Cassandra and the Sisterhood
Hope Triumphant III - Anamchara
Highlander Fanfiction by Parda - 2012
CONTENTS - Please keep scrolling in this chapter to find the beginning of Chapter 1 - Love and Death
This list of chapters and summaries is provided for ease of navigation. Not all chapters are online yet.
1. Love and Death – Duncan buries his wife and visits Cassandra
2. The French Connection – Methos has a new job and meets an old friend
3. Reborn – Duncan and Connor go a-wandering
4. Methuselah's Gift – Connor says goodbye to Rachel, Duncan talks with Methos and goes walk-about
5. Bless the Child – Connor and his daughter Sara
6. Two of Hearts – Cassandra asks Connor for a date, Amanda visits
7. Double Jeopardy – Duncan and Methos go spelunking
8. Turnabout – Connor considers his options
9. Promises – Connor and Cassandra (finally!)
10. The Watchers – Curious students
11. Chivalry – Duncan to the rescue
12. Timeless – Cassandra and Elena take care of a problem
13. Deadly Exposures – Duncan gets a new name and a new life
14. Crime and Punishment – Duncan considers the problem of justice
15. Birthright – a MacLeod family picnic
16. Line of Fire - Methos returns
17. Haunted - Trying to cope
18. Freefall - Connor lashes out
19. Unusual Suspects - the investigation takes an unexpected turn
20. End of Innocence - saying farewell
21. Inferno - changes in the wind
22. The Lamb - immortality comes too soon
23. Passion Play - Connor and Chelle deal with death
24. Something Wicked - a darkness comes
25. Mortal Sins - Methos is unfortunately detained
26. An Eye for an Eye - the price of vengeance
27. Hunters - where are they now?
28. Testimony - speaking on Methos's behalf
29. To Be - new beginnings
LOVE AND DEATH
New Zealand, 27 June 2029
Duncan MacLeod buried his wife on a cold day of brilliant sunshine and perfect blue skies. A light snow had fallen the day before, softening sharp edges with white, dusting the world with crystalline beauty, making the open grave a black wound.
The funeral went quickly: a few words in remembrance, a song Susan had loved, a brief prayer by a minister. People filed by and dropped white roses on the casket, soft as snowflakes.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," people would come over and say, and Duncan would nod and thank them, his eyes dry, his face stiff. His kinsman Connor, who had buried a wife just two years before, stood silently by Duncan's side. Paula and Tom, grown and with families of their own, sat nearby, staring at their mother's grave.
"So young," a gray-haired woman said, shaking her head as she walked away. "Susan was only fifty-three, you know."
"And from just a scratch!" her companion said. "And so quickly."
Five days. Five days to go from healthy to dead. A simple scratch had turned necrotic, and even modern medicine had failed. By the time Duncan had gotten word and returned from his trip to Australia, Susan had been comatose, one arm already amputated, the infection raging through her body. She'd died the next morning, unaware of the touch of his hand.
Duncan had seen wounds go bad before, of course. It used to be common, an ever-present threat. These last hundred years, he'd gotten used to things being fixable. But not everything was.
"I'm sorry for your loss," an old man said, and Duncan nodded and thanked him, listening to the soft fall of roses under the brilliant blue sky.
"Let's go for a walk," Connor said a week or so later, after the farm had been sold and the flowers had wilted and the food from the wake was nearly gone, and the next day Duncan bid his children farewell, then Connor and Duncan set off for the hills. They trekked deep into the wilderness, up steep hills, deep inside steep gorges, alongside quick streams that rushed down ravines with water churning under thin coverings of ice.
They said little, or nothing, for days on end. There was no need. Sometimes in the silence, winds whispered to them, raptors shrieked overhead, or small animals rustled the leaves. The immensity of the quiet absorbed any bouts of weeping, anguished sobs, or shouts of rage that might occur, and then the quiet reigned again.
They spoke, finally, of their wives. Of saying goodbye, of letting go. Of falling in love. "I think," Duncan said quietly as he and Connor lay on their backs and watched the stars overhead, as they had done a thousand times before, "that I love mortal women more deeply. I give them everything I am. But maybe that's because I know they won't be with me very long." He'd had nearly twenty-five years with Susan. They'd raised two wonderful children together, held a granddaughter in their arms. Duncan closed his eyes and let the tears flow, a willing tribute to his wife. "I don't know as I could love an immortal woman that same way," Duncan said. "I care for them, I cherish them, I do love them, but… it's not the same."
"Makes sense," Connor agreed. "I've never loved an Immortal woman. Rebecca was a friend, Cassandra was… a challenge, the others were fun. And I never spent that much time with any of them, never set up house." Even in the dimness, Duncan could see the flash of white teeth as Connor grinned and said, "Female Immortals aren't exactly the domestic type."
