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Graduation

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Joe would not have recognized her if her watcher had not given him a heads up. Cassandra's hair was short, spiky and dyed pink. It matched the t-shirt she was wearing with jeans.

Since he didn't know how old her current identity was he asked to see an ID before serving her. She was supposedly 21. There weren't many other customers around yet and as a good bartender and a good watcher he should try to strike up a conversation. But he sure as hell wasn't going to make the first move here. Finally Cassandra spoke, "Is Prof. Pierson going to be coming in tonight, do you know?"

"Why do you want to know?"

Cassandra stayed in character, though, and looked rather nervous at his hostile tone, "I, I just wanted tot talk to him."

Damn, Joe wondered how these ancient immortals could project such young and almost innocent characters. And why did he fall for it even when he knew it was just an act? "He'll probably come around," he finally answered rather grudgingly.

This was going to be an interesting evening Joe thought as Duncan finally showed up in response to his urgent call. It was funny actually seeing his face with he first set eyes on the new and much changed Cassandra. He had hoped that Duncan could get the reason for her visit, however she just stayed in character and would talk about her history thesis and "the renowned linguistics professor, Dr. Adam Pierson."

When Methos finally came in it was even more frustrating since, after only the briefest of pauses he continued in the character of Adam Pierson. And so, while Joe Dawson and Duncan MacLeod gnashed their teeth, Prof. Adam Pierson and student Julia Benson discussed her college thesis.

It was so frustrating that both Joe and Duncan almost missed it when Julia said, "I still hate you, you know, but I won't be hunting you." Cassandra paused. "And I wanted to thank you for helping me survive. And to let you know that I am recovering."

"You're welcome. Everyone goes through something similar eventually, if they live long enough."

"What are you talking about?" Mac asked the question Joe was dying to ask.

Methos just shrugged, but after a pause Cassandra answered, "I wasn't sane that year. And it was not a sudden change. I was experiencing some really intense flashbacks and couldn't seem to fit into the modern world. The world has changed so much so quickly and I couldn't handle it. After Bordeaux though, someone sent me the address of a psychiatrist. A woman with an interesting tattoo on her wrist."

This time everyone looked at Methos, but he just shrugged again, and said, "I'm glad you're surviving. I'll enjoy seeing you around over the next few millennium."

"You were my teacher and I'm beginning to see you were a good one, if not at all ... nice."

At Duncan's look of surprise she added, "I'm the oldest female immortal by quite a bit."

"I wondered if you could tell me why, though. Why were you a horseman, and why did you train me to survive anything?"

When Methos finally responded he said, "perhaps we could move this in to the office."

They all readily agreed. Joe checked with his staff to make sure the bar could run without his supervision for the night. Once they were all settled, Methos began his explanation.

"I loved Kronos. He was everything that was wonderful: strong, smart, empathic, funny, but above all, someone who could survive with me through time." Methos paused. "Except, of course, for the game which made us enemies. However we ignored it. Other immortals would come along and we would fight, but we tried to ignore the game which said we had to fight each other. Then one day two other immortals came along and we fought and Kronos and I shared a double quickening.

"That gave me an idea. If we could hunt other immortals and share the quickenings released, eventually we would become as one and could win the game together.

"So we set off to win the game. And so the horsemen formed."

"Just like that, you decided to kill a bunch of mortals?" Duncan was offended.

"No. Just like that we decided to kill a bunch of immortals. The mortals simply didn't matter. For that matter, they still don't matter that much to me. My friends matter, my acquaintances matter, hell, even my enemies matter, but people I don't know, I don't really care so much about." Methos shrugged.

"And Caspian and Silas?" Dawson asked this question before Duncan managed to make a mess of things, but he also wanted to think about what Methos had just said and it's implications. It had been suggested before that the Prize was telepathy and knowledge of everyone everywhere. If Methos won this, then wouldn't everyone suddenly come under his protection? Methos avoided killing people he knew, and protected those he had claimed as his. What would the world be like, if Methos were keeping an eye out for everyone the way he currently did for Duncan? But this thought could be explored later, now he was in danger of missing Methos' explanation.

"The two of us, well, we loved each other, but weren't really stable as a pair. No two people are perfectly stable. There needs to be some extra give to a relationship that's intended to last for eternity. And so we carefully selected two other immortals to join us: two very different personality types who would still fit well with us. And we were a quite stable group. Stayed together for a thousand years, could have stayed together for a thousand more.

"Except that I had noticed something: The number of immortals wasn't decreasing. If anything it was increasing. We were not winning the game and not sparking the gathering. And after the first hundred or so shared quickenings, we weren't even growing closer together.

"Since we were accomplishing nothing I wanted to stop, knew that we had to stop, but the power and the rage and finally the knowledge of our true lack of power only enraged Caspian and put Kronos in denial. And so the raids became even more violent and the tortures more extreme.

"When I found you, Cassandra, I determined to use you as a symbol of a new age and the end of the horsemen. You'll have remembered by now that as horrible as your experiences were they were not unusual for the time or really for the next couple millennia. It's only in the last several centuries that such experiences became soul-destroying."

Cassandra made a sound that was probably intended to be a laugh. There were pain lines on her face. "Yes. It was when I re-experienced the rape and torture in the twentieth century that I broke."

"So I took you for a slave and trained you to survive. You were an excellent student. I trained her," he now turned toward Joe and Duncan, "in all the skills of a prostitute and dancer, storyteller and healer. These were useful skills and could get you a place in most societies. I also taught her to read and write, and honed her ability to prophesis. Not nearly as useful skills, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Kronos, as I said, was a smart man and he noticed that I was not treating you as I had any of my previous personal slaves. And so he demanded you for a night. Because he knew my preferences and he would be able to tell if I had trained you to please me individually or had been given a more general education in which case I was creating an immortal to stand apart from the horsemen. Which I was, of course."

"But you didn't teach her to fight."

Methos shot Duncan a look that told him not to be dumb. "Of course not. Then she could have killed me, or more probably herself, and what good would that have done?"

"Anyway, Cassandra escaped which was rather surprising and I was glad to see your spirit wasn't broken. It's difficult sometimes to judge these things. And I disappeared the next year.

"And so the horsemen disappeared. Put together to last forever, but then broken apart never to be put together again."

After a pause, Duncan finally spoke, "What I want to know, Methos, is how you knew that Cassandra had ... suffered a nervous breakdown when I didn't."

Cassandra stared at him for a bit, before saying something to Methos in a language neither Duncan nor Joe even recognized much less knew.

Methos just said, "don't ask questions to which you don't want the answer. As to your question, Mac, people don't survive for thousands of years in the state of mind that Cassandra was in that year. Something had happened and recently. Relatively. Else, she'd be dead."

"Thank you. For telling me this."

"You're welcome. Consider it a graduation present: your are now an ancient. You survived the jump from merely an old immortal to being an ancient who can survive any change in society."

"What's the difference?"

"There comes a time when the world has changed so much that an immortal either can't keep up with the change or goes insane from their own flashbacks to how the world once was. Too much has changed. If you manage to find yourself after that, then you've graduated. You're an ancient."

"You are different, the world is different."

"Exactly."