Hope Remembered - Cassandra and the Horsemen
by Parda (March 1999)
the fear that is within you now
and seems to never end
"Surprised to see me, Cassandra?" Kronos asked, smiling. He dropped the tent flap behind him, and the spiderweb of dark lines crawled over his face in the dimness of the tent. "It's been a long time."
He turned and spoke to a shadowy figure in the corner. "Isn't that right, Little Brother?"
"Yes," said a voice that Cassandra knew very well, a voice that brought the feel of maggots crawling on her neck. "A very long time." Roland emerged from the shadows and came to stand near Kronos, a little behind him and off to one side. Spiderweb lines covered his cheek and nose, too, and both of the men were smiling as they looked at her. "She's all yours, Brother," Roland said to Kronos. "I'm done with her now."
"Good!" Kronos said, slapping him on the back. "We share everything."
"Everything," Roland echoed.
"Have you tamed her well, Little Brother?" Kronos asked, stepping forward and standing directly over her, staring down at Cassandra as she lay naked, bound, and gagged on the floor.
"Oh, yes," Roland said. "Better than Methos did."
"Better than Methos did?" Kronos repeated with derision. "But she killed you, didn't she?"
The smile disappeared from Roland's face, and the weblines on his face became the color of blood. "She didn't kill me. She got Duncan MacLeod to kill me for her." The paint of the lines dripped down his face to reach his neck, and he faded into shadows again. "Avenge me, Brother!" his voice called.
"I will, Little Brother," Kronos answered, as he knelt beside her. He took out the knife Cassandra had once used to kill him, then he smiled and said more quietly, "After I avenge myself."
He was still smiling as he reached for her, and Cassandra closed her eyes.
Evening 20 June 1996, Isle of Lesvos
Cassandra woke. She kept her eyes closed and held her breath. Her body was relaxed, her heart racing. There was no sound of anyone else breathing nearby, no sensation of another Immortal. She was alone.
She started breathing again, then opened her eyes and looked about her. It was nearly dark outside, and her hotel room was dim and shadowed. The window was open, and the warm breezes from the Mediterranean Sea carried the smells of salt and fish and ripe fruit. Snatches of conversation came from the veranda.
She sat up in bed and hugged her knees to her chest, her head bowed. She had never seen Kronos and Roland together in a tent. Kronos in a tent, and Roland in a tent, yes, but never both together. It had never happened; it had been only a dream.
Cassandra knew all about dreams - more than she wanted to. She stood abruptly and went to walk on the beach.
The moon was only a thin crescent in the sky and gave little light, but Cassandra walked swiftly. The sand was still warm from the long hours of sunshine on this summer solstice day, and the heat penetrated the thin soles of her new sandals.
She stopped walking and stared out at the water. The surf surged in a gentle beat under the bright glimmer of the thin moon. The sea and the moon: they were ever-changing yet ever-constant, like the Goddess, like life. She had watched the sea and the moon for over three millennia, and she watched them still.
She had watched them this morning, too, earlier that day.
Morning of 20 June 1996, Isle of Lesvos
She walked down the hill, away from the ruins of the Temple of Artemis. The crescent moon had set, hidden behind the hills, and the sun was rising over the ocean. It was a new day, a new life. Finally, she was free. After more than three thousand years, the Prophecy had been fulfilled. The Highland Foundling had silenced the Voice of Death. Duncan MacLeod had taken Roland's head.
Cassandra started running down the path to the sea, and she kept running when she reached the beach, slowing only to drop her backpack and strip off her simple gray gown. The water was warm; it was glorious, and she swam out as far as she could. She was free.
Seagulls flew overhead, their cries floating on the air as she floated on the water. Cassandra closed her eyes and let the waves carry her. She had no particular place to go, no particular thing to do. She was free.
The waves carried her back to the shore, and she pulled her robe on, then slept in the shade of a beach umbrella. When she woke, she was hungry. Her vigil at the ruins of the temple had lasted three days, and she had not eaten during that time. She walked to the hotel for lunch.
Cassandra watched the boats and listened to the lilting strains of Strauss while she ate on the hotel's veranda. The fruit was sweet, the bread fresh-baked. While she was drinking her coffee, she asked the waiter for a telephone and called the airport to find information about available flights to Edinburgh. Then she dialed Connor MacLeod's number at his farm in the Highlands. The phone was answered on the third ring.
"MacLeod residence, John speaking."
He sounded a little out of breath, but at least he had better phone manners than his father. Cassandra did not tell him her name; she was not sure Connor would want his family to know about her. "May I speak to Connor MacLeod?"
"Just a minute."
There was a solid clunk as he set the phone down, then she could hear him calling. "Dad! Dad! Phone!" Another voice called in the background, a woman's - "John! You're going to be late for the game. Do you have your gear?" Then it was John's voice again, more distant now, "I'm getting my shoes!" Then running footsteps, a hurried, "Bye, Uncle Dunc! Bye, Dad!" and the slamming of the door.
No wonder John had sounded breathless. And Duncan was there; it was good to know he had followed her suggestion to visit Connor.
Another voice, tolerantly amused, speaking into the phone this time. "Connor MacLeod."
There was a sudden quietness in the background, as though Connor had moved into another room. The tolerance and amusement disappeared from his voice. "Yes?"
"I can fly into Edinburgh this weekend." He did not answer. "Or Monday, if you would prefer." Still no answer. She added more slowly, "If you want to do to the training." She had promised him several weeks ago that she would teach him to resist the Voice, the hypnotic power of persuasion she had learned three millennia ago, when the Temple of Artemis had been a thriving community instead of ruins.
A pause, then he said, "Late Sunday would work. I'll get you a hotel room and pick you up at the airport. What name are you using?"
"And the flight?"
She told him the flight information, then added, "I'll see you on the twenty-third, then."
"The twenty-third," he agreed. There was a short click, then silence.
Cassandra looked at the phone for a moment. Arrogant annoying man. She called the airport and made her reservations for Sunday, then hung up the phone. She wondered when Duncan was leaving Connor's home in the Highlands. Connor would probably never even mention to her that Duncan had been there.
She left the restaurant, then strolled to the seaside village of Thermi and bought new clothes, a gaily-embroidered blouse and a long skirt of shimmering blue, sunlight on water. She sang as she walked, the sun warm on her back, the bees busy in the gardens that surrounded the hotel.
"Pardon, lady," called the desk clerk Alexos, when Cassandra entered the hotel lobby. He was a young man, perhaps in his early twenties, with dark, curling hair worn long. His English was accented but clear.
Cassandra smiled at him with interest and appreciation, and he smiled back, his teeth very white against his dusky skin. He handed her an envelope, her name scrawled in Greek across the front. "This was for you," he said. "It waited here three weeks. Please excuse us. We did not deliver it when you arrived a few days ago."
Cassandra had not seen her name written in Greek letters for centuries, but she recognized the handwriting immediately. It was Roland's.
She stared at the letter, wishing she could drop the envelope like a snake and watch it slither away. But it was not going to go away. Roland would never go away. Even dead, he would never go away. She put on her mask of composure and kept her voice steady. "You said it had been here three weeks?"
"Yes," Alexos said, eagerly. "I was not here, but my uncle said it came with a picture of you. We were to keep the letter a year for you to arrive. And we did not have to wait so long. You are here soon!" He beamed at Cassandra.
Cassandra smiled back, an empty smile now. "Thank you," she murmured, then made her way to her room. She set the letter gently on the table and walked over to the window and stared at the harbor. The gentle breeze from the sea ruffled her hair.
She could burn it. She could throw it in the sea. She could leave it here and walk away from this hotel, and never know what it said. She did not have to read it.
But she would read it. Roland had probably left other letters waiting for her, other little surprises. She preferred to know.
There were no pictures in the envelope, only a single piece of stationery. She forced herself to look at it. It was written in a variety of languages and alphabets, starting with modern English and ending with the cuneiform script of Mesopotamia. She read the letter through, then read one paragraph again, the ancient Greek script cramped and hard to read.
You believed me in Aberdeen over three and a half centuries ago when I told you that Kronos was dead, but Kronos is alive. I saw him ten years ago. He's reading a letter from me now, just like you are, and finding out that you are alive, too. I told him a lot of other things in the letter, but I don't have time to write them all down for you just now.
Maybe he'll tell you, when he finds you. And he will find you, Cassandra. Just like I did.
The last line of the letter was written in the cuneiform wedges used in Mesopotamia over three thousand years ago. She had spent many hours helping her adopted son Roland remember all those different symbols. He had started learning when he had been six years old, and they had sat together on the bench in front of their house in the cool evening air and practiced. Once in a while he had looked up at her and smiled, revealing the gap of his missing front teeth. He had practiced these particular symbols over and over again.
Your loving son, Roland
Cassandra folded the letter carefully and replaced it in the envelope, then lay on the bed and stared blindly at the wall. For five hours, she lay motionless, remembering ... reliving ... thinking ... planning. She fell asleep, and then she dreamed.
And now it was evening, and the darkness was coming again. The breeze from the sea was warm, but Cassandra shivered and hugged her arms close about her, remembering the curse the village midwife Margaret had laid on her, over four centuries ago in the Scottish Highlands: "May all your friends desert you! May your enemies come back again and again to haunt you! May you be alone all your days!"
The curse had come true. Cassandra had no friends. She had been alone for millennia. Roland was dead, but her ancient enemy Kronos was still alive, and now he was hunting her.
This morning she had thought she was free, but she had been wrong. She would never be free, not until Kronos - and all the men who wanted to hurt her - were dead. But this time, it would be different. This time, there was no Prophecy. This time, she did not have to wait for a Highland Foundling, or anyone else, to help her.
This time, she would be the one to do the killing.
This time, nothing - and no one - was going to stop her.
the dreams that have escaped you
Sunday 23 June 1996, Edinburgh
"Didn't expect to see me, Cassandra?" Connor MacLeod asked when she got off the airplane in Edinburgh.
"No," Cassandra replied. She had thought she would take a cab to the hotel; she had never really expected Connor to pick her up. She settled her backpack more comfortably on her shoulder and started walking swiftly to the baggage claim area. Her sword was in her duffel bag, and she wanted it.
Connor matched her pace, his long beige coat flapping about his calves, his hands deep in his pockets.
Cassandra stole quick glances at him as they made their way through the scattered crowds. His short hair was sun-bleached, strands of bronze gleaming atop the brown. He could have used a comb. He could have used a shave, too. His coat was unbuttoned, and the dark blue of his sweatshirt lightened the color of his eyes from the dark gray of storm clouds to the blue-gray of ocean waves.
His stride was quick and purposeful. Strength, grace, and discipline showed even in that everyday movement. It was the stride of an athlete, a dancer, or a master swordsman. Connor was all of those.
His face was expressionless, save for a certain wariness around the eyes, and a tenseness about the mouth. The soft fullness of his lips was narrowed to a harder line. It was a look common to many Immortals, the look of someone always anticipating - or expecting - an attack.
But Connor added his own particular stamp to that look; there was a layer of sullen coldness over his features that very effectively kept everyone away. It was the way he had looked a few weeks ago, when she had gone to his farm in the Highlands of Scotland and promised she would teach him to resist the Voice.
It was not the way she remembered him.
She claimed her duffel bag, and he drove his Jaguar in silence until they reached the New Town area of Edinburgh. "That's my house, there on the corner," he said.
Cassandra looked out her window at a three-story house with a facade of yellowish stone that had been grimed to black by centuries of smoke and pollution. Wide steps led to the elegant front door, and four large windows on the first floor looked onto the street. All the houses on the street had been built during the Georgian period.
Connor continued driving and pointed out landmarks for her. "To get to the Hawton Hotel, just go around the circle, then take this street until you get to Great King Street. It's not far, about half a kilometer. You won't need a car; Edinburgh is an easy city to walk in." He pulled up in front of the hotel, three Georgian townhouses combined into one larger building. "Do you want help with your bags?"
"No." Cassandra knew he was not really interested in helping her. She picked up her backpack and put it on her lap, then reached behind her and pulled out her duffel bag.
Connor put his hand on her arm and stopped her. "The hotel room is paid for; they'll give you the key when you tell them you're Catherine Grant."
She nodded once. He was the one who had asked her to teach him to resist the Voice. He could pay for it.
Connor said, "My house tomorrow, at nine in the morning?"
She did not bother to nod again. "At nine." Cassandra pulled her arm from his grasp and got out of the car, then shut the door quickly and walked into the hotel without a backward glance.
"How does the Voice work, Cassandra?" Connor asked the next morning, leaning back in the leather wingback chair near the fireplace in the parlor of his elegant - and expensive - townhouse.
Cassandra glanced at him, wishing for the thousandth time in the last four days that she had not promised to teach Connor to resist the Voice. But she had promised, and she would keep that promise, no matter what it cost her, no matter that Kronos might be hunting her down right now. She could not betray Connor again.
He was still leaning back in the chair, still watching her. He did not look as sullen or suspicious as he had looked last night, merely cautious. He was definitely not friendly. There was no fire in the fireplace next to him, of course, now at the beginning of summer. The two floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the street were open, and a breeze made its slow way into the parlor, through the opened folding doors that led into the library, and then escaped from the two windows at the back of the house.
Connor was wearing a deep-green shirt and gray slacks, the same colors he had worn in the Highlands when she had last seen him three weeks ago at his farm. The colors suited him. His eyes looked more gray than blue now, but it was almost a warm gray, burnished pewter instead of cold iron. Perhaps his wife Alex bought his clothes. His wife. His pregnant wife. Artificial insemination was yet another miracle of modern technology.
Connor had obviously come a long way from the man who saved his money for two years to buy a horse. He had done very well for himself over the last four centuries: a house in Edinburgh, a farm in the Highlands, a Jaguar for himself, a car for Alex, another car he had said she could borrow. Connor was paying for her hotel room, too, and that was not cheap. What would it be like to be rich? She was almost out of money; she would have to look for work soon. Or maybe she wouldn't. Maybe she would be dead.
She jerked her head up, startled. Connor stirred impatiently in his chair and cocked his head to one side. "I'm sorry," she said, trying to focus. "How does the Voice work?" she repeated, wondering how best to explain. She took a sip of her coffee, grateful for its warmth and bitter taste. She had not slept well. Cassandra set her cup on the gracefully carved cherry-wood table in front of her, then tried to sit more comfortably on the Queen Anne-style sofa, its rich brocaded upholstery a darker shade of blue than the washed silk covering the walls.
"It is much as I told you," she started. "The Voice works when you know what a person will listen to. To use the Voice, you must learn how to listen, and then how to speak."
Connor was nodding slightly. "How long does it take to learn the Voice?"
"It depends. Some are better at it than others. Women seem to be better at it than men, usually. Some people never learn how to listen to others. They're too busy listening to themselves." She smiled a little in remembrance. "For those that can learn, it usually takes at least ten years to fully master it. It is like any language - the younger you start, the easier it is to learn." She stopped then, and did not smile at that memory. Roland had learned the Voice very quickly; she had started teaching him when he was six. She reached for her coffee and curled her fingers around the delicate china cup, welcoming the lingering warmth.
Connor waited, watching her, then asked, "How do you know what a person will listen to?"
She considered him for a moment before answering. He was not going to like this. "It helps if you know what their native language is. It is even better if you can speak it." She spoke Scots Gaelic, Connor's native tongue. "Also, it helps if you know something about the culture they were born to - city, country, tribe." She paused, then added, "Clan."
His eyes narrowed at that word.
Cassandra had lived in the Highlands longer than he had. Connor was not going to like this next part, either. "And it helps if you know the person, especially if you have known them when they were young, and if you know what has influenced them." She had met Connor when he was twenty-three - a grown man, to be sure, but a very young Immortal. She had been married to Ramirez, Connor's first teacher, and she knew how much Ramirez had meant to Connor.
Connor shifted uncomfortably and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
She set her cup down and took a deep breath. "And, it helps if you know what they like or dislike, what they admire or despise." She had been Connor's teacher; she had lived in the same house with him for six months. He had told her his dreams and his sorrows, his hopes and his fears.
His eyes had hardened to iron now, and his mouth was a thin straight line.
She added softly, unable to stop herself, unable to look away from him, "If you know what they love." She had been Connor's lover. She knew his body. She knew how to make him tremble with desire, how to touch him and leave him gasping, how to make him cry out in ecstatic release. But even more than that, she knew what touched his heart. She knew his soul.
Connor was staring at her intently, sitting very still, very controlled.
She spoke even more quietly. "And if you know what they hate." Connor hated lies and cowardice, treachery and betrayal. Connor had hated her for a very long time.
She stood suddenly and murmured, "Excuse me," then made her way to the entry hall, a cool, high-ceilinged space of stone and dark wood, brightened by flowers on a circular table and by an enormous oriental vase that served as an umbrella stand and a convenient storage place for swords. Cassandra walked past the ornately-carved staircase to the modern kitchen at the back of the house, then went into the bathroom.
When she came back to the parlor some ten minutes later, Connor was standing by one of the two large windows, staring into the street, ignoring her. She stood in the doorway uncertainly, wondering if he would tell her to leave. She knew he would hate being under the influence of the Voice, and he would very likely hate her, too. She did not want to teach Connor, but he had asked her to do this, and she owed him whatever he might ask.
He spoke without turning, his voice abrupt and harsh. "You said it would take at least a month to learn to resist the Voice."
"Yes, well ... I think it will take about that long, maybe two months. I've never taught anyone to resist the Voice before."
He swung around and fixed her with a searching gaze. "Never?"
"No." He was obviously wondering what he was in for, so she added, "When you learn to use the Voice, you also learn to resist it. I was planning on teaching you some of those techniques."
He nodded in satisfaction. "Good."
Cassandra smiled to herself grimly. He would not be so eager to start the next time. She decided to maintain an air of indifference. She knew Connor would not want her to appear sympathetic or, even worse, to smile at him. A simple task, and a very reduced form of the Voice would be best, so he would at least have a chance to learn how to resist her. She knew him very well; she could control him with a single word.
She perched on the edge of the sofa and picked up her cup again. The coffee was cold now, but that did not matter. "Shall we begin?" she asked, her voice cool and remote.
"Put the cup on the table, Connor," Cassandra ordered.
Connor tried to concentrate on the words she was using, tried to ignore the sound of her voice, tried to focus on each separate syllable, as Cassandra had suggested he do. He could not. The words and her voice ran together, a smooth and compelling melody, the siren song of the Voice. His hand started to move toward the table. He stopped it, the muscles in his arm quivering with strain.
"Connor," she said softly, "put the cup down."
Connor watched helplessly as his hand moved toward the table. His hand hovered there, the empty cup held a few inches above the surface. The cup was shaking slightly under the force of his grip. Sweat broke out in his armpits, and his shirt was much too warm. He could smell the rank odor of fear - his fear - as his body betrayed him.
"Down, Connor," she said, as if she were speaking to a dog. "And do it gently," she added as an afterthought.
Connor watched as his hand set the cup gently on the table. He waited until his fingers had uncurled from the cup before he even attempted to control his own arm. "Back," he thought, afraid that his body would betray him again. But his arm moved where he wanted it and obeyed his command. He clenched his fingers into a fist, welcoming the pain as his fingernails dug into his palm. The slight tremors in his muscles were gratifying now instead of infuriating, instead of terrifying.
One more command. He pulled his arm back farther, then backhanded the cup, sweeping it off the table and sending it crashing against the fireplace. The cup shattered on the gray stones of the hearth, and the broken pieces of china scattered over the Aubusson rug and the polished wooden floor. Connor slowly let his breath out through his nose and unclenched his fist. That was better.
Then he turned to see Cassandra watching him. He took another deep breath, quietly and surreptitiously, ordering his body to be calm, refusing to allow his face to flush with embarrassment. He had every right to do what he had done. It was his house. It was his cup. He raised one eyebrow, daring her to comment.
Cassandra broke eye contact with him and turned away from the fireplace to look out the window. After a moment, she asked, still not looking at him, "Do you have a plastic cup we could use?"
A little over an hour later, around eleven in the morning, Connor called a halt. "I usually go running before lunch," he told Cassandra. That was true, but it was not the only reason he wanted to stop. Connor hated listening to her voice, hearing it not just with his ears and his mind, but hearing it inside him, the honeyed words oozing over his skin, those tendrils of domination spreading and winding their way through him. He hated allowing her to control him, knowing she could make him do anything she wanted to. Anything.
He hated having his body follow her commands while a small corner of his mind watched, alert and aware but helpless, screaming silently in useless protest, terrified and trapped and alone. He hated that she understood him so thoroughly, that she knew him so well. He hated everything about it. He hated every second of it. He hated her.
And he hated the way she looked at him. He hated that look of cool detached interest, that all-knowing, all-disdainful stare. There had not been a flicker of amusement or compassion in her the entire morning. No condemnation of his temper, no comment on his increasing sullenness. Nothing. He felt like a bug being tormented by a cat. No, not even that. A cat would have more interest in a bug. Eventually, the cat would eat the bug.
It would have been even worse if she had smiled or pretended to be sorry for him. Then he would have wanted to smash her face the same way he had smashed the cup. God, he hated this.
He stood and stretched, trying to ignore the uncomfortable dampness of his shirt, the sour smell of fear and stale sweat. "I'm going to go change."
Cassandra stood, too. "I'll go back to the hotel. Do you want me to come back after lunch?"
No. He fucking didn't want her to come back after lunch. He never wanted to see her again. He never wanted to hear her voice again. "Yes," he said calmly. "We can work more on it then." He needed to learn how to resist the Voice. He had to do this. Others might know the Voice, and he did not want anybody to be able to control him, especially not her. He had to do this.
She nodded coolly, then went with him to the hall and waited while he took the key from the table-drawer and unlocked the door. Cassandra walked out onto the front step and said, "I'll see you around one-thirty then."
"At one-thirty," he agreed, then shut the door gently behind her and locked it again. He leaned his forehead against the door and closed his eyes. Only two and a half hours until he had to submit to the Voice again. Fuck.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
"What's wrong, Cassandra?" Connor asked her later that day, as he leaned against the kitchen counter and stirred his tea. This time she had been the one to call a halt. He had been glad to stop, even though the afternoon training session had gone marginally better than the morning one. Marginally. He had been able to resist her for almost two seconds instead of one. He still ended up doing whatever she told him to. Fuck.
Connor took another calming breath. He had been taking a lot of them today. He had let out a sigh of relief when they had finally stopped, but somehow, he did not think Cassandra had even noticed. She had been preoccupied and distant all day, and she had been that way last night, too.
She was sitting at the table, stirring her raspberry tea, staring at the movement in the liquid. A single ray of afternoon sunshine came through the clouds and made its way through the window. It managed to reach the table and touch the edge of Cassandra's teacup. She had not even moved when he had asked her the question.
Cassandra was tired; that was obvious. She looked no older, of course, but the fine-etched lines of strain around her eyes were more pronounced, and the generous curves of her lips were tightened and compressed. She wore no make-up, and the translucent skin above her high cheekbones showed faint-blue smudges, shadows of exhaustion that dulled the changeable sea-green of her eyes almost to a flat gray. The black shirt and jeans she wore did not help.
The only touches of color about her were the dangling silver teardrops of her earrings, and the very pale red of her mouth. Even her hair, which in the past had put Connor in mind of sunshine on ripe wheat, seemed darkened to a simple brown, lacking the gold and copper highlights he remembered. She had pulled her long hair back into a simple ponytail, and the style was too severe for her face.
Cassandra was still attractive, tall and graceful, slender yet curvaceous, but right now she was not a woman anyone would have looked twice at. Connor suspected she wanted it that way. A woman who wanted to be noticed as a woman moved with a certain swing to her hips, a certain faint smile on her lips, a certain proud look in her eyes. He had seen Cassandra move that way, many years ago. He had seen men stop and stare when she walked past. He had seen a young lad drop a tray and blush when she had merely smiled. He had seen Cassandra when she was beautiful.
Now, Cassandra moved quietly and efficiently, self-effacing in her silence. No smile touched her lips, no certainty or pride shone from her eyes. No beauty showed.
Yes, she was tired, but there was something else going on. He was going to find out what it was. He repeated the question. "What's wrong, Cassandra?"
She looked up from her contemplation of the sunshine on the ripples. "What do you mean?" Her face was serene, her voice calm, her eyes wide and innocent.
Connor ground his teeth together. While he had been running, he had realized it was not fair of him to hate her; he had asked her to teach him. Connor would be on guard against that hatred in the future. But she still irritated the hell out of him. Did she really think he was so stupid he would not realize when she was hiding something? Or maybe she just didn't want to admit to anything. All right. He would spell it out for her. "Roland's dead; the prophecy's fulfilled - and you're not happy."
She shrugged and went back to staring at the tea. "Nothing's wrong."
He walked over to her in two quick steps and grabbed her by the throat, right under the chin, forcing her head back so she would look at him. His fingers pressed painfully on her arteries. He knew how much she hated that, how much it reminded her of Roland. He could see the flare of panic in her eyes. Good. He didn't hate her, but he didn't mind intimidating her. He didn't mind at all.
"Don't lie to me, Cassandra." He squeezed a little harder. "Not again." If she tried to use the Voice, he would squeeze even more. "Not ever." He kept his hand there, but relaxed the pressure. "What's wrong?" he repeated. She had damn well better not lie to him now.
The flare of panic became anger, then changed immediately into resigned acceptance. She nodded as best she could with his hand still on her. "No lies," she agreed. "Ever."
He let go of her and waited. He did not step back.
Cassandra's gaze went back to the teacup, and she said softly, "There is - an old enemy of mine, named Kronos. I thought he was dead."
She lifted her head and stared at him, and he was surprised to see the pure hate in her eyes. With Roland the hate had been tempered by guilt and shame and hopelessness. She had not been able to kill her son. Now there was just hate.
Her voice was flat. "I'm going to kill him."
Connor nodded and moved away. This he understood. He picked up his own cup of tea and sat down across from her at the table.
"I found out he was alive on Thursday," she said. She took a sip, then poured a little of the tea into her saucer. "After I called you at your farm, and we agreed to meet here."
He knew her flight had come from Athens. "Did you see him in Greece?"
"No." She dabbled her fingertips in the red liquid, making smooth swirling patterns. "I received a letter, telling me Kronos was alive."
"Who sent the letter?" he asked.
She lifted her hand and rubbed her thumb slowly along the tips of her fingers, then very deliberately clenched her fingers into a fist until her nails sliced into her palm. "Roland. He had left the letter for me before he died."
Connor shook his head in confusion. "How did Roland know where he should leave the letter?"
Cassandra unclenched her fist and laid her hand flat on the table, then shrugged one shoulder. "He understood me."
Connor snorted derisively. He didn't think anyone really understood her, not even Cassandra herself.
"Kronos was Roland's teacher," she explained, ignoring his reaction. "They met over three thousand years ago, before the fall of Troy."
"And is that why Kronos is your enemy?" Rather hard, he thought, to blame Roland's misdeeds on his teacher. Not even the best teachers had all of their students turn out well.
"No," she said, flatly. "Kronos was my teacher, too."
Connor hid his start of surprise by reaching for his tea again. Cassandra had mentioned her teacher to him only once before, four hundred years ago, and Connor still remembered the depth of pain and hate that had been in her voice and in her eyes. The pain had become hunger now, but the hate was still there. Connor knew that look.
She blinked, and the hate and the hunger were hidden again. She picked up her napkin and carefully dried her hand, leaving pale-pink smears of tea and darker smears of blood on the white cloth. "He was my teacher," she repeated evenly, "and I am going to kill him."
Connor nodded, accepting that.
"Connor...," she began, finally lifting her eyes to him, eyes that were no longer flat gray, but cold dark-green, "would you help me?"
Connor leaned back in his chair and looked at her warily. And just what did she mean by that?
"Not to fight him," she added quickly. "I couldn't ... with Roland... It..." Her lips tightened briefly, then she leaned forward and said earnestly, "I don't ever want to have to wait for someone to fight for me again. This is my battle, and I want to kill him. But...," she paused, then admitted in embarrassment, "...I'm out of practice with a sword. Can you help me train, be my sparring partner?" She smiled a little, hesitantly. "For old time's sake?"
Connor looked her up and down with a critical eye. She had been his teacher once, many years ago. He nodded. "For old time's sake," he agreed.
Cassandra shrugged ruefully. "It won't be like the old days, though. You've learned a lot since then."
Connor permitted himself a smile and picked up his cup of tea. It would be good to knock her on her backside a few times, for old time's sake. "All right. We can practice working on the Voice in the morning and spar in the afternoon, upstairs in the exercise room."
"Tomorrow afternoon," Cassandra agreed. She still did not look happy.
Connor knocked Cassandra to the floor for the third time that afternoon. He swung his katana gracefully and held it casually an inch away from her neck. Her sword lay on the floor on the other side of the room. Her loose T-shirt and leggings were cut and sliced, spattered and stained with blood, both old and new, and she was panting heavily. Connor was untouched.
He did not offer to help her get to her feet, but walked away from her and went to the table that stood underneath the three windows on the front wall of the house. He had had the house renovated almost two years ago, soon after he had moved to Scotland with his new wife Alex and his son John. Most of the third floor had been converted to an exercise space. The staircase went through the center of the house, neatly dividing the sparring floor and weight-lifting equipment from the area which held the bath, the office, and the storage room. Connor took a long drink from his water bottle and looked out the window.
He had owned this land for almost four hundred years, and he could remember a time when cows and chickens had roamed the rutted paths that served as streets, before the rows of Georgian houses had been built. He could remember the smells, too. Progress wasn't all bad.
Cassandra joined him and laid her sword on the table. She picked up her own water bottle and sat down in the chair.
Connor did not turn from the window. "I thought you were better than this."
"I was." She took several slow deep breaths, trying in vain to hide how tired she really was. "I haven't used a sword much lately."
"Lately?" he said scathingly, looking at her now. "You act like you haven't even picked one up in centuries."
"As I said," she answered coolly, reminding him of how old she was, how old he was. "Lately."
Connor's jaw tightened at her remark. He did not like being patronized. "How long has it been?" he demanded.
She shrugged. "Over three and a half centuries."
Connor turned to stare at her, incredulous. "How the hell have you survived?"
"Survived?" Her voice was bitter. "I existed."
He shook his head, still not quite believing this. "How?"
"I hid. I ran. I used the Voice." She looked at the sword on the table and spoke softly. "I don't like being a killer."
"You want to kill Kronos," he reminded her.
Cassandra took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, and he could see the hate in her eyes again. "Yes," she said. "That, I want."
He kept his tone dry and unemotional. "Then you need to practice." He stood up and moved to the center of the floor, then held his katana in the ready stance and looked at her inquiringly.
She gritted her teeth and went to face him again.
The sparring session ended after another agonizing hour, and Cassandra left Connor's house immediately for her hotel. She did not want to go back to his house the next day. She did not want to teach him to resist the Voice. She never wanted to face him over swords again.
She had no choice.
"Stand up, Cassandra." The voice, dry and mocking, came from above her. She knew he was smiling a little, even though she could not see his face.
"Stand up!" His fingers dug painfully into the softness on the underside of her arm as he hauled her to her feet. "We're not finished yet." He pushed her back against the wall and leaned closer to her.
She could see the darker gray of the rim of his irises, the thin red blood vessels visible in the clear white of his eyes, the pores on his nose. His thigh brushed against her own; his hand remained on her arm, his fingernails gouging into her flesh.
"Not quite yet." Now his voice was smooth and silky with anticipation, but his face showed disappointment. "You moved, Cassandra." Roland shook his head, disapproving. "I told you not to move. You do remember that, don't you, Cassandra?"
"Yes," she whispered promptly, forcing the word through lips that were still bruised and bleeding. The Healing had not yet finished.
"Good." He reached up with his left hand and traced the outline of her jaw, lingering at the slight swelling there. "I'm glad we don't have to repeat the little lesson about memory again. At least not today." His hand continued to move, sliding gently down the line of her throat, his thumb tracing her windpipe. His hand came to rest on her collarbone, his thumb barely touching the hollow of her throat. "You're not going to try to stop me, are you, Cassandra?"
"No." She could feel her pulse against the pressure of his hand.
"Good." His voice was quiet, soft, sickening. "You're going to stand there and take your punishment, aren't you, Cassandra?"
"Yes." She licked the blood off her lips, tasting the salty sweetness. Her face was healed now.
"Because you deserve it, don't you, Cassandra?" His fingers tightened fractionally as he said her name.
"Yes." She was back to whispering now, his hand warm around her throat.
He smiled at hearing her say that, then his hand slid off to the side across the top of her shoulder. His hand stopped at the top of her arm, his thumb now lying on the hollow next to her shoulder, just under the collarbone. "Then let's see if you can learn this lesson today. Don't move," he reminded her softly, as he started to push on the sensitive nerves there between shoulder and ribs with his thumb. He increased the pressure, his fingers tightening their grip on her shoulder as his thumb dug deeper, his smile still on his face as he watched her closely.
Cassandra did not cry out, did not flinch. Her arm went numb save for the throbbing heat in her shoulder, but she stood still and silent.
He released the pressure and shook his head sadly. "You moved, Cassandra," he said. "Even after I told you not to. I saw you jerk your head back." He let go of her arm and removed his hand from her shoulder, then stepped back a little. "I've been very patient with you this morning, Cassandra, but I can see you just aren't learning this lesson very well, so I'll have to teach you." He sounded regretful, resigned. He smiled at her and drew back his arm. "Now, don't move," he reminded her. "Don't-even-blink."
She did not blink, even as his fist drove into her face and broke her nose, but her hands moved slightly, wanting to protect her face.
Now his voice was angry. "You said you weren't going to try to stop me, Cassandra. You promised." His next blows were harder, and she sank to the floor beneath them, but she did not try to protect herself again. The blows stopped after only a few moments, and he waited for her to heal.
His voice sounded above her, dry and mocking. "Stand up, Cassandra. We're not finished yet."
Cassandra woke, but did not move. She lay limp in her bed, completely relaxed, her eyes closed. She was alone in her hotel room in Edinburgh. No one was touching her. Roland was not there. Duncan had killed him last month. Roland was dead; he could never hurt her again.
The clock display read 4:38. She knew she would not be able to go back to sleep again. She never could, even when she was very tired. At least this dream had not been one of the bad ones.
She got out of bed and began her morning exercise routine of yoga, trying not to think as she moved through the asanas. She focused on her breathing, on holding the postures, on nothing. Then she went for her morning run, the cool air brisk and invigorating as she ran through the streets. No thoughts, no memories, just the steady sound of her feet on the pavement, the slight ache in her calves and her thighs as she ran the hills, the feel of the breeze on her face.
Back in her room, she washed her hair and showered quickly and efficiently, not lingering over that chore. She dried her hair, then sat naked on the floor in the lotus position and picked up her comb. Her hair was soft on her back and shoulders, and Connor's voice echoed in her mind from long ago. "I love the feel of your hair."
Roland had liked her hair, too. He had hacked it off with his knife in Aberdeen, over three and a half centuries ago. Then he had used her hair to strangle her. She had never let it grow to her waist again.
