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CONFIDANTE - Elena and Cassandra

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					"CONFIDANTE - Elena and Cassandra" (Part 3 of Hope Remembered)
Highlander Fanfiction by Vi Moreau and Janeen Kelley Grohsmeyer

RATING: R (rape, profanity) LENGTH: 54,000 words

CHARACTERS: Elena Duran and Cassandra

SYNOPSIS: Cassandra walked away from Methos in Bordeaux, and
Elena Duran got away from her tormentor Claude Bethel in New York,
but neither woman can escape from her memories or from her
nightmares without help. Cassandra visits Elena in Argentina, and the
two messed-up, viciously-snarky, trained-killer Immortals have some
heart-to-heart girl-talk about their common acquaintances--Duncan,
Connor, and Methos.

If Elena and Cassandra can manage to stop irritating each other, they
both might even survive the encounter.

COMMENTS: This story is Part 3 of the Cassandra series "Hope
Remembered" and part of Elena Duran's ongoing story. For Elena, this
story comes between "Elena in Argentina" and "Trust I." For Cassandra,
this story comes between "Fury" and "Kindred."

NOTE: This story exists in a bubble intersecting two fictional universes:
Vi's Elena universe, and Janeen's Cassandra universe. There are some
discrepancies between the two universes (like timelines and Connor
being married to Alex and living in the Highlands in Janeen's universe,
while he's unmarried and living in New York in Vi's universe), but we
ignored them because it was too good of an idea to pass up. If this
didn't happen, it should have.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

Many thanks to: Alpha Reader Extraordinaire: - Robin L. Tennenbaum,
who was determined to see that we drew consistent, true-to-life
characters who packed an emotional punch. She wasn't satisfied with
anything less and made sure we weren't satisfied, either. Thanks for
hanging in there for us, Robin, even when we got snippety! You're an
amazing woman, and a good friend.

Beta Readers Wonderful: - Bridget Mintz Testa, another good friend,
who asked the hard questions and who (through amazing conciliatory
powers) was able to help bring the personalities of two very different
writers together to create a coherent complete story.

- Julia Walter, for her steadfast and enthusiastic encouragement in this
and other stories.

- Annie Wortham, who found yet more comma inconsistencies and
unclear pronoun references, and helped us figure out those eternal
grammar problems and those infernal grammar rules.

- Lisa Krakowka, who helped us with the horses.
TO CONTACT THE AUTHORS:
Janeen: darkpanther@erols.com
Webpage: http://users.erols.com/darkpanther

Vi: vi@moreaufamily.us
Webpage: http://moreaufamily.us/vi/elena.html


"Confidante" - Highlander Fanfiction by Vi Moreau and J. K. Grohsmeyer
Rated R (Rape, profanity) September 1999



___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________

             CONFIDANTE
         Elena Duran and Cassandra

        (Hope Remembered - Part 3)

   by Vi Moreau and Janeen Kelley Grohsmeyer
           September 1999
___________________________________________________
___________________________________________________


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The music of the mountains
And the colors of the rainbow
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Are you done with her yet, Brother?" Kronos asked, coming closer to
watch, as she lay naked, bound, and helpless on the floor.

Methos stopped, crouching beside her, his hand lying lightly on her
throat, his fingertips alongside her neck, his thumb just under her
chin. "You want a turn?"

"It's been a long time," Kronos answered, smiling, as he always
smiled, in vicious joy and anticipation. He crouched down on the
other side of her, and his hand reached out to stroke the side of
her face gently.

"A long time," Roland agreed from the shadows, then he came closer,
too. He stood at her feet and smiled as he looked her up and down.
His eyes were greedy and cold. "Where have you been, Cassandra?
You didn't tell us you were leaving."

"You shouldn't have left," Kronos said, his hand not gentle anymore.

"You belong to me," Methos said softly, close to her ear. "I tamed
you, and I own you." This time Methos was the one to smile. "But
I'll share you with my brothers." He lifted his head and called to
Kronos and Roland.

"Who wants to have her first?"

~~~~~

Cassandra woke and did not move. The cottage was dark, and she was
alone. The windows were closed, for the night air was chill, but
she could still hear the waves on the shore, and the wind. Winter
was coming, even here, on the Isle of Lesbos. The warm blue waters
of the Mediterranean would fade to gray, and the nights would grow
longer. The darkness would come.

The darkness was here. Inside her, all through her--it was her.
She was nothing; she was dead--dead ashes from an all-consuming
firestorm of hate. Earlier, she had thought that her hate would
make her strong; her hate would see her through to the end. It had,
but now the end was here and the hate was gone, and she was left
with nothing. Nothing.

Nothing except the dreams, and the voices. She could still hear
Methos. She would always hear Methos. He had told her never to
forget, and she never would.

<I will kill you as many times as it takes to tame you.>

Cassandra did not bother to turn on the light, but reached over the
side of the bed and groped on the floor for the bottle. It was
still there, and it still had some vodka in it.

Not enough.

She threw the empty bottle against the wall. It crashed there and
landed on the floor with the others. Cassandra stood slowly and
made her way to the kitchen area. She needed a drink.

There was no more vodka, but there was whisky, and there was almost
enough. The bottle was nearly a quarter-full. She took a comforting
swallow, welcoming the heat, then slumped to the floor and leaned her
back against the cupboards, the bottle held solidly between her knees.
It wouldn't do to spill it, not at all. That would be a waste, and it was
the last bottle she had.

<We're not finished yet, Cassandra.>

She would never forget Roland, either. She drank some more and
waited, waited for sleep. She needed to sleep, to sleep and not
dream. The dreams should have stopped. She shouldn't have to do
this anymore. Roland was dead. Kronos was dead. The Horsemen
were vanquished. The need for vengeance was gone. The hate was
gone. The anger was gone. Everything had been burned away. She
couldn't feel anything anymore, so it should all be over, shouldn't it?

<Make love to me before I kill you.>
It wasn't.

Cassandra took another drink, idly wondering what the date was. It
had been at least a week since she had walked away from the
Horsemen
in Bordeaux. Or had it been two? She didn't know. She couldn't
remember, and she didn't care. She had come here to Lesbos, back to
the temple she had called home over three thousand years ago, hoping
to find peace and comfort, maybe even forgiveness.

But the temple lay in ruins, and she had found no peace, no comfort.
There could be no forgiveness, not this time. There was nothing.
The darkness faded to the gray light of dawn before Cassandra fell
asleep, there on the kitchen floor. She dreamed that time, too.

She woke suddenly, then curled her fist around the bottle and
brought it to her lips without even opening her eyes. The bottle
was empty, and she was alone. She tried to stand, but managed only
a crouch. Then she started to shake, and she vomited onto the
floor.

Cassandra stayed where she was, on her hands and her knees, her
head
down, her eyes closed. She knew this position well. Methos had
taught it to her. Kronos and Roland had liked it, too. Most men
did.

<You stay alive, as long as you please me.>

She stood slowly, hanging onto the cabinets for support, then made
her way out the door and to the beach. She lay face-down in the
sand, letting the cold waves wash over her, waiting for them to
carry her out to sea and drown her, so it would all be over, at
least for a while, and she could be nothing.

<I am Methos. You live to serve me. Never forget that.>

She could not bear this anymore.

===========================================

Elena Duran froze at the soft knock on the dojo door, breaking the
rhythm of her tai chi chuan form.

No one had knocked on any of the doors leading into the dojo for the
last four days, ever since she had shut the doors and locked them.
She hadn't spoken to anyone in all that time. She hadn't wanted to.
Elena had locked out everyone and everything, concentrating only on
her swordwork, on getting strong again through hard, mindless
physical activity, on being independent again, on being free once
more.

She tried to lock out the nightmares, too, but that she couldn't do.
The *pesadillas* came every night, every day, every time she fell
asleep for more than an hour. And Claude Bethel came with them.
Every time. He owned her dreams, and he would be in her memories
forever.

The knock sounded again, louder and more insistent. Elena abandoned
her tai chi, then unlocked the door.

Her eighty-year-old housekeeper Carmela was standing there,
telephone in hand. "Mariaelena?" Carmela said softly, looking her
over, but caring rather than curious. The old Indian woman was
trying to hide her reaction, making no judgment, saying nothing,
even though she obviously wanted to.

Elena knew what she looked like, what she smelled like. She'd seen
her own thin, long-legged reflection in the mirrors that lined one
of the long walls of the former ballroom-turned-dojo, seen herself
out of her left eye. It was the only eye she had. Claude Bethel
had tortured her, starved her, and cut out her right eye.

She had seen the grimy, dark fuzz on her head, the sweaty, pasty
film on her skin, the dark circles under her eyes, her general too-
bony, haggard appearance. Add to that lack of sleep and not enough
food--it was the perfect scarecrow look. Elena didn't care anymore.

"A call for you." Carmela held out the telephone to Elena.

Not even Carmela would have dared to bother her with a phone call.
Not unless it was an Immortal--Duncan!? Elena reached eagerly for
the phone, but with only one eye working, she misjudged the
distance--as she had been doing for weeks--and bumped Carmela's
hand
instead. "*!Me cago en la mierda!*" she hissed savagely, trying to
get her fingers around the instrument.

Carmela paled a little. "It is a woman," she said quickly.

Elena's hand dropped, and she swallowed painfully, tasting the
bitter disappointment in the back of her throat. Of course, it was
not Duncan. She had driven him away with her pride and with her
stubborn refusal to confide in him, and Duncan was not going to call
her. Period. Elena shrugged and turned away. "Go, *vieja.* I
don't want to talk to anyone."

Carmela's lips tightened briefly, then she said, "She says she is an
*old* acquaintance of yours."

Elena knew that by "old" Carmela meant "Immortal." Carmela was one
of the few residents of the *estancia* whom Elena had entrusted with
her secret.

Elena sighed. *Otro condenao Immortal.* No wonder Carmela insisted
on giving her the phone. A call from an Immortal could very well be
the prelude to a visit from an Immortal, and Carmela certainly
wanted to avoid that! Immortals were Elena's responsibility; and
after all, why not talk to this "old acquaintance"? Why the hell
not? It was just a phone call. Elena took the phone carefully from
Carmela. "Gracias," Elena said, with an attempt at a smile.

Carmela smiled back--a real smile--and left.

Elena looked at the phone in her hand for a moment, then lifted it
and said, "*Oigo.*"

"Elena Duran?" The voice was smooth yet incisive, velvet over
steel. Definitely a woman, and definitely an Immortal.

Elena did not bother to disguise the raspy sound of her own voice.
She was still having crying jags, and hadn't spoken much since
Duncan had left her. "Si."

"Mariaelena Concepcion Duran y Agramonte?"

An Immortal who knew all her names, all her old names. Elena hadn't
used the name Concepcion since 1830. "Si," Elena repeated
impatiently. She didn't want to play this game. "*?Y vos?*"

"Maria Dolores Caterina Ramirez del Castillo."

That was another name Elena hadn't heard for a long time. A very
long time.

______________________________

La Fiesta de Santa Maria Magdalena, 1735
Buenos Aires, aboard the ship *Constanze*
______________________________

"Maria Dolores Caterina Ramirez del Castillo," the other Immortal
woman introduced herself, as she stood four paces away on the deck
of the ship. Her maid waited quietly behind her, while two sailors
lugged a trunk up the gangplank. More trunks waited on the busy
wharf, where urchins and sailors and whores kept up a ceaseless
babble in a variety of tongues.

Dona Maria Dolores stood silent and still amidst the noise and
commotion, waiting. Her hands were ostentatiously folded in front
of her, lying immobile on her beautifully tailored dark-green
traveling cloak. A chill wind stirred her black mantilla, revealing
thick red hair. Her large hazel eyes were watchful, and just as
chilly.

When Mariaelena did not respond, the woman added, "We have met
before. Your father Don Alvaro introduced us in Toledo, some time
ago."

"Si," Mariaelena said, irritated. "I remember." It had been nearly
a century ago, and Don Alvaro had introduced this woman as a friend.
But Mariaelena knew that friendship between Immortals was rare, and
even back then, this woman had undoubtedly evaluated Mariaelena as a
potential enemy. Which she was also obviously doing now.
Mariaelena was tempted to throw the other Immortal into the sea at
the first opportunity. When Don Alvaro had first adopted Mariaelena,
he had hired an old woman named Juana from the Spanish province of
Galicia to be Elena's *aya*--her teacher, maid, and companion, all in
one. Juana's favorite phrase had been, "*Coitela.*" Caution.

Mariaelena needed to be cautious, and not only of other Immortals.
Two years ago she had been condemned and burned as a witch, and
the
Inquisition had somehow heard she was still alive, and was hunting
her now. She had been hiding with the Indians in the Cordillera de
Cotanguil, the mountains just east of the Andes, but the *Sagrada
Hermandad* had a long arm. She wanted to leave South America
immediately, get as far away from those zealots as she could. This
ship was bound for Capetown, in Africa, but Mariaelena's ultimate
destination was Britain. There were no Inquisitors there.

"I wish only to travel," Maria Dolores said. "There is no need for
us to quarrel."

By "quarrel" Mariaelena knew the other woman meant fight to the
death, duel with swords until one of them cut off the other one's
head. There was no room to fight on such a small ship anyway, not
without getting caught. Mariaelena smiled grimly. The sailors were
watching the two slim, young-looking noblewomen, and the sailors
were listening, too. Maria Dolores was being cautious as well.

"Very well," Mariaelena said. "A truce, for the voyage." She walked
toward the other woman, her dark-red skirts swaying with the gentle
movement of the docked ship, and smiled into Maria Dolores' face.
"Just stay out of my way."

~~~~~

She couldn't, of course. The ship was too small. Fortunately, there
were no other passengers, so the women didn't have to share the same
quarters; but their cabins were right next to each other. Their maids
quickly became friends, giggling and chattering together, while Maria
Dolores and Mariaelena remained wary acquaintances. But then, the
servant girls could afford to trust each other. They weren't Immortals.

Still, it was good to have someone to talk to, and there was nothing
else to do. Except embroider, and Mariaelena had always hated to do
that. It required too much sitting. Maria Dolores did not embroider,
either. The two women walked the decks together, and read and talked
in the cabins. Or rather, Mariaelena talked, and Maria Dolores listened.
She listened as Mariaelena spoke of the death of her father Don Alvaro,
of being tortured by the Inquisition, of the horror of being burned alive.
It helped Mariaelena immensely, to be able to share her grief and her
pain with someone who understood, someone who wouldn't judge her
or think of her as an evil, unnatural creature. Mariaelena had had no
idea how badly she had needed just such a person to listen to her.

But even though Maria Dolores listened sympathetically, her eyes
remained distant and remote. She had very old eyes, eyes which had
obviously seen a lot, and should have been full of life. Or full of death.
But they were strangely cold. No, not cold--empty, Mariaelena finally
decided one day. If the eyes were truly the mirrors of the soul, as the
poets claimed, then Maria Dolores had lost her soul somewhere along
the way. Or maybe she had just misplaced it for a while.

They talked throughout the long, cold winter crossing, and by the
time they parted in Capetown, they had become ... friends, of a sort.
But they never saw each other again.

______________________

23 November 1996
______________________

"Yes," Elena said, letting no hint of that friendliness show in her voice.
"I remember. We were sailing north across the sea, to Las Palmas."

