Highlander: Time and Again - 04 - Disclosure by Emby Quinn
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HIGHLANDER
Disclosure

Fanfiction by Emby Quinn


Disclaimer: I do not own Highlander or any of the characters therein, nor do I own any characters based on actual historical personages. All original characters are my own creation.--eq

New Orleans, Louisiana
November, Present Day


Afternoon sunlight streamed down through the skylight into the third-floor loft. The painting easel had been folded up and moved against the wall along with the rest of the furniture. The wood-paneled walls threw back the echoes of steel ringing against steel.

There weren't many Immortals that Methos would spar against with live steel. On the other hand, wooden swords didn't have the heft and balance necessary to give a proper feel for improving one's technique.

"Whups!" He jumped back a step as his opponent's blade suddenly reversed direction mid-swing and nearly sliced his second-favorite sweater across the front.

"Sorry," the blonde woman grinned.

"No, you're not." Methos chuckled and delivered a thrust that made her dart quickly to one side. "Learned some moves over the past couple of centuries, have you?" he asked idly as they circled one another.

"What did you expect me to do? Take up knitting?" She knocked his sword aside with the flat of her blade and swung it around, going for a diagonal cut. Methos ducked underneath it and drove his shoulder into hers, knocking her off-balance. Breathless, she landed hard on her back on the dropcloth spread over the floor.

Methos swung his broadsword above his head and brought it down in a swift killing-stroke. In spite of herself, Lucinda gasped, her heart jumping in her chest. At the last moment, the sword stopped dead, perhaps an inch away from her neck. Methos turned the blade slightly and tapped the flat against the joining of neck and shoulder. "Tag," he said lightly, "you're it."

Lucinda went limp with relief. "Silly me," she panted. "I keep forgetting you fight dirty."

"You can't expect everyone else to play by the rules just because you do." Methos knelt down beside her, laying his sword on the floor. "You win by whatever means you must. You survive. Live, grow--"

"--stronger, fight another day," Lucinda finished in chorus with him. "Yes, Professor." She sat up and raked her damp, stringy hair back from her face. "Ugh, I reek. I need a shower."

"I'll flip you for it," Methos offered, standing up as she did. "Winner gets first crack."

"I've got a better idea," she said, slipping her arms around Methos's neck. "You can scrub my back...and I'll scrub your front."

Methos let his hands rest lightly on the swell of her hips just below the waist. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "When did you turn into such a minx?"

"You're a bad influence on me."

"Is that right?" Moving swiftly, he bent and caught her up, slinging her carelessly over his shoulder. She shrieked with laughter and kicked playfully as he carried her towards the stairs.

***

Juno, Alaska
November, Present Day


"Sandra?" The knock at the trailer door was insistent. "Sandra, you in there?"

"Just a minute, Lorrie." Cassandra leaned closer to the frame-lit mirror, inspecting her makeup for any flaws and finding none. Hers was a face that was ageless, timeless in its beauty. The image of Sandra Grant had adorned scores of fashion magazine covers over the past twelve years; her mesmerizing green eyes looked down from billboards on Fifth Avenue sand Rodeo Drive alike; her lush lips sold millions of tubes of Shiseido lipstick, and Calvin Klein jeans fitted her lithe body in an effortless, artfully casual way that turned six-page black and white advertising spreads into impromptu posters across the country.

She was still in high demand as a runway model, of course; although her current identity was nearing forty, it was of little consequence. There were a number of high-profile models in their thirties and forties now--Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, just to name a few. Even Isabella Rosselini had modeled successfully well into her sixties. Of course, "Sandra Grant" had a distinct advantage over the competition; rather than merely appearing ageless, Cassandra actually was--in the most literal sense.

Another five years, perhaps, ten at the most, she mused, as she ran a brush through her shining auburn hair. By that time the assertions that plastic surgery or retin-A or Botox treatments were holding back any sign of aging would cease to be enough to justify her fresh, youthful appearance. Then it would be time to move on, to adopt another identity, to find another profession to master, another realm to conquer. It was the twenty-first century, after all; the possibilities for a woman of intelligence and skill were endless. She'd been many things in her three thousand years of life--healer, victim, slave, survivor, priestess, witch, visionary...She had no qualms about using her charms and her beauty to her own advantage, but those weren't the only weapons at her command.

