Cassandra is old now, truly. Ancient beneath skin that whispers of youth even when weathered by sun, sand, and wind alike. She's old and she feels every single moment of it as she clutches her sword and stumbles away from Duncan and him.
Hot tears streak her cheeks, scalding against the cold seeping into her skin, and she knows that she's weeping, but for what she can't say. So much is screaming in her mind, so much turmoil, and as much as part of her wants to go back and strike Methos down, there's another part which wishes to go back and...
Cassandra curses, shrieking a word in a language she doesn't remember much of, and slams a hand against the wall. She feels bones crack and give with the force of it, but pays them no mind. They heal. Flesh is easy that way. Bone even more so.
It's been thousands of years since she last saw Methos. Thousands of years since she suffered beneath his hands. Thousands of years since she fled into the night and across the desert, dying again and again until an Immortal woman had found her. She'd picked Cassandra up outside her tent and brought her in from the night's merciless chill, gentle in her mercy. So many years and yet to feel another Immortal's presence steal over her mind, and see that woman standing by a car in the Bordeaux dawn, leaves Cassandra feeling as if no time has passed at all.
She hasn't the strength to smile, not even when she sees her teacher's face and hears Hadassah murmur her name, but she feels it just the same. It spreads through her like a balm to her spirit, as comforting as the ancient song that Hadassah hums beneath her breath as they drive away.
She falls asleep to the sound and the memories it evokes. She dreams of the tent, of Hadassah's gentle hands washing the dirt from her body, the lessons with a blade and with herbs, all the things Hijad hadn't known how to teach her.
When she wakes, they're on the shores of a lake she doesn't remember, outside a small house.
Hadassah is kneeling by her at the car door, there's a bowl of water in her hands and a soft, warm cloth brushing over Cassandra's brow.
"Just like old times," her teacher says with a grin.
"So it would seem." Cassandra waits for Hadassah to move before she gets out. "Is this your home?"
"One of the newer ones," Hadassah agrees. She turns. "Come inside. You need to eat something."
"How did you find me?" she asks, stopping to reach for her sword only to realize she doesn't have it. She thinks about that for a moment, looking at her hands, nearly forgetting the question she's just asked. She can see the axe that she'd held in them and Methos on the ground before her, weeping. She thinks of what she'd wanted to do, of what she'd nearly done, and some small part of her rebels at the thought. A part of her she doesn't care to acknowledge screams in protest at the thought of killing him and the wave of revulsion that swiftly follows threatens to drive her to her knees.
She's used to the feeling, though, and its swiftly driven aside. He's been a contradiction within her thoughts and always has been.
"A friend called."
If Cassandra didn't know her so well as she does, she might believe Hadassah hasn't noticed her silence. She looks up with a faint grin and finds Hadassah watching her.
"A friend? I didn't realize you knew Duncan MacLeod?"
Hadassah smiles. "I don't."
It isn't an explanation, but her teacher has long been fond of puzzles and, in truth, so is she. There's something to be learned from solving a riddle. Not so much in the answer itself as in the process by which one works it out.
She lets this one slip to the back of her mind while she falls into step with her teacher. "It's good to see you again."
"You mean it's a relief to know I'm still alive?" Hadassah asks. "I could say the same for you."
They've never been particularly good about staying in touch, but then they've never had to be. The winds seem to bring them together whenever one of them needs it. Cassandra has picked her teacher's body up from the ruins of her beloved city, smuggled her past Romans and barbarians alike until they were safely north and at the furthest edge of the Empire's reach.
She remembers the sound of Hadassah's weeping, the quiet agony of it, and feels the control over her own sorrow begin to slip.
"It was him, wasn't it?" she asks. "Methos called you."
"Yes," Hadassah says, wrapping an arm around her. "He did. Come inside, Cassandra."
They are Immortals, she and her teacher, and theirs is a relationship which has spanned generations. She looks at Hadassah and sees friend/lover/companion and knows she should add traitor to the list. Part of her is screaming to now, with this revelation, but Cassandra finds she can't.
She leans into Hadassah instead and allows herself to be led.
She sleeps for days, it seems. The bed is a large one, sinful in its comfort, and she sinks into it like she should never rise again. When she does, though, there is food waiting in the form of soup on the stove.
Hadassah makes no appearance. In the aftermath of her revelation, Cassandra isn't surprised. She isn't grateful, exactly, but the reprieve is well needed and well used. It's days before her teacher returns to the cottage, the strength of her presence bringing Cassandra to the door to find her heading up from the car.
Her arms are loaded with bags and Cassandra steps out into the cool dawn to help her with them. There's no wariness in the way Hadassah looks at her, just a comfortable concern. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thank you." Cassandra catches the look on Hadassah's face and smiles. "No dreams." The response from her teacher is a gusty sigh of relief that makes her laugh. It isn't precisely a happy sound, but it's near enough for her to add, "The only battles I fight now are with my ghosts."