The woman did not pause at all, but answered easily, "We were
sailing to Capetown, in Africa."

"Of course," Elena agreed. "Capetown." But the Immortal could have
looked that up in an old shipping record. "And you stayed in the
forward cabin, on the port side."

Now the woman sounded slightly amused. "There was no forward
cabin, and you and I were both on the starboard side." She continued,
"You wore a red dress under your traveling cloak. The dress had black
buttons in the shape of roses. You stood on the deck and let the wind
blow your hair, and all the sailors would watch you."

"Si," Elena said, swallowing around the sudden thickness in her throat,
remembering that dress and the look in the sailors' eyes, remembering
the feel of the wind and the softness of her hair. It had taken her hair
almost two years to grow back after her very public immolation. Her
hand went involuntarily to the stubble on her head, then dropped
abruptly. She did not look at her reflection in the mirrors now. "What
do you want, Maria Dolores?" Her voice was still unfriendly.

The amusement changed to wariness, with a hint of a plea underneath.
"I would like to talk to you, Mariaelena."

"Talk?" Elena did not try to hide her skepticism.

"Yes. Or rather ... I would like you to listen." When Elena did not
respond, she added, "I listened to you once, and now I need someone
to listen to me."

Elena said nothing.

Another short pause, then Maria Dolores said softly, "I shouldn't have
called. Please excuse me for intruding."

"*!Un momento!*" Elena didn't need a broken bird right now, a soul
in distress, not when she was in such need of help herself. But she
couldn't let the woman go like that, not sounding so beaten, so
hopeless. *!Dios mio!*--she knew what that felt like. And Maria
Dolores was right; Elena owed her. It was Elena's turn to listen
now, to let the older Immortal unburden herself, to help purge her
pain and fear and sorrow.

It was a point of honor, made stronger by the fact that Maria
Dolores was not belaboring it, was in fact just giving up, about to
hang up the phone. That told Elena a lot about just how crushed the
other woman must be. Elena had lost her pride and her honor in
Bethel's basement in New York. Here was a chance to regain it.
"Look," Elena said, "it's been ... a difficult time." Any Immortal
should understand that. "I'll hear you out. But ... where are you?"

There was a definite tone of relief, even eagerness, in Maria
Dolores' voice. "I can come to Argentina, Mariaelena. I can meet
you in two days."

She hadn't answered the question, Elena noted, even though Maria
Dolores obviously knew where Elena lived. (Never give anything
away, Don Alvaro had taught her. But what if it was dragged out of
you, with branding irons and sharp blades?) Elena took a deep
breath. Where Maria Dolores was didn't really matter. "The
Recoleta Cemetery, in Buenos Aires," Elena said. "We can meet
there. To talk."

Maria Dolores said, "I'll meet you in the cemetery, on Monday
afternoon at four."

"At four," Elena agreed, relieved to be finished with this conversation,
anxious to get back to what she had been doing, alone. Meeting an
Immortal, now of all times ... well, when was a good time to meet an
Immortal?

"Mariaelena?" the woman asked.

"What?"

"Thank you. This means a great deal to me, that you are willing to
listen."

Elena paused, suddenly unsure of what she had agreed to, but
responding to the obvious need in the other woman's voice, and to
her own need to pay that debt. All she had to do was listen. She
could do that. "You're welcome. *Buen viaje.*"

"Gracias," Maria Dolores said, then broke the connection.

Elena put the phone on a bench and sat down next to it, frowning,
rubbing her hands together, palms open, calluses against calluses,
trying to ease the aches there. As always, her sword lay close at
hand.

Maria Dolores had been a patient woman, but certainly not a talker.
Elena had suspected at the time that it was more because Maria
Dolores didn't want to talk--or maybe couldn't talk--rather than
because she didn't have anything to say. Apparently, Maria Dolores
wanted to talk now. Something had changed.

A lot of things had changed. Elena deliberately looked at herself
in the mirror again. She certainly had. She was a different person
now than she had been on the *Constanze,* and not just in looks.
She had nothing in common with the cool, elegant, and beautiful
Maria Dolor--

Elena realized, with a start, that this was the first time in four days she
had actually thought about anyone other than herself. She smiled
ruefully, and her ugly duckling reflection smiled back, the first time
Elena had brought herself to smile in ... four days.

Maybe this Immortal's visit was going to help her, too--provided it
didn't get her separated from her head. Maybe this visit was just
what she needed to get her out of this morass of self-pity, to get
her thinking about someone else for a change.

No, she reflected, that's not what she needed. What she needed was
a shower. And a bath. A long, hot, scented bath. Some coffee, some
music. And some food. And maybe even some company, voices other
than her own ragged croak and the voices in her head.

But what she really needed was some sleep, and she couldn't manage
that, *!Madre de Dios, no!* Which meant she wasn't ready yet to
unlock the doors, to let other people in. But now she had a little
hope; she was closer. Soon. Two days, anyway.

She hoped.


===========================================


Elena strode arrogantly past the Doric columns into the central lane
of the Recoleta Cemetery, then stopped and looked around. Another
Immortal was nearby--there, at the end of the lane, standing in the
shade of a cypress tree. Elena walked quickly toward the woman, who
was turning to her, and stopped only a pace away--deliberately and
aggressively getting inside the other Immortal's personal space.
Elena looked her up and down.

The other woman was looking her up and down, too, but very
circumspectly. She wasn't obvious about it, not like the "beautiful,"
well-heeled couple who had openly gawked at Elena when she'd gotten
out of her Jeep, not like the knot of tourists whose stare Elena was
fiercely ignoring now. Elena was getting better at ignoring those--the
sidelong looks, the open-mouthed gapes, the comments, the whispers--
better than she had been in that restaurant in Seacouver with Duncan.
She had had a lot of practice since then.

But Elena hadn't missed the way the Immortal had looked at her.
Elena had seen the rounding of her eyes, the slight parting of her lips.
The surprise had been hidden instantly, but it had been there.

Elena ground her teeth, waiting to see what the woman would say, how
she would react ... but first, to establish that this was, indeed, who she
claimed to be. The height was about right, but this woman had auburn
hair, not red. "Maria Dolores?" Elena demanded.

The other Immortal did not move back, but answered quietly, "Si."

Elena demanded again, "Maria Dolores Caterina Ramirez del Castillo?"

"Si, Mariaelena."

"It's Elena now," Elena reminded her. "And you changed your hair."
She wondered if Maria Dolores would dare say anything about her own
hair. Or, rather, her own lack of hair. Or her missing eye. Or her too-
large clothes. Elena swallowed her anger. Her pride was
unaccountably hurt, even though Maria Dolores had said nothing, but if
this woman felt sorry for her....

The woman gave a small shrug. "I've had many different hair colors.
Sometimes, we want to change." She met Elena's hostile glare calmly.
"Sometimes, we're forced to."

The voice sounded the same, Elena was relatively sure. Then she
noticed Maria Dolores's eyes. They were green, not the hazel she
remembered. They were still very old, but not quite so empty as
they used to be. A broken bird still, perhaps, but no longer a lost
soul. Elena was sure they were the same eyes, the same woman.

Elena suddenly wondered if Maria Dolores saw emptiness or brokenness
in her eyes. Her eye! she reminded herself savagely. Bethel had
clawed out her other eye. Forced to change, indeed.

What else had changed? The hair, the eyes ...? Was she even the
same woman who had been on the phone? Was this really Maria
Dolores? Now Elena was not so sure, and she had to know. "It's
been a long time since we first met in Madrid. Tell me what you
remember."

There was no amusement in the other Immortal's voice at the test
this time. She answered evenly. "We didn't meet in Madrid, but in
Toledo, in 1636. Your teacher Don Alvaro introduced us. You were
getting your first sword, a broadsword. Don Alvaro said the
swordcutler had never made a blade for a left-handed man before, let
alone for a woman, and it took quite some time to achieve a balance
that suited Don Alvaro. He wanted only the best for you, his pupil."
She added more gently, "His daughter."

Elena blinked at the memory. That blade, too, she had lost to Bethel.
He had broken it, just as he had broken her. But her memories of her
father's exacting requirements about that sword, her memories of his
love for her, were still within her. Bethel had taken those away from
her, too, for a while. But Bethel had ultimately failed because he hadn't
killed her. She'd gotten away from him, and as long as she was alive....

Very well, Elena was convinced this was Maria Dolores. She backed
away one step, giving the other Immortal some room. Still, just
because Maria Dolores had been friendly before didn't mean she was a
friend now. *Coitela,* caution, always. Elena would be cautious, and
that meant there was something else she needed to ask. "I need to
know if someone is still hunting you."

Maria Dolores repeated smoothly, "Hunting me?" She shrugged again,
that small elegant shrug that was already getting on Elena's nerves.
"What do you mean?" Her eyes were wide and innocent, her face calm.

Elena wasn't buying it. "Someone was hunting you when we were on
that ship."

"We're Immortals. We're always being hunted." She gave Elena a
quick but thorough glance. "Or we are hunting. That's the nature
of the Game, isn't it?"

Elena shook her head, suspicious again. "You're lying. Or hiding
something. You say you want me to listen, and then the first thing
you do is lie to me. If you can't be honest about this, then I can't trust
you, and we're finished, right now."

Maria Dolores merely looked at Elena for a moment, with absolutely
no change of expression on her face. Her eyes were empty again.
Then she blinked, and the wounded bird was back. "You're right,"
she admitted, her voice soft. "I am lying. I'm sorry. I've been
... hiding for a very long time, and lying gets to be a habit."

"A bad habit."

"Yes." An expression of pain flickered on her face, then was wiped
away. The green eyes were calm and watchful once again.

"So?" Elena demanded impatiently. "There was a man hunting you.
You thought I was too preoccupied with the Inquisition to notice,
but I saw how you froze sometimes, like a rabbit hiding, at shadows
and at some men's voices, even on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
I know from Don Alvaro that you're an old one, and if the same
Immortal is still hunting you, I don't need him or anyone else
coming here looking for you, not now."

Maria Dolores gave a quick nod. "You are right again." Another
nod, a slower one this time, followed by a deep breath. "There was
a man, hunting me. He's dead now." She said quietly, "He's part of
what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh?" Elena said, non-committally. Good, Maria Dolores had admitted
it. Maybe they could get along, after all.

"He...." She shook her head, and started over. "I hid from him for
over three thousand years."
*!Sangre de Dios!* Elena thought. Three millennia! Elena had known
this woman was old, but not that ancient. She couldn't even imagine
living that long, much less being chased for that long.

Maria Dolores continued, "Every few centuries he would find me, and
then...." She gave another shrug, but it didn't annoy Elena this time.
Maria Dolores stopped and walked away, then stood staring at the
ground, her hand resting on a low headstone. Her long, elegant
fingers closed around the marble in a hard grip. "I guess I'm not
ready to talk yet, after all."

Elena believed her now. She came closer and reached out to touch
the other Immortal gently on the arm, but didn't quite dare. So she
dropped her hand and said softly, almost in awe, "Three ... thousand
years?" She cast around for something else to say and finally came
up with, "What was his name?"

Maria Dolores didn't want to say that, either, but she did. "His
name ... was Roland."

"Roland?" Elena repeated in surprise. Duncan had taken Roland's
head in June, while Elena had been in Japan. When she had come back
to Seacouver later that summer, Duncan had told her the story. In
1606, when Duncan was still a boy living in the Highlands of Scotland,
Roland had come hunting for him. An Immortal named Cassandra had
hidden Duncan--saved him, actually. The local people had feared
Cassandra and called her the witch of Donan Woods. They had had
good reason to think her a witch. She had a power in her voice, the
power to control and to hypnotize. Roland had also had the power of
the Voice, and he had used it in his fight against Duncan. Only
Cassandra's help and warning had helped Duncan defeat Roland.

Elena looked at Maria Dolores again, and suddenly realized who this
woman really was. She took a step back. A cold feeling of dread
replaced the heat of anger, of arrogance, of wounded pride, and
Elena tried to keep the emotion from her face.

"You're Cassandra," Elena whispered, her mouth dry, wondering about
the Voice, what it could do, what Cassandra could do. "You're the
witch of Donan Wood." And one of Duncan's lovers, she added to
herself. One of his *recent* lovers. Cassandra and Duncan had just
spent more than a week together, chasing after the Four Horsemen;
Duncan had told Elena a little of that tale, too. So why was
Cassandra really here? Because she wanted Duncan and needed to get
Elena out of the way? That would be ironic, considering Duncan had
left her just days before.

Maria Dolores--no, Cassandra, it was Cassandra!--turned to her
swiftly, but there was no surprise on her face or in her voice now,
only wariness. "You know MacLeod?"

*Which MacLeod?* thought Elena in sudden confusion, her mind
swirling with thoughts, with possibilities. Connor or Duncan? Why
hadn't Cassandra said Duncan? She had slept with him, after all.
Or did Cassandra know Connor? And had she slept with Connor, too?
Just how long had Cassandra lived in the Highlands, anyway? Her
father's words came back to her again. "Never give anything away."
Always good advice. If Cassandra wasn't going to specify which
MacLeod she meant, Elena wouldn't, either. She simply answered,
"Yes."

"Then maybe you already know my story, and I don't have to tell
you." Cassandra's eyes were very cold, the wounded bird hidden now.
"What do you know, Elena?" she demanded. "What did he tell you?"

Elena always responded to being attacked by hitting back harder.
And this was definitely an attack. She stepped closer to Cassandra,
again, closing the distance between them. Cassandra had nowhere to
go; her back was against the headstone. The two women were almost
exactly the same height, and Elena stood very close, staring into her
eyes. She used her most intimidating voice, the icy, deadly one, and
tried not to think about what kind of Voice Cassandra might have. She
prepared herself to cut off Cassandra's wind, and that Voice. A
spearhand in the throat should do it. "He told me about the Voice," she
hissed, her chest almost touching Cassandra's. "What else do I need to
know?"

Cassandra blinked again, and changed again. The coldness and the
anger were gone; replaced once more by the wounded bird. Her eyes
showed only confusion and remembered pain, and she seemed to shrink
into herself. "I'm sorry," she said again. Her words were low and
hesitant. "I didn't come here to fight."

Elena couldn't keep up with the way Cassandra kept changing herself.
First calm and arrogant, then humbly admitting she had lied, then
almost too frightened to speak Roland's name, then suddenly watchful
and angry, even deadly, and now humble again. She wondered if
Cassandra were doing it deliberately, to confuse her. It was working,
but Cassandra seemed to be just as confused. Who was this woman?
Did she even know herself?

Elena took a deep breath, damping the fear, and stepped back again.
Maybe Cassandra really did just want to talk. Duncan had told Elena
how desperate Cassandra had been to escape Roland, and Elena didn't
think Cassandra had been lying now when she said Roland had been
chasing her for three millennia. But she had to be sure. "Is that
why--?"

Someone came up behind her, and Elena turned to face a family--a man
and a woman, and their two young children playing amongst the
monuments. The man was looking in a guidebook of some sort, but the
woman gaped at Elena. He started to say, in broken Spanish, "*Por
favor, ?donde esta ...?*" then he raised his head. The words died
in his throat.