She stood abruptly and pulled on black jeans and a gray shirt, then turned on the television to the movie channel. She sat on the bed and jerked the comb through the tangles and braided her hair while she watched "Camelot." The movie was already more than half over. She liked television, especially these last ten years or so when there was always something on. There had been nights when she had left the television on just to listen to the static and to watch the monotonous patterns of snow on the screen.
Cassandra took some fruit and yogurt from the small refrigerator in the corner of the room and ate her breakfast while King Arthur watched his wife and his best friend betray him. When she was done eating, she turned the volume down, then checked her email on her laptop computer, hoping for messages from one or more of the five detective agencies she had hired. So far, all she had gotten was the name "Dexter Korvin" as a possible alias for Kronos, and the last reported sighting on him was in 1990.
This morning there were only two messages, both from the English detective agency. The first message said they had not yet found anything about a man with a scar down the right side of his face; the second said they needed more money.
Cassandra closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. This search for Kronos had better not take too long; she could not afford it. She was desperate enough to try to get information from the Watchers, the society of mortals who had secretly kept records on Immortals for thousands of years, but she had not seen her Watcher Melanie in Edinburgh, and she did not know who Connor's Watcher was. She would have to use the detective agencies for now.
Cassandra stood and stretched, then went back to the computer. Maybe she could find out something about Dexter Korvin on the Web; maybe he was a member of a torture discussion group. Tonight, she would go to the library and search the micro-fiches of old newspapers, as she had been doing ever since her arrival four days ago. She watched the movie while she waited for webpages to download.
Guinivere was leaving for the convent when Cassandra looked at the clock. It was nearly nine. She turned off the computer and the television and went to meet Connor at his house for the day's lesson.
"Stand up, Cassandra. We're not finished yet."
Cassandra bowed her head and clenched her fingers around her sword handle as she half-sat, half-sprawled, on the polished wooden floor of the exercise room. The metal of the sword hilt did not feel cool anymore; it was warm and slick with sweat. And blood. As was she, even though she and Connor had not been sparring very long.
It was not a good day. It had not been a good week. For either of them. Connor did not like submitting to her while he was learning to resist the Voice, and she did not like being at his mercy on the exercise floor. She wished now she had never asked him to help her.
Connor knew she would be going up against a powerful Immortal, and he was training her hard, forcing her to work up to and even beyond her capabilities. She understood that, and she knew why he was doing it, but she did not like his training methods.
He kept pushing her, goading her, sneering at her. And he was not doing it just to train her; he was enjoying it. She had him in her power when he was under the influence of the Voice, and he enjoyed having her in his power while they sparred. She could tell he enjoyed intimidating her, seeing her fear and frustration. She knew he enjoyed taking his anger out on her, hurting her. He enjoyed tormenting her, and he smiled at her when he did it. And he kept smiling at her.
Just like Roland.
This morning's practice session with the Voice had been particularly bad for him. Cassandra had increased the level of control she was using, and he had not been able to resist any of her commands.
"What the hell is going on?" he had demanded earlier that day in the dining room, slamming both hands flat on the table, a shining expanse of mahogany.
The plastic cup sat on the table between them. Connor's fingerprints showed as small greasy smudges in a line down the side. The cup was no longer round. Cassandra said, "It's the next level, Connor."
His eyes narrowed, and frustration and rage simmered in his voice. "The next level?" He shoved his chair back, then stood and started to pace in front of the large ornate fireplace that looked more Elizabethan than Georgian. "Just how many levels are there?"
"How many levels of sword fighting are there?" she countered. Only two that mattered, of course - winner and loser. She always lost to Connor with swords, and he always lost to her with the Voice.
He stopped pacing to stare at her, and his tone changed to a dangerously quiet one. "Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded, clearly furious and even frightened to think that everything he had gone through this last week was only a beginning.
It should have been obvious to him, but she decided not to tell him that. "You've been holding back with me when we spar," she said reasonably. "We have to start with the basics."
He was angry, but he was not illogical. He grunted and sat back down at the table, leaning back in his chair and staring at the cup with a peculiar mixture of horror and loathing.
Cassandra offered no comfort. She was merely giving him what he had asked for. Still, the lessons were not going as quickly as she had hoped, and she wanted to finish. Perhaps another approach would be better. "You've been learning to listen this week; let's try learning to speak."
Connor straightened abruptly. "Learn to use the Voice?" He sounded appalled, but there was a gleam of curiosity in his eyes, maybe even hunger.
"Not the full Voice," she qualified immediately and forcefully. She would never teach another Immortal the Voice. Never. "That would take years," she said more calmly, hoping to hide her reaction from Connor.
He nodded, but the gleam was still there.
Cassandra hesitated, then explained, "The early lessons about using the Voice will help you learn exactly what to listen for when you resist it." She hoped he did not learn much more than that.
Connor reached for the cup, but Cassandra shook her head. "We won't need that."
He smiled grimly, then tightened his grip on the cup until the plastic cracked. He dropped the broken cup on the table. "Good."
She took a deep breath, then prepared to move to the next level of instruction in the Voice. "Shall we begin?"
Apparently, Connor thought she was ready for the next level of instruction in sword fighting. He had been pushing her hard all afternoon, and the exercise room was hot and stifling. "Stand up, Cassandra." He sounded impatient now, and angry.
Cassandra stood up immediately, her face expressionless, her hands by her sides.
"Forgetting something?" he asked, in a voice as sharp as his blade, glancing at her sword lying on the floor.
Cassandra knelt to pick it up, carefully keeping her eyes on him. She hadn't forgotten everything. You never took your eyes off your opponent. She wiped the hilt with her shirt and gripped her sword, feeling the balance and the weight of it. She took some small satisfaction at the darkness of sweat on Connor's shirt. At least now she was making him work a little bit before he knocked her to the floor.
"Are you ready?" He still sounded angry.
She nodded once, and they started circling each other, looking for openings. Cassandra tried to concentrate. She hated this. She hated facing Connor like this, seeing the way he looked at her, that intense and unwavering stare, the anger and contempt in his eyes. He was watching her, studying her, remembering what he knew about her, her strengths and her weaknesses, her moves and her tricks.
She knew this was more than sparring to him, more than simple practice. He was enjoying it. She hated every minute of it. He attacked, and she managed to parry and escape without being wounded. That was good. Rare, but good.
Connor shook his head. "You're going to have to be more aggressive than that, Cassandra. You've been doing well this last week; what's wrong with you today?"
Whatever she did, it was never enough. She hated him, and she knew he hated her. She attacked. She got in a few good blows before he forced her back. She managed to escape him again, using the weight bench as a barrier.
Connor gave her a single, gracious nod, but his eyes were cold and mocking. "It's good to see you do remember." Then he smiled at her.
Cassandra had not really been looking at his face. She had been watching his center, knowing his movements there would give her the best indication of his next attack. But even so, she caught a glimpse of those angry eyes and that cold, anticipatory smile. She had seen that look before, many times over the centuries, and she knew she should not move.
Connor attacked. It was a straightforward attack, a simple thrust across the bench that stood between them. She had blocked it many times before, had blocked it easily and smoothly, so he did not restrain the force or the speed of the thrust.
Cassandra watched him come. She did not use her sword to defend herself. She did not move. Connor's sword caught her just under the rib cage, angling slightly up to reach into her heart. There was no pain at first, only an intense heat at the entry point, an unpleasant erratic fluttering within her, then a sudden grating thud inside her back. Connor's face was close before her, his eyes still angry.
Her hands felt cold, and she heard a faint, dim clanging sound. The pain came then, pulling at her and stretching her, crumpling her, until the solid hardness of the floor held her close. Connor's face was still there, wavering, shifting. Only his eyes seemed to stay in focus, watching her. She was surprised to see he did not look angry now.
"Shit!" Connor dropped his sword and jumped over the weight bench to kneel beside her. He had been planning on following the straight thrust with another attack after she blocked it, but she hadn't blocked it. She hadn't even tried. Hell, she hadn't even blinked!
He gathered her onto his lap, trying to be gentle about it. Even that careful movement obviously caused her pain - more pain. Her blood was all over his hands now. He had held onto the sword while she had collapsed; his long years of survival in the brutal art of Immortal sword-fighting had taught him to hold onto his katana. But as her body had slid off the blade, his tight grip had caused the sword to twist within the wound, and now more blood was flowing onto her clothing and the floor.
She was dying; that was plain enough. He was surprised she was still breathing. Her eyes were open and glazing, and small bubbles of bloody saliva escaped from between her lips. She stared at him until she died.
He sat there, numb, looking at the lifeless face of someone who had trusted him, feeling the warm dead weight in his lap and the dampness of blood on his hands.
It was not the first time.
Connor had held Duncan in his arms in just this way, one fine summer morning in the Highlands, while the birds sang in the trees and a gentle breeze blew and Connor's hands were slick with his student's blood. But that death had not been an accident. Connor had wanted to kill Duncan, and he had.
Connor closed his eyes and tried not to remember, tried not to see. But the words he had remembered that day came back to him again: "Connor, you are such a fool." Cassandra had said that to him when she had been his teacher, when she had taught him a brutal lesson about trust by stabbing him through the heart. She had said those words to him again, on the first night he had been in her bed in Donan Woods, that night he had learned what it was to be a killer.
She had not said them to him in Aberdeen, when he had finally realized that she had been lying to him and using him for decades, but then she had not needed to. Connor had remembered those words on his own. He would always be able to remember those words. Such a fool.
He shook his head and looked at Cassandra again. Her eyes were still open, and he shut the lids gently. Reviving and healing were bad enough without the burning ache of desiccated eyes. Connor shifted his legs to a more comfortable position and waited for Cassandra to revive. The sunshine from the windows was warm on his back and shoulders, and he watched the dust motes float through the air, thinking of nothing at all.
It did not take her long, perhaps ten minutes, but if he had not been holding her and felt her momentary tenseness, the sudden silent intake of breath, he might have thought she was still dead. She was lying limp on his lap again, completely relaxed, her eyes closed. He had not seen that many Immortals revive, but every single one of them had looked around. She had not even opened her eyes.
"Cassandra?" he said softly.
She did not move.
"Cassandra," he said, "it's Connor."
Finally, she stirred. She blinked once and focused on him, then immediately pushed away from him, trying to sit.
Connor gave her an extra shove, then wiped the blood from his hands onto his shirt as best he could. Cassandra moved farther from him, farther from the smeared pool of her blood, then she wrapped her arms about her knees and huddled on the floor. He asked quietly, "What happened, Cassandra?"
She snorted at that, a whimpering sound, then she shivered once. She would not look at him. "You killed me," she said simply.
"Yes," Connor admitted evenly, "I did. But I wasn't trying to. That was a move you've seen before. You could have blocked it." He waited for some response from her, but there was nothing. Connor did not bother to hide his sudden surge of irritation as he said, "You should have blocked that, but you didn't defend yourself. You didn't even try. So what happened?"
She shrugged and put her chin on her knees.
His irritation turned to anger, the same anger he had felt toward his son John six years ago when John had run in front of Connor's car to get his baseball. Connor had almost killed John that day, and he still had nightmares about it. He shook his head and demanded, "What the hell were you thinking?"
Cassandra said nothing, merely sat there, her eyes downcast.
"Why did you just stand there?" Still no answer. She was really starting to annoy him. "Cassandra?"
She didn't look at him, but at least she answered, her voice soft and hesitant, "You reminded me ... of Roland."
"Roland?" he repeated, dumbfounded. "I reminded you of ...?" Connor had felt anger before, but now he felt rage. He stood abruptly and turned away from her in disgust. He was nothing like that murdering bastard who enjoyed torturing people to death. How could she even think such a thing?
"I'm sorry," she said, almost inaudibly.
Connor took a deep breath and held it, then let the air out slowly through his nose, willing the anger to leave him. He knew how dangerous that anger could be, and he needed to find out why he reminded her of Roland. He took another deep breath and let it out, then turned back to her. He tried to make his voice calm and reassuring. "Cassandra, I am not Roland."
"No, of course you're not," she agreed quickly. Too quickly. Then she repeated, "I'm sorry."
Why was she apologizing to him?
She still wouldn't look at him. "May I ... take a shower now?"
And why was she asking his permission to take a shower? What the hell was wrong with her? "Yeah, sure," he said. He watched as she stood unsteadily and made her way from the exercise room to the bathroom across the hall.
Connor walked to the weight bench and looked at the mess. The pool of blood showed as a thick darkness against the wood floor, and both their swords were spattered with blood, his blade much more than hers. She had forgotten her sword again. That was going to get her killed. He would have to make that a lesson, too. But not today; she was in no condition for that now.
He picked up the swords and wiped them clean and set them on the weight bench. He knew the blades needed a more thorough cleaning, and so did the floor. Connor closed his eyes briefly and ran his hand through his hair. He really didn't want to deal with the floor right now, but it would only get worse if he waited. He soaked up most of the blood with a towel and mopped the floor quickly. It was enough. He took his sword with him and went to take his own shower in the bathroom off the master bedroom.
When he was clean, Connor sat in the hallway on the chair near the window. He waited there for Cassandra at the bottom of the stairs. He wanted to talk to her, and he knew she was likely to leave without speaking to him. The water was still running through the pipes; apparently she had decided to take a very long shower. He was not surprised; it was good to wash after dying. That day he had killed Duncan, the two of them had gone swimming in the river near their camp.
Connor closed his eyes and refused to remember.
The water was starting to turn cold when Cassandra finally stepped from the shower. She had washed her hair twice to get the blood off, and scrubbed herself four times. She hated dying. Shivering, she dried herself quickly and dressed. She combed out the tangles in her hair, not bothering to look at her reflection in the mirror.
Cassandra crouched on the floor and stuffed her bloody exercise clothes in her bag, shuddering at the touch of them. She hated blood. Her hands needed washing again, but she stayed where she was, crouching, her head down, her eyes closed. It was too much trouble to move. She wanted to sleep, lie down and sleep for days. Just sleep. No dreams. To sleep without dreams, for eight hours. Even for six. She was so tired. She was so tired of it all.
But she had no choice. The Game was not going to go away. Kronos was not going to go away, until she killed him. And she was going to kill him. She was going to kill him, or die trying. Then it would all go away.
Cassandra stood and washed her hands quickly, drank yet another cup of water, then picked up her bag. It felt oddly light, and she realized with dismay that she had forgotten her sword. Again. Connor would not be pleased. She stared at the door with reluctance and dread. She wanted to stay in the bathroom. She wanted to hide.
But he was waiting for her, and if she made him wait too long, he would be angry. Again.
She took a deep breath and forced herself to open the bathroom door, then went into the exercise room. He was not there, and she closed her eyes in relief. Her sword had been wiped clean and placed on the weight bench, a silent reproach and reminder. Cassandra did not look at the dampness on the floor as she picked her sword up and put it in her bag. Maybe she could leave the house without seeing him. Maybe she could sneak out. Maybe she would not have to face him.
But he was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs, his sword in his hand.
She immediately wiped all expression from her face and assumed her mask of indifferent blankness. He would not want to see her fear or her reluctance. Cassandra walked down the stairs smoothly, and nodded to him when she reached the landing.
He nodded back, his own face expressionless, then held his katana up slightly and suggested, "Let's clean them."
Cleaning swords sounded innocent enough, but Cassandra knew it was merely the beginning of his way of telling her how stupid she had been. There would be more to come; she was sure of it. She nodded again and followed him to the kitchen. She had no choice.
They sat in silence for a time at the kitchen table. Connor disassembled his katana and carefully cleaned her blood from the blade, the tang, and the handguard with a damp cloth. Cassandra tried not to watch, but cleaned her own sword, then concentrated on honing the edge of her blade with a whetting stone, working on a nick near the base. Connor was reassembling his sword when he asked, not even bothering to look at her, "What happened to your scimitar?"
This was a part of the lesson, reminding her of other swords lost. She did not want to answer, but Connor was watching her now, waiting, and she would not lie to him. Not anymore. "Roland took it," she admitted finally, setting down the stone and picking up the polishing cloth and the oil. She had gotten this English one-and-a-half broadsword just last month.
Connor merely grunted and reached for the whetting stone, then started to sharpen his blade.
Cassandra busied herself with a scratch near the tip. Roland had always taken her swords. He did not like any woman having a sword. Connor had taken her sword, too, but he had given it back to her after a few days. She kept polishing aimlessly long after the scratch was smoothed, waiting for Connor to finish. Finally, he sheathed his sword and set it down. Cassandra sheathed her own sword and placed it in her bag, then waited for him to continue this little lesson.
"You hungry?" he asked.
She glanced at him quickly, hiding her surprise and dismay. He was going to make her wait even more, make her wonder when the rest of the lesson would begin. Maybe he would wait for days, acting pleasant and good-natured, until she began to think he had forgotten it, until she herself began to forget it. Then the lesson would come, brutal and unexpected, and she would remember.
But right now he was waiting for her answer, and she should not make him wait. "Yes," she admitted, suddenly realizing how hungry and thirsty she was. Of course, she was still thirsty; blood loss always had that effect.
"Let's make dinner." He sounded relaxed, even friendly. "What would you like?"
Cassandra did not trust his easy manner. Pretending to be friendly was part of the lesson. "It doesn't matter."
"But what would you like?" he asked again, leaning forward a little.
She dropped her gaze from him and repeated, "It doesn't matter."
"Want a drink, Cassandra?" Connor asked, holding up a bottle of whisky. He was glad she had eaten a full plate of spaghetti at dinner; he wanted to get her a little drunk before they talked, but he didn't want her to drink too much on an empty stomach.
She looked at the bottle and wet her lips, then shook her head. "No."
"Some coffee?" he offered. He had seen that look on her face. He knew she would probably agree to have whisky in her coffee. Not that he would ask.
"That would be good," she agreed.
Connor made the coffee strong, the way they both liked it. He poured himself a cup as well, and joined her at the table, then poured a generous dollop of whisky into his cup and did the same for her. He disliked using fine whisky this way, but it was for a good cause.
She looked at her cup, and then at him.
"Scottish coffee," he explained with a small grin. "No Irish whiskey in the house."
Cassandra gave a hint of a smile at his joke and did not protest. She added cream and sugar, then sipped at her drink, holding the cup between her hands.
He waited until her cup was half-empty before he asked, "So, what happened this afternoon, Cassandra?" He was watching her very closely, and he saw the sudden tenseness in her. It was not betrayed by her face, of course, but it showed in her hands. Her fingers tightened on the cup, then relaxed. She said nothing, so he prodded her, determined to understand her in the same way she understood him. "You said I reminded you of Roland. How?"
A quick flashing glance, then she began. "You..." She took a gulp of her whisky-laced coffee and tried again. "He..."
Connor waited, silent. He knew how hard it was to speak of such things.
She was staring at the table again, her eyes downcast, her voice low. "He would tell me not to move, not to resist him, not to ... protect myself." Her knuckles were white. "If I did move, it would be worse."
Connor did not ask what "it" was.
She shrugged. "So, I didn't move."
That explained what Roland had done, but it did not tell him why he had reminded her of Roland. Connor had not told her not to move. "Why today? Why not before?"
"You were angry," she said simply.
Connor snorted. That was hardly unusual, especially around her, but she was right. He had been angry today, more so than usual. He hated having Cassandra using the Voice on him, and when he had finally understood that she had been going easy on him - toying with him! - these last five days, he had been furious. He had been furious that she had misled him that way, and even more furious with himself for not seeing what she was doing.
He had tried to control his anger, knowing it was irrational and unwarranted, but she had known he was angry. Of course, she had known.
She added, "And then, you ... smiled at me."
He remembered her words from last month at his farm, when they had sat at another kitchen table and talked about Roland: "He smiles when he hurts you." Connor did not torture people for pleasure, but he knew he smiled when he fought; it unnerved his opponents. And he smiled when he killed. Shit.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
Connor shook his head in disbelief. He had stabbed her through the heart, and now she was apologizing to him for it. "Cassandra," he said gently, as he reached across the table to touch her hand, hoping to make her look at him, "it's not your fault. Don't apologize for it."
She looked at him then, as he had wanted her to.
Fear trailed its delicate finger across the back of his neck, and the icy caress made him shiver. For her eyes were not merely blank, they were empty. Fey eyes, eyes of one possessed, or worse, eyes of no one at all. She believed it was her fault. She believed she deserved everything he did to her, no matter what he might do. She believed she had no right to protect herself, no right to protest. She believed she was no one.
Connor knew she was in there somewhere, and he knew one sure way to reach her, reach that part of her that would help her combat this helplessness. Hate would make her strong. It worked for him.
"What about Kronos, Cassandra?" he asked, and he was vastly relieved to see something flicker in her eyes. He wanted to see more; he wanted to see that flicker become a flame. "Are you going to apologize to him?"
Now there was fire in her eyes, a cold, deadly fire of hate. "No," she said, in a voice just as cold and just as deadly.
Connor shivered again, feeling the power in that voice, even though it was not directed at him. At least she did not look so beaten anymore. "Good," he said approvingly. "But if he gets angry? Or if he smiles?"
She thought about it for a moment, sipping at her coffee, then shook her head. "It doesn't bother me that way, with others."
Connor's own anger flared as realized the implications of that statement. "Just with me."
Her face immediately became blank again as she retreated from his anger, and Connor cursed silently in sudden realization. She was responding to him the same way she had been taught to respond to Roland. Then he realized what he had been doing these last four days, and he cursed again. He hated being under the influence of the Voice, and he had been taking it out on her. He had been abrupt and sarcastic to her, even downright rude. She had never once reacted or protested, never responded in kind, never even seemed to care. She had been all silence and averted eyes, all politeness and meaningless smiles. Being nasty to her was like hitting jello; there was no satisfaction in it at all.
Connor had wanted that satisfaction. He wanted to fight. So he kept pushing her, getting nastier and nastier. And of course, she kept retreating, becoming more and more compliant, just the way Roland had taught her to do, until finally she could retreat no farther. But she hadn't fought back when she was cornered; she had just stood there and let him kill her.
He wiped his hand across his face and sighed. He had forgotten how fucked up she really was, how much that bastard had hurt her and mangled her. She expected abuse, and sometimes she practically invited it, just as some abused children grew up and married into other abusive relationships. "I'm not angry at you, Cassandra," he said gently, trying to reassure her.
"No?" The word was laced with bitterness.
He started to say no, then thought about it. She was right. Damn it, she was right again. He was angry at her for thinking he was Roland, and she knew that. He was angry at her for using the Voice on him, and she knew that. And he was angry at her just for knowing so much about him, and of course, she knew that, too. He took a deep breath and let the anger go. "No," he said. "Not really. It's just ... the Voice." He shrugged; she knew how much he hated that.
"I'm not angry at you for anything you've done," Connor said, and that was saying a lot. "Not anymore." And he wasn't, not really. He waited until she nodded, then said, "Now that we know what triggers the flashbacks of Roland for you, Cassandra, it would probably be best if we sparred in the morning, and practiced the Voice in the afternoon. Maybe we should even skip a day here or there."
She shook her head. "I don't think this is going to work, Connor. I don't think we should go on teaching each other this way."
"We know about this now, so we'll be more careful. And it won't be so bad when we're working on pronouncing instead of resisting, right?"
"Yes," she agreed dubiously.
"And we won't spar if I'm ... upset." He was not willing to quit, not completely, not when he was starting to make real progress. Connor leaned forward and kept his face completely serious as he said, "And I promise never to smile at you while we're sparring." Then he smiled, a real smile, the first real smile he had given to her in over three and a half centuries, since Aberdeen.
Cassandra drew in a sharp breath and held it, then finally smiled at him in return, a smile of hope and trust. "All right," she said. "We'll try that. And we'll be careful."
"Yes," Connor agreed. "We will." Another smile from him, answered by another tremulous smile from her. "More coffee?" he offered. "Or just whisky?"
"Just whisky, I think," Cassandra said.
Connor got shot glasses and poured them each a drink, then decided he might as well ask his other questions now. "Tell me more about Kronos, Cassandra." She flinched at the name, very slightly, but she flinched. The whisky must be working. Good.
She took a deep breath and held it, then said, "I told you before that Kronos was Roland's teacher." She paused. "As he was one of mine."
"There were four of them, four Immortals."
Connor had never heard of anyone having four teachers. "And you were their student?"
"No." Her lips tightened and she swallowed hard, as if she were trying to wash away some bitterness in her mouth. The bitterness was still in her voice. "I was their slave." She took a large drink of her whisky, then explained briefly, "The four Immortals rode together, called each other Brother. They slaughtered my people, my tribe. Kronos killed me. When I revived, I was a slave in their camp."
She stood and stared out the window into the garden, then lifted her glass and examined it carefully, turning it round in her fingers, watching the amber liquid swirl. "Of course, the four of them didn't bother to tell me I was an Immortal. They didn't tell me we could die by beheading. They didn't tell me about Quickenings. They didn't tell me anything about what I was, what they were."
She snorted in disgust. "They killed me for the first time, then they let me think that they were some kind of gods or magicians, that they had brought me back to life only because it pleased them to do so." Cassandra tossed back what was left of her drink, then sat down and put the glass carefully on the table.
Connor poured her another drink, then leaned back in his chair, wondering what it had been like to be a slave of those men.
She nodded her thanks and picked up the glass again. "They taught me nothing about Immortality, but I learned a great deal from them." Her lips twisted briefly, a grimace of a smile. "They were my first teachers. I suppose you could say Roland was the next."
Connor shook his head. Christ, with teachers like that, no wonder she had been so brutal to him. He set his chair down with a thump. "What did they teach Roland?"
Cassandra was silent for a moment, considering. "They taught Roland more, but not everything. He was a man, and an Immortal, so they didn't make him a slave, of course. They called him Little Brother." She sipped her drink. "I don't think he cared for that name very much.
"They told him he was an Immortal, and that I was one, too. But I think they told him the same thing they had told me, that they had done something to us to make us Immortal, not that we were born that way. They didn't tell him about beheadings or Quickenings. He was as surprised as I was, when he took the Lady's head and the lightning came."
"How could you not know about Quickenings?" Connor asked skeptically. "You said you were over two hundred when she died."
"How could I know?" she countered. "There weren't many people then. You could travel for days and never see another living soul. I would go decades, even centuries, without meeting another Immortal. And if I did meet one, I had no real reason to try to behead them."
"What about the Game?"
She shook her head. "I don't remember even hearing about the Game until several centuries after Troy fell. It may have been going on, and I just didn't know about it."
He snorted in disbelief.
Cassandra smiled sadly. "It's hard to imagine, isn't it? An Immortal life without the Game? But if no one tells you the rules, you don't play."
Connor was silent, thinking, then he gave a soft grunt of dismissal. The Game was here now. "How long were you with them?" he asked. He had asked her that once before, long ago in Donan Woods.
Her answer was still the same. "Long enough."
Connor waited, eyebrows raised, for a more complete answer. This woman owed him the complete truth, and he was going to make sure he got it.
Cassandra said impatiently, "I don't know. Really. We were in the desert, so the seasons weren't obvious, and of course I didn't age. More than one year. Two? Three? It's a blur. It was a long time ago." The gleam of hate and memory showed in her eyes again, an inward stare that eventually became a look of hate and determination. "But now I know he's alive, and Roland told Kronos that I am alive. And I am not going to wait for Kronos to come after me."
"But will he? As you said, it was a long time ago."
"Oh, he will." She seemed very sure of that. In answer to Connor's questioning stare, she added, "The last time I saw him, I killed him with his own knife. He's not going to forget that. Or forgive it."
"No." Connor would never forget something like that, either. "Do you know where-?" The telephone rang, and Connor stood and picked up the receiver. "Hello?"
Connor smiled, a smile of happiness and recognition, and he said one word. "Alex."
Cassandra rose swiftly and went into the library, then stood staring out the window. Connor kept an eye on her as he listened to his wife.
"Can you come home this weekend?" Alex said.
"Is something wrong?" Connor asked in sudden concern, ignoring Cassandra now.
"No," Alex reassured him. "The pregnancy's going fine; I'm fine; John's fine; the horses are fine. I just ... miss you."
He relaxed and said, "I miss you, too, Alex."
"So, you'll come home soon?" she asked, teasing now.
Connor's smile became a grin. Alex liked to play these games. "What's going on?"
"The sooner you come home, the sooner you'll know."
"Alex ...," he growled.
"See you soon, Connor," Alex said smugly.
"Yes," he replied, "you'll see me soon." He made a sudden decision. "I'll see you tomorrow." It was Thursday night, and Connor thought a three-day weekend sounded pretty good.
"Tomorrow?" she repeated, sounding both amused and pleased. "Good." There was a wealth of satisfaction in that one word. "I love you, Connor," Alex said more gently.
Connor smiled again. Her voice sounded good: low and throaty. It was the way she sounded when she had just woken up. Or just made love. And he liked the way she said his name. "I love you, too, Alex." He hoped his voice sounded the same to her. "Tell John I miss him."
"I will. Goodnight."
A soft click, and Connor stood there for a moment, holding the receiver in his hand. He wondered what surprise she was keeping from him, why she wanted him to come home so soon. Something was going on. He smiled again. It would be a challenge to see how soon he could get Alex to tell him tomorrow, and Connor had always liked a challenge.
He hung up the phone and went into the library, but Cassandra wasn't there anymore. He walked into the parlor and saw her in the front hall, putting on her coat. It was getting late, and maybe she was tired of talking. He went to the hall and said, "I need to go home tomorrow, just for a few days. I'll be back on Monday."
She nodded, her face blankly indifferent.
"We need the break," he reminded her.
"Yes," she agreed politely. "That will be good."
"Would you like to borrow the car while I'm gone?" he offered. "Go somewhere?"
"No, thank you," she said, still polite. "There's quite enough to do in town. I haven't really done much exploring yet."
Connor nodded, then took his jacket out of the closet. He didn't think she wanted to be alone just now, and she had just downed several shots of whisky. "I'll walk you to the hotel, Cassandra," he offered.
She picked up her bag as she turned to look at him, then shook her head. "You don't need to, Connor."
He thought he detected a note of surprise in her voice, but he wasn't sure. Her mask was back on, and she was very good at hiding what she felt. He stepped closer to her and laid his hand on her arm, to let her know that he cared. "I want to."
A brief pause, then she smiled slightly and shook her head again. "No, thank you." She looked tired. "I'd like to walk a bit, by myself. It's been a long day."
"Yes, it has." Dying was never easy, and that discussion had not been easy for her, either, even with the whisky. He unlocked the door and opened it for her. "I'll see you on Monday, then, at nine."
"On Monday," she agreed. "Good night, Connor."
"Good night, Cassandra." He watched her until she reached the corner. It was still light out, this close to the solstice. It would do her good to walk in the fresh air, and the gardens were beautiful now in summer. Connor shut the door and locked it, then ran up the stairs to pack. He was going home tomorrow to see his family, and he wanted to get an early start.
Cassandra walked swiftly down the street, staring at nothing. He thought she was so incompetent that she couldn't even walk a few blocks without his help. He thought she was so cowardly that she would be afraid to be alone.
She knew he hated weakness and incompetence. She knew he despised cowards. And she had just told him two more pitiful stories about herself. More stories about her being weak and cowardly and helpless. More stories about how inept and incompetent she was.
He had sounded gentle and patient when they had talked after dinner. As if he cared. Oh, maybe he cared a little, pitied her even, the way he might care about a lost dog that had been abused, but she knew he didn't respect her.
Cassandra walked faster. She didn't want his pity. She wanted his respect and admiration, his trust and his friendship, and she knew very well she deserved none of them.
She might want his friendship, but she didn't need it. And she didn't need his help, either. She had managed to survive without him for hundreds of years, for thousands of years. He hadn't been there to help when Roland had taken her in Aberdeen, had he? He hadn't been there when she had been attacked in Spain. He hadn't been there during the war in the Philippines. He hadn't been there. For three hundred and sixty-six years, he hadn't been there.
He was only putting up with her so that she would teach him to resist the Voice, and he wanted to leave as soon as possible. He wanted to go back to his wife. She had heard what he had said on the phone. She couldn't help but hear, with him in the next room. And she didn't want to hear it.
Cassandra wondered what it would be like to love someone, or to have someone love her. She could not remember, and she could not imagine. There was no place in her life for love. She had been a fool even to think of it, even for an instant. She had no right to such a thing; she did not deserve it.
She didn't need him, and she didn't want him.
Cassandra walked through the lobby of the Hawton Hotel, smiled at the desk clerk, went to her room, and shut the door gently behind her.
It is here we must begin.
"Waiting for me, Cassandra?" Roland sounded cheerful, even friendly.
Cassandra opened her eyes the merest crack, trying to adjust her eyes to the light of the candle. It hurt. She had been in the dark a long time. She wasn't sure how long she had been in the cell. Days, certainly, maybe weeks. In the dark, with no sound but the dripping of the water. In the dark, alone. Except for the rats. Of course, she had been waiting for him. What else did she have to do?
"Would you like to come out, Cassandra?" Very polite.
She did not answer, did not move. She had two options. She could stay here until he decided to come and ask her again. It might be another week. Last time it had been ten days. Or she could go with him now. There was also the possibility that Roland might not ask again; he might just drag her out. And then he would be angry.
"Of course, I can leave you here, if you'd prefer." Very considerate.
Not much of a choice. Roland, or rats. Now, or later.
"Whatever you want, Cassandra. Just tell me." The perfect gallant.
She stood slowly and walked toward Roland, and he smiled.
Cassandra woke, alone. No one was touching her. No one was near. She opened her eyes and looked about her hotel room, then got out of bed and began her exercises. The movie this morning was Brigadoon, and there was no new information on Kronos. Nothing at all.
She walked slowly through the rain to Connor's house.
"Been waiting for me, Cassandra?" Connor asked cheerfully, as he came up the steps two at a time. He shifted the bag of groceries he was carrying to take out his keys, but did not hurry. The fine summer rain felt good. It had been an unusually dry and hot summer, and the garden had been starting to suffer.
Cassandra was standing under the small overhang of the roof near his front door, looking, as usual, less than happy. The rain had darkened her hair to flat brown, and her coat was patched with damp. Apparently, she did not share his good humor. "No."
He gave Cassandra a quick glance as he unlocked the front door and said lightly, "Then you were late."
"So were you." She did not even bother to look at him as she walked past him into the house.
Connor watched her as she took off her coat and hung it in the closet. That joke hadn't gone over very well. Maybe she just didn't like rainy Monday mornings. He locked the door from the inside and hung up his own raincoat, then carried the bag into the kitchen.
She was standing near the table and staring out the window at the garden, her arms wrapped around herself. The rain was steady and quiet, and the plants swayed and dipped under the raindrops.
He put the milk and eggs in the refrigerator, humming to himself. He was wide-awake and invigorated, both by his walk in the rain and by the surprise Alex had had for him. She had been evasive and teasing when he had arrived at the farm at lunchtime on Friday, but she had finally told him, right before they ate.
