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Once out of Nature

Chapter Text

I.

She had never been at the barge before, but it wasn't that hard to find. Still,
she hesitated. Cassandra felt the warm summer breeze caressing her cheeks, and
stood still for a moment to take in the picture. Paris in summer; not many
Parisians would be left here, but even with tourists overcrowding the city,
there were places like this one, full of peace, ironical though it was,
regarding the history of this spot. She had stood here on the bank of the river
Seine when the Romans had arrived, naming the place Lutetia, with their strange
mixture of arrogance and practicality presuming there was no better name than a
Latin one, never bothering to ask the Keltoi for their own designation. Yet the
Romans had not been the worst of conquerors; at least they had never imposed
their religion on the nations they subjugated, for the same arrogant
practicality and disinterest had propelled them to accept that conquered people
would be more content and efficient with their own gods to pray to, and why not
add a few to their already crowded Olympus anyway if it kept the various nations
of the Empire happy? Back then, when she had still been a priestess, she had
never been sure whether she felt more relieved or resentful about this attitude.
It had taken the fanaticism of both crusades and jihads during the middle ages
to mellow her resentment into something of dry gratitude.

It was not ancient history that had brought her here this time, though. Since
the visions had started again to haunt her, Cassandra had known she wouldn't be
able to postpone this visit much longer. Then, two days ago, when she had felt
the death and last message of her old rival and colleague Prokne nearly tear her
mind apart, her decision had been made. It was highly likely that she would not
survive what she had to do, but she wanted to say goodbye to Duncan MacLeod. She
had not spoken to him since she had left him and Methos behind in Bordeaux,
believing she would not do so for a very long time, if ever. Since then, a lot
of things had happened, though if she could avoid it, she would not tell Duncan
about them. The year when she and Methos had made a reluctant truce to find out
the truth behind Duncan's claims about being haunted by a demon, the year when
they had found and lost a pre-immortal child instead, was still too painfully
present for her. Still, in a way, it had helped her to come to terms with her
feelings about MacLeod at least, if not Methos. Though there were still some
issues between them, Duncan was primarily a friend, one of the few she had left,
and faced with the prospect of oblivion, she wanted to leave him a good memory.
She also wanted a good memory for herself, she admitted with an inward shrug;
they were rare enough as it was.

She did not intend to tell him anything about her plans, this time. For one
thing, he had to be still bleeding from the death of his student and his
confrontation with Ahriman; he simply didn't deserve being saddled with yet
another moral dilemma. For another, he would never approve of what she was about
to do, and this time it was too important that she succeed for her to permit his
interference. Therefore, he would never know. It had taken her a day to recover
from the invasion of her mind Prokne's death had been, from the knowledge that
death had brought, which had confirmed all the previous visions plaguing her.
Now, though, her calm exterior was once more intact, and Duncan, perceptive
though he could be, would discover nothing but what she wanted him to see.
Permitting herself one last glance at the river, Cassandra took the next step
which would bring an immortal of her powerful presence within perception range
of anyone within the barge.

Ever since O'Rourke had abducted Amanda right in front of the barge, Duncan
MacLeod had taken to reacting quickly and armed to any approaching immortal
presence. So he stood, sword in hand, on the deck before he recognised
Cassandra.

The furious, hurt woman who had left him in Bordeaux was again replaced by the
cool, regal presence he had associated with her previously. She had changed her
style, though; her long, glorious hair had been cut to shoulder-length, and the
short dress she wore made her look younger, though with those as old as
Cassandra it was hard to assess what their biological ages had been when they
were killed. It was even difficult with someone of Amanda's age, and he had not
managed to tease it out of her, though she had once commented that basic meals
in the Scottish Highlands must have been much healthier whereas what people of
her native century starved on made them age so fast that within 20 years, you
usually looked at least 40, and within 40 years, of course, you were dead. Even
when he had first encountered her as mortal boy, Cassandra had seemed ageless to
him, though if pressed (as he was later by his cousin Robert, who professed to
believe not a word of his adventure with the Witch of the Woods, but had been
eager to get every detail), he would have estimated her as roughly the same age
as Robert's mother Ailis, who was somewhere between 30 and 35. Now he realised
she could of course, as all the immortals learned to do, vary her apparent age
by choice of dress and by the way she carried herself. Methos, he remembered and
bit his tongue even though he had not said a word, had, after all, seemed little
older than Richie when they had first met, and could shed that boyish quality
with a simple haircut and an decidedly adult expression, as he had done when he
had come to warn him about Kristin.

Seeing Cassandra again proved that the old turnmoil in which she and Methos had
thrown him was far from solved. He could not, with all honesty, have said that
he loved Cassandra the way he loved Amanda, or any of the mortal women he had
shared his life with. They simply had not had enough time for that kind of
intense feeling to grow, and besides, he had sensed that, mutual attraction
aside, she had never been in love with him. There was friendship, though, the
camaraderie felt by all who had passed through danger together, and besides, he
could never forget that Cassandra was the last living person who had known him
when he was still mortal, still like everyone else, growing, changing, full of
mortal hopes and fears and with a family who was all too soon to be lost
forever. At a time when he had truly been Duncan MacLeod of the Clan Macleod,
without a shred of doubt as to who that might be. More than that, Cassandra had
not been his first love; Debra had, but Cassandra had been something else when
he encountered her at the bridge of adolescence: the female mystery personified,
the first woman who kissed him, who had, with her strange ways, both been
protective and dangerous... his first erotic dream. Yet even if all that had
never happened, if he had encountered Cassandra for the first time when Kronos
had come to Seacouver, he would have still, by the code which ruled his life,
have felt compelled to help her, to protect her - and to respect her right to
vengeance.

Instead, he had failed her at every turn, and he knew it. Thanks to him, Kronos
had had the chance to abduct and imprison her again, and he still had a dark
suspicion that there had been more to it, due to the images and sensations he
had absorbed after beheading the leader of the Horsemen. Kronos had felt
vengeful towards Cassandra, had hated her for killing and escaping him and for
the attention Methos had paid her. And he had had enough time at Bordeaux to
revenge himself the way men of his ilk always did on a woman. Duncan could not
be absolutely sure that Kronos had raped Cassandra after capturing her again,
and things happening as they did, he could never ask, but it was a reasonable
assumption.

And then, there was Methos. If the situation had been reversed, if it had been
Cassandra who pleaded with him for the life of an immortal who had done to him
what Methos had done to her, he probably wouldn't have let her stop him. He had
spared Felicia Martins for Richie, but Felicia had not taken his family and, in
effect, his entire life from him. He had spared Cord for Joe, but that had been
before Cord had killed his friend Charlie. Afterwards, there had been no mercy
for Cord, and little enough for Joe. He still felt guilty about the way he had
treated Joe back then, and Joe had been a closer friend to him than he ever had
been to Cassandra. Certainly, if Cassandra had been in Scotland during the time
he had pursued Kanwulf, who had killed his father and raided his village, he
would not have spared the man on her account.

There was Kage of course, who had been a murderer of women and children the way
Methos had been, who had sold everyone and anything for enough money, and whom
he had spared when finally convinced that the man who now called himself Kirin
sincerely repented and judged himself just as harshly, trying everything to make
up for the lives he had taken. But again, though some of Kage's victims had been
friends and all of them fellow humans, none of them had been family, or members
of the Clan he had created for himself during the centuries, or lovers. He
wasn't sure whether he could have let Kirin go if it had been Fitzcairn whom
Kage had sold, Little Deer who had died thanks to his greed, or Tessa. Joe,
otherwise the more tolerant of the two of them, had certainly not wanted to
believe Kage had changed and had all but urged MacLeod to kill him. After the
whole affair was over, Joe had admitted that one likely reason for this was that
Kage had been the first immortal his brother-in-law, James Horton, had watched,
and thus had heavily contributed to Horton's own descent into murderous madness.
Family. No, if he had been where Cassandra was at that point, motivated by the
same things, her wish to let such an enemy live would not have been enough.

He still wondered why she had stopped herself, and what he would have done if
she had not. There had been no ability to think left with him at that point, no
reasoning that Methos, by fighting Silas and sparing Cassandra, had just proven
he had changed. All the confrontations, the verbal ones with Methos, the duels
with Caspian and Kronos, the double quickening which gave him not just something
of the essence of both Kronos and Silas but also of the incomprehensible
chameleon whom he had befriended less than three years previously, had served to
strip him of everything but bare feelings, and what he felt was what he had
screamed at Cassandra: That he wanted Methos to live. And so, something he still
found incredible each time he thought about it, she had dropped her right of
vengeance, and had let Methos live.

"What about Cassandra?" he had asked the old man later, when reason had returned
and with it the acknowledgement that, if he had saved one friend, he had failed
another, troubled by the guilt this caused him, for still, he could not wish the
outcome different and so there was no way he could make up to Cassandra for this
guilt. Methos, who had otherwise withdrawn behind his enigmatic mask again, had
sounded sincerely sad and, for one of the few times, genuinely old when he
replied: "One of a thousand regrets, MacLeod. One of a thousand."

A regret, MacLeod realised, that he would now share, for having failed her
nearly as badly. Now the regret in question had come back, and he didn't know
what to say to her. *Welcome, but I still don't want you to kill Methos* was
hardly an acceptable greeting. Though it was unlikely the Bordeaux scenario
would ever repeat itself in precisely that way. Other than that time, and
perhaps during his futile quest to save Alexa with the Methuselah stone, Duncan
had never experienced Methos as ready to die, not even during their first
meeting when the eldest immortal had offered him his head but had looked at him
with a challenge in his eyes that belied his words about having lost the fire.
And Duncan's personal superstition about Methos was that Methos would always
have a way out left, would never die except if he were ready to do so. He would
have accepted death at Cassandra's hands in Bordeaux. Not now, though. The
prospect of Methos killing Cassandra in a duel, however, was appalling as well.
And Methos was in Paris right now.

"Aren't you going to greet me," Cassandra said in Gaelic and, incredibly,
smiled at him, "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?"

"If you want me to," he answered, overwhelmed by relief but still careful. "I
wasn't sure you still wanted to speak with me."

Her smile vanished, but the expression of her eyes, settled on him, was still
calm and collected. "You did what you felt was right," she answered. "So did I.
As for the end, I can... live with it."

Right now, she thought, he looks like a child who doesn't quite believe in
Father Christmas anymore, but wants to. Two years ago, he would have believed
her without reservations. Strange how he had managed to keep that peculiar
innocence over the centuries, despite all the evil he had seen. There was still
something of that quality left, though not nearly as much as there had been
before the Horsemen, and before Ahriman. He seemed somehow older now, and it
wasn't just the short hair and the leaner frame. Not that he did not carry his
share of guilt before, but it had never been the death of what had in effect
been his child at his hands. She recognised the reflection of that experience
all too well, having gone through it not so very long ago.

"And you, Duncan," she continued, not wanting to think about Becky, "can you...
live with everything?"

He didn't ask what she meant, or how she knew about Ahriman. Once or twice
during his time at the monastery, when Duncan had pulled himself out of the
nearly suicidal despair Richie's death had thrown him in, he had had the curious
sensation of not being alone, of being touched by Cassandra, as if she had been
looking for him and was not quite able to reach him. At the time, he had
dismissed it as illusion. Now, he wasn't so sure anymore. He had experienced her
using her strange powers, after all, having him confront the child he had been,
subjugating him to her will for a short time in order to save him, creating
illusions to frighten others away. And then there had been her prophecy. It made
him still angry, hard-won wisdom or not. If there was such a thing as a
predestined future, there was no free will, and Richie, Sophie, Joe's four
Watcher friends and who knew how many others had been intended as sacrifices
from the beginning. By whom? Who had the presumption, the cruelty to demand
this?

"I try," he said, tersely. She looked at him, in that eerie way she sometimes
had, as if he were made of glass.

"Do you?"

Suddenly, he recalled kneeling before O'Rourke, ready to die, relieved in a way
that it would finally end, that no one else would die because of him, that he
would never cause harm to anyone he loved again. Right before Methos had come
in, guns blazing, with his usual disregard of rules and Duncan's right to decide
about his own life, and right before his own instinct for self-preservation had
once more kicked in and proved to him that a part of him didn't want to die
after all. Right before...

A new thought struck him. If there was anyone he could tell about his strange
experience with what might or might not have been Fitz and his visions of
alternate lives, it was Cassandra. She of all people would understand and not
automatically assume he had hallucinated or was completely self-delusional.
Hallucination and a near-death experience was an explanation he could not
disregard, of course, and sometimes he believed he would prefer it to have been
that way. Some of these alternate lives had been too disturbing to accept.
"Cassandra," he began, "did you ever - encounter someone who was dead, truly
dead, I mean?"

Her expression changed. For a moment, the calm was replaced by what looked
almost like panic. Then, she grew quiet again, as a lake after the stone which
had caused the waves had sunk. The gaze with which she regarded him grew in
intensity.

"Yes," she said simply.

This time, his relief had no reservations. After helping her to climb up to the
barge, he watched her sit down on the deck, soaking up the sun, since, she said,
it was too beautiful a day to spend inside. "Besides," she added, with a slight
smile, "it would be too much of a cliché to talk about this in shadows, wouldn't
it?"

So he sat down next to her and told her, first hesitatingly, then finding his
stride, about what he had experienced after being nearly killed by O'Rourke. She
listened attentively, not commenting, but with her eyes never leaving his face,
and he found he could even speak about finding and losing Tessa again. He was
two-thirds through his narrative when he realised the true difficulty
approaching and cursed himself for a fool. He should have thought of this from
the beginning. But if he simply left this part out, the whole telling might have
been in vain, for the alternate Methos and what he had done to Richie and Joe
troubled him most of all. So he suddenly grew still, searching for a way, and
Cassandra frowned. Then, enlightenment dawned.

"Duncan," she said. "What about Methos?"

Odd, that she should put it this way, use this phrase which was identical to
his own enquiry about her at Bordeaux. Internally, he debated whether to deny he
had seen Methos in this strange experience as well, but he realised it would be
in vain. Perceptive as she was, Cassandra would know that he would not have
grown silent about any other person, not even an alternate vision of herself,
which, incidentally, had not been there. Well, now there was nothing else for
it. She probably would say that this had been the likeliest vision of them all.

