By Ann Wortham
France ranked very low on Cassandra’s list of favorite countries these days, and Paris certainly wasn’t high on the list of cities she wanted to visit, either. In fact, not too long ago, she had thought she might want to avoid Paris for a decade or two…maybe even a few centuries. She’d only been in the city on an errand, delivering some herbs to an old friend who had grown too old and frail to travel safely on his own. When she started out, early that morning, her intention had been to visit with Emile for a pleasant afternoon and then head right back to England. With any luck, she would be tucked up warm in her London flat before midnight.
But Emile had been unwilling to release her so easily. He was lonely these days, seldom having company and confined to his rooms over the little bakery he had owned for as long as Cassandra could remember. His son ran the business now, but the young man had a family of his own, complete with a baby and two toddlers, and scant time to indulge his father's love of conversation.
Cassandra didn’t have the heart to leave as she had planned, even though she had obligations at home. Instead, she spent the afternoon and a little after sunset, indulging her old friend by simply listening to his stories of times long gone by. It was little enough to do for him as his mortal days slowly wound down. Soon, she knew, he would be gone and only the recollection of his stories would warm her memories. He thought she was the granddaughter of the Cassandra he had known during World War II, of course. The thought of telling him about her Immortality never even occurred to her. Instead, she let him regale her with all of his war stories and she listened with rapt attention, as if she hadn’t been there herself. As if she didn’t remember every moment of the hellish cold and rain and fighting they had endured together while fighting and running and hiding with the French resistance.
She cooked a light supper for the two of them, pleased to see that at least Emile’s son kept the old man’s refrigerator and cupboards well-stocked with food.
By the time she finally managed to pry herself away, it was already dark and she had second thoughts about trying to catch a train home. She’d already warned Sean that she wouldn’t be home until long after he was asleep; he wouldn’t be waiting up for her.
Paris was bitterly cold this time of year, but the lights were always bright and gay, and perhaps she would enjoy staying in a fine hotel. Christmas was just around the corner, and the decorations, as well as the crowds of people shopping in the city, lightened her spirit. Paris was lovely, even when her heart was still heavy with more recent memories. Darkness fell early in the heart of winter, and the evening was only just beginning. She had plenty of money with her as well as her credit cards, and the large travel bag she had brought along always contained the essentials. She’d been delayed returning home before and had learned to be prepared. In the morning, when she wasn’t so tired, she might even take the time to do some Christmas shopping in the Paris department stores. She didn’t follow the Christian religion herself, but she had her own Druidic rites to perform around the same time of the year…and there was Sean to think of nowadays. He hadn’t been raised in any particular religion, but he seemed to be looking forward to the parties and gift-giving that customarily surrounded Christmas. Cassandra felt an urge to indulge him.
A short walk from Emile’s place, she saw the lights of the nightclub and she drew up short. Standing across the street from it, she wondered why it had struck her as out of the ordinary. The name written in neon lights was simply “Le Blues Club” and the outside facade was plain, unadorned brick.
Something about the place felt familiar, even though she knew she’d never noticed the building before. She didn’t ordinarily frequent nightclubs and although she was thirsty, alcohol had not been what she originally had in mind. Still, the establishment drew her and she knew better than to argue with her instincts. Without stopping to think any further, she crossed the street and went inside.
The interior had a slightly smoky smell and blues music was playing softly in the background. The stage was mostly empty at the moment, but a drum set was ready for the evening’s performance as were several music stands. A middle-aged man with gray hair cropped short in a severe cut was leaning over a set of speakers, adjusting some wiring.
“We’re not quite open yet,” he called out, without turning around.
Cassandra recognized his voice immediately and wondered if she shouldn’t beat a quick retreat before he looked up. A moment later and her chance was gone. He turned to face her and he froze, his expression revealing shock and even a bit of fear. He looked a little older than the last time she’d seen him in Seacouver. That was to be expected with a mortal, of course…except he didn’t seem to have aged a mere year. More like ten years. Perhaps the impression was exacerbated by the fact that he was wearing his hair so much shorter than she remembered. He still had the same grizzled beard, though.
“Cassandra,” Joe Dawson said slowly. “Didn’t expect…”
“To see me?” she finished his sentence, flinching inwardly at her own defensive and bitter tone. Joe had tried to help her back in Seacouver when she and Duncan were hunting the Horsemen. She’d known then that Joe didn’t want his friend Methos hurt and yet he’d still helped her, using his connection with the Watchers to ferret out information about the whereabouts of the remaining Horsemen. At the time, she’d had the impression that Joe didn’t like her much, that he’d helped only because Duncan MacLeod had asked it of him. In fact, she suspected that until Methos confessed his past to Duncan that Joe thought that she was imagining things, if not completely insane. Like her, Joe apparently found it hard to refuse Duncan when he wanted something, though. No doubt now he thought she had come looking for Methos to finish the job.
She took pity on him and shrugged. “I was passing by….”
He looked relieved as he offered her a tentative smile. “I didn’t know you knew about my place here in Paris.” He picked up his cane and came closer, offering her a hand.
She shrugged again, shifting her large travel bag slightly to ease its weight on her shoulder. “I didn’t. I saw the lights and something seemed familiar.” She returned his smile, just as tentative. “I didn’t know you were living here now.” She let a hint of question enter her voice, afraid to come right out and ask what she really wanted to know.
Joe’s eyes revealed a bit of wariness. “I follow MacLeod, you know.”
“Ah,” she said. Joe had answered her unspoken question, but he obviously wasn’t sure of her intentions. So, Duncan was living in Paris again. She wondered for the first time what Duncan had told Joe about the outcome of what happened at Bordeaux. How had he explained Methos’ part in that whole affair? How had he explained Cassandra’s own disappearance? Or had he simply said nothing and left Joe to draw his own conclusions from whatever reports the Watchers on duty that day had filed? She wanted to ask about Methos, but she restrained the impulse with a vicious mental berating. He was inconsequential to her now, as he had been for nearly three thousand years. If Duncan was naive enough to believe his manipulations and lies, who was she to interfere? Duncan was no longer the innocent thirteen-year old who had needed her protection from Kantos centuries earlier.