Twins. She was pregnant with twins. Connor still could not quite believe it. After all this time, to have not just one baby, but two. And she was coming to Edinburgh in two weeks to take a class on Celtic archeology at the university. John was coming for a visit, too, before he left for his month-long pony trek across Iceland. Connor wouldn't have to be away from his family anymore. Life was good. Life was great!
"Coffee?" he said to Cassandra. Maybe that would put her in a better mood.
Cassandra sat across from Connor at the kitchen table, drinking her coffee and staring at the table. She was not in a good mood.
"Did you see much of Edinburgh this weekend?" Connor asked.
"Not really," she answered. Except for her morning runs, she had left her hotel room only to visit the library. The weekend - all three days of it, thanks to Connor deciding to take a vacation - had been a complete waste of time. She had thought she had a lead on Kronos, but it had gone nowhere. None of the leads she had been following had gone anywhere. She should not be wasting her time here in Edinburgh; she should be hunting.
"There are some museums here," he suggested. "And the Royal Botanic Garden is good."
"Yes," she answered politely, not really listening. She had promised Connor she would teach him to resist the Voice, and she would keep that promise, even though she did not like teaching him. Even though she wanted to hunt down Kronos and kill him. Even though Connor apparently thought she had nothing better to do than wait around for him on a rainy Monday morning, and wait for him while he spent long weekends in bed with his wife.
Cassandra stood and emptied the rest of her coffee in the sink. "Are you done yet?"
"Then I'll wait for you." Again. She turned and went into the dining room, then walked between the enormous mahogany table and the massive antique cabinet against the wall. The porcelain dishes shimmered as she moved past, and she paused to look at the delicate painted flowers, the gilt edges, the graceful curves and flowing shapes of the plates and cups and bowls. Polished silver gleamed against the darkness of the wood, and crystal glasses shone. Connor seemed to like beautiful things. He could afford to.
She went to the window and stared out into the street. The occasional pedestrian walked by carrying the requisite black umbrella. The even more occasional car splashed water onto gray stone steps that led to black houses. The sky was gray; the sidewalks were gray; even the dark-green leaves of the bushes outside were shadowed to gray. Her clothes were gray and black, too, she realized suddenly, glancing at her black jeans, feeling the weave of her gray shirt beneath her hands. She hugged her arms more tightly to herself and closed her eyes. She did not want to be here.
She turned suddenly, aware of Connor's presence. He was leaning casually against the doorjamb, his coffee cup in his hand. His relaxed pose did not reassure her, for he was watching her intently, like a wolf examining a potential meal.
"What's wrong, Cassandra?"
He should know what was wrong! How blind could he be? But that was not fair of her, was it? She had agreed to teach him; she owed him this. He was even helping her with her sword fighting. She had no right to be angry with him.
"I'm sorry," she said, taking a calming breath, forcing the anger down, letting her hands fall to her sides. "I haven't had much luck finding Kronos, and I'm getting impatient." She tried to smile at him. "I shouldn't take it out on you."
"It is hard to wait," he agreed, uncoiling from the doorway and pulling out one of the twelve chairs from underneath the table. "How are you looking for him?"
"I have some detective agencies looking," she said, taking the chair across from him. "One in England, two in America, one in Hong Kong, one in Cairo. And I've been looking through old newspapers at the library, and doing some searching on the Internet."
"It's only been two weeks," he said. "It might take some time."
"Yes," she agreed shortly. She wasn't stupid; she knew that. She did not want to talk about Kronos; she wanted to kill him. And to do that, she needed to finish teaching Connor and get out of Edinburgh. "Shall we begin?"
He nodded, then said, "Oh, Alex and John are coming to Edinburgh in two weeks."
"How nice." She smiled at him and kept her voice pleasant. "For the weekend?" Of course, they were coming. He would not want to be away from his wife for very long.
"John will be here for a few days before he leaves for Iceland. Alex will be here for six weeks."
Wonderful. With Connor's wife here, they would get even less work done. It wouldn't be easy to do any training with her around.
"Alex will be busy during the day mostly, so we can still train here," he added, obviously sensing her reservations.
Mostly. He certainly didn't seem to be taking the training seriously, for all he had seemed so interested before. "Fine," she said, eager to get today's lesson over with. "Shall we begin?" she repeated. "We'll work on pronunciation this morning."
He nodded slowly. "Yeah. Let's get started."
"Say it again, Connor. This way." She repeated the sound, the syllables precisely enunciated, carefully phrased and pitched. "Ar-awn-tha."
Connor said carefully, "Ar-awn-tha."
"Almost," she encouraged. "Again, and slower. Try for a slightly higher pitch on the last syllable."
"Good," she said. "The rhythm is off, and the tone could be a bit crisper, but it's good. You've gotten much better this morning."
"It would be easier if I knew what it meant," Connor said.
"It doesn't mean anything. It's just a word, so you can work on controlling your voice. The voice, any voice, is a very complex sound. It has tone, rhythm, harmonics, frequencies. All of those elements are combined in a specific way to make the Voice, so you need to know how to control all of those elements. You're learning how."
"There are a lot of elements, and a lot of sounds," he commented dryly.
"Yes," she agreed, then said encouragingly, "You have a head start on it. You have a good ear and you sing, so you already know how to listen and how to control your breathing and produce different tones. Musical people do much better at the Voice."
"Have you ever done a frequency analysis of the Voice?" Connor asked. "With sound equipment and computers?"
"No," she said slowly, struck by the possibilities. That could be very interesting. Or very dangerous. Making a mechanical device capable of controlling people was not a good idea. The technology was not yet capable of reproducing voices that well, but it would be someday. Still, a computer analysis of the sound would give valuable feedback for the student. A color display might work best. Cassandra shook her head. She would not need that. She was not going to teach anyone the Voice.
She said to Connor, "We'll spend the next few weeks learning how to produce the different sounds. After you learn how to say them, you'll be able to focus on the individual sounds in the Voice, instead of hearing all of it at once."
"Like a trained musician can hear the individual musical instruments in an orchestra, and the different nuances, instead of just listening to the music," Connor said.
"Yes!" Cassandra agreed. "That's it exactly. When you can hear the Voice that way, when you can break it down into its pieces, it's not powerful enough to affect you." She smiled at him ruefully. "I should have started this way, instead of using the Voice on you first."
Connor's answering grunt was equally rueful. He shook his head. "I don't see how we can finish this in a month or two. You said it took ten years to learn to use the Voice."
"To use it, yes," she conceded, "but not to listen to it. Making the sounds isn't hard; it's knowing which sound to use that takes time." She returned to the music analogy. "Most people can learn to make a few tolerable noises on a violin. Only after a year or two can a violinist put the notes and the phrasing and the bow technique together and play a tune. And only a maestro can make music that haunts the soul."
He gave another grunt, more sarcastic than rueful. "That's one way to describe it."
"Yes," Cassandra said, regretting her choice of words. The Voice haunted the soul, too, and she knew Connor would always remember and resent what she had done to him with it. Last month at his farm, he had not believed her when she had told him about the Voice, so she had demonstrated it for him. Or rather, on him. She had forced him to his knees and held his own sword to his neck, then she had made him lean into the blade. He had believed her then.
She continued, hoping to distract him, "The Voice is even more difficult than music, because each person responds to a different kind of influence." She did not want to use the word control. "We spent years learning to register people, observing them, learning about their cultures and their languages. You don't need to learn that, so it won't take nearly as long. You just need to learn the basics."
Connor nodded, but pushed his chair back from the table and stretched his arms impatiently.
She hid her smile. He did not like being a beginner at anything. "Do you remember the first time you picked up a sword?"
One eyebrow lifted. "I was three. The damn thing was taller than I was, and nearly half as heavy."
Now she did smile. "Yes, of course." He had been raised as a warrior from the time he could walk. "How about the first time you drove a car? It seemed awkward; you had to think about each step, each lever, each pedal. Now, it's easy."
This time he grunted in agreement. He certainly knew how to produce the different nuances in that sound. "Does using the Voice ever get easy?" Connor asked.
"No." And that was a good thing. "No more than using a sword becomes easy. But it does become easier. With time, and practice."
"And just how do you practice?" he asked, suspicion evident in his voice and his eyes.
"I don't. When I was learning it, we practiced on each other in the Temple, under the elder priestesses' supervision, but I almost never use it now."
"Almost." The stare of the wolf was back.
"It's a weapon, Connor," she said sharply. "One of the few I have." She stared back defiantly. "I use it to defend myself."
"The American Department of Defense used to be called the Department of War," Connor said, still intent on his prey. "It was a much more honest name."
"Defense takes many forms," she admitted. She had promised never to lie to him again, and he was going to hold her to that. She was trying to hold herself to that.
"And sometimes the best defense is a good offense," Connor suggested. "Like hunting Kronos."
"Yes," she agreed. Hunting Kronos was defending herself, and she would use the Voice as often as necessary, and on as many people as necessary, until she had killed him. But she couldn't go after Kronos until she was done with Connor, and the sooner the training was over, the better.
"Try it again, Connor," she said. "Ar-awn-tha."
The next two weeks passed smoothly, but not quickly. Connor was impatient for Alex and John to arrive. He went home on the weekend, but only for two days, not three. At least he didn't dread the daily sessions with Cassandra anymore; learning how to pronounce words was a great deal easier than trying to resist the Voice. He and Cassandra settled into a comfortable routine. In the morning, they practiced the Voice, then they went running, sometimes together, more often separately. After the run, they would eat lunch, practice the Voice again, then spar. Connor was very careful to be polite to her while sparring. She was equally polite back.
In a way, the time reminded him of their days in Donan Woods, when he had been the student, and she had been the teacher. Those had been good times between them. She was still often distracted and usually silent, but she was spending most of her free time searching for Kronos, and he knew how absorbing hunting could be. At least she smiled more now, and showed occasional flashes of humor and spirit.
Late in the second week, when they were sitting in the parlor, drinking tea and relaxing after a vigorous sparring session, Connor suggested, "There's a concert tonight, at the Carlton Hotel. It's traditional Scottish music, if you want to go."
"Perhaps." She was very polite, very disinterested.
Connor suddenly realized that he had never heard her sing at all since she had arrived in Edinburgh. She used to sing all the time when she cooked, or cleaned, or gardened, or just as she moved around the house. They had sometimes cooked lunch and washed dishes together during these last two weeks, and she had never once sang a note. Connor wanted to know why. "Did you ever learn to play the piano?" he asked.
"What?" she asked, looking up.
Connor glanced at the piano against the wall and then raised his eyebrows.
"Oh." She shook her head. "No. I haven't kept up with music lately."
Lately. The piano had become a common musical instrument over two centuries ago. "But you still play the harp," he said, remembering long firelit hours of music in Donan Woods.
Her cup clinked gently as she set it down on its saucer. "No." She stood and walked into the kitchen, carrying her tea with her.
Connor followed her at a distance, then watched as she poured the tea down the sink and rinsed out her cup. She stared out the window above the sink, her back straight and stiff, her arms wrapped around herself as if she were cold. No, that wasn't it. Connor looked at her more closely. Her hands were lying loosely on her upper arms, and her face was calm and her breathing regular. But he saw the faint line of tension between her shoulders, the hint of rigidity in the way she held her head. Connor suddenly recognized that stance. He had seen it before, in a man dying of cancer, though in Cassandra the signs were very subtle. It was the stance of someone who was holding himself in control, someone who was forcing his body to obey. It was a person who was breathing slowly and evenly through pain.
How could music bring back a bad memory for her? He had opened his mouth to ask when the rough sound of car wheels on gravel interrupted him, and Alex's car drove from the alley into the carriage house. John was waving excitedly from the front seat.
"They're early!" Connor exclaimed happily, heading for the door. He hadn't expected them today; John's last football game of the season had been scheduled for tomorrow. "We'll be right in!" he called to Cassandra , then he went into the garden to welcome his family home.
Cassandra watched from the kitchen window as Connor disappeared into the carriage house at the far end of the garden, then she fetched her bag from the hallway and placed it on a kitchen chair. She needed to leave.
Connor reemerged from the carriage house with a suitcase on one arm and a beautiful blonde on the other. The bright sunshine glinted off his hair and dusted it with gold. John was on Connor's other side, carrying a suitcase and a duffel bag, looking up at him and laughing. Connor was laughing, too, and Cassandra knew she had never seen him look so happy, except when he had been with Heather, all those years ago.
It was good that Connor was happy. He had been alone for a long time, and the Immortal life was a hard one. He deserved to have this time with his family. Cassandra walked from the sink to the center of the room and waited, knowing how territorial women were about their kitchens. It would have been better if she had been outside, but they were almost to the door, and she didn't want it to seem as though she were welcoming Alex into her own house. She took a deep breath and waited.
John came in first, banging his duffel bag against the door on his way through. He was tall and leggy, with the awkward coltish grace of an early adolescent, dark hair curling around the ears and the nape of the neck. He looked to be thirteen or so.
"Hello," Cassandra said softly, and smiled at him as his head jerked in surprise. She was careful not to let her smile broaden as his gaze moved over her and his dark eyes widened. Thirteen was a very fragile age. "My name is Cassandra." She had said those words before to another thirteen-year-old boy, in another place and time, to another boy with dark hair and eyes, another boy named MacLeod. At least this boy would not ask her if she were a witch.
"Hi." The word came out high and breathless, then he stood straighter and added, his voice dropping an octave, "I'm John."
"Yes," Cassandra said, still smiling, "we spoke on the phone a few weeks ago when I called your father. I recognize your voice."
"You do?" he asked, his voice coming high again, the curse of the young male. At least the curse of the male disappeared in a year or so, unlike the curse of the female.
His father's deeper tones came from the doorway. "Cassandra is good with voices." Connor looked at her sharply, then spoke to his son. "Keep walking, John. And take the bags upstairs."
John turned to Connor in confusion, then said, "Oh! Sorry." He smiled once more at Cassandra, then lugged the duffel bag and the suitcase into the hall and went thumping up the stairs.
Connor held the door for his wife, and Alex walked into her kitchen. Connor set down the suitcase he was carrying and followed close behind. Alex did not wait for Connor to introduce them, but went straight to Cassandra, holding out her hand. "Cassandra," she said pleasantly, smiling slightly, "it's good to meet you. I'm Alex MacLeod."
"Alex," Cassandra said in turn, just as politely, taking the other woman's hand in her own. "It's good to meet you, too." She squeezed Alex's hand slightly and let go.
Alex was strikingly beautiful, with delicate features and alabaster skin. She was slim and graceful, a little shorter than Cassandra. Her pregnancy was barely noticeable, save for a certain look about the eyes, but then she was only four months along. Pale-gold hair fell loose to her shoulders, fine and straight as the heavy silk fringe on an Indian shawl. Arching eyebrows of a darker hue lent a questioning look to her face, and the steady, even stare of dark-blue eyes over high cheekbones made it clear she would demand answers to those questions. The set of her mouth was stubborn, too, for all its softness and gentle curves.
Cassandra had seen thousands of beautiful women over the centuries, and she knew what men responded to. A great many men would respond to Alex. Connor certainly had. Alex had that alluring combination of beauty and aloofness that made men wonder if they dared to approach, wonder if they could be the one to breach that elegantly cool exterior and find the passionate warmth that was hinted at in her smile. Cassandra was curious to know if Connor had approached Alex first, or if Alex had approached him.
Connor was standing close to his wife, a little behind and a little beside. It was the traditional male protective stance, the standard possessive position. Alex was his woman; she bore his child and his name. He would kill to protect her.
Cassandra smiled and inclined her head slightly, to let Connor know she understood. "Well," she said cheerfully, "I'll be leaving now. Should I come by on Monday as usual, Connor?" It was only Thursday, but she doubted Connor would want to do any training tomorrow with his family here.
He nodded, but Alex protested, "You needn't leave so soon, Cassandra."
Cassandra smiled again, the polite cheerful smile. She knew full well that Connor wanted to be alone with his family, with his wife. "I know you must be tired from the drive, Alex."
Alex looked at her sharply, and Cassandra added, "Connor told me that you were pregnant."
"Yes," Alex said, and her hand went almost unconsciously to her abdomen, while her smile became the smile of happy pregnant women everywhere - satisfied, amazed, tender. The look on Connor's face was the same, overlaid with fierce protectiveness.
Cassandra had seen that look on many women's faces down through the ages, and that look on some of the men's faces as well. The child was a lucky one. Cassandra kept smiling and said, "We'll have another time to talk."
"How about Saturday?" Alex suggested promptly. "You can come over for dinner. John's going to spend the night at a friend's house, so it will just be us three. At seven?"
Cassandra immediately glanced at Connor. His face was carefully blank; it was the look he adopted when he was surprised or uncertain how to respond. Then she looked more closely at Alex. The other woman was still friendly, and she was sincere, but the look of cool calculation in her eyes told Cassandra that Alex had been planning just such an invitation, and had deliberately not said anything to Connor about it. Alex also looked very determined, and Cassandra wondered how Alex would have dealt with Connor's objections if he had known about the invitation beforehand. Cassandra was certain that Alex would definitely have dealt with them.
Cassandra smiled suddenly, and this time it was a real smile. Perhaps Connor had met his match in stubbornness. It would be good for him. Cassandra did not bother to look to Connor for permission again. "I'd like that," she said, meaning it. She wanted to get to know this woman better. "At seven.
"But for now, I really do need to be going." Cassandra picked up her bag from the chair and nodded to them both. "I'll go out the kitchen door, so you needn't bother to unlock the front door for me."
Connor was quick to follow her. He walked by her side through the garden along the gravel path, heading for the carriage house. "I didn't expect them today," he said. "John's last football game of the season was won by a forfeit, so they came early."
"That worked out well, didn't it?" she asked, not slowing as they reached the carriage house. His only answer was a grin.
"See you Saturday, and have a good weekend, Cassandra!" Connor called as he opened the trunk to get the rest of the luggage.
She waved, but did not bother to tell him the same. She did not need to.
"What do you do, Cassandra?" Alex asked, leaning forward to set her iced apple juice on the table in front of the sofa.
Connor put his arm around his wife as she sat back, his fingers lingering on the softness of her skin. Alex was wearing a sleeveless white gown that set off the tan she had acquired during her vacation with John last month, and she looked beautiful, even more beautiful than usual. He had seen other women glow with pregnancy, but he had never thought to see his own wife look that way. His pregnant wife. And he was the father, in every real way that mattered, just as he was John's father. True fatherhood was in love, not genes.
Connor tightened his arm about Alex, then listened intently for Cassandra's answer. Just what had she been doing since she had been a witch in the forest?
Cassandra was taking her time about answering, setting down her glass of wine on the small table next to the wingback chair, rearranging the folds of her long maroon skirt. It was the first time Connor had seen her in a skirt since she had come to Edinburgh; she had always worn black or gray jeans before. She was even wearing make-up, and her hair was loose about her shoulders. She moved differently, too, more like the Cassandra he remembered. Instead of one of her usual simple shirts, she was wearing a flowing cream-colored tunic with a belt of intricate silver links, and elaborate silver earrings. Maybe she had bought new clothes for the dinner. It was odd how women dressed to impress each other.
Cassandra smiled politely across the parlor at Alex. "I've been traveling a lot lately, so I haven't really done much of anything."
Lately, thought Connor. She used that word a lot. But to her it meant sometime within the last few centuries. And by traveling she probably meant running, and hiding. Roland had been nothing if not persistent. What a way to spend your life.
Cassandra said in return, "What kind of work do you do, Alex?"
"Didn't Connor tell you?" Alex asked in some surprise, darting a quick glance at him. "I'm an archeologist."
There was a small fixed smile on Cassandra's face. Connor recognized the smile and the look. It was her polite mask. She had never shown the slightest interest in his family since she had arrived in Edinburgh, and he had not been about to discuss them with her. But he knew Alex would want to know why he had said nothing to Cassandra, and he was not looking forward to explaining his silence.
"Oh," Cassandra said, still polite, still smiling. "Are you working at a museum now?"
"I used to work at the Museum of Ancient History in New York, but now I'm on their consulting staff. They call me every once in a while, and I went on one of their digs last summer in Norway. I've been busy, though, doing archeology on a ... more personal basis. We did a lot of work on the farmhouse when we first moved in two years ago, and I certainly learned a lot from that. There were several old middens at the farm, full of all sorts of things. And Connor taught me and John how to build a rock wall with no mortar," Alex said. "That's a technique you don't see much anymore."
Connor shrugged. "Everybody used to know how to do it. We had to do something with the rocks."
"It's getting to be a lost art now," Alex said. "Like so many things." She glanced at him sidelong, then said to Cassandra, "It's very convenient to have Connor around as a resource."
Connor tightened his arm around her again and moved his fingertips very slightly against her arm, enjoying the shivers that ran over her skin at his touch. He would show her later just how much of a resource he could be. And how convenient.
Alex very briefly laid her hand on his thigh as she leaned forward to pick up her drink, and Connor enjoyed the shivers from that, too.
"Is being an archeologist anything like Indiana Jones?" Cassandra asked.
"Not usually." Alex smiled back with a hint of mischief in her eyes. "Though there was one particularly exciting find." She turned in the circle of Connor's arm and smiled at him. "It took some digging, though." Now the hint of mischief softened to warmth, and love.
Connor smiled back, remembering how Alex had tracked him down in New York City, then followed him all the way to Scotland, even after he had told her to stay away from him. Alex did not take no for an answer. "Are you saying I'm a fossil?" he challenged her.
"Paleontologists find fossils," she informed him. "I find artifacts." She looked him up and down appreciatively. "And treasures."
Connor grinned. "At least I didn't need spraying with that fixative stuff."
"No," Alex agreed. "You were uncommonly well-preserved." She turned to Cassandra. "I still can't quite believe it, you know. This whole Immortality thing."
"Yes," Cassandra said. "It is ... incredible." She drank some of her wine, then held the glass loosely between her hands. "And Connor isn't even that old. He was very young when I met him." She smiled at him, but it was not a totally polite smile anymore. "Weren't you, Connor?"
Connor nodded back slowly, not really appreciating the reminder. He had been very young, and very foolish. No more. "Should we eat?" he suggested, standing and offering his hand to Alex to help her up.
They went to the kitchen to get the food, then carried it into the dining room. The late afternoon sunshine came through the windows on either side of the fireplace, and it danced on the table, polishing the silver to a soft gleam, and accenting the muted colors of the Derby porcelain, cream and cranberry against the darkness of mahogany. The sunlight and shadow highlighted the intricate details of the plaster molding on the cream-colored walls. The shutters on the four windows of the room were painted the same deep red as the flowers on the dishes.
He had not actually spent much time in this house. Two revolutions on two different continents and the Napoleonic wars had kept him away a lot during the half century or so he had lived here. But he had some good memories of more elegant, more gracious times, and he enjoyed eating in the dining room.
"It looks lovely, Alex," Cassandra said, placing a basket of rolls on the table.
"The dishes came with the house," Alex said as she lit the candles. "Kind of a package deal. You'll have to ask Connor about them."
"Do you know a lot about porcelain, Connor?" Cassandra asked, sounding surprised.
He regarded her levelly for a moment before answering, "I was an antique dealer for quite some time." As if she didn't know. She had been spying on him for centuries. He turned to his wife. "Alex?" he asked, pulling her chair out for her. She smiled at him and sat down.
"Were you?" Cassandra asked him innocently, seating herself across from Alex. "I didn't know that."
Connor helped Alex get comfortable, then moved to his own chair at the head of the table and sat down. He recognized this game. Cassandra was pushing him tonight, assuming he wouldn't react in front of Alex. She was wrong. "No?" he said to Cassandra. "But you do remember our last conversation about Japanese porcelain?" He had broken every piece she owned.
"Oh, yes," she said brightly. "I do remember that." She placed her napkin on her lap. "Is this Japanese porcelain, too?"
Both women were watching him now, and Connor put on his best antique-dealer persona, polite but not obsequious, informed but never pompous, even - if he said so himself -charming. "It's English, actually, from Derbyshire. Though, of course," he said, with a nod to Cassandra, "the English learned much about porcelain from the Orient." Never tell customers they are wrong.
Connor carefully lifted the plate and held it so that they could see the delicate hand-painted flowers. "The set is over two hundred years old." Always mention age. "The flowers are handpainted, and are the work of the well-known artist William Billingsley, who later set up a factory of his own." Nothing impresses like success. Connor set the plate down and put salad on top of it, then stabbed a mouthful of greens and ate it.
Alex was smiling slightly. She had her own professorial lecture mode, and she recognized it in him.
Cassandra had a smile on her face as well. "Connor MacLeod, dish expert." She shook her head. "You surprise me, Connor."
He saw no need to answer that.
"Is it valuable?" Alex asked, serving herself some salad.
"Not so much each piece," Connor said. "I saw a similar cup and saucer selling for about two hundred dollars a few years ago."
"One cup and one saucer for two hundred dollars?" Alex repeated in surprise.
"Yeah." Connor grinned at her. "But this is a complete original set, with place settings for twenty-four and all the serving dishes and their covers. That makes it more valuable, since usually some pieces get broken over the years."
"You're washing the dishes tonight, Connor," Alex said firmly.
"Too bad we didn't keep the scullery maids along with the dishes," Connor said.
"Porcelain is very fragile," Cassandra commented, as she helped herself to the casserole.
"Yes," Connor answered, looking straight at her. "It is."
Cassandra apparently saw no need to answer him. "Chicken, Alex?" she asked, holding out the dish.
They busied themselves with passing the food around, then settled down to eating. He was pleased to see Alex's appetite had returned; she needed to be especially careful about her diet since she was eating for three. Twins. Connor smiled to himself again and lifted his glass to himself in a silent and unobtrusive toast.
Her initial hunger satisfied, Alex started asking questions. "I know you said you hadn't had a job lately, Cassandra, but you must have done many different things over the years."
"Yes," Cassandra agreed. "But these last few centuries have been the times of the greatest change. Many of the jobs I have done no longer exist."
"Such as?" Alex asked.
Connor smiled to himself again, this time in amusement. He knew how persistent Alex could be, especially about things related to her work.
Cassandra took a roll from a basket and tore it in half. "Most of the hand-crafts: chandler, tanner, potter, cooper, weaver, cobbler, basket-maker, seamstress." She reached for the butter. "Butter-maker."
"People still do those types of things."
"Yes, but not as a typical job, they're more for artisans. Back then, every village had at least one of all of those. Some jobs have changed: ostlers have become bellboys; coachmen have become chauffeurs. Other jobs are simply gone, at least in the industrialized parts of the world. Lantern-lighter, rag-picker, street cleaner."
"Water carrier," Connor offered, as he filled Alex's glass for her.
Alex turned to him immediately. "Water carrier?"
He nodded. "No running water. The bigger houses and inns would hire someone to haul water for them if they didn't have any young lads about." He shrugged, flexing his shoulders. "Of course, the water would always be at the bottom of the hill, so you'd carry the full buckets up the hill, and the empty buckets back down." He flexed his shoulders again. "It was a good workout."
"You were a water carrier, Connor?" Alex asked. At his nod, she continued, "How long did you do that?"
"Three years," he answered, letting his gaze wander between the two women on either side of him. He wanted to see Cassandra's reactions. "After that I worked as a horse trainer for a Highland nobleman who had a house here in Edinburgh. He was the only one willing to take a chance on me. Until his horses started winning races." Connor gave a satisfied grin. Alex returned it; Cassandra did not. That was hardly surprising.
"Three years carrying water?" Alex said. "It doesn't sound very ... personally fulfilling."
"Better than shoveling out privies and carrying those buckets. That was my other option."
"Another job that's not common now," Alex noted. "What other jobs have disappeared?" She looked at both of them.
Cassandra glanced at Connor, then spoke first. "As you said, Alex, most of the jobs still exist in some fashion, but they used to be much more common. Every medium-sized village used to have a bell-ringer."
"And a blacksmith," Connor said, exchanging glances with Alex. When she had followed him to Scotland, she had stood by him and watched him reforge his sword.
"Tinker," Cassandra added.
Connor was not to be outdone. "Tailor."
Alex laughed. "We still have soldiers and sailors. What else?"
Cassandra shrugged and picked up her wineglass again.
Connor leaned back in his chair and thought of another job, a job that would certainly get a reaction from Cassandra. "Witch."
"Witch?" Alex looked at him, but he continued to watch Cassandra. "You were a witch?" she asked Cassandra incredulously.
Cassandra glanced at Connor sourly, then explained, "I was a healer. The local people called me a witch, but that was mostly because I lived by myself."
"The Witch of Donan Woods," Connor supplied helpfully, in his best Highlands accent.
"You were a witch in the Highlands?" Alex asked her. "In the forest?"
"Hard to believe in this day and age, isn't it?" Cassandra said, lightly. "In another time I would have been called a priestess, but, by then, women were not allowed to have anything to do with the sacred. Women were considered unclean, and rather less than human, not being made in the male God's image. There was some discussion as to whether women even had souls." She picked up her fork and very carefully speared the last piece of chicken on her plate. "They certainly had no rights."
She smiled at Alex a little. "That's one thing that has changed for the better this last century. You're very lucky to live now." Her smile disappeared. "Very lucky." She placed the morsel of meat in her mouth.
Connor heard the bitterness in her voice and in her words, saw it in the preciseness of her actions. She might have preferred to eat a tough old rooster instead of a tender capon. No, he thought judiciously, as he watched her masticate the meat, in her present mood, Cassandra would probably have enjoyed castrating the rooster herself, then plucking it and roasting it alive over a slow fire, all the while basting it in its own juices. She might even sing while she was at it.
Connor snorted almost inaudibly and turned to his own dinner. He had wanted a reaction, and he had gotten one.
He was getting a reaction from Alex, too. She was watching both him and Cassandra with that determined, speculative gaze he had seen before. Alex was going to have a lot of questions for him, probably before Cassandra was even off the front step, and he wasn't looking forward to answering them. He wished he had stopped this dinner from happening, but then Alex would have wanted to know exactly why he didn't want her talking to Cassandra. That conversation would have been even worse.
Connor had sometimes imagined being between two women, but this was for certain not how he had thought it would be, caught between an ex-lover and a pregnant wife.
Thunder sounded nearby. The sunshine had disappeared, and the room was dim now with only the candles burning. "We're supposed to have quite a rainstorm tonight," Alex said, as the raindrops spattered against the windows.
"Good," Connor said, glad to change the subject. "It's been dry all summer."
"I see you've decided you like mushrooms, Connor," Cassandra commented, motioning to the chicken and mushroom casserole and smiling politely again. "This is a delicious recipe."
"It's an old one," Connor said.
"I'm sure it is," Cassandra murmured.
They finished the meal with talk of life in Scotland and archeology, of Highland whisky and football, of horses and babies. They cleared the dishes off the table, then Alex brought a spice cake into the dining room.
"I made it this afternoon," she said to Cassandra. "It's Connor's favorite."
"Is it?" Cassandra said, with absolutely no inflection in her voice.
Connor turned to look at her, but she was still wearing her polite mask, still smiling across the table at his wife. There was nothing in her face or voice to suggest anything other than simple agreement, but he knew better. Cassandra had made a spice cake for him once. Alex was watching him again, and Connor asked quickly, "Tea? Coffee?"
"Coffee, please," Cassandra said, as she accepted a piece of cake. Then she smiled at Connor.
He did not smile back. "Decaf, right, Alex?" Connor asked, then walked into the kitchen to make the coffee. The soft rise and fall of the two women's voices in the other room mingled with the sound of the rain.
He knew this dinner had not been a good idea.
Cassandra was glad now that she had come. She liked Alex. The woman was sharp and observant, and obviously very much in love with Connor. When Cassandra had seen the house Connor owned in Edinburgh and realized how wealthy he was, she had wondered about Alex's reasons for marrying him. Cassandra knew that Connor was not foolish enough to marry a gold-digger, but she also knew how vulnerable he was in his desire for a family. Even smart men could be stupid, and to be used in that way by a woman would devastate him. But Alex hadn't married Connor for his money; she loved him, and she made him happy. And she was going to have his child.
"When is the baby due, Alex?" Cassandra asked, trying to imagine Connor as the father of an infant. It was difficult, almost as difficult as imagining him as antique dealer. She had been tracking Connor these last few hundred years, but she had not known what he had been doing. It had been a surprise to hear he knew so much about porcelain, but it had not been a surprise when he had deliberately reminded her of their argument in Aberdeen. It had hurt, but it had not been a surprise. Being hurt by Connor was never a surprise.
"Actually," Alex said, looking very pleased with herself, "it's not one baby. It's two."
Cassandra blinked. "Twins?"
"Yes." Alex's smile grew broader. "We found out about three weeks ago. That's why I asked Connor to come home early that weekend; I wanted to tell him."
"Congratulations!" Cassandra said sincerely. No wonder Connor had been so happy when he had come back from his trip to the Highlands. She looked more closely at Alex, reassured by the young woman's obvious good health. Alex was indeed lucky to be living here and now. Giving birth had often been an extremely hazardous event, but very few women died in childbirth now in industrialized countries, and twins had a much better survival rate than they had had before. "So, when are the babies due?"
"The official due date is mid-January, but they'll probably come earlier. My mother is going to come out right after Christmas to help. I hear I'll need it."
"Yes," Cassandra agreed. "I've heard that, too." She looked up as Connor came in carrying the coffee and said to him, "Congratulations, Connor." He looked at her blankly as he set down the tray of cups and coffee. "Alex just told me about the twins," she explained. "You must be very excited."
"Yeah," he said, nodding, that same tender and amazed expression coming over his face again as he smiled with Alex. "We are."
"Have you ever raised a child, Cassandra?" Alex asked.
"Yes." Cassandra swallowed carefully and added, "But not lately." She did not look at Connor. "Would you please pass the cream, Alex?"
There was more talk then, talk of birth classes and names for children and the traffic in Edinburgh, talk of movies and history and food. They went back to the parlor, where Cassandra had another glass of wine, Connor a shot of whisky, and Alex sipped more apple juice.
"How old are you, Cassandra?" Alex asked, sitting in her former place, next to Connor on the sofa.
"I'm not exactly sure," Cassandra replied from her chair, very aware of Connor's sudden interest. He had asked her that question once, a long time ago, and she had not answered him. But he had a good idea of the answer now, anyway. "I was over two hundred when Troy fell, so somewhere around thirty-three hundred."
"Thirty-three -?" Alex blinked. "Oh." She looked back and forth between Connor and Cassandra. "Are there many Immortals that old?"
"It's hard to tell," Cassandra replied. "It's not a question that is usually asked. It's considered..."
"Rude?" Alex finished.
Dangerous, thought Cassandra, but she smiled slightly and said, "Personal." She glanced over at Connor; he lifted one eyebrow in sardonic amusement, then quickly resumed his normal reserved expression.
Alex had lifted both eyebrows, but her look was one of simple amusement. "I suppose asking people their age is always a personal question, no matter how old they are. Did you live in Troy, Cassandra?"
"Off and on, for about a century before it fell."
"Did it really happen, the way the Iliad and the Odyssey say?"
