"So I guess you liked the trip?" – Sandra Alister, listed in Watcher files as Cassandra, told to Nikki Rodgers, her 17-years-old adopted daughter. They were standing on a balcony in a hotel room in Oslo; it was their last night in Norway, the following day they were flying back to Scotland after a water trip along the fiords. Officially, the trip was a present from Sandra to Nikki, a reward for her brilliant graduating from school and entering college. Unofficially… For Cassandra, Norway fiords were one of the most favorite places in the world, she's always liked showing them to her beloved – students, lovers and children. Like Nikki. And Nikki's delights were the best reward for Cassandra herself.
…In fact, 12 years ago least of all Cassandra had been thinking about adopting a mortal child. She'd been recovering after Bordeaux, coming to terms with everything that had happened. She had failed to kill Kronos (actually, she hadn't had any chance at all), but nevertheless he was dead, because Duncan, Duncan MacLeod had again played the champion, this time without any prophecies. But Methos, Methos was still alive, alive, because Duncan spoke on his behalf. At least Cassandra preferred to think so, that it had been Duncan's plea that had saved Methos and not her own lack of courage and determination. She'd been trying to accept all this, when sad news had reached her, that her friends Rick and Marta Rodgers (Rick worked in a detective agency, which had helped her track Kronos down) had got killed in the highlands. They'd had no relatives or closer friends, so their daughter, 5-years-old angel called Nikki, had been left in Cassandra's care. At first she hadn't been intending to raise Nikki herself (the girl simply deserved someone better than an unstable Immortal waking up screaming at least once a night) and had been trying to find a proper family for her. But it wasn't easy, and couple of months later Cassandra had suddenly realized that she couldn't part with Nikki. They had managed to help each other in their miseries, and had become family.
They lived in a quiet place; no Immortals had crossed their paths and no accidents with cars, ladders or knives had occurred, so Nikki hadn't suspected anything strange about her adopted mother yet. And now she was leaving home. Cassandra knew that soon she would have to make the decision, either to tell Nikki the truth, or to disappear from her life forever. She had made that choice hundreds of times in her life, and each time it became more and more difficult. Modern technologies had made the world very small. Today you couldn't just hide your not ageing behind the letters and distant calls, today they had web-cameras and supersonic planes… On the other hand, the existence of cosmetics and plastic surgery allowed Immortals to use the same identity for longer without causing suspicion. Nikki was still a kid; she must become an adult person before being forced to deal with an incredible truth or another loss. And so far Cassandra would have that time, 5 or maybe even 10 years. Of course, if she was careful enough with challenges and accidents.
But there are things you can't foresee or avoid, no matter how careful you are. For instance, a drugged idiot on a motorbike…
He cut into their car on the way to the Oslo airport. And it wasn't Cassandra's secret that was in danger, but Nikki's life! Seating in the ambulance, flying to the nearest hospital, Cassandra held Nikki's hand and prayed. She prayed that modern medicine really learned how to work miracles.
The ambulance finally arrived at the hospital entrance and that very moment Cassandra felt an Immortal Presence outside.
Dr. Alan Mathews, listed in secret Watcher files as Methos, rushed to the hospital entrance and froze half-way, feeling a "buzz". There was an Immortal in the ambulance. Paramedics reported about a badly injured 17-year-old… and her mother "without a scratch". "Damn it, it might have been better the other way round…" They opened the doors of the ambulance and rolled out the stretcher. Yeah, the girl was definitely mortal… and nearly dying. Methos had no time to study an Immortal woman; he only hurled "Please, wait out here, we'll do everything possible", and they hurried to the operating-room.
Cassandra remained there, totally lost. Some girl from the hospital registry lead her inside, gave her a large cup of coffee and started telling her something about "the best surgeon in Norway" and everything being ok, but Cassandra hardly listened. That surgeon was Immortal. Not just an Immortal, but him, she clearly saw his face. And that was entirely impossible, she must have been mistaken. He was just a surgeon and was now struggling for Nikki's life, while she could only pray.
"Well done, Alan. She'll survive."
"Yeah," Methos wiped his forehead. It was a heavy battle, but now Nikki must survive. She'll even be okay, if everything was done properly, but that he'd monitor himself. "I'll talk to her mother." Immortals, who had enough courage to adopt mortal children, had his respect a priory.
"Ms. Alister, Nikki is out of danger now, we…" and there he suddenly stopped, finally recognizing her. Cassandra. His personal Nemesis.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I hope we'll be able to transfer her from the resuscitation unit tomorrow."
"Can I see her?"
To any other person he would say no.
"Yes. But please be quiet."
Nikki was the only one serious patient during the day, but Methos had no time to contemplate what had happened. And when he finally got home, he simply didn't want to think about it. Fate has her own sense of humor, but he'd always known that. And today's meeting certainly was not the strangest one in his life.
A sudden phone call interrupted his philosophic dialog with the microwave.