They stood and stared at each other for an awkward moment, her hand held in Joe’s much larger grip, before he finally released her and waved at a table near the stage. “I’m getting ready for tonight’s show. Would you like a drink?”
She nodded and moved to sit down, setting her bag on the floor gratefully. “I need to find a hotel before it grows too late….”
“There’s a great little place right down the street,” Joe said, as he went to fetch a bottle from behind the bar. “I know the owner. I could give him a call, if you like.”
He was back quickly, carrying a bottle of scotch and two glasses. “This okay?” He held it up for her inspection.
It was stronger liquor than she usually drank, but somehow the night seemed to call for it. She nodded again and held out her hand to take the glass he offered. “How is he?” she asked, after a swallow of the scotch to fortify her nerves.
Joe didn’t pretend to misunderstand. “He’s all right now. But it’s been a rough few years, you know. After Richie…” his voice caught and he stopped, practically falling into a chair. He stared down into his glass and then shook his head. “No, he’s had a bad couple of years, Cassandra. Very bad.”
“What happened?” Her heart was in her throat and she realized that she really did still care about Duncan…in fact, she’d never stopped caring. She’d protected him when he was a boy and, in return, he’d protected her from Kantos in the modern-day. He was a stubborn and proud man, but he had honor and integrity, virtues that were growing increasingly rare and hard to find. That he would willingly choose to be friends with someone like Methos still confused her. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask Joe if Methos had caused some sort of trouble for Duncan…but she restrained the impulse and waited.
Joe appeared to be lost in thought. Finally, he shook himself, his eyes gradually returning to the here and now, although he still seemed haunted by some bad memory. “Somehow I thought you’d know,” he said gruffly. “The prophecy and all….”
“Prophecy?” Cassandra was even more confused. Duncan had fulfilled her prophecy when he had beheaded Roland Kantos.
“About an evil one. About Mac having to fight him. About Mac being the chosen warrior.”
Joe shook his head. “We all assumed, after Ahriman appeared, that you had made a mistake with Kantos or…,” he trailed off, blushing slightly.
Cassandra stared at him, then suddenly understood. “Something happened to Duncan and you thought perhaps I lied to him about my prophecy?” She tried desperately not to let a sudden surge of anger control her emotions. That was how she’d got into trouble with Kronos and his Horsemen. If she hadn’t allowed herself to be distracted by her own rage, she might have been more effective against them. Certainly, she would have commanded greater control of her own magical powers.
She stared down at the table, using a mental focusing technique she’d learned long ago, until she could trust herself to speak again. Joe waited quietly, embarrassed by his accusation, perhaps.
“I never lied to Duncan,” she finally said evenly. “As far as I am aware, his fight with Kantos was prophesied long ago and it came true last year. If something else has happened, it was nothing that I knew about.”
“You didn’t…you didn’t see anything,” Joe stumbled over the words, obviously unsure of how to phrase his question. Like most mortals who knew little about her abilities and the ancient ways she followed, he probably assumed she had some sort of crystal ball she stared into or some such nonsense.
But Cassandra understood what he was getting at. “No, I haven’t attempted to see Duncan’s future.” She ran a finger through some beads of moisture on the tabletop. “When we parted in Bordeaux, I wasn’t certain I would ever want to see Duncan again.”
She looked up to find Joe watching her with an expression of heartfelt sympathy. It confused her. She knew that he had never really believed Methos was as bad as she claimed. He’d even told Duncan once that she must be lying about Methos’ past with the Horsemen. Duncan had confronted her about it…and then he had confronted Methos. The fact that Methos had told Duncan the truth still confounded her. No doubt it figured in his plans to manipulate Duncan in some manner she still didn’t fully understand.
“I think I should call my friend and get you a room,” Joe said softly. He reached out to pat the back of her hand. The change of subject was sudden and the reason for it patently obvious: Joe read the pain in her expression and in her manner and he had obviously decided not to press her any further.
But he still hadn’t answered her question. She wouldn’t leave without knowing now. “You haven’t told me what happened to Duncan.” Or where Methos fits in to the equation, she added silently.
Joe shrugged. “Mac killed his student.”
Cassandra raised an eyebrow. “Young Ryan?”
Joe nodded, his eyes watering slightly. He ducked his head down to hide the evidence of his own grief.
Cassandra was surprised. She’d never met Richie Ryan, but Duncan had spoken of him often. When she’d first spent time with Duncan in Seacouver after Kantos died, Duncan had been estranged from Ryan and very concerned over the situation. She knew that later he had reconciled with his student. What could have happened to cause yet another rift. “They had a fight?” she ventured.
Joe shook his head. “It wasn’t that simple. It’s a long story. But Mac killed Richie by accident.” He told her the story then, sometimes stopping to wipe his eyes, sometimes pausing to refill their drinks. Customers began to wander in, but Joe’s bartender and staff had come on-duty and they handled the public while Joe stayed with her. The band members trickled in and began to set up on stage, but Joe kept talking until the bitter end. From the sounds of things, Duncan had prevailed against Ahriman, but he hadn’t healed. His life had been profoundly changed.
The very idea of Ahriman and the internal battle Duncan had waged was beyond her experience. If she didn’t have a strong belief in the supernatural world, she would have thought that Joe Dawson was nothing more than a crazy old man. But what were Immortals but a form of magic themselves? She’d learned early in her own Immortality not to question the inexplicable.
“I wish I’d been there to help him,” she said, when Joe finished his tale. She drew in a deep breath. “Why didn’t someone tell me he needed me?”
Joe avoided her eyes, which surprised her. He’d been very forthcoming up until now.
She leaned forward and grasped his forearm. “Why didn’t someone contact me? Didn’t your Watchers know where I was?”
“We knew,” Joe choked out. “We just didn’t know where Mac was! I had whole teams of people looking for him. It was as if he’d vanished off the face of the Earth. He’d left his sword behind. As far as we knew, he was totally without protection and, given his state when I last saw him, completely suicidal. I thought someone had killed him and we’d never even know who it was….”
She finally asked the question she’d been longing to: “And where was Methos during all of this?”