"Close enough," Cassandra said. "Stories always get changed. Homer focused on the battles." And the men, of course. "He left out a lot. Euripides did a better job of describing what it was really like." Cassandra did not look at Connor now. She shrugged. "It wasn't very different from the sacking of a lot of other cities: Carthage, Rome, Baghdad, Constantinople, Shanghai... It wasn't all that special."
Connor spoke up from his corner of the sofa. "Troy just had better publicity."
Cassandra somehow did not find that amusing.
"Did you live in all those cities?" Alex asked.
"Yes," she said smoothly. She had died in all those cities, too.
"Where else have you lived?"
"Many places. Not North America or Antarctica, but all the other continents." She looked over at Connor, who was leaning back on the sofa and watching her, as he had been watching her all night. "Connor traveled quite a bit, too," she said to Alex. "I'm sure he'd be happy to talk to you about what he's seen. Wouldn't you, Connor?" she asked cheerily.
Connor narrowed his eyes at her, but sat up a little and looked at Alex inquiringly.
"I know he's lived in New York City, and I already know he's been to Japan," Alex said. She smiled at Connor, a quiet lovely smile of shared memories.
Cassandra watched as Connor smiled back at his wife. It was a smile that reached his eyes and wiped out all traces of sullenness or coldness, a smile that softened his face with love. She remembered that smile.
Alex asked, "How old was Nakano, Connor?"
Connor shrugged. "I never asked. Didn't want to get 'personal.' At least as old as Ramirez, though."
"Where else have you been, besides Japan?"
"I've lived in London, here in Edinburgh, Africa, France, the United States. I've visited other places, but didn't stay for long."
Alex looked back at Cassandra and included her in the conversation again. "And, of course, you were both in the Highlands of Scotland."
"The end of the earth," said Cassandra, remembering the peaceful century she had spent in Donan Woods. It had been a good life for her. "Although the title 'the end of the earth' really belonged to the west coast of Ireland."
"Were you ever in Ireland?"
"Yes, I lived there during the fifth century," Cassandra answered. "About the same time as St. Patrick."
"This is wonderful!" Alex exclaimed. "An archeologist's dream. Connor must have told you that I'm here for a class on Celtic history at the University."
Connor had mentioned no such thing, but Cassandra smiled politely. Alex's next words surprised her.
"Cassandra, would you come with me to the Museum of Antiquities tomorrow afternoon? They have an exhibit on Celtic art right now."
She glanced at Connor, but his face was expressionless. She turned back to Alex. "But, surely, you and Connor have plans. I don't-"
"John and Connor are going to a football game tomorrow. And I've seen football games before," Alex added, with a rueful grin. "Please come, Cassandra," Alex entreated her. "I'd like to hear what you think of the objects."
Cassandra glanced at Connor again, and he inclined his head ever so slightly, giving her permission. She turned back to Alex. "All right, Alex."
"Good! It opens at two. Why don't we meet here about one-thirty and then walk over?"
"At one-thirty," she agreed, then noticed the clock over the mantel chiming ten. "It's late," Cassandra exclaimed. "I need to be going. Thank you for a wonderful meal, both of you, and a very interesting evening. I've really enjoyed myself, and I'm glad I got a chance to meet you, Alex."
"Cassandra, why don't you let Connor drive you back to the hotel?" Alex suggested.
Cassandra stood. "Oh, I'll be fine, Alex."
Alex stood, and then Connor stood, too. Alex said, "But, Cassandra, the rain is really heavy right now. Connor?"
"I'll go get the car," Connor said, heading for the door.
"Connor," Cassandra said hastily, and he stopped. Cassandra did not need Connor to take her to the hotel. "Alex, it isn't even really dark yet, and I've walked in the rain before." Alex started to protest again, and Cassandra added, "Many times," reminding her of just how old she was. She smiled at Alex gently to soften her refusal. "Please don't worry about me." She knew Connor certainly wouldn't. "I like the rain," she added, hoping that would convince them to leave her alone.
Connor was still watching her closely, but he nodded and did not insist.
"Tomorrow at one-thirty, Cassandra," Alex reminded her, as they all walked into the hall.
"I'm looking forward to it, Alex," Cassandra said, as she put on her jacket and Connor unlocked the front door. That wasn't a lie, was it? She was not quite sure. She smiled again, then escaped into the rain.
Connor and Alex watched as Cassandra stepped off the front step, then Connor shut the door and locked it. He was very aware of Alex's steady stare on his back. He braced himself before he turned around. Here it came.
"What happened between you and Cassandra?" Alex asked.
"This week?" He turned his back on her again to put the key in its drawer in the table. "Normal training." When he turned around again, she was still staring at him.
"No." Alex's voice was patient. "Not this week. Three and a half centuries ago, when you broke up."
"We were never together enough to 'break up.'"
Alex folded her arms across her chest and waited.
He shrugged and admitted, "We didn't exactly part on the best of terms." That was a bit of an understatement. He had told Cassandra he would kill her if she ever came near him again. Then he had told her he would take her head. He had meant every word.
He shrugged again. "We're on better terms." He didn't want to kill Cassandra on sight now - just occasionally. "It was a misunderstanding."
"So, does that mean you understand each other better now?"
How the hell was he supposed to answer that? Connor sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Alex digs deeper into her husband's past
You tell me that you need me now,
and you want to be my friend.
"How long were you and Connor lovers, Cassandra?" Alex asked.
Cassandra stared at the intricate loops and whorls of the golden armlet in the museum display case and did not answer immediately. Alex was certainly direct. And fast. They had only been in the museum for a few minutes. Cassandra glanced at the other woman, but Alex was still apparently absorbed in looking at a torc, a Celtic necklace of twisted gold ribbon. Cassandra said quietly, "Did he tell you we were lovers?"
Alex's mouth twisted wryly. "He dropped enough hints so that I could figure it out, then he told me when I asked."
"Ah." That sounded like Connor. Now Cassandra's mouth twisted. "He didn't use words to tell you, though, did he?"
Alex turned to her, confused. "What?"
"He snorted. Didn't he?"
"Yes," Alex admitted, the confusion on her face becoming amusement. "Yes, he did."
"Was it this one?" Cassandra asked, then gave a credible imitation of Connor's snort of embarrassment, a soft grunt and a quick lift of the eyebrows.
"No," Alex said, considering it carefully. "It was more like the one where he kind of clears his throat and tilts his head, then turns it into a snort at the end."
"Oh, the snort of rueful admission."
"The snort of ...?" Alex stared at her, then started laughing. "The snorts have names?"
Cassandra smiled in return. "I had to keep track of them somehow. The one I did was the--"
"Wait, let me guess!" Alex interrupted. "It was the snort of embarrassment, right?"
"Yes," Cassandra agreed.
"Then, of course, there's the snort of rueful admission, as you said." Alex produced the sound.
Cassandra laughed in delight. "Yes, that's it! And there's this one." Now she combined a grunt with a soft puff of air through her nose.
"I know! The snort of disdain!" Now both of them were laughing helplessly.
Three middle-aged matrons walked by and stared at them, then exchanged glances.
Alex wiped the tears from her eyes. "How many did you name?" she asked, gasping for air.
"Fifteen," Cassandra admitted, still smiling. "The snort of disbelief, the snort of outrage, the snort of admiration...."
Alex snorted in admiration, in passable imitation of Connor, and they were both laughing again. The three matrons at the display case of body armor clucked audibly. "Oh, come on," Alex said, walking toward the door. "We can look at these exhibits another day. Let's go eat. I'm hungry again."
"So, how long were you and Connor lovers, Cassandra?" Alex asked again, as they waited in the restaurant for their food to arrive. Alex had ordered a sandwich; Cassandra had wanted only coffee.
Cassandra considered the other woman carefully. Connor had definitely met his match in stubbornness in Alex. "What did Connor tell you?" she asked cautiously.
Alex raised her eyebrows in a cool and elegant challenge. "Does that matter?"
Of course it mattered. But Connor could not object if she told Alex the truth, could he? Or at least some of the truth, she amended. Cassandra was not going to lie, but she knew there were some things Connor would not want Alex to know. There were some things Cassandra did not want Alex to know, either.
Cassandra nodded once and began. "Connor came to visit me about five years after Heather died. We had met some years before, when Ramirez was his teacher."
"So you knew Ramirez?" Alex asked.
"Yes." Cassandra decided to volunteer some information. "We had met in Corinth, about two thousand years before that, and we had spent time together over the years. We were even married once."
"Married?" Alex asked in surprise. "Does Connor know that?"
"I don't know," Cassandra said, trying to remember if the subject had ever been discussed. "He knew Ramirez and I had been lovers, but I don't think I mentioned we had been married." She shrugged. "It was ... an arranged marriage. Living in sin was not a good idea in Catholic Spain."
"I suppose not," murmured Alex, then added with more interest, "Then you knew Heather, too."
"I met her," Cassandra qualified. "I visited for a few days, soon after Ramirez had come to live with them. Ramirez and I had been looking for Connor, after we had heard the rumors about the man who had come back from the dead," she explained. "Ramirez found him first, and took Connor as his student."
"What was Heather like?"
"What has Connor told you?" Cassandra asked again, still careful.
"He told me she was his wife, that he loved her very much, and that they were together for fifty years. But he didn't seem very comfortable talking about her, so I didn't ask any more questions."
"It gets harder to open up, as the years go by. But I know he misses being able to talk freely." She smiled at Alex. "I think Connor would like it, if you asked him more questions. Perhaps not about the Game, but the other things--where he's been, things he's seen. I think he would like to share his life with you. Even if he seems uncomfortable with it. Maybe you should get him drunk first," she suggested, with a small grin.
"That would take some doing," Alex answered, smiling back. "I've never seen him drunk. Though he does drink. A lot. I worried about that at first, but he doesn't seem to drink as much anymore."
"That's because of you. He's not so lonely as he was." Alex's smile brightened at that, and Cassandra could not help but smile back. She said sincerely, "You're good for him, Alex. You and John. He needs a family." Her gaze dropped to the rounded curve of Alex's abdomen, just visible under the loose shirt, and she smiled again. "And the twins will be good for him as well. He always wanted to be a father. I know he really regretted not having children with Heather."
"What was Heather like?" Alex asked, returning to her earlier question.
Cassandra thought back, remembering those few days from long ago. "Blonde, like you, but a more yellow color, not so fair. And her hair was curlier. She had blue eyes, and a merry smile. She was a very happy person, and she and Connor were happy together. He laughed a lot when he was around her. She teased him, joked with him. She poured water down his back once."
"She poured water down his back?" That surprised Alex. "What did he do?"
"He grabbed the bucket from her and dumped all of it over her head." Cassandra shook her head, thinking of the pair of them, dripping wet and laughing. "Then they went off together. To get dry." They exchanged glances at that, smiling. Cassandra added, "They were very young, and very much in love."
"How old was he then?"
"He must have been ... about twenty-five? No, younger. Twenty-three, perhaps. She was a year or two younger, I think."
"Twenty-three," Alex repeated. "How old was he when you were his teacher?"
"That was five years after Heather died, so he was about seventy-five."
"And that's when you and he were lovers."
"Yes," Cassandra said, a little amused now at Alex's persistence. "He stayed with me for six months as my student." Cassandra interlaced her fingers loosely, then explained, "Being both lover and teacher is ... awkward, but he had finished his training." No need to mention just what that training had been. She met Alex's eyes. "We were both lonely, and a few days before he left...." She let the sentence trail off. Cassandra definitely did not want to go into details about those few days.
Alex nodded. "And after?"
"Connor went back to Edinburgh, and I would visit him twice a year, for a week or so, once in the spring and once in the fall. That lasted for seven years, until 1599, when he left for London." Cassandra was not going to mention Connor's other lover Anne.
"So, that was the last time you saw him?"
Cassandra paused, wondering what Connor had told his wife. But that was not Cassandra's problem, was it? If Connor had chosen to hide this from his wife, then it would be his problem, and his fault. "No."
Alex nodded, waiting.
"After Duncan became Immortal, I sent a message to Connor, telling him that Duncan needed a teacher. Connor had been sailing in the Orient, but he came back to the Highlands in 1625 and found Duncan. I returned to Scotland a few years later, and Connor and I met in Aberdeen in 1630. That was the last time I saw him, until this summer."
Alex asked, "Is that when you had your 'misunderstanding'?"
So Connor had told his wife, at least a little. Cassandra looked out the window, smiling bitterly at Connor's choice of words. A misunderstanding. It made it sound so trivial, so minor. Instead, it had been a savage, vicious argument that had nearly destroyed them both. But Connor's word was apt. It had been a misunderstanding. That made it even worse. Connor had misunderstood her motives and her actions. If only she had not lied to Connor, if only she had told him the truth, if only, if only, if only....
Cassandra turned back to Alex and nodded. "Yes. We quarreled, but ... it was a misunderstanding."
The waitress came with the food and the coffee. Cassandra was grateful for the respite, but it did not last long. Alex took only two bites of her sandwich, then asked another question.
"What was the misunderstanding about?"
Cassandra took a deep breath. No more lies. "I wanted Connor to be Duncan's teacher, but I didn't tell him that, and I didn't tell him why. I just ... encouraged Connor to take Duncan as a student. Then in Aberdeen, I asked a lot of questions about Duncan, and Connor wanted to know why. I tried to tell him, but he thought ... he thought I really wanted Duncan, and that I had simply been using him, and that I didn't want him at all."
"Oh." It was a simple sound, but it held a great deal of realization and recognition.
Cassandra added cream to her coffee, then watched as the swirls of white were swallowed into the dark liquid. She said slowly, "He was ... very angry."
"Yes," Alex said. "He would have been." Her eyes were cool and assessing as she stared across the table at Cassandra.
"I tried to explain," Cassandra said, "but he wasn't in the mood to listen." She closed her eyes for a moment and took another breath. "So he left, and I didn't see him again until this summer." She added sugar and stirred the coffee round and round.
"And you cleared up the misunderstanding then?"
Cassandra nodded. "Yes." She set the spoon down. "But I think he's still ... angry with me."
"And you're angry with him," Alex observed, finishing off half of her sandwich.
"Me?" Cassandra asked in surprise, then shook her head. "No. It was my fault. I lied to him." She swallowed painfully and asked, needing to know, "What did Connor say about it?"
"He didn't tell me many details, just that you had hidden things from him, and that when he found out, you argued." Alex's eyes were still cool. "He said he didn't like being lied to."
"No," Cassandra whispered. "He doesn't." Her throat hurt, and she reached blindly for her cup.
"Why?" Alex asked. "Why did you lie to him like that? Why did you want him to teach Duncan?"
Cassandra looked away, staring at the grain of wood in the back of the empty chair next to her. She had never told anyone, except Connor. But this was Connor's wife. Alex knew about Immortality; she knew about the Game. She could, perhaps, be a friend. And Roland was dead, Cassandra realized suddenly. She didn't have to worry about Roland ever again. She could have a friend; she didn't have to be so alone anymore. She wouldn't have to hide, to pretend, to lie.
Cassandra took a deep breath and looked at Alex again. "Connor has, perhaps, told you of ancient enemies?"
Alex nodded. "There was Kane, of course." A quick expression of disgust and fear crossed her face. "And Connor mentioned the Kurgan."
"Yes." Cassandra knew the same expression was on her face. "The Kurgan was--a very old enemy." Her lips tightened, then she said, "And I had an enemy, as well. His name...." She swallowed, the name still coming hard. "His name--was Roland."
Cassandra paused, then said, "This is going to sound very strange, Alex, but there was a prophecy made, long ago, that said that Duncan was the only one who could fight Roland. I couldn't fight Roland; Connor couldn't fight Roland; only Duncan could. I needed Duncan to kill Roland, and I would have done ... almost anything to ensure Duncan lived long enough to fight Roland." She had done almost everything to ensure Duncan's survival. She had lied, she had stolen, she had used people, she had prostituted herself, she had abandoned her families, she had killed, she had died. She had destroyed herself in her quest to destroy her son, and she had left herself with nothing.
Cassandra met Alex's eyes unflinchingly and confessed, "I lied to Connor, and I used him. And I didn't mean to, but I hurt him."
Alex was shaking her head as she pushed her empty plate to one side. "I still don't understand."
Cassandra's mouth twisted bitterly. "I told you it was strange."
"Why didn't you just ask Connor to help you?"
"I should have," Cassandra said quietly. "I wish now I had. But I wasn't used to asking for help, and I couldn't take the chance that he might say no." She shrugged. "So I lied. And it was--just about the worst decision I ever made in my entire life." She could not shrug this time.
"Why was it so important to you that Roland died?"
"Roland was my enemy, but he didn't want my head." At the questioning look on Alex's face, she added, "He wanted--me." She shuddered slightly, unable to control her reaction. "He hunted me, and every few centuries he would find me. So I ran and hid most of the time." Cassandra looked down at the liquid brown of coffee in her cup. "It made it--hard--to have any kind of normal life."
"Yes," Alex said softly, agreeing, her gaze gone inward in memory.
Cassandra looked up in surprise. "Alex?" she asked quietly.
Alex met her eyes briefly and nodded. "I had a boyfriend, once, in college. We met early in my sophomore year, and we were together about six months. At first, it was fine; it was wonderful. I had never really been in a relationship before. But things got--odd--with him, and I told him I didn't want to see him anymore." She took a sip of water. "He didn't take it well."
Alex reached over and put the container of sugar packets in front of her, then started to rearrange them, lining them up neatly, putting them in order. "He would follow me, send me notes, tell me he still loved me. I would be in the library or the cafeteria, or one of the lounges, and all of a sudden I would look up, and he would be there, watching me, smiling at me.
"It got so I was afraid to go anywhere. And I was afraid to be in my room, because he would call me on the telephone. Sometimes he would talk; sometimes he would hang up right away. He just wanted to know where I was, to see if I was in my room. So I transferred to another school. I had to lose some of my credits for that year, but I hadn't been getting very good grades anyway."
The sugar packets were perfectly neat now, the corners all aligned. Alex took one packet out of the container and held it delicately between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand, then started running her right forefinger around the edge of it, ruffling the thin-edged paper. "So I moved to another state. And then one night...." Her finger stopped its motion, and she did not say anything more.
Cassandra knew what had happened next. "He found you," she said softly.
"Yes." It was a whisper, and Alex still did not look up. She set the sugar packet down on her plate, very slowly.
Cassandra knew what had happened after that. She reached across the table and held Alex's hand within her own. "And he raped you."
Alex nodded, blinking quickly, her grip bruising Cassandra's fingers.
Cassandra waited patiently for several very long moments until Alex looked at her. She knew her own eyes looked just as haunted as Alex's, but she tried to smile a little, encouragingly. They both knew the smile was one of shared pain. "Did you tell anyone?" Cassandra asked, "or go to the police?"
"No." Alex looked away again, and said haltingly, "He said ... he said that no one would finish with him first. He said he would be the one to finish with me, and now that he had finished with me, he wouldn't bother me anymore. But if ... if I went to the police or told anyone, then he would come back. If I kept quiet, then he would stay away." She drew a deep breath and blinked again, then gave Cassandra's hand a final squeeze and let go.
Alex took a drink of water. "And so I kept quiet. I thought about going to the police later, a few days after.... But I hadn't gone right away, and I hadn't told anyone he was stalking me, and he hadn't hit me--at least, not very hard--so there were no marks, and there was no proof.... And I didn't want him coming after me again." She shrugged. "So I didn't tell anyone then." She tried to smile at Cassandra. "It took me a long time to feel I could tell anyone."
She must have told Connor, thought Cassandra, wondering what his reaction had been. "And has he come after you again?"
"No. At least he was telling the truth about that." A quick breath and a small grimace of a smile, a smile of mingled relief and fear. "I haven't seen him since--that night." Another quick look at Cassandra. "Except in my dreams."
Cassandra drew in her own breath of pain and memory and nodded. "Yes."
"Do they stop?" Alex asked, hope in her voice. "The dreams? They don't come very often now, maybe once a year, and they're not as bad as they were, but they still come."
Cassandra wanted to tell her they would stop, but she wasn't going to lie. "Mine haven't stopped. It's only been two months, though, since Duncan took Roland's head." She met Alex's eyes. "But it's been fourteen years for you, hasn't it?" At Alex's nod, Cassandra shrugged slightly, hopelessly. "I don't know if the dreams will ever go away."
Alex nodded again, more slowly, and said, with some hope, "But, Roland's dead, so you're safe now."
"Yes," Cassandra agreed. "Safe." From Roland, at least. Kronos was still out there. And there were others. There were always men who liked to do such things.
"Did you ever go to the police?" Alex asked, then she added, realizing how old Cassandra was, "Or, there weren't police then, were there? Were there authorities you could go to?"
"What authorities there were would have sent me straight back to him," Cassandra said bitterly. The authorities had all been men, of course. "And they did, when I managed to escape." She had stopped trying after the first two times. An escaped slave got no sympathy and no help, and Roland had made sure she realized what the penalty would be if she ever tried to escape from him again.
"Escape?" Alex did not fully realize what it meant to be that old.
"He owned me," Cassandra explained. "I was his slave; I was his property. And what he did to me was not illegal, in most of the times and the places we were in." Cassandra kept her voice calm and detached. "Some places had rules about cruelty to slaves, but many did not. And killing a woman was not considered murder; it was destruction of property."
She carefully folded and refolded the napkin as she spoke. "He would find me, and then tell people I was his slave. Or his wife. It meant about the same thing. He could do anything he wanted to me. He could have beaten me to death in front of a hundred people, and no one would have made a move to stop him." Roland had done that once, had told everyone she had been unfaithful to him and started to beat her. After the first half-hour, the crowd had started taking bets on how long it would take her to die. She wasn't going to lie to Alex, but she wasn't going to tell her everything, either. "When he was finished with me, he usually sold me to someone else."
"Usually?" Alex said, in surprise. "How many times did he find you?"
The answer came quickly; she didn't have to count. "Eight."
"Oh, Cass." This time it was Alex who reached across the table to her, Alex who held her hand.
Cassandra held tightly to Alex's hand and blinked, refusing to cry, refusing to allow Alex's sympathy to unnerve her.
"Does Connor know?" Alex asked, after a moment.
"He does now," Cassandra said, with a small shaky laugh, remembering the only other time she had ever told anyone this story. Alex didn't need to know about that, either. She let go of Alex's hand and took a drink. "I told him in June, when I came to visit him."
Alex thought quickly. "Is Roland why Connor told me and John to leave Scotland?"
"Yes. Connor was afraid that Roland would come after you."
Alex looked at the table, then back up at Cassandra, her gaze serious. "Like Kane. But there was more to it than that, though, wasn't there? Connor was very worried, and he didn't even want to know where we were."
"Yes," Cassandra admitted, then explained, "Roland didn't want to share me with anyone, or anything. If I had a family, or friends, he killed them. Since I had visited Connor, Roland thought we were friends. Connor didn't want you and John around if Roland came after him. And he didn't want to know where you were because Roland had ... a power, a type of hypnosis. Connor was afraid that if Roland asked him, he would tell Roland where you were."
"Roland could do that?"
"Oh, yes." Roland had been able to do much more than that, but that was still another thing Alex didn't need to know. "That's why I'm here now; I'm teaching Connor how to resist that hypnosis."
"So, Roland couldn't use that hypnosis on you?"
"No. I learned how to resist it many years ago." Cassandra did not want to explain anymore. "It didn't help much, though. He had other ways to control me." The black well of anger she had hidden throughout the centuries was full and overflowing, and the taste of it was bitter. "He had other ways to hurt me, to use me. Just like all the rest of them. Just like every other man."
"Cass, don't," Alex said gently, taking Cassandra's hand in her own again. "You can't blame all men for what one man did."
Cassandra looked at Alex's beautiful face, her delicate features aglow with the bloom of a healthy pregnancy. She was happy, loved, safe, secure. She had no idea what she was talking about. It hadn't been just "one man." There had been Death, and the other three Horsemen, and Roland, of course. And then all of Roland's friends, and all the other men who had bought her, owned her, used her, for an hour, for a day, for a year. And all the men who just took, without asking, without buying. Hundreds and thousands of men. Grinning, fucking, hurting men, all of them. Every single one.
"Not all men are like that," Alex said. "Connor would never rape a woman."
Cassandra stared at Alex blindly. She did not see the young woman's concerned face anymore, but Connor's face, his eyes narrowed with lust and rage, his mouth smiling cruelly. She did not feel Alex's gentle touch on her hand, but Connor's painful grip, holding tight to her wrists while he lay on top of her, hurting her, forcing her, fucking her.
Alex said softly, "Connor would never hurt a woman like that."
Cassandra lowered her eyes and stared at the table, but she still saw Connor's face, still saw his smile as his hands went around her throat.
Alex was still talking. "And Duncan would never do such things, either."
Duncan, of course. Kind, considerate, loving, caring Duncan. Even he had been to brothels, used women for his own pleasure. And Connor had probably been the one to introduce him to them. The two of them had gone to brothels and paid in coin for the services of the women there, and thought the bargain a fair one. They had talked about the women, laughed about which had the softest mouth, the biggest breasts, the best ass.
They had used the women and gone on their way, without a thought for the women forced to work in such a place. The women who were told to sit down, stand up, bend over, spread their legs, kneel, open their mouths, get on all fours, keep silent, keep the customers happy, and smile. Smile, you ignorant cow; be glad you have a roof over your head and food in your belly. Smile, you stupid cunt, and be grateful you are here. Spread your legs and smile for this man. And the next man. And the next. Smile.
Cassandra smiled. She squeezed Alex's hand gently and let go. "You're right, Alex," she said, still smiling, still hiding, still pretending, still lying. "Not all men are like that. And Duncan and Connor would never do such things." She kept the smile on her face as she said, "Connor would never hurt someone he loves."
"Did you have a good time, Cassandra?" Connor asked, as he and John came into the kitchen. Connor was surprised, and a little disturbed, to find Cassandra sitting in his kitchen. She and Alex had been together all afternoon.
"Yes, I did," Cassandra answered, completely at ease sitting at the table with his wife. She nodded to his son. "Hello, John. How was the game?"
"Hi, Cassandra," John said enthusiastically. "It was great! We had good seats, and the game went into overtime." He pulled out a chair from the table, and straddled it backwards, gazing at Cassandra as he exclaimed, "The striker was awesome; you should see the way he can kick!" Cassandra nodded and smiled, and John leaned forward a little and smiled, too. He seemed prepared to sit there all afternoon.
"You'd better start packing, John," Connor said. "You're leaving early tomorrow."
"I was going to get something to eat, Dad," John protested. "I'm hungry."
"You can eat later." Connor jerked his head toward the stairs. "Go pack."
Connor was not in the mood for discussion. "Now."
John opened his mouth, then shut it abruptly and stood.
"Have a good trip, John!" Cassandra called as he pushed the chair under the table and turned to leave.
He turned around again to smile at her. "Thanks, Cassandra!" He did not smile at Connor before he went running up the stairs.
Connor watched him go, then leaned over to give his wife a kiss. "How was the exhibit?" he asked her.
"We didn't actually spend much time there," Alex said breezily. "We're going back on Tuesday. Right, Cass?"
Connor swiveled his head slowly to look at Cassandra. Cass? No one ever called her Cass.
Cassandra nodded. "We'll meet here when your class is done?"
"Yes," Alex agreed. "About three. That should work."
Cassandra smiled and stood. "Time for me to go. I'll see you tomorrow morning at nine, Connor?"
"Yeah," he said. "Tomorrow, at nine." He looked from one woman to the other. They were both smiling. This was not good.
Connor invited himself to go along on the expedition to the museum, then trailed behind the two women as they wandered slowly through the exhibit, listening to Cassandra's answers to Alex's eager questions, hearing the easy tone between them, even the occasional laughter. He had been worried that Alex and Cassandra would actively hate each other, but he had never thought they would become friends. That worried him even more.
Alex stopped to look at the collection of sixteenth-century Celtic harps, but Cassandra did not even pause. Connor was not surprised.
"We have a little time left before they close," Alex said, as the three of them gathered before a display of chess pieces. "Should we go to the portrait gallery?"
Cassandra nodded, and Connor took Alex's arm as they made their way to the other part of the building. Cassandra walked next to Alex on the other side.
"Not very happy looking, are they?" Alex commented, as they walked between rows of grim-faced figures.
"No, and it doesn't help that the paintings have darkened over the years," Cassandra said. "Oils do that after a time."
"Do you paint, Cass?" asked Alex.
Her answer was immediate. "No."
Connor looked across Alex to stare at Cassandra balefully. That was a lie.
Cassandra added quickly, "I haven't painted lately."
That word again. What the hell had she been doing these last three and a half centuries? She had not been working at any kind of regular job, and she had not been keeping up with her sword. That still amazed him; he was surprised she had kept her head. She had not been sewing or singing, and she didn't seem to care about gardening anymore, either. Her life seemed to consist of running and hiding and reading. Oh, yes, and watching television. She had mentioned a few shows once or twice. Didn't she get bored?
She seemed bored now. "I really do need to be going," Cassandra said, stopping at the end of the hall. "I'm glad we did this, Alex. We can talk more about the history of the objects later, if you want."
"I'd like that," Alex said. "Maybe you can stay for dinner on Thursday."
"Yes," Cassandra agreed with a smile. "I'd like that, too." She nodded briefly to him. "Connor."
His nod was equally brief. "Cassandra."
She settled her bag more comfortably over her shoulder and walked from the hall, leaving them alone.
Connor and Alex walked through the portrait gallery, then headed for home. They were strolling past the gardens when Alex asked casually, "Was Cassandra frigid when you and she were lovers, Connor?"
Connor blinked, but did not interrupt his stride as he replayed the question in his mind. Yes, he had heard it right. "What do you mean?" he asked, though he knew exactly what Alex meant.
Alex knew he knew, but she repeated it for him, even added to it, making herself absolutely clear. "Was she sexually frigid?"
Connor avoided answering again. "Why do you ask?"
"Just the way she moves, the way she holds herself. And something she said the other day. After Roland, I think she must have a hard time trusting men, feeling safe enough with a man to let him get close to her."
Connor knew Roland had not been the only man to hurt Cassandra, but he didn't want to talk to Alex about that, or about this. He nodded, but said nothing.
"Well?" Alex asked, determined to get an answer out of him.
He kept walking, remembering. Cassandra had been wild and passionate, uninhibited and very knowledgeable. She was also an extremely good actress and an accomplished liar. Connor could not answer the question. He honestly did not know. But Alex was still waiting, and there was one thing he could say with absolute certainty. "You're right; Cassandra doesn't trust men."
She had good reasons not to.
"Are you going on archeological digs after the babies come, Alex?" Cassandra asked, as the two women walked under the vaulted glass ceiling of the Royal Museum's central hall. Cassandra had stayed for dinner again on Thursday, and Alex had asked Cassandra to go with her to the Chinese exhibit. Connor had not invited himself this time.
"Not at first, obviously," Alex answered. "My mother warns me I'll be going on laundry and toy digs for the next few years or so. But I'm working on a book about using old legends and modern place names as guides to finding ancient sites, and I can write my book from home. Names can tell us a lot."
"You mean like the roads named King's Stables or Cowgate in Old Town?" Cassandra asked.
"Yes, but those two are pretty obvious, aren't they?" Alex said, as they followed the signs to the Oriental section. "I don't think anybody needs them explained. But names tell us other things. For example, it's possible to estimate the age of a town by whether the name ends in 'caster' and 'chester,' or 'burg' or 'by.' Towns like Manchester and Lancaster date from the Roman era."
"Of course," said Cassandra, nodding. "Castrum is the Latin word for camp."
"And 'burg' is a Saxon word, while 'by' is Norse," said Alex. "Most of the towns that end in 'by' are in northern England, where the Vikings lived, while the 'burg' towns are to the south, the land of the Saxons and the Angles. So place names tell us not only age, but also settlement patterns."
"Or invasion patterns," Cassandra said, with a faint edge to her voice.
Alex stopped just short of the ornately carved Chinese gateway that marked the beginning of the exhibit. "Yes."
Cassandra went through the gate, then paused in front of the ceremonial court costumes. Alex joined her there and commented, "That's a lot of embroidery. How long do you suppose it took to make that?"
"About one year, with at least three seamstresses working on it," Cassandra answered. "One costume cost enough to feed a family of six for two years." At Alex's quizzical look, she explained, "I was a seamstress in China about a thousand years ago."
"Oh." They moved on to a small display case filled with exquisitely carved jade and ivory figures. "Look at that one," Alex said, pointing to a man carrying a young boy on his shoulders while the child gripped the man's topknot for balance. "Connor said he carried John like that. Except for the hair, of course."
"Babies do like to pull hair," Cassandra agreed, remembering many tiny hands throughout the years. "Connor's really excited about the babies, isn't he?"
"Yes. Very. He said he's going to be the stay-at-home dad while I go on digs, once they're older."
That was not a surprise. Connor had been waiting for this for a long time.
"I was a little worried at first," Alex admitted, "since we used a donor, but Connor is very ... involved with the pregnancy."
Cassandra turned to look at her. "You don't sound entirely happy about that."
Alex shrugged. "He told me I couldn't ride horses. He doesn't want me driving by myself. He won't let me lift anything heavier than a telephone."
"What does your doctor say?"
"She agrees with him," Alex said, sitting on the bench in the middle of the room. "At least about the horses. And my age and the twins make me a 'high-risk' pregnancy. I know he's right about some of it, but he tells me what to drink, how much to eat, when to sleep...." She sighed in frustration and stood. "He's driving me crazy." Alex headed down the hall.
Cassandra followed, not at all surprised. Connor could be incredibly irritating. She caught up to Alex in front of a huge bronze bowl and asked quietly, "How many women do you know who have died in childbirth, Alex?
"What?" Alex shook her head. "But, women don't die in childbirth...," she stopped, then added slowly, "...anymore." Another sigh, this one of realization, and Alex nodded.
"He's trying to keep you safe, Alex, the only way he can." Connor liked to control things, but if he thought he could control giving birth, he was in for a big surprise. The body had its own rhythms, and it didn't take kindly to being forced.
"Yes," Alex agreed, with another nod. She and Cassandra exchanged amused and resigned glances, then Alex suggested, "Should we look at the lacquer ware now?"
Connor opened the door for Alex when she came back from the trip to the museum. Cassandra was still with her. After a quick greeting and a kiss for him, Alex went back to chattering with Cassandra about rainfall and ditch digging and aqueducts.
He helped Alex spread her maps over the entire length of the great table in the dining room. Then Cassandra and Alex started to pore over the maps, chattering again.
Connor could not bring himself to summon any interest in the different irrigation techniques of ancient civilizations. He went into the library, looking for something to read, and finally settled on "The Three Musketeers," an old favorite. He poured himself a glass of whisky and sat in the leather chair that gave him a view of the garden.
Bees hummed about the roses outside, and the soft drone came through the open window. The day was warm and the chair was comfortable, and he had read the book before, many times. He was almost asleep when he heard Alex and Cassandra's voices in the kitchen.
"Connor said the training was going pretty well, and that you might be finished in a few weeks," Alex said.