"Mm, familiar ground." Hadassah sweeps into the house, depositing the bags on tables and begins to unpack. There is wine and herbs that bring back memories to make Cassandra smile. It's familiar and comfortable and Cassandra can nearly forget what brought her to this place.
The Horsemen are dead. Well, nearly. She feels the weight of the axe in her grip and shivers.
A sound of metal and cloth thudding onto the table draws her from her thoughts and she looks to find Hadassah unwrapping a sword. It's one she remembers. One of her own she hasn't seen in decades.
"You'll be needing this," Hadassah says, picking up the sword and tossing it to her. "Your other blade is still with MacLeod."
"I didn't realize you had this," Cassandra says, wiping the cloth along the blade.
"I didn't. I helped myself to one of your cottages. Found it in the bedroom."
Cassandra knows which one and smiles.
"Care to try it out?"
She wraps a hand around the hilt of her sword and nods. "Yes, I think so."
They end up in a field just beyond the cottage. The morning is a chilly one, but they soon feel warm enough. The sound of their blades fills the air and sets the birds to loud protest, but neither Immortal pays them any regard.
They are not the sort of opponents one takes eyes away from even for an instant.
"Hasn't it ever occurred to you, Cassandra, how strange it was that we should meet the way we did?"
Cassandra hefts the blade in her hand, feels the balance of the sword, and savors the ease with which it moves through the air. This was a blade made for her, gifted to her centuries ago, by the very woman watching her work with it. She raises as if to strike and yelps when Hadassah sweeps her legs from beneath her.
She's laughing when she hits the ground, breathless, and holds out a hand to be helped up. "Of course," she says. "I think often of that night. I thought you sent by the gods to save me."
Hadassah's smile falters. "And if I said I'd been sent by the devil himself?"
This time, when Cassandra falls, she isn't laughing. She lets the sword fall from numb fingers as the implications sink in. "No.."
Her teacher nods and kneels beside her. Her sword stays nestled across her thighs, one hand holding it still. "I met Methos before the Horsemen. I saw what he was becoming, I watched him draw away from mortals and their world, I felt him grow cold and hard. I was young, then. Younger than him, but old enough to know when to run." She draws a breath and Cassandra realizes she's shaking as the truth of a millennia old lie spills out of her. "I don't know how much time passed between the time you escaped them and he was able to find me, but when he did, he told me of you and asked for my help."
Cassandra stares at her in stunned silence. Some part of her is whispering that it makes sense, explains much, and she although its breaking her heart to hear it, although she knows what Hadassah will say next, she sits and lets her teacher speak.
"I sheltered you when you fled the Horsemen. I sheltered him when he did the same."
Cassandra hears the scream split the air, the utter rage of it shocking her, but she doesn't realize until her sword strikes that of her teacher's that it is she making the sound.
She stares down at Hadassah and feels the edges of their blades where they cut into her skin.
Pushing away, she throws her sword aside and flees. Hadassah doesn't follow.
Cassandra returns to the cottage, chilled to the bone, and slams the door shut behind her. She screams again, as if she can expel the turmoil in one go, but it solves nothing. Instead, she's left weary and hurt and sinks to the floor in a heap. She's still there when the sense of another Immortal brings her gaze to the door.
"You can come in," she says, weary. "I've no weapons to kill you with anyway."
Hadassah's answer to that is to lay Cassandra's sword at her feet.
"That isn't an invitation," she says, kneeling down to start a fire. "I should lecture you about abandoning your weapon when you need it most, but we've covered that before."
Cassandra grunts, leaning back against the sofa. It's soft against her neck, but she doesn't care. "You've known where to find him all this time?"
"Not all of it," Hadassah says, eyes on her work. The fire sparks, fizzles, and she leans in to blow at it. "Methos is even more difficult to find than you, but then, he had the Horsemen to hide from."
"I don't care what he told you," Cassandra says, and means it. She doesn't want to hear the tearful stories of Methos' departure from the Horsemen, but she can imagine what he must have told her in those days. He always was quiet poetic.
"You assume that I was going to tell you," Hadassah says. "I'm not interested in defending him."
"You want him to live," Cassandra snaps. "That's defending him."
"You're not going to kill him," Hadassah sits back as the fire begins to burn. "You would have done that in Bordeaux."
Cassandra sighs, the fight draining out of her. "Duncan asked me not to."
"I nearly killed him for what he did to you." Hadassah looks different in the firelight. Without illumination from the lamp on the table, its easy to pretend they are in her tent at the edge of the tribe. Cassandra breathes in a breath and can smell the oil of the lamps and the herbs drying over the fire. "I shouldn't have been able to."
Cassandra laughs and hates the bitter edge of the sound. "You mean he meant for you to kill him?"
"No," Hadassah shakes her head. "I mean he didn't care whether he lived or died. You know as well as I, Cassandra, that knowing how to survive means nothing if there is no will behind it and the strongest will can be broken."
Despite her fury, Cassandra tries to picture it. She cannot imagine Methos so broken, however much it might be possible. She shakes her head, banishing the thought, and looks at Hadassah. "I've spent thousands of years hating that man, and now I discover you've been protecting him this entire time? If you were anyone else, I think I might kill you for that."