Joe’s jaw tightened. “I don’t know.”
This was surprising. She’d somehow assumed that throughout Joe’s narrative, Methos was present. She’d thought that Joe was carefully editing him out of the events to perhaps save her having to hear further mention of him. “I thought he was there when Duncan killed Ryan?”
“He was. He helped me take care of…things right after Richie died. But then, when we realized Duncan was gone…well, Methos went, too. Just disappeared. Never a word.” Joe’s pain at this defection was clear to see.
“And you haven’t seen him since?”
“Oh, he’s back.” Joe laughed, sounding both amused and embittered. “He showed up in my back room one day, using my computer!”
“Of course, he’s never told you where he went or why,” she said. Some things never changed. She started to add another sarcastic remark, but she stiffened at the sudden tingle of sensation at the base of her spine and then sat up straighter as it blossomed into a full-fledged indication of Immortal presence. A quick glance toward the door revealed a tall figure in a long black coat with short dark hair pushing his way into the bar. The room was crowded and dimly lit.
“It’s Mac,” Joe said quietly, immediately confirming Cassandra’s suspicion. “I meant to tell you he was coming tonight, but we got talking and….”
Cassandra didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He was just as likely to have kept her occupied on purpose, hoping that she and Duncan would reconcile if they sat down over drinks and had a long talk. And perhaps they would. She didn’t like being estranged from her friend. She lowered her gaze to the tabletop again, afraid that if she allowed her gaze to meet Duncan’s as he crossed the room, she wouldn’t be able to face him. He’d needed her this last year—he’d apparently even thought she had lied to him about the prophecy—and she had stayed away.
“You’ll talk to him, won’t you?” Joe said, standing up awkwardly. He leaned heavily on his cane, looking tired and drained after the story he had told. He put a heavy hand on her shoulder. “You’ll…forgive him?”
“I don’t blame him for anything anymore, Joe,” she said softly, realizing that it was the truth. In her heart, she’d always known that her quarrel with the Horsemen was hers alone. Duncan had taken her cause as his own because he hated evil and he could not bear to see her hurt. But he’d had a corresponding attachment to his friend Methos that he couldn’t overcome. She should never have expected it of him. Now, a year later, she suddenly saw how unreasonable she had become as they had chased after the reunited Horsemen. When she had first set out to kill Kronos, her focus and commitment had been strong, perhaps even strong enough to blind her to Duncan’s feelings. “I never expected him to help me against Kronos in the first place. He chose to involve himself in my fight.”
Joe walked away without another word. What was there left to say?
The other Immortal had crossed the room and stood over her now. The cold from outside bled off of him, making her shiver. He was silent—Cassandra imagined he was stunned to see her sitting there, talking to Joe and having a drink.
She drew in a deep breath and finally looked up…into the face of Death.
Methos stood in front of her, his stance deceptively casual and his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. Cassandra didn’t doubt for a minute that he probably had a gun or other weapon in at least one of those pockets. He looked the same as ever, of course. Tall, lean, loose-limbed, with an air of studied indifference about him. Sharp, aquiline features with a nose that dominated his face from certain angles. He wore faded blue jeans and a dark, loose fitting sweater underneath his coat. His hair was still cut short, almost spiky, and a few strands stood up in the back, giving him a slightly mussed appearance. His whole demeanor added up to someone who was young, rather guileless…harmless. No one knew the lie of that façade better than she. Underneath the loose, casual clothing were hard muscles, honed from millennia of fighting, and the guileless expression hid a viciousness that could appear at a moment’s notice. In truth, he was the oldest of the Immortals, cynical, and the most dangerous of them all. His lips quirked up a little at the corners while she studied him, as if he could read her thoughts. Maybe he even could.
“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” he quipped.
She was momentarily speechless. The flippancy was so foreign to what she had always known of Methos that she literally couldn’t process what he had said. When he continued to wait for a reply, she finally stammered, “What? Oh. Duncan. I thought you were Duncan.” She could have kicked herself; she felt like such a fool.
If anything, the hint of a smirk on his face intensified. “Ah. MacLeod. Of course.” Amazingly, Methos shrugged out of his coat, pulled back a chair and sat down in it, right across from her. Then he leaned forward slightly, so that she could hear him clearly over the noise of the band warming up. “Mac didn’t tell me this was going to be a double date.”
“He didn’t know. I mean, I didn’t know….” She cut herself off abruptly, realizing that there was no point in continuing while she was so flustered. At three thousand years of age, she had drawn some measure of pride from always appearing self-possessed. Perhaps, she thought with a little bitter irony, her reaction was so profound because he was a sharp, unexpected reminder of those days long ago when everything she had possessed, including her own life, had belonged to another. Namely, to him. Again, she drew in a deep breath and attempted to focus. There was no point in allowing Methos to affect her this way. He had absolutely no power over her life anymore except for what she gave him herself.
He leaned back in his chair, still pretending he was relaxed. But she could see the tenseness in his jaw and his neck muscles. He was as surprised at her appearance here in Joe’s bar as she was to find herself here. “You haven’t even spoken to Mac, have you?” he guessed.
She didn’t see any point to lying. Presumably, Duncan would be showing up any minute now. It was obvious that he had arranged to meet Methos here for the evening. Apparently, the fact that Methos had spent the last year or more hiding somewhere while Duncan struggled with something alien and evil didn’t preclude Duncan accepting Methos back into his life. The thought hurt her, in a way. Duncan had never tried to contact her since Bordeaux.
Oh, she knew it was partially her fault. When they had parted at the hotel, they’d been cordial but she’d been cold to him. She’d understood why he didn’t want Methos to die. Truth to tell, at that moment after Methos had saved her from Silas, her revenge was beginning to taste more and more bitter. But Duncan had still chosen Methos over her and it hurt. Methos had lied to him and manipulated him. She had only wanted Duncan to see the truth about the ancient nightmare that had been the Horsemen.