"The grave of Evita Peron?" Elena answered in English, recognizing
the man's accent. She raised her arm and pointed. "Down this lane.
Black marble," she said curtly. Then, she motioned with her head for
Cassandra to follow her, turned, and walked to a more deserted section
of the cemetery, behind a large pink marble mausoleum. *Another
dead hero,* she thought as she gazed at the grandeur of his resting
place. All around her were other monuments and headstones and
crosses. She and Cassandra were still on Holy Ground, and she was
safe. Probably. And now, here, with fewer interruptions, she could
truly read the old Immortal's expression, discern her real purpose. She
hoped.

As Cassandra came up behind her, Elena turned and asked her, quickly,
to catch her off guard, "Is that why you're here? Because of him?"

"Because of ...?" Cassandra stopped and considered Elena for a
moment. "Because of Duncan?" Now there was actually some surprise
showing on Cassandra's face. "Why would I be here because of him?"

"How about jealousy? You slept with him. Maybe you want him." Why
wouldn't Cassandra want him? *And why the hell would Duncan want
me now, anyway?* Elena thought, bitterly. She was useless, broken,
ugly. She couldn't even stand to have him touch her. Duncan had
probably been glad to have an excuse to go. He could have any woman
he wanted, including the beautiful Cassandra, with her long, silky
auburn hair, her cool green eyes--both her eyes. Both of them.

The amused tone Elena had heard on the phone was back in
Cassandra's voice now. "Sleeping with Duncan MacLeod is hardly
unusual, is it? And hardly worth fighting over. And no, I don't want
him."

Elena wondered for a moment if Cassandra was laughing at her. But
then Cassandra's amusement disappeared again.

"I'm here ... I want to talk to *you,* Mariaelena." She looked at
Elena carefully, and this time, Elena didn't mind being looked at.
"I think we both need someone to listen."

Elena's first impulse was to be angry and mistrustful, to reject
Cassandra. But Elena trusted her own instincts, and her instincts
said, believe this woman. She wanted to believe Cassandra. She
really did. But ... Elena held her hands out in front of her, palms
up. "How do I know? How do I know you're not using the Voice now,
to convince me?"

A quirk of the lips, almost a smile, flitted across Cassandra's face. "Are
you convinced?"

Elena couldn't help smiling herself. "No," she answered, now more
convinced than ever. And Duncan had said he trusted Cassandra.
Well, as Richie Ryan would say, *Shit or get off the pot.* Elena
said, "Will you give me your word, your solemn oath, that you will
not use this Voice against me? That I won't be bringing you into my
house so you can hurt my people?"

Cassandra nodded. "I give you my word. I will not use the Voice.
On you, or on any of your people." She glanced quickly at Elena's
thin cloak, where her sword was hidden, then added, "Unless I fear
for my life."

It was Elena's turn to nod. They were Immortals--that was always
the one condition. She'd have to go home now, think about this.
Then she realized there was one more thing she needed to know, one
more thing that would probably convince her. "Show me, Cassandra.
If you want me to trust you with my life and the lives of those I
love, I need to know what the Voice is all about. I need to
understand it for myself." *So I'll know if you use it against me,*
she thought. Not that it would matter, at that point.

"You want me to use the Voice on you?" Cassandra asked in disbelief.
"Now?"

"Yes. We're on Holy Ground." She wondered if that would really
protect her; but it didn't matter. She had to know, one way or
another.

Cassandra shook her head. "No." Before Elena could protest, she
added, "I swore another vow, a very long time ago, never to use the
Voice except in times of great need, or great danger." She placed
both her hands on top of Elena's, and said formally, "I swear to you,
Mariaelena Concepcion Duran y Agramonte, that I will not use the Voice
on you, unless you try to kill me."

Elena studied her intently, trying to judge if Cassandra was influencing
her with some glamour, like a vampire, whether her mind was being
affected by the Voice. But all she could see on Cassandra's face was
sincerity, and all she could feel was forthrightness and a measure of
pain that Elena was sure ran deep. Finally, Elena nodded.

Cassandra removed her hands and said, "You can ask MacLeod about
the Voice, if you wish."

Elena was curious enough to ask, and by now, amused. "Which one?"
she asked with a small smile. "Duncan or Connor?"

"Both," Cassandra said, and she smiled, too.

Elena realized it was the first smile she had seen from Cassandra
this day. And one of the few smiles she'd ever seen on Cassandra's
face. Then she thought about what Cassandra had said. Both
MacLeods? This could be a very interesting conversation.

But Elena couldn't ask Duncan or Connor anything, could she? She
couldn't keep the harshness out of her tone. "No, Duncan and I are
... He's gone. And Connor ... well. I'll have to do without both of
them." And whose fault was that? she asked herself. Duncan and
Connor had helped her, had given her back her sanity and a lot of
her self-worth, had saved her life. She had repaid them by driving
them away, thank you very much. If she had deliberately set out to
alienate both the MacLeods, she could not have done a better job.
"I guess I'll just have to take your word for it."

"What else can we give each other?" Cassandra asked, her own voice
harsh, even bitter. She lifted her chin and studied Elena, then asked,
"May I have your word, that you won't try to kill me?"

Elena wasn't ready to commit to that yet. She looked away for a
moment, considering, letting the peace of this quiet part of the
cemetery fill her, calm her. There was so much about Cassandra that
appealed to her, that drew her. They had something in common
besides being Immortals and being women. The story of this bastard,
Roland.... Duncan hadn't told her the whole story; he didn't know
it. But Cassandra knew. Elena realized that not only was she
honor-bound to listen, but she wanted to listen to this hurt,
confused woman, as Cassandra had once listened to her.

*Two broken birds,* she thought, *singing to each other, and
listening to each other's songs.* But even so--the Voice. Elena
feared very few Immortals, and she didn't fear Cassandra, but she
did fear the Voice. So much for peace. Elena shook her head, then
asked, "Where are you staying?"

"At the Hotel Central Cordoba," Cassandra answered.

Elena knew the hotel, near another cemetery, la Chacarita. Elena
knew Buenos Aires well, every street, every park. She knew every
site of Holy Ground in the city. "I'll call you in the morning to let you
know my decision. But," she added, significantly, "don't come to my
ranch without my invitation, Cassandra. I will consider it a challenge
and shoot you from afar, *then* I will come close and take your head."

Cassandra merely nodded, her eyes calm and watchful once again.

Elena nodded in return, and they walked together to the central
lane. Then Elena went out the gate to her parked Jeep, the whole
time conscious of the Immortal behind her, and very conscious of
that Voice. She walked more quickly, wondering if she'd made a
terrible mistake--another mistake. She wondered if she would hear
her name called, or some mental command which would leave her
helpless. But when she reached her car and looked back, Cassandra
was standing in the shade of the same cypress tree again, a still,
silent figure, as animated as the crypts themselves.