"I killed him," he said slowly, realising for the first time that this was what
haunted him most. "In that bizarre world, he had returned to Kronos after the
Watchers had killed his fiancé and nearly him as well. He was a Horseman again,
first using and then killing Richie, and damn well enjoying it. Frightening and
torturing Joe, and enjoying that as well. So I killed him - and I enjoyed it.
After being so sure I did not want to kill anyone ever again, let alone someone
who... meant something to me. I don't know which of us this makes worse. He
wasn't real after all, but my wish to kill him was."

He could not look at her anymore. "Now please don't tell me I should have done
that in reality as well."

"No," Cassandra said surprisingly, "you shouldn't have. You could not have
coped with the guilt. This is the difference between you and most of us, Duncan.
You have never learned to put a limit to the blame you take upon yourself."

He turned back to her, startled.

"The ability to feel so much," she continued, "is what makes you both
attractive and infuriating. You could have better taste in the people you care
about, of course, but there it is. One of the reasons why I was so furious with
you was that I realised very early on how much you cared about him, how much you
wanted to believe in him. One of the reasons why I stayed with you then and why
I am here today is that I realised you care about me as well. We probably
neither of us deserve it. Stay away from the ancients, if you can, Duncan. There
was a reason why I did not seek you out during all those centuries as well. I
did not want you to become like... us."

He smiled, tentatively, trying to deal with her unexpected reply. "Too late,
I'm afraid. It must be all that Celtic mysticism Amanda teases me about. I never
could resist living legends."

He had not realised this before, but in truth she and Methos had a lot in
common, at least when it came to him. He had believed both of them to be myths,
one something the immortals had made up to encourage themselves that it was,
after all, possible to survive everything, and the other a local legend mixed
with a boyhood fantasy. The eldest immortal and the witch of Donan Woods. Both
he had met when another immortal had tried to kill them. Both had,
paradoxically, decided to protect *him* during their first encounter, Methos by
throwing the rules out of the window and calling the mortal police to deal with
Kalas, Cassandra by keeping him safe in her cottage while Kantos searched for
him. On the downside, both had also an unfortunate tendency to believe they knew
best what was good for him. Methos had shown no more faith in his judgement
about Kalas, Kristin, Culbraith or Keane than Cassandra had in his judgement
regarding Kantos... or Methos. They were both ready to cheat within the Game
when they believed it necessary, Methos with his additional weaponry and
Cassandra with her Voice, certainly as devastating a weapon as anything Methos
carried around. They also weren't above manipulating him with what emotional
leverage they had. He raised a hand to touch Cassandra's cheek, feeling
strangely amused in the middle of this emotional wallow and misery. Children of
the millennia, both of them, coming out of legend and into life for him and
proceeding to disillusion him as quickly as possible. Hard to feel awe for the
eldest if he persists in irritating the hell out of you. Hard to feel awe for
the sorceress if you have seen her crying, have experienced her anger, and yes,
have slept with her.

Hard to feel anything but grateful that upon the battlefield your life has
turned into, after twelve blessed years of peace with Tessa, there were still
friends left whom you could care for, who cared about you.

"I'm glad to have met this ancient, Cassandra," he murmured, deliberately
leaving it open which of them he meant.

One eyebrow rose sceptically, but she took his other hand, squeezing it
briefly. Then she sighed.

"Ah well," she said, "they wouldn't leave you alone anyway, even if you tried
to stay away. You are a living legend yourself, you know."

The bright moment was over. His heart grew heavy again. "Yes," Duncan returned
bitterly, dropping the hand, "and people died because of that. Richie certainly
did."

"Not in your vision, though," Cassandra said, withdrawing as well. "There you
had Methos kill him."

Her choice of words was odd.

"So you believe I made it up - that is, my unconscious did?"

She did not reply directly. There was something he needed to hear, but the way
there was as important as the final destination. So she mused, as if abstractly:
"You know what shocked me about your tale? Not that he should kill a friend.
I've seen him do that. Nor that he should terrorise and torture a friend. I've
seen him do that as well. And certainly not his returning to Kronos. But that
all of this should start by his falling in love with a mortal woman and losing
her."

Instantly, Duncan, hearing this as an accusation, was defensive, which, had it
been about someone else, would have amused her. "He's capable of love," MacLeod
said heatedly. "He fell in love with a dying mortal in real life, and except for
the double quickening, it was the only time I've ever seen him completely
defenceless."

She had not known this, but then, during their year of uneasy alliance, Methos
and she had at no point trusted each other enough to speak of something like
this. Telling herself it did not matter, she pursued the point she was trying to
make.

"Did she die of her illness, or could he blame someone else for her death?"

"No, she died of her illness. Though he thought there was a chance to save her,
with the Methuselah stone. I didn't believe it would work at the time. Now, I'm
not so sure anymore, not after everything that happened, but we'll never know.
Some renegade Watcher wanted the stone for himself, and it ended up in pieces,
and in the river here."

"Interesting. So he could have blamed the Watchers for her loss," she prompted,
and Duncan saw what she was getting at.

"Yes. He could have, as in the - vision, dream - whatever. He didn't, though. I
think he did blame himself. He was - different, after she died. For a time, I
was afraid he was ready to withdraw again, but then he helped me with a problem
I had at the time, and gradually, everything normalised."

He thought of Warren Cochrane, of Methos speaking wistfully of a new chance, a
life without the burden of memory, with more meaning than Duncan could have
known at the time, but in the end, declining the possibility.

*Who would remember Alexa then?* "So what made the difference between what
happened and what could have happened? Don't tell me in the one case, he met me,
and in the other, he met Kronos. Then I'd know for sure this was something only
my ego could have produced."

"Then I won't tell you this," Cassandra said with the infuriating condescension
of the ancients. "I will tell you what would have been the difference to me,
though I fervently hope we are not that similar. It is not just the people who
help us, who care for us, that make the difference. It is those we can care for.
Not caring for anyone at all can be tempting, at times, but once you do that,
you've started becoming the monster time has in store for all of us." Seemingly
as a non sequitur, she ended: "How is your Greek mythology, Duncan?"

He shrugged, still caught up in what she had said about caring.

"Do you remember the name the Greeks gave to Time who devoured his children?"

An image of Darius came to him, talking about this particular myth while
serving him his abysmal tea. Duncan let the feeling of loss the memory evoked
wash over him, then he answered, wondering he had not noticed this before:
"Kronos."

"But," she went on with what was not quite a smile, "Time ended and became
history. Did you not say so yourself? We can't leave history behind us, though.
Sometimes we have to relive it again, to appreciate our victories."

"There was no victory in this vision for me. Only defeat. As far as Methos was
concerned, I returned to killing, and as far as the others were concerned, I
could not help them."

Her voice grew distant, even cold. "You could not help them by non-existing.
You killed - by non-existing. You could defeat time only by existing, in every
sense that word has for you. Including the care and the guilt."

They sat together in silence while Duncan digested this. The gist of it wasn't
new, but he had never put it in words before. Finally, he remarked: "Are your
visions like that? Symbolic struggles of what could have been and may be yet?"

"In the end," she said, sounding tired, "visions are reflections of yourself."

"And what was reflected in your vision of me as the champion then, Cassandra?"
Duncan returned, the bitterness of it all and the need to lash out overwhelming
him again. "Did you see what I would do, whom I would kill so I would be there
to perform the right execution at the right time? What kind of need was that,
the need for the right executioner?"

She flinched, as if he had slapped her, but she did not turn away. "My own
failure," she replied, matching his bitterness. "I failed as a teacher, or I
would have seen the signs earlier, with Kantos. I should never have taught him
the Voice. Then I failed to kill him. And I failed to see what waited for you
beyond this, since I was too caught up in my own regrets. For what I could not
do, I was condemned to wait for centuries. Waiting for you was my punishment.
For what I could not see, I..."

She stopped. She would not, could not tell him. Closing her eyes, she summoned
calm again, the necessary detachment to end this as she wanted to end it.

*Hurry, Cassandra*, the dead voice of Prokne whispered inside her again,
echoing the initial, burning invasion. *Cassandra by the oath we have both sworn
I command you...* With an effort, she surpressed it and stored it away.
Something of her anguish must have escaped before she had control of her
exterior again, however. When she turned to Duncan once more, he looked
stricken.

"I'm sorry," Duncan said, inwardly cursing himself. He had been so relieved to
see her living again, instead of being torn apart by her grief, and had ended up
reducing her to the same tortured state he had only so recently escaped himself.
"It is over. Over and done with."

She managed a smile. "Since I'm only in Paris for a day," she continued, "I
hoped you would show me around a bit. It has been decades for me."

He still had that remorseful expression, and she wasn't sure whether he
believed her, but he chose to accept her unspoken suggestion to change the
subject. Her solstice child had indeed matured.

"Of course I will. Paris it is."

Chapter Text

II.

Among his Parisian haunts which Duncan had pointedly not taken Cassandra to was
the French bar which, according to the reports the detectives she had hired had
given her, was now co-owned by his friend and Watcher Joe Dawson. She didn't
need second sight to guess the reason, and it wasn't that Dawson had quite
openly disliked her when they had last met. Careful Duncan simply didn't want to
risk another encounter between her and Methos, who, it seemed, was likely to be
there as well. Still, she wasn't even tempted to reassure him by telling him
about their truce, and not just because of Becky. Whatever happened between her
and Methos was their concern, not MacLeod's, and besides, without knowing Duncan
was even less likely to suspect what she would do.

Since a Jazz Bar needed customers, Joe Dawson advertised, and really was not
hard to find. The place was a bit brighter and, probably since it was new, less
atmospheric than his Seacouver establishment, but otherwise very similar. Of
course, in Seacouver Cassandra had had other things in mind than sampling the
atmosphere. Inwardly, she felt like smiling ruefully. Being driven by revenge
was not guaranteed to make the best first impression. No matter. If she didn't
find Methos here, she would have to ask Dawson, and he didn't have to like her
in order to answer. Unfortunately, this time she wasn't above using the Voice on
him, Duncan's friend or not. Not with her pressing need and Prokne screaming in
her head.

For Joe, it was something of a shock to see Cassandra entering his bar. His
daughter Amy when being assigned as one of the new Methos Watchers had asked him
about her and found him at a rare loss of words. Even before her connection with
Methos had been discovered, Joe had felt uneasy about Cassandra. Paranormally
gifted immortals made him nervous, at least when they were also old friends of
Mac. Look at Garrick. Look at Coltec. Both of whom had nearly caused Mac to lose
his mind, though Joe supposed Coltec wasn't really to blame, having undergone a
Dark Quickening himself. Still, their arrival had meant terrible trouble, and
there was no reason to assume Cassandra, intense, driven woman that she was,
would be different.

Then, after her confrontation with Methos, Joe's immediate reaction had been
disbelief. He still heard himself telling Mac, *Maybe she's delusional. Maybe
she is a liar.* Which was, now he thought about it, the depressingly typical
reaction when a woman accused a man of rape and murder. But then, it had been so
incredible, so absolutely impossible to believe this of Methos, of all people.
Joe's uneasiness about Cassandra had flared into open dislike. When it turned
out that Cassandra had spoken nothing but the truth, that Methos had really done
all those things and much more besides, his dislike turned into something like
deep resentment. Blaming the messenger for the message, in a way. It wasn't
logical, but somewhere in his mind he thought that if she had never come, they
would have gone on with their lives undisturbed and comfortable, secure in their
friendship with each other, never having to doubt it. It was only when Methos
had vanished after Richie's death that Joe realised that blaming Cassandra had
been the easy way out of blaming Methos. And only when Methos turned up again,
casually assuming they could return to what had been without as much as the
tiniest bit of an explanation, that Joe realised whom he was really furious
with, and it wasn't Cassandra.

For if Cassandra had never come to Seacouver, Kronos still would have. And
Methos undoubtedly would have vanished just as he had done later, in his typical
fashion. Joe's frustration, disappointment and feeling of desertion through
nearly two years had unloaded themselves on Methos' head on that occasion. All
of which had cleared the air, and, together with the Walker business and Methos
helping him to rescue Amy, had enabled them to take up their friendship again.
So here he was, basking in new-found normality, when Cassandra returned. Seeing
her, Joe understood how the Trojans had felt about her namesake. The woman was
in the right, to be sure, but why oh why couldn't she stay away?

He cleared his throat when she approached him. To give Cassandra her due, she
was stunning. Especially when not glaring at him. Her gaze was searching,
though, and Joe knew with a sinking feeling she was neither looking for him nor
for MacLeod.

Methos wasn't here, but he could be, any minute. Since MacLeod was in town,
there was no reason why the sensation of immortal presence in the bar should
warn him away.

"I... wasn't expecting to see you," Joe said lamely, in lieu of a better
opening.

"So I gather. You don't have to be quite so nervous. There will be no
challenges today, not on my account."

He wished he could believe her.

"He isn't here."

"I can see that," Cassandra returned, a bit sharply and more similar to the
woman who had silenced his sarcastic challenge of which horsemen to put her
money on, War, Famine, Pestilence or Death, with a single cold and furious
repeat of "Death".

He hadn't known then just who Death was.

"This is your bar," she went on, "and I don't want to put you in a quandary by
waiting for him here. Tell him to meet me in Sacre Coeur. As soon as possible,
it is urgent."

Sacre Coeur on Montmartre was not only holy ground but, with the possible
exception of Notre-Dame, the most tourist-ridden church in Paris. Certainly the
immediate surrounding was more crowded than any other Parisian quarter, day and
night. She could hardly have picked a place more in the public eye and less
likely to offer any chance for a duel. It was as good a proof of her non-violent
intentions as she could give, and Joe began to relax a bit. He nodded.

"Okay. I will tell him."

"I'd like you to promise me not to tell MacLeod as well," Cassandra said,
sounding surprisingly insecure, something she had never done in his hearing
before. "It is a private matter."

It could be trap, of course. If he only knew more about her. But not
inconveniencing him by waiting in his bar was really considerate of her, and Joe
felt he owed her at least some courtesy. Besides, when it came down to it, it
was neither his nor Mac's business but something Methos and Cassandra had to
settle among themselves. So he gave her his word, wondering at the depth of
relief in her eyes. He did not know he would have given it in any case. But
Cassandra much preferred not to bend people she respected to her will, and
besides, she would soon need all her powers, unexhausted if possible.

After she had gone, Joe made some phone calls. Courtesy and respect of privacy,
not to mention the undeniable fact that she was an immortal, and he was a
Watcher, and thus bound not to interfere in her affairs anyway, were one thing,
healthy precaution another. If one had a newly reconciled daughter who was also
a Methos Watcher, it couldn't hurt alerting her and her colleagues to the
meeting about to take place. If the worst happened and Cassandra had some mortal
allies waiting to ambush Methos, well, then Joe would learn about it at once.
If, on the contrary, she wanted nothing but a conversation, that would be
something for the Chronicles as well.