She knew Duncan was going to meet Methos on holy ground. She’d overheard them on the phone while she was packing that morning. When Duncan had tried to kiss her goodbye, she had pulled back. She saw the pain in his eyes, on his face, but she didn’t want to acknowledge it. Wasn’t it enough that she had to live with the knowledge that Methos would never pay for all that he had done to her? For over a thousand years, she had thought he was dead. Someone had told her, long ago in Rome, that Methos was no more than a myth, that he was long dead, and she had believed them. After all, it had been centuries since she had heard stories about the Horsemen.
But none of them had been dead, after all. Duncan could never hope to understand the cold hatred and fear that the very thought of those men engendered in her heart. She’d embraced him quickly and then she’d left without looking back.
So, she accepted her part in Duncan’s absence from her life. But it was painful to see that look of understanding in Methos’ eyes. Empathy wasn’t an emotion she even thought he was capable of.
“Mac doesn’t even know you’re here…does he?” he added.
She nodded a quick agreement. Hearing him refer to Duncan so casually and familiarly made her flinch. It was yet another reminder that she had spent the last year virtually in exile from a dear friend while he…well, according to Joe, Methos had been gone, as well. But at least it had been of his own free will. If she’d known Duncan had needed her, nothing could have kept her from his side. How dare Methos sit there across from her looking so pleased with himself? “You think you always know everything,” she snapped.
There was a flash of…something…in his eyes that she would have taken for sadness in anyone else. “Not always,” he answered.
“I don’t suppose I could convince you to leave before Duncan gets here?”
He gave her a tight smile and lifted his shoulders slightly. “I was invited.”
“And you intend to stay.”
Another shrug. “It looks that way. As a rule, I seldom walk out of a bar before having a drink—without a good reason, that is.”
“What would you consider a good reason?” For a wild moment, she considered offering him money to go away. Luckily, her common sense reasserted itself quickly and she kept her mouth shut. She really didn’t care if she offended him; she just didn’t think he would take her offer. In fact, he would probably laugh in her face. In her mind, he already had enough reasons to find her “amusing.”
“Threat to life or limb come to mind,” he answered her.
“If I threaten you, you’ll leave?” She allowed a feral smile to curve her lips. She knew she could look frightening when she really put her mind to it. After all, she’d learned the nature of evil from a master of terror millennia ago.
He blinked at her, seeming a bit startled. Then, he said very deliberately, “Maybe I could buy you a drink. We could talk about it.”
“To pass the time?”
Cassandra thought it over for a moment, examining his offer from all sides, as if there had to be some sort of hidden agenda in even the offer of a free drink. But she couldn’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish. She’d already spared his life and she thought that they both knew the time she might have killed him was now past. If she was going to do it, she would have used Silas’ ax in Bordeaux, while Methos was on his knees before her, helpless. Methos had never been able to kill his personal devil Kronos, and it seemed that she would never be able to kill her own demon named Methos. As badly as she had wanted her revenge against the Horsemen to be complete, something inside of her could not deny that she had loved Methos once…and Duncan cared for him still.
Maybe he really did want only to talk. It could prove interesting. She’d certainly never thought, in her wildest dreams, that she would find herself sitting in a Paris blues club, having a casual drink with Methos.
Then again, it had been three thousand years. Whether they were the best of friends or the best of enemies, there was no doubt that they had a lot of catching up to do. Maybe he could even tell her more about Duncan and how he had changed in the last year. Joe had told her a lot, but Methos would have a different perspective. An Immortal perspective.
Methos was waiting patiently for her reply, his features carefully neutral. She knew that look, though. He was very adept at hiding his true feelings when he wanted to. “Would you really rather I leave?” he asked, one hand already on his coat.
She shook her head, but had to clear her throat before she could speak. “No. Stay.”
He relaxed back into his chair, his eyebrows raised in question. “A drink, then?”
“To pass the time,” she agreed, wondering what she was getting herself into.
Methos got up and walked away. She dared to hope he was actually going to leave now that she’d given in and agreed to let him stay…but she realized it was a futile hope. He’d left his coat folded over the back of his chair. He had to have left his sword within, no doubt along with a small arsenal of other weapons. He was either exhibiting arrogant confidence or nonchalant trust. Before she’d had too long to wonder about his abrupt departure he was back, a large pitcher of beer in one hand and two glasses in the other. “Hope this is all right.”
He sat back down and filled both glasses, handing her one while meeting her eyes squarely.
She didn’t normally think of beer as a good chaser for scotch. Then again, she didn’t normally drink scotch at all. She met his stare, even though it was hard not to lower her eyes. Old habits were the hardest of all to break. Taking the glass, she smiled slightly. “So, you ran away again. Like always.”
“I ran away?” he sputtered, choking on a swallow of the beer. “You’re the one who fled the country and hasn’t been heard from since.”
“How do you even know? I could have kept in touch with Duncan.”
“He would have—” Methos cut himself off abruptly, finally looking away. “Well.”
Would have what? she wondered. Told him? Was Duncan that close to this viper that he would tell him details of his life, right down to whether or not an ancient enemy of Methos’ had been in contact with him? Something about her comment had bothered Methos, though. She could read it plainly in the renewed tenseness of his neck and jaw muscles. She dared to hope that being uncertain of her whereabouts had given Methos at least a small measure of uncertainty in his life. The fact that she’d allowed him to live didn’t mean that she was above a few thoughts of petty revenge. If she couldn’t have his head, she could at least make his life uncomfortable.
“Even if Duncan would have told you,” she said harshly, “you weren’t around, were you? Duncan was devastated and in trouble and you did what you always do. You left the people who were depending on you to fend for themselves.”
“It wasn’t quite like that.” Methos still didn’t meet her gaze.
“Joe told me. He said no one even knows where you’ve been this last year and more. You left without a word and when you came back, you refused to say where you’d been. Typical.”
He finally turned back to her, a flash of familiar anger in his eyes. “Sometimes silence is a kindness.” Leaning back in his chair again, he watched her carefully.
She studied his face, looking for the smug expression she expected to find there, the hint of taunting. Some sign that he was playing with her and that he was amused. Maybe even some sign that he wanted to hurt her. But all she could see was that haunted sadness she thought she had glimpsed in his expression a little earlier.
