MacLeod and Grossman waited in Grossman's home for Cassandra to arrive. Grossman had dampened MacLeod's hopes of talking to Cassandra himself, as himself. He was to be Methos from the moment she arrived. The only other "rule" Grossman had given him was that any of the three of them could call a break at any time, at which time MacLeod or Cassandra would go with Grossman into his office, like fighters to their corners.
Cassandra arrived, Grossman ushering her in. She still wore her beautiful hair long, and her calf high boots and leather coat gave her an elegant, timeless effect. The power that entered the room with her was palpable. MacLeod stood to meet it. I'm Methos, remember, I'm Methos, he reminded himself. Well, Methos might have stood, too.
Alluring but aloof, Cassandra gave him one glance of recognition, then looked anywhere in the room except at him. She knew the rules, too. Grossman removed her coat, then led her into the sitting area of the living room. He seemed as on edge as MacLeod felt. MacLeod had the disorienting feeling for a moment that the other immortals were actually seeing Methos when they looked at him.
"Cassandra, Methos," Grossman said quietly. An introduction. Something nervous in MacLeod wanted to giggle at the charade. Should he offer to shake her hand? Uh, no.
Cassandra looked at him, and MacLeod watched the play of her features as she told herself to see her ancient master instead of the Highlander. The look she finally gave him was chilling. "Hello, Donnar," she said with venom.
MacLeod blinked, inexplicably frightened. Had she used the Voice? No, she had just put soul-chilling hatred into her normal voice. And what was Donnar? A name? A curse? He looked to Grossman for some guidance, but the man was impassive.
MacLeod collected his wits and croaked, "Cassandra."
Grossman sat, and MacLeod followed his lead. Cassandra didn't. She turned away, and MacLeod took the opportunity to give Grossman an uneasy look. Grossman gave him a tight smile and a nod for encouragement. MacLeod centered himself and gave some thought to his part. What would Methos do, or say? Something sarcastic? No, no, surely not.
Cassandra turned back. She seemed at something of a loss. She looked at Grossman in appeal.
Grossman cleared his throat. "Cassandra, you have, I believe, some things to say to Methos?" The words sounded contrived, but his ordinary, encouraging tone was a relief to MacLeod. His throat was dry, and he eyed the bottle of brandy Grossman had brought out. Properly, he thought wryly, he should ask for a beer.
Cassandra responded to Grossman, too. She swallowed and took a visible breath. She walked up to MacLeod's chair, her hands fidgeting. "I got over the rape," she began.
MacLeod went cold. He could only stare at her.
"Some people say you never really get over rape. Over the ...dehumanizing... subjugation of it. The destruction of all your illusions about yourself - about the world. But you can. The people who say that probably don't think in terms of centuries of recovery time. And I was determined not to let you and your 'brothers' mar my life."
Oh, this was going to be hard. MacLeod needed to call a halt, right here.
"Cassandra," he began.
"Shut up! I don't want to hear your voice! I don't want to hear your voice ever again!" Cassandra's own voice rang like a church bell.
MacLeod gripped the arms of his chair in shock. He fought an unexpected panic. Wait! I'm not Methos! He closed his eyes, trying to re-center.
He opened them again to see Cassandra still before him, breathing hard. "But tell me," she sneered, "how do I get over the murders? You killed every one of my tribe. My teachers, the people I loved, the people I hated ... My People!"
She spun away and strode to the entrance to the kitchen. MacLeod gulped air.
"Do you remember Pilebes, Donnar? Do you? How that boy worshipped you? How he lived to be your slave? Lived to serve you. Any attention from you, any, and he was in ecstasy." Still standing by the kitchen, she turned back to face the Highlander. "Well, he finally got your attention. Do you remember what you did to him, Donnar?"
What? MacLeod looked at Grossman, who merely shook his head. Cassandra stalked back toward him. Her normal contralto rose in pitch.
"I would have hated you for millennia, except I thought you were dead. A mercy, really, my hate was mostly dead, too. But here you are," she gestured at him, "alive still, and enjoying life."
"How do I make you pay for this?" her voice began to quaver. "I am not to be permitted to take your head, so how do you pay?"
"Apparently, I have to forgive you, since I can't kill you. I have to do something... something has to give... I can't live like this. But I don't know how." Pale, Cassandra closed her eyes and swayed. Grossman was at her elbow in a second.
"Break," he said calmly. "Cassandra, come with me. "Mister..." he shook his head, exasperated with himself, "Methos, would you pour the drinks for us?" Without waiting for an answer, he ushered Cassandra into his study.
MacLeod stood on shaky legs. 'Break'. That's what I was supposed to say. Christ! He stretched and paced around the room in an effort to burn off adrenaline. He returned to the brandy and poured, all thought of beer banished. He'd go for the harder stuff, too. His hands, he was glad to see, were steady. Was Cassandra all right?
She looked much better when they returned. MacLeod risked an out-of-character smile at her as he gestured at the brandy and moved back to his chair. She waited for him to sit. Then she perched carefully on a sofa arm, one shapely booted leg swinging free. Cassandra may have disdained the brandy, but Grossman, MacLeod noticed, did not. She began again, in a controlled tone.
"It has been pointed out to me, recently," she glanced at Grossman, "that all immortals face the loss of their people, eventually. Given enough time, even the Clan MacLeod will cease to exist." She risked a slight, knowing smile, which was probably not meant for Methos. "I just lost my people all at once." She studied the floor, pausing.