"Amanda certainly isn't," Duncan said, and found himself almost smiling at the thought, his first smile in days. He wasn't really surprised. Amanda always had been able to make his heart glad.
The next morning, Connor asked, "Ready to go back?" and Duncan was.
Two days later, they walked into a town and rented a room for the night. Duncan and Connor washed and scrubbed then washed again. Those mountain streams had been cold, and two months of dirt took some effort to remove.
"You've gone brown," Duncan observed, as Connor stood in front of the mirror and combed the snarls from his hair, for all the gray dye had faded and now his hair matched his beard.
"And you've gone black," Connor retorted. "At the roots, anyway." He lifted an eyebrow and asked, "Cut or dye?"
The question wasn't just about hair, Duncan knew. Should he dye his hair again and go back to his life in New Zealand, or cut off all the gray and start a new life as a younger man? "Cut," Duncan announced. It was time. "You?"
"Dye," Connor said. "I'm going to visit Sara and her family on my way back to the Highlands." He tossed Duncan the comb then rummaged in the bag for a pair of scissors and started clipping off his beard. "Then I'd like one more Christmas at home. John and Gina are coming, and Rachel'll be there, too. Join us?"
"Love to," Duncan said. Even if would have to dye his hair one more time.
They went to the airport; Connor to return to Scotland, Duncan to go to Australia to start the tedious process of obtaining a new identity. "What name this time?" he asked, scrolling through the phone list as they waited in an airport bar.
"Alistair McGillicuddy?" Connor suggested, reaching for his drink. "Justin Pinsky?"
"I like Justin," Duncan said. "But if I'm going to be a Mac again, it won't be a Gillicuddy."
"Why not Duncan MacLeod?" Connor asked.
Why not, indeed? It was time.
Duncan turned off the phone list, and the screen went back to its default display of news. He skimmed the page then clicked an article from Fiji. "Man shot then beheaded" went the headline, and the story gave only a few details more. "Doesn't seem like overkill to me," a neighbor was quoted as saying. "He was a right bastard." Police were still investigating.
Duncan showed it to Connor, who read it and said merely, "Someone's not playing by the rules."
Phinyx European Headquarters in Prague, 14 December 2029
"Tetrarch Karolina?" called Amshula from her station. "Gate security scanners show this fellow has a sword hidden on him. The blade's curved; could be a saber."
Karolina abandoned her manual on small-arms training and immediately punched the button that relayed the man's image to the counselor's com-screen, flagged Priority A-1. Then she swiveled her chair around to take a look at the monitors on the far wall.
Monitor 4 showed the man—185 centimeters, powerful build, wearing a knee-length green cape over black trousers and white shirt—nodding pleasantly to the two uniformed Guardians at the outermost gate. A plain-clothes Guardian, seated near the stone fountain and apparently enjoying the winter sunshine, kept her eye on him as he walked across the courtyard. Monitor 8 (a view from inside the lobby) showed another plain-clothes on her way to the front of the reception desk, ready to delay him if ordered, trained to disarm or kill him if necessary.
Like most people, the man paused just outside the arched entryway of dark stone to look up at the carved stone garlands over the windows of the four-storied building, and camera six was perfectly positioned to take advantage of his predictable behavior. His dark hair was cut short, and his clean-shaven face was improbably handsome.
"Mmm," murmured Amshula appreciatively. "I'm off-shift in half an hour; maybe he'll still be here."
"You have class on assassination this afternoon," Karolina reminded the young woman.
"Not until two."
"It's nearly noon."
"For him, I'd skip lunch."
Karolina would, too. But— "You won't get the chance," Karolina said, for while they'd been talking, the counselor's reply had appeared on Karolina's com-screen. Karolina sent the all-clear signal to the Guardians at the entry points, then told Amshula, "Sister Caorran's been assigned to escort him, and then he has an appointment."
Amshula's eyebrows went up. "Who is this guy?"
"Let's find out." Karolina turned on the audio pick-up, and they heard the receptionist say, "Your name, please?"
The man's voice was pleasantly deep and darkly suggestive, just like his eyes. "Duncan MacLeod."
Duncan had just given his name to the receptionist when a woman dressed in a blue tunic and green leggings burst through the door to his right. "Sara!" he called, and she came at him running and landed in his arms with a thump, just like when she'd been six years old. Her hug was sweet and strong.
"What a surprise!" she said. "I had no idea you were coming to Prague."
"A sudden whim," he answered, although—if he were completely honest—it was neither.
"I'm so glad," she said, moving back to look at him, the long braid of her hair swinging. "Oh, my."
Her fingertips brushed his temples, the hair that until recently had been gray and was once again black. "You look so young."
"And you look beautiful," Duncan replied, sidestepping her comment with the ease of long experience, and with complete truthfulness. Sara had inherited her mother's stunning features, though her hair was dark honey instead of pale gold, and her eyes were more gray than blue. "Daniel's a lucky man."