"Sandra!" the voice of her agent called from outside. "I'm freezing to the steps out here! I really need to talk to you!"

Cassandra suppressed a chuckle and went to the door to open it. "Come on in, Lorrie. What's so urgent?"

Lorena Trejada slipped past her favorite client into the warmth of the trailer. Even though she was nearly fifty, she still carried herself with the grace and energy that had taken her through three and a half decades of work in the fashion industry.

"Want some tea?" Cassandra asked, motioning to the comfortable sofa along the opposite wall.

"Thanks." Lorrie settled on the sofa, still shivering a bit as Cassandra busied herself in the tidy kitchenette. "I just got a call from the main office. Louis Vitton is setting up a big campaign for his spring collection, and he wants to know if you're available for a shoot next week."

"Next week? That's pretty short notice."

Lorrie nodded. "Yeah, especially for someone with your star-power--but they're willing to pay twice your base rate for it. It's going to be huge, Sandra--nationwide coverage, plenty of air time, twelve-page color spreads in all the major magazines, plus an E! video special that's supposed to air during the February sweeps."

Cassandra paused as she took the kettle off the burner and looked at the woman who had been both her agent and her closest friend for eight and a half years. "That's a pretty solid deal. Who do I have to screw to make it happen?"

Lorrie laughed and shook her head. "It's one hundred percent legit, babe. From what I understand--and you didn't hear this from me--they built this entire campaign with your pretty face in mind. That Gap deal you did over the summer just hit the stands, and it's blowing people completely out of the water. Your best work to date, kiddo, I'm not joking."

Bringing the tea tray over, Cassandra shrugged a bit before setting it down and sitting beside Lorrie. "That's the photographer, the designers, and the marketing agency's doing, not mine."

"Too modest, Sandy. You've always been too modest for your own good. Not only are you one of the best professionals in the business, there is absolutely no effen way to take a bad picture of you. The camera loves you. It's a rare gift." Lorrie picked up her cup and fiddled with the tag on the silver tea ball sitting in the steaming water. "Now, do I get to call the boys in New York back and tell them you're going to do it, or are you going to break my heart so soon before Christmas?"

Cassandra pretended to consider for a moment, then smiled graciously. "Merry Christmas, Lorrie."

"You're an angel."

Her smile grew wistful. "There are some who call me that." She took her own cup and stared into the pale amber liquid as though she were scrying. "So where is this photoshoot supposed to take place?"

"Party capital of the world, sweetie. The Crescent City. The Big Easy?" Lorrie snorted at Cassandra's look of incomprehension. "New Orleans, Louisiana. You know, that place where they have Mardi Gras? Not the right time of year, of course, but from what I remember from my wayward youth, there's always a celebration going on somewhere in that town."

***

New Orleans, Louisiana
November, Present Day


The Chinese tallow trees in the Garden District had changed color over the weekend; the heart-shaped leaves that had been green a few days before were now a riot of autumn golds and fiery reds. It was as though the local foliage had put on finery in order to be photographed at their best.

The morning was chilly, but nowhere near as cold as Alaska had been. Cassandra was sitting in a canvas chair on the edge of a perfectly-manicured lawn, waiting for the photographer to set up for the first shoot in front of a resplendent Greek Revival mansion, when she felt the sudden warning--the lurch in her stomach, the buzz in her brain, that announced the proximity of another Immortal. She looked around, her green eyes scanning the gathered onlookers, trying to determine which one it was.

"Coffee, miss?" a velvety contralto asked behind her. Cassandra looked around and up. A young woman, or one who looked young, was holding a tray of steaming Styrofoam cups. At first Cassandra wondered if this was a clever ploy by a local hopeful to get on the set; the newcomer was easily as lovely as any of the models present for work--including herself, she acknowledged. But the cool, confident way she carried herself declared as clearly as words that this beauty had everything she wanted and wasn't looking for any largesse.

"Thank you," she said, taking one of the cups. "You are...?"

"My name is Marie." Without so much as a glance around, she pitched her smooth voice so that only Cassandra could hear. "You're new in town, yes?"

"Yes. I'm--Sandra Grant."

"Of course you are." Marie smiled. "There are several of us in New Orleans, you know--but you needn't worry. We do not play the Game here. No one will come for your head so long as you stay within the boundaries of the French Quarter."