“I don’t want your kindness,” she said firmly, vaguely uneasy at the flash of almost-sympathy she felt. She didn’t want to feel empathy or compassion for this man. “It was your idea to talk over a drink. I want to know where you’ve been.”
“You know what they say about being careful what you wish for….”
Her patience snapped. A dull headache was starting right behind her eyes, clearly a result of the unaccustomed amount of alcohol combining with the stress of the situation. “Look, either tell me or go away. I can’t think what else we might have to discuss. We only have Duncan in common.”
“Okay,” Methos said amiably, and he leaned forward on his elbows, his gaze suddenly distant. “Mac was seeing demons. He killed Richie. Joe and I were convinced he was insane….”
“I don’t know what to do,” Joe kept saying, over and over again, and Methos found himself echoing the thought.
Duncan had walked off into the darkness, mumbling brokenly in what sounded like an American Indian dialect. Richie Ryan was lying dead at their feet, his sword halfway across the room and Duncan’s katana resting in a pool of the young man’s blood.
Methos held Joe for a few moments, letting him cry on his shoulder, and then he turned him gently away from Richie, guiding him with an arm around him to a bench. He eased the Watcher down onto it and patted his shoulder lightly. “Stay here,” he said sternly.
Joe only nodded numbly, turning his face away from the sight of Richie’s still body and the blood that covered the floor.
Methos headed in the direction Duncan had taken, jogging around the debris that covered the floor of the old racetrack. He searched for at least half an hour, but he never felt the slightest hint of another Immortal’s presence, and he finally had to conclude that MacLeod was long gone. The thought of a crazed Duncan MacLeod roaming the streets of Paris without even a sword to defend himself against other Immortals worried him to the core, but what could he do? Afraid to leave Joe alone any longer, he headed back the way he had come.
Joe had apparently regained some of his composure. He was still sitting huddled on the bench, his heavy coat drawn up around his hunched shoulders, but his expression was calm. “I called for some help,” he said quietly, waving a hand vaguely towards Richie’s body. “You’d better go before they get here.”
Methos nodded in understanding. The Watchers knew who he was now and they wouldn’t be happy to find him here with Joe Dawson. He went to take Duncan’s katana but he hesitated once he had it in his hand. “Maybe you should keep this,” he said, turning back to Joe and holding it out, hilt first. “Until Mac needs it again.”
Joe stared down at it for a long moment before he finally took it in his hand. “I’ll keep it safe,” he promised.
Methos nodded once again before he melted backwards into the shadows. He could hear the other Watchers approaching and made certain they never saw him.
It was a slim hope but really the only idea that Methos had left. He’d tried looking for Duncan at the barge, but there was no evidence that he’d been there since the moment he had received the call from Richie earlier that evening. Methos had walked the streets of Paris for awhile, trying to remember every place that was important to Duncan, every place that they had ever visited or talked about. Every place that they had met and talked. Tessa’s grave. Alexa’s grave. The bookstore where Methos had made his home for so long. The park where Methos had tried to fight Stephen Keane in order to save MacLeod’s life. Maurice’s restaurant and bar, where they had watched Joe play and where Byron had made the fatal mistake of crossing Duncan MacLeod’s path. In the end, there was only Darius’ church left to search.
Methos hesitated to go there, afraid that his own memories of Darius would overwhelm him. As a rule, he tried to avoid the old church. After five thousand years of practice, he was very good at avoidance. But he’d gone there before, to help Duncan, and he supposed he could brave the echo of Darius’ memory for Duncan again. There was no doubt in his mind that, if Darius had still been alive, Duncan would have run to the old priest. In a way, it pained him to know that Duncan would have accepted the help from Darius that he wouldn’t take from Methos and Joe, even after they had begged him, earlier that very night, to let them help him.
Of course, Duncan had known that both Methos and Joe thought he was going crazy. Only Richie had believed in him—and Richie had paid for that loyalty with his life.
Methos cared deeply for Duncan. The Highlander was important to him for many different reasons, some that he would rather not even acknowledge to himself. But he wasn’t quite willing to die for Duncan.
He’d come close to losing his head for Duncan’s sake several times already in the last few years. He’d lost his hiding place among the Watchers and been forced to face a past he didn’t even want to think about, all because of his involvement with Duncan. Hadn’t he sacrificed enough?
Of course, the whole time he pondered these thoughts and argued with himself, he was walking towards Darius’ church, and now he found himself there, standing outside and positive that the Immortal presence he could already feel close by was Duncan.
The interior of the chapel carried the scent of its age, a strange mixture of ancient stone and burning candles mingling in the frigid air. Methos breathed deeply for a moment, calming himself with an effort. Every time he came here, he still expected to find Darius waiting. They’d been enemies, once upon a time…and later, good friends. He shook his head even while he wrapped his arms tightly around himself to guard against a chill that was as much emotional as physical.
Duncan wasn’t where he had expected to find him. He was sitting in the very back of the church, in the shadows, hardly more than the feel of his Immortal presence guiding Methos to his side.
“Go away,” Duncan said, his voice low and dangerous. In the flickering light of candles, Methos could see the glistening of tears on his face.
Methos sat down next to him, glad for the small warmth that bled off the other man. Even in the chapel, away from the winter wind, it was cold, the stone walls and floors providing little insulation against the outside temperature. “Why should I?”
“I could make you leave.”
Methos tried not to laugh. He knew that Duncan was in no fit state to understand the absurdity of what he’d just said. He shrugged. “I suppose you could try…but we are on holy ground. And you’re unarmed.” He could feel the shudder that went through Duncan at his words.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“And I’d really rather you didn’t, as well,” Methos agreed placidly.
“Richie—” Duncan’s voice broke and he swallowed the rest of his words, but Methos understood what he meant to say.
“Richie is dead, Mac,” Methos said harshly. “All the tears in the world won’t bring him back. He reached over to shake Duncan’s arm. “Look at me. You’re going to have to face what you’ve done.”
“I know what I’ve done.” Duncan’s words were clipped. “I’ve killed my own student. Just like Warren Cochrane. At the time, you told me ‘it happens.’ Remember?”