"As long as he keeps thinking so," Sara said with a smile. "Are you hungry?"
"I could eat."
"Then we will." She turned to the woman at the reception desk. "This is an old friend of my family's, Sister Marjeta," Sara said, linking her arm through his. "I'll escort him while he's here."
"Yes, Sister Caorran," Marjeta said with a nod and then turned to answer a blinking phone.
"Sister Caorran?" Duncan repeated softly as they crossed the marble floor of the lobby and started up the grand curving staircase.
"That's what I'm called here. Many of us chose new names. It's a recognition of our commitment to the community, to the work."
"Yes, in a way. Only, not all the vows."
"I'm sure Daniel is glad about that."
She grinned impishly and said, "So am I." At the top of the stairs, she pushed open a great brass-studded door. Duncan followed her into a vast room full of light and shadows—light from the row of windows all along one wall, more light leaping from the mirrors and dancing from the chandeliers high above, and shadows from the past. The long skirts of dancing women swirled by as men in velvet and lace kept time with stamping boots and clapping hands, and musicians played at the far end of the salon.
"What?" Sara asked, and the shadows and the music disappeared.
He summoned a smile. "Oh, just admiring."
"You mean remembering," she corrected. "I know that look."
"I guess you would," he said. She'd grown up with an Immortal, and she worked with one nearly every day.
Duncan thought back. "In 1754. Or maybe '55." He pointed to the elaborate fireplace on the side wall. "Right there is where Amanda set fire to a contessa's gown. She got the fire put out." His grin came of its own accord. "She also got the contessa's jewels."
"Ah, Amanda," Sara said with a nod. "I should have known." Her gaze became intent upon him, grey-blue eyes searching his.
"What?" Duncan asked.
"You look so young," she repeated, and Duncan knew from experience that she wasn't going to let him side-step again. Sara had a tendency toward stubbornness. "Younger than I am," she added. He'd died for the first time at the age of 29; Sara would soon be 33. "I can't call you 'Uncle Duncan' anymore," Sara concluded.
Duncan had to nod. "It could be…"
"Awkward," she finished for him, and Duncan nodded again.
"How about just 'Duncan'?" he suggested.
"Duncan," she repeated, trying it out. "Why not? It is your name. Or was. Have you gone back to it?"
"I started using it again two months ago, when I left New Zealand, though I haven't gotten rid of Mark Johnson's papers just yet." He wasn't quite ready to stop being Mark Johnson. He wasn't ready to let go.
Sara pulled him to her for another hug, even stronger than before. "I was so sorry to hear about Aunt Susan. And to have it be so—"
"Thank you," he said quickly, cutting off the flow of words. Duncan breathed in slowly and set the grief aside, not behind him, but beside him… with him. He summoned a grateful smile for his niece. "The flowers you and Daniel sent were beautiful. Susan loved white roses."
"I know. She would always show us her garden when we visited." Sara pulled back, but kept hold of his hands. "Did you sell the farm?"
He nodded. "Neither Paula or Tom is interested in sheep farming. But it went to a good family. They'll keep it well."
"That's good," she said. "I'm glad Colin's kept our farm in the Highlands. I can't live there, but I like having it still be in the family. And his son, Graham, will grow up there, the same way Colin and I did."
"I know what you mean," Duncan agreed. "And it's been good for your dad, too, being able to live in the caretaker cottage there these last three years. The Highlands have always been his home."
"Colin says Dad's doing OK," Sara said with a quick nod and a tight smile. "Better than that first year after Mom died."
Duncan would have given Sara a hug then, but she let go of his hands and turned away to open a small door that was blended into the wainscoting on the wall.
A long hallway, another set of stairs, and two more doors found them at a dining hall, busy with the chatter of voices (mostly female) and the clink of dishes. They chose food from a buffet, then Sara picked out a table for two near a window overlooking a garden, all bare twigs and gray stone at this time of year, save for a pair of magnificent hollies in the distance. "Cassandra won't be joining us?" Duncan asked as they sat down.
"She wishes she could, but the president asked her to call him at 12:15. I'll take you to see her after lunch."
"The president of Phinyx Company?"
"The president of the United States." Duncan blinked at that, and Sara explained, "She was on his staff when he was a senator. They're good friends."
"I see." Duncan started on his soup, deciding to save his questions about that for Cassandra. "How have you been, Sara?"
"Busy. Daniel's out of town for a conference on software development this week, and Alea has a cold, and then work is always hectic this time of year, organizing food distribution and fuel rationing for the winter. Plus Phinyx Foundation bought a castle in the Alps six years ago, and we've just opened that as the St. Hildegard Academy for girls."
"I thought you looked a little tired."