"That's comforting to know," Cassandra replied, a bit wryly.

"We have lived in relative peace here for some time," Marie continued, and Cassandra could sense an unquestionable undercurrent of power in the woman's tone. She didn't have the Voice, or at least she wasn't using it at the moment...but however young or old she was, she was as much a priestess and a witch as Cassandra herself. "There is no one of us resident in this place who will draw steel on a visitor--unless they are challenged first, of course."

"I have better things to do with my time," Cassandra said, taking a sip of the coffee. Two creams, artificial sweetener--just how she always took it.

"Sandra, you're up!" She looked around; Mike, the lighting director, was heading towards her across the grass.

"Just a minute." Cassandra looked back at Marie, the words "Excuse me" on her lips--and found herself staring at empty air. The exotic dark-skinned woman was gone.

"Who are you talking to?" Mike asked as he got close enough. He obviously hadn't seen anyone.

"Just thinking out loud." Cassandra set the cup aside and stood. "Let's go."

***

"Do you think she'll be any trouble?" Lucinda asked Marie, who had stopped off by Clair de Lune on her way back to her beauty shop on Chartres Street.

"Difficult to tell. She's a brittle one, this Sandra Grant."

"Maybe I should talk to her."

"No." The finality in Marie's voice was unmistakable, and a bit jarring. Her black eyes narrowed a bit as she looked piercingly into Lucinda's startled face. "You need to stay away from this woman. She's trouble for you."

"Trouble? How--" Lucinda paused as the alarm of presence--a strong one--hit her and Marie at the same time. She relaxed when she heard the rattle of the wrought-iron spiral stairs.

"Hope I'm not interrupting anything too important," Methos said as he set foot on the tiled floor.

"Not at all, Adam, darling," Lucinda smiled. "We were just--"

"--having a bit of 'girl talk'," Marie finished.

"I see," Methos said, and the glint in his hazel eyes confirmed that he understood perfectly that Marie was keeping something from him. "Well, I'm off to the bookstore, then. I want to see if Rimbaud's got that annotated copy of Prometheus in--"

"You might want to wait until this afternoon," Marie suggested. "It's best if you stay indoors until after lunch. I'll see you for your regular appointment tomorrow, Lucy?"

"Of course."

Marie cast Methos one last, significant warning look before leaving.

After the sense of her presence was gone, Methos looked at Lucinda with a raised eyebrow. "Is she always this friendly?"

"Sometimes I think she takes being the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans too seriously," she answered, smiling fondly. "She likes to cultivate an air of mystery, complete with dire predictions."

"So I shouldn't pay her any mind?"

"I didn't say that." Lucinda looked thoughtful and a bit concerned. "When she tells someone not to do something, it's usually in their own best interests."

"Mm. Well, I haven't spent the last five thousand years letting anyone tell me what's best for me."

"No, you usually keep that privilege for yourself, love."

"Very funny." Methos snagged his long coat from the tree in Lucinda's office. "Don't worry, I won't be gone long."

"Methos--"

"Shush." He kissed her soundly and nipped out the door.

"But there's--" His presence faded, and Lucinda heaved a sigh. She hadn't had a chance to tell him her suspicions--that Marie's warning might have something to do with the visiting Immortal calling herself Sandra Grant.

***

No sooner had Methos descended the marble steps to the street than he took notice of a crowd gathered over on the next block east, in front of Jackson Square. He wandered that way down Chartres, mildly curious to see what could attract the attention of so many jaded New Orleans this early on a Wednesday morning.

He had just crossed St. Peter when he felt another Immortal in close proximity. He froze, taking in his surroundings at once--the crowd to his right, the gallery behind him, and to his left, the spires of the St. Louis Cathedral. Holy ground.

A lone figure standing on the corner of Chartres and St. Anne, half a block away, drew his attention, and he almost sagged with relief. Marie was frowning, looking astonishingly pretty even as she scowled at him, shaking her head.

Methos lifted his chin, eyes narrowing. I don't care who you think you are, Miss LaVeau, or how many people leave chalk crosses on your empty tomb to curry favor with you--I'm not one of your worshippers, and I will not let you rule me. He took a few defiant steps forward--

Then another presence-sense hit him. A stronger, deeper one, and much older than Marie or even Lucinda. It washed over him like ice water, drawing his attention to the crowd to his right, then past it.