Elena found herself wanting to leave Cassandra with something other
than a threat, because she did want to believe Cassandra. So she
raised her hand in farewell and got into her Jeep. As she drove
away, she saw Cassandra nod almost imperceptibly, another spare,
elegant gesture from a silent, broken woman.

~~~~~

Cassandra watched as Elena drove away, engine roaring and tires
squealing. So Elena still liked to move fast, whether in a car or on her
feet. That hadn't changed. But so much else had. She honestly had
not recognized Elena when she had first come into the cemetery.
Cassandra had seen instead the missing eye, the stubble of hair, the
look of a starved and abused animal kept caged too long.
<Would you like to come out now?>

Roland's voice echoed inside her, exquisitely polite, supremely
mocking. He was dead, she reminded herself. He could never keep
her in a cage again. Nor could Kronos. But someone had caged
Elena. This Elena Duran looked nothing at all like the Mariaelena
Concepcion Duran y Agramonte she had met, all those years ago.

______________________________

Asuncion de Nuestra Senora, 1636
Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo, Spain
______________________________

Cassandra sat on the wooden bench in the shade of the cloister,
grateful for some relief from the heat. Her black gown was of light-
weight silk, but the gown combined with her underskirts, her bodice,
her farthingale, and her shift made her much too warm. She had been
staying at the woman's side of the monastery's guest house for almost
a month now, but she would have to leave soon. She had to keep
moving, or else Roland might find her again, and she could not let that
happen.

A pair of nuns were working in the vegetable garden. They also wore
black, stooping over, pulling weeds, like two silent crows searching for
carrion. The sun was beating down on their backs, and their habits
were of wool. Doubtless they were offering up their sufferings to their
god, believing this would bring them closer to heaven. Cassandra was
glad she was no longer a nun.

The bells rang, and the nuns gathered their tools and their baskets
and left. Only two more hours until the evening meal. Perhaps she
would take a nap. She wanted to sleep and to forget. Great Mother,
to forget! If only she could forget, just for a little while. If only she
could escape. But she knew there would be no escape for her, not until
Roland was dead, and she did not think that day would ever come.
Cassandra stood, her skirts rustling about her, then stopped and
casually surveyed the garden. There was a pre-Immortal nearby.

Old Sor Maria Isodora, the convent herbalist, and a dark-haired
fashionably-dressed young woman in her twenties had entered the
garden and were standing near the herbs. Hovering in the background,
watching from the garden entrance, was a very old woman, probably a
servant. The pre-Immortal sensation was closer than that. Cassandra
knew the nun was not a pre-Immortal, so it must be the young woman.

Cassandra started walking to her room. She had no reason to speak
to the woman, to warn her of her future. It was not her concern.
She had just entered the public hall of the convent when she felt
another presence, this time of a full Immortal. Cassandra did not
pause, hoping to disappear before the other Immortal saw her. She
would eat her dinner in her room tonight, and stay there until she
left the convent. With luck, the Immortal would never know who she
was.
Luck was not with her. Cassandra turned the corner and saw the
other Immortal standing at the foot of the stairs--Roderigo Rubio,
raised as an Iberian when this land had been a province of Rome, and
a former student of her sometime-lover and former husband Juan
Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez. She stopped where she was, bending her
head slightly in recognition, then waited for him to speak first. At least
they were on Holy Ground.

He bowed back, but kept her ever in sight. The lean fingers of his
left hand were on his sword, holding the weapon at an angle, ready
to draw it at any moment. "Callista," he said, greeting her with the
name he had known her by. "It's been a long time."

Twelve centuries probably seemed long to him. "Roderigo Rubio," she
said in return, evaluating his appearance. His expensive black velvet
clothes were cut in the French style, and around his neck was a thick
golden chain with a cross of beaten gold. Ramirez had told her that his
student had happily embraced the Christianity brought by the Visigoths,
but she doubted that Roderigo had taken all of Christ's teachings to
heart.

Cassandra had not been impressed with her lover's decision to teach
Roderigo. She had thought the new Immortal arrogant and impatient
and much too eager to fight, especially so for a man who was not in
the first flush of youth. Well, he had obviously learned enough to
survive. Perhaps he had even grown up some in the process.

Some things about him had not changed--the same light-blue eyes, the
same blondish hair and beard touched with gray at the temples and
chin, though his hair was neatly barbered now. His thinness and
straight carriage made him appear taller than he was, even gaunt,
though there was nothing weak about him. He looked the very picture
of a Spanish nobleman, a *caballero*: tall, arrogant, proud, always
looking for a fight--foolish. The foolishness hadn't changed, either, but
his name probably had. "How are you called these days?" she asked
politely.

"I am Don Alvaro Eugenio Duran y Agramonte. And you?"

She permitted herself a small smile. She had one more name than he
did. "Dona Maria Dolores Caterina Ramirez del Castillo."

"Ramirez?" he questioned. "As in Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez?"

"Yes," Cassandra replied, giving him no other information. Cassandra
and Ramirez had once been married for over a decade. When
Cassandra had returned to Spain four years ago, she had decided to
use the name Ramirez again, in tribute to his memory.

"How does Ramirez?" asked Alvaro eagerly. "I have not seen him
since 1538, when he was chief metallurgist to King Charles, and we
met at court."

Cassandra did not answer, and that was answer enough.
Alvaro paled. "When? Who?"

"In 1542." Her voice was calm and steady, and she ignored the
familiar feeling of loss. "It was the Kurgan." Ramirez had been in
the Highlands of Scotland at the time, teaching his very new student,
Connor MacLeod. Then the Kurgan, an ancient enemy, had come
hunting.

Alvaro nodded slowly, then let out a gusty sigh and shrugged. "The
Game, eh? Nevertheless, it is a shame. Ramirez was ... a good man.
And he was good to me." His jaw tightened. "Someday someone must
destroy that *asqueroso* Kurgan, that abomination from Hell," he
muttered almost to himself. Then, addressing her again, he asked,
"What happened to his katana?"

Cassandra carefully kept her face pleasantly blank. Connor had the
sword now, a unique Masamune katana. Apparently Alvaro had not
grown up enough. She knew Roderigo had long lusted after that
sword, and Roderigo--Alvaro, now--might just decide to take Connor's
head to get it. She had to protect Connor, even though she knew
Connor wanted her dead.

"Does not the victor usually take the sword?" she asked, thinking
that might prompt Alvaro to go after the Kurgan. If Alvaro won,
then the Kurgan would not be hunting Connor. And if, as was more
probable, the Kurgan won ... Well, Cassandra did not particularly
care.

Alvaro looked momentarily annoyed, but he nodded. "It is often so.
But I always thought the Kurgan would wield a larger, heavier
weapon, a double-handed sword, for example. A katana is deadly, but
delicate. And I don't exactly see that brutal creature keeping souvenirs,
either." Then he shrugged again. He studied her for a moment, then
apparently made a decision. "Shall we walk a bit, in the garden?" he
offered. "There's someone I want you to meet."

The pre-Immortal, probably. Cassandra had no wish to talk to her,
no wish to talk to anyone, but she nodded graciously, then walked
alongside him back into the garden.

The young woman looked up as they came onto the portico, then
hurried over, the bell-shaped farthingale of her red silk skirts
catching on the plants as she whisked by. Her black mantilla
slipped off her head to her shoulders, revealing her jet-black hair
which hung loose past her waist, advertising her unmarried state,
and--theoretically--her virginity. Sor Maria Isadora stood
forgotten by the herb garden.

"There you are!" the young woman exclaimed, her voice fast and
breathless, giving Cassandra a very quick, yet very thorough,
glance. Dangling pearls swayed from her ears, the creamy orbs
perfectly matched by her single-strand pearl necklace. The necklace
was long enough to dip very slightly in the center, drawing
attention to the curves emphasized by her low-cut red gown and the
extravagant black lace decorating her bodice. Red was a relatively
scandalous color, especially for Spain, especially for a convent.
But red suited the woman, brought out her dark coloring--the jet-
black hair, the gray eyes, the elegant sweep of her eyebrows, and
the deep red of her lips.

Cassandra stood quietly, her hands folded together, her eyes
slightly downcast as befitted a woman, staring at the embroidery on
the hem of the other woman's gown. The cost of the woman's clothing
was enough to feed three poor families for a year. Cassandra usually
did not care what she wore, as long as it did not excite curiosity for the
time and the place she was in, but suddenly she was very aware of her
unadorned black widow's gown. Her shoulder-length hennaed hair was
pulled into a plain bun at the back of her neck, and her only jewelry was
a small gold cross hung around her neck. Cassandra dismissed the
matter from her mind. Being conspicuous was stupid. This young
woman didn't realize it, but Alvaro should know better.

"Mariaelena!" Don Alvaro chided. "Where are your manners? The
*hermana* was speaking to you! Go back to her at once. And pull
your mantilla over your head, *nina.* Remember where you are."

Mariaelena flushed, the dusky color flooding her high cheekbones,
and anger and mutiny sparkled in her eyes. Then she took a deep
breath and arranged her mantilla properly. She turned to rush back.

"And walk slowly!" Alvaro called after her.

Mariaelena slowed to a more sedate pace, every footstep deliberately
and carefully placed. The old servant joined her, speaking to her
quietly as they approached the nun again.

Cassandra raised one eyebrow. Alvaro had his hands full with this
one. She decided a change of topic was in order. "Does she know
she will be Immortal?"

Alvaro shook his head. "No, but I have taught her to fence, starting
when she was only fifteen or so. It will be difficult enough for a
woman, and although she has a lot of energy, the sword doesn't come
naturally to her."

Cassandra nodded smoothly, her face still showing only pleasant
acceptance. It was indeed difficult for a woman, mortal or Immortal,
and it was men who made it that way. "She's very beautiful," she
observed, wondering what sort of relationship Alvaro had with this fiery
young woman whom he had known since she was at least only fifteen.

Alvaro snorted as he watched Mariaelena, now speaking graciously to
the nun. "I don't pick my students for their beauty. This one's a
mongrel, with Indian blood. And she is just a woman."

Cassandra still did not change her expression. Centuries of
practice made it easy for her to keep all traces of her thoughts
from showing on her face. Alvaro was as arrogant and annoying as
ever. As for Indian blood, all Immortals were mongrels. He had no
idea who his parents had been. No Immortal did. He might look like
a Spanish gentleman now, but Alvaro had been raised an Iberian, and
the Romans who had conquered this land had considered him a
barbarian, a savage animal. And as for being "just a woman...."

Alvaro bent down a little, leaning over her in a way she found distinctly
uncomfortable, though she did not move away from him. He spoke
quietly, but the colder, uglier tone now in his voice made her watch him
surreptitiously, alert for any signs of the violence she sensed in him.

"When I found her she was a child still, only about twelve, but the
Spaniard who owned her...." He drew in a breath through his nose,
then said with grim satisfaction, "That particular sadistic whoreson, may
he burn in all the fires of Hell, will never treat an innocent child so
again."

Cassandra looked again at the vibrant and beautiful young woman, and
she felt no pity for the abused girl Mariaelena had been. Cassandra
had seen too many abused girls, too many broken women, and she had
no pity left--for them, or for herself.

Alvaro paused, took a deep breath, and looked across at Mariaelena.
"I tell you, she has more heart and guts than anyone I've ever met,
man or woman!" His voice strengthened and warmed with pride, and
something more.

Cassandra turned slowly to look at him, using the deliberately graceful
movement to hide her surprise and to move slightly away from him at
the same time. She had never thought to hear him say this of another
person, let alone of a woman. This was more than the pride he might
take in a magnificent animal he owned. There was a softening in his
voice and in his face that spoke of love--a father's love. The
relationship was not what she had thought. Mariaelena was very
fortunate to be starting out her Immortal life this way, with a teacher
and a parent who would love and guide her through those perilous early
years. Cassandra allowed her voice to become warm and even a little
awed. "She is your daughter, I see, as well as your student."

"Yes. I adopted her, and I have never regretted it. Well," he amended,
smiling fondly, "almost never." His smile disappeared, and he fixed
Cassandra with a penetrating gaze. "She has brought me great joy,
and I would die for her."

Cassandra heard the words he did not say: "And kill for her." She
had no intention of hurting this girl, but many other Immortals would,
and she knew it. So did Alvaro. She bent her head and interlaced her
fingers, adopting a posture of submission, allowing him to think he had
intimidated her.

It seemed to satisfy him for the moment, for he straightened and
turned his eyes back to his daughter.

Mariaelena came back to them now, walking slowly and sedately, as
befitted a young lady. But Cassandra could see the pent-up energy
in her gray eyes, the quick movements of her head as the girl took
in all details, the way she moved smoothly, like a dancer--or a fencer--in
spite of the width and heaviness of her dress and of the skirts
underneath. The old woman stayed at a respectful distance. Beyond
them, Sor Maria Isadora disappeared into the convent.

Alvaro bowed slightly in Cassandra's direction. "Dona Maria Dolores,
may I present my daughter, Mariaelena Concepcion Duran y
Agramonte?"

"Dona Mariaelena," Cassandra murmured, being careful not to smile.
Alvaro had already embarrassed Mariaelena in front of her, and
Cassandra could see the young woman had a great deal of pride--too
much pride. She would learn, as all women must learn, that men,
even fond fathers, would not long allow pride in a woman. She must
be a reed--soft, pliable, hollow--bending and bowing with the slightest
breeze. If she did not bend, the men would break her and trample her
underfoot, then grind her into the dirt.

"Mariaelena, this is an old friend of mine, Dona Maria Dolores
Caterina Ramirez del Castillo."

Mariaelena looked at Cassandra more closely now, for the term "old
friend" could mean many things. It was not a very friendly look,
but her manners could not be faulted as she replied, "I am pleased
to meet you, Dona Maria Dolores."

As the elder woman, it was Cassandra's place to speak first. "Did
Sor Maria Isadora speak with you of herbs, Dona Mariaelena?"

"Yes, senora," Mariaelena said, politely enough. "The plants here
are different than they are in La Plata."

"So, you come here from the colonies," Cassandra observed. "Have
you been in Toledo long?"

"Almost three months." Her voice grew more animated. "We came to
here to get my--" She stopped abruptly and looked at Alvaro, her
face flushing again.

He did not looked pleased. It seemed to be a common occurrence
between him and his daughter.

Cassandra said swiftly, hoping to spare the girl further embarrassment,
"Are you here to purchase a wardrobe? The seamstresses are very
skilled in this city."

Mariaelena seized on that. "Yes, I have many new gowns, and a
lovely new ballgown. I also have some marvelous new riding habits."
She glanced once at her father, then ventured, smiling mischievously,
"What I'd really love is to go to Andalucia and--"

"Mariaelena," Alvaro interrupted, apparently having heard this before.
"I've already told you I don't want to ship another Andalusian across the
ocean. Those horses are too high-strung; they don't always survive the
voyage, and the cost is prohibitive, especially for a dead animal." He
smiled at her fondly, taking the sting out of the rebuke this time. "And
ordinarily, I'd never give such a fine animal to a woman, although I
know that you, *nina,* can handle one."

Cassandra watched as Mariaelena smiled at him again, but with love
instead of mischief. The girl was luckier than she knew, luckier than
she had any right to expect to be.

Alvaro turned to Cassandra. "In any case," he continued, "we are
here in Toledo for a different reason. This city is famous for more
than just clothes." He studied Cassandra again. "We came to purchase
a sword for Mariaelena," he said finally, then turned back to his
daughter. "You may speak of your sword to Dona Maria Dolores, but to
no one else. Do not forget again."

"Si, padre," she said contritely, but now she was looking at Cassandra
even more closely, obviously wondering what made this woman so
special.

Cassandra gave her a small polite smile that revealed nothing. "Don
Alvaro," Cassandra asked, "would you please tell us what makes a
Toledo sword distinctive?" Always give a man a chance to display
his knowledge. Mariaelena would need to learn this lesson, too.

Alvaro rubbed his hands together as though warming himself to the
task. "Let us sit." He indicated a wide bench in the shade of a tree.
They all walked over and settled themselves, one woman on either side
of him.

But before he could say anything, Mariaelena stood again. "Your
pardon, padrecito," she murmured, then gestured to her servant.
"Come here, Juana." As the old woman did so, Elena offered Juana
her seat, explaining, "It's so hot in the sun." Mariaelena sank gracefully
down and settled herself on the ground in front of them, her gown
billowing around her.

Juana shook her head in amusement and exasperation, then murmured
something about Mariaelena's clothes.

Alvaro waved away her objections. "Sit," he ordered.

Juana sat on the edge of the bench, her back straight, her eyes
downcast, and Cassandra considered Mariaelena from under her lashes.
The girl might be impetuous, but at least she was not spoiled and
selfish, as she so easily could be.

Alvaro was impatient to begin, a king holding court. "Are we ready,
then? Very well. Toledan steel in the hands of a master swordcutler
like Don Alonso Sahagun results in a weapon like none other in the
world. In fact, the famous Spanish hero, El Cid Campeador, wielded a
Toledan blade in his battles against the Moors."

For a while he spoke about the Moors and their scimitars, which were
forged (according to Alvaro) on the pattern used by the Toledan
swordcutlers. Ramirez had told Cassandra that Alvaro had been a
part of El Cid's armies and had spent centuries fighting against
Catholic Spain's great enemies, the Moors. But, of course, Mariaelena
knew nothing about her father's past, or about being an Immortal. It
would come soon enough.

Alvaro was still waxing eloquent, or at least, he thought he was.
"The master Don Alonso has gotten old, but he supervises still. It
is very exact, the composition of the blade, the time it must spend
in the fire, the color it must attain there. I am no expert, but I
have heard the swordcutler reciting prayers in a certain rhythm to
make sure the blade did not remain in the fire too long, or not long
enough. Then, the cooling in water and the blowing, to get the
perfect tempering. Our swordcutler is Don Alonso's own son, and he
has already spent almost three months...."

He continued his discourse for quite some time, touching on the
history of swords, of the importance of the proper type of ore and
coal, of famous blades he had seen, and Cassandra soon stopped
listening. She was grateful when the bells rang again, and the nuns
started to come through the garden on their way to afternoon
prayers. "Your pardon, Don Alvaro, Dona Mariaelena. I must join
the sisters in the chapel now."

Alvaro stood and bowed. "Of course, Dona Maria Dolores. We shall
see you again."

Cassandra smiled and left them under the shade of the tree, the
irritating Spanish don and his spirited mongrel daughter. She took
her place in the chapel and bowed her head, listening to the chanting of
the sisters. Cassandra wondered how long Mariaelena would retain her
fiery independence, how many years it would take until the fire within
her was stamped out and extinguished, and only the ashes remained.

______________________

25 November 1996
______________________

It had been three hundred sixty years since she had first met Elena, and
it seemed as though her question had been answered. Elena looked
the way Cassandra felt: beaten, broken, used.

<I will tame you.>

The burning brightness of Elena's flame was gone now, replaced by
smoldering hate and suspicion and vicious anger, fueled by shame and
guilt and rage. Cassandra knew about that, too. Still, Cassandra
was glad Elena had been willing to see her. They did, indeed, both
need someone to listen.

Cassandra went into the relative darkness of Nuestra Senora del
Pilar, the church next to the cemetery, and sat in a pew at the back.
The door opened behind her, and two old women, wearing the
old-fashioned mantillas, shuffled inside, dipped their fingers in
the Holy Water in the cool stone bowl, and crossed themselves. They
nodded to her as they walked by, mumbling, "Senora," and Cassandra
nodded back.

<I own you. You are mine, forever.>

Cassandra stayed in the church for a very long time, her head bowed
as if in prayer, silent and alone.


===========================================


"Let me in!" Cassandra pleaded, pounding on the gate in the temple
wall. Roland was coming closer; she could sense him. "Hurry,
please!"

Shuffling footsteps sounded inside, slow scrapes of sandals on mud-
brick tiles, then the wicker shutter swung open. "Who's there?" the
aged priestess asked, the words mumbled through a toothless mouth.

"Unbar the gate!" Cassandra commanded using the Voice, and the old
woman slowly, maddeningly, complied. Cassandra shoved the gate
open, knocking the woman to the ground. Cassandra slammed the gate
shut and barred it, then turned to help her to her feet. "I'm sorry," she
said, supporting the aged priestess, the old woman's bones frail and
delicate under the gray robe.

"What--," the old woman began, but there was no time. Roland was
coming.

Cassandra turned and ran, across the courtyard, up the steps, to the
foot of the bronze statue of Artemis in the inner room of the temple--
just in time, for he had come. Cassandra breathed deeply, controlling
her panic. She would be safe here. Her sisters would protect her.

They come a few moments later, one on each side of Roland, their
white veils fluttering about them as they walked.

"She's safe, thank the Goddess!" Roland exclaimed when he reached
the top of the steps and saw her. He hurried over, then took her gently
by the arm. His voice was soft. "I was so worried about you,
Cassandra." His eyes were cold. "You shouldn't leave me like that."

Cassandra yanked her arm away from him and went to kneel on the
cold marble floor in front of the priestesses. "I claim sanctuary," she
said desperately.

The two women exchanged concerned glances, and Roland came over
to them at once. "I told you she had been ill," he said, shaking his
head. "My poor wife."

"I'm not his wife!" Cassandra exclaimed furiously. "I am a priestess;
you cannot turn me away."

"She was a novice once," Roland explained smoothly, "but she's been
raving ever since the death of our child from the fever, pretending she's
a priestess. She even imagines we've never married, never had a baby.
I think the grief was too much for her."

The women nodded in sympathetic understanding, and the taller one
bent to her, lifted her gently to her feet. "Come now," she said
soothingly, "your husband is here to take you home. He will take care
of you, and maybe soon you will have another child."

"No!" Cassandra said, pulling loose and backing away, frustration and
rage beating inside her head, mounting into terror. She had to make
them understand. "He's lying!" she said, using the Voice to persuade
them. "I'm not his wife!"

The women merely stared at her, shaking their heads. The Voice
wasn't working, not now; Roland had already used it to convince them
of his story. Cassandra tried one last time. "I've never even had a
child!"

Roland stepped forward and grabbed her by the arms. "You're coming
home with me. Now." His fingers tightened, the nails digging into
the tender skin. "I don't know how you could ever forget you were a
mother, Cassandra." His voice went soft with vicious satisfaction.
"I'm going to help you remember."

She knew what that meant. "No," she whispered, then her panic gave
her the strength to twist away and run. Roland did not chase her;
he did not need to. He spoke to the priestesses, and they ordered
the guards to drag her from the sanctuary of the temple and give her
to Roland.

He took her back to his house and locked her in her cage again. "I
told you there was no escape, Cassandra," he said, smiling. The
smile disappeared. "But you keep running away. This time, I'm not
going to punish you. I'm going to make sure you appreciate me
enough to stay."

~~~~~

Cassandra sat silently in her chair in her hotel room, trying to stop the
memory. At least she could wake up from dreams. Maybe a shower
would help. She stripped and turned the water blistering hot, then full
cold, then hot again, letting the sensations distract her from the images.
She could still hear the voices.

<Don't ever push me away, Cassandra. You should never push me
away.>

She decided to go running; it was almost dawn. She was tying her
shoes when the telephone rang. "*Oigo?*" Cassandra said.

"Duran here," the other Immortal identified herself bluntly. Her voice
was tired and rough, as though she hadn't had any sleep, as though she
had been crying--or screaming. "You might as well come, Cassandra."
Cassandra hesitated. "Is this your invitation, Elena?"

"I suppose," came the tired reply. "It doesn't matter anyway, one
way or the other."

It did matter. Cassandra remembered the warning from yesterday, and
she did not want Elena to shoot her from afar and then take her head.
Cassandra needed to be absolutely clear on this point. "Is this your
invitation to your *estancia*?" she repeated.