She wrinkled her nose in a quick grimace of irritation. "That, and I had a miscarriage last week."
"Oh, Sara." He reached across the table for her hand. "I'm so sorry. This is… the second?"
"The third." He started to speak, but she cut off his expressions of sympathy just as he'd cut off hers. "I've had one child." Her smile was determinedly brave as she squeezed his hand and let go. "That's more than most women these days. I'm lucky."
She was. In the last dozen years, the sterility plague had spread across the globe. Births were rare, and many schools for young children stood empty and silent. On the positive side, orphanages were mostly empty, too. Families who did have children were either on the move to cluster together, or were sending their children to boarding schools—such as the St. Hildegard Academy.
"How's Alea?" he asked, and as he had hoped, just the mention of the little girl's name brought a proud smile to Sara's face.
"Very ready to be three. She loves music; she's always singing. And there are other children here, so she has playmates."
"She's here, in this building?"
"Oh, yes. We have a daycare and a school here. It's almost naptime, but we can see her later this afternoon."
"I'd like that," Duncan said then switched to the older generation. "Have you seen your dad lately?"
"In September." Sara sliced her potato in two with a single, neat stroke. "He stopped by here for a few days on his way back to the Highlands after Aunt Susan's funeral." She looked up then. "He said it was good to spend time with you."
"It was," Duncan agreed. "We haven't done that very often lately."
"Do you mean the last fifty years?" Sara teased. "Or the last hundred?"
"Hundred, I guess," Duncan said with some surprise. Connor had been busy raising Rachel in the 1940s and '50s, and then he'd opened the antique shop in New York City. There had been that sailing trip in '77, but then Duncan had met Tessa and Connor had married Brenda, so there went the '80s. For the last thirty years, their families had kept them busy on opposite sides of the globe. They'd seen each other, of course, at least every other year, but a holiday with wives and kids wasn't the same as two clansmen roaming the world. "In fact," Duncan said, "we had such a good time that I'm on my way to Scotland to see him again. You'll be at the farm for the holidays, right?"
"I don't think so, Duncan. Not this year. Things are so busy."
"All the more reason to come." He leaned forward with an encouraging smile. "John and Gina are coming, and Rachel, and of course there are horses. Alea would love that, right? I know you miss riding. We can celebrate my birthday, your and Colin's birthday, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and then your dad's birthday… And we'll be walking to the stones to see the sunrise on the solstice."
"The solstice stones," she said softly, looking away, a faint smile on her face. Then she shrugged. "That's a guy thing."
"Sara," he said reprovingly. "It's a MacLeod thing."
She smiled even as she shook her head. "I'm not a MacLeod anymore; I'm Sister Caorran here at work and Sara Harulfson at home."
"You'll always be a MacLeod, Sara," Duncan told her firmly, "no matter what name you bear. The name doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does," she corrected then proved it by calling him by name: "Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod."
"All right," he allowed. "It does matter. But whether you call yourself one or not, you're a MacLeod. And you should come home for the holidays, Christmas at least. It would mean a lot to your father to have you there."
"It would mean a lot to me, too," she answered softly. Her faint smile reappeared. "Maybe we will. I'll talk to Daniel, see about our schedules."
"Good," Duncan said, satisfied.
"You'll have to die your hair gray again," she pointed out. "Colin's wife doesn't know about Immortals, and neither does Daniel."
"I know," Duncan said, grimacing as he ran his hand through his hair. "I still have a little dye left. It'll be enough."
She was silent for a moment, seemed about to speak, but then stood and announced, "I'm getting some coffee, and I think I saw blueberry chiffon tarts at the dessert table. Join me?"
Duncan was already on his feet. "Of course." Halfway to the buffet, he stopped and turned, hearing a familiar voice at a nearby table. But the man's hair was too dark a brown, the chin too narrow, the eyes the wrong shade of blue.
"He sounds just like Colin, doesn't he?" Sara asked. "I did the same thing when I first heard him. Sometimes, I still do."
"Who is he?" Duncan asked as they poured coffee into white china mugs.
"Paul Edgerton, my half-brother."
"Your biological father…"
Sara was nodding. "… got married and had a family of his own. Colin and I have two half-sisters, too: Diana and Philippa. They're still in England. Paul's really good with computers; the Sheffield office hired him seven years ago. He transferred here last spring."
"Does he know?"
"No," she said, placing a tart on her tray. "I don't look that much like his sisters, and he's never met Colin."
Duncan selected apple strudel, and they finished their luncheon with talk of Alea's antics and Duncan's plans. "Paris, after the holidays, I think," he told Sara. "It's true, you know; it really is beautiful in the spring."
"You love Paris," Sara said, an observation that surprised him, coming from her, even though it was true.
"As they say, it's a city of love." It had been for him, and more than once. Perhaps it could be again.