A woman was making her way towards the crowd, with the evident intention of going through it, straight towards him. A proudly tall and beautiful woman with auburn hair and green eyes.

Cassandra!

Methos turned on his heel--back to the gallery? No! That would place Lucinda in danger. Without so much as a glance in either direction, he tore across Chartres, straight into traffic, ignoring the screech of brakes and howled epithets in his wake as he tore up the steps of the cathedral. The entire time he was cursing himself in his head in every dead language he could recall. Idiot! What imp of the perverse led me to defy a perfectly sensible--if vague--warning? Marie LaVeau doesn't give a tuppenny damn about me, but she's Lucinda's friend, and of course she'd want me safe for her sake--

Once inside, Methos cast around for a side door, a back door, anything that would allow him to make a quick escape without Cassandra seeing him. The high domed ceiling was lit with a series of opulent chandeliers, casting their soft glow down into the warm ivory and white-gold tones of the interior. Frantically, he scanned the upper levels--there! A door on the second-floor walkway led to the back room where the choir would gather before services. He was halfway down the long processional walkway when the door slammed shut behind him, and the warning buzz told him that it was too late to escape.

"METHOS!" Cassandra's voice echoed like the trump of doom overhead. "Turn and face me!"

He froze on the communal steps. "This is holy ground, Cassandra," he said to the monstrance behind the altar. "We can't fight here."

"Then we'll take it outside."

"Thank you, I'd rather not." He turned to face her, his hands outspread and empty. "It's over, Cassandra. Nothing we do or say now will change the past. Let it be."

"Are you asking forgiveness?" Cassandra spat. Her sword was in her hands, and she had it leveled at him. Her lovely face was a mask of unmixed rage.

"I don't expect your forgiveness. I don't think I deserve it anymore than you do." Methos fought to keep his voice as calm and level as possible. "What I'm asking for is that you go and lead the fullest life that you can, and leave me to mine."

Cassandra's face shifted slightly. Slowly she lowered her sword, and Methos found he could breathe again. The next moment, she had a gun in her hand, pointed at his heart. "Not good enough." She gestured with the gun towards a side door which had escaped his notice during his earlier scope of the premises, hidden as it was behind the confessional booth. "I'm going to give you a choice, Methos--which is more than you ever gave me. We go outside, right now, and settle this once and for all; or I shoot you, drag you out into the street, and take your head while you're down."

"What, in front of all your fans?" Methos bantered, playing for time as he struggled to formulate an exit strategy in his mind. "That's going to put a crimp in your modeling career, isn't it, 'Sandra'?"

"Do you think I give a damn about anything except what you did to me?" Cassandra's voice rose sharply, reverberating like thunder from the arched ceiling. "You slaughtered my people, burned my village, made me your slave, raped me, tortured me, taunted me--broke me to your will until I would do anything you asked of me to make the hurting stop--and then, when your 'brother' Kronos came for me, you didn't even try to protect me! You let him carry me off and rape me just as you had done!"

"I couldn't protect you," Methos replied through gritted teeth. "Not from Kronos. I couldn't even protect myself from him."

"That's why you had Duncan MacLeod kill him for you!" Cassandra snapped. "And then he--Duncan--protected you. From me. Just as you knew he would. You were always a manipulative bastard, Methos, but there's no one here to protect you now. No one to do your dirty work for you, no one to defend you, no one who's willing to listen to your lies. It ends here." She advanced on him until she was just within arm's reach, the gun aimed at the center of his chest. "Outside. Now. Or I swear I'll shoot you where you stand."

Keeping his hands where she could see them, not even trying to reach for his own sword, Methos sidestepped towards the door, reaching slowly behind him to find the latch, his eyes never leaving hers. He backed down the steps carefully, seeking level footing with deliberate care. Cassandra stayed close, barely out of reach, the gun never wavering as she followed him outside.

As she reached the steps, she spared a single glance down--which was what Methos had been waiting for. Quick as thought he darted forward, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her towards him sharply. She screamed and pulled the trigger, but the gun discharged harmlessly into the gravel path. Methos slammed his fist across Cassandra's jaw, and she went limp.