"Yes! All right?" Belligerence replaced the weariness. "I'm inviting you.
So you can come, and I won't shoot you."

<I will kill you.>

No. That was inside her head. Elena was not going to kill her. But
Elena sounded more than tired; she sounded drunk--belligerently,
morosely, and dangerously drunk. Well, Cassandra understood that.
It wasn't as if she herself hadn't been drunk a few times--more than
a few times. She said smoothly, letting none of her concern show,
"I'll be over this afternoon."

"Bring your bags."

Cassandra paused again. "My bags?"

"Yes," Elena snapped. "Your bags. You can stay here, instead of
that hotel. There's room." Now the moroseness replaced the
belligerence, and her voice was slow. "Lots of empty rooms."

<You shouldn't leave me alone. Don't ever leave me alone.>

Cassandra took a deep silent breath, refusing to listen to Roland's
voice inside her head, knowing Elena would not appreciate hearing
her sigh. This was not going to be easy--two women trained in
killing, one aggressively drunk and one hearing voices, both fighting
demons, trying to talk to each other and make it all better. Still, what
else could they do?

Cassandra took another silent breath and made her decision. "I'll
see you at two o'clock, Elena."

~~~~~

It was nearly two o'clock now. Chickens, dogs, and half-naked
children scattered as Cassandra drove carefully through the narrow
dirt street of the village of Veiloso. The chickens ignored her,
the dogs chased the rented Jeep, and the solemn and unblinking
children watched from shadowed doorways of white-washed houses.
The children were barefoot and dirty, but they weren't starving. It was
not a bad way to grow up. Most children had no interest in baths.

The huddled low houses gave way to fields tinted with the darkening
green of new corn, the only vegetation other than the tall pampa
grass. It was absolutely flat and mostly treeless. Elena had said
her *estancia* was just past the village; Cassandra was almost
there.

She could see the house now: a large, white-washed, two-story
building. As soon as she drove through the gate in the ornate
wrought-iron fence that bordered the yard, the skin on the back of
her neck crawled with the sensation of an Immortal.

<I will find you, Cassandra, no matter how long it takes.>

But Roland was dead. Kronos was dead. No one was hunting her now.
It must be Elena she sensed, though no one was in sight. In fact,
except for some faraway field hands, she hadn't seen a soul since
she'd gotten close to the house. That was odd, for a working ranch.
Cassandra stopped the car in front of the house, but did not turn off the
motor. Elena was nowhere to be seen.

Cassandra waited, evaluating the terrain. The gate was open now,
but even if it were locked, the iron fence surrounding the large house
would be easy to climb. The house itself was well-kept--the flowering
shrubs neat, the lawn clipped. There were plenty of windows on both
floors, and several sets of French doors. The roof of the porch on the
east side of the house would make it easier to jump. If she needed to
escape, she would have several options, although the house's isolation
might be a problem. She would need a car to get away.

A large black dog ran up and started barking aggressively at the
Jeep, joined soon by a smaller dog. Elena appeared at the main door
and came down the front steps. Her hands were empty, and she wore
only shorts and a shirt, and her feet were bare, too. She didn't look like
she was hiding a gun. Or a sword.

<There can be only One.>

Elena stopped about four paces from the car and gave a sharp whistle.
The dogs stopped barking at once and went to her, and Elena patted
them both on the head, smiling a little. "Raul," she said to the black
one, then sent them running off with a word. She nodded in greeting.
"Cassandra." She had sounded friendlier to the dog.

Cassandra nodded back, but did not move. Her hands were still on
the steering wheel, and the motor was still running.

Elena's mouth twitched, then she said formally, bowing this time,
"*Bienvenida, Cassandra. Mi casa es tu casa.*"

< Never trust an Immortal.>

Cassandra trusted no one, but she nodded more graciously now, then
turned off the motor and got out. She walked around the Jeep to
stand in front of Elena, but still not too close. "Gracias," she replied,
somewhat reassured by the old Spanish welcoming phrase.

"Come inside and have a drink," Elena invited, waving her hand
expansively and erratically through the air.
Cassandra did not move. Elena might be slightly drunk, weakened and
exhausted, but she was still very dangerous. Cassandra suspected
Elena Duran would be dangerous until the moment her head was
separated from her body. "I want your word, Elena."

<He'll lie to you. That's all he ever does.>

"My word?" Elena's remaining eye turned flat and gun-metal cold.

Cassandra was not impressed. There weren't many Immortals who
could intimidate her with just a look. In fact, she could think of only
one left alive, and his eyes were gray, too. But Connor MacLeod was
half a world away, and Elena was close enough to kill her. Cassandra
said, "I gave you my word. Before I enter your house, I want your
word that you will not try to kill me."

Elena's eye narrowed in irritation.

*The belligerent side of the drunk,* thought Cassandra wearily. She
really didn't want to deal with this. "Elena," she said reasonably,
"I asked you to listen to me. And you need someone to listen to
you." She saw how Elena's chin went up in defiance and wounded
pride, and she reminded her gently, "I've listened before."

Elena nodded slowly, and some of the coldness left her face.

Quoting Elena, Cassandra said, "If you can't promise me you won't
try to kill me, then I can't trust you, and we're finished right now."

Elena laughed then, a clear rippling sound. "Wise words," she said.
"Touche."

Cassandra blinked once in surprise. She had not expected Elena to
be so amused.

Elena took a long, deep breath and held out her hands, just as
Cassandra had done at the church, then waited for Cassandra to come
forward and grasp them in the traditional way. Her voice was firmer
now, not rasping, but there was no amusement in it as she spoke: "I
swear to you, Cassandra-Maria Dolores, that I will not try to kill you
while you are a guest in my house, unless you try to kill me. *Palabra
de honor.*"

She grinned at Cassandra, waiting for an answering nod. Then she
squeezed her hands once and let go. Cheerfully, she asked, "Want
that drink now?"

Cassandra thought about it for only a second. "Why not?" She
laughed a little, surprising herself, and she could see, surprising
Elena as well. "Why not?"

Elena led the way into the house, which opened up into a large
combined living and dining area, an expanse of brown wood, beige
tiles, and ochre walls. Ceramic dishes, pillows, and a pair of
covered sofas provided splashes of bright red and faded yellow.

On the other side of the long oak table to her left was a closed
door, and beyond the dining area she could see the kitchen at the
back of the house. Cassandra followed her hostess through the
living area, building a map of the place in her mind. A dark
Spanish armoire crouched against the wall to her right, between a
stone fireplace and a set of French doors that led to the porch
she'd seen from outside. A wide staircase was behind her, and two
open doors lay ahead, one leading to a small library, the other to
an office.

The house seemed as deserted as the yard had been.

The sad strains of a cello grew louder as they approached the doors,
and Elena led the way into the library. Cassandra didn't follow
her, and she didn't look at the books. A sword lay across the arms
of one of the three large leather chairs, a katana in a black lacquered
sheath. So, Elena had not kept the broadsword Alvaro had given to
her, three and a half centuries before. Perhaps the katana had been a
gift from Duncan. He had a lot of swords. Cassandra stayed in the
doorway and watched.

Elena moved the sword from the chair to the desk in the center of the
room, then reached for the phone, pushed a button, and said, "It's safe.
You can come back." When she sat on the chair, a striped cat appeared
and jumped easily onto Elena's lap. "Toco," she said, smiling a little,
stroking the cat absently, then picked up a glass half-filled with a well-
recognized amber liquid.

Elena motioned to the bottle on the table. "Help yourself," she said,
then took a swallow of her drink. "Or do you want something besides
Scotch?"

Cassandra came into the library, more at ease now that Elena had put
the sword aside and was petting a cat. "Scotch whisky is fine,"
Cassandra said as she picked up the bottle. She read the label and
smiled a little. "Especially this brand." It was a single malt, a Glenlivet.
Elena did know the MacLeods.

She poured herself some whisky and sat down in the chair farthest
from Elena, then looked around her. Glass-fronted shelves, interrupted
only by one large bay window, completely covered three of the available
walls. The shelves were full to bursting with old and new books on
every topic imaginable--paperbacks, magazines, manuscripts, scrolls,
and encyclopedias; all in various languages, from Arabic to Japanese.
An entertainment system covered the last wall, holding a large-screen
television and a VCR; collections of videos, cassettes, and CDs; and the
source of the music, a stereo. It was a cozy, lived-in room, obviously a
favorite.

<We must leave this place. People are starting to talk.>

Two people came to the doorway, bringing with them whiffs of sweat,
both horse and human, and of baked bread. There was a very old
Indian woman, less than five feet tall but sturdy, and a younger
Indian man, stocky and muscular, perhaps in his mid-thirties. The
woman's pure white hair was gathered into a bun, and the man's coal-
black hair was tied back with a leather thong at the nape of his neck,
but they resembled each other even so. It was the eyes that made
their family ties clear; eyes that were dark, unwavering and suspicious;
eyes that were staring straight at Cassandra.

A thin sheen of sweat gleamed on the man's face, even though it was
cool inside the air-conditioned house. He had come from outside,
Cassandra realized, when Elena had told them on the phone that it
was safe to return to the house. Safe from her? Or from something
else?

"Carmela, Juanito." Elena waved them into the library, took a sip, put
the glass down and stood. The cat somehow managed to stay on the
chair.

Cassandra stood, recognizing a test.

<Have you forgotten the lesson already?>

"This is the senorita Cassandra," Elena said, speaking in Spanish.
"She'll be my guest for ... a while."

The two Indians had almost as much control as she did. Cassandra
knew her face had betrayed no surprise or confusion at Elena's words,
and the two people looking at her had not changed expression either.
They still looked wary.

Elena turned to Cassandra. "Carmela Onioco is my housekeeper," she
explained, "and Juanito, her grandson, is my ranch foreman. He runs
the place. And very well, too, right, Juanito?"

"As you say, senorita," he answered, comfortable and slightly dirty
in his working clothes of jeans and chaps, with dusty riding boots,
and a white short-sleeved buttoned shirt. He returned his eyes to
Cassandra at once. "If you need anything, senorita Cassandra,
please let us know." His voice was polite but remote.

<I live to serve you.>

She had said that before. She had even believed it. Cassandra
nodded to him and then to Carmela. "*Mucho gusto.*"

"*Bienvenida,*" Carmela said briefly, her hands folded neatly in
front of the well-used apron that covered her faded print dress.
Then she turned to Elena. "Does this mean I can go into the
ballroom now?"

Elena had been studying Juanito, but now she frowned at the old
woman. "The ballroom?"

"Can I have it cleaned now, Mariaelena? The ballroom?"
"Yes, clean it, by all means. Do."

Cassandra glanced down, not wishing to appear to witness this
altercation between the two women. She could still hear, of course,
and she had heard the disapproving tone in Carmela's voice. Why had
Elena not wanted the ballroom cleaned earlier?

Carmela asked, "Do you want something to eat now, Mariaelena? Your
guest might want something? A late lunch?"

Now Cassandra could hear warmth and caring in the Indian woman's
words. Elena was still as lucky as she had been all those years
ago. She still had people who cared about her. Cassandra looked up
again, keeping a small meaningless smile on her face, the polite mask
firmly in place. Once, long ago, she had had people who cared for her.
They had paid for that mistake with their lives--and with their heads.

<You shouldn't remember him. You're with me now.>

Roland had not liked to share. But he was dead, and she didn't have
to be alone anymore.

"Yes, lunch. Later," Elena said, sitting back down and picking up her
drink, leaning back comfortably, while Carmela shook her head
disapprovingly, and then the two Indians left.

Cassandra sat down, too, but did not pick up her drink or relax.
She watched her still-drunk, always-dangerous hostess. Elena lay
stretched out in her chair, her head back, her eye closed, the black
patch stark against her cafe-au-lait colored skin. Was the eyelid
under the patch closed, too? Or was there even an eyelid?
Cassandra did not really want to hear that story, but she knew she
would have to, sometime.

The cat was lying on Elena's lap again, purring softly. Elena held
her whisky glass in her right hand, and kept time to the music with
the fingers of her left. That meant that Elena's strong hand, her
sword hand, was free--free to fight, perhaps to kill. And the sword
was close by. Always.

<We live, we grow stronger, we fight.>

Cassandra asked, "What did you mean on the telephone this morning,
when you said it didn't matter if I came here or not?"

"What?" Elena said, then opened her eye and sighed. "I meant, well,
it doesn't matter to me. I don't care. Which is, of course, what makes
me more dangerous, and he didn't know it ... but you might care,
whether you live or die."

"Who didn't know what?" Cassandra was going to find out exactly
what this woman was talking about.

"There may be someone else coming for me," Elena said.
"Someone else?" Cassandra asked. "Someone came for you? When?"
If it had been recently, that would explain the deserted ranch, the
phone call, Elena's belligerence ... Taking a head explained a lot of
things. Cassandra started to relax, a little.

Elena nodded, then raised her head. "This morning, early. By
coming here, you might be in harm's way. I wanted to warn you. But
you already said no one was after you." She narrowed her eye,
trying to focus carefully. "Why is that, Cassandra? Why is no one
after you?"

"No one knows who I am," Cassandra answered, then remembered she
had decided not to lie anymore. "Or at least," she added, picking up
her drink, "those who do know who I am don't want my head." She
was almost certain of that. There were three Immortals who knew who
she was: Duncan, Methos, and Connor. No, four. Elena knew. And
none of them wanted her dead. Not now, anyway.

And the others ... the others were dead, but not even all of them had
wanted her head. The Game wasn't the only game Immortals could
play.

<You look different somehow. Maybe it's because you're on your
feet, instead of on your back.>

Kronos was dead, too. He would never hurt her again. She took a
large swallow of whisky and held tightly to her glass. They were
dead, and they couldn't hurt her anymore. Except in her dreams.
And in her mind.

"Why don't they know?" Elena asked, curious.

<I have no name.>

Cassandra shrugged, then took a welcome sip of the whisky, tasting
it this time, the warmth and bitterness tingling on her tongue. "I
change my name. I move. I don't own a large estate so that
everyone knows I live."

Elena nodded. "Everyone knows where I live. And everyone comes for
me, especially now, especially when they think I'm weak, vulnerable.
Every fucking Immortal from the Rio Grande down to Tierra del Fuego.
Every fucking one."

<He will find you. Just like I did.>

Cassandra studied Elena again, trying to decide if this woman was
stupid or reckless. Not every Immortal would come, not really, but
it only took one. Why would Elena stay here, return here, knowing
she was a stationary target? How could she live here, just waiting
for someone--anyone, everyone--to come for her head? Elena was both
stupid and reckless, Cassandra decided. "What are you going to do
when they come?" she asked Elena.

"What I always do," the young Immortal answered. "Kill them." She
finished off her whisky and poured herself another, then lifted the
bottle in Cassandra's direction with a questioning raise of her eyebrows.

Cassandra shook her head. Her glass was still half full. "Like this
morning," she said.

"Like this morning." Elena nodded at her sword, still lying, sheathed, on
the desk. "Tha's the reason for the sword," Elena said, slurring her
words. "Is not for you."

Elena was drunk, but she had given her word, and Cassandra was sure,
from her training in the Voice, that Elena was telling the truth now. She
would trust the young Immortal. A little. For now. "I know,"
Cassandra said.

Elena smiled, then stood a bit unsteadily. The cat jumped onto the
desk. "I'll go see about that late lunch," she said, then left the room.
Elena left the sword, too.

<Never forget your sword.>

Cassandra didn't have a sword. She stared at the weapon as Toco
rubbed his face against the cool, black lacquer, then she set down
her glass and stood, for Carmela and Juanito came back into the
library. They had been wary before; now they were determined. The
man's right fist was closed. He was the dangerous one, but it was
the old lady who spoke.

"Are you here to help her, or to hurt her?" Carmela asked, standing
very straight. "Because when she came here three weeks ago, my
strong, beautiful Mariaelena was a shadow of herself. She was so
badly hurt ... her eye...." Carmela stopped and shook her head, her
own eyes glistening, then continued. "The Scotsman, Senor Mac,
helped her a lot, loved her, let her use his strength--but when the
brother came, the angry one, they left."

<We are brothers.>

Cassandra did not need the "angry one" described further. She knew
who "the brother" was. Connor had come, and something had
happened between him and Elena. Then Connor had left, and Duncan
had gone with him. Duncan had abandoned Elena.

<She is just a woman.>

Carmela said, "Senor Mac deserted her. Now Mariaelena is hurt *and*
alone. And she needs someone like Senor Mac, or like you, someone
who understands the kind of person who would do such a thing to
another human being, destroy them like this, because we don't
understand it. All we can do is love her, but we can't help her beyond
that."

Cassandra did not understand that kind of person, either, but she
knew of them. Intimately.
Carmela took a step forward now, her small figure flanked by the
taller form of her grandson. "So, my question again: are you here
to help her or to hurt her? Because understand this, senorita
Cassandra: we *will not permit* you to hurt her."

<Stay away from me, and stay away from Duncan, or I'll kill you.
And then I'll take your head.>

Cassandra understood very well what Carmela meant. She said
soothingly, "I am not here to hurt her." She almost considered
saying, "I would never hurt her," but she knew that would be a lie,
and she was not going to lie anymore. She would hurt Elena if Elena
tried to hurt her. She would protect herself. And it was still possible
that Elena might break her word and attack her; but these people, who
loved Elena, might not realize that. Or they might not believe it. Or
they simply might not care.

Cassandra did not smile, knowing the Oniocos would not be fooled by
a smile. Carmela and Juanito were taking a dangerous chance, bracing
her like this, and they knew it. Even though they were trying to hide it,
she could see their fear in the tension of their bodies, the strain on their
faces. Cassandra was an expert on fear. It was fear of her, or maybe
of Elena herself, or of both. But they had come anyway, and they
deserved the truth.

<Don't lie to me. Not again. Not ever.>

No more lies. Cassandra looked directly into Carmela's eyes. "I did not
come to hurt Mariaelena," she repeated. "I came to talk to her. To ask
her to listen to me." She glanced at Juanito, then said more gently, "I
did not know what had happened to her." She still did not know, but
she could guess. "But I have listened to her before, and I will listen to
her now," Cassandra added, hoping this would help to convince them.

"Then you're not here to fight ... to try to kill her," Juanito said.

"No." Cassandra said the word quickly and definitely. "I am not here to
fight with her. I am here to talk with her, to help her, if she will let
me."

<We exist only to serve.>

She still believed that, believed in the necessity and the purpose,
believed in the vows of the Sisterhood, even after all this time. At least,
she thought she did. She held out both hands to Carmela in the time-
honored gesture of peace.

Carmela's eyes now showed the concern she had hidden from Elena.
The old woman looked closely at Cassandra, then finally stepped
forward and placed her hands in Cassandra's.

The skin on Carmela's hands was callused and wrinkled, warm and dry.
They were hands that had done much work, hands that had held babies
and sutured wounds, hands that had prepared food and made love.
Cassandra held firmly to those hands and said, "I will not hurt
Mariaelena unless she tries to hurt me. I gave my word to her. Now
I give my word to you." She looked at Juanito, including him in her
pledge.

For a moment the Indians studied her, then Juanito glanced behind
him, nodded once, and left the room. Carmela squeezed back, then
dropped Cassandra's hands and stepped back.

A few seconds later Elena re-entered the library. "Carmela?" Elena
asked, her eye narrowing in surprise ... or maybe suspicion.

The old woman turned to her mistress. "I was just saying to
senorita Cassandra that you told me she might like Greek food, or
Middle Eastern. I got some supplies, but I'm not an expert on
Eastern Mediterranean cooking."

Elena chuckled, apparently reassured. "Carmela lives to feed people.
And she probably thinks you're too skinny. She thinks everyone is too
skinny."

Cassandra recognized the evasion in Carmela's lie, so she smiled back
at Carmela and responded to the housekeeper's words about food. "I
like many kinds of food, Carmela."

Carmela gave Cassandra a genuine smile. "I hope my efforts will
please you."

<I cooled it in the river for you.>

Offerings of food, of comfort--ancient ways to establish trust. Of
course, trust had to work both ways. And Carmela had an ulterior
motive. She was doing it for Elena, to try to blunt the anger of Elena's
enemy or to help cement the love of Elena's friend. But trust had to
start somewhere, and Carmela's smile was real, for now.

So Cassandra would trust, for now. A little. "Gracias, Carmela,"
Cassandra said sincerely. In every culture, in every age, good food
soothed the soul. So did grandmothers.


===========================================


Dinner was served late in the coolness of the summer evening, as was
the Argentine custom. They ate outside on the patio. On the four
corners of the table, tall lanterns burned citronella candles, in an
almost-successful attempt to keep away the mosquitoes. The candles'
lemon scent competed with the sweet smell of the cut flowers, but
matched the bright lemon-yellow of the long tablecloth. Reflections
of the flames flickered in the crystal glasses and serving dishes.

Surprisingly, the two friendly dogs were nowhere in sight. Cassandra
covered the intricate yellow-and-red geometric pattern on her plate with
second helpings of the feast. Cheerful gaucho dance music--
*chacareras,* Elena had explained--filled the night, the pipes, guitars
and voices echoing into the darkness beyond.

Cassandra turned to Carmela, who had been bustling back and forth
from the kitchen, sitting for a moment, rising again to check on
something, and then, finally, joining them. "This is delicious,
Carmela," she said with enthusiasm. Cassandra had not been
interested in food for centuries, but Carmela was a genius in the
kitchen. This time, her trust had been well-placed.

Carmela smiled and nodded, pleased, then glanced across the table at
her mistress.

Elena didn't appreciate the food. She had eaten almost nothing at
lunch, and was eating even less now at dinner. But she was
certainly drinking. As soon as they had gone through the first
bottle of wine, Elena had asked for another, and she looked like she
would finish that one, too, mostly on her own.

Cassandra exchanged glances with the housekeeper, and Carmela
sighed softly, rolling her eyes. Cassandra took the hint. "Elena, you