Methos nodded, understanding much more than he wished he did. “Yeah.” He remembered Silas with a bitter ache in his heart.
“I just never thought it would happen to me. Not like this. Not a stupid mistake because I couldn’t tell reality from fiction. Just like Warren. And I judged him undeserving of forgiveness for what he had done.” Duncan sank his face into his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent tears.
“Ahriman.” The word was muffled against Duncan’s palms.
“Okay. Ahriman. Whatever he – it – is, it has affected your mind, Duncan. You can’t deny that any longer.”
“There are methods, though. Techniques of meditation to focus the mind…”
Duncan lifted his head slowly, glancing sideways to finally meet Methos’ eyes. “You still think I’m going crazy. You still don’t believe me.”
“No one saw it but you, Duncan.”
“And Richie! Don’t you understand? He saw what was happening!”
“If that’s true, then why did he walk into the path of your sword?”
Duncan winced at Methos’ brutal honesty. “Because he trusted me. He trusted me and he wanted to help me. He never thought…he saw something that he thought was real and he believed what I had been saying might be true. But he didn’t understand what was really happening or he would have known to never trust me.” He shrugged. “For all I know, you’re not real. You’re not sitting there. You’re just another apparition conjured up by this demon to torment me.”
“I can do my own tormenting,” Methos said sharply. “Maybe if we left Paris…maybe you could clear your thoughts easier.”
“If I’m going insane, it won’t matter where we are.”
“And if Ahriman is truly a demon, it won’t matter where we go, either, will it? It will just follow me.”
“Perhaps.” Methos glanced around the church. “But it doesn’t seem to have followed you in here, does it?”
“Assuming you are really Methos and not that thing.”
Methos let a small smile curve the corners of his lips. “Yes, assuming that.”
“What are you asking me to do, Methos? Nothing will bring Richie back.”
“No, nothing will. So we must focus on fixing what we can.”
“Ever the pragmatist.”
Duncan’s words contained a bitter sting to them, and Methos knew that he resented the fact that Methos was already pushing Richie’s death aside. But, it was true. He was ultimately pragmatic about the situation. Richie was dead and, as Duncan had said, there was nothing they could do to bring him back. Now he needed to focus on keeping Duncan alive and, hopefully, sane.
“I think you’ll be safe here,” Methos said, standing up. He wrapped his arms around himself against the chill. “I think you should stay on holy ground. Is there a priest who will give you sanctuary for a few days?”
Duncan nodded slowly. “Darius had many friends. I know some of them.” He looked up at Methos. “What will you be doing?”
“I’m going to help Joe see to…things.”
Duncan winced. “And then?”
“And then I’m going to come back and we’re going to leave Paris. I know a place where I think you’ll be safe. A place where maybe you can rest and heal.”
“I don’t think there is anything that will heal this wound.” Duncan shook his head.
Methos stared down at him a long moment. “Stay here until I return. Promise me, MacLeod.”
“I promise,” Duncan shrugged, looking utterly defeated and lost.
Methos turned to go, but not without a hint of trepidation. What if Duncan really was insane? He could be taking his life in his hands by removing Duncan from holy ground, even for the duration of the trip to the monastery he had in mind. Then again, Duncan no longer had possession of his sword…and Methos hadn’t lived for five thousand years by being careless, even among those people he allowed himself to care about. He hunched up his shoulders as he stepped out into the frigid night.
“I was with Mac almost the entire time he was ‘missing.’ I took him to holy ground, where we’d both be safe until he could come to terms with what he’d done,” Methos finished his strange story with a tight smile.
Cassandra was stunned. “Why didn’t you tell Joe the truth? Where you were? Why let him worry and wonder?” was all she could think to ask.
Methos shrugged. “I wasn’t thinking about sparing Joe’s feelings. I was thinking about keeping MacLeod alive.”
He nodded slightly. “Well, that goes without saying.”
“So, why not tell Joe the truth now?”
“Why? What purpose would there be in telling him now? Silence can be a kindness, remember?”
She mulled over his words and realized he was right. If Duncan and Methos told Joe that they had deceived him and never considered his feelings during their absence, and that they had done it deliberately, it would only hurt him worse. Another thought struck her. “Why didn’t you come back to Paris with Duncan? He had to face Ahriman alone….”
“He wasn’t alone. Joe was here for him. And Ahriman had already tried to use me against him.”
“You were afraid,” she said, not hiding her scorn. “You’re still afraid.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Afraid that I wasn’t strong enough to resist. But I stayed away because Mac asked me to, because he didn’t want to be distracted by worrying about me. He’d already killed one Immortal friend by mistake. He didn’t want to tempt fate with another.”
“Friend,” Cassandra spoke the word involuntarily. The concept of friendship and all that it entailed didn't quite fit her image of Methos.
“I’ve been Mac’s friend for years,” he said firmly.
“In some identity or another,” Cassandra countered with contempt. “Maybe someday you’ll have the courage to be yourself in front of Duncan.”
Methos nodded, then resumed his narrative, heedless to her sarcasm. “Perhaps. I’ve been his friend in ways you can’t even imagine.” He took another long drink of his beer, finishing off the last of the pitcher. He didn’t even blink when Joe wordlessly showed up at his side and handed him a full one. Taking it in one hand, he poured a fresh glass for himself and then topped hers off. “Your turn.”
“Your turn. I told you my story and now it’s time for yours. Where have you been? I don't expect you'll believe me, but there was a time when I thought Mac would never recover, and I tried to find you. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access the Watcher databases without taking the risk of alerting them to my location. I didn’t want them to know where I had taken MacLeod. I didn’t know who we could trust anymore. Mac needed help and you were nowhere to be found…or do you only show up when you need his help?”
A slow smile curved Cassandra’s lips as she realized Methos really didn’t know where she had been or what she had been doing. Somehow, she’d thought he would know. Perhaps, in her heart of hearts, he would always be a god to her, always omnipotent. But, of course, she’d known for millennia the truth of the matter. Still, now that she knew about his connections with the Watchers and his friendship with Joe, it seemed to her that he would always keep track of her through them, if nothing else…if only to be certain what an old enemy was up to. It was annoying to realize that he didn’t even consider her worth the bother. “I was taking care of some unfinished business…,” she said slyly, watching him from the corner of one eye, “…for Kronos.”