"Yes," Cassandra agreed. "He's made a lot of progress lately. It's hard to say how much longer it will be. I suspect all the training will just come together for him one day, and then he'll be done."
Connor snorted very quietly in irritation. Cassandra had never bothered to tell him that. He had mastered the sounds, and they were working on resisting commands again. Even though he had more resistance now, her voice still oozed over him, slithered inside him, controlled him. He hated it. It was good to know he wouldn't have to put up with it much longer.
"How's your training coming?" Alex asked.
"Better." Cassandra laughed ruefully. "I was really out of practice."
This time Connor snorted in agreement. That was the understatement of the century. But Cassandra was getting back some of her former quickness with the sword, and her movements were more fluid, so Connor wasn't holding back quite as much during sparring now. She still had a long way to go before she was ready to face Kronos. Cassandra would have to find someone else to help her, though; he had no intention of dealing with her one more day than he had to.
Alex spoke again, after a short pause. "Cass, what's it like? To live with the Game?"
There was an even longer pause, then Cassandra answered, "The Game ... changes you, forces you to become a killer." She spoke quietly, and her words were almost inaudible. "If you want to live."
"Have you... ?" Alex asked, delicately probing.
"Taken a head?" Cassandra asked, spacing the words out deliberately, giving them a forcibly amused tone. "Yes."
"What's it like, Cass?" Alex asked
"Rape," Cassandra said flatly, with no trace of amusement left in her voice at all.
Connor blinked in surprise. That was not the word he would have chosen.
"When you kill an Immortal, you take their Quickening--their energy, or their soul--and it comes into you as lightning," Cassandra said. "And it hurts."
His mouth twisted in wry agreement. Cassandra was good at understatements.
"But there are also elements of pleasure, sexual sensations, along with the pain. Like rape." Her voice was still flat, with very little emotion, just a calm acceptance and resignation. "Although, it's more intense than the usual rape."
Connor reached for his whisky and took a large swallow. The usual rape. Christ. How many times had she been through that, anyway?
Alex was still cautiously curious. "What makes it more intense?"
"The lightning comes into your body, but the Quickening comes into your soul, so it's both physical and mental. You have to accept their thoughts and their memories; you have to take them into yourself." Cassandra's voice grew slower. "And they stay with you. Forever. They're in your dreams, and they never go away."
"Oh, Cass," Alex said softly, and Connor wondered at the sympathy in her voice.
Cassandra was speaking more rapidly now, as if the words were under great pressure and were being forced from her. "And, it's even worse than that. Because by beheading an Immortal, you invite the rape. When you take their head, you rape their soul, and then during the Quickening, they rape you." Her voice was still flat, but now it was hard. "And you deserve it."
Connor shook his head in bemusement. He would never have described a Quickening that way.
Cassandra laughed then, that bitter, self-deprecating sound that Connor had heard so often. "At least, that's what it's like for me. I don't like taking Quickenings, and I haven't taken many heads."
"How many?" Alex said, obviously interested, but trying not to show it.
Connor was very interested, too, but he would never have dared to ask that question.
"Seven," Cassandra answered.
Connor nearly dropped his glass. Seven? In over three thousand years? He had taken that many heads before he was one hundred and fifty years old. Hell, he had taken that many heads in a single year! How in the name of God had she managed to live so long?
Cassandra's voice was quiet again, and Connor strained to hear.
"One of them was my student."
"You killed your own student?" Alex asked, horror plain in her voice.
"Not all students and teachers are like Duncan and Connor, Alex," Cassandra retorted.
Connor snorted. Oh, no. Some were like Cassandra and himself.
Cassandra said quietly, "My student started to ... kill for pleasure. I would not let such a one live."
There was no sound at all from the kitchen for a moment, then Alex asked, "And ... the others?"
"Five of them were Immortals who kept hunting me. The other was a friend. Or, at least, I had thought she was my friend. One night, when I was sleeping, she stabbed me, then she tried to take my head." There was a pause and a rustle of cloth. Cassandra was probably staring out the window again, her arms wrapped around herself, holding tight to her pain. "You asked about the Game, Alex, and what it was like. It makes you into a killer, and it makes it nearly impossible to trust anyone."
Connor sipped at his whisky. He understood about lack of trust. Cassandra had made sure he understood. She had made sure he understood about being a killer, too.
"And the Quickenings...." Cassandra sighed, then continued, her voice clearer now, as if she had turned from the window to face Alex again, "I told you I didn't like taking Quickenings, Alex, but I think it's different for most other Immortals. They like Quickenings, become addicted to them. Roland even seemed to find them ... sexually stimulating, somehow." Her voice became slower, and bitter. "I guess that shouldn't surprise me. He liked rape."
Alex said nothing, and Connor was immensely relieved. After he had taken Kane's head, he had gone to Alex. She had been willing, and it had not been rape, but Connor had certainly been abrupt and forceful. Every single time. He tossed back the rest of his whisky and stood. He did not want them discussing this anymore.
Connor went into the kitchen, stretching and yawning, his empty whisky glass in his hand. "I must have fallen asleep," he said, as Alex looked up at him from the table and Cassandra turned from her place at the window. "Have you two finished with the irrigation maps?"
Connor slammed the door shut on the kitchen cabinet as another burst of laughter came from the dining room. Alex had asked Cassandra to stay to dinner. Again. The two women had become practically inseparable these last three weeks. Lunches, dinners, weekends--Cassandra was always around.
And she was always watching him. Connor did not like that, and he did not like her. When Alex was there, Cassandra was friendly and outgoing, even pleasant to be around, but the rest of the time she was usually silent, sometimes sarcastic, more often sullen. He had been trying to be friendly, trying to be polite, but he was tired of putting up with her moods. He was tired of her.
The Voice training was almost finished. Soon Cassandra would be out of his house and out of his life. Connor started to go into the dining room, but there was yet another peal of laughter, this time from Alex. He went to sit by himself in the library.
He had always liked this room, with its comfortable leather chairs, its many books collected throughout the years, the deep gold of the walls brightened by mid-day sunshine in summer or warmed by firelight in winter. Connor poured himself a glass of whisky and sat in one of the chairs that looked out into the garden. The colors of the blossoms were muted in the gathering dusk.
About five minutes later Alex and Cassandra showed up. Alex came over and kissed him. "I've got a project due tomorrow, and I need to go call my lab partner. I'll be back in about fifteen minutes."
He nodded and watched her as she left the room, then stared out the window again. Cassandra sat in the other chair and watched him.
Connor put up with it for about five seconds, then turned to her and demanded, "What do you want from me, Cassandra?" He knew what it meant when she looked at him that way.
She blinked and pretended to be surprised. "Nothing," she protested.
"Don't give me that," Connor said. "I've seen the way you look at me, watching, waiting. What do you want?"
"I don't want anything." Her eyes were wide and innocent, her expression bewildered.
Connor was not that stupid. "I told you not to lie to me," he snarled. "Ever."
Cassandra looked away from him, then nodded slowly. "No more lies," she agreed, then met his eyes again. She hesitated, her hands holding tight to each other in her lap, then repeated, "I don't want anything *from* you."
Connor slammed his glass down and stood. She was still lying to him, and he was not going to put up with it. He should have told the bitch to get the hell out of his house weeks ago.
Cassandra froze in her chair at his sudden movement, but she said in a rush, "Nothing *from* you. Just ... you."
He stared at her in amazement. What the hell ...?
"I wanted ... I wanted us to be friends again." She was staring up at him now, eyes still wide, but pleading now, almost begging.
"Again?" he repeated. "You were never my friend, Cassandra."
She seemed about to speak, then stared at the floor again.
"A friend does not lie to you," Connor said distinctly. "A friend does not use you."
She swallowed hard, then nodded, her head down and her hair hanging around her face. Her next words were almost inaudible. "I wanted a chance to be your friend now."
The sheer gall of this woman! "You had your chance." She bowed her head even more, and Connor added, wanting to make himself perfectly clear, "I trust my friends, Cassandra, and I don't trust you."
She tossed her head back then and looked up and away, blinking rapidly, as if she were trying not to cry. Connor was not impressed. Cassandra stood and faced him. "You're a hard man, Connor MacLeod."
"And you know why," he shot back.
She flushed and nodded one more time. "Yes," she said quietly. "I do."
Cassandra headed for the door, and Connor called after her, "I expect to see you here tomorrow morning, Cassandra." They still had not finished the Voice training, and he was not going to let her hold that power over him. She swung around and stared at him, then smiled a little. Connor suddenly remembered that she was an Immortal, too, and she was over three thousand years old. She had not survived that long by being soft, no matter how few heads she had taken.
"Oh, yes," she said. "I'll be here." Her smile broadened, and she said pleasantly, "After all, we're not finished yet, are we, Connor?" She did not wait for his answer, but turned and went through the parlor into the hall, then shut the front door gently behind her.
Connor was locking the front door when Alex came down the stairs. "Is Cassandra gone?" Alex asked in surprise.
"Yes," Connor said. "She decided she had to leave." Connor was not at all sure he wanted her to come back.
After a moment, his wife asked, "Why are you angry at Cassandra, Connor?"
That was not the word for it. "I'm not angry at her," Connor said.
"But you don't like her."
He did not need this right now. Connor headed back to the library, back to his drink.
And, of course, Alex followed. "Why?"
What the hell was it with women? Couldn't they leave well enough alone? Connor stopped, sighed, and faced her. "Because Cassandra is a cold-hearted, manipulative, lying bitch, that's why."
Alex blinked at his words, than said mildly, "That was a long time ago, Connor, and Roland's dead now. I don't think she's like that anymore."
"No?" Connor tossed back the rest of his drink. "I'm not about to take a chance and find out."
Cassandra sends Connor to his knees.
And you wonder where we're going
"Going somewhere?" Methos asked, as he lifted the flap of the tent. The blue paint on his face was streaked with dust and sweat.
"I was ... going to fetch water," she answered.
"With this?" he asked, grabbing a satchel of food from her.
"I was just--"
"Running away again," he finished for her, coming closer. "Take off your clothes," Methos ordered.
"Please ...," she began, shaking her head in terror, but knowing better than to move away. She had learned not to do that.
He backhanded her hard across the face, a casually brutal movement, done without looking as he reached for a waterskin. "I did not say you could speak," he said, his words clipped and precise. "Take the clothes off and lie down."
She obeyed him. She had learned to do that, too. She waited with her eyes closed, and she kept her eyes closed as he settled on top of her, settled in her.
"I will tame you," he said, as his hands went around her throat and he began to move. "However long it takes." His hands tightened on her neck.
Cassandra woke, gasping for air. There was a man's leg on top of her leg, and his arm lay across her chest. "No!" she cried out, panicking, thrashing in her efforts to escape.
Roland woke and lifted his head. "What are you doing, Cassandra?"
"Was it a dream?" Roland asked, his body still partially on top of her.
She nodded, the breath still coming hard and fast in her throat.
She couldn't lie to him. He could always tell when she lied. "No," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"Who was it, Cassandra?" He propped himself up on one elbow and stared down at her, half his face shadowed to gray in the moonlight. "Was it Methos?"
She nodded again, not trusting her voice.
"You shouldn't remember him," Roland said, tracing his finger down the side of her cheek. "You're with me now."
"And you shouldn't push me away." His hand lay across her throat, and his thumb and forefinger tightened. "You should never push me away."
"No," she whispered in agreement. "Never."
But agreement was not enough. His hand tightened around her neck, and he smiled as he started to squeeze.
Cassandra gasped for air as her eyes snapped open, and her hands flailed wildly, pushing at the weight that held her down and pinned her to the bed.
"I told you not to do that," Roland said, staring down at her. "You said you wouldn't do that again. You promised."
"I'm sorry," she whispered, now lying limp under his hands.
"Sorry isn't enough, Cassandra." He shook his head. "It's not nearly enough. You are mine. Aren't you?"
He nodded a little and smiled, but his hands went around her neck once again. "We'll do this as many times as it takes for you to learn it, Cassandra," Roland said. Then he started to squeeze.
Cassandra revived, whimpering, trying to escape.
Roland was still there, still looking down at her, his hands still around her neck. "You can do better than that, Cassandra." His hands tightened once more.
The fifth time she revived, she did not move at all
Roland was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching. "I knew I could tame you, Cassandra." Then he reached for her again, and he smiled.
Cassandra awoke and did not move. She did not open her eyes. She lay limp and relaxed. No one was touching her. No other Immortal was nearby.
She opened her eyes slowly, her gaze drawn to the green glowing numbers of the clock. It was nearly four o'clock in the morning. It was 1996. She was in her room at the Hawton Hotel in Edinburgh. Methos was dead. Roland was dead. They could never hurt her again. They were dead.
Cassandra closed her eyes again, then listened to the rapid thrumming of her heart, hard against her ribs. She tried to swallow and could not. Her throat hurt. She curled herself into a ball and let the shudders overtake her.
When she finally ceased trembling she stayed where she was, huddled under the covers. She hated that dream, even when it was short. Cassandra curled into herself more tightly and clenched her hands into fists, then breathed deeply and let the air out, shaking. She sat up and stared into the darkness of the room. No more. Never again.
She was not going to be tame anymore.
Not for anyone.
"I know you can do better than that, Cassandra," Connor said, as he wiped his face with a towel.
Cassandra was too tired to lift her towel. They had been sparring for nearly twenty minutes. She sat on her chair, her eyes closed, letting the sweat drip down her face. "I'm trying."
She was trying; she was trying very hard, but it did not seem to help. She was tired. She had had that same dream every night for the past week, and she was afraid to go to sleep. The daily sessions of using the Voice were draining, and the sparring sessions in the exercise room were worse. She had been running and lifting weights, trying to get into shape, trying to make up for centuries of neglect in a few weeks. It was not enough time. She opened her eyes wearily and reached for her water bottle.
Connor said firmly, "Trying isn't enough." He dropped the towel on the table and picked up his water bottle. "Trying will get you killed." He took a long drink, then looked at her and shook his head. "You know that."
"Yes, I know that." She squeezed some of the water over her head, then dribbled more on her arm, washing away the blood there.
"Yes," she said coolly, not even looking at him. She wiped her arm dry.
He stared at her for a few seconds, then walked out of the room. When he came back about ten minutes later, he went straight to the middle of the floor, holding his sword at the ready. Again.
Cassandra ignored him. He could wait a few more minutes. She wasn't ready yet. She wiped her face again with her towel, then leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
"You're not trying now." He sounded irritated.
She did not care. She just did not care anymore. He could go find someone else to abuse.
"Do you want my help or not, Cassandra?" When she didn't respond, he added nastily, "Just being lazy today?"
Cassandra knew this tactic of his. He was goading her, trying to get her to prove him wrong. He could wait forever. She didn't have to prove anything to him. She owed him nothing, and he meant nothing to her. She knew perfectly well she meant nothing to him.
"Giving up?" Connor demanded. When she didn't even look at him, he added, "I know you're a liar, and now I know you're a coward as well."
She blinked furiously, absolutely refusing to cry. Her face was stiff and hot, and she could not breathe. That hurt. It was the truth, and she knew it, and he knew it, too. But he also knew why.
He had told her last night that he did not want her as his friend. He was making it very clear to her now that he was not her friend, either. A friend would not insult you. A friend would not attack you where you were most vulnerable.
She had no reason to take this from him anymore. She had taken everything he had done to her without complaint--all the insults, all the snide remarks, all the pain. She had given him everything he asked for, given him everything she had, and he had thrown it all back in her face.
She was through trying to apologize to him. She was done being sorry. She was not going to be tame.
Cassandra stood and dropped the bloody towel on the floor, then picked up her sword and walked towards him slowly and deliberately, stalking him. She stopped a few feet from him, her sword held at an intermediate angle, not raised to attack, but certainly not lowered.
He wanted the truth from her, and she would give him the truth, all of it. She wanted to hurt him as much as he had hurt her. That would only be fair. Her gaze started at his feet, then moved slowly upwards until it reached his face. Her voice was sweet and vicious. "At least I'm not a murderer like you."
His eyes narrowed, but he shrugged and said evenly, "We all kill, Cassandra."
"Yes, we all kill," she agreed. "But not all of us enjoy it." Now her gaze flicked over him in disgust, and her voice revealed her contempt. "And you enjoy it."
Connor narrowed his eyes even more and tilted his head slightly to one side. He was looking at her with the hard and uncompromising stare he gave to his opponents.
She lifted her chin and stared back at him in exactly the same way. Her voice--her trained Voice--was condemning in its regal disdain as she added, "Just as Roland enjoyed it."
Now the look on his face was angry and cold. And very deadly. She had seen that look before, in Aberdeen, and she knew what it meant. Connor took half a step towards her, raising his sword.
"Stop, Connor," Cassandra commanded with the Voice, and he froze. He had come at her before with his sword, and he had killed her. She had not defended herself then; she had not even tried. She was not going to let him do that to her again.
She walked over to him and stood directly in front of him, very close, but not quite touching. Her fingers went to the handle of his katana. "Give me your sword, Connor." His jaw was tense and the corded muscles in his throat stood out, but he relaxed his grip on his sword, and she took it from him. She moved a few steps back, then set the sword on the floor and kicked the handle so that the katana went spinning across the polished wood floor.
She smiled at him. "You know the Voice, don't you, Connor?" she asked conversationally.
His eyes flickered in acknowledgment.
"Yes, of course, you do. I've been training you to resist me, but you can't. Not yet. Maybe you'll never be able to." She knew Connor responded best to gentleness in the Voice, to someone who knew who he was and where he came from, someone who could take him home again. And she knew Connor. Connor was hers.
She idly swung her own sword back and forth in front of her, rhythmically, like a pendulum on a clock, and looked him up and down. "You know, you are like Roland, Connor. He was a murderer, and so are you."
Connor's eyes were flat and cold in their denial.
Cassandra knew better. She smiled and lifted the tip of her sword so that it pointed to his right hand, about a foot away from his skin. "Oh, you don't torture people, of course, but I've heard the stories about you." The tip of her sword followed the line of his arm to his shoulder. "You like--to hunt." As she spoke the last two words, she moved the sword to trace a diagonal line down across his chest. "You like--to kill." Now Cassandra brought her sword up so that it pointed directly at his throat. "You like taking heads, don't you, Connor? Isn't that true?"
He did not answer, and she repeated with the Voice, determined to make him admit it to her, to admit it to himself, "Don't you, Connor?"
He forced the word out between his teeth. "Yes."
"Yes," she repeated with relish, letting the word linger on her tongue. "You like--the Quickenings. You like the dark agony as the lightning burns its way into your brain." She stepped forward so that the point of the sword almost touched his neck. "You like the power."
Cassandra looked at him as he stood before her, immobilized, frozen, yet still powerful, still strong, still on his feet. Still arrogant. Not for long. She stepped back and lowered her sword, then said conversationally again, "You enjoyed it when I knelt in front of you at your house in the Highlands, didn't you, Connor? You enjoyed it when I begged you to forgive me." But he hadn't forgiven her then, even after she had begged him. He still hadn't forgiven her, even after she had told him what Roland had done to her, even after she had told him she wanted to be his friend.
But he did not want her as a friend. Fair enough. She would not be.
"You enjoyed seeing me on my knees: humiliated, powerless, at your mercy. You enjoyed it." She used the Voice again to compel his response, but her voice wasn't gentle now. "Didn't you?"
He nodded once, a short quick nod.
Cassandra nodded back more slowly. "Yes, of course, you did. Just as Roland did. And I'm going to enjoy it, too." She smiled at the helpless rage in his eyes and commanded, "Kneel, Connor."
And he knelt, stiffly and slowly, but he knelt, settling back on his heels, his hands lying empty and useless on top of his thighs. And she enjoyed it. She enjoyed it very much. He wasn't sneering at her now, was he?
She walked over to him slowly and laid her sword on his arm, the blade flat against the skin, making the fine hairs lift off the surface. "Do you ever play with your opponents first? Before you take their heads? Do you ever taunt them?" She slid the blade carefully and watched as the razor-sharp edge shaved the hair from his arm, the fine light-colored strands falling like wheat before a scythe.
"Do you ever ask them how it feels?" She knew how it felt, and now so did he. "Do you ever cut them, just a little bit, just to watch them bleed?" Cassandra tilted her blade, slicing open his arm, peeling back the skin, laying bare the muscle underneath, watching the blood well forth, seeing the dark redness dripping onto the floor. "Just to see the fear in their eyes?" Cassandra looked into his eyes, and saw the pain there. And the guilt. Good.
She lifted her sword away from his arm and moved to stand beside him, a little in front of him. Then she swung her sword smoothly and quickly to hold it right against his neck. "Do you ever smile at them when you take their heads?" she said, very softly, and she smiled at him again. She twisted the sword, slicing into his neck, the blood and hair from his arm mingling now with the fresher blood from his throat. She cut him just a little, just enough to see that hint of fear in his eyes, just enough to taste that power she knew and craved. "You like the power, don't you?" She had dreamed of doing this to him. She had dreamed many dreams, and he had been in them all.
"You like the control," she continued, controlling him with her words and with her sword. She liked the control, too. She whispered sweetly, "You like the blood."
He was watching her, the dark rims of the gray irises showing almost black against the white of his eyes. She moved the sword away a finger's breadth away from his neck and settled her feet more comfortably, then held her sword in her right hand. The blade was still at his throat. She had dreamed of holding her sword to his neck; she had dreamed of cutting off his lying, grinning head. He wasn't grinning now, was he?
She took hold of his hair with her left hand and pulled his head back. His hair felt strange; it felt softer than she remembered, smoother. That didn't matter. Nothing mattered, except her sword in her hand and her tormentor at her feet. Finally, she was the one in control. "You like being in control, don't you?" she repeated. "And you've tried to control me, haven't you? You've tried very hard." She spoke softly, slowly, remembering, staring into the gray eyes, seeing nothing but the eyes, eyes that had stared at her, laughed at her, haunted her. "Over and over again, all through the years. Always smiling, always playing games ... always hurting...."
There was more than a hint of fear in his eyes now; the pupils were dilated, darting quickly back and forth, like the eyes of an animal caught in a trap. She knew that look; she had seen it in others while he toyed with them, while he hurt them. She would make sure he never hurt anyone again. She would make sure he never hurt her again. Her fingers tightened on the hilt of her sword.
She heard the voice, but it didn't sound the way she remembered it. It didn't matter. She would make sure he never controlled her again. She tightened her grip on his short hair as best she could to hold his head still, and she drew her arm back for the blow.
That voice again. She shook her head, not wanting to hear it, not wanting to let him control her. Her arm felt strange, frozen.
"Cassandra. Put the sword down."
He was always telling her what to do. But his voice didn't sound angry, or mocking. It was gentle, caring, friendly. He pretended, sometimes, to be her friend. But it was always a lie. He always hurt her again. She tightened her grip on her sword, trying to hold it. It seemed very heavy.
"Cassandra," the voice said softly, "it's Connor."
Connor? But Connor's voice wouldn't be soft and gentle. Connor's voice was cold, or sarcastic, or arrogant. Except sometimes. Sometimes he acted friendly. Sometimes he seemed to care. But he always turned away from her. He always hurt her again. He wasn't her friend. She had no friends. Ould Margaret had told her that all of her friends would desert her, and Margaret had been right. She was all alone, and it was all his fault. She blinked and tried to focus on the precise line of his neck where her sword would start to cut.
The voice was stronger now, but still gentle, still caring. The tip of her sword wavered, and she let go of his hair.
His voice again--reassuring, comforting. She remembered this voice now. This voice had never whispered in her ear while he hurt her; this voice really had cared. She slowly lowered her sword.
She blinked again, seeing his face beneath her, seeing his eyes. Gray eyes, the same color as the eyes in her dreams, but not the eyes she remembered. "Connor?" she said, her own voice sounding strange and far away.
"It's Connor," he repeated soothingly. "Let me have your sword, Cassandra." He did not move, did not try to take it from her. He let her decide.
Cassandra shook her head slowly. She was supposed to keep the sword. Wasn't she? But she had given him her sword before, and she didn't really want to keep it. She hated swords. She uncurled her fingers from the hilt and let go.
He reached forward and caught it as it fell, grabbing it awkwardly around the crossguard and the hilt, then placed it behind him, out of her sight. He stood slowly and faced her. "It's Connor," he repeated, one more time.
"Connor," she breathed, looking at him, finally seeing him. It was Connor who was looking at her, Connor who had been kneeling at her feet, Connor whose neck had been....
"Connor?" she asked, unsure of what had happened. She focused on his throat, seeing the thin red line there, the blood already drying to a darker brown. She shook her head slowly. "No," she whispered, moving away from him, moving away from her sword. "No," she repeated, horrified at what she had done, at what she had wanted to do.
"Cassandra!" he called, not sounding calm and reassuring anymore.
"No!" she said fiercely, and she turned and ran out the door.
Cassandra ran down the street until her side hurt and her breath was coming in painful gasps. She slowed to an easier pace, but she kept running, welcoming the familiar rhythmic pounding, the simple repetitive motions. She didn't want to think. She didn't want to remember.
She ran until she didn't recognize the streets anymore, and still she ran. She was wearing her exercise clothes; no one thought it odd to see her running, as long as they didn't notice the blood. She slowed when she saw a sign which read, "Edinburgh University." Alex would be here. She needed to talk to Alex. She needed to talk to a friend.
It took her almost an hour to find Alex. The office had a "Closed" sign on the door, and the classrooms were all empty. Finally, Cassandra saw her, walking toward the Old High School. "Alex!" she called, trying to sound merely friendly instead of desperate.
"Cass?" Alex turned, surprised, and tucked her books more firmly under her arm. She couldn't balance them against her hip anymore. "What are you doing here?"
Cassandra shrugged and said casually, "I was just--" She stopped abruptly. She didn't need to lie anymore. She wasn't going to lie anymore. "I needed to talk to you."
Alex gave her a quick glance, then nodded and said, "Let's walk a bit, shall we?" They walked in silence for a while, then Alex asked, "What did you want to talk about?"
Cassandra opened her mouth, then shut it again. Alex was her friend, but she was Connor's wife. "Alex, I don't think this is a good idea."
"You wanted to talk to me," Alex said
"Yes, but ... Connor will be angry if I talk to you about it."
Alex shrugged. "So?"
"So?" Cassandra echoed in disbelief.
"He's been angry at me before. All through this pregnancy, he keeps trying to tell me what to do, and he gets mad at me when I don't do it."
Cassandra was not surprised. Connor liked being in control of things. And people.
"So he gets angry," Alex said, shrugging again. "So he yells at you. It's not like he's going to kill you or anything."
Cassandra froze. A month ago, a week ago, she could have heard those words and not changed a muscle in her face. She didn't have that kind of control anymore. She didn't seem to have any control anymore.
And Alex had seen. "Cassandra?" She stopped walking and faced Cassandra. "No," she half-whispered, half-laughed, shaking her head. "Cassandra, he didn't." The smile disappeared, but the whisper remained. "He couldn't," Alex protested.
Cassandra did not answer.
"When? How?" Alex demanded. "Cassandra, you have to tell me."
"I suppose I do now, don't I?" Cassandra drew a shaky breath. "He's not going to like this, either."
Alex pushed her hair back from her face and said impatiently, "You can't go through your life worrying about what he's going to like. He doesn't own you. He doesn't own me."
Cassandra looked at her, amazed and appalled at the simplicity and the truth of that statement. Connor did not own her. Connor was not going to control her. Connor would never tame her.
So she told Alex. And she told her the truth.
Connor had followed Cassandra at a distance for almost three blocks before he decided to leave her alone. Running was probably just what she needed right now. But he didn't think she was going to come back to his house, and he knew they needed to talk. Again.
He'd gone to his house and showered and changed, then taken both their swords with him to the Hawton Hotel.
Connor put her sword on the bed and sat down in the chair in the corner to wait. Nearly three hours later, just before four o'clock, Connor sensed her approach and immediately opened the door. "Cassandra!" he called. By the time he got into the hallway, she had already disappeared behind the closing elevator doors. Running and hiding. She was good at that. He waited, and a few minutes later they opened again, and Cassandra stepped out.
He motioned for her to proceed him into her room, then shut the door behind her and locked it.
"How did you get in?" she asked.
"I am paying for this room," he reminded her, holding up a key. At least she had the grace to look somewhat abashed at that. Connor motioned to the bed. "I brought you your sword."
Cassandra glanced at it and shook her head. "I don't think ... I don't think I should have that right now."
Connor was relieved to hear her say that, but he said nothing, merely put her sword in the wardrobe and shut the door. His own sword was easily accessible, under his coat on the chair.
Cassandra was already heading for the bathroom. "I'm going to take a shower."
She wasn't asking him for permission anymore. He sat down and waited for her again. She took her time about it, finally appearing with her hair wrapped in a towel and dressed in the thick, white bathrobe supplied by the hotel. Cassandra did not even look at him, but went to the dresser and started taking out some clothes. She really knew how to annoy him.
"Where have you been, Cassandra?" Connor asked.
"I needed to talk to a friend."
"A friend?" Connor hadn't realized she knew anyone else in Edinburgh.
She shut the drawer to the dresser very gently and turned around, the clothes held tight against her. "That leaves you out, doesn't it, Connor?"
Connor wasn't going to bother to answer that.
She set the clothes on the bed and took the towel off her hair. "I was talking to Alex."
"Alex?" Connor stood abruptly and walked over to her, then said slowly and distinctly, "I don't want her involved in Immortal business, Cassandra."
She answered in precisely the same fashion, "Then you shouldn't have married her." She sat down on the bed and started to comb her hair. "You can't stop being an Immortal, Connor."
Connor took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She was right. He had said something similar to Duncan several years ago, when Slan Quince had been hunting Duncan and threatening Duncan's lover Tessa. Well, Connor had made that decision already, and he would live with it. "What did Alex say?"
"She said I should at least talk to a rape counselor." She yanked the comb through a tangle in her hair. "As if that would help."
Connor sat down on the edge of the bed. "Maybe it would." She snorted in derision, and he added, "You need to talk to someone, Cassandra."
She pushed her hair back from her face impatiently. "I know how to deal with rape, Connor. I've done it all my life. That's not the problem. And mortals wouldn't understand."
He leaned forward and laid his hand on her arm. "You can talk to me. Maybe that would help."
"You?" she flared, and he pulled his hand away instantly. She stood, and he got to his feet and faced her. "Help?" she repeated. "From you? What kind of help would I get from you?"
The ungrateful bitch. "I'm helping you now."
"You call this help?" she asked, with an incredulous laugh. "Insulting me, goading me, laughing at me? Day after day, week after week? Calling me a coward, calling me a liar? I know you enjoy beating me in sparring. I know you enjoy seeing me on the floor in front of you. I know you enjoy controlling me."
"What about when you're using the Voice on me, Cassandra?" he demanded. "You enjoy controlling me, too." And he hated every second of it. "We both have that beast within us."
"Yes, we do," she admitted. "We both like power. But you also enjoy hurting me."
She was right, damn her, on some level anyway. He didn't enjoy hurting her, not really, but there was a certain ... satisfaction in seeing her on the floor, a definite vindication in making her pay. Just as there was some level of satisfaction in killing. An Immortal battle was the ultimate contest of strength, determination, and skill, and Connor liked to win.
But he knew that the satisfaction in killing was deadly. The first taste of a Quickening awakened the beast within an Immortal, and that beast was always hungry. He had seen other Immortals slide--sometimes plummet or even leap--into a fascination with power and control, an addiction to the killing and the blood. Immortals he had once called friends had become enemies.
Connor would never let that beast within control him. That had been one of the last lessons Cassandra taught him.
"Help," she said bitterly. "I don't want your kind of help, Connor. I don't want anything from you. Not now, not ever."
"You never did," he said coldly. Oh, she had wanted him to help her, of course, but she had never wanted him. He looked her over briefly and dispassionately--her damp hair pushed back from her face, her arms crossed in front of her, the long bathrobe covering her completely, yet still revealing her curves. There was no change in her face at all at his words. No anger, no surprise, no interest. She may have told him she cared about him, but she certainly didn't show it. "Who do you think can help you, Cassandra?"
"I'll go to Duncan," she said calmly, with an arrogant lift to her chin. "He'll give me the kind of help I need."
Connor kept his face as expressionless as hers, then he nodded slowly. Of course. Duncan. From the very beginning, it had been Duncan, even before Duncan had been born. It would always be Duncan. That was hardly a surprise. Every woman wanted Duncan.
Connor said, very softly, very smoothly, "That's not all he'll give you, is it? And that's not all you want from him, either." He looked her over again, and now his look was very personal, very intimate, lingering on her breasts and her crotch. It had been, what? over two months since she had seen Duncan? She probably couldn't wait to crawl into his bed again.
"I don't need to ask how you'll convince him to help you." Connor gave the barest beginning of a dry, bitter laugh. "I know." He knew very well. "You convinced him that way before, when you wanted him to kill Roland for you. What's one more time? One more man?" He shrugged. What she did was no concern of his. "Go convince Duncan, Cassandra. Go pretend you care about him, like you did with me, like you did with all the others." He turned to walk to the chair to get his sword and his coat.
"What do you think I am?" Cassandra demanded, sounding very angry.
Connor pivoted on his heel slowly and studied her, seeing again the supple body, the wide green eyes, the flowing hair, that sensual lying mouth. She was beautiful, and she knew it, and she used it. Like she used everything and everyone to get what she wanted. Like she had used him. "I told you what I thought you were in Aberdeen. Did you forget?"
Her eyes narrowed, but she did not answer.
Apparently she needed to hear it again. "I think you're a bitch." She had certainly been acting like one. Her face didn't change expression at that, either, and Connor continued, his rage and frustration mounting with this deceitful, ungrateful woman he had taken into his home and tried to help. "I think you're a lying--fucking--bitch."
She didn't even blink. Instead, she took a step toward him, and her voice was cool and composed. "Really?"
"Yes." He faced her in a fighting stance, his feet shoulder-width apart, his gaze steady.
"Then that makes you a bastard. A lying--fucking--bastard." She gave her words exactly the same emphasis as he had done. "Doesn't it?"
"You're the liar, Cassandra," Connor replied icily. "I never lied to you."
"No?" She considered that for a moment. "Perhaps not," she admitted. "You didn't have secrets when I met you. You were very young then. Very innocent."
Damn her! Why didn't she just come out and say it? He had been a fool.
"But you aren't so innocent now, and you are a liar."
Connor shook his head. He knew he had been a fool, and he knew he had been stupid, but he was not a liar. "Not like you."
"You are a liar, Connor," she repeated. "And not just the normal, everyday lying all Immortals must do. You never told Anne that you and I were lovers. You lied to her."
"Yes, I lied," he admitted. "So? I didn't think Anne needed to know about Immortality, and you were part of that secret."
"And I didn't think you needed to know about Roland, and my asking you to teach Duncan was part of that secret." She stared at him challengingly. "How is that different, Connor?"
"It is different, Cassandra, and you know it. I didn't hide things from her in order to use her, the way you used me."