She nodded, but then her eyes unfocused slightly, as if she were listening to voices only she could hear. She probably was; subdermal receivers left your hands free, and couldn't be mislaid or stolen like phones. The two guards at the gate and the guard at the fountain had them; Duncan was sure. Sara's eyes focused again, and she asked, "Should we go see Cassandra now?" Duncan nodded, and they carried their trays to the wash line then left the hall.
They'd gone up one flight of stairs and halfway down a corridor when Duncan nearly collided with a trim young woman in gray. "Excuse me," he said.
"No, excuse me," she replied, her hand resting lightly on his arm, her smile bright and warm. Unlike most of the women he'd seen today, her hair was clipped very short, a soft velvet blackness close to her skull. Her skin was dusky cream, her eyes chocolate brown.
"Guard Amshula," Sara greeted her, and Duncan realized that Amshula's gray jumpsuit with black piping was a military uniform of some kind. The only insignia she wore was an enameled pin on her collar, a silver sword upright behind a circlet of olive leaves. He'd seen the same badge on the guards outside. Sara wore a pin, too, though hers was of a blue and white earth spinning on an axis of gold.
"Sister Caorran," Amshula replied, letting go of Duncan's arm.
Duncan offered Amshula his hand. "I'm Duncan MacLeod."
Her handshake was quick and firm, her smile even brighter than before. "My name's Amshula; I'm glad to meet you. Have you been to Prague before?"
"Yes, but not for some time. Things have changed."
"Perhaps I could show you around," she offered. "I moved here two years from India, and I have come to love this town."
"He's on his way to an appointment," Sara told her.
"And I am on my way to a class. But later? Three-thirty?"
A walk in the city on this cold, sunny day sounded like an excellent way to recuperate from hours on airplanes and trains. But Amshula obviously was also interested in another type of exercise, and Duncan wasn't. Not now. But explaining why would bring forth either sympathy or an attempt to "console" him, and Duncan didn't want either. He hadn't wanted them from Amanda, and he certainly didn't want them from a mortal woman he'd just met. "I'm sorry," he said, giving her a sincerely apologetic smile. "I'll be busy."
"I'm afraid I'll be leaving in the morning."
"Ah." Her gaze swept from his feet to his face then she gave him another dazzling smile as she handed him her card. Her fingers were warm against his palm. "If you'll be in Prague again, v-mail me."
Duncan's smile promised nothing, but she seemed to take it as a good sign. She smiled at him again before sashaying down the hall. Her uniform fit her very well.
"Friendly girl," he commented to Sara as they started walking again.
"Very friendly," came the dry reply. They turned the corner, and Duncan stiffened slightly as the sensation of another Immortal's presence ran up his spine and settled at the base of his skull. "No need to knock, is there?" Sara noted, then opened a wooden door.
"Duncan!" Cassandra called, and she met him halfway across the long, narrow room. "It's so good to see you again," she said as she kissed his cheek and briefly clasped his hands.
It seemed Cassandra still wasn't much for hugging, at least not with him. But her eyes were bright, her smile genuine, and she looked happy and at ease. Quite a change from the woman who'd appeared in his dojo thirty-three years ago, speaking words of an ancient prophecy and begging him to kill a man who had hunted her—and haunted her—for years. Quite a change, too, from the raging virago who, six months after that, had set out to kill another enemy while battling nightmares from her past. Ten years of therapy and twenty years of working at a job she liked had helped her enormously.
"Cassandra," Duncan said and kissed her cheek in return. Behind him, he heard the door shut as Sara disappeared into the hall.
"Come sit down," Cassandra invited, leading the way past the desk to a pair of comfortable chairs standing in front of the multi-paned window that went from ceiling to floor. She tossed her waist-length hair to one side as she seated herself, her turquoise skirt flaring about her and her long, silver earrings sparkling in the sunshine. "How have you been?" she asked, but the intensity of her gaze and warmth of the words made it more than the standard conversational opener.
Duncan ducked it anyway. "All right."
She didn't take his hint to leave it alone. Cassandra, like Sara, had a tendency toward stubbornness. "Saying goodbye is always hard," she said softly.
"Especially when you don't get the chance to say it," he retorted and saw with a brief flare of satisfaction how Cassandra winced at the pain in his words.
"That does make it worse," she agreed, her eyes far away, and he realized that some of the pain was her own. "I'm sorry for your loss, Duncan," she said, and that formal phrase gave them both a place to hide.
"Thank you," he replied simply.
Cassandra finally got the message and changed the subject. "So, you're Duncan MacLeod again."
"I'd been Mark Johnson for almost thirty years. It's time."
"Connor would certainly agree. Though not, perhaps, on the choice of name."
Cassandra's witch-powers didn't seem to be working today. "Connor suggested it," Duncan told her.