Chapter Text

III.

Nobody had accused Sacre Coeur of being anything but an orgy in kitsch. Still,
all that sugary architecture was at least consistent in its whiteness, and
consequently more relaxing to the eyes than the explosion of colours one found
in a baroque church, or in anything Greek Orthodox. It was good for meditation,
once one managed to shut out the tourists and their inevitable flashlights, and
meditation helped Cassandra keep her fragile peace of mind until she felt a
*presence* entering the church.

She didn't turn her head. Since all kinds of unlikely coincidences could
happen, there was, of course, the chance that it was someone other than Methos,
but for one thing, they were on holy ground, and for another, in the year they
had spent together she had relearned to distinguish his footsteps, something
those born into a world where such things were essential to survival like
herself did by instinct. Her hesitation to look at him had, for a change,
nothing to do with enmity. The last time they had faced each other had been over
the body of a child they had both loved and for whose death they were both to
blame. At that time, she had felt frighteningly close to him, which was as much
a reason why she left as soon as possible as her grief for Becky had been. The
past, both ancient and recent, was nearly overwhelming her when he sat down next
to her. If there had been a choice, she would have waited some more years,
inevitable as this meeting was. But the freedom of choice seemed to have
absented itself from her life for some time now. She recalled Duncan railing
against the idea of destiny and nearly smiled.

"Did you know," she said, falling into a conversation with the man next to her
as if they had parted only yesterday while still not looking at him, "that I met
your doppelgänger here once? The immortal who called himself Methos and wanted
to bring a peaceful end to the game?"

"Not you as well," he replied, with the baritone voice as casual as it had ever
been. "Sometimes I wonder how the guy managed to keep his head as long as he did
when he ran into practically every immortal on earth before."

It had been a brief encounter; Cassandra had been certain that the man could
not possibly be Methos when she heard about his message in post-war Paris with
its ruins where the ghosts of the occupation still lingered in every corner. But
she had to make absolutely sure, so she arranged a meeting.

"Through his charisma," she said, the deep, quiet tones of the stranger still
ringing in her ears. "He had the gift; with the proper teaching, he could have
developed the Voice. Even without it, he could compel the young or those
unschooled in resistance, at least for a short while. He did it quite
unconsciously, of course."

"Interesting. And logical. You didn't consider teaching him, then? I should
have thought you would have agreed with at least the basic lines of his
message."

"I will never teach anyone the Voice ever again," Cassandra answered with a
bitterness that finally made her face Methos.

He had not changed his exterior, as MacLeod and she herself had done. Somehow,
it was a relief. Oddly enough, the idea that, when all things came to an end,
Methos would stay the same pleased her. Right now, he looked a bit surprised at
her vehemence, and quickly covered it up with a sidetracking remark, an
irritating habit of his she suddenly realised she had almost missed, for it
initialised usually another round of verbal sparring that served to relieve some
of the tension between them.

"Why did you cut your hair?" he asked.

"Maybe because everyone else did?" she returned, feeling the terrible levity of
someone who had just stepped over the edge of a cliff. "You, MacLeod, your
overprotective mortal friend... even Kronos. Maybe it was time for me to join
the club."

This was disturbing, Methos thought. Cassandra's request for a meeting had only
partially surprised him; it was bound to happen, sooner or later. That she had
said it was about an urgent matter, however, *was* unexpected and made him
curious in an uncomfortable way; disasters had an unfortunate way of bringing
the two of them together, and he didn't want to think of anything that could top
Bordeaux and Ahriman. And for her to be flippant about Kronos there had to be
something deeply wrong, not just with the world or someone else, but with her as
well. Something was eating her up inside, and for a change, he didn't think it
had much to do with him. The odd spark of protectiveness he sensed was
disconcerting was well. His feelings about Cassandra were convoluted enough
without adding the quaint notion of chivalry. That was MacLeod's territory,
anyway. Yet the idea of chivalry triggered a memory in him and inspired his next
attempt to distract her from whatever catastrophe had brought her to this state
and was bound to affect him as well.

"Are you sure that was the reason?" he said, switching accents from English to
Irish as he imitated the intense, middle-aged poet whom he had heard compose
these lines: "Never shall a young man,/ Thrown into despair/ By those great
honey-coloured/ Ramparts at your ear,/ Love you for yourself alone/ And not your
auburn hair."

She recognised the Yeats quote, and the fact that he had changed the colour for
the poem to suit her. A smile tugged on her lips while she decided to enter the
spirit of the game. They would start quarrelling soon enough, as soon as she
told him about Prokne' message and the rest of it, so she might as well treasure
those last moments of peace. Eyes sparkling, Cassandra went for an Irish accent
as well and continued the poem: "But I can get a hair-dye/ And set such colour
there,/ Blond, or black, or carrot,/ That young men in despair/ May love me for
myself alone/ And not my auburn hair."

"I heard an old religious man/ But yesternight declare/ That he had found a
text to prove/ That only God, my dear,/ Could love you for yourself alone/ And
not your auburn hair", Methos finished, and abruptly stopped when recognising
what he had just done. Quoting poetry to a woman opened up all sorts of avenues
to a misunderstanding. As he fell silent, a similar awkwardness settled down on
her.

Abruptly, Cassandra said:

"They have found out about us."

It was clear that she did not mean Methos and herself. All traces of levity or
embarrassment vanished abruptly, as Methos sat up. "Who has?"

"My guess would be the Americans, but I need you to be sure." As unemotional
as possible she told him about the visions that had begun to plague her, visions
that first were only fragments but started to come together to a picture after a
time. A research facility. Extremely well equipped. Mortals experimenting on
two or three immortals. What she saw were just images; she could not hear
anything. It was the sky, the constellation of the stars that gave her the idea
that this was happening somewhere in the U.S.; having spent the greater deal of
her life watching the stars from virtually every place on earth for orientation,
for guidance and sometimes even to measure her existence, she was all too
familiar with them. Then, Prokne had added the final piece of the puzzle with
her death.

"You must understand what she did. She was older than I was, although not by
much. Once, we belonged to the same order. We never liked each other and were
always rivals back then, but I respected her, and she did the same with me. The
last time I saw her was after she had encountered Kantos. My student, whom I had
taught the Voice, against my oath, and who only used it for damage. She cursed
me then, but not in words. Prokne couldn't speak anymore. He had cut out her
tongue. Cut out her tongue and cut off her hands and let her live, for he knew
what that would do to someone like us. I offered my head to her, but she
refused. Instead, she wrote in the sands with her stumps that there would be a
time when she would demand more than my Quickening as a penance."

"And she survived like that?" Methos interrupted disbelievingly. "How?"

"I can only guess. Perhaps on holy ground, like Darius. Or, much more likely,
she let herself be entombed and was only recently found. It has happened among
us; you know that we fall unconscious, after a time, when we are buried alive
and deprived of oxygen. We only return when we can breathe again."

He thought of the method he had used when he and Kronos had parted ways more
than two thousand years ago and surpressed a shudder. For that alone, he
wouldn't have been surprised if Kronos *had* killed him when they met again.

"My best guess is that this is what happened to Prokne, and that she was found
only recently by some archeologists. And when they discovered what she was, she
was turned over to whomever this research facility belongs to. The American
government, the military, or perhaps someone private, someone rich enough to
finance all of this. In any case, it wasn't that organisation you used to belong
to. None of the people I saw had one of these tattoos. And they didn't stop with
Prokne. They found a few others, and now they have proof. Somehow, Prokne found
a way to kill herself. How she did this I can only guess as well, but she was
not killed by one of us, for then she could have never done what she did. Her
Quickening was released without being caught by someone else, and she used this,
the final explosion of all her Powers, to sent me a message."

"Which was?" Cassandra glanced at him, ready for the scepticism she expected.
Yet his expression remained carefully neutral.

"That the time to fulfil my oath and repay my debt had come, that I had to stop
this. Stop the mortals from knowing about us and using us."

"Go on."

"You know what will happen if they are not stopped. They are not bound by any
oath to keep our secret. They will start to hunt us, for research, as weapons,
since we make the perfect soldiers, it will leak out to other nations, and soon
everyone will want to have their immortals."

"Probably. If it is true. Forgive me for asking, but do you have any proof
beside your visions and that final telepathic message?"

"With everything that happened in the last years," Cassandra said, feeling
relieved her accustomed anger towards Methos finally returned full-force, "one
would expect you to have something more in store when confronted with visions
than just patronising remarks."

"What happened were exceptions. They did not disprove the rule. And the fact
is, I have encountered much more frauds and emotionally overcharged mystics
than..."

"I," Cassandra interrupted icily, "am *not* 'emotionally overcharged'."

"Of course you aren't," Methos replied smoothly. "You are the most rational of
beings, and always were."

She wanted to slap him, but that would have just proven his point. So she
limited herself to sarcasm.

"That's where you come in, being the supremely rational and unsurpassed mind
that you are. I need you to find this research facility for me, through computer
hacking. If you can't find it, not the slightest proof something like this
exists, then I won't bother you anymore. If you do find a trace, you have to
help me with the next step as well."

He could have commented on the easiness with which she assumed he would help
her at all, but he didn't.

"Which is?"

Casssandra took a deep breath. "We have to go there, destroy the facility and
every available piece of data on immortals. And not just data stored in
technical devices. I have to mindwipe every single person there, including those
immortals who are still alive, for who knows, they might be willing to
cooperate, hoping to win the Game that way. And to risk a Quickening being
observed would be counterproductive, to put it mildly, so we can't kill them.

Their eyes locked. "We could kill the mortals," Methos said, intentionally
summing up Death the Horseman for her. If she was serious about this, she had to
know what could be in store. "It is easier than a mindwipe, and safer."

Cassandra's gaze never wavered. "We probably will have to kill some. I know
that. But it must be our very last resort. I'll do what I can to save their
lives first."

"Very commendable. Still, allowing this possibility means you wouldn't want
MacLeod to participate, and neither you nor I can trust another immortal as
back-up. So let me get this straight. You want me to find a secret research
facility which may not exist at all, then the two of us are to take it single-
handedly, reduce it to ashes and the staff to amnesia, if not to total
oblivion."

"We can do it," Cassandra said coldly. "You planned more difficult raids for
Kronos, didn't you? Considering the waste you could cause with two psychopaths
and a simpleton for a millennium, this single enterprise should be child's
play."

"Thank you. Your confidence in me is truly inspiring. Why do I get the feeling
that this still isn't all you expect of me?"

The mask of cold anger and determination shattered. Suddenly, she looked
absurdly young and vulnerable with her shoulder-length hair and her short dress.
It reminded him of that ridiculous sack-like thing she had worn when he had
collected her dead body as his spoils of war, and the expression of hurt
innocence on her not yet revived face. He hated these unwanted memory flashes.
Cassandra had not been the first nor the last slave he had taken, only the first
immortal one, but it still didn't explain why he remembered so much of that
short period between her first death and her running away from the camp. After
all, it had not been much more than a year, a grain of sand in the desert of his
five millennia. Why remember Cassandra at all, before she had come back into his
life with a vengeance that day in Seacouver? There had, literary, been hundreds
like her. But he had remembered her, had known her at once when she stepped out
of the elevator in MacLeod's loft, without the tiniest bit of doubt. As she had
known him.

"It isn't," she said, and turned away from him. For a moment, he had the
impression that she shivered, but then it was gone. "I don't think you truly
understand what I meant when I said I would have to mindwipe them. When I use
the Voice for a simple command, a single order, it is mostly easy for me, not
very exhausting, except if what I command goes totally against somebody's
nature. For example, if I ordered someone to kill himself, I would have to stay
until the deed is done, but I could do it. If, however, I order someone to
forget something, the order pales after enough time passes. Decades in some
cases, but still, it happens, and if I did just that to the personnel, we would
be right where we started, only some years later. Some connected memory will
always survive which will eventually trigger the blocked one. To be really sure,
I have to take every single memory away these people possess. They will be like
newborn children afterwards, will have to learn everything again. And their
original memory will never, ever return."

For the first time since she had known him, either in the ancient past or in
the present, he looked awestruck. Had the circumstances been different, it would
have amused her, since the expression was so unlike him. As it was, she barely
registered it.

"You can do something like this?"

"Yes. I did it twice. There were centuries between both cases. Both times, it
was just one person, and I needed months to recover. Since I had, in essence,
destroyed their old personality, I returned to them on a regular basis during
their lifetimes; they were my responsibility. Neither of them ever remembered a
single thing about their pasts. But they were alive."

She broke off. Now, it came. Steeling herself, Cassandra stared at the candles
burning in front of the numerous small altars of Sacre Coeur.

"There was an immortal who tried to do this to a whole tribe. He succeeded, but
he lost his own mind in the process. He became a lunatic, using his powers worse
than even Kantos would do, years later. Prokne and I had to kill him, and we
barely managed it together."

Suddenly, she felt his hand grasping her wrist, hard enough to hurt.

"No," he said harshly.

Obviously, he had guessed what she was going to ask of him. Well, even when her
hatred for him had been at its fiercest, she had never doubted his intelligence.

"You have to do it," she replied, turning to him. "Ever since I came into my
power and understood completely what I was, this is what I have been most afraid
of. Not dying. Not even falling into your hands again. Going mad and becoming
what you were. I can save all of us by mindwiping these mortals, Methos, and I
will, but if I lose my own mind through doing this, you have to kill me before I
damage anyone else."

"No," Methos said, barely audible through clenched teeth, seeing MacLeod
kneeling before O'Rourke again, kneeling before himself two years previously,
asking to be killed. "Martyrs make me sick," he went on, pulling her close
enough to feel her breath on his face. "So do suicides. I have really, really
had enough of both. If you want to die, do it on your own."

Abruptly, he released her. She did not move away. Her furious hiss matched his
own.

"I - do - not - want - to - die. But I won't become a travesty of myself, and
betray all I lived for, either. And you owe it to me, do you understand, Death,
you owe it to me! You took away everything from me, everything but my soul, and
now you will help me to keep it!"