MacLeod gave up all concern about whether, or what, he should be saying to play his part correctly. This stage was Cassandra's. Methos wouldn't say anything, either. If the man had a lick of sense, he'd be hiding under a chair. Or on another continent.
"Also, in the time I've lived, the world has seen atrocities to make the massacre of eighty-three people look like comic relief. I begin to see that it may be a bit self-absorbed of me to fixate on my own personal tragedy." Her beautiful eyes filled with tears, anyway. "Eighty-three people. Filuxa, the old man who loved owls, and Dristhas, the little girl who was going blind ..."
MacLeod closed his eyes, not hearing her list of the other people in her tribe. Little Deer's grandfather had been an old man who loved owls. A wonderful, laughing, practical joker of a man. When MacLeod had found his body, his neck had been twisted in a grotesque parody of the birds he admired.
MacLeod returned to the present in time to hear her end her requiem.
" ... you killed them all. And so many others."
Silence fell, a thick blanket on the room. She ran one long-fingered hand through her auburn hair. "Break," she muttered. She left alone for Grossman's study, taking her brandy with her.
Grossman was the first to move. He stood and gave MacLeod an encouraging smile. "It's going very well."
Alone, MacLeod rested his head on the back of the sofa chair, baring his throat to the ceiling. He felt numb, but not numb enough. He swallowed the brandy and poured some more.
"There are some things I want to know from you, Donnar," the surreal play went on. MacLeod struggled to overcome the lethargy with which he was now hearing her. "Some answers I need. But you... you are the master of lies. How can I believe anything you say? There is no oath you could take which I would trust you to keep. Grossman thought you might tell the truth to him for me, but I laughed at him and told him about the web of lies you wove at Actium. Remember that? Lies layered with truths, so thick no one could untangle them all. It was masterful."
"So, I would learn nothing from you if you were dead, and I can learn nothing from you alive. I will never have any answers," she mourned.
"Ask anyway, Cassandra," Grossman coached quietly from the sidelines, "think of it as practice."
"There's no point," she objected.
"We've been over this. Do it anyway," Grossman was firm. Cassandra looked back at MacLeod, and her dark expression raised hair all over him. The lethargy was gone.
"Will you swear to answer one question... one question - in all your long life - one question completely and utterly truthfully, Donnar? Methos?" As vile as she made "Donnar" sound, she made "Methos" sound even worse. MacLeod looked to Grossman, who nodded. MacLeod looked back at Cassandra and nodded.
"Say it," she demanded.
MacLeod cleared his throat. "I will," he promised.
"Did you win that bet?"
Whatever it was, it was important to her. Her pupils were dilated, darkening her eyes, and her nostrils flared. MacLeod returned her look, feeling helpless. How could he answer? He looked again at Grossman. Grossman shook his head and made a negative motion with his hands.
Cassandra whirled away. "It doesn't matter. It means nothing. I could never believe you, whatever you said."
Cassandra picked up a candlestick and twirled it in her hands. "You're still up to your old tricks, too, Donnar, aren't you." Her tone grew quietly menacing. "What you did to that Bond woman ..."
What? MacLeod frowned. Had she just ...?
"Found a 'Bond' servant again, did you, Donnar?" Her voice was mocking. "Duncan would like me to think that you've changed, but we both know better, don't we?"
Now wait just a moment!
"Cassandra," MacLeod warned, "leave Alexa out of this." How did she know anything about Alexa?
"Why?" she demanded. She may have been responding to him as Methos, but the warning was all his own.
"Because it's something you know nothing about."
"How do you know? I am a Seer, you know." She put the candlestick down and gave MacLeod her full attention. "He took a defenseless, dying woman away from her family ..."
Okay, they were definitely out of character, now. MacLeod was firmly in a character he was much more comfortable with. He did a fast review of all of his memories of Methos and Alexa. Was it possible he had put that delicate young woman into the power of a ... No! Thick steel doors of denial slammed down around the thought. Now he knew what Joe meant about his gut. This was not true.
Cassandra faced him fearlessly. "All he had to do was keep her away from a phone, from help ..."
MacLeod stood, and with the action came the promise of more. "Cassandra," he repeated, pure menace in his tone, "leave Alexa out of this." He knew his physical presence could intimidate, but he seldom used that fact outside of combat. He used it now. The threat of violence had entered the house, Grossman's holy ground, and, God help him, he had put it there.
And he meant it.
"Mr. MacLeod, please sit down," Grossman said quietly.
MacLeod was not yet willing to speak rudely to his host, but neither would he back away from this until Cassandra understood that she had gone too far. He gave the other man a withering glare, a look which had affrighted many an adversary. He wasn't sure if it would work on Grossman.
Grossman froze, the tension in the room rising higher yet. Now the stage was all MacLeod's.
He looked back at Cassandra. Her face showed no fear; only thought. She seemed to be regarding MacLeod with interest only.
"Are you so sure, Duncan?" she asked, with no mockery.
MacLeod had the sudden feeling that he was being manipulated. More subtly even than when Methos did it. But why? He couldn't pin it down, so he had to play it out.
"You never Saw anything about Alexa, or else you did and you are lying about what you Saw. Stop it, Cassandra."