He wrenched the gun from her grasp and pocketed it, leaving her where she fell on the steps. He ran off for the gallery as fast as his feet would carry him.

***

"Back so soon?" Lucinda's mild interest turned to alarm when Methos ran headlong past her towards the stairs. "What the hell--?!"

"Lock the door!" he shouted at her as he clattered up the spiral stairs. Lucinda froze for a moment, then did as he asked before following him upstairs.

To her shock, she found him stuffing the clothes he'd brought with him from France into his suitcase. She watched him for a minute before speaking. "I suppose asking you what you're doing is a moot point. So let's move on to the next and less obvious question, shall we?"

"I need to go away for a while," Methos said shortly, barely even glancing in her direction. "It's for the best."

Lucinda stared. "So. That's it, then? 'It's been lovely catching up with you, darling, but I must be off, see you in another couple of hundred years'?"

"It's complicated, and I've got no time to explain it."

"You never have time for explanations--unless it suits you." She threw up her hands in disgust. "Fine! Just go, then. The world won't stop spinning on its axis just because you walk out on me. I suppose I should be used to it by now."

Methos looked up in time to see her vanish from the doorway. Fuming, he left the bedroom, catching up with her in the narrow hallway. He caught her arm and spun her around to face him. "There's someone here who wants to kill me," he snarled. "She doesn't give a damn about your truce, or your rules, or about anything except taking my head."

"This 'Sandra Grant' woman that Marie met this morning?" Lucinda didn't need his answer in words--she saw the confirmation on his face. "Are you telling me she's better than you with a sword?"

"I'm telling you that I have no intention of facing her."

"Fine, I'll take care of it, then."

"NO!" He grabbed her other arm. "I don't want you going anywhere near her."

"I haven't forgotten how to fight, Methos!"

The elder Immortal struggled to regain his composure. "Just trust me, Lucinda. Please. Cassandra--Sandra Grant--has her reasons for wanting me dead. It's just that I don't particularly want to die."

"That makes two of us." She put a hand on his chest and was alarmed to feel how hard his heart was pounding. He's terrified. He's not showing it, but he's scared half out of his mind. Of who? For whom? Himself? Me? "What can I do?"

"Help me finish packing and then get me the hell out of Dodge. Come with me, if you like. I hear Tahiti is lovely this time of year."

The sense of danger hit them both at once--the presence of another Immortal within range. The next instant there was a hammering on the door downstairs. "I know you're in there, Methos!" a woman's voice screamed. "Come out and face me, you coward!"

Methos saw Lucinda's face harden, and his heart plummeted into his stomach. "No. No--Lucinda--" But she tore herself from his grasp and rattled down the iron stairs. By the time she reached the floor, her long Viking sword was ready in her hand. Methos reached the second-floor railing in time to see her sprint across the gallery. His hands fisted on the rail, white-knuckled, half of him wanting to run, get away, to escape while there was time--the other half wanting to dash after the woman he loved, pull her away from the door, protect her from what he knew was coming. Torn by his conflicting drives, each as strong as the other, there he stood, watching events unfold as they would.

Lucinda yanked open the door, confronting a wild-eyed Cassandra. "Where is he?" the latter demanded.

"You've got ten minutes to get out of this city," Lucinda said in a voice gone cold and hard as frozen stone. "You are no longer welcome here."

Cassandra brought her sword up; it struck sparks against Lucinda's as Cassandra backed her into the gallery proper. "Who the hell are you?"

"My name is Lucinda, for the record. Considering this is my gallery, in my city, I think the more appropriate question is--who the hell do you think you are?"

"I know he's here." Cassandra was relentless, implacable, her eyes searching every shadow for her quarry. "Why are you hiding from me, Methos?" she shouted, her voice ringing like steel. "I can feel you watching. There's no escape for you this time. There's no one to plead for your life, no one to save you. I will make you pay for what you have done!"

This time Lucinda struck her sword against Cassandra's, to get her attention. "He wants nothing to do with you, woman," she said in a voice well-suited for laying down edicts of law. "Let him be."

"This is none of your concern!" Cassandra spat.

"It is if you're going after Methos."