Cassandra was no longer certain why she felt such a need to seek out the place she had first seen Kronos in the modern day. She supposed it was because she was simply at loose ends since she had left Duncan MacLeod and Bordeaux behind several days earlier. She’d known Duncan was going to meet his “friend,” Methos, on holy ground, and her heart was full of bitterness. Duncan still trusted Methos enough to remain his friend, even after the debacle with the Horsemen. Oh, yes, Methos had “helped” them, in the end. But she knew it was only because it was expedient for him. She hadn’t figured out his angle yet, but she knew there had to be one.
None of which explained why she had felt the need to spare Methos’ life as he knelt helpless in front of her.
She sighed heavily, staring up at the darkened windows of Kronos’ London residence. It had been a shock the first time she’d seen Kronos here, outside his dwelling, pausing with a hand cupped around his mouth as he lit up a cigarette, tossed the match aside, and strolled off into the London crowds. She’d shivered at the feeling of Immortal presence and followed him. There was no way he hadn’t known she was there. If she could “feel” him then he could just as surely “feel” her. She had no way of knowing if he had seen her or, if he had, if he had recognized her. Three thousand years was a long time…but there was no way in hell she would ever forget the faces of the four Horsemen who had ended her entire world.
Shivering as a cold wind blew, she remembered the long chase that had ensued and that had eventually spanned more than one continent. She’d realized early on that Kronos was toying with her. Again, whether that was because he recognized her or because he just enjoyed toying with any Immortal he encountered, was anyone’s guess.
In the end, it had all culminated with the coming together of the Horsemen and the death of three of them, including Kronos.
And now, she stood here as people pushed past her, and simply stared at the plain brick dwelling.
As she watched and the gloom of evening came on, a light suddenly snapped on in one window. Cassandra caught her breath at the sight; for a moment she imagined Kronos, or perhaps his ghost, was haunting the place. Haunting her.
But, of course, that was superstitious nonsense. She possessed many psychic, some might say supernatural, powers, but she didn’t believe that Kronos was going to haunt her. Not in that fashion, anyway.
She turned to leave, but curiosity made her turn back. Who could be inside Kronos’ home now? A housekeeper perhaps? A thief? She’d thought, when she’d conducted her initial surveillance of the place, that Kronos had lived alone. She’d never seen anyone else coming or going from the building, even though it was large enough to contain several apartments. She’d just assumed that Kronos either owned the entire building or he had rented every available flat.
She knew it was silly. It wasn’t really any of her business and why should she care? But she moved to enter the building, quickly and efficiently jimmying the lock on the front door and stepping into the dim entryway. There were stairs directly in front of her and although the building was mostly quiet, she fancied she could hear the faint echoes of movement overhead.
Creeping up the stairs, she drew her sword from inside her long coat. There was no hint of a presence to indicate another Immortal, but she was cautious, just the same. If it was simply a burglar, perhaps her sudden appearance with a drawn sword would startle him into fleeing.
Her keen hearing sent her unerringly down a corridor and to the door of a room where it was now obvious the sounds were coming from. The orange glow of a light spilled out from underneath the door. The doorknob turned easily under her hand. It wasn’t even unlocked. She eased it open and stepped into the room, her sword held defensively in front of herself…
…To find a small, barefoot blond boy blinking at her in surprise. He didn’t appear to be frightened of her or of the sword. He was dressed in a blue woolen sweater and jeans; he didn’t appear to be lost or hiding. His clothes were clean and he looked well fed. He simply seemed to be…alone.
Cassandra lowered her sword slowly. She could sense something now and it worried her. “Hello,” she said, cautiously. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” the boy challenged. “You don’t belong here.” He couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old, she guessed, but his words were full of an arrogant confidence.
“I am Cassandra.” She glanced around the apartment, surprised to find it tastefully decorated. There were a few hints that a child lived there, a toy scattered on the couch or on the floor.
“Did my Da send you?”
Cassandra brought her gaze back to the child, studying him more closely. His light blond hair was shaggy, hanging almost into his deep blue eyes. There was a spark of obvious intelligence there. He was a beautiful child and he would someday be a handsome man. For someone so young, he held himself with confidence, at ease with his body.
“Your Da…” A horrible thought was taking hold in her mind. Surely, Kronos hadn’t…but it was beginning to seem that he had. This child was definitely a pre-Immortal. The presence she could feel this close to him, was growing stronger by the moment. “Yes,” she said firmly, not sure why the lie came so easily to her lips. “Your Da sent me. But he was in a terrible hurry; he couldn’t tell me much other than where to find you. What is your name?”
The boy looked suspicious, but she could see a glint of fear spark in his eyes. He’d obviously been left alone by Kronos for weeks now and although he seemed to be fending for himself okay, he had to be frightened at the lack of contact from the man he called “Da.” He was probably running short on food by now, too.
“I won’t hurt you,” she assured him, slipping her sword back into her coat and taking a step further into the room. She held out a hand and, with a shiver, used her special Voice to get some answers. “Tell me your name.”
The boy shuddered in response, but he couldn’t help but answer her. “Sean,” he said. He watched her intently as she came closer.
“I won’t hurt you, Sean. I’ve come to take care of you.”
“My Da takes care of me.” Sean lifted his chin defiantly.
“And where is he?” Cassandra pointed out sharply.
“He’s…gone. But he’ll be back. He always comes back for me, no matter what.”
Cassandra shook her head sadly, kneeling next to the boy now and reaching up a hand to stroke his hair. “No, Sean. I’m sorry. He won’t be back.”
“He always comes back.” Sean’s jaw was set stubbornly.
“Not this time,” Cassandra told him gently. “I have some bad news, Sean.”
Sean’s eyes began to glimmer with unshed tears as he stared at her; he seemed to know the truth already. “He told me he might not come home someday,” he admitted, his voice now barely a whisper. He hung his head, the defiance bleeding out of him. He was, after all, only a small child.