For a long moment, Cassandra met his gaze. MacLeod blinked when, for a bare moment, he thought he was looking into a wolf's eyes. It was a test.
Grossman collected himself, literally inserting himself between them. "Cassandra, let's take a break, shall we? Mr. MacLeod, please sit down."
Cassandra nodded slowly, still regarding the Highlander with a thoughtful expression. Then she allowed Grossman to lead her to the office, holding MacLeod's unyielding gaze for much longer than was necessary. MacLeod remained standing until they were gone.
A test of my ... my confidence in him. But could she really value MacLeod's judgement that much? He had already told her he knew Methos had changed. But did I really believe it? He shuddered to think how easily he could have failed that test. But not over Alexa. No.
He looked around, feeling like he had desecrated something. He picked up a stray game cartridge and added it to the hasty pile beside the monitor, a mute apology to the gentle domestic spirit which resided here. But he wasn't sorry. He looked up into the unblinking eyes of the gecko. It had watched from a shelf, unaffected by anything the Highlander had done. MacLeod knew, with an arcane certainty, that the God of Jewish game room/zoos understood, and he had done nothing wrong.
He wondered wearily where the ferret was hiding.
Cassandra and Grossman were gone a long time. When they returned, MacLeod was sitting, waiting. Something in him had hardened. Cassandra may have sensed it. Her own manner was faintly contrite, and her story now took a curiously conciliatory turn. She stared at the wall as she spoke.
"I will tell you something, Donnar...Methos. Something interesting. Because I hope never to have to speak to you again."
"When you came to me in that cage you kept me in... in Bordeaux, you brought me food. It was Chinese take-out. I kicked it over and took some pleasure in refusing your gift. But I thought the oddest thought. I thought, He doesn't know I hate Chinese take-out.' And that made me think how little you knew of me, now. And then I thought, I don't know what he likes, either.' That thought scared me. Because, of course, there was a time when it meant my life to know exactly what you liked. So why should I think that thought? I am never going back to that time." She glanced at MacLeod, sidelong, then looked at the carpet as she continued.
"The truth is, when you came to me, and stayed with me, you were like a cool breeze blowing through hell. Do you know why? Because you were the only one there who wasn't living in the Bronze Age." Her tone grew almost conspiratorial. "Kronos lit that place with fire, for pity's sake! Silas wanted horses to ride, and Caspian wanted slaves! It was like three thousand years had never happened!"
"But you..." She raised her gaze to meet the Highlander's. "You talked to me of Patty Hearst and Stockholm Syndrome. And when I ignored you, you prattled on about... everything. Books, TV shows, movies, music. I know you like Star Wars, but hated Braveheart. I know you like Queen and the artist formerly known as Prince, and that you secretly like opera, but you don't want MacLeod to know. You see Donnar? I was listening. I always learned my lessons well."
"Now you listen to me, and I will tell you something you don't know about me. Maybe Duncan told you I was a witch in Scotland when he was a boy. What I really am is a Seer in the tradition of the Lilithim. We are renowned for the Voice and the Sight, but the Sight isn't what everyone thinks it is. The future is not that easy to see, even for me. What I really do is see men's souls."
She began to walk as she spoke. Fascinated, MacLeod lost all concept of his role. Grossman looked equally ensorcelled.
"I say men, because that's who I'm best at. Like so many of the Gifts, this one requires certain ... conditions. I can see the soul of someone I am intimate with. My Craft taught me not to fear intimacy." Her tone turned briefly bitter. "You can have no idea what you did to me, Donnar, but I beat you in the end. You did not destroy me. I prevailed. I am a Master."
"But I'm not finished." Now Cassandra returned to musing aloud, staring again at the wall. "Intimacy is a relative thing. I saw Duncan's soul when he was thirteen with just a kiss. It doesn't take much when you are thirteen. His soul was a bright beacon of purity and goodness. I know goodness when I see it. And I know evil."
"But here is what I don't understand." She glanced back, briefly, at MacLeod. "This is what brought me to Mel Grossman to try to understand the good and evil in the world."
"When MacLeod came, and Silas was ready to take my head, I heard the click where your blade blocked him. When I looked up, at that instant, we three were joined in a kind of intimacy I can only call the imminence of death. One of us was going to die. I could have seen either of your souls then, if I hadn't been so frightened. Then it was gone. You challenged Silas and I saw what I thought never to see before the Gathering: two of the Horsemen fighting to the death. But it came back - that connection. It was back when you yelled You know nothing about me!'. I saw your soul, Donnar."
She looked at the Highlander.
"And it wasn't evil."
"I don't understand." Her eyes filled with tears again. "I know what you are - what you've done. Horrible, unspeakable things. How can you not be evil? Can a soul change it's basic nature? I know how evil looks. Your soul was... it had many, many layers. And it was full. Every nook and cranny of human potential was filled. The highest heights, the lowest depths. I've never seen anything like it. How old are you, really? How is it possible? It wasn't evil. And it was far more... more than I could know. You were right. I don't know you. And if you were anyone else, I'd be curious to try."
She turned away and addressed the fish tank through her tears.
"But I don't want to know you. You were a killer. You killed my people. Nothing can bring anyone back. Nothing I say, nothing you do. You killed them and they are gone."