"If I were anyone else, you would." Hadassah smiles. "Honestly, I don't know who I was protecting. Neither one of you spends the time with the blade that you should."
Cassandra spares a moment to duck her head at that, chagrined to admit the truth. The younger Immortals that have come up to follow them are no match for her abilities, there's almost no need to remember the blade with most. "Yes, well, as much as I've been attempting to rectify that, it isn't the point."
"It was an impossible choice," Hadassah says. "I watched him become a stranger, I watched him become Death, but I watched him come back from that. In turn, I watched you remake yourself after the Horsemen. You were shattered, mere ash and bone, but you rose from that to become something so much more. You're my better, Cassandra, in so many ways that I can't begin to tell you, but when Methos enters the picture—"
"I go back." Cassandra curls an arm around her knee, tucks it beneath her chin, and stares at the flames. She has always loved fire; the warmth of it, the light, and the cleansing power of its flames. With her free hand, she reaches out to hold her palm above them and feel them lick at her palm.
She winces and pulls back. The skin is already healed by the time she turns her hand over for inspection.
"I go back and you worried I would lose myself in it."
"Mostly I just worried, but yes, there was some of that involved as well. We Immortals are a peculiar lot," Hadassah says. "For all that we grow and change, when you dig down deep, you find who we were waiting at the core. All that we were and saw before we died stays with us."
"And in my case it is what came after that lingers the strongest." The pain, the anger, and the scars that will never be able to physically mar her body. "I—he said—I thought I loved him."
"Didn't you?" Hadassah gets up and goes into the kitchen. Cassandra listens to her rattle around and isn't surprised when she returns with two glasses and a bottle of wine. She pours one for Cassandra then herself and retreats to the window seat.
The distance is good. Cassandra stretches her legs out and sips the wine. She's too tired, now, for the rage that had burned in her when Methos had spoken of it. Too tired and too empty to even think of it. She's felt too much in recent days, had too much pulled up and stirred about, and she's beyond trying right now.
"After a fashion," she admits. "Part of me hates myself for that."
"Then there's the part of you that feels it still."
Cassandra ignores that. It's something she's battled with for thousands of years. It won't get settled over good wine and a warm fire, however much she wishes it might. She sips her wine instead. "You expect me to forgive him, do you?"
The idea is laughable at best and Hadassah at least acknowledges that with the smirk that it deserves. "It would be nice, but forgiveness is a tricky thing." She's settled in at the window and looks so relaxed Cassandra can almost pretend there isn't a sword tucked behind that cushion or a half-dozen weapons secreted about the room that Hadassah could easily reach even before Cassandra could get halfway across the room.
It's their way, of course, and one of the first things that she learned. Even the Immortals who can be trusted in theory must never be trusted in truth.
Of course, counting Methos as one of her friends, Cassandra can see why Hadassah would believe such.
"It isn't about him, I know," Cassandra says. "I forgave myself long ago."
Cassandra looks into the wine.
There are no wise words from her teacher about that. Even though they're easy enough to find. Cassandra can think of the ones she would say in Hadassah's place. She can hear her own voice speaking of the belief that killing Methos would excise him from the darkest corner of her heart and soul where he's kept himself buried for three thousand years. It's easy to imagine the softness of her own voice speaking of the dream of wiping out the Horsemen to save herself from her own demons being just that—a dream. Such freedoms are not borne of bloodshed, no matter how much humanity might believe otherwise.
She would be right as Hadassah would be now, but there is a wisdom in silence and Cassandra willingly embraces it.
By unspoken agreement, they leave the swords when they get up the next morning. There are herbs waiting to be worked with and old skills to be brushed up on. It's good work, clean work, and Cassandra needs it.
Sometimes, she catches Hadassah watching her, but she never says anything and they continue on.
It all feels so familiar that Cassandra can almost lose herself in the ease of it. She can almost forget why she's come here and what she's run away from. Almost, because one can never escape oneself.
Each night, when she sleeps, she dreams of Methos, of all the ways it might have gone for him, and feels such sorrow when she wakes that she's not entirely sure who's dreams she's having. If her turmoil is noticed, it isn't remarked upon.
She's left to her own thoughts and, for that, she's grateful even though she knows she needn't be.
At any rate, she isn't sure what she would say if asked. She doesn't want to think of Methos at all and, yet, she should find the idea of his torment satisfying in its way.
"I won't forgive him," she says, crushing seeds.
"So you've said."
Cassandra's hands still in their work and she feels lost, lets herself truly acknowledge it. Her voice sounds like that of a stranger when she asks, "What happened—after?"
It takes some time before Hadassah says, "Pain."
Cassandra asks her nothing after that.
"I don't know that I can forgive him."
She's whispering, speaking to the night as it closes in, but that's all she can do right now. Thousands of years to get her to this point. Part of her hopes that it doesn't take thousands more to change it, and Cassandra lets that part be. There's a victory in its existence.
"But someday, I might."