from that. He would have replied, but Darius turned away, into the harsh grasp of his captors, and the soldiers of the Revolution marched him through the angry, shouting crowd to the steps of the guillotine.

He’d hoped to be able to see Methos from the steps—a friend’s face would be something to hold to, at least—but the crowd had swallowed him like a living sacrifice, and it was all a jumble of faces and waving fists.

Darius paused at the top of the steps and looked up, up at the tall stretch of Monsieur Antoine Louis’ engine of death. An machine for slaughtering Immortals.

Behold, I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and I will fear no evil.

He did not resist as they fastened him in place on the narrow wooden crosspiece. His neck rested uncomfortably on the wooden ledge, and it was an empty consolation that discomfort was temporary. He stared down and saw the head of the last victim; they hadn’t bothered to empty the basket. Tears still glittered damp on Emil Dulcenet’s pale cheeks.

"Last words?" the executioner grunted indifferently. His hand was already on the lever.

"God forgive us all," Darius said, and closed his eyes.

He heard the click of the lever releasing.

###

Darius bolted upright in the darkness, gasping, one hand at his neck, the other grabbing for the instinctive comfort of the bedframe. Yes. Yes, he was in his bed, as safe as a priest could be in a Paris fevered with blood sacrifices.

A dream. Mon Dieu.

It took him several tries to light the candle beside his bed; when he’d succeeded, he sat on the edge of his small cot staring at the small flame, wishing it were day outside the walls of St. Joseph’s. There were times when the nights could be very long indeed.

You should leave this place, a voice whispered to him—the voice of his own fear. Your beloved Paris will be the death of you yet. The Revolution has no love for priests.

It was only a dream. And yet—he had been visited by dreams before, vivid dreams like this one.

They had all too often come true.

Darius rose, pulled on his cassock over the long nightrobe, and walked silently from his quarters into the chapel of the church. He knelt at the altar and bowed his head, and sat for some long time not in prayer but in thought. He was, in a way, afraid to pray—he was badly tempted to ask God to turn death from his door, and that would be a sin. He prayed instead for strength and compassion, and rose to his feet as he heard the front door of the church open with a creak of old wood.

The visitor was a woman, swathed in a hooded cloak. He had an immediate warning of her Immortality and reacted by folding his hands together in plain sight. No threat here.

But she knew that. She let her hood fall away, and he was greeted by the beautiful face of Gina de Valincourt—an old and very dear friend. She came to him without a word, dress rustling like autumn leaves, and her rich perfume of roses and sandalwood washed over him as they embraced. She kissed him chastely on both cheeks, put her gloved palms where her lips and touched, and held him there at arm’s length. Gina, who had the sunny spirit of a child at play, seemed very serious this evening. He did not miss the tricolor cockade pinned to the dark oilcloth of her cloak.

"My dearest Darius," she said in her native, charmingly antique French, "We told you to leave Paris. We insisted."

"You and Robert are very good friends, but I’m afraid I can’t take your advice." Darius reached up and took her hands from his face, enveloped them instead in his large, square grasp. Delicate fingers, not really suited to swordplay—her fragility always alarmed him.

"You can be so impossible!" she declared. "Leave Paris, Darius, take yourself to a monastery somewhere the Revolution cannot reach. In a year, five years, it will be safe again. But for now—" Gina’s rich, dark eyes searched his and widened at the resistance they found. "You can’t be serious. It’s only a matter of time, they’ve already confiscated the Church’s estates. They’ll close the churches soon. You know this."

"They’ll do what they must," he shrugged. "But I’ve taken vows—and not just to the Church. I will not abandon St. Joseph’s, and I will not run from the mob. You know me too well to suppose I would."

"A good general knows when to retreat! If you must be a fool and stay, then at least declare yourself a Friend of the Revolution, as Robert and I have! We’ll do all we can to protect you, I swear that."

"No," Darius said, more firmly. "You’ve wasted a trip, Gina. Please don’t fear for me. I’m God’s responsibility, not yours."

She stepped away as he released her, frowned, and wrapped herself more warmly in her cloak as if chilled. "Then I can only pray he gives you his full attention. One last time, I ask you—I have a cart outside, we can hide you under the straw—I can give you shelter at the Chateau."

"Does Robert know you’ve come?" Darius asked. Gina’s smile ignited, and even he, long-celibate, couldn’t help but feel a tingle.