should try the dolma with the sauce. And the antipasto. They are
excellent."

"I'm sure they are," Elena said, then took one bite, then a second
and third. It was apparently more than she had eaten in a while,
and Carmela beamed at Cassandra. At that moment, with that small
comment, Cassandra had made a friend for life, and it did not take
much effort to smile back.

It was close to midnight when the two Immortals brought their cognacs
back to the library. Elena put on another CD, this one a lively piano
concerto, starting with flute and piano, a fairly modern style. Cassandra
looked at the CD cover before she sat down. "I'm not familiar with
Ravel," she said.

"He was a Frenchman from early this century," Elena explained. "He
once composed a piano concerto for a pianist who had lost his right
hand in World War I. I've always liked that story about him. He
has his sad moods as well, but generally his music lifts my spirits.
God knows we could both use that, eh?" She sighed. "Maybe he's too
much of a contemporary for you. Duncan doesn't like anything
composed after ... anything too modern," she finished, but the life
had gone out of her voice again.

<I haven't kept up with music lately.>

Cassandra took a sip of her cognac and wondered if she might one day
learn how to play the piano, or if she would ever play any instrument
again. Roland had shattered her harp in 1630, then used one of the
wires to garrote her. She had not played music or sung since that day.

Elena sat down, and Toco jumped on her lap again. "Toco," Elena
said, smiling and stroking. Then she looked at Cassandra. "You
know," Elena said, the smile gone, "when we first met, in Toledo, I
resented you."

Cassandra remembered the cool, appraising look the young Mariaelena
had given her, rather like the one on Elena's face now. In Toledo,
Cassandra had dismissed it as the normal jealousy of a favored
daughter about her father's "old friend." But at least Elena was
talking now, and this was as good a place as any to start. "Because
of Don Alvaro," Cassandra observed.

"Yes," Elena answered. "My father thought you were special, and I
was ... jealous," she admitted. "Also, that night after we met, he
told me that you'd given him some bad news, about the death of his
dear friend, a man named Ramirez. Of course, I didn't know at the
time that Ramirez had lost his head; I didn't know about Immortals.
But I do remember that my father wept in my arms, like a child. I'd
never seen him so ... hurt, so bereft. Before or since."

So, Alvaro had wept after all, Cassandra realized in some surprise.
Alvaro had given no hint of his feelings in front of her, of course.
*Caballeros* did not cry in front of an enemy, certainly not an
Immortal one. Or in front of a woman, unless she were his wife, or
his daughter. But Ramirez had been well worth tears, and laughter.

Elena turned to Cassandra and shrugged a little. "I held it against
you, the bearer of bad news." She sighed. "I was so young...."

Elena was still young, but Cassandra knew Elena wouldn't want to
hear that. "It was not easy news to share," Cassandra admitted.
"Ramirez was a very good friend of mine. A man to be appreciated."

Elena leaned forward, putting down her cognac and wrapping her hands
around one crossed knee. "Was he?" she said, with a small smile, a
special gleam in her eye. "There have been certain men in my life ...
who have made my heart sing."

Cassandra knew exactly what that meant. "Yes," she said,
remembering other men such as that, men such as her first husband
Taleer, of the dark laughing eyes and the gentle hands, and men such
as Connor MacLeod. "They make your heart sing," she agreed. And
often weep, but at least you feel something. She took a sip of her
cognac and continued, "I first met Ramirez in Corinth, about a century
before the time of Socrates. He was using the name Xanthos at that
time. He had a very commanding presence."

"Was he your husband then?" Elena inquired.

<I want to buy this one.>

He had been her master. Only later had they become friends, then
lovers. "Not then," Cassandra answered, responding to Elena's interest.
"We were married around 1500 or so, for about fifteen years." She
shrugged. "A marriage of convenience, for both of us; the legal vows
were important in Spain. But it was still a good marriage."

"You loved him," Elena guessed.
Cassandra gave her a small polite smile that meant nothing. Had she
loved Ramirez? She was not sure. She did not know how to love, not
now, but she had not always been like this. She could almost
remember. "There was ... affection between us," she said finally.
"And respect and caring and comfort." That meant something, didn't
it? Not a grand consuming passionate love, but still love, of a sort.

<I can't promise never to leave you, but I will never betray you.>

Perhaps Ramirez had even loved her, a little. Cassandra blinked
back sudden burning tears. "You were right, Elena," Cassandra said,
realizing now how important he had been to her, how much she had
depended on him through the long empty years. "I loved him. He
could always make me laugh, and he made my heart sing."

"I wish I'd known him," Elena said. "I've just heard the stories."

Cassandra had to smile at that. "I bet they're some good ones. He
was a spirited man." Elena smiled back and nodded, and Cassandra
said, "Ramirez was a man worthy of trust." And she had never trusted
him enough to tell him about Roland. She should have. "We were
friends first, and then lovers, and our friendship was the more important
to me. Trust such as that is all too rare in Immortals' lives." She and
Elena exchanged glances, then Cassandra lifted her glass in a silent
toast, and Elena returned the gesture. "And he and I were about the
same age," Cassandra said, "I was only about five hundred years older."

Elena nearly choked on her drink at that, and Cassandra remembered
how very young Elena was; she wasn't even four hundred. Cassandra
said, "I guess that sounds odd, doesn't it? But we were both over two
thousand when we married; there were very few Immortals who
remembered the Greeks and the Romans. We could talk about those
times."

"I was married to an Immortal once," Elena volunteered. "*Un
norteamericano.* Gordon Powell. We married right after his War
between the States and stayed together until the turn of the century.
Then we parted company." She took a deep breath. "He was killed a
few years ago," she finished. "Actually, that's how I met Duncan, when
I was looking for the ... person who killed Gordon."

Cassandra heard the hesitation, the hidden meanings in the word
"person." Not a standard Immortal beheading then. But before she
could ask, Elena said softly, the bitterness in her voice mixed with
sorrow, "But now Duncan's gone."

<I'll be right back.>

But he hadn't come right back. Duncan hadn't come back to Elena,
either. He had spoken of a special woman in his life, but Elena was
apparently not special enough to make Duncan stay in the face of
Connor's disapproval, even when Elena obviously needed his help.
Arrogant, unfeeling, self-centered ... they were two of a kind, those
MacLeods. They were like all other men. Cassandra took a deep breath
and controlled her anger. Elena didn't need that anger now; she
needed someone to care about her. She needed to talk. "Why did he
leave?" she asked softly.

"It was my fault," Elena said, picking moodily at the threads in her
shirt.

<It's my fault. He has a right to be angry with me.>

"Elena--," Cassandra began, but Elena stood so suddenly that the cat
actually fell off her lap. Cassandra stood too, but Elena made no
attempt to attack her, and Cassandra relaxed. A little.

"You know, it's been a long day," Elena said. "And it started very
early. I think I'll go to bed now."

Cassandra nodded. "I feel tired myself."

"You know where your room is. If you need anything, let me know.
*Buenas noches,* Cassandra." She left abruptly.

"*Hasta manana,* Elena," Cassandra called after her, then sat down
again and picked up her drink. The cat leaped from the floor to the
arm of her chair, and Cassandra held out her hand for Toco to sniff.
The formalities observed, Toco proceeded to step onto her lap and
turn around before settling down and purring. Cassandra stroked the
soft fur, wondering just how Connor and Duncan had managed to
convince Elena it was her fault they had walked out on her.

<You deserve to be punished, don't you?>

No.

<Tell me that you're sorry.>

No!

<You deserve it!>

NO!

Cassandra shoved the cat off her lap and went to the guest bedroom
at the top of the stairs, taking her drink with her. The large room
was comfortable and welcoming--a bright multi-colored wool blanket
on the four-poster bed, an antique oak highboy dresser and matching
rolltop desk, a rocking chair in the corner.

Cassandra got ready for bed, but didn't even bother trying to go to
sleep, not with the voices so strong. Maybe she could finish the book
she had started on the airplane. She settled in the rocking chair, her
drink by her side, and tried to lose herself in the improbable adventures
of the Gray Lensman.

When Cassandra first heard the howl, she thought it was an animal
outside, maybe one of the dogs. But it was human, and it was coming
from inside the house. She put her book down on the desk and opened
the door. The black dog, Raul, crouched whimpering in front of
Elena's closed door at the end of the corridor. The keening came
from behind the door.

Cassandra pulled her white cotton robe over her thigh-length T-shirt,
then walked down the hall and knocked. "Elena?"

Screaming suddenly replaced the wailing. "!No! !No, no! !No, por
favor, no!"

Cassandra opened the door, catching a whiff of the strong smell of fear
and sour sweat in the room. Raul, who had pushed past her into the
room, now backed away, bumping against Cassandra's thighs. He
whimpered piteously, torn between duty to his mistress and his own
fear. "Raul, *!largate!*" Cassandra ordered, and he untangled
himself from her legs and ran out. Cassandra went in.

The moon had been full two nights ago, but the harshness of electric
lights erased the silver light coming through the open French doors
on the opposite side of the room. Every lamp in the huge bedroom
was turned on: all four lamps in the sitting area to her left, the
Tiffany lamps on either side of the bed, the bathroom light. Even
the small reading lamp on top of the baby grand piano was on.

The wailing stopped, and Cassandra tentatively approached the two
antique four-poster beds that had been pushed together and swathed
in gossamer netting. Elena was lying curled on the far side in the
middle of the king-size mattress, her arms wrapped around herself.
She was naked, and her thin figure showed dark against the white
cotton sheets.

As Cassandra came closer and pulled up the netting, Elena crawled up
on the bed toward the headboards, then shrank against the dark wood,
her eye wild with fear. "*!No! !Por favor, no mas!*" she cried out,
obviously reacting to Cassandra's presence, the presence of another
Immortal.

Cassandra knew Elena was in the grip of a nightmare; she knew what
this was, what it felt like. Elena's katana was lying on the floor, next to
the bed, and Cassandra surreptitiously pushed the sword farther
underneath the bed with her foot. She made no move to touch the
other woman. "Elena," she said softly. "It's Cassandra."

Elena glanced at her quickly and blinked. She was panting now,
instead of screaming, and she sat up a little, trying to orient herself.
But she was still hunched over, still trying to protect herself.

"Elena," Cassandra said firmly, "you're at home. You're at your
*estancia.* No one is going to hurt you." Now Elena looked at
Cassandra and nodded in recognition. Her eye was still dilated, her
nostrils still flared, but at least she was awake. Cassandra sat down
very carefully on the edge of the bed. Before she could say anything
else, quick running footsteps sounded in the hall, and they were not
from a dog.
Juanito rushed panting into the room, pale-faced and frightened, yet
determined, still wearing the clothes from earlier that day, minus the
boots and the chaps. His shirt was unbuttoned and untucked. He was
holding a pistol in his hand, hidden down by his leg, and he was looking
straight at her. The dark circles under his eyes made him look a little
like a raccoon. Apparently he hadn't slept either.

Cassandra stood again and moved away from the bed. Did anyone ever
sleep in this house?

"Senorita! Are you all right?" he asked, still breathing a little hard from
running up the stairs. He came closer to Elena, but never took his eyes
from Cassandra.

Elena nodded as she hurriedly pulled the sheet over herself. She was
having trouble catching her breath.

Cassandra waited for a moment, but Juanito didn't raise the pistol, so
she went to the night table next to the bed. There were two glasses, a
bottle of Scotch, and a crystal pitcher filled with water. "Drink this,
Elena," Cassandra said, handing the other woman a glass of water.
Then she stepped away from the bed again.

Elena took several long swallows, then she nodded again and spoke to
her ranch foreman. "It's just a nightmare. I'll be fine, Juanito," she
said to him. "You don't have to stay again tonight." She turned and
said hesitantly, "Cassandra ...?"

Cassandra nodded in return, then said to Juanito, "I will stay with her.
All night, if necessary. I do ... understand." Obviously, Elena had not
seen the gun that Juanito was still holding, still hiding.

Ignoring Cassandra for the moment, Juanito spoke to Elena again.
"Do you want me to go, senorita?"

"Si," Elena said. "Por favor."

He nodded, slipping the pistol surreptitiously into the back of his
waistband, then backed away toward the door. On the threshold, he
asked, "Can I get you anything, senorita? Shall I call *la abuela*
this time?"

"No." She managed a weak smile. "Gracias, hombre."

"*A sus ordenes, senorita.*" With one last piercing glance, he
nodded at Cassandra and left, closing the door behind him.

Elena shuddered, and Cassandra took the glass from Elena's trembling
hand and set it on the night stand. She pushed the netting further
back and sat on the edge of the bed again, a little closer this time.
"Elena," she said, using the training the Voice had given her to make
her words soothing and reassuring, "You're safe. No one will hurt you
now." She knew Elena would need to hear that again. And again. And
again.
Elena took long, gulping breaths, trying to calm down, but they didn't
work very well. "He burned me," she murmured.

Her voice was almost unintelligible, and so low Cassandra had to lean
forward and lower her head to Elena's mouth to hear. The younger
woman's breath was sour; it felt very hot against Cassandra's ear.

Elena spoke more rapidly. "He liked to burn me, and he wouldn't
stop, and I couldn't make him stop! I gave him everything, everything
he wanted, everything I had, and I had nothing left to offer him,
nothing left to give! But he still wouldn't stop burning me. No matter
what I did, what I said, how I begged him, how I screamed and
promised and pleaded, it wasn't enough. He wouldn't stop; I couldn't
get him to stop!" She was talking louder now, faster, an edge of
hysteria in her voice, nearly sobbing.

<No! No more! Please don't hurt me!>

Cassandra held Elena in her arms and made the soft shushing sounds
women used for their children, sounds she had used for the children
she had loved, sounds she had used for Roland. She held Elena until
the trembling ceased and the soft sobbing eased into simple gasps
for air. "You're safe now, Elena," she said one more time. "You're
safe; he can't hurt you now." Cassandra didn't even know who "he"
was, and she couldn't make any promises about later, but for now, at
least for tonight, Elena was safe.

Cassandra breathed in time with Elena, then very gradually slowed
her own breathing, knowing Elena would follow her lead. Finally,
Cassandra asked, "Who is he, Elena?"

Elena pulled away, then leaned her head against the tall oak headboard
and closed her eye. She was wearing a white eyepatch, and it made
her look paler, sicker somehow, than the black one. For a moment, she
said nothing, then Elena leaned forward again and put her right hand
over her missing eye, as though it hurt--a phantom pain. Finally, Elena
whispered, "His name ... was B-Bethel."

Names of men like that were always hard to say, but Elena had used
the past tense. "He's dead?" Cassandra asked, wanting to make sure.

Elena nodded.

"Good." That was one less torturing murderer in the world. Cassandra
knew there had been no ancient geas laid on Elena to prevent her from
protecting herself. Elena had not had to wait three thousand years for
someone else to kill her tormentor for her. "How did it feel?" Cassandra
asked, curious--envious. "How did it feel to kill him?"

But Elena shook her head, her eye still closed. "I didn't kill him.
Connor MacLeod did."

Cassandra blinked in surprise. Connor? Why was he involved?
Shouldn't that be Duncan's job, protecting--or at the very least
avenging--Elena? Perhaps later, she might ask. Now they should try to
sleep; it was nearly two in the morning. "Elena, should we lie down?"

Elena shuddered one last time, then nodded, in control of herself again.
For now. "Yes, I would like you to stay, Cassandra." She drew another
shaky breath, then admitted in a low voice, "I ... I am ... afraid ... to be
by myself. And I can't ask Juanito, or Carmela, again ... I don't want
them involved in this."

They were already involved. There was no possible way to protect
them. But Cassandra understood why Elena did not want to burden
mortals, especially mortals she cared about, with her ugly, violent,
Immortal "business."

Cassandra swallowed her anger. Elena did not need anger; she needed
love and reassurance, preferably from someone who loved her, and
Duncan was not here. "Yes, of course, I'll stay, Elena," Cassandra said,
still using overtones of the Voice to soothe and comfort. "I will not
leave you." She glanced at the bottle of Scotch on the night table.
"Would you like some whisky?"

"Courage in a bottle," Elena said. "Yeah. Why not?"

Cassandra poured them each a drink, then clinked her cup against
Elena's. "To trust," she said. It was more a hope than a reality as yet,
but at least they had started.

"To trust," Elena repeated, and they both knocked back their drinks.

"Shall I turn out the lights?" Cassandra asked, and at Elena's nod,
Cassandra went around the room, flipping switches, leaving only the
bright moonlight for illumination. She took off her robe, then lay down
beside Elena and sank back gratefully into the bed and the soft feather
pillow. The cotton sheets were slightly damp from Elena's sweat, and a
cooling breeze came in from the open French doors. Cassandra closed
her eyes and tried to relax, but Elena wasn't lying quietly.

She twisted and turned, then took her feather pillow and fluffed it,
punched it twice, and twisted her head into it until she felt comfortable.
When Elena was done, Cassandra ventured softly, "You are very lucky,
Elena. No, you are very blessed."

Elena made a bitter, choking sound that was supposed to be a laugh.
"'Affliction is a treasure,' eh? Why would you think I'm blessed,
Cassandra?"

<May all your friends desert you! May you be alone all your days!>

Cassandra shoved the ancient curse away. Not all her days. Not
everyone. Connor was her friend now, and he was a man she could
trust. Mostly. She said to Elena, "Because you have such friends."

Elena sighed. "I was afraid of this. What did Carmela and Juanito
tell you? They didn't threaten you, did they? Because whatever
they said, they wouldn't--"
"They just wanted me to give them my word, the same way I gave you
my word," Cassandra interrupted, hurrying to reassure the younger
Immortal that her people hadn't done anything wrong. Though of
course, they had threatened her, and they would hurt her, too. The
pistol in Juanito's hand was proof of that. She could not hold it against
them; they did it out of love. "That is why you are blessed, because
you have people who care about you. Because you have a family,
Elena. Because you have a home."

"A home," Elena repeated, and now there was no bitterness in her
voice, only some wonder and tiredness. "This is why I stay. It's home."

Cassandra heard the comfort Elena took in that word, and Cassandra
understood it, even if she could not share it. In spite of what had
happened, Elena Duran was still lucky, still blessed, and she did not
appreciate it. After a while, the other woman's breathing slowed and
became regular as Elena fell asleep in the safety of her own home.

Cassandra stared at the clouds that passed in front of the moon,
wondering what her own nightmare would be about tonight.

<May your enemies come back again and again to haunt you!>

Wondering if the voices in her mind would ever be silent.


===========================================


When Elena awoke the next morning, she was surprised to see bright
sunshine coming though the French doors. She hadn't slept this late
for four and a half months. She hadn't slept this long, either. Bethel
had not let her sleep very much, not for the twenty-three days he had
held her prisoner. And after that, even after she had escaped, even
after he had been beheaded, she still had not been able to sleep.
Bethel owned her nights. But she had slept last night, for a few hours,
and she knew why. She turned to look at the woman next to her.

Cassandra was still peacefully asleep, as she had been asleep all
night. She did not have screaming nightmares. Her long hair was
spread over her pillow, her eyes--both her eyes!--closed, her cheek
pillowed on her hand. Cassandra had said that Roland had chased her
and brutalized her for three thousand years, but she bore no marks
of it. She was still beautiful, and Elena hated her for it.

Elena got out of bed abruptly and poured herself a drink. It was still
early, but not too early for a drink. Wasn't it? It didn't matter. She
had not done any drinking during her four days of self-imposed
imprisonment in her dojo. But she had had a few drinks on Sunday,
after she had met Cassandra at the church. Seeing the other woman
had brought back memories which Elena did not want to remember.

Then yesterday, after that other Immortal, Horowitz, had come for her
just before dawn, Elena had had more than a few drinks. A lot more.
At least she was getting drunk on good, single-malt whisky, instead of
that cheap rotgut Scotch she had drunk before she had met the
MacLeods. She lifted her glass in a silent toast to them. That was one
thing they had left her--something good to get drunk on.

But before Elena could toss her drink down, Cassandra awoke and
looked at her. Elena paused with the glass halfway to her lips,
aware of the picture she presented. She was stark naked, still much
too thin, standing there at eight o'clock in the morning with a shot
of whisky in her hand. At least she didn't have to worry about
brushing her hair. She gave Cassandra an ironic glance and tossed
back the whisky. "Want a drink?" she asked, not at all politely.

Cassandra sat up in bed, her hair falling gracefully around her
shoulders. "Yes."

"Good. I don't like to drink alone." She walked over and handed the
bottle to Cassandra, noting it was almost empty. No problem. Plenty
more where that came from.

"Nor I."

"Yeah." Elena waited to see if the older Immortal was going to say
anything about last night or smile at her in a cheerful greeting. She
waited for the knowing glance, the strength and confidence in the face
of Elena's weakness and humiliation. Just like the night before, when
Elena had screamed in fear and terror, humiliating herself, showing her
weakness. Then she had asked Cassandra to stay with her, like a child
afraid of the dark. Elena waited for the calm, condescending words
designed to soothe her ego, to tell her it was all right, that it was
understandable, that Cassandra knew how she felt. Elena did not want
to hear any of it.

But Cassandra said nothing, merely sat in the bed and sipped at her
drink, looking out the window, beautiful and composed.

"Well, I can't stand around here forever," Elena said, as she clunked her
glass on the night table. "I'm getting dressed and going downstairs.
Although Carmela will insist I eat." Elena waited for Cassandra to tell
her again how lucky she was. Cassandra merely nodded, still silent,
then tossed back her own drink. She leaned over and set her empty
glass next to Elena's. "Maybe after breakfast we could talk," she
suggested, stretching both arms over her head, revealing the full
roundness of her breasts under the fabric of her T-shirt. Cassandra
wasn't too thin.

"Well. I'm about talked out, but you haven't been doing a lot of talking,
Cassandra. I think it's your turn," Elena snarled. She stalked to the
bathroom and slammed the door behind her.

When she finished her shower and came back into her bedroom,
Cassandra was gone.