Grossman and Cassandra were gone an even longer time. Bored and numb, MacLeod helped himself to the Playstation. His earlier skill had deserted him. He couldn't concentrate.
Grossman returned, alone. "Cassandra has left," he said.
MacLeod nodded. He had felt her absence. He was disappointed to not have the opportunity to talk to her, but he was relieved, too. Still not looking at Grossman, as he stepped through the process of ending the game, he said, "You've got another dead fish."
Grossman regarded him for a moment, then inspected the aquarium. He sighed, scooped out the floating corpse with a net, and left the room.
When he returned, MacLeod asked, "Did she tell you that before, about seeing souls?"
Neither of them said anything. Then MacLeod stood and Grossman brought him his coat.
"Thank you, Mr. MacLeod," he said.
"Duncan. It went very well. Thank you." The atmosphere in the room was still stifling.
"You're welcome." MacLeod accepted his coat, and nodded toward the aquarium. "I'd watch that zebra fish, if I were you."
Grossman managed a look of mock horror over his own weary expression. "Surely you can't suspect Benjamin!"
MacLeod nodded solemnly. "Mark my words. In the end, there will be only one, and it will be Benjamin."
He was rewarded by Grossman's laugh. But he was glad to leave, and he was sure Grossman was grateful to have his home back.
Duncan sat in Connor's home looking out the window. He hadn't turned any lights on. Darkness was all around him, but before him was the glittering city, built by people long dead, and filled with millions on millions of living souls, who rebuilt it every day. People who would die and be replaced. Someday even be forgotten, like all the others. Somewhere in it there might even be an old man who loved owls.
For some reason, his face was wet. It was still wet when the sun came up.
MacLeod met Grossman for a final time the next day at Grossman's favorite Chinese food diner. They were both subdued. Grossman made a feeble joke about not inviting Cassandra to eat there. Short of sleep and broody, MacLeod only managed a weak response. Around them, the glittering city bustled about its business.
"How could he do those things?" MacLeod wondered aloud. He didn't expect an answer.
Grossman merely shook his head. He moved the Moo Goo Gai Pan around on his plate. "Mr. MacLeod..."
"Duncan. You remember what I said about being generous to Hitler?"
"I'm afraid... it wasn't exactly the truth."
I know. MacLeod only nodded.
Grossman went on, looking unhappy. "It's just that... he's my friend."
"I know," MacLeod smiled what he hoped was a reassuring smile, "he's mine too." God help me.
"He's fortunate in his friends."
"Yes, he is."
Neither man meant himself.
Methos's good fortune in that area had its lapses, MacLeod learned during the course of the following year. Methos's defense of the brilliant but dangerous Byron was disappointing, though MacLeod tried to tell himself that it shouldn't surprise him. He also tried to tell himself that he didn't owe Methos an apology.
He had been unable to avoid the older immortal completely, not when neither of them was willing to shun Joe's bar, and not when meddling Amanda felt for some reason that Methos's intervention was needed between MacLeod and Stephen Keane. But they did not exchange Christmas cards, ordinary or otherwise.
So it was winter again when MacLeod felt an immortal at his door and opened it to find The Witch of Donan Woods.
"Hello, Duncan," she looked as beautiful and bewitching as ever. MacLeod ushered her into the barge, expecting she would make herself at home as she had before, at the loft. Instead, she stood, clutching a small travel case, as if uncertain of her reception. MacLeod took the case from her gently. "Cassandra, it's so good to see you," he smiled. The last time they had seen each other, he had been Methos, and she ...
She returned his smile, but there was something desperate behind her eyes. "Duncan, I just didn't know where else to go ..."
"It's all right." Whatever it is. "I'm glad you've come. Sit down, please. Drink?"
Cassandra slid onto the arm of a chair and sat quietly while MacLeod fussed. She spared a curious look for the Playstation as MacLeod saved and ended the game he had been playing. When he returned with glasses of wine, she had removed her coat and was looking stunning in a dark red, form fitting, calf length gown with a slit up one side. Her arms were demurely covered to the wrist, but very little of her shoulders and chest were. MacLeod paused to appreciate the effect. She rose to meet him and took one of the glasses from him.
"Now," MacLeod clinked her glass with his own, "what is it?"
Cassandra turned her head away from him, and the rest of her followed. "Methos," she said.
MacLeod's stomach lurched. "What?" he managed.
She kept her back to him, turning her head to speak over one elegant shoulder. "He wants to meet me, tomorrow. On holy ground. Here in Paris."
He does?! MacLeod was relieved and delighted. He set his glass down and put a hand on her shoulder. She obligingly pivoted under his hand to face him. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She downed the wine all at once.
MacLeod took her empty glass and set it beside his full one in order to buy a little time to temper his reaction. Cassandra clearly was not delighted.
"Cassandra, that's ... good, isn't it?"
"I'm frightened," she whispered.
MacLeod took her in his arms and sat them both down before the fire. He couldn't completely stop the memories of how this magical, seductive creature had appeared to his adolescent eyes. Just holding her was still heady stuff for that inner adolescent. She leaned on his shoulder for a moment, then pulled away to look tearfully at him. "Why do I have to come to him?" she demanded. "I don't obey orders from him. Why does he get to choose the time and place?"
"Cassandra, it will be all right," MacLeod stroked her hair. "You wanted to talk to him, right?"