Her eyebrows went up, but then she nodded. "Being Connor MacLeod again has been good for him. And giving his name to his children. He's always wanted that."
So did Duncan. Maybe someday…
"How does it feel?" she asked. "To be Duncan MacLeod again?"
"Good. But different."
"Because you're different?" she asked.
Duncan considered that. "Maybe." Living under another name had changed him. But just plain living had changed him, too, and as of next week, he'd have four-hundred-thirty-eight years of that. No matter. "Duncan MacLeod is who I am, and who I'll always be." It was long past his turn to ask her a question. "Is Cassandra the name your father gave you?"
"No," she said, her eyes going distant, looking into the past. "That name is gone. That girl died, long ago." Cassandra focused on him, returning to the here and now. "The lady of the temple told me what I was, and then she gave me my name." She smiled as she repeated his phrase: "Cassandra is who I am, and who I'll always be."
"As Connor will always be Connor."
She nodded, her smile lingering, then prodded, "And Methos?"
"I suppose. He's had that name for five thousand years."
"But he hasn't used it for the last two thousand years." The words sharpened. "Except with you."
"And with Amanda and Dawson," Duncan pointed out. "And with you."
"He had no choice with me. I knew his name."
And his past. The words went unsaid between them. Silence could be sharp, too. So could secrets; they all knew that.
"What can I do for you, Duncan?" Cassandra asked suddenly, warm and friendly again. "This isn't simply a social visit."
"No," he agreed. "You and I never go to each other unless we need something."
"True enough," she said, almost sadly. "Though I do take pleasure in your company, Duncan, and I would like to be your friend. And so, if I can help you now, I will. What can I do for you?" she asked once again.
"Have you heard of any Immortals being shot and then beheaded?"
"Not recently. But you have?"
"In Fiji, back in September." He gave her the details while she took notes.
"I'll look into it, and let you know if it seems to be a pattern," she said.
"Going to ask your Watcher contact?" he asked.
"Keeping track of these things is their job."
That wasn't, Duncan realized, either a yes or a no. What other sources of information did she have? The internet, of course, but everyone had that. Detective agencies. Other Immortals – she kept in touch with quite a few, much like Darius had, and Duncan knew that both Amanda and Elena liked to gossip. At least one Watcher spy reported to Cassandra. Maybe other mortals, too, perhaps recruited from the Phinyx Foundation. "Keeping your set of Chronicles up to date, Cassandra?" he asked.
"No, that would be too much work," she replied. "I do keep a database with names and locations of known Immortals, and I try to keep up with who's been killed."
"Don't we all," Duncan murmured. But Cassandra's database was extensive, which of course why he was here. It shouldn't be hard to ask this one simple question of her, and yet… it was. Was the reason pride? A desire for privacy? A reluctance to expose this want—this need—in him? Especially to her? But what business was it of hers? None at all. And it wasn't as if he were the only one interested; she'd been the first to bring up his name. "I'm looking for Methos," Duncan said.
Cassandra, annoyingly enough, did not seem surprised. "Have you asked Emory Dawson?"
"She said she couldn't help." Though that didn't mean she didn't know. Not that Emory would lie to him, but she would protect Methos's privacy, if he'd asked her to. She'd been good at keeping secrets even before she'd met Joe Dawson; ten years of marriage to a Watcher had just given her extra practice. Had Methos asked her to keep quiet? And if so, why? Duncan hadn't wanted to put Emory on the spot, so he hadn't pressed her for more information. Cassandra was another story. "Do you know where he is?"
"No. I'm sorry, Duncan, I can't help you, either."
"I thought you kept track of him."
"I try," she said dryly. "Sometimes I even succeed. But mostly, I have to wait for him to come to me."
So had Duncan, over the years. He was tired of waiting.
"The last time I saw him was two and a half years ago, at Alex's funeral," she said.
That was the last time Duncan had seen him, too. Methos hadn't come to Susan's funeral; Duncan hadn't known how to reach him. Four days after, flowers had arrived, with a card that read only, "My deepest condolences. M."
"He was living in Toronto then," Cassandra continued, "studying engineering at university, but he finished his degree and left this last May. Amanda might know where he went."
She didn't. Duncan had already asked. "Thanks anyway, Cassandra," he said.
"If he contacts me, I'll tell him you'd like to see him," she offered.
Methos knew that already. Or he should. Duncan let it go with a nod and moved on. "So, what did you and the president have to talk about today?"
She set her pen down and looked directly at him before she answered. "His daughter would like to have a child. He called to see how the fertility research was going."
"And how is it going?"
"Is that all you talked about?"
"Oh no, Tom and I are old friends. We talked about his dog, his wife, his golf game, and his strategy for reelection in the fall. He's worried about the coalition of Reds and Blues holding together, especially with Texas and New England each threatening to secede because of the other's laws."