"Alan Mathews speaking."
"Hi, Alan, it's Joe."
"Hi, Joe! Nice to hear you, how are things back there?"
"More or less, more or less. Look, I'm calling to warn you, Cassandra might be in town."
"Yeah, I know. We've met."
"And?" asked Joe cautiously.
"And nothing, Joe. Her girl was injured in a car crash and arrived during my shift. She'll survive, but right now Cassandra has other things on her mind than making scenes."
"Absolutely. Joe, thanks for caring, and I mean it, but Alan Mathews is perfectly safe from Cassandra."
"Let's hope so…"
"And Joe… Please, don't trouble MacLeod with this, ok?"
"Ok. Just be careful, old man."
Cassandra spent most of her time in the hospital, being with Nikki every minute when it was allowed. The girl really was doing better, and, as anxiety for Nikki backed away a little, another question began to occupy Cassandra's mind. She hadn't been wrong, it was him. Alan Mathews, young, gentle, a little bit reserved, but very talented surgeon, was Methos. And that was totally unbelievable. Well, she could believe that he wasn't interested in killing and power any more, hadn't been for centuries or even millennia, but a doctor? He certainly needn't to work for a living, and medicine wasn't a kind of things one does just for entertainment. So why? She nearly wanted to ask him directly, but, for better or worse, she hadn't met him since the first day, though felt his Presence a couple of times. And… What should she do with the fact that he apparently had saved Nikki's life?
"It didn't matter much, when he had saved yours, did it?" asked some annoying voice in her head.
One day, more than a week after the accident, Cassandra was leaving the hospital later than usual. It had been a really mad day there, because of a big explosion somewhere in the city. Not terrorists, something civilian, but dead and wounded were still dead and wounded. Suddenly she felt the Presence and then saw him, he was standing in one of the dark corners of hospital's courtyard. Leaning on the wall, he was trying to light a cigarette. His hands were trembling and finally he dropped the lighter right to Cassandra's feet. She picked it up silently and helped him light up.
"Thanks," he muffled, inhaling.
"Have seen better."
"The score? Life leads 16 to 5, here and for now."
They kept silence for a little.
"How is your girl?"
"Better. Already wants to be discharged."
"Good," he nearly smiled.
"Cassandra, don't. Dr. Mathews was doing his work, and Sandra Alister might be grateful to him, if she wants to, but it changes nothing between us."
He was right, of course. What was happening now couldn't change anything that happened 12 years or 3 millennia ago. But still…
"Methos, what are you doing here? Trying to prove something to someone?"
"Me? Oh, no. Just deceiving the Curse."
"The Curse?" She asked, bewildered.
"You spent a lot of time on British islands; you should be familiar with Irish folklore. There was one wise guy there, Dark Patrick… " here he was interrupted by his bleeper. He read the message, swore under his breath and rushed back to the hospital, leaving Cassandra even more confused.
Nikki was now strong enough to feel bored, and she still liked tales. So when Cassandra bought "Folk tales of world's nations" in the nearest bookstore, officially it was for Nikki. She had deliberately skipped the Irish part while reading the book aloud in the hospital, but later, in a hotel room, she studied it very carefully. And, much to her amazement, she had found the quote Methos had referred to. It was from a tale entitled "Dark Patrick and Cromachy of the crows."
And then Dark Patrick addressed to the second prince:
"What is your name?"
"My name is Darmid."
"What curse did you deserve?"
"I shall become a murderer and will not let a knife out of my hands for the whole life."
Dark Patrick turned to the palpitating queen and said:
"Send Darmid to the best medical school immediately! Let him study and become a doctor!
Then his knife will not be the knife of a murderer."
Finally there came the day of Nikki's discharging. Methos came to see them off, although he wasn't quite sure if it was a good idea. But nothing extraordinary happened. He and Cassandra exchanged some medical advice and meaningless words, as Dr. Matthews and Ms. Alister, and then he helped her to settle Nikki in the car. But after that she suddenly turned to him and asked in low voice and Ancient Greek:
"Does it help? Medicine against the Curse, I mean?"
"Yeah," he answered, slightly amazed. "Usually does".
She smiled. Damn it, it made her beautiful!
"Interesting… I'll think about it." She got in the car and took off. He followed her with his eyes and self-ironic smile on his lips.
Honestly, 12 years ago, when he'd created Alan Matthews as a convenient identity for medical school, the last thing he'd been thinking about was impressing Cassandra. It's just… Tibet monastery had been out of question (mostly because of Joe, and leaving MacLeod without tending for long might have been dangerous); Darius and Rebecca were dead… So medicine had been the only known way to deal with his demons and ghosts. And they had become extremely nasty after corresponding events. And medicine had worked, as usual. "Maybe better, than ever," he thought, casting a last glance on the road. After all, Cassandra was the only one Immortal left, whose age was at least comparable to his. If they became able to talk to each other, it would be good. For both of them. And now it seemed possible.