"No! I don't! I don't want to see him, talk to him, have anything to do with him, ever again!" She buried her face in his chest.
"Then you don't have to," he said firmly.
"Yes, I do," she mumbled. MacLeod decided not to answer that. He continued stroking her hair. She sat up again. "I have to talk to him at least once."
MacLeod nodded, wiping tears from her cheeks with his thumb.
"I know why he's doing this. He doesn't give a damn about me; he just doesn't want me hunting his head."
What?! MacLeod put a little space between them in order to look at her. Methos had used those very same words. Just what were her powers? His expression must have concerned her.
"What?" Cassandra queried. As well she might.
"Cassandra..." MacLeod struggled to put together what he had intuited. "He was your teacher, wasn't he."
"He should have been!" Fury formed on her face. "In any fair, decent world, he would have been! But the world was what they made it. What he made it! And it was only fair and decent to the strong."
"Oh, Cassandra..." MacLeod pulled her to him again, comforting himself. He grieved for ... for all of them. The obligations between teacher and student - it was as close as immortals came to parenting their own kind. Methos had betrayed that bond - and Cassandra wouldn't have even known enough to hate him for it. Not for many years.
"Will you come with me tomorrow, Duncan?" She gripped both his hands. "Please?"
"Of course I will. It will be all right, Cassandra." He kissed her then, wanting so much to comfort her in the way he knew best.
She proved more than willing to be comforted.
Some time later, he thought to mention, "No peeking at my soul."
"Too late," came her sleepy answer.
And even later still, or, early, over coffee and rolls, MacLeod said, "You should call Grossman."
Cassandra had been too apprehensive to finish even one roll. Tension spilled off her in waves. "It's the middle of the night there," she objected.
MacLeod covered her hand with his own." Cassandra, this guy's been a ... a nightmare to you for a long, long time. Don't face him without talking to your therapist first." It felt odd to use the term to an immortal. Immortals generally had no access to real therapy. "Grossman won't mind. Give him a call."
"And you're still friends with him," she accused. MacLeod knew this tone; he'd heard it every day for more than a week while the two of them tried to track the Horsemen. And as much as he hurt for Cassandra, he was just not interested in going there anymore.
"And with you," he said firmly. "The phone's right here. I'll go for a jog. You call Grossman."
Out on the quai, MacLeod dialed Methos's number apprehensively, feeling like the world's biggest heel. This was the second time he had abandoned her under cover of a lie, in order to secretly talk with Methos. And look what had happened the last time. The man had better be home.
He was. "Hello?"
"Adam, it's MacLeod." He turned his back to the barge, as if that would somehow help.
"MacLeod?" Methos's tone was not unwelcoming, just wondering.
MacLeod didn't have time for beating around the barge. "Look, Adam, Cassandra's here, at the barge with me. She says you offered to meet her today and she wants me to come along."
A pause. Then, in a neutral tone, "And are you?"
"It's your party. Am I invited?"
There followed a long silence, and when Methos answered, even the cellular connection couldn't disguise the yearning in his voice. "Duncan," he mourned, "I wish you were on my side."
It hurt like a dagger through the heart. MacLeod practically staggered. I am on your side! That's why I'm calling you! That's what he wanted to say. What he heard himself bite out, was, "And I wish you'd never ridden with the Horsemen."
His pulse pounded in his ears.
"Do what you want MacLeod, I don't give a damn."
The connection, of course, went dead.
MacLeod stared for long moments at the modern instrument of torture in his hand, fighting the impulse to dash the thing to the concrete. Then he did it anyway. It shattered into splinters with a satisfying sound, and he stared at the wreckage until it all blurred together.
Methos stood at the top of the stone stairs which led up to the raised ground which was the garden. Behind him, eternal and impassive, loomed Notre Dame. MacLeod had to be the one to check the traffic as the two of them approached; Cassandra's gaze was riveted on the figure waiting for her. The blowing snow and a gray waving woolen coat gave Methos's form the look of an apparition. MacLeod's own feelings flip-flopped to see him there. Was this the man who had saved him from a Dark Quickening, or was this the bogeyman of generations of childhood fears?
Cassandra stopped dead, in the middle of the street, and MacLeod had to physically coax her to the safety of the sidewalk. It was then that he looked again.
Methos wasn't wearing a coat. He wore a long gray cloak, knotted at the throat and flapping around his form. What the hell was he doing?! MacLeod stared. Then he looked at Cassandra. She looked shocked, too, but she squared her shoulders and mounted the stairs. The apparition faded back and to the side, so Cassandra didn't have to come too near him as she reached the top. MacLeod followed, but she turned to give him a warning look. He stopped, looking up.
Two ancient pairs of eyes regarded him with identical cool hostility. MacLeod had never been more aware of the immense chasm of time which separated him from his friends. Neither of them invited him to cross it. For a moment he stood, awestruck by the thought of what these two had seen, had shared - even when they weren't sharing it.
Then he shook it off. "I'll wait down here," he suggested, as if it had been his idea.
Wordless, the witch and the myth withdrew, neither looking at the other.
Godspeed, my friends.
The problem was, he was cold. Methos couldn't pick a day when the shops were open? He considered getting back in the car. Scanning the curb parking, MacLeod spotted a familiar figure. Dawson! The Watcher was in plain view, leaning against Methos's Volvo. He gave the immortal a small wave. MacLeod joined him.