In the silence that followed, she became conscious of all those mortals moving
around, shuffling hither and thither, cameras hanging around their necks,
obliviously chattering. Being alive. The ever-present incense reminded her of
both of one of her mortal husbands who used to become sick when inhaling it and
of the days in the temple many years previously when she and the others used to
rub it on their skins. Both were gone, temple and husband, and somehow it was
not surprising that he who had been at the beginning of her existence as an
immortal should be there at the end of it. Somehow, she had always known that if
she died, it would be through him.

"Damn you," he said, drawing back but making no move to stand up. There was
defeat and acceptance in his voice, and continuing anger. She surprised herself
by reaching out to touch him, as she had done when Becky had died.

"Promise me you will do it if it becomes necessary," she murmured, "and I
promise you I will do everything to avoid it."

The anger changed to sadness, as he returned her touch for a moment before he
rose. "I promise."

Chapter Text

IV.

Being a Methos Watcher, Amy Thomas had thought more than once, was a vastly
overrated profession. For one thing, she had to share her assignment with three
colleagues, all older than her, since the Organisation wanted to make sure the
only recently identified Methos did not give them the slip again. This meant
endless coordination and placating of egos instead of independent work. For
another, there was the problem of her frustrating subject. Having been a Watcher
himself, he always found all the devices they bugged his flat and car with, and
never let them get close enough to listen when he talked to someone... except
for her, now and then, and this had nothing to do with her aptitude at Watching.
She explained it away to the others by airily confessing that he was a pal of
her first supervisor, Joe Dawson, and thus was inclined to indulge her now and
then.

Actually, there was no real reason why she shouldn't tell the whole story, but
it started with Joe being her father, and she had only recently come to terms
with this herself. No need to tell everyone and risk being questioned about it
by fellow Watchers who still wondered how she got this important assignment in
the first place. Incidentally, so did Joe, but that wouldn't stop the others
from screaming nepotism. As for Joe, he assumed that she had somehow identified
Benjamin Adams with Adam Pierson, former Watcher, and that this had been the
reason for her promotion. It wasn't totally wrong, but the more important reason
involved some shameless emotional blackmail on her part she'd rather have Joe
not know about. She was just learning what she had gotten herself into with
Methos. He seemed to enjoy playing games with her, letting her listen to
conversations that gave her all kind of contradictory information, making a
conspicuous trip with every imaginable precaution which caused her to call for
back-up, only to have them find themselves watching The Rocky Horror Picture
Show with him. *Twice.* There were times when she wanted to kill him.

Not this time, though. When Joe called her and told her Cassandra was in town
and had arranged a meeting with Methos, Amy had to restrain herself from
whistling. This was definitely one for the chronicles. Besides, she could
satisfy her own curiosity about Cassandra, which had first been awakened when
reading the ancient woman's files and had become much more personal after Amy
had been charged with investigating Andrew Lanart, Cassandra's former Watcher.
After Lanart, the Watchers had lost track of Cassandra, and the fact that she,
Amy, would now be able to bring her into the fold once more just about made her
day. So she was for a while blithely oblivious to the worried tone in Joe's
voice, until he reminded her for the third time in a row to be careful, just in
case Cassandra had laid a trap with some murderously inclined mortals as back-
up, which could endanger not only Methos but Amy herself.

"I don't think so," Amy replied with a touch of impatience. "She recently
managed to live a year with him without resorting to such means, which is more
than I could do."

It was only when she took in the stunned silence on the other end of the line
that Amy remembered she had never told Joe about finding out where Methos had
been before returning to Paris. And why she had never told him. Unfortunately,
it was connected with her first attempt at blackmail and manipulation of an
immortal. She bit her lips, while the silence ended in a verbal explosion.

"What? You mean that was where he... son of a bitch. Why didn't one of them
tell me? Wait a minute," Joe went on, now in full steam. "How do you know? And
why didn't *you* tell me?"

Amy resorted to a dignified retreat. She would face the music later. "Sorry,
Joe, my second is here, and Methos is on the move. I'll talk to you later."
"Now don't you dare..."

She pressed the button. Ah well. It wasn't a complete lie; Giorgio Falcone,
whom she had called and who would later follow Cassandra, was already there, but
distracted by watching Methos through his binoculars. With any luck, she would
think of some solid arguments before facing Joe again. Such as the fact that he
didn't deign to tell her all about his dealings with his immortal, either, but
somehow she didn't believe that would cut the mustard.

Since they did not want to alert Cassandra, neither she nor Giorgio even
attempted to get close enough to the two immortals to understand something of
their conversation, consigning themselves to watching and trying to interpret
their body language. At least it didn't look like a challenge, which undoubtedly
would make Joe and MacLeod happy. To be honest, Amy couldn't decide what it did
look like. It was both thrilling and sad to watch the two of them. Sad, because
thanks to Lanart she knew something of the painful history this pair shared.
Thrilling, because she was young and fascinated enough by both immortals and
history in general to see this as a wondrous opportunity. After all, how often
did you get to watch two relicts of ancient times interact with one another?
Why, the anthropological aspects alone were worth a study. Amy wondered whether
they spoke English or another language, and whether she would ever get to make a
recording of those two talking in dead languages which the philologists still
quarrelled about.

When Cassandra took off, Falcone followed her and Amy went after Methos. For
the next week, he shut himself up in his apartment, sitting, as far as Amy and
her relief could make out, in front of his computer.

"You don't think he is trying to hack into our database again, do you?" Annette
Darneau asked, frowning.

Amy shook her head, declining to add he would do this from Joe's computer.
During her breaks, she had a heated argument with Joe which ended with both
sides conceding that there was still much to be learned about openness and
privacy when they had the same job. Fortunately, relating to him what she had
learned through investigating Lanart had Joe so occupied that he forgot to ask
why she hadn't told him much sooner, and so Amy still didn't have to confess the
blackmail. Besides, when she questioned whether he would tell MacLeod, Joe
confessed he wouldn't, yet.

"Mac has a way of... well, stirring things up. Demanding explanations. If he
stormed in now, it might ruin this reconciliation attempt or whatever it is, and
as long as they play by the rules, they have a right to their privacy, in my
book."

Amy thought of making her point by asking whether this meant that Joe believed
withholding information from people who would deem it important was justified
now and then, but swallowed the comment, after all. No need to push her luck.

From Falcone and his newly assigned Cassandra back up, she heard that Cassandra
had taken up residence in a Parisian suburb and didn't go out, either. After six
days, while it was again Amy's turn to watch, her cell phone rang. "Come up,
Amy," said the voice of the world's most irritating immortal. "No doubt it's a
lovely Parisian day, but you must be hot. Oh, and bring something cool to drink
with you, will you? My fridge is empty."

"You," Amy hissed later while practically dumping the basket with cold plastic
bottles on his feet, "seem to think the Watchers are your personal valet
service."

"Close. You'll find out exactly what I think of them in time, no doubt, but I'm
in good company. MacLeod thinks they're his personal detection agency." He
picked up a bottle of coke, disapprovingly. "What, no beer?"

"No!" Amy all but yelled.

"All right, all right, calm down. Coke will do. I need the caffeine anyway."

She took a closer look at him. His eyes were red-rimmed. He had taken the time
to shower and to bath, obviously, since there were no stubbles and his hair was
still wet. But otherwise, he looked like something the cat had dragged in, and
she said so.

"No doubt. You look lovely, by the way, although you could improve on those
brown shoes. Tell me, did your Italian friend have time to make a move before
you dumped him on Cassandra?"

Amy leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. Darkly, she muttered: "What
have I done to deserve this?"

"It's called interference," Methos returned smugly, and opened his coke.
Judging by the sound, he slummed down in that strange chair which looked as if
someone had designed it to break bones. Mortal bones, at least. While he drank,
Amy glanced around again and noticed the room was in a terrible state. She
didn't understand why he couldn't hire someone; Paris was full of unemployed
bonnes who would jump on the chance. Must be his paranoia about being
discovered. Just because the dust-gathering socks and dirty plates offended her
sense of order, she proceeded to clean up a bit while endeavouring to conduct
something like a sensible conversation with her subject.

"I don't suppose you could tell Cassandra about Lanart?"

"No. However," his eyes followed her with a speculative gaze while Amy threw
the socks in the basket she had used to carry the bottles, and stored the plates
in the kitchen sink, "I might. You see, Amy, we've spent the last days deciding
whether we would have the courage to do what we must. Go to Scotland, visit
Becky's grave together. I'm not promising anything, but that might be the right
moment to speak about Lanart. Who knows, perhaps it will help Cassandra as
well."

Amy stopped letting some dishwater in the sink and stared at him. This was the
first time he had dropped his facade after that trip to see Andrew Lanart she
had cajoled him into with a mixture of manipulation and open blackmail. Looking
at her very seriously, he gave the impression of being exhausted, too tired for
pretence and above all, completely honest.

Of course, he was the most accomplished liar she had ever met. After all, he
had fooled the whole Organisation for a decade with his Adam Pierson facade. On
the other hand, she couldn't believe he would use something like his grief for
the child he had killed to fool her. She had seen that emotion break through,
when he told her the truth about Becky, and later, when he talked to Lanart. No,
Amy decided, he wouldn't lie about that.

"I have a request," Methos continued, still sounding painfully sincere. "Of
course, you can decline, but it would mean very much to both Cassandra and
myself. We have resigned ourselves to being watched, but this time, just for the
few days we would need to get this behind us, we would treasure our privacy.
Never being completely alone is hard, Amy. It's hell when you can't hold
yourself together anymore, when you have to face some of the most terrible
events in your life."

She was bright enough, Methos decided when he noticed how she bit her lip in
understanding what he was going to ask of her. But then, he knew that.

"If I don't follow you," Amy said slowly, "and make sure none of the others do
as well, and you don't return, it would cost me my job. It could even get me
kicked out of the Organisation for good. At the very least, I won't get another
field assignment for decades."

He gave her his best Adam Pierson look. "I know. But it won't happen. Just a
few days, Amy." Then he went for the jugular. "I know it's difficult for you,
but it was more than difficult for me to see Andrew Lanart again when you asked
me."

That did it. This unexpected offspring of Joe's was clever, entertaining and in
her adolescent way surprisingly apt at using the emotional thumbscrews, but she
was no match against someone who had played that particular game for millennia.
Still, he felt a pang of guilt. He liked her in his own way, and when she
realised what he had just done he would have another person on the list of
people wanting to kill him. But priorities had to be set. He and Cassandra could
have gotten rid of their Watchers the usual way, but then Amy, trying to find
him again, would have told Joe they had vanished, Joe would have told MacLeod,
and thus they would have had the full cavalry at their heels when discretion was
of the utmost importance. And even if Cassandra didn't have to rest herself, he
still couldn't have permitted her to use her powers on Amy. In that case, the
cavalry would have had the additional incentive of an outraged father. Mortal
relations, Methos concluded resignedly. What endless complications they are.

Amy gave in, as he knew she would. He made his promise and saw her go in a
hurry, obviously afraid that if she stayed and thought this through she wouldn't
be able to do it. Well, in a few days she would be after him with a vengeance
and a score to settle. As a matter of fact, he counted on it. But he needed
those days. Cassandra had been right. Project Lazarus, Methos thought with a
grimace. Some people just didn't have any imagination.

Depressed, relaxed or in high spirits, the miracle of flying never ceased to
amaze Cassandra. It had been her oldest dream, which had accompagnied her from
childhood through death through all the centuries of her immortality. To equal
the birds, to be able to move through the sky. In bad times, it had symbolised a
last hope of escape; in good times, an expression of happiness. Once, in a
particular bad time, she had been desperate enough to jump from a cliff into a
canyon. It had been a more than averagely painful death, but for one thing, it
had cured her of her desperation, and for another, those short minutes before
the impact had been wonderful. Bless the twentieth century, she thought, for its
ability to make flying possible for everyone, finally.

They could have afforded first or business class tickets, but the life-long
cautionary principle of not drawing unnecessary attention confined them to
economy class. Not very comfortable for a 12-hour-flight, though Methos had
charmed the lady at the check-in counter into giving them seats next to an
emergency exit, which meant there was enough room to stretch their legs. Having
spent the last week nearly without sleep, he was now trying to catch up, while
Cassandra looked out of the round glass to contemplate the clouds which quickly
fell below them. Further down, there was another airplane, which seemed to move
infinitely slower. An illusion, she knew. Still, it reminded her of a bird of
prey, gliding, not flapping its wings as the smaller birds did. A falcon...
Something struck her, another poem her memory dragged up. It fitted the
occasion, but it made her shiver.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

"More Yeats?" Methos asked. She had not noticed she had spoken aloud.

"I'm sorry I woke you."

"You didn't. I was just drowsing. It's very difficult to sleep in these seats.
Besides, you are right. *Things fall apart.*" He was silent for a while, and
they listened to the hum of the machines, which by some process they still did
not really understand kept this heavy thing in the air.

"You do realise," he said, "that we can only postpone things. With all this
modern technology which turns life increasingly into an existence in a goldfish
bowl for everyone, they *will* discover us, sooner or later. Especially with the
Gathering gaining pace. They'll find us and ultimately destroy us if we haven't
managed to destroy ourselves by then."

"I thought you were the ultimate survivor," she returned while not denying his
conclusion. "Doesn't this mean you are supposed to be more optimistic?"

"Forgive me. Irish poets always make me gloomy. The Irish in general, I should
say, since they all have a poetic streak. I should know, I once spent weeks
confined with a bunch of them on a ship across the Atlantic."

"They must have been monks."

"They were, but how do you know?"

"Only Christian monks trained in the most dire of medieval circumstances,"
Cassandra replied, switching to the bastardised Latin they had spoken after the
fall of the Roman empire, "would be capable of enduring you in a boat for weeks.
The strength of the Irish has never ceased to amaze me."

"Which undoubtedly means," Methos said, acknowledging to himself he had missed
to spar with her, "you had the occasion to test it? I always suspected that you
were the model of a Celtic goddess or two. Since so many of them ended up as
witches when the Christians arrived."

A shadow fell on her face. "For queens and witches, maybe. But I was never a
goddess," she ended, the teasing tone completely gone from her voice. He nearly
asked why, before he remembered. Having worshipped him as a living god, which
admittedly had been his idea, obviously had served to keep her from any
pretensions of divinity. *This is what I have been most afraid of. Not dying.
Not even falling into your hands again. Going mad and becoming what you were.*
Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to push reality away for a while longer.

Better to talk about anything but this. "Not a single one?" he asked, keeping
his voice even. "Not even a muse? Speaking of Yeats, there is at least one poem
which sounds like it was inspired by you."

