Time and Tides
"Please," MacLeod pleaded, holding up his hands in a gesture of supplication. "For me, Cassandra."
The woman standing in the lift glared beyond his shoulder for another moment, then tossed her auburn hair. "I'm at fault. I should have called to tell you I was coming. That way, *he* wouldn't be here."
Methos smiled sourly at her from his comfortable station on the couch and raised his hand in a half-wave.
The tension in the air was palpable. MacLeod knew he needed to divert the subject immediately. "This is a pleasant surprise. It's been a long time."
Her glare shifted to the Highlander and softened. "It needed to be a long time," she said quietly.
MacLeod didn't miss her meaning. He had some idea of how angry she had been at the outcome of Bordeaux.
"And I heard about Connor. I'm very sorry, Duncan." The sorrow in her voice was genuine. Duncan knew that she had been acquainted with the older MacLeod, long before he had been born.
"Yeah," he murmured hoarsely, pushing away the ache that the too-recent events surrounding Connor's death still brought. "All the same, it was nice of you to drop by for a holiday visit." He gestured at the wrapped and beribboned box tucked under her arm.
The rueful look turned into a smile. "It isn't for Christmas," she corrected. "Happy birthday, Duncan." She offered the package.
He felt a broad smile touch his face as he accepted the gift. "How did you know? Ah...of course. The Prophecy."
Cassandra canted her head. "If anyone would know your birthday, Duncan, it would be me," she said reproachfully. "I was there, after all."
Duncan looked up sharply. "...You were?" He gaped. "You know how I...? Who...?" He interrupted his own mass of questions to draw her inside. He could feel her reluctance to enter the loft, in view of the other company, he realized. "Please," he pleaded again.
She threw another venomous glare at Methos, who had the good judgment to remain quiet. The older Immortal couldn't disguise his own curiosity, MacLeod observed.
With a shrug, she drew off her gloves and yielded her overcoat to MacLeod. As he hung it, she took a chair safely distant from the area of the couch.
MacLeod went about making her a mulled drink in the kitchen area. "I never even thought about it. I knew you must have been keeping an eye on me, from a distance; but I didn't realize...How long were you in Donan Wood before I was born?"
"Around two hundred years." Duncan looked up, startled. She couldn't help but laugh at his expression. "Don't feel completely flattered. The prophecy said you would happen along in that general area. I had nothing more specific than that. I was actually near Glenfinnan because it was a good place to hide, at the time."
"They were hanging witches in the neighborhood," Methos finally put in. "Not a good way to die."
"That would be in your area of expertise," Cassandra said coldly.
MacLeod hastily stepped in to prevent a confrontation, in the guise of handing her the steaming mug. "Were you there? When I was born?" He sat beside her, nothing but the question that had burned him for centuries on his mind. "Where did I come from?" He nearly whispered.
Cassandra raised her eyes from the mug to meet his own. "Being the Witch of the Woods gives you something of a local aura," she explained. "Every now and again, I would find something on my doorstep. An offering, with a plea for a spell on someone's behalf. A note demanding I put a curse on someone's enemy. An injured animal, with the expectation that I might cure it. And once in a while, an abandoned babe." She sighed. "Some young girl in trouble must have imagined I would 'do something'." She shrugged again. "What could I do? Nurse a newborn? Raise a child be shunned along with his foster mother? I would take the baby to a home where I knew there were other children, and hope for the best." She put the cup down and rubbed her hands together with the lingering warmth.
"Then, one Solstice Eve, in the midst of a snowstorm, I found a baby on my doorstep. This one was a little different. He was pre-immortal." she said.
MacLeod smiled back ruefully. "You didn't see or hear anything?"
"I heard quite a lot," Cassandra said with a wry smile. "It was a very noisy baby."
She folded her arms. "I was biased. I thought a pre-immortal child would have the best chance as the son of a Chieftain. And I knew Mary MacLeod had been anxious for a baby for a long time."
"How did you know that?" MacLeod frowned.
"Who do you think she came to, looking for a charm? Give her credit, Duncan. She spent many a year in pious prayer before resorting to the local sorceress," she said at MacLeod's shocked reaction.
"Supply and demand," Methos commented smugly. "You were an item of commerce, Mac."
"He was an object of love," Cassandra said sharply. "His mother adored him from the moment she first saw him. She didn't need to demand that Ian accept him as his son; he regarded him with pride immediately." Her gaze was turned toward a distant past. "As he grew, he was always an object of love, by his family, his village, his clan." She put an affectionate hand to MacLeod's face. "It wasn't very long before I knew you were the object of the Prophecy. It's undeniable, Duncan. To know you is to love you."
"So that's why he gets all the ladies," Methos quipped.
Cassandra rolled her eyes. "Even a devious creature like you couldn't resist. That's it, isn't it?"
"Well the beer has something to do with it."
"How do you put up with him?" Cassandra gritted her teeth.
MacLeod's mouth twitched. "High tolerance level. And he remembered my birthday, too. Or he bothered to look it up when he was a Watcher."
"Just don't believe everything he says," Cassandra rose, heading for the coat rack. "Don't trust him, Duncan," she pleaded.
"It's just a small present. I--"
"No, thank you for looking after me. Before I could do it for myself. For keeping an eye out. I never got around to it, but it needed saying." He heard a quick intake of breath behind him and spun, brandishing a threatening finger. "And if you wreck this warm and fuzzy moment with one of your cute comments, I'll take your head with the salad tongs."
Methos held up his hands defensively. "Hey, I was only going to suggest she join us for your birthday dinner at Zucco's."
Both of the younger Immortals regarded him with deep suspicion. "Well, we've got the whole party table in the back reserved. It's going to be crowded, with Joe and Amy and Amanda said she was probably going to make it, but Zucco can fit in another chair."
Cassandra snarled. "What gives you the idea that I could possibly want to share a table--"
"--With me," MacLeod broke in loudly. "It's supposed to be *my* party. I'm the birthday boy. *I'm* inviting you."
"I want you to be there," MacLeod said emphatically. Then, more quietly, "Friends are getting to be in short supply, lately. It would mean a lot to me, being surrounded by them, today."
Cassandra threw another hateful glance at her nemesis, who was currently resting his chin on his hands on the back of the couch. "This is what I get for taking in strays," she sighed.
"My very thoughts, a time or two," Methos declared.
MacLeod threw a glare at the oldest Immortal that nearly seared the air. "Mine as well." He rubbed his hands together. "Now, who's for 'Braveheart?' I've never seen it and I bought the DVD this week..."