"Do you think he would trust me with you alone? He knows how much I adore you. He’s with me, of course; he’s driving the cart."

"Then let him drive you home." Darius captured one of her hands again in both of his, raised it to his lips and kissed the gloved fingers. "Go with God, my child."

She lost her smile. They were both loath to let each other go, but she finally pulled away and walked back down the dimly lit aisle, out into the thick, damp Paris night.

Darius turned back to the altar, hands folded again, and wanted to ask if he had done the right thing. He did not ask.

He was afraid of the answer.

###

They came for him just after midday mass, four ill-dressed and foul-smelling soldiers with the tricolors worn crookedly on their hats and stained shirts. One of them, at least, was lettered; he took out a piece of paper, unfolded it and declaimed while Darius waited.

"You have been accused of sedition and crimes against the Revolution. You are charged to come peacefully with us to a place of confinement, where you will be held until your case is heard by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Have you any questions?"

The message was delivered in a rapid, bored monotone, and even before the reading was done, another man was reaching for Darius’ arm.

His instinct was to fight.

He could easily break free of these men; four to one were short odds to a trained Immortal, even without a sword. He felt the smothering weight of the dream settle around him—death, death and horror and despair—and knew this was the first step into that darkness.

He did not have to go. It was his choice, right or wrong.

He drew in a deep gasping breath, and closed his eyes to nod his assent.

"I have no questions," he whispered. He was not sure they heard him, or cared.

Outside the church passersby stopped to stare as he was escorted by; one or two of them looked anguished, and one man even went so far as to reach out to touch Darius’ shoulder. He was shoved back with unmistakable menace by the guards.

"You, citizen, your name?" the educated guard demanded. The man ducked his head and hurried off. The guards laughed, and their leader’s lip curled in contempt. "Mouse."

As he was marched toward the center of Paris, the citizens turned moody and dark-hearted, more willing to curse him than take any pity. Children played naked in the clinging black mud, and gaunt, suspicious slatterns threw slops deliberately into his path as he was led along. The soldiers took no notice. Their boots were already caked with all manner of filth.

Shouting from ahead, a direction he knew and dreaded—the Place de la Grève. The day’s entertainment was well advanced, and the crowds merry.

The guards marched him straight to the looming facade of the Bastille.

###

He was afraid of the dark.

Ridiculous, in a man who’d lived so many millennia, and yet it was a fear he could not conquer, try as he might. The fear crept through his veins like poison until he thought he would smother from the darkness, as if it had a taste and substance of its own.

He endured until the sun rose and a little light trickled, like dim fog, through a crack in the cell door. That light was the benediction of God. He fixed his aching eyes on it and began to say the rosary in thanks.

He broke off at the sound of a key in the lock; he scrambled back as the door swung open, tried to get to his feet in the low confines of the cell, and was immediately knocked down again by a kick from a jailer. Torchlight dazzled his eyes.

"You have a cellmate," the jailer growled; he was a large, greasy man who filled up the doorway like a plug of flesh. He flashed a brown-toothed smile and turned away. When he turned back, he held the arm of a—

—a woman. Tall, a little awkward, wearing a dress of watered silk that might have graced the closet of a queen. Her powdered hair coming down in wisps and clinging to her damp, flushed face. She twisted in the jailer’s arms, fighting to break free; he swept her feet out from her with a kick and threw her bodily into the cell, into Darius’ arms.

Before he could set her upright again, the door slammed shut. The brief, welcome glimpse of torchlight vanished, leaving him grieving for its absence, but a part of him took notice of the woman he was touching. No scent of roses and sandalwood from this one—sweat and fear, a smell he was sure she caught from him as well.

"Release me," she commanded. He quickly let go; she squared her shoulders and stepped away from him, back straight, head stiff. As his eyes adjusted to the dim gray light again, he made out the curve of her cheek. She was near the door.

"I beg pardon, my lady. Are you hurt?"

A suggestion of a laugh, though there was no humor in it. "Hurt? No. I am as well as ever, for all the good it will do me."

There was little to be said to that. Darius let the remark fade before he said, "I’m afraid proper introductions have fallen out of favor these days. I am Father Darius of St. Joseph’s."

"St. Joseph’s," she said with a shadow of contempt. "I do not recognize it. A country parish?"
No reason that she should know it; she was a woman of breeding, she would have been ministered to by in a private chapel or, at worst, in one of the great cathedrals. Still, he felt unreasonably annoyed, and had to school himself against the sin of pride.