She nodded slowly, accepting that. "Yes, I had reasons for lying. I thought it was the only way to get people to help me, because, you know, Connor, I hadn't had much luck getting help from people when I simply asked for it. Have you?"
No. He hadn't.
"I needed your help to destroy Roland, and I didn't think you would help me if I told you the truth. That was why I lied to you , Connor. Why did you lie to Anne about me?" Like a cat reaching out its paw to trap its prey again, Cassandra wasn't going to let go of that. "Because you thought she didn't need to know, or just to make it easier on yourself? Which of us was more selfish, Connor?"
He looked away from her, unwilling to face the simple ugly truth.
But Cassandra wasn't finished; the cat wasn't finished playing with its prey. "And you didn't lie only to Anne. You were a liar then, and you are a liar now. You're lying to Alex."
Connor glared at her. "What are you talking about?" he demanded. "She knows about Immortals. She knows what I am."
"Oh, yes," Cassandra agreed. "You told her about beheadings and Quickenings and the Game. You told her what kind of Immortal you are, what kind of a killer you have to be. But you haven't told her what kind of *man* you are."
Connor shook his head in confusion.
Cassandra smiled then, a small, mirthless smile that held a great deal of pain. "You haven't told her," she repeated. Her smile disappeared. "Alex and I were talking about being raped--"
Connor felt the blood drain from his face, and Cassandra stopped abruptly. He lifted his head slowly, breathing carefully through that familiar sickening sense of betrayal and disbelief. God Almighty, not this! Not again!
Cassandra said in gentle surprise, "Alex never told you?"
No. His wife Alex had never told him she had been raped. Just as Heather had never told him. Both his wives had hidden this from him. The hurt and disbelief changed once again to scalding, impotent rage, and his breath came more quickly as his hands clenched into fists.
Cassandra nodded slowly to herself. She did not seem surprised now. "And Heather never told you, either." She did not make it a question.
Connor turned from her abruptly and walked to the window, unwilling to let her see him this way, naked and exposed. But Cassandra knew anyway. She was looking at him now, watching him, seeing all his weaknesses and his stupidity and his failures. She knew the Kurgan had raped Heather. She knew he hadn't protected his wife. She knew Heather had lied to him, and she knew he had been stupid enough to believe those lies. Just as he had been stupid enough to believe Cassandra's lies. And she knew that, too.
God damn that bitch! She knew everything. She knew what a fool he had been, what a fool he was now. Long ago, he had promised himself that no one would ever get close to him again; no one would ever know him that well. Long ago, he had built walls to protect himself, walls to keep himself safe. But he had built those walls after he had met Cassandra, and she was inside those walls with him. She was inside of *him*, and he would never be rid of her.
Her voice came from behind him, still gentle, still cutting into his soul. "Why don't your women tell you the truth, Connor?" She didn't wait for an answer. "Maybe for the same reasons you don't tell them. They think you don't need to know. They think they're protecting you."
Connor closed his eyes as he remembered Heather, warm and laughing in his arms. She had lied to him only to protect him, because she had known he could not have won against the Kurgan, not then. Heather had loved him; that had not been a lie. He held on to that, safe behind his walls.
Cassandra's voice continued, soft and gentle, closer to him. "We all have secrets, Connor. Sometimes we don't tell them because we don't think the other person needs to know, or we think it might hurt the other person to know. I didn't want you knowing about Roland, about what he had done. I was afraid that, one day, you would decide you were strong enough to challenge him."
She was right. If he had known about Roland back then, he would have hunted the bastard down. And quite probably lost his head.
"I didn't want him to kill you, the way he...."
The way Roland had killed so many others--slowly, agonizingly, while Cassandra watched.
She came to stand beside him at the window, and said, very quietly now, "And I was also afraid--that if I told you what I had done, how I had failed Roland, broken my vows and betrayed my sisters, deserted my families and my students...." She paused, fighting for control, then finished in a rush, "I was afraid you would despise me; you would hate me." She swallowed painfully and whispered, "I was too ashamed to tell you." She bent her head, and her hair fell forward and curtained her face.
Connor felt some of his anger cool at her words. She knew him, but he also knew her. He reached out and laid his hand on her arm. "Cassandra...."
"That's why I lied to you, Connor. That's why most people lie. They're afraid." She added imploringly, "You can see that, can't you?"
He nodded slowly.
She added, "I was afraid to tell you, just like you're afraid to tell Alex."
The anger came back, and he dropped his hand from her. "What are you talking about?"
She stared at him incredulously and shook her head. "You are afraid, too, Connor. Why didn't you want me and Alex spending time together?" she asked him. She did not wait for his answer. "Because you were afraid of what I might tell her." There was no hesitancy in her voice now.
Connor stepped closer to Cassandra. "Immortality is a brutal, ugly business, and I don't want my family involved in it. I don't want you telling her, either."
"What did you tell me earlier, Connor? No more lies. Remember? Ever."
"That's not what I meant."
"Oh? So, I'm the only one who has to tell the truth? And you're the only one I have to tell the truth to?" She challenged him, "You want to be the only one to lie to her?
God damn it! That was not what he had meant, either. "She's my wife!"
"She is your wife, but she is not yours! I am not yours! You don't own us, and you can't control us." Cassandra shook her head slowly, her eyes cold now, and very determined. "No one is ever going to *tame* me again, Connor. No one."
Not that again! "I am not Roland," he said in exasperation.
"This isn't about Roland, Connor. It's about you. And you're lying to Alex." She gave a small, bitter laugh. "Do you know, Connor, when Alex and I were talking of rape, Alex said that, of course, *you* would never hurt a woman." She shook her head a little, sadly. "But, you and I know better, don't we, Connor?" She touched on one of his secrets, pressed on the secret only the two of them knew. "We know that you broke my neck."
Connor stepped back from her and shook his head.
"Oh, but I forgot," she added sweetly, smiling at him a little. "That wasn't really *your* fault, was it?" She pressed harder still. "I forced you to kill me." Her voice wasn't sweet now, and she wasn't smiling. "It was my fault, wasn't it, Connor?"
Connor swallowed hard and ground out his reason, "You killed me. Three times." When she had been his teacher in Donan Woods, one fine autumn morning, she had killed him with her sword and watched him bleed to death in front of her cottage. After he had revived, she had stabbed him in the back and watched him die again. When he had recovered from that, she had attacked him yet again. That time she had used her knife to stab him in the heart, all the while laughing at him, saying gaily, "Connor, you are such a fool." The rage he had felt when she had killed him was coming back to him now, and he felt no shame as he admitted, "And I killed you."
She nodded slowly. "Yes. I killed you, and you killed me. But you died fighting, with your sword in your hand. Except when you forgot your sword," she said, reminding him again of how very innocent he had been. "Tell me, Connor, have you ever forgotten your sword again?"
He spoke grudgingly. "No."
"It seems to have been an effective lesson, wouldn't you say?"
Brutal and deadly, but effective. A perfect lesson for an Immortal. He had done almost the same thing to Duncan, but he hadn't killed him over it.
"But you didn't kill me when we were fighting," Cassandra continued, the words soft and vicious. "You killed me in bed, while I lay naked beneath you."
"Damn it, Cassandra!" he swore, turning from her and slamming his fist against the dresser, the rage still rising, but the shame coming back, too. "You know what you said to me! You know what you did!"
"Oh, yes," she agreed. "I know. I laughed at you. I called you a fool. And no man can ever stand to be laughed at in bed. That makes it my fault that you killed me, doesn't it, Connor, because I made you angry?"
He did not want to answer that.
But Cassandra was still talking. "You know, Alex said that *you* could never rape a woman. She believes that, Connor. She really does. But that's another thing you and I know that she doesn't, isn't it, Connor?" Cassandra said sweetly.
"What happened between us wasn't rape, Cassandra, and you know it! You came over to me!
"Yes, but you were the one to take me back to the bed!"
"You never once said no! You never once tried to stop me!"
"So, that makes it my fault?" she demanded. "I forced you to strip my clothes off? I forced you to tell me to open my legs for you?" She stepped toward him, her arms held rigid at her sides. "I forced you to use me that way, didn't I, Connor? Because it was all my fault, wasn't it? I *deserved* it, didn't I?" She demanded of him again, "Didn't I!?"
Connor answered her this time. "No." His voice was low as he admitted, "No, Cassandra, you didn't deserve that." He had wanted to hurt her, to humiliate her, the same way she had hurt and humiliated him, but she had not deserved that.
"No," she repeated softly, and swallowed hard, refusing to cry. "I didn't." She turned from him again and looked out the window. "But you did it anyway."
Connor closed his eyes and sighed, then tried to speak calmly. "Look, Cassandra, what happened between us was one night, over four hundred years ago, and it...." One night that had haunted him for over four hundred years, one night that had changed him forever.
He burst out, "Christ, Cassandra, you told me later that night that you wanted me to punish you, that you wanted me to do that to you! What the hell did you expect me to do?"
She turned on him then, the anger within her boiling forth. "I *expected* you to do exactly what you did, because you're a fucking bastard, just like every other man!"
"You vindictive bi--!"
"And you're still a fucking bastard!" she railed at him. "You've fucked other women, too! How many times did you pay for it? Hand a woman a coin and use her in whatever way you wanted to?"
"So I paid for it," Connor said, shrugging. "So what? That was their job. I never abused the women, never hurt them. We both knew why we were there, and we both had a good time."
She stepped toward him then, her eyes glittering with rage. He had thought she had been angry before, but he had never seen her this furious. "Their job?" She was practically hissing now. "Their *job*? You stupid, arrogant man! Just because she smiled at you, you think she wanted to? You think she *enjoyed* having you touch her? You can't possibly be that stupid, can you?"
Connor knew damn well he could. He had been that stupid with Cassandra.
"It was her *job* to make you think she liked it. Women don't want to be whores, Connor. They're either forced into it, or it's the only job they can get that lets them feed themselves or their children." She shook her head in disgust. "You used those women--countless women--and you don't even know their names."
Connor could not deny what she had said. Any of it.
She stepped back a little and examined him, the cat watching the mouse. "So, Connor, you've already admitted you like to kill. Now we know that you're a liar and a user of women, too. And those are just some of your secrets you want to hide from Alex."
"She doesn't need to know everything."
But Cassandra knew this about him, too. The cat-eyes were supremely mocking. "It isn't that you think she doesn't need to know. You don't *want* her to know. You are afraid." She nodded slowly, knowingly. "You are afraid that if she knows what you are, and what you have done, then she won't love you anymore."
"No." That could not be true.
"Yes. You are afraid of the truth, Connor. Just like I was. You are just--like--me." She laughed then, a small, painful sound. "And both of us have secrets we are afraid to tell." She looked him up and down coldly, dismissing him. "And do you know why?"
Connor knew. He knew the truth of her words, and he felt it cut deep within him, for the truth was sharper than any knife.
Cassandra knew the truth of it as well. "You are afraid to tell," she said dispassionately, reasonably, logically, "because no woman is ever going to love a lying, fucking, murdering bastard." She looked him over once again and said with complete certainty, "Once she knows what you really are, Connor MacLeod, no woman could ever--possibly--love--you."
Connor felt the knife of her words twisting as she spoke, slicing deeper to reach his heart, and he stepped forward and grabbed her by the arms, desperate to silence her. "Damn you, Cassandra!" His hands tightened convulsively on her arms, his fingers digging into the pressure points above her elbows.
There was a small grimace of pain about Cassandra's mouth as she used the Voice to command him. "Let go of me, Connor."
Connor heard the words, felt them wash over him and through him, then felt them float away. The long hours of training were working. Earlier today he had submitted to the Voice, but he had fought free of it after a few minutes, and then he had used what he knew of the Voice to control her instead. She didn't have that power over him anymore. He smiled then, a small, cruel smile. "No."
There was an immediate flare of panic in her eyes when she realized he hadn't submitted to the Voice, then she relaxed under his grip.
"Not so brave now, are you, Cassandra?" Connor taunted. "You can't control me anymore."
She said nothing, only looked at him with those disdainful green eyes.
Connor's smile faded as he remembered what she had said to him once before. "There are other ways to control people, Connor." And she knew them all. She knew every damn one. She had had centuries of experience in controlling people, in manipulating them, in using them. She had used him again. Jesus Christ, again! And again, he had thought he had been in control.
But he hadn't been in control. She had planned it all. It was the same old pattern, that same vicious game he had seen before--pretending to need help, telling him a story about an ancient enemy. Then, even more effective, acting as if she were reluctant to tell him everything, saying she didn't want him to feel sorry for her, so that he would feel some grudging admiration for her courage.
And all the time she had been insinuating herself into his life, becoming close to his wife, asking him to be her "friend," pretending that she liked him--and all the time she had been planning ... what? She'd already gotten Duncan. What else did she want?
Then he remembered where she had been earlier that afternoon. "What did you tell Alex today, Cassandra?"
She stared at him, coldly, mockingly, and Connor suddenly felt sick. She couldn't have. Even Cassandra couldn't have done that.
He tightened his grip on her arms even more. "What did you tell her, Cassandra?" he ground out. She didn't answer him fast enough, and he took two quick steps, shoving her before him, then slammed her up against the wall. "What--did--you--tell--her?"
"The truth!" she spat at him, then continued more quietly, "The truth, bu--"
Connor slammed her against the wall again, harder this time, and leaned into her, pressing her between his body and the wall. "You had it all planned, didn't you, Cassandra?" he said, his voice soft and full of rage. "From the very beginning, ever since you came to my house in the Highlands."
"Planned?" She sounded bewildered.
That same innocent act, that same wide-eyed wonder. That same goddamn lie. She must think he was completely stupid, to fall for this little trick of hers again. He snorted in self-disgust. He was completely stupid. He had fallen for this little trick of hers. Time and time again. But not this time. He knew what she was up to. He dug his fingers into her arms again until he felt her tremble with pain beneath his hands.
His voice was still soft and his rage was still there as he said, "You bitch. You jealous bitch. Just because you screwed up your life and your families, you had to go and screw up mine."
Cassandra started to shake her head, but Connor wasn't about to let her get away with that. He let go of her left arm and grabbed her by the throat, then slid his hand up until it was right under her chin, forcing her head back so that she would look at him. He could feel the rapid beat of her pulse under his fingers and see the fear in her eyes and in her face. Good. He had finally gotten some reaction out of her. He was sick to death of seeing nothing but watchfulness from her.
"You hated seeing me happy, and you just had to destroy my life. You goddamned lying bitch."
The fear in her eyes and in her face changed to utter contempt, and she spoke softly with his hand at her throat. "You are such a fool."
Rage gripped Connor so tightly that he could not even breathe. He had taken those words from her before. He had believed them, and he had made them a part of himself. But no more. She was never going to say that to him again.
He did not bother to get his sword; he did not want to take her head. He wanted to kill her, and he wanted to feel her die beneath his hands. His hand tightened around her neck, and he smiled as her contempt changed back to fear. He was still smiling as both his hands encircled her neck and he started to squeeze.
The fear in Cassandra's eyes did not disappear, but it was joined by panicked determination and rage. He had never seen that look in her eyes before, but he did not care. He was going to silence this bitch once and for all. He tightened his grip even more.
Connor saw only a swift blur as she brought her hands up and slammed them against his ears, and he gasped at the sudden pain that rang through his head. His gasp became a muffled curse as her nails raked toward his eyes, and he let go of her neck to bring his arms up and out, knocking her hands away. But he had not been fast enough; the searing agony in his left eye told him that. He stepped back, blinking furiously, and tears mingled with the blood that flowed down his left cheek.
Through the haze of pain and blood, he saw Cassandra run past him, past the foot of the bed. She was heading for the wardrobe, for her sword. Not again! She was not going to hold a sword to his neck again. He lunged and just managed to grab a handful of her hair.
She let out a strangled cry of rage and pain that stopped abruptly when Connor yanked her to him by her hair. Cassandra turned toward him, and he grabbed her right arm and let go of her hair. He reached for her other arm, too, intending to pull her to him, but Cassandra lowered her head and charged.
He had not been expecting her to attack.
Her head caught him right under the chin, knocking his head back and slamming his teeth together on his tongue, while her left fist snapped up between his legs. Connor gagged at the taste of blood and vomit. He nearly let go of her arm as she twisted away from him. He hung on grimly, partly doubled over in pain, partly blinded with blood. He hung onto her, knowing he would heal enough in a few seconds to stand again, knowing if he let go of her now she would go for her sword. He had resisted the Voice once, but he was not sure he could resist it again. He had to stop her, to silence her, to control her.
Cassandra was not waiting for him to heal. Her elbow came down on the back of his neck, and it might have broken his spine if he had not jerked to one side, pulling her off her feet and sending them both sprawling onto the bed. He lost his grip on her then, but as she tried to roll away he grabbed for her and caught hold of the right sleeve of her bathrobe. She was scrambling away from him, half panting, half sobbing, hampered by the fabric winding around her legs. Connor did not care. She was not going to get away from him.
He yanked on her sleeve with all his strength, and even though the fabric tore, she was pulled onto her back by the sudden jerk. He threw himself on top of her, pushing her down into the bed. Her hands went for his eyes again, but he was ready for her this time. Connor caught her wrists in his hands and pinioned them to the bed above her head, at the same time shoving her legs apart with his knees so she couldn't knee him in the groin. She was still struggling, still thrashing about, and he lowered himself onto her to use his weight to hold her quiet.
Her robe had fallen open during their struggles, and he could feel the movement of her bare breasts against his chest as she writhed beneath him, and he was suddenly aware of the rub of her thighs against the outside of his own. He swallowed, tasting again the blood in his mouth, and remembered lying with her before in just this way, and he wanted to take her that way again.
Cassandra suddenly stopped moving. Several strands of hair had fallen across her forehead and cheek, and she stared up at him, breathing rapidly through her nose.
She had looked at him from this position before. Except then, there had been fear and acceptance in her eyes, and now there was hate. Hate, and a cool mocking knowledge that froze the white-hot rage and lust within him.
She knew. Of course, she knew.
Connor swallowed hard again and let go of her wrists, then pushed himself off her, trying to control the trembling in his hands. He did not speak, but backed away, caught and held by her disdainful stare. He turned a step toward the door, then stopped and picked up his sword and his coat from the chair. He couldn't forget his sword, not after the lesson she had taught him. He couldn't be that stupid, not with her watching.
For she was watching. She had sat up on the bed, but she had not bothered to pull her robe together. She sat half-naked before him, unashamed, staring at him, looking into his soul.
Connor knew what she saw when she looked at him--a self-righteous liar, a fucking murderer, an arrogant fool. He dropped his gaze from her, then turned and made his way out the door.
Cassandra watched as Connor left, then pulled her robe together, went to the door, and shut it gently. She stood there for a moment, trying to breathe evenly, fighting for control. Then she opened the door and slammed it shut. That was better. She slammed it again, and then again, and then she slammed it once more. She could not remember the last time she had hit anything in rage. She could not remember a time when she had ever fought back, not in the last three thousand years.
She had fought back now, though. She had not been tame. And it felt good. She started hitting the door, punching the solid oak with her fists, the thick wood muffling the sounds, hitting over and over, until the skin on her knuckles was scraped raw and bleeding. "Self-centered, self-righteous, overbearing, conceited ... man!" She could not think of another word that better described her contempt for the whole bloody lot of them.
All of them! Every single one! Connor had been so unconcerned, so blase', when he had said, "That was their job." How dare he! How dare he accuse her of being a whore, when he himself had used hundreds of women? Used them and thought nothing of it, thought nothing of them? He was worse than a whore. Whores did it in order to eat; he had done it for his own pleasure.
"Lying, fucking bastard!" she swore again, still beating on the door.
She had seen the desperate denial in his eyes when she had told him no one could ever love him. She had seen the hopeless rejection of her words as they stabbed him in the heart. She knew that look; she knew how he felt. He had made her feel that way in Aberdeen, and she wanted him to feel the same way. He deserved it. He deserved to be alone, to have nothing, to have no one.
"Damn him!" Cassandra snarled. "Damn him, damn him, damn him, damn him!"
Finally, she stopped, shaking, nearly sobbing, her hands and fingers aching with well-remembered pain. She leaned her forehead against the door and did not look at her hands as they healed. She knew exactly how long it would take; Roland had taught her that. "And damn him, too," she whispered, as she sank to the floor, then she wrapped her arms around her knees and hid her face. "Damn them all," she said silently, hating everyone.
She started crying then, and she could not stop her tears anymore than she had been able to stop her rage. She hated herself, too, and she was already damned. She had done it again. She had hurt the person she cared for most in all the world, and this time she had hurt Alex as well.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, but there was no one there to hear. She was alone, as she was always alone, as she deserved to be alone.
Connor did not deserve to be alone, not really. She did not want Connor to look that way, to look so lost, so terrified, so much like the little boy she had seen in Roland's eyes. She did not want to destroy Connor, but she was afraid she already had.
Great Mother, what had she done?
She had been so angry that she had deliberately used everything she knew about Connor to slice him open and flay him to the bone. She had been so angry when he had accused her of trying to destroy his marriage that she had called him a fool, even though she had known that would enrage him.
No wonder he had attacked her. She should never have gotten angry. She should never have said those things. It was her fault he had become angry. And even though it was her fault that he had tried to kill her, she knew he would blame himself for what he had done. The guilt and the self-loathing would finish the destruction she had begun.
She could not let that happen. Not to Connor.
Cassandra took a few deep breaths and forced herself to stop crying, then walked to the bathroom and bathed her face with cold water. She could not help Connor, but maybe Alex could. Cassandra sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the phone with dread. She had to do this.
Cassandra punched in the MacLeods' phone number. One ring. Two rings. Alex had to be there. Three. Pick it up, Alex! Four.
"This is the MacLeod residence. Please leave a message after the beep."
Where could Alex be? She should be home by now. "Alex, this is Cassandra. Call me as soon as you get in. It's very--"
"Alex." Cassandra closed her eyes, both relieved and nervous. "Alex, is Connor there?"
"Connor? No. Do you know where he is? There's no note, nothing, and the car is still here." Alex paused, then her uncertainty changed to a cold suspicion. "Where is Connor, Cassandra?"
"Alex, he's ..." She couldn't say he was fine. "I wouldn't ..." Oh, wouldn't she? Hadn't she wanted to? But Alex needed to know he was alive. "He just left my hotel room, Alex," she said reassuringly. "He walked over here to talk to me, and he just left."
"Oh," Alex said in relief. "Then he'll be home soon. Do you want me to tell him you called?"
"No. And I don't think he'll be coming home soon. I don't think he'll be coming home at all."
Cassandra took a deep breath. "Alex, you have to find Connor. He needs you, and he needs you to take him home, and ... and he needs to hear that you love him."
"Connor knows that."
"I don't think he believes it anymore."
"Look, Alex, there's no time. You have to find him now. He's probably in some pub near here, halfway through his first bottle of whisky. You know how he can drink."
"What happened, Cassandra? I need to know."
"Alex ..." Cassandra could not possibly tell Alex what had just happened.
"What did you say to him?" she demanded.
No more lies. Ever. She had to tell Alex, even though it would destroy the only friendship Cassandra had. No more lies. "I told him...." She paused, then continued in a flat, even voice, "I told him that he was a lying, fucking, murdering bastard, and that no woman would ever be able to love him when she knew what he really was."
Alex was silent for a very long moment, then she said in a voice just as flat, just as even, "He was right about you, Cassandra. You are a bitch."
Cassandra knew Connor thought that, but she had not realized he had said as much to Alex. Well, what did she expect? It was true.
Alex's voice was coldly accusing now. "How could you say that to him?"
Cassandra's own anger flared, and she shot back, "He wouldn't have believed me if it wasn't true!"
"It's not true!" Alex declared. "I love him."
Cassandra said in icy scorn, "You don't even know him."
Alex retreated into silence, then said, almost pleasantly, "I thought you were his friend."
Cassandra said nothing. Connor did not want her to be his friend.
"And I thought you were my friend." She was not pleasant now.
"Alex ...," Cassandra whispered, but she could not explain, and she had no excuse. "I'm sorry," she said, closing her eyes. "I'm sorry this happened. But he needs you. He needs you to find him and take him home. Does he have a favorite pub?"
"I'll find him." Alex clearly did not want Cassandra interfering anymore.
"Alex ...," Cassandra began.
"What?" Alex demanded.
"He needs you to tell him that you love him."
"Of course, I'll tell him that," she said indignantly. "It's true." Alex slammed down the phone.
It was true for Cassandra, too, and she had never told him. And even if she had, Connor would never have believed her.
Cassandra loses her temper and finds some friends.
By the hand and by the heart,
they will comfort you and me.
Cassandra woke, startled by a knock on the door. She was alone in her hotel room in Edinburgh, and mid-morning sunshine was coming through the cracks between the curtains. The clock read 8:06. Her face was stiff with dried tears, and she was still wearing her bathrobe from the night before. She must have fallen asleep sitting on the floor by the bed. It was not the best position to sleep in, but at least she had not had any dreams.
She did not need dreams; her life was nightmare enough.
There was another knock, louder this time, and she rose slowly to her feet, then pulled her robe close about her and headed for the door. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she walked past and decided not to open the door. "Who is it?" she called.
"Delivery for you," said a young male voice.
"Leave it by the door, please," she said. He would have to forget about any tip. She waited until his footsteps retreated, then she cautiously opened the door. A small basket sat in the hallway, and bright golden globes of oranges gleamed.
She took the basket inside, then shut and locked her door. There were three Valencia oranges, fresh from sunny Spain. A note from Connor was tucked in the basket, his small precise handwriting saying simply, "Lunch? My house, noon."
It was a peace offering, from the man who had tried to kill her last night.
Connor came to awareness slowly, lying on his side, with Alex curled close against him. His left arm was nestled between her breasts, and their hands were loosely clasped. Her breasts were fuller and heavier now in pregnancy, the nipples dark-tinged instead of pale pink, the veins a light-blue tracery against the whiteness of her skin.
Connor eased his hand from hers and laid it lightly on the curve of the children inside her. His children. His wife. His love. More now than before, because now she knew him, knew everything, and still she loved him.
Connor had left Cassandra in the hotel room last night and wandered down to the waterfront. He had found a dingy smoke-filled pub where the whisky was cheap and there was no rock music, and he had settled in to drink. But Alex had tracked him down. She had slid into the rickety chair on the other side of the scarred wooden table, then she had insisted he come home.
"I love you," she told him, no matter what he said, no matter how hard he tried to push her away. "I love you."
"You don't even know me." Connor reached for his whisky glass again.
She stopped his hand with her own, a feather touch he could have slapped away, but didn't. "I want to know you," she said.
"No." Connor was stubbornly certain of that. "No, you don't."
Alex was equally certain, and even more stubborn. "I know you're my husband. I know you're the father of my children. I know I want you to come home to me."
In the end, after the bartender came over and pointedly asked Alex if "this bloke" was bothering her, Connor went home with Alex. She led him upstairs to the sitting room next to their bedroom, sat down across from him, and waited. Connor drank more whisky, then started to speak haltingly of the things he had tried so hard to forget, of that night long ago in Donan Woods.
"You broke her neck while you were in bed with her?" Alex asked, her face and voice blank with shock.
Connor stared back at her, just as blankly. "Didn't Cassandra tell you?"
Alex shook her head. "She said she killed you during training, three times. Then she said that later she deliberately goaded you, until you were angry enough to kill her."
Connor took a quick swig of whisky from the bottle. I told her the truth, Cassandra had said, but Connor should have known by now that for Cassandra, the truth was a relative thing. She had not told Alex his secrets, but her own. She had not tried to destroy his life, and he had not even given her a chance to explain. He had simply tried to kill her. Congratulations, MacLeod, he thought sourly as he took another drink, not only are you a murdering bastard, you are also an asshole.
Alex said, "But I thought ... it was with swords."
"It wasn't," he said harshly, then lifted the whisky bottle again. This third drink went down easily enough, but settled to a slow burning after. Connor waited for some of the heat to turn to numbness before he said, in a voice almost too low to hear, "And there's more."
He spoke then of rage and lust, and the dark pleasures of power and pain. Alex asked a few more questions, made a few comments, but mostly she simply listened while he drank more whisky and told her of that night long ago in Donan Woods. He told her of the afternoon in Aberdeen, of Quickenings and of women, of other nights and other things, and of the night just past.
Connor slowly took down the walls around himself, hacked them away stone by stone, ripped them out piece by piece, and he let Alex in to see the darkness in his soul. He told her, and he told her everything.
When he had finished, Alex sat in silence, and Connor closed his eyes, knowing she was going to leave him, knowing she could never love him. He could not bear to see the disgust and revulsion in her eyes before she walked away.
But Alex came to him and took his hands in her own.
"Don't," he said, pulling away. "They're covered in blood. I'm--"
"I know who you are," she said, then pressed his hands tight against her, laid them on the gentle swelling of the children within her. "You're my husband, and you're John's father, and you're the father of these children, too. You're Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and you are a good, honorable, decent man, and I love you."
Connor felt faint flutterings under his hands, the twins moving and turning. They deserved better for a father, and so did John. Alex deserved better, too. He took his hands from her and shook his head. "Alex...."
"I know who you are now," she said again, "and I love you."
"You can't." His voice was hoarse, and not just from the whisky.
"I do." Alex took his hands in hers again and kissed them. "Cassandra was wrong. She was wrong to do what she did to you. She was wrong about you, and she was wrong about me." Alex knelt before him and kissed his mouth, and now Connor tasted the salt of her tears. "I love you."
He did not dare to believe it until she showed him, in the ways a woman can show a man, with touches and with words and with love. "I love you," she said, as she took him in her arms and cradled him close. "I love you," she said, as she welcomed him into herself, as they moved together, as he immersed himself in her warmth and softness and strength, losing himself and then finding himself once more.
"I love you," she said, as she held him tight and did not let him go.
"Don't leave me, Alex," Connor whispered against her hair, still not daring to believe. "Don't leave."
"Bith an drasta," she said, using the Gaelic, the language he had been teaching her these last two years. "Hush now," she said again, as a mother to her child. "I'm here."
"What about Cassandra, Connor?" Alex asked him a few hours later, as they lay together in the massive four-poster bed. A dim, gray light was filtering through the green-brocade draperies, and the early-morning birdsong came through the two open windows.
He did not want to think about Cassandra; he wanted to do nothing more than lie here with Alex in his arms and go to sleep. But he knew Alex was right.
"Last night, you were afraid that I would leave you," she said, and waited until he nodded reluctantly in reply. Then she said softly, "The same way you left her."
He did not want to think about that, either.
Alex was not going to let him forget. "She was wrong, Connor, but so were you, both last night, and all those years ago. You can't leave things the way they are."
He said nothing, and Alex added, "I know I was angry at her last night."
"Yeah," Connor agreed, almost smiling. "I thought *you* were going to go kill her."
"I wanted to," Alex admitted, with a rueful smile of her own, "for what she did to you. But, with everything Roland did to her, with everything she's been through, and the dreams, of course --"
"Dreams?" Connor questioned.
"Yes, she's been having dreams about Roland and the Horsemen every night since she got here. She didn't tell you?"
"No." He wasn't all that sure he would have listened.
Alex lifted one eyebrow, then continued, "But with all of that, I don't think she's totally sane. Not when you met her, not now. She's been repressing everything for centuries, and with Roland dead, it's all coming out. It's too much for her to handle. She's not really responsible for her actions."
That was all he needed--a murderously insane Immortal with the power of the Voice who thought he was her worst enemy.
"She's not like she was, Connor. She's trying to change," Alex said. Connor did not reply, and Alex added pointedly, "Has she lied to you since she's been here?"
"No," he admitted.
"She is trying, but she needs help. She's been alone all night." She propped her head up on her hand and stared at him. "She's been alone for a very long time."
Connor knew that. Alex had helped him last night, but Cassandra had never had anyone to help her. Except himself, and he had not exactly done a stellar job of that.
"You have to talk to her," Alex insisted.
He sighed and nodded, still reluctant. "Yeah." He gave Alex a quick kiss and forced himself to get out of bed. "I'll be back in a little while. Go to sleep." He tucked the covers in around her.
Alex smiled up at him, then reached for his hand and held it. "I love you, Connor."
He smiled back and touched her cheek. "I know." He leaned over to kiss her again, not so quickly this time. "I love you, too."
Connor had showered and dressed, then walked to Cassandra's hotel and left the oranges and the note, to be delivered at eight o'clock. He had gone home and crawled into bed, careful not to wake Alex, and gone to sleep immediately, curled close against the comfort of her body.
But now he needed to get up. Connor lay still a moment more, feeling the barest tiny movements under his hand as the twins wiggled and turned. Alex had been feeling movement for over a month now, but it was only in the last few days that he had been able to feel the children move. His children. His family.
He kissed Alex's hair, then eased unwillingly from his side of the bed and left her sleeping. He should have invited Cassandra for dinner instead of lunch. He had no idea what kind of food there was in the house, and she would be here soon.
If she was coming at all.
What the hell could he say to her anyway? Connor wondered, as he rummaged in the kitchen and finally started making chicken soup from a variety of leftovers and vegetables. And what would she say to him? It would be easier if Cassandra did not show up, but Alex was right. He and Cassandra could not leave things unresolved between them, not again. Connor shrugged as he chopped carrots into thin rounds. Either Cassandra came and was willing to talk, or she came and told him to go to hell, or she did not come at all.
Alex came downstairs, dressed for work and looking tired. She went straight to the coffee.
"Why don't you stay home today?" Connor suggested. "Call in sick?"
"There's a lecture this afternoon about pottery that I really want to hear. Is that for Cassandra?" she asked, with a nod to the food preparation, as she sat at the table eating a bagel.
Connor nodded and dumped the carrots into the soup pot. "I invited her to lunch."
"Is it safe to leave the two of you alone together?" she asked, the standard phrase meaning something very different now, her smile belying her real concern.
"Safe for her, or for me?" he retorted, then shrugged wearily. "I don't know. I don't know if she'll even show up."
"She will," Alex said, the words both certain and grim. "I'll be home at five," she promised, then kissed him sweet and hard. "I love you, Connor MacLeod," she said. "I'm glad to know you, and to be your wife, and to be carrying your children."
Connor pulled her to him and held her tight, his eyes closed, his lips against her hair. "I'm glad of it, too," he said after a moment, then pulled back and laid his hand on the curve of her belly. "And glad of them." This time, he kissed her.
"Connor?" Alex said, her fingertips lingering on the side of his face. "Be gentle with her. She's fragile right now."
Connor had just put the soup on the stove when he felt the approach of another Immortal. He walked swiftly to the hall and looked out the window. Cassandra was standing on the front step, holding a white paper bag in her arms. She was wearing her maroon skirt instead of her usual jeans today, and a shirt he had not seen before, a loose blouse of blue-green silk, caught at the waist with the silver-linked belt. Her hair lay long and loose about her shoulders, and she stood tall and proud.
Connor opened the door, then stood back to let her in. Cassandra did not move. The color of the shirt somehow darkened the green of her eyes, and she put him in mind of a cat, staring disdainfully and impatiently at a human who had offered the wrong kind of food.