~~~~~
Elena walked into the large dining room warily, amid sounds of
bright chatter and laughter.

Cassandra and Carmela were sitting at the long oak table, talking
animatedly. It was the first time Elena had seen Cassandra seem
interested in anything. Cassandra even sounded happy. She was
dressed in a white cotton shirt and blue shorts which revealed her
long tanned legs. Her hair lay in shining waves along her back and
shoulders.

Elena laid her sword, still sheathed, on the sideboard, then set the
empty Scotch bottle next to it. There were fresh flowers on the table
and a lot of food. Too much food: banana bread, rolls, *empanadas,*
bananas, fresh strawberries. The smells made her sick. "Coffee,
please, Carmela," she said as she made her way to the head of the
table and sat down.

"Just coffee?" Carmela asked, getting up and standing next to the
table.

Elena saw the old woman glance quickly toward the sideboard. She
wondered if Carmela was going to say anything about her sword, or
about the empty bottle. She had better not.

Carmela said, "Please have some strawberries, Mariaelena. And I
made these *empanadas,* just for you. They're chick--"

"I'm not hungry, Carmela." Elena interrupted, leaning forward. "Just
coffee." Her voice was a little thick, and more than a little hostile. She
added, "Gracias," but she couldn't make even that sound gracious.

Carmela stared at her for a moment, opened her mouth, closed it, then
poured Elena some coffee. She glanced once at Cassandra, who was
staring at her plate of food, and went into the kitchen.