He was distracting again, Cassandra saw that, but she wanted to keep the
immediate future at bay just as much as he did. So she played along and asked
him which poem he meant, fully expecting him to reply 'Crazy Jane' or any of the
witch poems. However, even Methos had his limits when tired to the point of
complete exhaustion. He couldn't think of any amusing reply, or even a quip
about there being too many poems to count. So instead he quoted the first one
that did come to him:

What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Cassandra looked at him, stunned. She felt warmth rising into her cheeks and
couldn't believe he was able to make her blush. Desperately, she waited for the
obligatory final remark which would turn this into irony or a joke, but it
didn't come. He was truly too tired for something like this. When the silence
between them kept the poetry echoing in her, she searched for a clever put-down
of her own. Or a suitable hurtful memory, of the first time he raped her, of the
various ways an immortal could die he had demonstrated on her, the numerous
instances when he had made her trust him only to grow violent again, and
ultimately, to betray her by handing her over to Kronos. But even that image,
sharp and painful as it was, had lost some of its original power. She couldn't
decide whether it was their year together, Becky's death or the knowledge that
her own death could soon be approaching which had lowered her defenses.

"Try to sleep," she finally said when she felt reasonably sure of her voice
again. "There won't be much time left once we are in America, and you need to."

He shrugged, but followed her advice. It was a mark of the true extent of his
exhaustion that after a while, she could tell from his regular breathing and the
occasional snore that he had indeed managed to fall asleep. When the stewardess
came, offering headphones for the internal radio program and the two movies,
Cassandra silently shook her head and motioned her away. Later, she opened the
plastic wrap of the covers that had waited for them at their seats. Thanks to
the extensive air-conditioning, it had grown cold enough for her to grow
goosebumps, dressed for a summer day as she was. When she carefully tucked
Methos in as well, he shifted his weight and she froze. If he awakened now, she
would feel as embarrassed as a young mortal. Fortunately, the regular breathing
went on, and she relaxed a bit, then found his head had come to rest on her
shoulder. For a moment, she considered pulling away, or awakening him with a
sharp remark about not being his slave anymore. It would certainly make things
easier. But what would be the point, ultimately? If she survived all of this
with her sanity intact, she could go away and be free of all these unwanted
complications anyway. In the much more likely event of her death, he would
experience all her emotions at once and probably be unable to discern anything
about such a minor event like this. So she stayed where she was, and
contemplated the nature of poetry.

Chapter Text

V.

On the last day of his old life Brian Newhouse had just finished breakfast and
wasn't in a rush to clear the table. It was Sunday, even more importantly the
first Sunday in weeks where he could be sure he wouldn't be needed by his
employer, so he indulged himself by dragging breakfast out. He wished his wife
could be here, but Mr. Maxwell had made it absolutely clear that he didn't want
anyone to bring their family along. The chances that a careless word now and
then could leak out were simply not to be risked, not with this, the most
fascinating thing Brian had ever worked with. Not that he was at top level,
Doctors Maryatt, Travis and Carnell were; he hadn't had yet the opportunity to
make tests on the subjects themselves. But he did analyse blood and tissue
samples. It was incredible. Never mind Travis with his ideas about the perfect
soldier, here was the chance to defeat AIDS, if they could decrypt the DNA
sequence that caused this incredibly adaptive immune system. To say nothing of
cell regeneration.

Eternal youth was just around the corner. Brian had spoken with Maryatt about
this; they were both sure this was the discovery of the century, if not the
millennium. What a pity they had not more then two living subjects anymore,
though. Carnell was working on a method to find them, based on his theory that
the electric fields they obviously generated were what permitted them to
recognise each other and could be reproduced or at least identified on an
artificial level, but that could take years, and they needed them now. According
to Maryatt who had talked with them the most, it seemed they were everywhere on
the planet. Which meant anyone could stumble on this, at any moment. Brian
wouldn't be surprised if there were some Japanese scientists right now working
on it. Or the Chinese. Since they had the largest population on earth, it stood
to reason they had more than their share of immortals as well. Typical, Brian,
who didn't believe in political correctness, thought. Bloody Asians have to get
everywhere first. Well, not this time, hopefully.

The security guard Maxwell had provided him with announced there was someone
from the facility to see him, and Brian groaned. Taken up with the Lazarus
Project as he was, he still thought everyone had the right to a free day every
now and then. But he did not dare to protest. After all, it could be important,
a breakthrough, and if he missed that simply because he wasn't a morning person,
Maryatt might drop him, not just from his circle but also from the entire
Project.

So he hastily wiped his mouth, went to the living room and waited for the guard
to escort whomever it was in. It turned out to be a couple in large coats, X-
Files-style, and his last free thought was that they looked a bit like Scully
and Mulder, only the woman was much taller than Gillian Anderson. Then she spoke
his name, and, with every word she added, his urge to tell her everything, to
obey her in every detail, grew until it was almost unbearable. When she finally
gestured to him to speak, he nearly sobbed with relief.

Brian Newhouse's office away from office, Methos thought, was hardly stylish,
but eminently practical, and it suited their purpose. He had chosen Newhouse as
the ideal member of the Lazarus Project to get them inside, important, but not
too important. The security guard had not been a problem; one sentence from
Cassandra and he was convinced they truly were authorised messengers. What she
did with Brian Newhouse was more thorough, but still not the complete mindwipe
she held in reserve. After all, they needed Newhouse with memory intact - yet.

Still, in this case the man wasn't just convinced Cassandra and Methos were
members of the Project, he believed they were the key people, his personal
guarantee for the Nobel Prize, his best friends and his salvation. If he had
given himself time to feel, Methos would have been awed. Fleetingly, he
reflected that with powers like these, it must have taken incredible strength of
character of Cassandra not to end up as a megalomaniac herself. He remembered
Amy asking him, on their way to see Lanart, why Cassandra didn't use her Voice
in Bosnia, or Israel, or any country torn with strife to ensure peace. It was
something a mortal would ask, or, to be fair, something someone would ask who
had never felt the temptation of power. Methos, who was all too familiar with
it, knew the answer without having to ask Cassandra herself.

He gave her a glance while Newhouse eagerly told him the codes to get from his
terminal into the Lazarus Computer system. She was pale, but so far did not look
actually stressed. Good. If she broke down too soon, they still could end up as
research subjects themselves. It was, of course, incomprehensible why he had let
himself get involved in this lunacy in the first place. Though now that he had
become more visible, and a Watcher-documented immortal again, it was a bit more
difficult to summon up the nonchalance with which he had faced public exposure
of the immortals during the Kalas showdown some years ago.

Once inside the system, Methos first created an appointment and clearance that
would permit him and Cassandra to enter the central building tomorrow so
Cassandra wouldn't have to bother with too many security guards there. Then, he
down loaded the addresses of everyone involved in the Lazarus Project, something
he had not done before when he had hacked his way into some of the data, out of
fear it would alert everyone too soon. Finally, he left them a virus that would
activate tomorrow as well, as soon as someone opened a file connected with one
of Brian Newhouse's blood analysis. Ideally, it should destroy every speck of
data available, but there was always the chance of some independent systems
Newhouse simply did not have access to. He would have to do this again, though
other channels.

Something he had not found, neither through his own efforts from Paris nor
through Brian Newhouse now, were the names of those immortals still held as test
subjects. There weren't any photos, either, not of their faces. Of arms, hands
and other body parts yes, in order to document the speed of the healing process,
but not of the faces. The only one fully documented in this regard had to be
Cassandra's old acquaintance, Prokne. They had done a complete pathological
report on her, of course.

Asked after the immortals, Brian Newhouse could only, regretfully, affirm he
had never seen or spoken to one of them. Only Maryatt, Travis and Carnell had.
And Maxwell, their employer, who financed all of this. No, he didn't know their
names: they were subject Beta and Gamma; the dead woman who had been mad enough
to decapitate herself had been the first, subject Alpha. As for the question
whether they were cooperating; in the beginning, one of them had, believing he
could use the researchers to get other immortals for him to behead, which was
obviously a perverse urge of the whole race, but when Travis had let it slip
that they wouldn't permit that, since dead bodies, previously immortal or not,
were of no use to Mr. Maxwell without whose money they could not do, the man in
question had sullenly refused further cooperation.

"So they are prisoners?"

"It's for their own salvation," Brian replied, slightly offended. "We can't
permit these people to go on committing genocide against each other. Clearly,
they are not sane, and such cases must be contained for their own good. Besides,
their bodies might help save the entire human race."

"This," Methos remarked to Cassandra, switching to the bastardised Greek they
had spoken in lower Italy long after the Romans had taken over, "is why I prefer
villains. Fate preserve me from self-righteous believers."

She did not reply, studying instead the list of addresses Newhouse's printer
ratted out now. They had a long day ahead of them.

***

Putting your job on the line for your immortal, Amy thought uneasily,
definitely wasn't a trait she had planned to adapt from Joe. Besides, Joe at
least thought the world of MacLeod and was reasonably sure the man would do the
right thing most of the time. Whereas she was settled with a professional liar,
a seemingly reformed mass murderer, an infiltrator in the Organisation she had
sworn to protect, and the most irritating man she knew to boot. What on earth
had she been thinking of?

Okay, so she owed him something. Not because he had saved her life; that had
been accidental, and he had done it for Joe, not for her. Because he had helped
her to give a tortured man some peace at the expense of his own. It still didn't
completely reassure her. Yet she couldn't bring herself to break her word and
follow him, or send others after him. Finally, she decided on a compromise, and
checked the flights to Edinburgh or Glasgow for passengers using Methos' or
Cassandra's known aliases. Nothing. This wasn't too disconcerting. They
certainly had a bunch of identities she didn't know about, and besides, they
could have gone by car, as she and Methos had when visiting Lanart, or taken the
ferry. And thanks to the European Union, they didn't even necessarily need to
present a passport anymore, these days. An identity card would suffice.

Still, her disquiet grew and grew, until she decided on another compromise. She
told herself this could be seen as background research, but was aware this was
rather a quaint way of describing breaking into someone's flat. Not that it was
too difficult, which was the first thing to alarm her. Even during a relatively
short acquaintance, she had noticed Methos was a bit paranoid. It wasn't like
him to leave his apartment with so little security.

Once she was inside, she noticed two things. The main room was still a mess,
but it lacked some books that had previously been there, and this made her
instantly suspicious. A pilgrimage to a grave in Scotland for a few days did not
necessitate bringing some books with you. Heavy books at that. Old books. The
other thing she noticed was there was an envelope on the table. She wandered
closer and saw, with a sinking heart, that it was addressed to her. This wasn't
good. This definitely wasn't good. Numbly, she sat down before opening the
envelope. The letter inside wasn't long, but she stared at it for five minutes,
silent. Then, she carefully folded it again, and pushed it in her handbag. "I'll
kill him," she said to no one in particular.

 

By night, Cassandra had ensured that Monday would find the Lazarus Project
buildings with a minimum staff, both scientific and security. The missing
personnel, all of whom had excused themselves officially, would not be
discovered until it was too late, and then with a complete lack of memory. She
felt sick and completely exhausted, but they had to take Maxwell himself before
resting. After the inferno tomorrow, she probably wouldn't be in any condition
to do it, and while Maxwell was no scientist, he would have copies of the data,
being the instigator of the whole project. And as long as he remembered
immortals, he would try again.

The headache that plagued her was indescribable. This was the nearest thing to
mortal pain she had felt since slowly recovering from being burned around 1000.
To her horror, she could not remember what they were supposed to do next.

"Which of them," she said to Methos, without noticing her hand shook like an
old woman's, "which of them shall I make take us to Maxwell?"

The look he gave her warned her a second before he struck, but she was too
drained to react in time. When Cassandra became conscious again, she was lying
in the bed of the hotel room they had rented. Judging from the way she felt, he
had not been content with simply knocking her out. He must have killed her as
well, keeping her dead until now; she could sense the last tingling of healing
flesh above her heart. She also could sense she wasn't alone. He was in the
bathroom, and when he came back she could see he had just washed his hands and
face.

"Taking up old habits?" she said coldly.

"In as much as common sense is my very oldest habit. You needed the rest. If
you had gone on without stopping, you would have ended up as a talking vegetable
long before we could finish this."

She couldn't deny she felt better now, but she knew there was more to it. What
was it they had discussed before he had knocked her out?

"Maxwell", she exclaimed and sat up. "How..." Her voice halted. The way Methos
regarded her was all too familiar.

"You killed him," Cassandra said tonelessly.

"He won't be discovered for a long time, and I could destroy what data he had.
You knew it would be unavoidable, sooner or later."

Yes, she had known. Had been prepared to kill, as a last resort. But she had
imagined it would have been her decision to make. Still, it would be hypocrisy
not to admit that she had accepted something like this happening when she'd
asked Methos to come with her. After all, she knew what he was capable of.

So she said nothing. Instead, she rose and went into the bathroom, feeling the
need to clean up herself. Strange, how the sensation of water always kept its
psychological effect, through all the millennia. Harry Maxwell, millionnaire,
twice divorced, funding several research projects, one of which had turned out
to be his death warrant. In a way, she supposed she could blame Maxwell for
Prokne's death, but that would have been hypocrisy as well. Maxwell had not
wanted Prokne to die; she was too precious to him. As they all were. Precious
lab rats. Whether he had genuinely wanted to use the research to help the human
race, or just himself, whether he was more driven by power or by what Methos had
called self-righteous belief in Brian Newhouse, she did not and would never
know. She definitely did not feel morally superior to him. After all, she had
treated all those men and women today not much better than lab rats, destroying
their memories.

The hot water of the shower, running down her body, was still soothing. A
wonder of the twentieth century, this easy availability of hot water everywhere.
If she survived all of this somehow, survived even for another century, she
would hardly remember Maxwell anymore. She still could see the face of her
father bowing over her, could name every member of her tribe who were long gone
and dust since millennia, but she could not recall what the last mortal she had
killed had looked like. She knew what he had done, she remembered the situation
and why she had thought it necessary, but the face was gone, and Maxwell did not
even have a face for her. Would she remember any of the people whose memories
she had taken today? *Not sane*, Newhouse had said. In a way, it was true. When
she came out of the bathroom, Methos, who had been fiddling with the radio,
looked up.

"There's something to eat on the table," he said, gesturing to the small desk
where he had deposed several items which, on closer investigation, proved to be
everything which did not benefit the mortal body. Chocolate, more chocolate,
chips and other junk food you could get in the middle of the night at a petrol
station. Since she was hungry, she started eating and soon wolfed it down. He
joined her.