God, she was irritating! But he had to admit she had some cause. Connor attempted to incline his head graciously. "Come in?"
She inclined her head in the same fashion, then came into his house. His katana was in the vase that served as an umbrella stand, but Cassandra made no move to put her sword next to his. "Where's Alex?"
"The university," he said and noted Cassandra's sudden relaxation in the way she shifted her hold on the bag. Maybe he should tell Alex that she needed to talk to Cassandra, too. "What's in the bag?"
"Oranges," she said, "from sunny Spain." There was a trace of a smile on her face. "And fresh-baked bread."
Connor managed a snort of laughter, but it was not all amusement. Bread and oranges were what they ate after they tried to kill each other. "Cassandra ...," he began awkwardly, then opted for humor. "We have to stop eating like this."
"I'd like that." Her smile was now one of wistfulness.
Connor did not smile at all. "So would I."
He took the bag from her and went into the kitchen, while Cassandra put her sword in the vase. "Not done yet," he said, checking the soup. "Coffee?"
They sat in the dining room and said nothing. Cassandra stirred her coffee until Connor finally observed, "The sugar is dissolved now."
She looked up at him, startled, then smiled ruefully and set the spoon down. "Yes." She took a sip, then grimaced and set it back down. "Do you have any whisky?" she asked abruptly.
Connor raised one eyebrow. Of course, he had whisky. He always had whisky. He fetched a bottle from the liquor cabinet in the library and watched without comment as she poured a generous amount into her cup. Then she leaned across the table and poured some into his cup, challenging him with her stare.
Connor shrugged and lifted his cup to her in a silent toast. After they had clinked cups and drank, he asked a question--one of the questions--that had been bothering him since yesterday afternoon. "Did I use the Voice, yesterday, upstairs?"
"Yes. I didn't think you would learn enough to use it, but you know me ... very well." She did not sound pleased. "And you resisted the Voice, too, in the hotel." A hard, quick glance from her now, wariness and even some fear there. "I won't be teaching you anymore, Connor."
"I need to be sure." Once under stress was not enough.
She smiled faintly, and her eyes were once more the eyes of a cat--disdainful, mocking, hungry. "Should I use the Voice on you right now, to see if you can resist it?"
Connor shrugged. "Later," he said, trying not to sound too eager to postpone that ordeal. After he was sure she was calmed down.
Her smile flickered into amusement, then disappeared. "After lunch, then. I'm leaving tomorrow."
"Hunting Kronos?" he asked casually, hiding his surprise that she had made plans already, without even mentioning them to him. She nodded, and he decided to ask his other questions now. As long as he was the one asking questions, he did not have to answer any of hers. "What happened yesterday, Cassandra?"
One shoulder lifted in an elegant shrug. "You've been rude and sarcastic ever since I got here, and I decided I wasn't going to put up with it anymore."
"You haven't exactly been easy to get along with, either," he countered sharply, stung into forgetting his resolution to be gentle with her.
"But I tried," she said, her arrogance suddenly gone to pleading. "I tried to do what you wanted. I tried to...." She sounded almost bewildered. "I gave you everything I could, everything I had, and it wasn't enough. You still...." Her fingers clenched tight on her cup, and she jerked her head up and stared at him disdainfully once more. "You were still obnoxious."
"Damn it, Cassandra, I've tried to be nice to you! I've invited you into my home. I helped you with your sparring. I listened to you."
"Oh, yes," she agreed, her voice sharp and cold at the edges. "But that's all part of it, isn't it? Pretending to be nice, pretending to care? Then just when I start to trust you, just when I think you might someday forgive me, just when I think I could ask...." She swallowed hard and blinked fiercely, then continued, her voice sharp again, "That's when you slap me down. And you do it over and over again."
Connor shook his head in confusion. What the hell ...?
"I know how that kind of control works," she said. "Build them up, then tear them down. Again and again, so that they never know what to expect, never know where they stand. They're desperate to do anything for approval, anything to avoid punishment, but they never know *what* to do, so they'll do anything they're told." She shook her head slowly, and her voice was all ice once more. "That's when your master--truly--owns you. *That's* when you're tamed. And I *know* what that's like." She glared at him. "And that's what you've been doing to me."
"No?" she demanded. "At the dinner, when I asked you about the dishes, and you threw Aberdeen in my face?"
"You know damn well I own an antique shop! You've been spying on me for centuries!"
"I told you I only kept track of where you were!" she protested. "I had no idea what kind of job you had, or what you own."
Connor stopped. She had told him that, and he had forgotten. He had deliberately set out to hurt her, and he had. Shit.
"And what about when we went running together," she asked, "and you told me I was 'good at running'? You just had to make sure I knew you thought that I was a coward and you despised me."
"I only meant," he said through clenched teeth, "that you ran fast."
Cassandra stared at him for a second, then snapped her mouth shut. "Oh," she said weakly.
They stared in silence at the table, then Connor said, "We don't communicate well."
"No. We don't."
Connor ran his hand through his hair and sighed. "Should we start?" He waited for her nod, then started. Again. This had better be the last time. "Why did you think I was Roland?"
She looked away, unwilling as always to talk about him.
"I wasn't angry," Connor persisted. "I wasn't smiling. So, why?"
"I didn't at first," she said, "not until you were ..."
"On my knees?" he supplied, the words coming sharp and clear.
A quick glance and an embarrassed nod, then she continued, "I don't know what happened. I was talking about you, and then ... I was talking about him. And you ... became him." She shrugged. "That's all."
"That's all?" he repeated, incensed that she would dismiss the entire incident so casually.
"It's not as if it hasn't happened before, Connor," she said, then added almost lightly, "It's just that I usually don't have a sword in my hand."
"I guess I've been lucky then," he retorted, unable to take the same amused tone.
"More than you know," she murmured.
He glared at her then demanded, "How often has this happened? When?"
She sighed, a quick exhalation of exasperation and hopelessness. "Want a list?" she asked acerbically, then shook her head and sighed again, just despair this time. "I'm sorry. It's not you. It's me." She added more sugar to her coffee and stirred it round and round, then said, "I'm not sure about yesterday. Usually, it only happens when I know you are angry, or I feel ... vulnerable."
Vulnerable. When he came at her with a sword. Or when she was lying naked beneath him in bed. Oh, good God. How many times had she lain in bed with him and imagined it was Roland touching her? The very thought of it made Connor ill. He leaned across the table and said intently, "*Where* has it happened?" She would not meet his eyes, and he took her hand gently in his own, forcing her to acknowledge him, to look at him, if only with a single, quick glance.
"In bed?" he asked softly, and knew by her silence it was so. "Why didn't you tell me?" he whispered, sickened and appalled to think she had allowed him to continue to touch her and never said a word.
"It was mostly just ... flickers of memory, Connor. I'm used to it."
That was even more sickening.
"But I did tell you," she said, trying to placate him now, "the two times it was ... intense. Once, that night, in Donan Woods ..."
That night he had broken her neck.
"And the other time was in Aberdeen, when you were holding my hand." She stared at the table, where he was holding her hand now, but her fingers did not move under his. "I told you it was a memory of Roland. I just didn't tell you his name."
Connor shook his head slowly. "You said then it was both a memory and a vision." A memory of being tortured by Roland, and a vision of the future, a vision of the same thing. And Roland had found her later that night in Aberdeen.
Again, she would not meet his eyes, and Connor remembered her other words: "He would ask me questions. If I didn't answer, or didn't answer so that he believed me, then he would break one of my fingers. Or work on the fingernails. And when he had finished with one hand, he would move to the other. And then back again."
Holy Mother of God ... Connor swallowed convulsively as he felt the warmth of her fingers underneath his own, and he carefully released her hand. It lay relaxed on the table, the long elegant fingers slightly curved, the smoothly-shaped nails polished, but not painted.
He did not need to ask what Roland had done. Connor said softly, "What did Roland ask you about in Aberdeen, Cassandra?"
Her fingers twitched when he said Roland's name, but she shrugged and said, "The same questions he always asked. He wanted to know if I had friends, if I had a family."
That day in Aberdeen, she had told Connor that she had no friends. She had told him that Immortals could not have families, because other Immortals would hunt down and capture those families, then torture and kill them. But she had not really been speaking of other Immortals; she had been speaking of Roland.
Now, finally, she was looking at him, her green eyes gone golden at the edges. Her voice was flat, almost smooth, yet with a sharp edge to it, like a broken piece of ice floating on a black lake. "He asked if I had a lover."
Connor shoved his chair back and walked to the window, then stared unseeing at the street below. Roland hadn't needed to ask that question. It must have been obvious that a man had been with her only an hour before.
Her voice came from behind him, still with that cutting edge. "Roland didn't like to share."
Connor closed his eyes briefly and swallowed hard again, now remembering what she had told him two months ago: "I escaped after three days. Roland only had time to strangle me three times, and to beat me to death once. He raped me five times." Cassandra had not even bothered to tell Connor about the torture. She obviously had not told Roland about Connor or Duncan all those years ago; she had not broken that time. No, she had protected Connor with her body, and with her life, over and over again, for three days and three nights.
And all during those three days and those three nights, Connor had been less than a mile away, in a whorehouse. When he hadn't been too busy getting drunk or getting laid, he had been imagining all the different ways he would kill Cassandra if she ever came near him again. Except he need not have bothered. Roland had been busy doing it for him, in all the different ways. And more.
Oh, Jesus fucking Christ! Connor thought in horrified disgust, no wonder I remind her of Roland. Connor turned abruptly from the window and picked up the bottle of whisky from the table. The first swallow went down smoothly, the second even better. He stopped for a breath of air on the third, and realized that Cassandra was watching him. She was always watching him.
"Want a drink?" he said, as he held the bottle out to her, not quite meeting her eyes. She hesitated, and he added, "I'll get you your own glass."
Another hesitation, then she nodded.
Connor set the bottle back on the table and breathed slowly and evenly on his way to the kitchen, then took his time coming back to the dining room with the two glasses. He sat down across from her, then poured them each a glassful of whisky. There was more silence between them, until Connor asked again, still whispering, still sickened, "Why didn't you tell me?"
Her whisky glass sat on the table, and she encircled it with her fingers, her fingertips barely touching, making a cage around the glass. She did not look at him. "I knew you wouldn't want to know."
She was right. He did not want to know that she had suffered three days and nights of hell to protect him, while he had been taking whores to bed and cursing her name.
"Connor, there was nothing you could have done."
There was probably nothing he would have done. If someone had come that night and told him that Cassandra was being tortured, he would probably have lifted his glass in a toast to the man who was doing it, and gone back to fucking a whore. At least Cassandra didn't know that. Connor tossed back the rest of his whisky. It was foul, with a sharp acid taste of bile. He poured himself another drink.
Cassandra said reasonably, "If you had been there, he would have used the Voice on you. You would have told him everything he wanted to know. Then he would have ... killed you, and gone after Duncan."
Connor shuddered. To be at that bastard's mercy, to have Roland use the Voice on him ... It was bad enough when Cassandra used it. And Connor had not missed her slight hesitation before the word "killed." That killing would not have come easily. If Connor had been lucky, Roland might have taken Connor's head after a few days. A few weeks.
Cassandra added, "It wasn't just about you; he had done those things to me other times, before you were even born."
Connor shook his head once and took a drink. Cassandra had protected him from Roland then, and she was trying to protect him from the guilt and horror and relief he felt now. Enough already! He said, his voice rough, "You don't have to protect me this way, Cassandra."
"Protecting the MacLeod men seems to have become a habit of mine." She gave a small, unamused laugh. "I'm not sure if it's a good habit or a bad one, but it is certainly thankless."
Connor's hand shook as he slammed his glass down on the table. He had never asked her to do that for him. He had never asked her to die for him!
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "That was ... not fair of me."
Oh, Christ, now she was apologizing to him. "No," he said hoarsely, finally meeting her eyes, very old eyes, eyes filled with patience and pain, knowledge and understanding. "You're right." His voice was still rough as he admitted, "I haven't been exactly fair, either."
"No," she said, promptly and severely. "You haven't."
Connor snorted in wry amusement. This was the Cassandra he remembered from Donan Woods--sharp, composed, confident. It was good to see her again. He had not liked the remote, silent woman she had been these last few months, the woman Roland had forced her to become. God damn that filthy bastard! Connor almost wished he had had a chance to meet Roland before Duncan had taken his head.
"From now on, I will be," he promised, both to her and to himself. He owed her fairness, and more. Much more. And Connor MacLeod always paid his debts. He lifted his glass to her. "To fairness," he offered.
After a moment, Cassandra nodded and clinked her glass to his, then tossed back the rest of her drink.
Connor downed the rest of his whisky and asked with a smile, "Eat? The soup's probably done. And we have bread and oranges to go with it."
She smiled back at him. "I'd like that."
After lunch, Connor surreptitiously locked both their swords in the hall closet, then joined Cassandra in the dining room. He wanted to talk about last night before they started on the Voice.
She turned slowly from her perusal of the porcelain dishes and looked him up and down, a faint echo of a smile on her face, that hungry look in her eyes. "Are you ready for the Voice now, Connor?" she asked, but did not give him time to answer. "Come here," she commanded, and Connor found himself walking toward her. "Stop," she ordered, when he was a few paces away from her, and he did. Her smile was more than an echo now.
Connor took a deep breath and shook his head to clear it. "Try that again," he challenged her.
"Oh, I don't think so." She studied him carefully. "I think you have more resistance when it's something you really don't want to do." Her smile disappeared. "Like taking your hands off my neck."
"Cassandra ...," he said quickly, realizing too late he should never have challenged her to continue.
"Or kneeling," she suggested, then smiled at him knowingly. "Kneel," she said gently, using the full power of the Voice to force him to his knees.
The word wrapped around him, spread through him, and Connor found his legs buckling underneath him. No! He thought back to the sound of word, replayed it in his mind, heard the tones and the overtones in it, and let it ebb away. He shuddered as he gasped for air, but started to stand, holding onto the edge of the dining-room table with one hand.
"Kneel!" she repeated, the word a whiplash of command.
And he knelt, his legs collapsing underneath him immediately. Damn her, that she could use him so! Connor shook off the word again, and stood once more, facing her, his anger clear and cold.
"Kneel, Connor," she insisted, her voice now honey-sweet, his name soft and loving on her tongue.
Connor clung to the table, his entire arm trembling with the force of his grip. This was even worse. Before, his body had obeyed before he had time to think, but now he *wanted* to do what she told him to. The anger was gone, replaced by the desire to please her. NO! She did not own his name, and she did not own him. He stayed on his feet and glared at her.
She watched him for a long silent moment, then gave him a single, regal nod. "Congratulations, Connor. You passed." She seated herself at the head of the table and poured herself a drink of whisky.
"Fragile, my ass," Connor muttered under his breath, then counted to ten silently. Then he counted to ten in French. He had promised her fairness, and compared to what he had done to her last night, that had been nothing.
He sat down in the chair next to her, poured himself a drink, and tossed back half of it. "Did you have to test me that way?"
"No," she said, that damnable mocking smile curving her lips and leaving her eyes cold. "I didn't."
This time, Connor counted in Latin and Greek. He took another drink and another deep breath before he said, "Cassandra, I know you're still angry about last night, and I--"
"I'm not angry." It was a quick denial, much too quick.
Connor nearly laughed out loud. "Yes, you are."
She glanced at him, a flat, confused look. "No."
"Cassandra, I tried to kill you last night. You have to be angry." Cassandra was already shaking her head, but Connor persisted. "Don't lie," he said gently. "To me, or to yourself. You're angry."
"I'm not angry," she repeated, an edge to every word, but it was an edge of fear, almost panic.
And he had thought he was good at denying what he felt. "Cassandra...."
"No!" She stood and walked away from the table, then faced him a few paces away, her hands at her sides. "I shouldn't have said those things to you last night."
"I said things, too," Connor reassured her. "And I started it. We were both angry."
"But I shouldn't have made you angry. I know why you didn't listen to me when I said I hadn't told Alex. I've lied to you before, so it's my fault you didn't believe me last night. I have no right to be angry."
Connor shook his head in disbelief. Who the hell was this woman? A minute ago, she had been an ice-queen commanding him to kneel; now she was practically groveling on the floor herself. "Yes, you do. You ought to be angry at me."
"I have no right," she repeated. Her words came faster, more desperate. "It's my fault you were angry. It's my fault you tried to kill me."
"Cassandra," Connor said firmly, "it's not your fault. It's mine."
"No!" She bent her head while she whispered, "I deserved it. I'm sorry."
She was just standing there, her head down, waiting, and Connor suddenly realized that Roland had probably made her say that before he had "punished" her. And Connor also saw, with sick certainty, that now she was waiting for him to do the same.
His words of reassurance had not unlocked the cage of guilt Roland had built around her. Just unlocking the cage wasn't going to be enough, anyway. Cassandra needed to open the door herself and walk out of the cage on her own.
The only way to give her enough strength to do that was to make her angry, and then force her to admit her anger. He knew she could. She had been angry last night, and she had been angry in the Highlands at his farm.
And Connor knew exactly how to make her angry. It was good that Alex was gone and the swords were locked away. This was going to be ugly, and dangerous. He stood, reluctance and apprehension slowing his movements. Cassandra seemed to shrink into herself, waiting for him, waiting for pain.
Connor took a deep breath and forced himself to stand in front of her, close enough to feel the warmth of her body, too close. He knew exactly how far away to stand; he had done this to her before, after all. She did not move. Connor's voice was soft and insinuating. "Was it your fault I broke your neck in Donan Woods?"
She did not step back, but she retreated, her eyes downcast, her shoulders hunched, a posture of submission, of appeasement. "I killed you."
Connor nodded and smiled slightly, a very cold smile, playing the part she had cast him into, playing the part of Roland, nauseating himself as he petrified her. "And it's your fault I used you that way in bed?"
She flinched, then admitted, "I was using you."
"It's your fault I threatened to kill you in Aberdeen?"
"I betrayed you." Her voice was a whisper now. "I hurt you."
And he had hurt her. Connor swallowed hard and forced himself to continue, admitting his own sins as she admitted hers. "And last night, it was your fault I tried to strangle you?"
"Did you deserve that, too, Cassandra?" She was still just standing there, her head down, her arms by her sides, and Connor pushed harder. "Did you deserve that?" he repeated, then stepped closer still, so that only a hand's breadth separated them. She went very quiet, but she did not move away.
"You fought back, Cassandra," he said softly. "You were angry last night."
She moved her head rigidly back and forth, as if she were in pain. "I shouldn't have been angry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have ..."
Shouldn't have fought back? Shouldn't have protected herself? How deep did this go? Just how much had that bastard fucked her up? Oh, Connor knew. He ought to know. He had helped. Christ! Connor kept digging, kept pushing, hoping to help her now, hoping she wouldn't try to kill him when she finally broke loose. If she broke loose. "You're angry right now. Aren't you?"
"Don't lie to me," he warned, placing one finger under her chin and tilting her head back gently. Her eyes were empty, as he had expected them to be. She was hiding from him, and hiding from herself, but he knew she was in there somewhere. "Don't ever lie to me," he said, using what he knew of the Voice, what he knew of her, then he waited until the emptiness became hopelessness. Connor knew, with a thrill of both revulsion and excitement, that she would deny him nothing now.
But he wanted her to deny him. He wanted her to break free. He ignored the lure of that power and repeated, "You're angry."
"Yes." It was not so much spoken as mouthed, and the hopelessness in her eyes became fear.
"And you deserve to be angry."
The fear changed to panic. "No! I have no right!"
She was not going to admit it; he would have to push her even more. And he knew how. Connor circled her slowly, moving to stand directly behind her, still very close. He had done this to her, too, when he had been trying to intimidate her at his farm. It had been more effective than he had ever dreamed.
Connor took her right hand in his own, and Cassandra froze, but her hand lay completely flaccid on his palm. He said softly in her ear, "Do think you deserve everything I've done to you?" She closed her eyes, and he asked, "Do you think you deserved everything Roland did?"
"It was my--"
"The truth, Cassandra," he insisted, tightening his grip on her hand. It was not enough to hurt her, but it did not need to be. "Tell me the truth. Do you think you deserved all of that?"
She shivered against him and whispered, "No."
"Do you think you deserved what Kronos did to you?" Connor was watching her very closely now, alert for the slightest hint of resistance. If she moved, he would have to retreat immediately, because he could not defend himself against her. Any hint of violence from him might trigger memories of Roland, and she would become submissive once more.
He loosened his grip and started to stroke his thumb along the back of her hand, tracing the delicate bones, then said gently and soothingly, "Tell me."
Her hand stiffened slightly, and this time the whisper was fierce and intense. "No."
"Do you want me to control you, Cassandra?" He lifted her little finger, bending it up and back until the tendons were taut. "Do you want Kronos to own you?" She was trembling now, tremors that shook her entire body, but she still made no attempt to move away. Connor was heartsick, but he continued, hoping to God he would not have to go much further. He did not think he could. He said very softly, his lips almost touching her ear, his breath stirring her hair, "Tell me, Cassandra, do you want to be a slave?"
Cassandra's eyes were closed, but she heard the voice, that gentle and sickening voice. The voice that kept asking her and asking her, pushing her and pushing her. The voice that kept whispering, taunting, smiling. He hadn't hurt her yet, but she knew what was coming. She knew what he would do.
He would smile while he hurt her, still standing behind her, his voice close by her ear. He would smile while she cried out and pleaded and wept, smile while he broke her fingers one by one. Smile while he broke her fingers with his hands and with hammers and with nails, over and over again, until the bones were splintered and the flesh mangled bloody pulp, until the merest breath of a touch was a sheer agony of fire, excruciating, scintillating pain.
Then he would wait--still behind her, still whispering, still asking, still smiling--wait for the healing. He would hold her hand gently, delicately stroking the bones when they reknit, caressing the skin when it grew smooth and unbroken again. Then the pain would flicker and die slowly, and the voice would go on. Submit, he would say. Tell me the truth, and it will all be over. Submit, he would say, and the pain will be gone. Submit, and I won't ever hurt you anymore.
And she would tell him. Of course, she would. She would tell him whatever he wanted to hear. She would submit and be tame. Then the pain would stop, for a while at least, and she would be left with nothing. Nothing but the memory of pain, and a dull, smoldering ache that left the taste of ashes and tears.
And the knowledge that, one day, it would happen again. And again and again and again and again. But Roland was dead. He was dead. This couldn't be happening anymore.
Yet the voice was still there, still whispering, still gentle. "Tell me, Cassandra." The voice was an urgent violent seduction, the words pushing and pulling in her, the pain pushing and pulling in her, too. Just as she had known it would. It was the little finger again, his favorite place to start.
Not again! Please Goddess, not again! He was dead, he was dead, he was dead. This shouldn't be happening anymore. He was dead! She didn't have to do this anymore.
"Tell me." The voice was still there, an order to be obeyed. The pain was still there, waiting to take control.
Not ever again! But she should not protest.
"Submit." A whisper remembered, a command unheard.
No! But she should not be angry.
"Tell me, Cassandra, do you want to be tame?" A question, nothing more.
Cassandra knew the answer, and she would tell him the truth.
The word was half-screamed, half-strangled in her throat, and she jerked her right hand from his, spinning at the same time and slamming her left elbow hard into his ribs. He grunted once and backed away, so that when she finished her spin and faced him, he was too far away to hit.
Not that far. She stepped forward and backhanded him across the face, hit him hard with the hand he had just held.
He blinked and swayed a little, but did not move away, did not try to protect himself, did not protest.
Good. It was his turn. She hit him again, and then again, and then once more. She hit him as hard as she could every single time. The marks of her palm were bright-red against the paleness of his skin, for the healing could not keep pace with the blows. She hit him again and again until her hand was aching with the force of the blows.
Finally, he moved, simply lifting his arm to block hers. "That's enough," he said quietly.
She stood there, panting slightly, her right arm still stopped by his left, their eyes locked. He had no right to tell her what to do! Cassandra slapped him hard on the other cheek with her left hand. Then she stepped back and informed him, "*That's* enough."
Connor sighed and nodded and shrugged, all at the same time. "Feel better?"
Cassandra thought about that. She did feel better. She felt ... angry, the way she had felt last night, the way she had felt in Aberdeen. It felt good. Strange, but good.
"All done?" Connor asked.
Cassandra had to think about that, too. The marks on Connor's cheeks were already gone. She was vaguely surprised that he had stood there and let her hit him, but she hadn't hurt him, not really.
She wanted to.
"No." She walked to the china cabinet and picked up one of the teacups from the set of Derby porcelain, turning it carefully in her hands. It was beautiful and delicate, artfully curved, decorated with handpainted flowers. Exquisite. Expensive. His.
She looked at Connor, and she smiled. He had destroyed her porcelain once. He had destroyed everything she had, then he had walked away and left her to pick up the pieces. Cassandra hurled the cup across the table to the fireplace. The cup shattered most satisfactorily against the carved stone of the mantelpiece.
Connor closed his eyes briefly, as if he were in pain, but he did not move.
She picked up the saucer, and sent it to follow the cup. Another cup, another saucer, and then another cup. She made her way through the six sets that had been displayed on the cabinet, and then she started on the plates. When the plates and bowls and serving dishes were gone, she went for the Waterford crystal goblets. They shattered even better.
Connor simply stood there, ducking as the occasional fragment came too close for comfort.
When the top of the cabinet was completely cleared, she stopped. The cupboards at the bottom of the cabinet held more dishes, but she did not open them. That would be petty. She turned slowly, with the grace and bearing of an empress. "I believe," she said, "it is your turn to clean up." Connor said nothing, and Cassandra turned and walked away.
Somehow, she found herself standing in the garden at the back of the house, blinking slowly in the bright sunshine. It was a pleasant enough place, with neatly graveled paths leading to the vegetable beds on her left, and to the clipped green lawn encircled by bright flowers on her right. There was a tree near the center of the lawn, a venerable apple, its branches bending under the weight of still-green fruit, its leaves lightly filmed with dust and soot.
Cassandra went to the tree, kicking off her shoes as she walked on the grass, feeling the living softness beneath her bare feet. She closed her eyes and knelt at the base of the tree, the ground uneven with buried roots. The trunk was firm against her forehead, the pitted bark peeling under her hands. She knelt in stillness, listening for the heartbeat of the tree.
She had been able to hear that, long ago, but she heard nothing today. The earth was silent to her, closed and barred, and Cassandra was alone. She lay down and curled herself around the trunk of the tree, and she cried herself to sleep.
Cassandra woke immediately as the sensation of another Immortal crawled through her, and she bolted upright, wondering where she had left her sword this time. It was Connor, carrying a bottle of whisky and two glasses, coming from the kitchen. She wouldn't need her sword. Probably.
"Listening to the tree?" he asked, as he sat on the grass nearby.
"Drink?" he offered. They sat in silence under the branches of the apple tree, sipping whisky and watching the clouds in the sky. Connor leaned back on his elbows, long legs outstretched in blue jeans, lean torso outlined under a simple t-shirt, seemingly at peace with the world. Finally, he observed casually, "Maybe we should stop drinking like this."
"Maybe we should never see each other again," she shot back.
Connor thought about that for a moment. "Maybe." He turned his head slightly to look at her. "Is that what you want, Cassandra?"
She wanted to kill him. She wanted him to make love to her. She wanted to feel safe in his arms, and she never wanted him to touch her again. Cassandra pulled her knees to her chest and shook her head. "Maybe it would be for the best. I don't know who you are, half the time." The next words were whispered. "I don't know who I am."
There was another long silence, then Connor asked cautiously, "Do you know how you feel?"
"Angry." She did not have to think about it this time. She was dimly surprised that she was still angry, even after her nap, but the word wasn't all that hard to say, was it? The emotion wasn't that hard to feel. "Isn't that what you want to hear?" she demanded, sitting up. "That I'm angry?"
A half-shrug, half-nod, typically Scottish non-committal answer was his only response.
Damn him! He had dredged up her worst nightmares to force her to admit her anger, and now he just shrugged? She tossed back the rest of her whisky, then got to her feet and started to pace. "Do you know why I'm angry now? Why I couldn't be angry before? Do you want to know?"
"I'll listen," he offered.
"Oh, yes," she snarled, stopping her pacing to glare at him. "You'll listen. The way you listened last night. The way you listened in Aberdeen. You never listen. You never give me a chance to explain. You just try to kill me." No, it wasn't hard to be angry at all.
He nodded, acknowledging the truth of her words, not denying, not excusing. "Yeah," he admitted. "But I did listen in Aberdeen. I listened when you told me about Roland."
That was true; he had listened. He had held her in his arms and kissed away her tears, and he had made her think that she could trust him. She should have known better.
"And I'll listen now," he offered again.
"Then I'll tell you." It was not a promise; it was a threat. A vow. A curse. "It wasn't just Roland, you know," Cassandra said, trying for a casual tone. "Have you ever been a slave, Connor?"
"A few centuries ago, for about ten years."
"Ten years," she repeated in lazy sarcasm, looking at him lying relaxed on the grass, strong, confident, male. "That's a heartbeat. An instant." Now the sarcasm flicked out with the speed of a whip. "It's nothing!
"I am over three thousand years old, and I have been a slave for almost half my life, starting with the Horsemen. Nearly two thousand years of slavery, Connor. Two--thousand--years. Do you know what that's like?"
He opened his mouth to answer, but Cassandra cut in, "Of course, you don't know. You're too young." She almost smiled at him. He was so very young. So innocent. So guilty. "But maybe you remember what it's like being a slave? Do you remember that, Connor?"
"Yes," he said.
"Do you?" she questioned. "I wonder." She walked over to him and stared down at him, smiling, the smile of a master appraising a slave. "What kind of a slave were you, Connor? What were you good for? What were you worth? Did you work in the fields, in the sun? Or in a mine, with the dust in your lungs and the lash on your back? Did you dig ditches? Or graves? Hmm?" She used the Voice and snapped, "Answer me!"
Connor's jaw tightened, but he answered. "I was in the mines."
"For ten years. Terrible. Such a life you had to lead."
The sarcasm was honey-sweet now, and clinging. The venom of it stung Connor into demanding, "Have you ever been in a mine?"
"Oh, yes. I have crawled on my hands and knees, harnessed to a cart of rocks, dragging it behind me. In the muck, in the dark of the tunnels. Months. Years. Half a century all-told, perhaps. But at least I was never pregnant, like the other women. Tell me, Connor, do you remember having your children torn from your arms, while they cried out for you and begged you to help them, and you could do nothing?"
He shook his head.
"I ignored the children, after a while," she said. "I stopped listening when they cried." It had taken her nearly a millennium to learn to do that. "Tell me, Connor, did they sell you? Do you remember being stripped naked and placed on an auction block?"
"No. I thought not. Not a fine strong man like you. Too useful a worker. You didn't wear out." She looked him up and down, evaluating him, judging him. Pricing him. He did not move under her gaze, but went very still and glared back at her.
She kicked him hard in the ribs. "Don't look at me that way, slave!" she commanded, then smiled at him again. "Do you remember *that*?"
"Yes." But the word was gritted out, and the glare was still there.
"Do you? But you're still angry, Connor," she said in mock astonishment. "Slaves don't show anger. You should remember *that.* How long did you stay angry?"
She nodded, pleased with his answer. "Of course, you did. All ten years, you were angry. But how long did it take you to learn to hide that anger? You're a smart man. One year? Two? How many beatings? How many days without food or water? How many rapes?"
He looked away at that, and Cassandra moved to stand at his feet. "Do you remember being raped, Connor?" she asked, stripping him naked with her eyes, smiling again, an ugly, angry smile now. "Do you remember the sound of their laughter as they urged each other on, the feel of their hands on your thighs, the way they gripped your wrists to hold you down, the smell of their breath, the way it felt when--"
"Stop!" It was a command, and a plea. Connor would not look at her.
Cassandra stopped. For the moment, for there was more. Connor was sitting up now, his knees up, his arms around his legs. It was an approximation of the fetal position, the position people take when they are cold, or in pain, or frightened. Good. She sat down in front of him in full-lotus, her legs crossed comfortably, her skirt billowing out on the grass.
"Do you remember, Connor, being told to smile at your master, and to stay silent, not to protest, not to argue, not to complain, and never--never!--to be angry. No matter what your master does. No matter how he speaks to you, how he treats you, how he beats you. How he uses you, or passes you around to his friends. Keep silent. Smile. Submit. Or die.
"It's a hard lesson, but I learned it eventually," she said. "I had to." She waited until he looked at her, then she caught and held his eyes with her own.
"And it's not just being a slave, Connor. Just being a woman is enough. I don't need to ask you if you've ever been that, or if you remember what that's like. Women aren't allowed to be angry, either, you know. Men tell women they have no reason to be angry, no right to be angry. Men try to silence women, with laws or with beatings, and if that doesn't work, they kill them."
Connor was shaking his head. "I don't--"
"How many times have you told a woman to be silent, Connor? To shut up? Ramirez told me what you said to Heather. 'Do as I say, woman!' Do you remember that?"
"Things were different then," he protested. "And I was just--"
"Were they different?" she interrupted. "Have they changed that much?" She tilted her head to one side and considered him. "Have you changed? When was the last time you told a woman to shut up, Connor? A hundred years ago, or ten?"
He did not answer, and that was answer enough.
"And when did you *ever* let a woman tell you to shut up?"
He did not answer that, either.
Cassandra tried to speak calmly through the rage that still surged within her. "I'm not going to let you control me anymore, Connor."
"Control you? I haven't--"
"No? I was angry in Aberdeen, and you told me you would kill me if I ever came near you again. I was angry last night, and you tried to kill me. Just like Roland, Connor," she said distinctly, then added in bitterness, "except he usually finished the job."
Connor wasn't looking at her anymore.
"And it's not just Roland, and it's not just you. It's all men, everywhere, every time. Ancient Greece; ancient Rome; the witch hunts and the ducking stools in Europe; the Taliban in Afghanistan today."
"Cassandra, that's not fair. You can't blame all--"
"No?" The word flicked out, a crack of the lash, but then the whip of anger lay loose in her hand. "No," she admitted. "I shouldn't. Not all of them, for everything. But are you innocent?"
He shook his head slowly, then asked her, "Are you?"
"No," she whispered. "I'm not." She faced him, the anger coiling again. "But it's not all my fault."
"I never said it was," Connor answered.
"He did. And they did. The priests took everything that was sacred, and they said it was evil. They destroyed the altars and cut down the groves. They burned the temples and slaughtered the priestesses. They said the Goddess was a whore, and that any woman who dared to choose her own partner was a whore, too. And they would stone her to death for the 'crime' of making love." Cassandra stopped, remembering the hoarse lustful shouts of the men and the screams of the women, seeing again the bright red blood clotted in the dust of the streets. "And men are still doing it, even today."
"Not in this country," Connor replied. "And not in many others. Things are changing."
Cassandra nodded slowly. "Now. But it wasn't that long ago. And it won't last. As long as men think women brought evil into the world, they will hate them, and fear them, and try to control them."