“It’s okay to be sad,” Cassandra said, swallowing past the lump in her throat. She felt no sympathy for Kronos, but this child was too young to be anything other than innocent. She wondered how long Kronos had cared for him…and whether or not Kronos had already planted ideas in the child’s psyche that could send him down the wrong path. At least he seemed to have been well cared for, although she had to question the wisdom of leaving him all alone here while Kronos jaunted off to try to enslave the world.
She already knew what she had to do. There was no way she was leaving this child here. Whatever strange ideas Kronos had put in the child’s head, he was probably still young enough for her to turn them around. She knew she had to try.
“You’re coming home with me now, Sean,” she said, standing up. “Let’s pack up your things.”
Methos’ expression was unreadable. “So, you took the child home with you and…?”
“Don’t you see the irony in it, Methos?” Cassandra laughed softly, somewhat resentful, in spite of herself. “After three thousand years, I finally had my revenge on Kronos…and yet he still rules my life. He’s dead and gone, and here I am, raising ‘his’ child.”
“The boy must hate Kronos.”
“On the contrary. Kronos rescued him from an abusive foster family. He loved Kronos very much.”
Methos’ whole body revealed his shock. “Loved Kronos? The two words don’t even go together.”
“Why not? You loved him, didn’t you?”
Methos shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “No,” he snapped. “It was more complicated than that. You know how he treated me sometimes. Do you think I could love someone like that?”
“I did, once,” she said softly. “You reminded me of it.”
“And you reminded me that it was never truly love.” Methos shook his head in wonderment. “You can’t really mean to raise this pre-Immortal boy to adulthood? What will you tell him?”
Cassandra shrugged. “I suppose someday I’ll tell him the truth.”
“Even about Kronos?”
Cassandra stopped to consider the question. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought about the problem before—and often. But she’d never really reached a satisfactory conclusion. Would it be more harmful to Sean for him to know the truth about the man he’d loved as a savior and a father? Or would it be better for him to continue in blissful ignorance. “I don’t know,” she finally admitted.
Methos didn’t quite meet her eyes. “If you don’t tell him, someday he might find out anyway. That might be worse.”
“Speaking from experience?”
Methos nodded, still looking away and then down at the table. “Yes. Why'd you even do it? Why take on the responsibility of raising him?"
"What was I supposed to do? Leave him to fend for himself?" Cassandra was indignant at the very thought. "I suppose that's what you would have done."
Methos shook his head. "No. But I would have found someone else to take care of him."
Cassandra stopped and thought about what Methos meant for a moment. She leaned across the table just as Methos looked up to meet her gaze. "I needed to remind myself that every death has consequences. That even someone as evil and vile as Kronos could leave someone who loved him behind, could be grieved for… I think that I had forgotten why I hate the Game so much."
"Is that why you didn't kill me the last time we met?" Methos asked quietly.
“It couldn’t possibly be because you recognized that I have changed and that I care about MacLeod.”
“Maybe a little of that, too.”
“Three thousand years is a long time, even for such as us. You don’t really know me.”
Cassandra had to agree. “And you don’t know me. That makes us even, doesn’t it?”
His laughter joined with hers briefly. “Touché.”
Of course, Duncan chose that moment to finally arrive.
He stood over the two of them, his expression cycling through a very endearing mixture of alarm, confusion, and surprise. He had one hand inside of his long black coat; Cassandra knew he was clutching the hilt of his katana. She only wondered who he intended to threaten if he did draw it out.
She exchanged an amused glance with Methos and they both broke into peals of laughter again, giddy and lightheaded from all the beer they drank and the souls they had bared. Over to one side, she could just see Joe Dawson hovering uncertainly.
Duncan cleared his throat awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot. “Uh, what’s going on?”
"Surprise? Happy birthday?" Methos offered, raising one eyebrow before he had to turn away to hide another smile.
“Yes,” Cassandra said, hiccupping a little. “Happy birthday, Duncan.” She lifted a glass of beer at the Highlander and took a healthy swallow.
“We’re here to celebrate, you thickheaded Scotsman,” Methos added, gesturing at a chair. “Are you going to stand there all night or join us?”
“You’re both drunk!” Duncan sounded shocked but he shrugged out of his coat and sank down into the chair Methos had offered him.
“Yes,” Methos nodded sagely, obviously trying to look serious. “You have some catching up to do.”
Cassandra leaned over and patted the back of Duncan’s hand solicitously. “It’s all right. We aren’t going to murder each other on your birthday.”
Duncan still looked confused, but his expression gradually began to brighten. “It’s wonderful to see you,” he said, turning his large hand to take Cassandra’s in his and squeeze it. He slid a quick glance sideways at Methos. “It’s just…unexpected. Here. Now. Did Joe arrange this?”
Cassandra shook her head no and smiled at him, taken in all over again by his earnestness and the warmth radiating from him. He would always be her special Solstice child, no matter how many centuries passed. Her feelings for him were conflicted and strange. She felt like his mother, his big sister, his friend, and a lover, all rolled up into one. And, she supposed, she had been all of those things to him, at one time or another. “Things happen for a reason sometimes, Duncan. You know that. Just accept it and let’s enjoy the evening together.”
Methos was quiet, his eyes glimmering as he, too, watched Duncan’s face. Cassandra wondered what Methos was thinking, but she knew she’d never understand him. If not in three thousand years, probably never. It was true: she didn’t know him. No one did. She doubted that he even understood himself most of the time.
In contrast, Duncan’s emotions were so often an open book to her. She could see the happiness stealing through him at the idea that his two old friends might possibly be reconciled, if only for one night. She’d never thought her quick little jaunt to Paris would end this way in revelations and unexpected reunions. Her “sight” had given her no indications that this would happen. But, sometimes, surprises were better. If she had known, perhaps she would have stayed in London…and she would have missed something very special. Not just a glimpse into the enigma of Methos and the chance to reconcile with Duncan, but the opportunity to see that look of dawning happiness on Duncan’s face.
“Happy birthday, Duncan,” she said again, smiling at him. She lifted her half empty glass of beer once more. “And many more to come.”
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