"Do you sometimes wonder whether we are still human?" she asked, in between
cookies.

"Some of us are," Methos replied very seriously, "mostly among the young ones.
I don't think there's much human left in me. Though sometimes I fool myself and
believe differently."

"I'm not sure myself. Certainly we are abnormal."

"Perhaps the definition of normality will change now. With all the genetic
engineering. One day it will be possible to create artificial immortals, and who
knows, without the Quickenings driving them, they might stay more human than we
did. A mixture between us and them."

He passed some wine to her. Strange, how something of this continent could
taste so very much like a wine she had been offered by a Roman general, when
negotiating for the Iceni she had then ruled as Queen. The name of the general
eluded her for the moment, but she knew exactly how his wine had tasted, and she
could recall his voice, quoting Latin poetry to her to prove that Rome had
produced more than military might.

"If you truly believe that - that this is inevitable - why did you come with
me?"

She did not add, and why did you kill, for which he was grateful.

"Because I also believe that before we could reach this stage, they would
destroy what semblance of normality we have left. What life we have left. Call
it species loyalty. It's irrational, but it is there. I don't want us to end
yet."

We are not made to be imprisoned and studied, he wanted to say, none of us are.
No matter whether we are impossible heroes like MacLeod or self-destructive
ruins like Byron in the end, there's something we all share, and that is the
necessity of freedom. But before he could pronounce the words, the memory of
imprisoning Cassandra returned, full-force, and he swallowed the comment.

"If will become possible to artificially create immortals," Cassandra mused,
"then it might become possible to resequence our DNA as well. To make us
mortal."

He raised his eyebrows.

"Would you want that?" he asked, before she could ask him the same thing,
because he wasn't certain about the answer. The urge to survive burned as strong
as ever in him, but sometimes... sometimes, he wondered what it would be like.
To change. To mark the passing time with your body. Not having to fight anymore,
or to kill, to be free of that burden.

To age with your mortal lover, and have the prospect of finding her again in
whatever awaited mortals whose soul became free with death instead of being
absorbed.

The trouble was, he truly could not recall what it had been like, and when such
questions plagued him, he usually went into a hospital or a so-called "home for
the aged" to be cured of sentimentalising something tantalisingly beyond his
experience. Cassandra, though, who could remember a mortal life to grieve for,
might think differently. To his surprise, she shook her head and gave him a
tired smile.

"Once out of nature," she said, picking up their game of Yeats quotes again, "I
shall never take/ My bodily form from any natural thing.' But," she continued,
"I think this is why we fall so often in love with mortals, despite better
knowledge. We reach out for normality that way, for what we have lost and can't
have again. Yet only if we stop reaching out we have truly become inhuman." She
had been thinking of Reiner, the last mortal man she had fallen in love with,
but seeing Methos flinch reminded her of what MacLeod had told her, about Methos
having loved a dying mortal woman only a few years ago. There had been a time
when she would have scoffed at the mere idea, but not now, not anymore. It did
not change the past, but it added to the present. The present which would soon
come to an end, one way or another. For a moment, she almost said she was sorry;
then, reconsidering, she said nothing. He would feel exposed by her having this
knowledge. Instead, she rose.

"I think I'll try to sleep now," she said. "If you have set the alarm clock."

"Oh, don't worry."

He stayed where he was, though, staring at his hands. Was it the thought of his
lost mortal love that haunted him, or the mortal he had killed tonight? The
concern she felt, she told herself, was due to the fact that he needed to be
alert in the morning just as much as she did. More so, if he had to kill her. It
was a miracle that she could think clearly now. Or maybe she couldn't. Maybe
this whole tendency to have philosophical discussions with Methos, of all
people, was a sign of decaying mental facilities.

"You should sleep as well," she heard herself say. He shrugged but started to
undress while she got rid of the hotel bathrobe. It should have been an awkward
moment, but it wasn't. They both knew very well what they looked like. Being
stabbed again had been a much more disconcerting physical reminder of the past.
Having to share the same bed might have overdone it, but the Americans, bless
them, had more twin rooms than double rooms anyway. There was something to be
said for the Puritan tradition if you travelled in the company of someone you
just knew a bit too well in the biblical sense, and in some other ways not at
all.

Sometime later, after trying for sleep in vain for at least an hour and
settling for drowsing, at least, she heard him whisper:

"We could leave it here, you know. Your attempt to be a martyr for the immortal
cause. With their sponsor dead, the virus active and over half of their staff
incapacitated, it might buy some years anyway. And if not, let someone else
worry about it."

It was half a statement, half a question. As a statement, it was, of course,
nonsense. As long as the other immortals were still there to be investigated,
all the remaining researchers had to do was to find a new sponsor and new staff,
and with such a discovery, it wouldn't be too difficult. He had to know she
would realise this, so why did he bother?

"Go on," she said, as he had done in the church.

"Before MacLeod found me," Methos murmured, "I was living in that Paris
apartment and the libraries at the HQ like in an ivory tower. Not involved with
any other immortals, and not really involved with mortals. Keeping a distance.
It wasn't very exciting, but safe, for me and everyone else. Then he dragged me
out of my tower, as someone always does, and eventually all hell broke loose. I
think I'm ready for that tower again, Cassandra."

"Why?"

"All sort of reasons, starting with the Gathering taking up speed, and ending
with the eminent foolishness of my present behaviour. My two closest friends
right now are both heading towards death. I saw MacLeod practically ready to
commit suicide, Cassandra. Twice. And it will happen again. He might be the best
fighter we have, but as long as the guilt thing isn't knocked out of him, he
will end up getting his penance by dying very soon. And as if it wasn't stupid
enough to get involved with someone like this, I had to get close with another
candidate for death as well. Joe has ten, twenty years left tops, and at his
present lifestyle probably much less. There are times when I can practically
feel him dying."

"So you want to get away from it all," she said, without condemnation; somewhat
wistfully, as a matter of fact. Suddenly Methos was struck by one of the most
lunatic ideas he had ever had. And since the events of the day had left him
somewhat shaken, and they were hurtling towards doom anyway, he pronounced it
aloud.

"Yes. But not alone. That was my previous mistake, the reason why I was so
eager to get caught up with the boyscout of the immortals. Being alone can do
that to you. Why not come with me?"

"This is crazy," Cassandra said, struck to the core. "Precisely. So is what
we're doing at the moment. So is losing your mind. Let's run away instead. To
somewhere in the Himalaya. Somewhere incredibly high. No mortals to attach
yourself to who die with each breath they take. No immortals who are prone to do
good deeds either, for they couldn't do them there."

She took a breath. "Just you and me, and the urge to kill you the first time I
have a nightmare of your glory days. Or if you're just more obnoxious than
usual."

"I'm not asking you for an eternity," he said, sounding slightly offended.
"Frankly, I don't think I could bear *you* that long. But", he grew serious
again, "you know the worst I can be. I know you at your weakest. There is
nothing to hide. It might even be a relief, for some years."

Belatedly, it occurred to her she should have said that she could not trust him
enough in the first place. Instead, she found herself actually contemplating it.
Running away, from mortal and immortal concerns alike, being together with
someone who was, when all was said and done, in some ways more like herself than
anyone else left on this earth, and in others so different that it would be an
unending intriguing puzzle to figure him out.

But even while she thought this, she knew it was just a fantasy. She could not
break her oath. She could not ignore the danger, the havoc the discovery would
create for immortals and mortals alike; she could not let this simply be someone
else's concern. And while she did not want to kill Methos any longer, she could
not forgive him anymore than she could forgive herself. What happened to her
emotions three thousand years ago had been understandable. After he had
destroyed the world she had lived in, killed everyone she had ever known and had
robbed her even of the conviction that her body and her life were her own, she
had at some point been forced to build a new world where he was the centre and
the only certainty. A god who gave life and death to her and whose cruel
protection against the others who were even worse than him was the only
semblance of affection left to experience. So she had been brainwashed and
traumatised enough to start loving him, betraying in the process her father, her
people and herself. While she still felt shame and self-loathing for this, she
had finally begun to absolve herself. There was not much else anyone could have
done differently, she told herself, and started to accept it.

However, if she went with him now, of her own free will, without Becky or
MacLeod's demon or this present horror to force her to be with him, there could
be no excuse. No pretext, no evasion. No absolution.

"I can't," she said, tears glistening and blurring her sight until she closed
her eyes again. Thankfully, he didn't speak until the morning, and only then,
when she heard the desperate echoes of Prokne's final plea in her mind did she
realise this particular torment had been silent ever since Methos had knocked
her out and killed her again.

Chapter Text

VI.

An enraged Scot was an awesome sight. So was a furious Joe Dawson.

Unfortunately, the effect was spoiled for Amy by the cold anger that burned in
her own stomach. The Watcher in her barely took notice of the Spartan interior
of MacLeod's barge while the immortal paced up and down, throwing questions at
Joe and her like accusations.

"Why didn't you tell me that Cassandra was still here? Or that they met? You
know what could..."

"Because," Joe interrupted, seething, "as long as they didn't kill or torture
each other, I had the quaint notion I might keep my oath. It's not my business
to spy on other immortals for you, Mac. Did it ever occur to you they might want
to manage their lives without Duncan MacLeod?"

"The only things those two have ever managed between themselves are major
catastrophes. And it doesn't look as if this is any different!" Giving Amy a
dark look, he added: "Assuming this whole story isn't another ruse of Methos."

Hoodwinked into losing her job and feeling guilty of major gullibility, Amy was
more touchy than usual. She bristled.

"What are you implying?"

"This whole idea of Methos and Cassandra teaming up still seems preposterous.
Somehow, I find it easier to believe that he killed her, doesn't want to face me
about it and has gotten you to help him by telling me this story. I know how
persuasive he can be."

That was it. In the absence of the immortal she was really furious with,
MacLeod would do.

"You would. After all, he could see how wonderfully well it worked with you and
Joe, couldn't he?"

"Amy!" Joe said sharply while MacLeod looked puzzled and a bit hurt. He had a
very nice puppy dog look, as a matter of fact, but Amy wasn't about letting that
stop her now.

"Just because you get Joe to cover up for you and lie for you on a regular
basis doesn't mean I would do it for that manipulative son of a bitch who..."

Anger now directed at her, Joe interrupted: "Amy, that's none of your business.
And it certainly doesn't belong in this discussion. If this whole story is true,
we'll have to warn the Organisation, but first we have to find Methos and
Cassandra, which incidentally will save your job. So pull yourself together. The
same goes for you, Mac. Losing your temper doesn't help."

A part of Joe noticed the identically chastised expression on those two very
different faces, and was amused. Ironical, really, the need to play stern father
when Amy had just accepted him as a friend and Mac was centuries older, but
*someone* had to behave reasonably. Not that he didn't feel the urge to strangle
Methos himself. The way he had played Amy really was the pits, but the dressing
down for this would have to come later.

"Very well," Duncan said, with a visible effort to calm himself, "we should
start by trying to find this research facility through hacking, just as he did.
Or," his face brightened, "there could be some data in his computer about this."

Amy shook her head. "Not a chance. I checked. It isn't even in a workable
condition anymore."

Joe sighed and, feeling his prostheses a bit more painfully than usual,
carefully sat down and sighed again, which caused Amy to feel a pang of guilt.
It really wasn't his fault; it was hers, and she wouldn't have dragged him into
this at all if not for her sincere wish to make Methos suffer. And the best way
to do this, according to what she had learned in the last months, was to set
Duncan MacLeod on his trail. Which, unfortunately, couldn't be done without
involving Joe. He was right about the need to keep priorities. So she set aside
her grudge against immortals exploiting Watchers for a moment and proceeded to
enlighten Joe and MacLeod that Methos, after all, had left her a clue.

"Where?" asked MacLeod, fingering the letter Methos had written to her
dubiously. "In the part where he says you can keep his flat since he won't be
returning in the near future?"

"No. The Tolkien quote."

Now both Joe and MacLeod looked lost. Clearly, fantasy literature wasn't their
forte. After both their times, Amy suspected. She, however, had grown up with
both "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," along with probably every second
child in England. Which Methos, of course, was aware of, affecting a British
nationality as a cover himself.

"Not all who wander are lost," Amy quoted. "That's in the verse Gandalf writes
to Frodo to tell him to trust Aragorn, who's in disguise as Strider."

They still looked forlorn. Well, now was not the time to get into explaining
Tolkien's convoluted plots. She tried to make it simple for the uninitiated.

"Gandalf is a wizard. Aragorn, son of Arathorn needs his pseudonym and disguise
to wander through the lands until it is time to save Middleearth. He couldn't
have been more blunt. I suppose he was feeling magnanimous."

Joe got it. "Don't tell me Cassandra and Methos got through Customs calling
themselves Gandalf and Aragorn son of Arathorn," he exclaimed disbelievingly.

"No. But an A. Strider and an M. Andir were on a flight from Paris to Los
Angeles," Amy returned, feeling a bit pleased with herself when Joe gave her a
decidedly proud glance. MacLeod, however, looked suspicious instead, and it
wasn't because he did not know Gandalf's other name in "The Lord of the Rings"
had been Mithrandir.

"If you knew that already," he said slowly, "why didn't you follow once you
found out, with your colleagues? Why did you come to me first?"

Ouch. He hadn't grown to be 400 by mere good looks and luck. Amy bit her lip,
but Joe started to look suspicious, too, so she decided she might as well
confess.

"We might find him on our own," she replied cagily, "but, keeping one's oath in
mind, there isn't much a Watcher can *do* to an immortal."

"Whereas I could?" MacLeod said, comprehending, with an undertone of amusement
which vanished quickly as he contemplated the dire situation once again. Damn
Methos and his games. If he had *wanted* them to follow him, he might as well
have spelled it out completely and given them an address. But no, they had to
chase after hints again. Of course, making it difficult could be the whole
point, ensuring they wouldn't arrive too soon.

He didn't want to think of how exactly Methos and Cassandra had planned to
destroy that research facility. Certainly they wouldn't kill innocent mortals...
or would they? With a threat like that? The unfortunate truth was that he had no
idea what they were capable of, not any more.

Chapter Text

VI.