"You don't bother to hide any more?" he kept his tone friendly. Joe grinned.
"It so happens I am not Watching you right now. I didn't know you'd be here." Joe looked well prepared for the weather, wrapped in many layers; rosy and comfortable.
"What are you doing here?" MacLeod blew on his hands.
"Adam asked me to come along as his second. You want some gloves?" he produced a spare pair from some fold of wool. MacLeod ignored the gloves for a moment.
"Yeah," Joe gave the immortal a quizzical look. "It was a joke, MacLeod."
MacLeod frowned and considered refusing the gloves. Then he decided that would be foolish pride. "Thanks. Your joke or his? Did he say that?"
"Do you know what a second does?"
"Well, I guess they keep the weapons and, uh, what? Count off the paces?"
"They also are a guard against treachery, an alibi in court, and they handle discreet burials, should it be necessary."
Joe coughed. "Oh. Okay." MacLeod was gratified to see him look appalled. The Highlander's smile faded as he looked toward the two figures in the garden. They were still visible, Methos leaning on a statue, Cassandra standing before him. Thank God for holy ground. Cassandra made an agitated motion with her arms. Methos seemed to shrink.
"What's with the cloak?"
"I'm not sure. Some idea of Grossman's, I think. A symbol or something. We bought it on the way here."
"I don't see why he wants to meet her in the garden. Half the island is holy ground. The cathedral would at least cut the wind. It's freezing!" MacLeod complained.
"Well, it is Paris's memorial to Holocaust victims."
Oh. True. MacLeod looked beyond the garden, toward the entrance to Le Monument de la Deportation, with its blood red inscription, Forgive. Do not forget. "Also," Joe gave MacLeod a conspiratorial look, "they can't talk very long in this cold."
MacLeod narrowed his eyes at the other man. "Joe, did you talk him into this?"
"Me? Are you kidding?"
MacLeod just looked at him. Maybe Grossman's waiting trick would work on Joe, too.
It did. "He just got really drunk at my place one night, after..." he paused, "after Byron. We talked a little, you know, about her. I said if I had to meet with my ex for some reason, I'd make damn sure it was on my terms."
"You have an ex, Joe?"
"It was an example, Mac."
They both looked back at the two dim figures. Cassandra as Methos's ex was a disturbing comparison. MacLeod returned his gaze to Dawson.
"He's fortunate in his friends," he quoted to the other man. He felt strangely envious.
It wasn't too long before the distant figures came closer, approaching the stairs. Cassandra was in the lead. MacLeod met her at the bottom of the stairs. He grasped her free hand with both of his own and tried to read her face. Methos waited at the top. Still on holy ground.
"Cassandra..." MacLeod began.
She gave his hand a squeeze in acknowledgment, but she kept her gaze on Methos. Then she backed up a few paces, taking MacLeod with her, giving Methos space to come down, as he had given her space to come up. MacLeod slid his hand up to grip the inside of her elbow. She was holding something in her other hand.
Methos descended slowly, watching them. He wasn't wearing the cloak. He paused at the last moment before departing holy ground. Cassandra looked away. MacLeod said nothing. He still gripped Cassandra's arm, unclear about whom he was reassuring. Then Methos left the bottom step and headed toward Joe, who had remained by the car.
"Adam!" MacLeod called.
Methos stopped and turned, remaining in the street as if he felt it was the safer ground. "What?"
"Where are you going?"
Methos scowled. He looked cold. Where was the cloak? "What's it to you? If I wanted any company, MacLeod," his gaze flicked toward Joe and the car, "it wouldn't be yours." Then he crossed the street and joined Dawson.
The barb should have hurt, but MacLeod was getting better at reading the oldest immortal. That had been for Cassandra's benefit. And he had told him where he was going.
"You can let go of me now, Duncan," Cassandra said softly, as the other two men drove away. MacLeod dropped her arm and turned to her. The gray material she held could only be the cloak.
"Cassandra!" he searched her face, "How are you? How was it?" Such clumsy questions. He had to hope she knew what he meant.
She did. Her face crumpled into tears. MacLeod wrapped her in his arms and pulled her to him, turning them both slightly so that his large frame shielded her from the wind. It would have worked better had she been a smaller woman, like Grace. Or even Ann. As it was, the wind still whipped her long hair, making her look like the eldritch creature she was.
"He said he was sorry, and when I said just sorry?' he said English didn't have a better word. He can't even apologize without being an asshole!" she sobbed. The tears were reaction, not real fury. She conquered them after a moment and raised her tired emerald eyes to him. He kissed her forehead.
"What are you doing with this?" he indicated the cloak.
"He gets rid of it, and I get to burn it."
The light in her eyes was a fire that made MacLeod glad not to be the cloak. And I bet he feels the same way.
He brushed hair away from her face. "Were you able to say any of the things you said to me?" he asked.
"No," she swallowed, "not many. It was too cold."
Bastard. But the thought held nothing like its former venom.
"Did you learn anything from him?"
"Yes." She wiped her face, still in the circle of MacLeod's arms.
"Can you believe him?"
"I'll have to, if I'm to have any peace," she answered bitterly. Then her demeanor changed. She gazed into MacLeod's face, and caressed his cheek with a gloved hand. "Yes, Duncan, I believe him," she said, smiling through the remaining tears.