She sat back on her heels and folded her hands in her lap, the pose of a story-teller sharing a tale. "Did you know, the name Pandora means the Giver of All? She used to be revered as the woman who brought great gifts. The Greek priests changed that myth, and made her the bringer of evil. In Arabic, women are sometimes called hbel shitan, the rope of Satan. And the name Eve means Mother of All who Live, but the Hebrew priests said she brought death and evil and sin." She looked up into the branches of the apple tree and murmured, "And all because she didn't do what she was told."
"Well, it was God who was telling her," Connor pointed out.
"You don't really believe that, do you, Connor?" Cassandra asked him, and Connor's eyebrows gave an eloquent shrug. She said, "That's not how the story used to be told. The priests changed it. I remember. I was there."
"It's just an old story, Cassandra."
"But it's still told. And it's still believed." Many old stories had been changed. Many holy things had been desanctified, and desecrated. "The Christian priests weren't content with merely making love a crime. They had to make it a sin, the original sin. The creation of life, the most sacred and holy of things--they said it was filthy and disgusting, just like all women. Giving birth made a woman unclean, and the sacred blood of life was called the curse.
"For thousands of years, men blamed all evil on women. Men enslaved us and raped us, burned us as witches and stoned us as temptresses, and made us become either wives or whores. And then women were told that it was all their fault, and that they deserved it."
Cassandra shuddered at the memories, but spoke calmly. "And do you know what, Connor? They believed it." She shook her head slowly and whispered through the rage and the sickening realization, "And so did I."
She could not bear to look at him anymore. Cassandra stood and went to the tree, then reached out a hand and traced the subtle lines of the gray bark with the tips of her fingers, listening once more, for the heartbeat of the tree.
There was nothing, only her own blood surging through her veins.
Connor walked to the far corner of the garden, near the vegetable bed against the kitchen wall, then took a few deep breaths, counting to ten in Japanese. He had volunteered to be the scapegoat, to give her a focus for her anger. He could take it. It wasn't personal; she wasn't really lashing out at him.
Well, not only at him.
He counted to ten again, this time in Gaelic. He had seen a picture on the outside of a pub once, not long ago. It had been of a woman, very well-endowed and carrying a tray with mugs. The woman had also been headless, and the name of the pub had been "The Silent Woman."
It was a very tempting idea.
And that was exactly her point.
Connor knelt on the gravel path and pulled some weeds from around the tomatoes. There were a lot of weeds. After about ten minutes, Cassandra came over and started to weed the asparagus on the far side of the bed.
About half of the weeds were gone before she spoke. "So, Connor, do you prefer me as a smiling bitch who tells lies, or an angry bitch who tells the truth?"
Connor snorted in amused exasperation, then sat back on his heels and looked at her. She was smiling now, but it was a real smile, partly rueful, partly challenging. There was a smudge of dirt across her cheek, and her hands were stained green by the weeds. "Not much of a choice," he observed.
"No." She turned back to the garden and yanked another weed. "It isn't."
"I don't like either one, Cassandra, but I can respect the angry one more."
Cassandra snorted in just about the same way he had done, then muttered, "I guess that's something."
Connor started in on the weeds around the carrots, "Remember the beast inside us, Cassandra?" he asked. "You're the one who told me we have to let it out sometimes, so it doesn't control us, doesn't destroy us. Remember?"
She gave a mighty tug on a dandelion, then nodded.
"Looks like you should take your beast for a walk more often."
She actually laughed at that, a little, then admitted, "I'm scared of it, Connor."
And with damn good reason. He was scared of it, too. His own anger was bad enough, but hers ... Christ!
"I can't let it out," she said. "I need to control it. I need--"
"Cassandra," he said pointedly, "it's already in control of you. Remember yesterday? Upstairs? When you tried to take my head?"
She let go of the dandelion and laid her hands in her lap.
"Let it out, Cassandra," he urged. "Let the anger out. Hit something. Kick things. Yell. Break something. Run. Anything, but let the anger out. It's going to kill you, if you don't." Or kill me, he thought, but did not want to give her any ideas. He went back to pulling weeds, and after a moment she joined him. They were almost done.
"Cassandra," he offered, as they carried the weeds to the compost bin, "if you want to keep sparring, we could--"
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
"You're not ready to face Kronos, Cassandra."
"That's my decision, isn't it?" she snapped.
"Yes," he answered evenly. "It is. And it's your life."
She slammed the lid shut on the bin and turned on him. "You can't tell me what to do!"
He had not been trying to.
Cassandra glared at him a moment more, then shook her head and tried to smile. "I'm being a bitch again, aren't I?"
Connor knew better than to answer that. "At least you're slamming things," he pointed out. "That's good."
Cassandra's smile came through then. "I know you're right, Connor. I know I'm not ready to fight him, and I will practice more. But I need to find him. I need to know where he is."
He nodded. He also preferred being predator to being prey.
"And, I know you're not like Roland," she said. "I shouldn't be taking it all out on you. I know slavery existed ages before you were born. I know you didn't make the world this way. I know what happens to women isn't your fault. I *know* that, but...." She stopped in frustration, then turned and walked away, going back to the tree once again.
Connor gave her a few minutes before he joined her, not standing too close.
She was staring into the branches. "I have to get away from you, Connor. If I stay here, I'm afraid I might try to kill you again, and I don't want that to happen."
"You and me both," he said.
Another smile from her, then she said hesitantly, "I hope, maybe, someday...."
"Someday," Connor agreed, then smiled back. "Want a drink?"
There wasn't much left in the whisky bottle when Cassandra asked, leaning with her back against the tree, "Did you ever see Queen Elizabeth, Connor? Not this one, the first one. Did you see her when you were in London with Anne?"
"Once, when she was watching a pageant," Connor answered, from his place on the grass.
"I was in Donan Woods while she was queen. Queens, of course, have to do what other people expect of them, and everyone is always watching them. It must be a very lonely life." Cassandra looked over at the flower garden, bright colors in the sunshine. "Did you know she wrote poetry?"
Connor shook his head, and Cassandra started to speak.
/ "I grieve, yet dare not show my discontent"
The rhythm of music and poetry slowed her words, let them hover in the warm summer air. Connor closed his eyes, as he often did when he listened to poetry.
/ "I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate"
He saw Cassandra smiling at him across the pillows, her hands entwined with his. Then the cool disdainful stare on her face as he bled to death in front of her cottage, only contempt in her eyes when he asked her about trust.
/ "I dote, but dare not what I ever meant;"
The only time she had ever told him she needed him, that time she had asked him to make love to her in Aberdeen. A few hours later he had told her that he would kill if she ever came near him again.
/ "I seem stark mute, yet inwardly do prate;"
Cassandra watching him, forever watching, always silent and seemingly serene.
/ "I am and am not--freeze, and yet I burn"
Her calmness and composure cracked open, her buried rage and fury erupting when she insisted he kill Duncan to teach him a lesson in trust, all those years ago in Aberdeen. When she held a sword to his neck yesterday. When she struggled with him last night in the hotel room, and as she lashed out at him today. Centuries of frozen calm boiled away in searing flashes of rage.
/ "Since from myself, my other self I turn."
The separate halves of her life, the mortal woman and the Immortal. Not uncommon for Immortals, but for Cassandra a complete split, her life a total negation of everything she once had loved.
/ "My care is like my shadow in the sun--
/ Follows me flying--flies when I pursue it,"
No escape from Roland, ever, even now that he was dead.
/ "Stands and lives by me--does what I have done
/ This too familiar care doth make me rue it."
No escape from her memories, her guilt, her shame, no escape at all.
Cassandra fell silent, and Connor opened his eyes. She was still standing with her back against the tree, holding herself tightly now, arms crossed in front of her, head down.
She spoke again, and her voice was low. "When...." As always, she could not speak his name. She started again. "If I showed happiness or pleasure at anything--even a little thing, a flower or a kitten--he would take it away. Or destroy it. And if I showed anger, or hate, or fear, or despair, he would ... punish me." She shrugged. "So I showed nothing, especially when he was angry. It was safer that way."
Connor stood and came to her then, there beneath the tree. "All those times, when you showed nothing during our fights--in Donan Woods, in Aberdeen, last night--I thought you didn't care."
"I cared." She closed her eyes briefly. "Then. Lately, I haven't been able to care about anything at all."
Lately. Since Aberdeen. "What happened to you, Cassandra?" Connor asked. "For thousands of years you kept living, but--lately--you gave up, just existed. No sewing, no music, no healing, no gardening. You knew Duncan was alive, so it should have been better, not worse. What happened?"
"I got tired." The words were flippant, and untrue.
Connor put a finger on her cheek and carefully turned her face to him. "No more lies," he reminded her gently. "What did Roland do to you in Aberdeen?"
Cassandra slapped his hand down, the anger he had wanted to see easily evident now. "You are so--blind!" she spat at him, then whirled away. "It wasn't Roland," she ground out, measured and precise, then turned to face him again. "It was you."
"Me?" Connor could only stare in shock. What did he have to do with it?
"I could live with his hate," Cassandra said. "I couldn't live with yours."
Why should she have cared what he felt? "Cassandra ...," he began, shaking his head.
"I trusted you!" she cried out. "I thought I was safe with you! I cared for you, and I let you touch me, when I hadn't let a man touch me in years, because I thought that you, of all men, wouldn't hurt me, wouldn't...." She turned away from him again, her shoulders trembling. Her next words were almost too low to hear. "But you did. Worse than he ever could."
"Cassandra ...," he said again, whispering now, shocked even more, finally starting to realize what he had done to her. He had destroyed her trust, the same way she had destroyed his.
"Roland hated me, but I knew, when I was away from him, that he wasn't really sane. So I could think, maybe he's wrong. Maybe it's not all my fault, the way he says it is." Cassandra was rocking herself now, arms wrapped tightly, swaying slowly back and forth, the way a mother soothes a child, the way you breathe your way through pain.
"But you hated me, too. You, Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. An honest, decent, honorable man. You despised me, and you hated me, and you wanted me dead. And I knew you were right to feel that way, because of what I had done to you." She took a great, shuddering breath, and then went on, her voice without anger, without hope. "And that meant that Roland was right, too. It *was* my fault. I deserved whatever you did, whatever he did. I deserved it all, and I didn't have any right to be angry about it, because it was all my fault."
Oh, Holy Mother of God! Connor closed his eyes in dismay. He had been so angry, that day in Aberdeen, so sure that she had lied to him about everything, that he had not listened to her at all. He had wanted to hurt her, and he had wanted revenge, but he didn't want this. Not anymore. "Cassandra," he said, gently this time, laying his hand on her shoulder to turn her around, to hold her in his arms.
"Don't touch me!" she cried, jerking away and turning on him, her features a grimace of fear and hate. "I can't stand it when you touch me!" she hissed, anger overlaying the fear.
She might as well have slapped him in the face again. Connor stood rigid for a moment, then nodded and backed away. That should not have come as a surprise to him.
Cassandra's face crumpled as the hate and the anger were washed away by despair, then she sank to the ground and huddled there. "It hurts too much," she whispered, "to remember."
Remember him? Or remember Roland? Or maybe both. Connor did not want to know. He squatted near her, but not too close, and waited.
She took a deep breath, then continued more calmly. "I told you that Roland used to strangle me every night. Do you remember?"
Connor nodded. It was hardly something one forgot.
"It was ... an exaggeration," she admitted. "He usually only did that at first, for a month or so, to make sure I was--tamed. After he knew I wouldn't resist him anymore, he stopped, and then there would be weeks, months, where he didn't hurt me at all, even in bed. We just lived together, like normal people. Well," she admitted again, "kind of like normal people. I would always watch him, to see if he were happy, to make sure I wasn't bothering him, to know if he was...."
Connor knew what it was to be watched that way.
"But I would always do something, or say something, or something else would happen, and he would realize that he didn't really control me. Then he would get angry."
She stopped, and there was no sound from her, no movement, just that frozen sense of waiting that he had seen so many times before, and never understood.
Finally, she spoke. "Afterwards, he would tell me that he was sorry, tell me that if I had only ... loved him more, then he wouldn't have to do that to me. I tried, you know," she said, just talking calmly and slowly, remembering. "I tried to love him more. I gave him everything I could, everything I had, and it wasn't enough. It was never enough for him."
Connor could not even imagine trying to love that abomination of a man.
"He would ask me to hold him," she said, "to sing to him like I did when he was little, before he went to sleep."
But then, Roland had never been his son.
"He wanted me to promise not to leave him," Cassandra said. "He didn't want to be alone. He was so scared, Connor. So scared to be alone. I told you before, how I left him with a friend when he was little, when he was six. Do you remember?"
Connor nodded again. She had told him this story in June, when she had come to his farm in the Highlands.
"I left him to spend the night with my lover, and while I was gone ... that man came and took him. He took my son and hurt him, and I wasn't even there, even though I had promised Roland I would always take care of him. But I didn't. I failed him." She was crying now, silent ceaseless tears, but she did not seem to notice. "When I found Roland, three days later, he was so scared, scared even of me. He always hated me for leaving him, after that. He never really trusted me again."
She put her head down on her knees. There was nothing for either of them to say.
Cassandra finally looked out at the garden. "He asked me to sing to him in Aberdeen. But I kept remembering you, and what it had been between us. I wanted to keep something of you separate, and I wouldn't ... I couldn't sing. He broke the harp, and then he...." Her hands were trembling, and she clutched tight to the fabric of her skirt. "I thought I wanted that memory of you, but it just made it worse. I haven't sung, not since that day."
Connor knew why. It hurt too much, to remember. The trembling had spread to the rest of her now, and he offered diffidently, "Cassandra, if you want, I'll hold you."
"No." She huddled further into herself. "Connor ... part of me wants to, but I can't. Don't you see? He ruined that for me, too. I can't trust ... I never know when comfort will turn into pain, when love will turn into hate. Sometimes I can't even tell them apart.
"I wanted to love you, Connor." She was crying again, the same silent tears. "I tried, but ... I didn't know how, not without hurting. I tried so hard."
And he had thought she didn't even care.
After a time, she wiped at her face with her fist, then shifted a little to look at him, even tried to smile. "You have always been very special to me, Connor." The smile was gone now. "But I can't change what I did to you, no matter how much I want to."
Connor cleared his throat and rubbed his face with his hand. "And I can't change what I did to you, Cassandra, no matter how much I want to." If only she had told him. If only he had listened. If only.... "But I said I'd be fair, and I will be."
Cassandra's smile came back, sharper this time, even challenging, and she curled her legs under her and sat back on her heels. "Then that means it's your turn now, doesn't it?"
His turn? What was she talking about? Then Connor remembered what he had been going to tell her earlier that day. It wasn't a hard thing to say, not really. A few simple words. And she deserved them.
"I'm sorry, Cassandra."
She was still smiling slightly, still waiting, and Connor counted to ten once more, in German this time. He was almost out of languages. But fair was fair. He had made her wait, too.
She nodded regally, graciously. "I accept your apology."
Connor counted to only three before he felt ready to say, "Truce?"
Cassandra did not hesitate this time. "Truce," she agreed, and offered him both her hands.
He reached over and took them very gently in his own. "Peace," he said, "between us."
Cassandra's answering grip was not gentle at all. "Peace."
Alex found them there a little while later, lying on the grass and looking up at the clouds. "Connor, Cass," she greeted them, looking carefully from one to the other, with a quick glance at the empty whisky bottle beneath the tree. "It's a beautiful day."
"Yes, it is," Cassandra agreed, as if she and Connor had been at a garden party sipping tea and eating crumpets all afternoon. She got rather unsteadily to her feet, and Connor stood, too.
Alex came and reached out to Cassandra, both hands extended. "I'm glad to see you here, Cass."
"Alex...." Cassandra took her hands, but seemed afraid to say anything more.
Alex pulled her into an embrace, and the women hugged for a moment. Then they stepped back and smiled at each other.
Well, shit, Connor thought. That was easy.
Alex turned to Connor and said, "I'm taking Cass out to dinner, Connor. We'll be back in a few hours."
"I'll get you your sword," Connor said to Cassandra, then went inside the house. When he came back to the garden, Alex and Cassandra were already chattering about ancient pottery techniques. Cassandra took her sword from him with a smile that was only partly ironic, and Alex gave him a kiss.
"Ready, Cass?" she said. The two women headed for the gate in the garden wall, then Alex added over her shoulder, "There's a bit of a mess in the dining room, Connor. I think you should clean it up."
Connor glared after the pair of them. "Women," he muttered, then went to fetch the broom.
The sky was streaked with pink and orange clouds, and the sun touched the treetops as Cassandra and Alex walked back from the restaurant later that night.
"You still love him, don't you?" Alex asked.
Cassandra did not remember how to love. "I know I want him to be happy," she answered carefully. "And I can't make him happy, but I know you can." She smiled at Alex as they walked together. "And you do. He's lucky to have you, Alex."
"And I'm lucky to have you as a friend, Cass," Alex replied. "So is he."
Cassandra shook her head. "He doesn't--"
"He doesn't know it yet," Alex said. "But he will. In time." She grinned. "He's a little stubborn, you know."
"Yes," Cassandra said, laughing in spite of herself. "I've noticed that." They walked on, but Cassandra stopped a few blocks from their house. "I'm going back to the hotel now, Alex. I'm tired." She did not want to face Connor again.
Alex nodded in understanding. "I'll see you again, Cass. Soon, I hope. Before the babies come? You can stay with us at Christmas, in the Highlands."
Cassandra blinked back sudden tears. She might very well be dead before then. "Maybe. I'd like that. Take care of yourself. And the babies. And Connor and John."
"Oh, I will," Alex said, then stepped forward and hugged her tightly. "You take care of yourself, too, Cass."
Cassandra did not remember how to do that, either. "I'll try," she promised.
Connor had just found the book he was looking for when he saw Alex coming through the garden. He opened the kitchen door for her and gave her a kiss. "Where's Cassandra?"
"At the hotel," Alex said. "She said she was tired. And so am I," she said with a yawn. '"I'm going to take a shower, and then I'm going to bed. Are you coming?"
"I'll be up in a few minutes," Connor said, then he sat down in the library and picked up the book of early English poems. There it was, the poem Cassandra had recited, attributed to Elizabeth R.
/ I grieve, and yet I dare not show my discontent.
/ I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate
/ I dote, but dare not what I ever meant;
/ I seem stark mute, yet inwardly do prate;
/ I am and am not--freeze, and yet I burn
/ Since from myself my other self I turn.
/ My care is like my shadow in the sun--
/ Follows me flying--flies when I pursue it,
/ Stands and lives by me--does what I have done
/ This too familiar care doth make me rue it."
But she had not finished it. There were two more lines in the second stanza.
/ No means I find to rid him from my breast,
/ Till by the end of things it be surpressed.
It was a love poem, written by a queen who had never married. Connor read the final stanza.
/ Some gentler passion steal into my mind,
/ (for I am soft and made of melting snow)
Not merely ice shattered into jagged shards, or ice boiled away by hate and rage, but melting snow, softened by warmth, by caring, by love.
/ Or be more cruel, Love, or be more kind,
/ Or let me float or sink, be high or low,
/ Or let me live with some more sweet content,
/ Or die, and forget what love e'er meant.
Connor closed the book gently and replaced it on the shelf.
Cassandra was looking about the hotel room to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything when the phone rang. Maybe the taxi had arrived to take her to the airport. "Hello?"
"It's Connor. I'm in the lobby."
She had not expected to see him again. How like Connor, to appear without asking, to give her no choice. If he hadn't known she would run at the first sense of an approaching Immortal, he would have simply knocked on her door. Or not even knocked.
She was still trying to think of what to say when he added, "I'll give you a ride to the airport."
She had not expected this, either. "Connor ...," she began, torn between a wish to acknowledge his thoughtfulness, and an unwillingness to be even more indebted to him. "You don't have to."
There was a slight pause, then he said firmly, "I want to."
Cassandra closed her eyes at the flood of pain and happiness those words released. "Yes," she said after a moment. "I'll be down in a few minutes."
He met her at the elevator and took her duffel bag from her, then opened the car door for her. They did not speak on the way to the airport, but it was a comfortable quietness between them.
Cassandra noted the way he drove the car, how he was alert to everything about him. He knew precisely where every other vehicle was, how fast they were going, the changes in their speeds. He was not impatient or foolishly aggressive, but he was always watching for an opportunity, always ready to take advantage of a small gap in traffic, a faster moving lane. And sometimes he was willing to take a chance, just for the hell of it. Observant and deliberate, yet occasionally joyfully reckless--it was the same way he fought, the same way he lived his life, the same way he made love.
Connor was alert to her, too. "What?" he demanded, then went back to looking at the road.
She was glad the traffic was heavy now. "An old memory," she said casually, knowing he would not pry. Not anymore.
He glanced at her sharply, but said nothing.
Cassandra continued to watch him, simply enjoying being with him this last time. It was not going to be easy to say good-bye.
He went with her into the terminal, and after she checked her bag they sat and watched the airplanes for a while. "What's in Munich?" he asked, motioning to her ticket.
She shrugged. "It's a place to start."
"Call me," Connor said suddenly. "Let me know where you are."
"I'll e-mail you," she suggested, "whenever I go somewhere new." It would be too hard to talk to him. "I ought to get to the boarding area," she said, as she stood and reached for her bag.
She stopped and turned back to him, then caught her breath in pained wonder. Connor was standing with both hands held palm-up, as she had done long ago in Donan Woods, when they had agreed to be teacher and student, and again when they had agreed to be friends.
Cassandra looked into his eyes and saw there the warmth and acceptance she remembered from many years ago. She blinked quickly and laid her hands atop his, grasping them tightly. It had been so long. His hands were warm, and strong.
She had been right. It was not easy to say good-bye. "I have to go, Connor."
"Yes." He nodded and smiled at her. "You do." He gave her hands a final quick squeeze, and then he let her go.
She smiled back at him and said softly, "Thank you, Connor. For listening. For everything." He nodded, and she stepped forward with joyful recklessness and kissed him on the cheek. "I've missed you," she ventured. For a moment she thought she had dared too much.
Then Connor gave a snort of rueful admission and nodded again. "Yeah. I think we both missed a lot."
Cassandra closed her eyes as he kissed her cheek lightly in return, then she picked up her carry-on bag and walked away from him, her step firm and her head high. She had friends now; she wasn't alone anymore. She had a purpose in her life, too.
She was going to find Kronos, and she was going to kill him.
Connor watched her disappear into the crowds at the airport before he went to his car. He knew she was not ready to face Kronos, and he doubted she ever would be, no matter how long she practiced. But he also knew how important this was to her, how much she needed to fight this battle to regain her self-respect. If she were lucky, Kronos would take her head quickly in a fair fight. If she weren't ...
Either way, Connor would go looking for Kronos. For Cassandra was his friend now, and he was hers. Friends, for a time at least, before she died, and forgot what love ever meant.
Connor started his car and headed for home.
Cassandra's story is continued in
Hope Remembered II
Chapter 7: Notes
Notes and details
The complete story of Connor killing Duncan is revealed as "Hope Remembered" continues, and also in the story "Dearer Yet the Brotherhood."
Cassandra's alias of Catherine Grant is from the Watcher CD (Sandra Grant) and from the television series "Lois and Clark" where she portrayed Catherine "Cat" Grant in the first season.
WOMEN AND EQUALITY
For his time and culture (many times and cultures, actually), Jesus had an amazingly egalitarian approach, especially to women. The early Christian Church had women leaders, and several women are mentioned prominently in the New Testament. However, after the first hundred years or so, women were excluded from holding any positions of authority.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
- The Apostle Paul, Galatians 3:28, Christian Bible c. 100 CE.
"A presiding elder ... must be a man. Deacons must be respectable men."
- The Apostle Paul, I Timothy Chapter 3, the Christian Bible
WOMEN AND OBEDIENCE
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body."
-(Ephesians 5:23-24) c. 120 CE, from the Christian Bible:
"Moreover, even though he was earnest in friendship, he was also violent in anger; but she had learned that an angry husband should not be resisted, either in deed or in word."
- c. 390 St. Augustine's Confessions: CHAPTER IX, about a woman and her husband:
"Do as I say, woman!"
- Connor MacLeod to his wife Heather MacLeod, in the movie Highlander, in the year 1541.
"Is the passive suffering of victims redemptive? Doesn’t the mandate that women and other victims--such as slaves and impoverished people--should accept suffering in order to be ‘Christ-like,’ simply prolong and justify violence rather than overcoming it?"
- 1996 Theologian Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether
WOMEN AND EDUCATION
"The whole education of women ought to be relative to men. To please them, to be useful to them, to make themselves loved and honored by them, to educate them when young, to care for them when grown, to counsel them, to make life sweet and agreeable to them--these are the duties of women at all times, and what should be taught them from their infancy."
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (French philosopher, instrumental in French Revolution)
"Women too have aqel (reason), but in their case it can't develop as much as in men. It's just in their nature."
- from an interview with Abdallah, in Morocco in the 1970's, written by Lawrence Rosen.
"Girls don't do math very well."
- my fifth-grade math teacher (a woman).
WOMEN AND THE LAW
"We continued to bump along with legal disparities (women were not allowed to serve on juries until 1954; they thought it might upset us), the most notorious of which was Article 1220 of the state penal code. 1220 made it legal for a husband who found his wife and her lover `in flagrante delicto,' as we say in Muleshoe, to dispatch one or both of them to kingdom come without any legal consequence. And that was the law until 1972, when they changed it because Texas women started demanding equal shooting rights."
- Molly Ivans, 1999
"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during marriage, or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband . . . but though our law in general considers man and wife as one person, yet there are some instances in which she is separately considered; as inferior to him, and acting by his compulsion."
- Blackstone's "Commentaries, Vol I - The Rights of Persons" 1768.
"[In the 1800's] a woman underwent 'civil death' upon marriage, forfeiting what amounted to every human right, as felons now do upon entering prison. She lacked control over her earnings, was not permitted to choose her domicile, could not manage property legally her own, sign papers, or bear witness. Her husband owned both her person and her services, could--and did--rent her out in any form he pleased and pocket the profits."
- from the book Sexual Politics, by Kate Millet
WOMEN AND SIN
"The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times, and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die."
- Tertullian, early Christian theologist, the earliest extensively preserved Latin Christian author [140-230]
"During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I am not giving permission for a woman to teach or to tell a man what to do. A woman ought not to speak, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterward, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. Nevertheless, she will be saved by childbearing, provided she lives a modest life and is constant in faith and love and holiness."
- The Apostle Paul, I Timothy 2:9-15, the Christian Bible
(summarized as "Women are last in creation, first in sin." He does not address how to save a woman who is either infertile or married to an infertile husband, or not married at all.)
"The term 'hebl shitan' (rope of Satan) also has a second meaning. In addition to 'rope' or 'towline' hbel can refer to the string of beads which the members of a religious brotherhood use in the recitation of their prayers. The implication, then, is that women are associated with the "brotherhood of the Devil" and that close attachment to them is tantamount to paying homage to their spiritual leader, Satan himself."
- 1979, Kenneth Brown, from the book "Women in the Muslim World," p. 582.
WOMEN AND SEXUALITY
"Female toilet has two possible purposes--dress and make-up. We use the word dress when we refer to what they call womanly grace, whereas make-up is more fittingly called womanly disgrace. Articles of dress are considered gold and silver and jewels and clothes, whereas make-up consists in the care of hair and of the skin and of those parts of the body which attract the eye. On one we level the accusation of ambition; on the other, that of prostitution. I say that now, O handmaid of God, that you may well know what, out of all these, is proper for your behavior, since you are judged by different principles, namely, those of humility and chastity."
- Tertullian, early Christian theologist, the earliest extensively preserved Latin Christian author [140-230]
"[A women's embraces are] sordid, filthy, and horrible."
- Augustine, early Christian philosopher, c. 410 CE
In Western cultures, jokes about sex are called "dirty jokes." Pictures or stories about people having sex are called either "naughty," "dirty," or "filthy."
"Women have very great sexual desires, and that's why a man is always necessary to control them, to keep them from creating all sorts of disorder, to keep them from leading men astray. Why else do we call women 'hbel shitan' (the Rope of Satan)? That is why women must be cloaked when in public, live in houses with small windows placed so that others cannot see in, and married off before they can give their fathers any trouble."
- from an interview with Abdallah, in Morocco in the 1970's, written by Lawrence Rosen.
"It is no accident that women are referred to in Morocco as Habl el-Shitan (the rope or towline of Satan). For in addition to being Satan's towline, they are also capable of 'rbt thqef' (tying a man up), a cultural euphemism for saying that he is rendered impotent."
- 1979, Vinogradav, from the book "Women in the Muslim World," p. 582.
WOMEN AND SILENCE:
"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in church."
- c. 100 CE, Paul, 1 Cor 14:32-33, Christian Bible
"The testimony of women is not accepted."
- European courts, for many centuries.
"But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."
- c. 100 CE, Paul, 1 Cor 14:32-33, Christian Bible
(1 Timothy 2:12)
"Be silent, woman!" Ian MacLeod to his wife Mary MacLeod, in the episode "The Homeland" from Highlander, the Series, in the year 1618.
"Shut up!" Connor MacLeod to Brenda Wyatt, in the movie Highlander, in the year 1986.
Until June 26, 1918, the Texas Constitution mandated that all Texans had the right to vote except "idiots, imbeciles, aliens, the insane and women."
Year women were allowed to sit on juries:
1962 - Ireland
1954 - United States of America
WOMEN AND PROSTITUTION
"In the 1860's, the English Parliament passes a series of measures entitled "The Contagious Diseases Acts" by which the government legalized and regulated prostitution. The legal age of consent was 12. The Acts provided that any woman might be taken for a prostitute on the word of the police or their agents and subject to involuntary medical examination, imprisonment should she refuse, and the indignity of being reduced to a species of slave or pariah in either case."
- ("Sexual Politics" by Kate Millet)
Texas, 1890 - the Legislature raised the age of sexual consent for a woman from 7 to 10.
WOMEN AND MENSTRUATION
In many cultures, menstruating women have often been barred from religious or social activities because they are considered "unclean." Also, women who have given birth are considered unclean, often for a time of six weeks if they have a boy, for twelve weeks if they have a girl.
On a Highlander Discussion list, posts about menstruation sometimes carried warnings in the subject line, while posts about dismemberment and various gruesome ways to die carried no warnings at all.
In Western Culture, menstruation is sometimes referred to as "the curse."
WOMEN AND RAPE
"If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed and seizes her and lies with her and is caught in the act, the man who has lain with her must give the girl's father fifty silver shekels; she shall be his wife since he has violated her."
- Deuteronomy, 22:28-29, from the early Hebrew Texts, c. 900-600 BCE.
"She was asking for it."
- traditional defense of a man accused of rape.
A woman's honor lies in her body. A man's honor lies in his deeds and in his words.
In many cultures, a wife has no right to refuse her husband sexual intercourse or other sexual activities. In the United States of America, rape within a marriage was not a prosecutable crime until recently.
WOMEN AND WORK
About Equal Pay for Equal Work
"You think that's already an established principle in law--something that no one has had to worry about for years? Perhaps you didn't notice just a few weeks ago when female employees of Merrill Lynch, the financial services firm, won a huge settlement. Does Merrill Lynch strike you as some kind of hick, backwoods corporation that might have missed the news that it is illegal to pay women who do the same job as men less than those men?"
- Molly Ivans, 1999
IN THE MINES:
Coal drawers dragged the wagon behind them in places too low for horses to be used, or carried loads of coal on their backs from half-a-hundred weight to a hundred weight and a half, for twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours daily.
The testimony of Betty Harris (37 years old), a coal drawer in Little Boulton, England, during the 1800's.
"I have a belt around my waist and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet. The road is very steep, and we have to hold by a rope, and when there is no rope, by anything we can catch hold of ... The pit is very wet where I work, and the water comes over our clogs always, and I have seen it up to my thighs: it rains in at the roof terribly: my clothes are wet through almost all day long. I never was ill in my life but when I was lying-in [giving birth]. My cousin looks after my children in the daytime. I am very tired when I get home at night; I fall asleep sometimes before I get washed. I am not so strong as I was, and cannot stand my work so well as I used to do. I have drawn [the cart of rocks] till I have had the skin off me; the belt and chain is worse when we are in the family way [pregnant]. My feller [husband] has beaten me many a time for not being ready. I were not used to it at first, and he had little patience. I have known many a man beat his drawer."
(From "Victorian Working Women" by Wanda Neff, 1929)
* About the Taliban in Afghanistan (c. 1999)
from Melissa Buckheit, Brandeis University
The government of Afghanistan is waging a war upon women. The situation is getting so bad that one person in an editorial of the times compared the treatment of women there to the treatment of Jews in pre-holocaust Poland. Since the Taliban took power in 1996, women have had to wear burqua and have been beaten and stoned in public for not having the proper attire, even if this means simply not having the mesh covering in front of their eyes.
One woman was beaten to DEATH by an angry mob of fundamentalists for accidentally exposing her arm while she was driving. Another was stoned to death for trying to leave the country with a man that was not a relative. Women are not allowed to work or even go out in public without a male relative; professional women such as professors, translators, doctors, lawyers, artists and writers have been forced from their jobs and stuffed into their homes, so that depression is becoming so widespread that it has reached emergency levels.
There is no way in such an extreme Islamic society to know the suicide rate with certainty, but relief workers are estimating that the suicide rate among women, who cannot find proper medication and treatment for severe depression and would rather take their lives than live in such conditions, has increased significantly. Homes where a woman is present must have their windows painted so that she can never be seen by outsiders. They must wear silent shoes so that they are never heard. Women live in fear of their lives for the slightest misbehavior. Because they cannot work, those without male relatives or husbands are either starving to death or begging on the street, even if they hold Ph.Ds.
There are almost no medical facilities available for women, and relief workers, in protest, have mostly left the country, taking medicine and psychologists and other things necessary to treat the sky-rocketing level of depression among women.
At one of the rare hospitals for women, a reporter found still, nearly lifeless bodies lying motionless on top of beds, wrapped in their burqua, unwilling to speak, eat or do anything, but are slowly wasting away. Others have gone mad and were seen crouched in corners, perpetually rocking or crying, most of them in fear. One doctor is considering, when what little medication that is left finally runs out, leaving these women in front of the president's residence as a form of peaceful protest. It is at the point where the term 'human rights violations' have become an understatement.
Husbands have the power of life and death over their women relatives, especially their wives, but an angry mob has just as much right to stone or beat a woman, often to death, for exposing an inch of flesh or offending them in the slightest way.
Women enjoyed relative freedom, to work, dress generally as they wanted, and drive and appear in public alone until only 1996--the rapidity of this transition is the main reason for the depression and suicide; women who were once educators or doctors or simply used to basic human freedoms are now severely restricted and treated as sub-human in the name of right-wing fundamentalist Islam. It is not their tradition or 'culture', but is alien to them, and it is extreme even for those cultures where fundamentalism is the rule.