"So you've found someone else to believe your lies, have you, you bastard?" Cassandra laughed bitterly at the ceiling. "Did you tell her I was your enemy? That I've come to take your head? Did you bother to tell her why? Does she know who you are, what you are? What you truly are?"

She was forced to duck when the heavy Viking blade sliced through the air where her neck had been an instant before. She parried three quick blows in succession, driven back towards one wall.

Lucinda stepped back, dropping into a defensive stance, her eyes blazing. "You really shouldn't ignore me," she said in a voice that sounded rather pleasant and calm. "If you want Methos, you're going to have to face me first. And I won't make it easy for you."

Cassandra looked searchingly at Lucinda. "What is he to you? Your mentor? Your friend? ...Your lover. Of course." She nodded knowingly. "Sex is always such an effective means of control, isn't it?"

Lucinda bared her teeth, her eyes gone cold with stony anger. "No one controls me."

"Do you really believe that?" Another bitter laugh from Cassandra. "Do you have any idea what he is? What he's done? Three thousand years ago he and his 'brothers' put my entire village to the sword! They took everything, killed everyone, and left nothing but ashes and bones in their wake!"

"The Horsemen," Lucinda muttered.

Cassandra stared. "You know?"

"Of course."

"Did you know that he took me for a slave? That he beat me, raped me, killed me, over and over, until he broke me to his will? That when he tired of me, he let Kronos take me from him, not caring what became of me?"

High above them, Methos closed his eyes, suddenly wearier than he'd ever felt in his life. No, he'd never mentioned Cassandra, or what he'd done to her. He knew too well how Lucinda would react to that knowledge.

"It's...it's not true," Lucinda whispered, eyes widening with horror.

"Of course it's true! For three thousand years I've lived for nothing but revenge against the Horsemen--but particularly against Methos, the one they called Death." Cassandra leveled her sword at Lucinda. "The other three are dead now, but Methos is mine."

With a visible effort of will, Lucinda lowered her sword and stepped back. "I'm giving you one last chance," she said calmly. "Leave here. Now. And you'll leave alive."

"I'm not leaving! Not until I settle my affairs with Methos, one way or the other."

"So be it."

The clash of the blades galvanized Methos, and he found himself able to move again. Instead of retreating towards the back stairs, he headed for the top of the spiral down into the gallery; but what could he do? The battle was joined now, and he couldn't interfere. He'd left it too late. He couldn't save either of them, any more than he could save himself. No matter who won the fight, he--Methos--would lose.

At first, it seemed that Cassandra had an edge. She pressed her attack fiercely, wearing her opponent down--or attempting to; as minutes passed, it became clear that the tall blonde woman simply wasn't tiring. Cassandra, on the other hand, was quickly losing her momentum. She was good with a sword, she'd made herself become so, and she had the knowledge and experience of three millenia of life to draw on; but all the technique in the world wouldn't keep her from becoming weary, and Lucinda was an expert at the heavy, deep-fullered blade she wielded. She was perfectly content to put up a full-out defense until she sensed that Cassandra was no longer capable of mounting an effective attack.

"You can end this anytime," the blonde said, and to Cassandra's frustration she didn't even sound out of breath. "Just put down your sword and walk away. You have my word you won't be harmed."

"How can I--possibly--trust your word?" panted Cassandra.

Lucinda caught Cassandra's elegant longsword in the short curved crossguard of her own blade, nearly tearing it from her hands. "Because the alternative is to die."

Cassandra disengaged and jumped clear. Lucinda straightened, her sword at the ready, and waited for the next move.

"You're getting tired, Lucinda," Cassandra intoned. "You're more weary than you can ever remember being, as though you haven't slept in days. Your sword's so heavy you can barely lift it."

Lucinda blinked and staggered slightly. She shook her head, trying to banish the sudden wash of fatigue that threatened to engulf her.

"No!" Methos shouted down to her. "Lucinda, she's using the Voice, you've got to fight it!"

"Your hands are numb. You can no longer hold your sword. It's going to fall--it's slipping from your grasp--"

The Viking sword clattered to the floor.

"You want to lie down, Lucinda. You want to sleep." Lucinda fell to her hands and knees, trembling violently. Cassandra stepped forward, raising her sword above her head. "You just want to sleep...sleep forever..."