"States' rights," commented Duncan sourly. That issue had torn the U.S. apart nearly two hundred years before; it might again.
"Mmm," Cassandra murmured, though whether in agreement or disagreement, Duncan couldn't tell. He fought back a sudden urge to yawn, and Cassandra said, "You must be tired from traveling. Would you like a room to rest in for a few hours, perhaps spend the night? Or two, if you like. You and I can talk more over dinner, and you could play with Alea this afternoon. We also have a fully equipped gym."
"That would be wonderful, thank you." A nap, a playdate with Alea, a brisk stroll around Prague followed by some exercise, then dinner with Cassandra and a place to spend the night. He might even get some holiday shopping done.
"You are always welcome here, Duncan," she said warmly. Cassandra stood then opened the narrow door behind her desk and beckoned to the young woman in the adjoining room. "Sister Janna, would you please escort Mr. MacLeod to a guest room? The third floor."
"Of course, Sister," she said then smiled shyly at Duncan as she opened the door to the hall. "This way."
"I'll see you at dinner, Duncan," Cassandra promised, and she waited until Duncan and Janna were all the way down the hall before she shut her office door. As Cassandra turned around, the narrow door near the bookshelves opened, and Sara stepped into the room. She sat on the edge of Cassandra's desk, her feet swinging, while Cassandra went back to her desk chair.
"So what does Uncle Dunc want from you?" Sara asked, getting right to the heart of things, as usual.
"He's looking for Methos."
Sara's eyebrows went up. "Really?"
"I think Duncan would like to take his mind off Susan, and Methos always gives Duncan plenty to think about."
"Why do you think Methos hasn't been in touch with him?"
"Probably because Methos knows that Duncan needs to think about Susan some more. Six months isn't much time after losing a wife of twenty-three years."
Sara nodded sagely. "And Methos doesn't want to be caught on the rebound. Who does?" She grinned. "Not you, that's for sure."
"Impudent chit," Cassandra retorted.
The grin grew wider. "That means I'm right."
She was, but… "Timing is always important, and between your father and me, with our history…," Cassandra started to explain, but Sara waved it away.
"I know," she said fondly. "You want him to be happy, and you also want him to want you. So you're waiting to see if he's ready. I get it. I'd do the same." Her head tilted inquisitively. "How long will you wait?"
"A few decades, maybe fifty years."
Sara's eyebrows went up again, but she said only, "And if he says no?"
"Look for someone else," Cassandra said with a shrug, but she already knew it wouldn't be easy. A few decades ago she'd gone through the database and made a list of Immortals she found attractive who were at least a few hundred years old, decent, trustworthy, and who might be willing to accept her past and were willing to deal with the Voice. The list was not long. Duncan and Connor were both on it, as was Methos. She'd crossed his name off then written it back in. Twice. Then she crossed it off again. She was not ready yet.
Sara had started matching orphan lids to topless pens, looking up occasionally from beneath her bangs. "Do you think Duncan's ready? For sex? Or for a relationship?"
"Maybe. People grieve in different ways. They heal in different ways. Sex can be healing, and Duncan seems to find it so. Within a month after his long-time lover Tessa died in the 1990s, he'd been with two women."
"Those Watchers kept good records, didn't they," Sara observed. "Well, he turned down a woman today. Amshula nearly ambushed him on the way here, and even though he ducked her invitation—twice—she still gave him her card. Maybe she should be reassigned to the fourth floor."
"A courtesan requires empathy as well as enthusiasm," Cassandra reminded Sara. "Amshula's psych eval was accurate; she belongs where she is, with the Guardians. In fact, she's just been selected for advanced paramilitary training at Themis Institute. She'll settle down in a few years."
Sara looked skeptical, but she didn't argue the point, instead going back to her uncle's love life, or lack thereof. "Still ... even when Uncle Duncan is ready, he's been married so long, and he likes women so much. I can't see him with a man."
"I can," Cassandra said. "At least this one." She'd seen them together only a few times, but whenever they spoke of each other, she'd heard the intensity in their voices and seen the yearning in their eyes. A cautious yearning in Methos, an uncertain yearning in Duncan, but yearning all the same. But before his quarter century with a family of his own, Duncan hadn't been ready. He still wasn't, not quite, not with the grieving still undone. But soon.
"Does that bother you?" Sara asked. "I mean, not him and a man, but him and Methos?"
"Actually, I rather like it. Methos will keep Duncan busy, and Duncan will keep Methos in line. They balance each other well."
Sara was still shaking her head at it. "Mr. Methos and Uncle Dunc…"
Cassandra moved on. "Duncan mentioned a shooting followed by a beheading in Fiji. I told him I'd look to see if there were a pattern. Can you help?"
"Sure, I'll set the parameters and run the database search." Sara set aside the now-organized pens, and her feet stopped their swinging. "I was reading Grace's report on the sterility plague while you talked to Duncan. She says the new vaccine looks promising."