As if she’d read his mind, she dipped her head in apology. "Your pardon, Father. That was rude of me. You deserve to know your cellmate by name, at least—I am Therese du Chêne."

A hint of bravado in the patrician voice. He knew the name, recognized it with a faint shock of surprise. "The Duchess du Chêne?"

He heard the suggestion of sharp-edged black humor in her reply. "I imagine you’ve heard the name. All Paris seems to know it."

All Paris? All of France. The Duchess du Chêne was notorious for her frivolity, her immorality, her licentious life. Still, she was eclipsed by the greater shadow of her husband—a libertine, a gambler, a cruel and oppressive lord.

The du Chênes, like so many of the narcissistic, ill-fated aristocrats, had made it easy for the common folk to excuse the excesses of the Terror.

"I have heard of you," he said, and kept his voice careful. "I did not know you’d been taken."

The Duchess began a slow walk of the narrow, cramped cell, which forced him to move out of her way; she seemed completely unaware of causing him any inconvenience. He imagined it simply would never occur to her that anyone might fail to yield right of way.

"I was taken at the house of a friend," she said in a distracted voice. "The day after my husband went to the guillotine."

He saw her turn her face away, though he couldn’t have read her expression in the gloom.

"I am sorry," Darius said. She paused, put one hand out to touch the filthy mold-shrouded stone of the wall, and wiped her fingers fastidiously on the priceless silk of her dress.

"Are you?" She sounded vaguely surprised. "I don’t know why that should be. I myself consider it something of a favor. It saved me from the inconvenience of finding a way to kill him."

It was said with a sense of pride, the steely bravado of a woman accustomed to the winces of public opinion. Darius bowed his head and said nothing. In his mind he began to say a prayer for the repose of the Duc du Chêne’s soul. It seemed to him that few men had ever needed prayer more.

"A priest," the Duchess said. It was a comment made ruefully to herself, but she clearly did not care that Darius overheard it. "The low humor of the rabble never ceases to amaze."

"Perhaps they thought you might want the comfort of the Church." He couldn’t resist the slight edge of sarcasm; she turned toward him, a dark ghost lined in gray, and he sensed her eagerness to do battle.

"Comfort of the Church!" she laughed. It was the raw, shrill sound of rage, and under it an unsteady depth of fear. "In the past twenty years, I have sought a great many comforts, Father, but never a priest. Unless that was what they intended. Not so much my discomfort as yours—yes, that’s appropriate. The pious Father Darius, penned with the notorious whoring Duchess—"

"Please—" he offered. She sliced it aside with the edge of a hand.

"Perhaps they were hoping I’d ravage you. That would be a coup, wouldn’t it? Something to carry to hell with me like one last trophy—" She stopped suddenly. Darius was caught off guard by the sudden tension in her. "Do you hear that?"

Whatever she listened to, it was hidden in the other noises of the Bastille—weeping, distant shouting, pleas, prayers. And yet, for all those voices, Darius felt uniquely alone in the dark.

"There," the Duchess said. Her voice, so full and strong, broke suddenly. "The girl."

It was impossible to pick one voice from another. Darius frowned and took a step nearer as the Duchess pressed herself to the door, arms outspread, face to the wood.

"I hear her," she whispered. "Oh, mon petite. Be brave."

Darius touched her arm. The Duchess drew in a deep breath but made no other move.

"It is my daughter, you see," she said. "Marie Therese. She is only sixteen."

He let his touch rest on her shoulder. Through the contact, he felt her trembling with silent sobs.

"All will be well," the Duchess murmured, like a child’s prayer. "All will be well, all will be well."

They stood that way for some eternity, lost in darkness, listening to the faint crying of the damned.

###

"Tell me," she said later, startling him from a half-doze where he sat in the corner, "why you’re a priest."

Darius had spent a thousand years pondering the question; he had a thousand answers, and no two satisfied him twice. He remembered the despair and torment of war, the eternal struggle of man against man; that was a reason. He could not tell her about the struggle of Immortal and Immortal. Neither could he tell her about his sword taking the head of a holy man at the gates of Paris so long ago, and the brilliant, loving Quickening that had felled him like Saul on the road to Tarsus.

"I believe that all men need forgiveness," he said.

"And you think you’re worthy to dispense it."

Darius smiled, though she couldn’t see it in the darkness. "No, my child, if there is a bright center of Grace, I am far from it. But it is not the worthiness of the priest that offers forgiveness. It’s the mercy of God."