Before he even knew what he was doing, Methos had leapt over the railing and landed hard on the floor below. "Cassandra, stop!" he howled. "Leave her alone!"

Cassandra looked at him, her eyes ablaze with triumph. "Why? Because she means so much to you?" she screamed.

"YES!" He held his empty hands out to her beseechingly. "Hate me if you want, fight me if you want, but leave Lucinda out of it. This has nothing to do with her."

"But she has everything to do with you, doesn't she?" Cassandra tightened her grip on her sword. "You took away everything I loved--my home, my people, my world, even myself. Why should I show you mercy when you never showed any to me? Why shouldn't I take away the one you love--cause you the same pain you caused me?"

"Because you're not me, Cassandra. And I don't think you want to become what I was." He saw the hesitation in her eyes and quickly pressed on. "Do you remember the first day I brought you into camp? Did you see Kronos cut the cloak in half so that Caspian and Silas would stop fighting over it? If I had challenged him when he came for you, he would have done the same to you. He would have destroyed you rather than let you become a point of contention between us." Methos swallowed hard. "When you escaped from Kronos that night, I saw you leave the camp. I could have stopped you, but I didn't. I let you go. When Kronos revived, I told him I'd killed you. I don't know whether he believed me or not, but he never chose to try and hunt you down."

Unnoticed by either of them, Lucinda opened her eyes. Still on her hands and knees on the tiled floor, she struggled to move. Her hand trembled towards her weapon, which lay at Cassandra's feet.

Slowly, painfully, Cassandra lowered her sword. She was staring at Methos as though she'd never really seen him before. "Am I supposed to forgive you?"

"No. There is nothing I can say or do to make things right between us, Cassandra. I can tell you I'm not the same man I was then--just as you're not the same woman you were--but it wouldn't make any difference. You're not a murderer, Cassandra. I was, yes, but you--you never were. You're not my slave anymore, and you're no one's victim. You're free. You have your life, won fair and square. Go and live it. Leave me mine; leave Lucinda hers."

Cassandra opened her mouth to reply, but she was interrupted by the strike of a blade that knocked hers from her hands. Lucinda rose to her feet, her sword-point at Cassandra's throat. She was trembling with effort, but her arm was rock-steady and sure. "Thon, bicce," she hissed, "thu gefare."

"No, Lucinda!" Methos shouted. "Don't!"

"What?" Lucinda spat, her eyes never leaving Cassandra's. "Are you telling me you want this woman to live? She came in here to kill you--she was going to kill me--!"

"Yes." Methos looked directly at Cassandra. "Yes, and I want her to live." Then, softly: "I owe her that much."

Lucinda struggled visibly with herself for a moment; then she stepped back, lowering the sword. She gestured at Cassandra's blade. "Take it and go," she said coldly. "And don't come back. Ever."

Cassandra moved cautiously forward and retrieved her sword. "He'll betray you someday, too," she said viciously. "Whenever it suits his purposes, or when he tires of you, or when he finds a more interesting diversion..."

"Gestille!" Lucinda cut her off. "Just--shut up and get the hell out of here, before I think twice."

With a last, venomous look at Methos, Cassandra turned on her spiked heel and stormed out the door.

Lucinda's shoulders slumped. Her back was still to Methos; she hadn't looked once at him since the fight had begun. He couldn't see her face, and he couldn't read her body language accurately. She looked lost, defeated; he didn't know whether or not she would turn on him in her frustration. She had every right to. He had omitted any mention of Cassandra in what little he'd told her about his days with the Horsemen, and he'd just stopped her from killing someone who'd had every intention of killing them both. Could she live with knowing what he'd done?

Could he live with her knowing?

"Lucinda..."

She turned to look at him. She looked hurt, and frustrated, and hopelessly lost. "Methos."

I'm already packed. I could leave here now, and she wouldn't try to stop me. She wouldn't insist on going with me, either. I'd be free, and our paths would likely never cross again.

But--dammit--I don't
want to leave her--He took one step forward and held out his arms, his entire being gathered into one mute question. Lucinda dropped her sword and ran into his arms.

"You ought to hate me," he murmured against her hair.

"I know." She swallowed hard. "She'll be back, you know. She can't let this be."

"You're probably right."

"She has every reason to hate you."

"Yes. So do you, now that you know what I'm capable of."