"It still needs to be tested, and that takes years."
"I don't have years," Sara said, tossing her braid back over her shoulder, her mouth set in that stubborn line Cassandra knew very well. "I'm going to volunteer."
"Caorran—," Cassandra began, using her special name, her name of power, the name Cassandra had gifted her with when Sara had turned seven years old, on a winter day of silent voices and quiet snow.
"I've dreamed of my son, Cassandra!" Sara said, that power humming within her now. "I've seen him, alive and well, and standing between me and Daniel." She leaned forward eagerly. "I want another child."
So did many women. "It could be an adopted son," Cassandra pointed out.
Cassandra paused. "The dream is that clear?"
Cassandra's dreams had seldom been that clear. But each talent was unique, and Caorran's foresight had been uncannily accurate before. Cassandra had hopes that the tendency would breed true, in Alea and in Colin's son, and the offspring of Paul, the half-brother, and the two half-sisters in England, too. And to have a boy from Caorran… Yes, indeed. "You should discuss it with Daniel first," Cassandra said.
"I'm going to, as soon as he gets home." She stretched her arms behind her head, cracking joints and flexing muscles. "Council meeting tonight. Full regalia, right?"
She nodded. "It's Nina's investiture as Healer. It'll be good to have nine members again."
"Yeah, no more tied votes," Sara said, but Cassandra knew the number nine had more benefits than that. Three-filled three, nine months from conception to birth, nine muses of poetry and dance…
"At least we don't call it the Gray Council," Sara said. "And we don't have to wear long gray robes with enormous hoods, and we have chairs so we can sit down."
Cassandra laughed aloud, remembering a television show from forty years before. "Your mother let you watch too much TV."
"Babylon 5 was on DVD," Sara protested. "Just like Star Trek. Those spotlights on the Gray Council reminded me of transporter beams. Colin and I were always waiting for Scotty to beam them up."
"What a cross-over that would be," Cassandra said then continued in a horrible Scottish accent, "Captain, I dinna have coordinates for that alternate universe programmed in ma transporter! It'll blow up the ship, fer sure."
"Och, ma wee puir bairrrns," Sara joined in, clasping a hand over her heart. "Ma engines, ma bonny, bonny engines." She fell over sideways on the desk and croaked, "I'm dead, Jim."
"Then why are you still talking?"
"Oh, come on, Cassandra," she said, sitting up again and pulling her legs up so she could wrap her arms about her knees. "Nobody really dies on shows. They always come back somehow. Like Immortals."
Except it wasn't "always," even for Immortals.
Sara knew that, too. "Who do you miss?" she asked softly. "Which Immortals do you wish were still alive?"
"Only the Immortals?"
She shrugged. "You know we're going to die; that's a given. So you're not in for the long haul. But with Immortals, you might think, 'This person I can know for centuries, maybe for my whole life.' That's got to be different."
"Yes," Cassandra agreed. "There's that chance, that hope for the future."
"So who do you miss?" Sara asked again.
"Oh my." Cassandra leaned back in her chair, thinking. "The lady of the temple, most of all. She was my first teacher, my mother in a way. Kalia, a priestess there, a sister to me. I could use her help now. Ramirez, of course, my fourth husband. I miss what might have been with Rebecca; we met only once. And I miss Orlath. She had such brilliance, such joy."
"Yes, but not in Immortality. Ceirdwyn was her teacher for that. I taught Orlath pottery, weaving, music. We lived in a monastery in Ireland, before the Vikings came for the gold." Before Roland came for her. Cassandra suppressed a shudder and banished the memories, then sat up straight. "Thank you, Sara, for asking that. Sometimes we Immortals focus on old enemies so much we forget about our old friends."
"It's neat to hear about them. I think I'll ask my dad the same thing, when I see him over the holidays."
"I'm glad you've decided to go," Cassandra said.
"Me, too." Sara hopped off the desk and headed for the door.
"Sara," Cassandra called, and the young woman turned around. "I don't think Duncan needed to know I was talking with the American president."
That stubborn look was back again. "I think he did."
"Your father has appointed himself my guardian. Your mother set Methos on my trail. I do not need your Uncle Duncan looking over my shoulder, too."
Sara cocked her head to one side, looking very much like her mother often had. "When I was six, you told me, 'Need and want are not the same.'"
Cassandra forced herself to confront the truth of that. She didn't want Duncan looking over her shoulder, but in Sara's opinion, she needed him to. And maybe Sara was right. Like mother like daughter, again.
"I've always remembered that, Cassandra, because you were right." Sara waved cheerfully then left the room.
"Impudent chit," Cassandra said once more, but she was smiling, and the words were full of love
Continued in "The French Connection," wherein Methos learns a thing or two