"God," she said acidly, "has quite a lot to answer for. And don’t call me child. Have you any idea how old I am, Father?"

Ridiculously young, he thought but did not say. "I would not hazard a guess," he murmured. She laughed sharply.

"I’ll make a courtier of you yet. In August I was thirty-five. An old woman. Old enough to be a grandmother if—"

Silence crushed her voice. Darius, fighting sleep, said, "Is your daughter your only child?"
The Duchess’ voice turned dark. "No. There is a son. Phillippe. His father’s son."

"Yours too, surely." Darius meant it to be comforting, but he immediately sensed it was the wrong thing to say. The Duchess picked restlessly at the lace of her petticoats.

"I shall never get the stain from this," she said.

"Is he dead? Your son?"

"Dead?" The Duchess sounded surprised, as if she hadn’t considered it. "He was with his father. They were executed together. The flower of the du Chênes, snipped off the stem."

The nonchalance in her voice was frightening. She was a woman of such incomprehensible extremes, and such pain—Darius found himself baffled. It had been a long time since he’d met anyone so impenetrable. Perhaps she’s as complex as Methos, he thought.

And as prone to self-punishment.

"I will pray with you for their souls, if you wish." He offered it gently, meaning to bridge that wall of heat and contempt. She threw back the well-meant assault.

"By all means, pray. Wear an escape tunnel through the stone with your knees, if you’re so inclined. I shall sleep now." She shifted restlessly and burst out, "This is impossible! Are there no pillows? No blankets?"

"I’m afraid not," Darius murmured. He didn’t know whether to be annoyed or amused. "Sleep well."

She rested her head against the wall and let out a great, put-upon sigh.

"You may as well call me Therese," she said. "As we seem to be such good friends, dear priest. Wake me when they serve breakfast."

He did not quite have the heart to tell her it was unlikely their captors would waste the moldy bread.

###

He woke in the dark, smothering in it, buried beneath it. When he opened his mouth to cry out it invaded him like a hand down his throat.

He wasn’t aware of making any sound, was not even certain he could, but suddenly a cool hand brushed his face and pressed to his forehead.

"Father." The Duchess’ contempt had softened somewhat with the coming of the dark. "Wake. You’re dreaming."

No, this wasn’t a dream. It was worse than any dream. He gasped for breath, kept gasping, quite out of control, his lungs sticky with liquid night.

"Father!" Her voice had taken on its more usual edge. "Stop it!"

He couldn’t. He was helpless as a child in the grip of this, this overwhelming horror, and when he tried to order his mind and take control of his body his strength slipped away like an oiled snake. God! It was all the prayer he could manage.

The Duchess covered his mouth with her hand. Darius convulsed in panic but some small, tenacious part of his mind knew what she was doing, knew and approved. He forced his body to stillness, would not let himself fend her off.

He breathed through his nose, fast, burning breaths that slowly, almost imperceptibly, slowed.

In a few torturous moments, it was over.

He reached up and put a hand on her wrist, as gentle a grip as he could manage. Her fragility surprised him. She was really quite a small woman, her wrists as light-boned as a bird’s leg.

"Well," she said with a certain amount of satisfaction, "at least you do not snore. I cannot abide a man who snores."

She took her fingers from his lips. He felt the warmth of it remain on his face, like a peculiar tattoo. As he sat up, the Duchess rose with a graceful rustle of skirts and retreated back to her side of the room.

"Thank you," he said. His voice sounded hoarse and uneven. "I’m sorry if I frightened you."

The Duchess snorted. "It takes far more than a simple attack of the night terrors to frighten me, Father. I know about nightmares. I was subject to them when I was younger, and my daughter—"
That peculiar, listening silence again. As if she held her breath, held her very heart still.

"My daughter," she continued after a moment, "was ever afraid of one thing and another. A monster outside her window. A noise in the hall. And I did not believe anything could ever be so monstrous as to harm such a beautiful child."

"Where is she?" he asked her.

In the long, long silence, he heard the quiver of her breathing.

"Duchess?" Still no answer. He dropped his tone to a bare whisper. "Therese? Where is your daughter?"

"Dead," she said. The word stark as bone. "And God forgive me, I know it is for the best. In death, she may find peace that my husband never gave her in life."

Darius closed his eyes. There was something comforting about shutting his eyes on the dark, as if he controlled this, chose it. And he wished, however vainly, to allow Therese some bit of privacy in her grief.