"Were capable of," Lucinda corrected. "You're talking about a man who existed three thousand years ago." She looked up at him. "You're not that man anymore. Whatever you did before you met me doesn't make the least bit of difference."

"How can you be so bloody calm about it?" Methos couldn't comprehend her reaction; he'd expected tears, words of comfort, screams of rage, willful denial...any or all of them, by turns...anything but this simple acceptance of what he'd been. "Do you even understand what I did to her?"

Lucinda's jaw stiffened and she stepped out of his arms. "Let's see...you slaughtered her people, burned her village, tortured her, made her your sex slave, let your fellow Horsemen have their way with her...did I leave anything out?"

"No...no, that about covers it."

"What you did to her was horrible beyond imagination," Lucinda said starkly. "I understand her rage as only another woman could."

Methos looked at her in pure disbelief. "But you can forgive me?"

"I don't have to forgive you; you didn't do it to me, did you?" She shook her head, smiling a little; for such a clever man, he could be so thick sometimes. "The Methos I've known most of my life wouldn't raise a hand against a woman who wasn't trying to take his head or kill someone he cared about. We've all done things we regret. It's part of the curse of being Immortal. I've killed hundreds on the field of battle, and in 1788 I killed hundreds of innocent people in one night. How can I condemn you for the things you did centuries before I was even born?"

Methos took her face in his hands, studying her intently. "When did you get to be so wise?"

"I had a very good teacher," she answered, looking up at him earnestly. "Maybe you heard of him? A guy calling himself Metthias?"

"I think I might have heard of him somewhere, yes."

She put her hands lightly on his chest. "Do you still love her?"

"Cassandra? No." Methos shook his head. "I never loved her. I took her because I was bored. She was a diversion, an amusement, nothing more. I suppose I did grow fond of her, after a fashion--but I wasn't capable of love. Not then. I wasn't capable of feeling much of anything, really. That was how I wanted it." He rested his forehead against hers and confessed something he'd barely admitted to himself. "I let Kronos take her to prove to myself how little she meant to me. To prove I'd burned away the last vestiges of my own humanity."

"Well, I'm glad you were wrong."

"So am I." He wrapped an arm around Lucinda's shoulders as they walked across the gallery. "It wasn't long after that that I decided I'd had enough of senseless slaughter and meaningless conquest. I threw Kronos down a well, left Silas in the woods, and lost Caspian in the Carpathian Mountains."

"Because you couldn't bring yourself to kill them."

"Yes. Because I was no better than they were."

She stopped at the door and turned to face him. "You're wrong. You are better than they were, because you saw how pointless it all was. You turned your back on it when it would have been easier to keep going on as you had been."

"Lucinda, I'm not a hero."

"No, you're not. But you are a good man, Methos. Deny it as much as you like, but it's the truth. If you were as self-absorbed and callous as you make yourself out to be, I wouldn't be alive. Your friend Duncan MacLeod wouldn't be alive." She looked earnestly into his eyes. "Cassandra wouldn't be alive."

"Maybe I just think that dying's too good for her?"

"You've never let that stop you from killing before. 'Never leave an enemy breathing', wasn't that what he always said? That 'Metthias' guy?"

"I think you just crossed the line from 'wise' to 'wise-ass', my darling." Methos opened the door to the street. "I'm starving, let's go find breakfast, shall we?"

"It's almost noon."

"Lunch, then. I'm not fussy."

The two of them were just crossing the street onto Wilkinson when Methos felt a brush at the edge of his perceptions--an Immortal just within range. Lucinda didn't seem to notice it at all. As they reached the curb, Methos spared a glance to his left; he saw a tall, slim figure standing on the corner of Jackson Square, a figure with red hair and a pale face and eyes that close up would be a bright, startling spring green.

Their gazes locked for only a moment before Cassandra turned her back on him and walked away, disappearing into the crowd of people behind her. Methos felt himself relax marginally. No, Lucinda, Cassandra won't be coming after me again. Something's changed; I think she's finally ready to put our past behind her. I hope so--for her sake as well as mine.

"Something?" Lucinda asked, following his gaze and seeing only a group of onlookers clustered on the north side of Jackson Square.

"Nothing," he replied with perfect honesty. Not anymore. Pray God it's finished once and for all.

***