 

The two immortal research subjects of the Lazarus Project didn't prove to be
exactly grateful for their liberation. More than anything else, they wanted to
kill every researcher in sight; what Cassandra needed to subdue them and send
them, without the memories of the last months, away, nearly took the last of her
strength. As it was, she didn't believe she could cope with the ten mortals that
were left to mindwipe completely. If the Sunday had been exhausting, this was
hell, pure and simple. She felt like a vampire, only the draining of others
didn't strengthen her, it somehow took from her, bit by bit. She hardly
remembered why she was doing this anymore. She did not know how they had come
here, and it was hard to keep talking in English; she actually had to pause
again and again, fumbling, grasping for words, like a first year student,
falling back again and again upon ancient languages which sometimes nearly
ruined the effort, since the Voice could only access familiar patterns in the
minds of its victims.

The building itself, now that most of the staff was gone, erring through the
Oregon landscape like newborn children, resembled a gigantic tomb. Methos was
tempted to burn it, to make absolutely sure there was no more physical evidence
left behind, but he didn't want any undue attention before they were miles away.
Only ten more mortals to go. Cassandra looked like she was going to break down
any minute now, but she was keeping on. The mortals, already unable to run away,
held in check not only by her command to stay but also by Methos' gun, stared at
them in a way that was all too familiar to Methos. By now, they knew what
Cassandra did to them, what he could do and what both of them were. He could
hear Kronos' voice whispering in his mind, fragments that usually only came to
him in the night, or when his self-control failed for one reason or the other.
*The most terrible thing they ever saw. Don't fight. Feel it. The freedom,
Methos, the power!*

Memory or the remnants of the Quickening he had absorbed through MacLeod? What
an irony, Brother, he thought. If we had known then what Cassandra could be she
would have replaced Caspian in the blink of an eye. What is a skilled sadist
compared to this? And here she is, a vision of power you could have only dreamed
of, using it to save lives. By destroying personalities, true, but you know
what? I'd take life anytime. If she could have done this to you, who knows, it
might have satisfied her and kept you alive.

But Kronos was dead, irrevocably dead, and what hold he had had over Methos
with him. The only tie left to the millennium he preferred not thinking about at
all was slowly, inevitably, breaking down and had even asked him to kill her.
*Freedom.* What an option. But just in case he felt tempted, he had ensured
that there wouldn't be time enough. By now, Amy, bright girl that she was, and
justifiably furious, should have set the cavalry in motion. With MacLeod
arriving to protect her, Cassandra could not blame him for not keeping his oath,
even if she lost her mind.

*I'm sorry*, he told her silently, while holding her arm as she staggered. The
fact that she accepted this kind of physical help and even leaned on him for a
moment before turning to the next mortal who regarded her with helpless terror
showed how far she was gone already. *I'm sorry, but I won't kill you. It would
be one death too many for me. Besides, I never killed anyone who meant something
to me because of madness. Not Kronos, not Byron, and not you.*

What it was she meant was painful, for the most part, but he preferred the
earth with her. That Yeats poem came again to him. *Was there another Troy for
her to burn?*

One of the mortals, seeing Cassandra nearly fall after her last effort and
obviously not held enough by her original command, used Methos' distraction and
tried to escape. Methos let Cassandra go, turned and shot. If she had been in a
better condition, he would have simply aimed for the leg, which would have
ensured the man would not run away before he could be mindwiped. But as it was,
he doubted she would even manage the six that were left without the runaway. One
of those six, a young woman, looked at the suddenly still form on the floor and
started to cry. Methos felt sick enough to throw up. Please, he thought, not
sure who he was pleading with and what he was pleading for. Still, as if she had
heard him, Cassandra closed her eyes as if collecting whatever strength she had
left. Then she went on, miraculously, against all odds, until the last of the
mortals had stumbled away. Not daring to believe, Methos went to check every
room once more, but there was no one left. When he returned to Cassandra, she
had not moved. She stood still, very still, and the vacancy of her gaze
frightened him more than anything previously. No doubt she would be furious, if
there was a Cassandra to be furious left, but the only thing that sprang to mind
was his previous radical cure. Knocking her out and killing her once again.

When he carried her outside, to the car they had rented, the sun, surprisingly,
proved it was still only early afternoon.

 

The first thing she noticed when she awoke were the unfamiliar smells in the air
that assaulted her. Or rather, the absence of smells. Nothing of animals, human
sweat or the sometimes bitter stench of the herb mixtures Hijad had taught her
to prepare. Instead, there was a faint, very faint trace of old leather, but
that was the only thing even vaguely familiar. She opened her eyes and was
horrified by what surrounded her. Not the planes of a tent, or the sky above the
desert. Instead, there were walls, but not natural, uneven walls like those of a
cave. They were smooth and straight, covered with unfamiliar, unnatural colours
and signs. Some merchants travelling through the desert who had traded with her
tribe had described the tombs in the big cities like this. So this was where she
was. A tomb. She couldn't stop the scream escaping her.

Immediately, a man came, taking her shoulders and telling her something in a
language she couldn't understand. He wore odd cloths; she had never seen anyone
dressed like this. And his hair was shorn, which in Cassandra's tribe was only
done to women on the day of their marriage, when their men claimed them and they
started a new life. It was funny, in a way, to see a man like this. The urge to
laugh battled with her fear; neither won out, but it served to calm her a bit.
"Where am I?" she asked, pronouncing each word slowly in the hope he would
understand her. Unfortunately, there wasn't any other language she could speak.
The travelling merchants had taught her some Egyptian terms, but by no means
enough for a conversation.

The man stared at her. There was something familiar about him, something in the
hazel eyes she should remember, but she couldn't. He spoke again, and again it
was incomprehensible gibberish to her. Her heart sank, but then he repeated his
answer, haltingly, in the tongue of her tribe. Still, some words simply didn't
make sense.

"Seacouver. I thought it would be best to put as much distance between us and
Lazarus as was possible, and since I didn't want to risk anymore hotels before
we have new identities, I came up with this. Mac won't mind, you know. He's used
to his friends breaking into his loft on a regular basis. It's almost Immortal
Central."

"Seacouver?" she repeated, trying the first of several unknown words. It had no
meaning to her, and it did not belong to her language; he must have adapted it
from the strange dialect he had used before.

"Well, it was a very long drive, but you weren't in a position to complain, and
I've done worse."

He became more incomprehensible by the minute. "Who are you?"

This shocked him. So she was supposed to know him. He had brought her here,
that much was obvious. Wherever "here" was. The idea came to her that she was
dreaming, a dream sent to her by the gods, who often spoke in strange images.
She looked down and noticed that she wore bizarre clothes herself. And her head
felt somewhat lighter; when her hand went to her hair she discovered it was cut,
not as much as this stranger's was, but still cut. Had she been married to him,
in the world this dream had transported her in?

"What is the last thing you remember?" he asked her, uncertainty clouding his
eyes. She tried to concentrate.

"Binding L'ul's arm," she finally replied. "Hijad was not content, he spoke a
spell as well."

"Nothing after this?" His voice sounded strange, with disbelief and an odd
note of hope intermingling. What was he hoping for? That she would remember
more, or less? Cassandra frowned.

"Something... someone arrived. I do not know who. Someone came, and we all
looked in the same direction, but... no. It's gone. There is nothing else." She
looked around, and again the similarity to a tomb made her shiver. Gathering her
courage, she asked: "Was I to be buried here?"

Comprehension dawned in Methos, a memory of what stone walls used to mean to
nomads. Still, it was incredible. There was no trace of insanity in her eyes
looking curiously at him, with a trace of discomfort because of the
unfamiliarity of the surroundings. There was no fear or hate directed at him,
nor the more recent haunted expression. Could it be? Three thousand years burned
away by that wondrous, terrible feat she had performed? There was no reason why
she should pretend something like this.

First things first. "No," he reassured her. "It is simply the custom of the
country. The people here don't live in tents. You must have heard something of
the cities in Egypt."

"So this is Egypt?"

"No. Much, much further away than Egypt."

"Did you and I travel together?"

Some shadow came and went, and then he smiled at her. "Yes." He had a very nice
smile, she decided, but she was also sure that he kept things from her. When
Mirali had worked on a new dress to present her with on the day she first bled,
the older woman had had shown just such a secretive smile.

"Did any of my tribe come with us?" she explored. "Hijad? Mirali? Dan?"

"No. I'm sorry. It was impossible."

"Why can't I remember any of this?"

"You exerted yourself by using magic," he explained, and this she could
believe. She was still unsure about the things she could do, and more often than
not they left her with a headache, just like the faint sensation she had felt
when waking up, but it was disappearing now.

"Come on, Cassandra," he said, smiling at her again. "You must be hungry. Let's
eat something, and then I will show you a bit of this country beyond the sea."
Indeed she was hungry, and said so. Then she recalled he still had not told her
his name, and asked again.

"Aragorn." There was nothing even remotely familiar in the sound, no emotion,
no memory. Surely, if he was her husband, she should at least remember his name?
Perhaps she was wrong about the significance of the shorn hair; who knew what
the custom here was. In any case, now she had a way to address him. She returned
his smile, rose, and followed him. The cold, unnatural smoothness below her feet
still felt very wrong, but she was determined not to let it frighten her
anymore. Dream or reality, he seemed to be her guide, and until he proved
otherwise, she could probably trust him.

Chapter Text

VII.

"Dio!" Falcone exclaimed, after Amy had finished translating the article for
him, which was, for Falcone, a very restrained reaction. Annette Darneau
remained silent, looking slightly queasy. Amy did not feel too well herself.
There was no doubt whose handiwork this mass amnesia, some mysterious deaths and
the destroyed research facility was, and it certainly wasn't, as the writer of
the article suspected, the product of violent animal rightists who had attacked
vivisectionists.

"Well," said the fourth member of their team callously, "that probably takes
care of the discovery problem, but it doesn't save your ass yet, Thomas. Now we
know they have been there, but we still have to track them down again."

She didn't care too much for Jan Marek, but he had a point. Ideally, Amy would
have traveled with MacLeod, found Methos, and enjoyed MacLeod roughing him up a
bit, either verbally or physically, preferably both. Then, she would have called
the others in, presenting Methos and Cassandra on a silver plate, thus restoring
her reputation. Unfortunately, they didn't trust her enough for that, and she
couldn't blame them. It was a small miracle that she had even been given this
opportunity to redeem herself instead of getting fired at once after she had to
admit to having lost Methos. She could have claimed having lost him by accident,
of course, unintentionally, but she had had about enough of lies and evasions.
Not that being duped gave a better impression than being clumsy. And now it was
worse. Of course she couldn't have stopped Methos and Cassandra, and she wasn't
even sure what they had done was not better than the alternative. But some
people were dead, and many more what could only be called brainwashed. It
chilled her to the bone. Marek alone didn't seem to be bothered by it; he was,
of course, the most experienced member of their team. She wondered, somewhat
rebelliously, whether experience always had to equal callousness.

"We will," Amy replied, trying to sound as confident as possible.

"Oh really?"

"I think he wants to be found, now that everything is over. He wouldn't have
given me the clues, otherwise."

Later, she talked to Joe who travelled with MacLeod and had, consolingly, some
difficulties dealing with the way the Lazarus Project had been destroyed
himself. She repeated the same thing. Joe's voice sounded thin through her cell
phone.

"Maybe. But surely he doesn't expect us to check every goddam hotel for A.
Strider or other Tolkien pseudonyms."

No, Amy admitted, this would take too long. If he expected them to come after
him, he would have wanted them to arrive soon.

"I've gone through what exists of his chronicles again," she confided,
depressed. "But he doesn't seem to have a favourite place in the U.S., except
Seacouver, of course."

There was a moment of silence on the other end, then Joe's voice, charged with
new energy, came through again.

"That's it! That's where he went, the calculating bastard, I'm sure of it. Amy,
I could hug you."

"Not in front of your immortal," she replied, finding some relief in the fact
she was able to tease him, after all. Joe chuckled, promised to give MacLeod
the good news and checked with her to make sure she had the address of MacLeod's
loft memorised.

Well, Amy reflected after hanging up, perhaps she was qualified to watch Methos
after all. If Joe's hunch turned out to be a wild goose chase, of course... This
was certainly not the exploration of America she had had in mind when talking to
Joe about a visit to the U.S. some months previously.

****

Showing the world to someone else, seeing familiar things through new eyes, was
a downright intoxicating experience. He should know. Showing Alexa the old
world, while knowing they were racing against time, and death could take her
away any minute. Showing Cassandra the new world was similarily time-
constrained, since amnesia in an immortal could not, would not last forever. But
on the other hand... it just might, considering the way she had gotten it. In
any case, it was a gift from the gods.

Once she got over the stench from the automobiles and their incredible
fastness, she enjoyed driving, comparing it to her old dream of moving with one
of the desert winds. He had forgotten her people had seventeen different words
for winds blowing in the desert, but she taught him anew. The skyscrapers were
palaces to her, magical palaces, enchanted giants left there till the spell was
broken. As for the food, the incredible variety of fruits and vegetables
delighted her and turned a supermarket into an overflowing oasis. The modern
sounds were a bit harder to accept, especially the blowing of horns and the
white noise a city provided on a regular basis. And she was truly disturbed by
the fact nobody but Methos was able to understand her language, and she couldn't
understand anyone else.

"There is a girl in my tribe, Dorina," she explained, "who cannot hear. Once
she nearly was run over by a mad buffalo, because she could hear neither him nor
us, screaming at her to warn her. But when she sees you and you speak very, very
slowly, and paint images with your hand, she understands a few things. Very few.
I feel a bit like Dorina, now."

"You'll learn to understand them, very quickly," he reassured her and
introduced her to ice cream, which in his opinion ranked very highly on the list
of desirable items the twentieth century had made available to everyone, right
up there with rock' n roll and that invaluable plaything, the walk-man. Watching
Cassandra treasuring the coldness and sweetness in the middle of summer brought
it back to him: the rare times he had been served ice cream in the Renaissance,
because only the nobility could afford it, and being near nobility meant being
in the public eye and prone to get murdered besides. Finding it more common by
the end of the nineteenth century, but still a luxury. And now you could buy it
everywhere, regardless of the season. It almost made you believe in progress.

When they returned to the Loft, it was almost dark again. Entering through the
gym, Methos took some time to return the locks on the front door to some
semblance of working order. He had no scruples about using MacLeod's home, but
he didn't want the Scot to be robbed by the next mugger who tried. Well,
hopefully MacLeod had had the sense to not leave anything too valuable here.

When he had finished and straightened up again, Cassandra kissed him, lightly.
It was a chaste kiss, a mere touching of lips, but under the given
circumstances, it startled him.

"What was that for?" he asked, trying for casualness.