"I don’t know when it began," she continued. "She was so young when I found them together, barely ten years old, my perfect beautiful child. And my husband laughed. As if it meant nothing. And I suppose it did mean nothing. I couldn’t save her from him, and now she is gone, and there is no more pain for her. I thank God for that, if for nothing else in my life."

"Therese—" He searched for words to comfort her, but how did one comfort the destroyed? The attempt was as futile as it was unnoticed.

"The soldiers told me," she said in a peculiar, measured voice, "that her last words on the steps of the guillotine were to call out for her father. For her father."

She began to cry. The sound wrenched at him like hot pincers, and he couldn’t stay away from her; he felt his way cautiously through the dark to her side, put his arms around her and rocked her against his chest. Never in her life, he thought, had the Duchess du Chêne been allowed to weep. She had armored herself with anger and scorching contempt; she had defended her pain with outrageous behaviors and defiant indifference.

But never had she grieved.

He found himself weeping with her, as if it had been his own child so betrayed, so abused, so terribly and finally lost.

After a time the storm passed, as storms do, and she lay limp against him, her head heavy on his arm. All of her edgy dignity gone. He began to say a prayer for Marie Therese, the innocent, and after a few heartbeats she joined with him, the words binding them together tighter than the tears.

When the prayer was finished, he thought, I wish I could give you peace, and the meaning of that took time to work to the front of his mind. He paused in the act of brushing disordered hair back from her damp cheek.

"Darius?" she said. He closed his eyes and sought the darkness again.

I am a priest.

Did that mean so much now, at the end of a long, long life? Would one small moment of compassion and peace destroy that?

I swore vows.

Was God so insanely jealous?

He could not take his hand from her cheek. His fingers traced the line of it as if it mapped the secret to his heart.

"No," Therese murmured. "No, Father. I will not ask you to sin."

It was a reprieve. A pardon.

And he did not want it half so much as he wanted her.

He bent his head.

The taste of her lips was as dark and rich as heavy wine, waking a blinding rush of heat within him, shaking him to the core. He’d willed himself away from this incredible joy; he’d denied it had ever existed in him. But even a thousand years of sleep couldn’t kill it.

He drank her taste in like a man dying of thirst. Soft full lips so wonderfully responsive to his; he moaned low in his throat as she touched his face, feather-soft. He allowed himself to touch her, hesitantly at first, his hands tracing down her neck to the graceful slope of her shoulders. Her skin was fever-hot. It ignited him in turn.

"Darius," she whispered, her lips close to his ear. A dream of pleasure, the kind of dreams he had not allowed himself for so long. "I will not do this to you. Let me go to God with some small measure of virtue, that at least I did not corrupt a priest."

He held himself very still, fighting to leash what he’d set free; it was more difficult than he could have imagined. He wanted—he needed—

I am a priest. She turned to me for comfort, and this is how I repay her? With lust? With betrayal of this most basic of trusts?

The taste of her lingered in his mouth like richest cream.

It was the most difficult thing he had ever done in his life, to kiss her gently on the forehead, rise, and walk away, as far as the cell would let him.

"Don’t be angry with me," she said softly. "Mon pere."

"I am only angry with myself." He would have gone on, but a skin-crawling disorientation frozen him in place with a bolt of pure astonishment.

An Immortal approaching. Here?

The lock rattled. Torchlight, so brilliant it was like looking at the heart of the sun. Darius shielded his eyes and saw dark shadows in the doorway.

His time was up.

"Father," a man’s voice said, tense with impatience. "Come."

"No!" Therese climbed awkwardly to her feet; her hair was disarranged around her flushed face, her lips parted, her eyes alight with fear. "No. Have you no sense, man? You take a simple ignorant country priest instead of me? I am the Duchess du Chêne!"

"Therese!" Darius protested. She had regained the stiffness of her aristocratic posture, and lifted her chin proudly to stare down the jailer. Neither of them regarded him at all.

"I am the Duchess du Chêne," she repeated with icy calm. "I spit on your Revolution and the dogs who lap its blood. And I spit on you."

Darius’ eyes had adjusted to the torchlight, though they burned and watered from strain. He blinked. The jailer’s face looked familiar, though the mop of ill-cut hair was not. The clothes seemed authentically grimy, but there was something—

A sword winked at the jailer’s hip. A Crusader’s sword, cross-hilted.