MacLeod's heart was too full for him to know what to say. He hugged her fiercely. "Thank you," was what came out. It wasn't spoken exclusively to her.
She draped the cloak over one graceful arm and grasped his face with both gloved hands. She kissed him long and soft. A shiver went down MacLeod's spine which had nothing to do with the weather. "Cassandra, Cassandra," he murmured into her ear, rocking them both in time to the music of her name, "let's go somewhere warmer."
"No," she pulled away a bit, placing her hands on MacLeod's chest. His own hands slid to the small of her back. She was still smiling. "This is my good-bye, Duncan. But I must tell you something very important."
"Could you tell me somewhere warmer?"
"No, listen. You remember the prophecy? That a Highland child born on the winter solstice, who has passed through darkness and light will defeat a great evil?"
"Yes." This again?
"Duncan, I thought it was Roland. But Kronos was in my dreams, too. It's just that he would be, after all ..."
MacLeod tried to follow her. "Are you saying it was Kronos's evil instead?"
"Yes. No. Both. Each one worse than the one before. Duncan," she took his face in her hands again, "these things come in threes."
Now she had his attention. "Do you see a third evil that I must fight?" he breathed. Not Methos. Please, not Methos.
She shook her head. "Whenever I try, all I see is red. But it's out there, my champion. Worse than Kronos. Be careful." Her eyes took on a slightly glazed look. "Trust not the dead - Touch not the child."
She seemed to come out of the trance, or whatever it was. "I don't know what it means; I'm sorry." She smiled sadly. "I have to go now."
"Back to New York. I live there, you know." No, he didn't know. He should have realized.
"Cassandra, please..." please what? "Please be happy."
"I wish it were that simple. I'll try. Don't worry about me, Duncan. I'll be all right. And you," she looked serious, "go to your friend." She said the words with a trace of disgust, but he heard little of the hate which had been there before. "He was lying when he said he didn't want you."
As she backed away to leave, MacLeod slid his grasp down to her free hand. He kissed her gloved fingers with all the fervor of adoration. "I know," he said, and let her go.
Joe's was closed, the day being Sunday, but MacLeod looked for them there, anyway. The door was unlocked, but he felt no immortal in the place. Inside, out of the wet wind, he found Joe alone, draped over his guitar. The Watcher stopped playing and smiled at the Highlander as if he were truly glad to see him. Joe gave him that smile often, it seemed.
"Joe." Pensive, MacLeod moved toward the stage. "I thought he'd be with you."
"He was. He went for a walk. Help yourself to a drink." Joe began bridging through the opening chords to a number of songs. It sounded like a warm up. The room was cold enough, Joe might have literally wanted a warm up. MacLeod appropriated a bottle of Glenmorangie from behind the bar and sat where he could be Joe's audience.
He grew impatient. For once he couldn't lose himself in the smoky emotion of Joe's singing. He had things to say to the world's oldest man. How far would he walk in this weather? Outside the large windows which gave Joe's in Paris such a different atmosphere than Joe's in Seacouver, the snow and rain mixture combined with the automobile grime to create an ugly, sloppy slush. The stuff continued to blow and stick, making the City of Lights wet and wretched. Inside, on a table near the windows, MacLeod spotted a mug of beer. It was only half empty.
"Joe, is he coming back?"
Joe stopped playing and looked at him. He paused, then replied, "I think so. His car's here."
"Did he say anything?" MacLeod was hungry for news, and knew he had no right to it.
Joe sighed, placed the guitar on its stand, and began the slow process of unwinding himself from the stage tendrils and restoring himself to mobility. "No," he answered. "He's been scared to death about today, and I don't think he's over it."
It was with immense relief that MacLeod registered the presence of a nearby immortal. He was on his feet without thought, facing the door. It was then that he considered Methos might not choose to come in. He started for the door just as it opened.
Methos drew back at the sight of the approaching Highlander. He caught himself and allowed the door to close just behind him. MacLeod stopped.
"Well, look who's here," Methos almost sneered, and brushed past the other immortal. Angered, MacLeod grabbed his arm. Methos halted, his hazel eyes defiant. He didn't pull away, but MacLeod released him, ashamed of his reaction. Whatever he had wanted to say was gone now. Wait. No, it wasn't.
"I am on your side, dammit!"
"Sure you are." Methos picked up the half empty mug and took it to the beer tap. "That's why you had her at the barge and you had to second her. Since you're here, she must have dumped you; otherwise you'd still be in bed."
"Adam!" Joe breathed. Neither immortal looked at him.
MacLeod narrowed his eyes, considering. "Scared to death," Joe had said. MacLeod had seldom known Methos to be this nasty. If this was Methos scared to death to face Cassandra, MacLeod certainly didn't want to meet Methos scared to death of, say...
MacLeod stopped breathing.
I killed a thousand. I killed ten thousand!
MacLeod sank into a chair. He stared at the stage for a long moment, oblivious to anything the
other two men were saying.
When MacLeod finally looked up at the older immortal, he saw only a bitterly hurt, frightened friend. "I am on your side," he repeated, his voice as warm and earnest as he could make it. "That's why I called you. That's why I'm here."
"So, do I get to be a good guy again?" Methos's voice was acidic.
"Yes. Welcome back." MacLeod was serious, ignoring the tone, hearing only the words. And more.
"Who says I give a damn what you think of me?"