"To find out whether you were my husband," she replied, laughing, "since I did
not want to ask."

"And? Do you think we are married?"

"No. I never kissed you before," she returned, convinced now.

Of course, that was the moment, when he took her hand and guided her inside,
that he felt the immortal signature. And not just anyone's immortal signature.
Ever since Bordeaux, he could discern the Scot from all over immortals.

"What is it?" Cassandra asked. Aragorn had gone still, like an animal
confronting its hunter, knowing it can't run away anymore. When he answered her,
his voice sounded brittle.

"The best laid plans and all. They have a way of catching up with you."

Her slight headache from the morning was returned. She attributed it to the
unpleasant noise that strange thing behind the bars made when it moved. It was
moving now, downwards. At the same time, she heard light footsteps coming down
the stairs. It was one of the many odd things about this house, that it had a
noisy magical instrument to transport you where you could just as easily go on
foot.

The noisy thing arrived first. It opened, and out came two strangers, a tall,
dark-haired man whose skin was closer to her own, tanned colour than to
Aragorn's, and an old man whose legs looked strangely stiff. The tall, dark one
looked at her and Aragorn with a mixture of relief and anger. There was
something about the scene, something about the two of them standing here and
coming out of the moving thing, that tore at her with an elusive familiarity.
Something wrong as well, like those mirrors Aragorn had shown her today, that
reflected you the other way around. But she could not make the connection.

Slightly out of breath, a young woman appeared, running down the stairs. When
she saw Aragorn, she went to him, slapped him and turned on her heels in one
fluid motion, going to the old man who shook his head, while not very
successfully hiding a grin. Aragorn, for his part, did not react at all.

Instead, he kept locking gazes with the dark one, until the other man finally
broke the silence by barking a sentence in the same unfamiliar language everyone
else talked in. By now, she had the distinct feeling her dream was turning into
a nightmare.

More incomprehensible sentences followed, this time obviously directed at her,
since he was now looking at her. She shook her head, telling him she could not
understand, and the half relieved, half betrayed look became puzzled. It did not
stop him from talking, till Aragorn turned to her.

"He wants to know what I did to you," he said resignedly.

"He knows me?"

"Oh yes. You are old friends."

The feeling of wrongness became stronger and stronger. If they were old
friends, and she did not remember, she must be missing out on a much greater
part of her past then she had thought. But first things first. Even if she could
not understand the words, the hostile body language her "old friend" now showed
towards Aragorn was unmistakable. As she would have done with Dorina, she
resorted to gestures, to show him Aragorn had not harmed her. Opening her arms,
pointing, smiling. It did not help. The questions he fired at Aragorn only
became faster, more heated.

"Is he always this furious?"

"I like to think only I have this effect on him. Now, however, you contributed
something as well. We did some things on our journey he strongly disapproves of.
Not to mention the fact that we neglected to tell him a few things, so he feels
betrayed *and* left out."

Understanding dawned. "Oh. You mean we lived together, with him, and then we
left?"

This somehow had the effect of lightening the dark mood Aragorn had fallen into
since the strangers arrived. He laughed, which made the other man look even
angrier. "No, not... not exactly," he gasped, when he could breathe again. All
this circumvention annoyed Cassandra. "So why don't you tell me what *did*
happen?" she demanded, irritated. "You are worse than Mirali when she had to
tell me about monthly bleedings!"

Abruptly, Methos sobered. It was his curse to see the funny aspects of even the
darkest of situations, but now the fun was definitely over. Reality had caught
up with him again. And it was his own fault. There Mac was, ready to protect
Cassandra even though he was angry at her as well, just as he had planned.
Bringing with him the reality of those recent deaths and annihilated memories as
well. Poetic justice, considering how he had cherished the amnesia that held
Cassandra in her grip. "Wait," he said to her, and turned to MacLeod again.

"Look at her," he said as quietly and reasonably as he could. "She truly does
not remember. She is as she was three millennia ago, before we destroyed her
village. She even believes she is mortal. It won't last, of course it won't, but
let her have this gift as long as she can. Don't tell me you wouldn't want a
chance like that."

It was true, Duncan thought, that aura of agelessness and hidden pain around
Cassandra was gone. Next to Methos stood a young woman, a bit angry and
confused, but by no means frightened or resentful. Young, incredibly young, full
of expectations, like the young woman whose existence Joe had only recently told
him about. Innocent like a mortal again.

He looked at Methos, and suddenly understood.

"Methos, you can't do this," he said, not furious but sad, for he could
comprehend the motivation all too well.

"What do you mean?"

"A second chance for Cassandra is not what you really want. You know she would
be incredibly vulnerable like this, prey for the next headhunter. It's a second
chance for you. Meeting her and treating her as you should have done the first
time. Erasing your guilt. But we can't return to the past, Methos, you taught me
that, you know."

The hazel eyes grew cold.

"You are an infant, MacLeod. You have no idea what you are talking about. Do
you think she would thank you for returning her to the way she was, memories all
intact? She was sick of it, Mac, so sick of it she even asked me to kill her. Of
course, that should sound familiar to you, but I wouldn't have thought you'd
want everyone else to share your suicidal inclinations. She is much happier this
way. Let her be."

Of course, the dammed Scot who somehow had managed to install himself as
Methos' conscience couldn't do as he was told. He couldn't even get provoked
enough to turn away in disgust. Instead, he went into full Clan Chief mode,
stern and compassionate at the same time.

"What about Alexa?"

Give the infant credit. That was a low blow, worthy of Methos himself. "What
does Alexa have to do with this?" But he knew.

"Once, when Warren Cochrane had lost *his* memory, you told me it might be a
good thing, to start again like this. Since everyone had things they'd rather
forget. But when I asked you whether you would want this for yourself, you said
no, for who would remember Alexa then? Methos," Duncan came closer, near enough
to see he looked exhausted and couldn't have slept too much in the last days,
either, "Cassandra has more than just pain in her past. There were people she
loved just as much as you loved Alexa, and whom nobody else can remember. You
can't take that away from her."

No, he couldn't, not after taking some of them away the first time around, but
couldn't MacLeod have left him the illusion for a short time longer? That was
the trouble with illusions. They tended to evaporate pretty quickly.

"Let's ask her."

"What?"

"She is an adult, MacLeod. She was an adult when Kronos killed her. She can
make her own decisions, she doesn't need you to make them for her. And before
you ask, I promise to explain it to her so that she can understand it. Assuming
you'll accept my word."

He didn't wait for a reply. Of course MacLeod would accept his word, and the
cursed thing with faith like this was that one felt obliged to honour it.

"Cassandra," he said, gently, since this was probably the last time he could
use this tone with her, "you were ill. You forgot many things. There might be
away to bring your memory back to you, to cure this illness."

She had always been good on intuition, had Cassandra. Now she immediately
discovered what he had left unsaid. Curious and disturbed at the same time, the
stated: "You do not want me to remember."

"That is incidental. Some of the memories will be very painful to you. Others
might be very happy. Unfortunately, I only know about the painful ones, but
then, we have known each other for a very short time, compared with the rest of
your life."

This was stranger than everything else. He had given her the impression that
they were very familiar with each other. In fact, she had known there was
something about him she was supposed to remember before he had spoken his first
word to her. As for the rest of what he had said... To be robbed of your past
was intolerable. And a cure was often connected with pain. She was a healer, she
knew all about this. Yet the patient was grateful, in the end. It was not a hard
decision to make.

"I'm sorry," he said. "It might not even work. And if it doesn't, it will be
the last time I will do this to you, I promise."

Before she could ask what he meant, she felt an incredible pain in her chest.
Disbelieving, she stared at him, at the knife that had just left his hands.
"Why?" she heard herself ask, as the sensation of pain and betrayal tore her
down into a dark, absorbing tunnel, but she never heard his answer.

Chapter Text

IX.

"You bastard," MacLeod said, catching Cassandra as she fell. Amy and Joe were
deathly pale. Amy he could understand, but surely Joe should be used to this
sort of things from his immortal circle by now.

"Oh, but I learned from you, Mac. You want Cassandra to remember? Then let's
treat her like Cochrane and confront her with the original trauma. And let's do
it now, just to get this over with."

The taunting felt stale, but lashing out at Duncan helped somehow, so he went
on with it.

"Of course, this is just the first act. I'll need your help with the staging
now. You have a blanket somewhere here, or is this gym not equipped with these
things?"

"What are you..."

"...Planning? It should be obvious by now. I'll give you a first row seat in a
little personal melodrama, right out of the Bronze Age."

There was a blanket. He wrapped Cassandra in it, leaving the knife in place to
ensure she would not awaken too early. Then he carried her to his car, followed
by a silent, but visibly seething MacLeod. Amy seemed to have her own vehicle;
the survivor in him noticed such things as being followed by a Watcher. Or two,
in this case. She wisely had taken Joe with her, which was just as well. It
might be better if Joe saw the whole thing from a distance.

There were no skulls on exhibition in Seacouver, but a cemetery would do
nicely. Cassandra could not fail but pick up the atmosphere, especially if her
memories started to kick in. MacLeod, sitting next to him but keeping a worried
eye on Cassandra in the back seat of the car, one or twice opened his mouth,
only to close it again. Clever of him. The self-loathing Methos felt at that
point might just be enough to make him lash out unforgivably, if MacLeod said
one more word, and heaven knew the Scot had enough vulnerabilities to slice and
dice him verbally if one wanted. Keep silent, Mac, Methos thought, and I might
settle for a pantomine.

Thankfully, the duly found cemetery provided enough parking space so that they
could stop at once. Before he took Cassandra, Methos removed the knife, making
sure it remained highly visible fastened at his belt. The dusk had turned to
darkness, but right now, he could have cared less about any mortals making
pilgrimages to their graves. There didn't seem to be any left, though. Just as
he had done three thousand years ago, he threw Cassandra on the ground and tore
the blanket away.

"Surprise. You live."

She stared at him, confused, hurt, but with rising hate in her eyes, then,
right on cue, jumped at him to get at his knife.

"You'll have to try harder than that."

MacLeod, watching them, looked slightly sick. No wonder. The only other time he
had seen this was when Methos threw his past in Duncan's face, at the car, and
then it had just been words, not actions. Well, my friend, this is how it was.
No need to imagine it anymore.

"Hijad, my people - take me to them!"

"You want to see them?" Do you know, Cassandra, that this was when I decided to
keep you longer than just for the night? The original plan was just one night,
or two, and then your head. But anyone who had spirit enough to attack me and
make demands while barely recovered from their first death was worth more
attention, would provide longer amusement. *Not sane*? We defined the true
parameters of sickness back then.

"There they are!"

And then it started. He could see the memory dawning in her eyes. Her next
words were not uttered with the horrified comprehension she had shown then, but
with the deathly calm of judgement.

"You killed them. All of them."

"Including you."

When he touched her again, MacLeod tensed, obviously ready to interfere. This
was about all the abuse he was prepared to witness. Four centuries, and still
naive in some ways. You think this was bad? I was barely getting started.
Cassandra did not withdraw, nor did she stare at her vanished wound, as the
newborn immortal she had been had done, three millennia ago. Instead, she looked
at him, eyes burning.

"You. Methos."

He sighed. It was enough. She had said it in English. Confusion and innocence
were gone. In front of him stood an immortal, one of the ancients, hammered by
the same anvil as he had been. *Once out of nature, I shall never take/ My
bodily form from any natural thing.* But she had done. For a very short while.
"It was necessary", he said, waiting for her to attack him again. She glanced
from him to MacLeod, and back again.

"Damn you."

It was not clear which of them she was addressing. Suddenly he felt very, very
tired. Raiding and killing did that to you. He turned away, sitting down on one
of the grave stones while Duncan rushed to Cassandra.

"Are you..."

"Oh yes," she said, tonelessly. "I am as well as we can be. And headblind, it
seems."

"What do you mean?"

"The only way I can sense any of you is the immortal way. I can't hear Prokne's
voice in my head anymore. And," briefly, she closed her eyes, as if trying to
summon something. "Yes. It is gone as well. You could call it justice. I shall
never be able to use the Voice again."

Duncan didn't quite know what to respond, considering he had always disliked
the idea of powers like hers, or Garrick's. Or Coltec's, for that matter. Though
all of them had been good people, it had only brought them grief, and caused a
great deal of damage in the end. He still was troubled by what she had done to
those mortals of the Lazarus Project, but if he had learned one thing in recent
years, it was how two-edged any sort of judgement could be. Besides, he was just
thankful she and Methos had survived, with their heads and minds intact.
Frowning, he looked at Methos, who sat with his back to them. Without being
told, he could guess how the eldest immortal felt. Torn, he glanced at Cassandra
again, not sure which friend to comfort. As if in reply, she shook her head.
Then, to his surprise, he saw her go to Methos, touching him slightly on the
shoulder.

"Thank you."

"You can't be serious," Methos replied, incredulously. "I just put you through
hell."

"It seems to be an habit, to both of us." Carefully sitting down next to him,
she continued: "I think... I think I should leave cities behind for a while.
Go to the mountains."

"The Himalaya," Methos returned, tentatively, but feeling that ill-advised
sense of humour which came to him in the most ill-suited of situations rise
again, "is supposed to be very nice this time of year."

"Or any time of the year. For a year," Cassandra said, not looking at him,
while MacLeod decided he would never, ever comprehend the ancients.

 

"Did you get that?" Joe asked, stunned. Among the minor miracles of this day
was that Amy had finally, while distracting him with her slap, managed to get a
bug on Methos. Thus, they heard every word the immortals uttered. Since Marek,
who had claimed he still didn't trust Amy on her own, sat behind the wheel,
ready to drive as soon as the immortals decided to leave the cemetery, Amy could
turn to Joe after making sure the recording still ran.

"Yes," she said crossly. "Don't worry, you won't miss him for long. If he
believes I'm willing to settle down in the Himalaya just because he and
Cassandra are on a trip for enlightenment, he should think twice about it."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Marek demanded suspiciously. "You are a
Watcher, Thomas; you can't tell your immortal where to live just to suit your
needs."

"Oh, *I* won't tell him. One year. One year in the Himalaya could even be
interesting, and certainly an adventure. After that, I'll collect my debts."

"Meaning?" Joe asked, torn between amusement and the peculiar kind of terror
parents felt when their children did something outrageous. It was a new
sensation for him, and he couldn't quite decide whether it was a pleasant one.

Amy smiled, thinly.

"I'll send MacLeod after them again, of course."

 

THE END