"I don’t usually have that effect on women," Methos said, and transferred his stare to Darius. "I’m sorry to break up this entertaining evening, but we don’t have time for chatter. Let’s go."

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like? I’m trying to save your head, damn you, like half the Immortals in riding distance of Paris. I have a horse for you outside. Let’s—"

"Who are you, sir?" Therese interrupted. "How do you come here?"

"If I told you it was a very long story, it would be the understatement of your lifetime. If you’ll forgive us, Duchess, I wish you the best of luck, but Father Darius will be leaving now." Methos backed out of the doorway. The torch he held flickered, casting his face into a stranger’s mask. He frowned when Darius did not follow. "Are you deaf?"

"No," Darius said softly. "I heard you."

"Don’t tell me."

"You know I can’t go," Darius said. "I will not run from them. I am a priest, and I have taken vows to go where God sends me. And for now, he sends me here. God has a purpose, Methos."

"God’s purpose is to weed out the stupid! Darius, come on!"

Darius exchanged a long look with his friend, his oldest living friend—his teacher—his student. He saw suffering glitter like tears in Methos’ eyes.

"Don’t do this," Methos said. It was almost begging, from him. "Don’t make me watch you die."

"Will you grant me a request?" Darius asked. Methos swallowed hard and did not answer. "Save the Duchess."

"No." Therese slapped the word at him like a cold hand. "I shall not permit it. If one of us is to be saved, it should be you."

"I can’t take you both. Neither of you is going to be saved if you don’t move, now." Methos was begging without words, his eyes fixed on Darius’. "Do you want me to say please? Please."

Darius bowed his head. "Take her out of here. It’s my last request. As a friend."

He heard Methos curse unsteadily in Latin, heard Therese’s muffled shriek as Methos’ grabbed hold of her. A brief struggle. Silence. When he looked up, Therese was held limp in Methos’ arm and she looked so fragile, so small, so very young.

"God bless you for that," Darius said softly. "Goodbye, old friend."

Methos opened his mouth, closed it as if unable to say the words. He turned his head sharply away at the sound of footsteps in the hall.

No time. Darius raised a hand in benediction as the door shut softly between them, sealing out the light, the warmth, the possibility of hope.

But she was safe. Methos would see to that.

Darius sat down with his back to the wall as the darkness closed around him again with greedy cold fingers, searching for his weaknesses. Therese had held it back, for a time, but the darkness was patient.

It would be a very long night.

###

Methos would have been pleased at the furor Therese’s disappearance caused the next day; the executioners were understandably livid. The Duchess du Chêne had been a prized catch, and now they must settle for a simple parish priest, not nearly so anticipated a show.

Darius’ legs went weak when he saw the tumbril waiting in the street outside the gates of the Bastille; he stumbled along, held fast in the grip of two guards, blinded by the soft dawn light. With a sense of unreality that threatened to shatter his mind, he clung to the slat as the wagon began to roll over bumpy cobbles with its load of human damned.

"There was no trial," he murmured. The old woman chained beside him could not stop weeping to answer him. A young man in sober working-class clothes twisted to look back at him, dark eyes wide.

"We are convicted in absentia," he said. "Of crimes against the Revolution. Emil Dulcenet. I was tutor—"

"To the children of the Vicomte du Mont," Darius finished for him. Dulcenet blinked in surprise.

"Yes, do I know you, Father?"

"No," Darius whispered. His throat felt dry and tight. "I fear you do not."

It unfolded exactly as he had dreamed—the horrific ride through the city, the shadow of the guillotine approaching, the roar of the mob at the Place de la Grève.
God has much to answer for, he heard Therese whisper bitterly, and closed his eyes. Not God.

Never God.

He kept his eyes closed as Emil Dulcenet died; he had already witnessed it once. Though he expected it, he shuddered as the crowd took up the chant of priest, and his long, long life drew to a close.

At least he was dying in the sunlight, not in darkness. There was that comfort, at least.

He’d forgotten about Methos until he fell and the hand was offered to him; he looked up into the tormented face of his friend and shook his head.

"I put her on a boat," Methos said, "to England. Damn you for this, Darius."

Darius watched his face until the guards forced him to turn away, toward the guillotine.

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Emil Dulcenet’s severed head stared up at him from the basket as he was fastened in place. Poor boy.

I will fear no evil.

Tears prismed his vision, made the day into a glorious sparkle of light and color.