"You just did." MacLeod smiled.
Methos blinked. MacLeod could see him reviewing what he had said. Then Methos looked away.
What was it about this ancient, ancient legend that made MacLeod feel so damned protective of him? The immortal formerly known as Death didn't need anyone's protection. Actually, the immortal formerly known as Death looked exhausted.
If you stop feeding them, they might starve.
When Methos looked back, his angry mask was gone. He collapsed into a chair opposite MacLeod, cradled the beer in his lap, and studied it intently. Robbed of his armor, Methos's reaction might not be unlike Cassandra's. MacLeod was content to not see the other man's face for a bit. He finished another glass of the scotch.
"Did you tell Cassandra the truth?"
Methos frowned. "She had me swear on the honor of Duncan MacLeod. What was that about?" He didn't look up.
"I told her to say that. She wouldn't trust your honor. Am I forsworn?"
"No, of course not."
"Good." MacLeod considered how hurt he'd feel if someone wouldn't accept his word of honor. He had no idea how Methos felt about it.
"Don't you feel better now?" he asked, aware of how condescending he sounded. But a feeling rather like joy was beginning to fill his chest.
Now Methos looked up. "Oh, give it a rest, MacLeod!"
MacLeod grinned. It felt so good to be sparring with Methos again. He was abruptly flooded with the same gratitude he had felt when Cassandra said she believed Methos.
Outside, the cathedral bells tolled, calling the faithful. MacLeod stood. "Come on, let's go," he announced.
"To church. We're going to go say thank you." MacLeod knew Methos could present a wide array of objections, but he didn't care. He also knew when he was right, and he had never met anyone who could swerve him from his course when he was right.
Methos looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "You want to go to mass?" he asked.
Notre Dame, so it would be mass, wouldn't it. "Yep. Come on." MacLeod took Methos's beer hostage, and headed for the bar with it.
"What?" Which objection would he pick first? MacLeod watched as Methos sorted for his first salvo. Methos took on the expression and tone of an aggrieved socialite complaining that she couldn't go to the party because she had nothing to wear.
"I haven't been to confession!"
MacLeod walked back to the table, leaned on it, and looked the man in the eye. "Oh, I think you have."
Someone snorted, and it wasn't either of them. MacLeod remembered Joe. He saw Joe and Methos exchange What's gotten into him?' looks. Well, let them. MacLeod grasped Methos under one shoulder.
"I don't want to go to mass! They make you eat those tasteless biscuit things ..." MacLeod hauled him out of the chair, still protesting, "... and only the priest gets to drink anything!"
"Yeah, well, mass is what's open right now." MacLeod put on his coat. Methos didn't have one; he'd given that cloak to Cassandra. The man must be unarmed. Had Cassandra made him suicidal?! "Joe, you coming?" MacLeod had a vague feeling that Dawson was Catholic.
Dawson gave him a tolerant wave from behind the bar. "You say thank you for me, Mac."
Methos moved around MacLeod to rescue his beer. "You go to church. I am not going along to be your damn rosary."
Ouch. MacLeod chose his next words with extreme care.
"Then come along and keep me company?"
Methos regarded him with an unreadable expression. But his next protest was token, not final. "MacLeod, you can say thank you right here."
"I know. But I say it in church."
Methos thought a little longer, then drained his beer like a man preparing to leave. MacLeod breathed more easily and grinned again.
MacLeod enjoyed the walk to Notre Dame. He had a clear memory of his mother hauling his cousin Robert and him to church, holding one ear apiece, for some transgression or other. Methos played his part, objecting.
"MacLeod, have you no concern for my sensibilities? I'm a Jew!"
MacLeod looked at him.
"For chrissake," he added.
MacLeod snickered. "I'm tired of worrying about your sensibilities. God's okay with it. He told me so."
"Oh, He did, did He?"
Methos shook his head. "You're scaring me, Mac."
MacLeod stopped in front of the cathedral and turned to face him. The crowds flowed by them on one side. "Adam, why is this holy ground?"
Methos looked at him like he was very stupid and needed to have things explained slowly. "Because there's a honking big cathedral on it, MacLeod."
MacLeod smiled, but pressed on, "Who decided to put a cathedral here? Men or God? Who makes ground holy, men or God?"
Methos squinted against the icy wind. His ears and nose were bright red. "If it's a theological debate you want, you're out of your league. Did I mention I was Saint Jerome?"
MacLeod snorted. "Oh, right." He decided to drop it. Methos was shivering badly. He led them inside.
The beautiful soaring arches of Notre Dame de Paris gave MacLeod a sharp pain, remembering how Tessa had loved the cathedral. Then his heart lifted as music echoed off the stonework of medieval masons whose architects had had skills beyond their time. Older even than MacLeod, it was probably a modern curiosity to the man at his shoulder.
The highest heights, the lowest depths
"Were you really Saint Jerome?" he whispered.
"Look him up," Methos whispered back, "you won't be so impressed."
The mass started. Although there was room forward for worshippers, the two immortals stayed standing in the throughway with the tourists and other onlookers.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, MacLeod prayed with all his warrior heart and Scottish soul. What the elusive myth beside him prayed, only he and God knew.
The elusive myth beside him sneezed.
"God bless you," the crowd around them murmured, in French and some English.
Methos began weeping so hard MacLeod had to take him home.