Darius closed his eyes and said, "God forgive us all."

He heard the click of the lever as the executioner released the blade.

Silence.

In the distance, the unfettered song of a bird.

It should be over by now.

The crowd was silent, staring. Gradually, a disconcerted murmur swept through it like a storm of words. Darius opened his eyes again.

He turned his head to one side, with great difficulty, and saw the blade had not fallen. The rope was slack, but the blade hung there, defying gravity, defying sanity.

His breath left him in a sob as he felt something glorious spark in his soul.

The executioner grunted his annoyance and consulted with the representative of the Revolutionary Tribunal, a man dressed in severe black and white, the tricolor cockade the only relief to him.

The two of them took hold of the frame of the guillotine and shook it.

The blade stayed up.

The executioner yanked on the rope. The blade moved a fraction of an inch, catching a wink of sunlight—slid an inch—stopped.

The crowd was silent. Darius listened to that silence and heard, deep in his heart, the voice of God.

"Let him go!" someone shouted. "It’s a miracle!"

"A miracle!"

"Yes, let him go!"

"No, kill him!"

"Shut up, you buffoon, can’t you see God’s will! Let the priest go!"

It built to a confused roar. The same mob that had chanted for his head—

Chanted for his freedom.

The representative of the Tribunal backed away as rotten fruits pelted the platform near him; he withdrew beside the executioner for a harried, frowning talk.

And then they released him. He stood up, barely able to stay on his shaking legs, and the executioner clapped him on the shoulder.

"That was a good one," he laughed. "No hard feelings, Father."

His knees collapsed, but it didn’t matter—the crowd surged forward and caught him, lifted him up and carried him away in triumph. He felt himself reviving from the shock by the time the mob had tired of him; he was able to get his feet under him as he was dropped toward the slick cobblestones.

A woman in front of him, swathed in a dark cloud of cape, her dark eyes wide and terrified. He realized belatedly that the disorientation he felt was a token of her presence.

Next to Gina de Valincourt stood her husband, Robert, his fair hair pulled back in a severe style. Identical expressions, torn between awe and utter stark fear.

"Darius," Gina said, and gathered him in a warm, feverish embrace; on his other side, Robert hugged him as well. Over Gina’s shoulder Darius caught sight of another face he knew and loved. Methos. His oldest friend offered a tight, unwilling nod when Darius smiled in his direction, and drifted away into the crowd.

"It was a miracle," Robert said, and stepped back to let Darius get his breath. "I’ve never seen anything like it. Never."

"No miracle," Darius said. He felt giddy and ill. "Someone sabotaged the guillotine."

It had been Methos, he was sure of it—Gina and Robert were too astonished by his escape.

"Whatever can you mean?" Gina asked, and pointed behind him. He turned and caught sight of a man strapped to the frame of the machine, a lever pulled—

The blade flashed in the morning light as it fell.

The crowd roared.

"A miracle," Robert said again, more soberly. "You see?"

His disorientation returned in full force. Robert was right, no Immortal had arranged his escape. Darius bent his head immediately, closed his eyes, and finished the Twenty-Third Psalm.

I will fear no evil, for the Lord my God is with me.

"Amen," Gina said, and made the sign of the cross. "Let’s get you back to holy ground."


A historical note:
The guillotine at the Place de la Grève did, in fact, malfunction, twice sparing the head of a parish priest. Bowing the pressure of the mob, the Revolutionary Tribunal declared the priest a Friend of the Revolution and never threatened him again.

Maybe it wasn’t Darius. But it sure should have been.



I've always been fond of this story; I have a fascination with stories set in the French Revolution, and somehow, this just felt ... like Darius. I hope you enjoy it.

Comments

( 4 rants — Rant )
hoosier_red
Jan. 10th, 2008 03:41 am (UTC)
1) Spot-on perfect story -- brava.

2) I LOVE that icon!
ishafel
Jan. 10th, 2008 09:54 pm (UTC)
I thought I'd read all your HL fic, but I must have missed this somehow. It's gorgeous. I'm glad you reposted it :)
debxena
Jan. 21st, 2008 09:31 am (UTC)
*holds this fic close and cuddles it* This was so brilliant. So brilliant that I have no words to adequately describe how brilliant I think it is.
innogen
Apr. 28th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
Happy Birthday!
R! Just wanted to say Happy Birthday!

Felicia


Edited at 2008-04-28 06:26 pm (UTC)
( 4 rants — Rant )