Elena sat back, sulking. The pleasant conversation had ended at her
entrance, and the cheerful atmosphere had disappeared. At least the
espresso was strong and hot. Elena didn't drink it in a little demitasse.
She added milk and more sugar, then wrapped her hands around the
mug, trying not to notice how bony her long, thin fingers looked. She
gulped her coffee, just as she had been gulping her whisky while she
dressed. Scottish coffee, she could call it, just in two separate doses.
It roiled in her stomach as she watched Cassandra eat.

Carmela came back with a platter of eggs, and the aromas of onions,
garlic, and green peppers wafted behind her. Elena's stomach was
doing more than roiling now. One of Carmela's great-grandchildren,
a boy of about five, came out of the kitchen with her, but the old
woman sent him back into the kitchen with a curt word.

Elena wondered if Carmela was afraid of her, afraid that she might
somehow hurt a child. She wanted to be angry about that, but at the
moment, she didn't much care what Carmela thought. What anyone
thought.
Raul came into the dining room, his nails clicking on the floor
tiles, and Carmela shooed at him, waving her apron with her left
hand, balancing the platter of eggs in her right. "That dog is
always sneaking inside," she complained. "*!Vamos, largate,
condenao!*"

"He stays," Elena said tersely.

Carmela glanced at her mistress, her lips pressed together. She
slammed the food down on the table and went back into the kitchen.
She did not return to the dining room.

Raul, who had been backing away and whining softly under the
housekeeper's fluttering apron attack, now came forward again. He
sniffed at Elena delicately, then went around the table to sit next
to Cassandra, pressing his nose against her thigh.

"Hola, Raul," Cassandra murmured softly, caressing the dog's head.

*Great!* Elena thought. Now all that was needed was for the horses
to trail after her, like ducklings, and for the children to start calling her
Auntie, *tia Cassi.* Maybe Cassandra would like to move in
permanently. Everyone liked her--Carmela, the cat, the dogs. Maybe
they preferred her.

For a long, silent ten minutes Elena watched Cassandra eat. Cassandra
had a good appetite. Elena wondered if this Roland had fed her
delicacies while he was busy terrorizing her. Finally, she couldn't stand
it any longer. She shoved her chair back from the table with an audible
scrape on the floor. "Are you done eating yet?" she asked.

Cassandra set down the remaining half of her roll. "Yes."

"Excellent," Elena said as she stood. "We didn't finish our tour of the
house yesterday." There was one place she really wanted to show this
woman, one place she was sure Cassandra wouldn't be so damn
condescending, so damn cheerful, so damn ... normal; one place Elena
felt in control. "Let's go see the ballroom."

Elena picked up her sword from the sideboard, then unlocked the door
to what used to be the ballroom. Elena didn't do much dancing these
days, and the room was outfitted as a dojo now. On the threshold, she
took a deep breath. It smelled of lemon and oil; Carmela had taken her
chance yesterday to make sure the room was thoroughly cleaned. The
wooden floor gleamed, the mirrors that lined the inside wall sparkled,
and bright sunshine came through the French doors that led to the
outside.

Long years of training took over, and Elena bowed quickly at the door,
then walked inside. Even the many weapons that hung on the wall
were clean and shining. Someone had dusted every single sword, the
ax as well. She looked them over, wishing her broadsword were here,
the one her father had given her, the one she had sworn to herself she
would die before losing, the one Claude Bethel had taken from her.
_____________________________

4 October 1996
Bethel's Basement
______________________________

When Elena finally "revived" in Bethel's basement in New York City,
she was strapped, naked, to a metal chair. Leather bindings wrapped
around her wrists and ankles; bands strapped tight across her waist
and forehead.

Bethel picked up her sword and examined it carefully. "An exquisite
work of art. Toledo, of course. Oh, don't worry," he said smiling.
"I promise I won't use it to behead you."

But then he did something far worse. He clamped her sword in a vise,
then leaned his weight against it suddenly, snapping it. Elena wailed,
grief and sorrow flooding over her rage, knowing she would remember
the sound of her broken sword forever.

"I will break you, Maria Elena Duran, just like I broke your blade," he
hissed directly in her face, his breath visible in the cold, windowless
basement.

______________________

26 November 1996
______________________

He had kept his promise. For twenty-three days, he had hurt her; he
had *broken* her. And he had done it for fun, because he enjoyed it.

Elena shook off the memory and walked over to the wall of swords. At
least Don Alvaro's own sword was still here. Xavier St. Cloud, the
Moorish Immortal who had beheaded her father in 1659, had pretty
much looted the house before leaving, but he hadn't taken her father's
weapon. She still had that.

She put her katana down on the floor, then pulled Don Alvaro's sword
down from the wall and slowly unsheathed it. The soft swish it made
was familiar, comforting. She swallowed over the sudden lump in her
throat. As she balanced the weapon in her hand, she noted it was too
heavy for her. All the swords were too heavy, except for her katana,
and she couldn't handle even that for too long without getting
exhausted. She turned to see Cassandra still standing in the doorway,
Raul by her side. Cassandra didn't have to know the swords were too
heavy, or how exhausted she was.

"Come in, come in!" she invited, with a broad sweep of the sword in
her hand.

Cassandra sent the dog away, then entered the ballroom, but made no
move to come closer. She did not look scared, only watchful.

Elena wanted to see Cassandra look scared. "Want to spar?" she
suggested, doing a practice lunge with the sword.

Cassandra shook her head. "I came here to talk."

"Come on, Cassandra. We could both use a little exercise."

She shrugged, that small elegant shrug that Elena hated. "Maybe
I'll go running later."

Elena raised her head at that word, like a hound picking up a scent.
"Oh, yes, you'll go running. You're good at running, aren't you?
But are you good at fighting?"

"I didn't come here to fight, Elena. And you said it was my turn to
talk."

"We won't be fighting." Elena put the sword back in its scabbard,
then walked over and picked up two *bokken,* practice swords made of
bamboo. "Just practicing."

She tossed one of them to Cassandra. The other woman caught it
easily, but held it stiffly, away from her body. Elena smiled to herself.
It was good to see *Dona Perfecta* wasn't good at everything. "We
could start with the *bokken,* then use steel blades later," Elena
suggested. "Do you want to get your sword now?" She was frankly
curious as to what kind of weapon Cassandra had. Elena hadn't seen
any signs of one yet. It was probably still upstairs, in Cassandra's
luggage.

Cassandra stood by the door, her hand gripping the hilt of the
bamboo weapon. But she said nothing, and she did not move.

So Elena stepped toward her, a gloating and incredulous smile on her
face. "I don't believe it. You don't have a sword, do you?"

Cassandra did not respond.

Elena's smile broadened. This was even better. "Tell me, Cassandra,"
she asked, "just how the hell do you fight?"

Cassandra didn't respond to that, either.

Elena snapped her fingers in mocking realization. "Oh wait, I forgot.
You don't fight; you run. You run for decades. You run for centuries.
Hell, you run for millennia! Congratulations on breaking the record for
total, long-lasting, mind-numbing cowardice!"

Cassandra tossed the *bokken* toward Elena. It slid across the
polished wooden floor, then stopped at Elena's feet. "I guess this isn't
a good time to talk." Cassandra turned to go.

Elena wasn't going to let her get away that easily. She followed
her to the door and yelled after her, "Hey, you're still good at
running, Cassandra. Must be all that practice you've had!"
Elena watched as Cassandra moved smoothly through the dining room.
The other woman disappeared from sight, but Elena could hear her
footsteps sedately going up the stairs.

Elena slammed the door shut, then thought about what had happened.
Why was Cassandra running? Cassandra had not looked afraid, just
... what? Shy? Weak? Surely no Immortal her age was quite that
timid. Hell, this woman had just gone after the Four Horsemen! So
why was she running from Elena, from a few harsh words? She had
said she wanted to talk, but she didn't say anything to defend herself.
She didn't fight back; she didn't attack. She just stood there, and then
walked away.

The more Elena thought about it, the less angry she got. And the more
she decided she wanted to find out what the hell was going on in
Cassandra's twisted, anguished psyche. She needed to get the old
Immortal to talk; and that meant she needed to get a real reaction out
of Cassandra. More than just running.

So she went back for her katana, opened the door, and followed the
older Immortal upstairs. Cassandra had gone in her bedroom and
closed the door. Elena burst through, not even bothering to knock.

Cassandra kept her back to Elena and stared out the window at the
stables beyond the fence.

Elena didn't like being ignored. She took another two steps into the
room. "I can't believe you just ran away from me like that. Don't you
get tired of being a coward?" she asked, calmer now, with a mixture of
curiosity and condescension.

Cassandra turned slowly and deliberately, then examined Elena. Her
gaze was disinterested and clinical, and it paused on the sword Elena
held in her right hand. "Don't you get tired of being a murderer?"
Cassandra asked, sounding almost bored.

Elena stared at her, incredulous. "All Immortals kill, Cassandra.
And you must have, too, at some point. It's what we do. It's not
murder."

Cassandra gave a small snort of derision.

Elena stiffened in annoyance. Even this woman's snorts were elegant.
Elena's annoyance turned to contempt, and she gave up on being calm,
which wasn't working anyway. "At least I do my own killing! I don't
fuck a man so he'll do it for me." Elena was very pleased to see
Cassandra's eyes narrow. A reaction from *Dona Perfecta* at last!
Elena kept pushing. "How the hell have you lived for three thousand
years?"

Elena knew Duncan had killed Roland for Cassandra, and Duncan had
killed Kronos and Caspian, too. Cassandra had offered Duncan her
body so he would do her killing for her. What a whore! Elena's
snort of derision wasn't elegant, but it was truly heartfelt. She
examined Cassandra in the same insulting, clinical way. "How many
men have you fucked over the centuries so they would protect you?"

Cassandra took a step forward and spoke slowly and deliberately.
"Connor killed Bethel. You didn't." Her voice wasn't calm now; it
was filled with contempt. "You couldn't. You let a man do your
killing for you, too."

Elena was stung, but she tried, unsuccessfully, not to let it show.
But what Connor had done was different, *!cono!* Elena said hotly,
"I didn't fuck Connor to get him to kill B-Bethel for me!"

Cassandra looked at her, her gaze lingering on the eyepatch and the
stubble of hair, then moving thoroughly over the rest of her.
Cassandra was not being clinical and dispassionate now; she was
judging. She smiled slightly and said slowly, almost drawling out
the words, "No. I don't think fucking you would have been much of
an incentive for him."

Elena felt her stomach muscles contract as though she'd been punched.
Her cheeks were burning, and her breath caught in her throat. The
fucking bitch! How dare she come to her house and then mock her like
this, ridicule her pain? *!Puta arrogante!* She closed the distance
between them in a few quick strides, then breathed right in Cassandra's
face. "You know what I think, Cassandra? I don't think you came here
to talk. I think you came here to gloat, to make yourself feel superior.
I think you lied to me." She took a deep breath, barely controlling the
urge to break that beautiful nose. She had promised she would not
attack. But if Cassandra attacked her first....

And if she didn't, well, Elena could still use words. "You're a liar,
Cassandra. And you're a coward."

Cassandra did not respond to that. Not even by a flicker of an eyelash.
Nothing. She was still the ice princess, still confident, calm, controlled.

Elena was not calm, and she didn't want Cassandra to be, either. So
Elena struck at the one thing Cassandra had responded to. "And,
Cassandra, you are a whore."

Cassandra drew in her breath sharply.

So, the ice princess wasn't frozen, after all, Elena gloated. Cassandra
wasn't just standing there anymore, either. She was rigid, her hands
clenched into fists. For a minute, Elena thought Cassandra was actually
going to hit her. Elena smiled to herself, not at all bothered by that
prospect. If Cassandra tried to hit her, then she would be breaking her
word not to fight, and that meant Elena could fight, too. And Elena
wanted to fight.

Cassandra let her breath out slowly and stepped back. Her voice was
not at all calm now. It was low and angry, and malevolently cold.
"And you, Elena, are an ungrateful, vicious bitch." She looked
Elena over once again. Now her voice changed to amused sarcasm.
"Is that why Connor and Duncan left you?" She added sweetly, "All
alone?"
It was Elena who was rigid now. Cassandra was good at this kind of
fighting at least, and she was fighting back now. Well, enough damn
words. Elena tossed her katana on the bed and reached with both
hands for Cassandra's throat.

Cassandra moved back quickly and said, "*Palabra de honor,* Elena!
Have you forgotten that already? Or will you forswear yourself? Are
you a liar, Elena Duran?"

Elena froze. Well, Cassandra obviously wasn't going to run this time,
but she wasn't cool, calm and collected anymore, either. Elena had
finally gotten some reaction from Cassandra. It made Elena feel just a
little better. She closed her fists but lowered her arms, then smiled
contemptuously at the older Immortal. She was sure, even now, that
she could beat Cassandra in a fight. But Elena wasn't going to fight.
They had agreed they would not. However, Elena knew how to use
words, too. "A liar like you?" she hissed viciously.

Cassandra took a deep breath. "Yes," she admitted. "Like me." She
took another deep breath and nodded. "I have been a liar. But I'm
trying not to lie anymore, Elena. And I did not lie to you. I did not
come here to fight. Or to spar. Or to gloat. I came here to talk, to
make us both feel better." She circled Elena, never taking her eyes off
her, and backed away toward the door. "Let me know when you are
ready," she said, then left the bedroom.

Elena stood for a moment. Cassandra was like a damn ghost, gone
again! Elena wanted to strike out, to hit someone, to hurt anyone, but
Cassandra was gone, and Elena had given her word, *!carajo!,* her
fucking word. She couldn't break that, or the traditional rules of
hospitality. No matter that Bethel had stripped her bare; she had to
regain her sense of self. She turned to go, then caught a glimpse of
herself in the full-length mirror in the corner.

When she saw what was left of her, she remembered something a nun
had said to her once. *No somos nada.* We are nothing. She was
nothing, she was alone, and Cassandra's visit only emphasized that fact.
Elena picked up her katana from the bed and slammed the lacquered
hilt into her reflection. The mirror shattered, and shards of splintered
glass lay around her feet. "Oh, yes," she muttered to herself. "I feel so
much better after our talk."

For long minutes she let the rage and self-pity fill her. If only Duncan
hadn't left her; if only Connor hadn't been insulted and taken Duncan
with him; if only Bethel hadn't captured her and tortured her; hell, if
only she weren't an Immortal....

Elena stopped and snorted. If she weren't an Immortal, she'd be in a
grave. Dead. Completely. Rotted away to dry bones. And in spite of
everything, Elena Duran wanted to live.

She got herself under control and started breathing more deeply,
thinking about what had been said. She had set out to get a reaction
out of Cassandra, and that was exactly what she had gotten. And
Cassandra had gotten a reaction out of her. The problem with pushing
people, Elena, she said to herself wryly, is that sometimes they push
back. Well, she'd gotten Cassandra to push back. Now what? More
talking, of course. But this time, maybe....

She went back downstairs and found Cassandra sitting at one of the
tables on the patio outside the dining room, her hands lying empty in
front of her on the tabletop. The bright morning sun glinted off the
bronze highlights of Cassandra's long hair.

Elena went into the library to get the half-full bottle of Scotch she'd left
there the night before. She picked up two glasses from the liquor
cabinet, then walked out onto the patio and sat down across from the
other woman.

Raul came around the corner of the house and approached the table
happily, but stopped a few meters away. His tail went down between
his legs, and he stretched out his neck, sniffing delicately, but not
getting any closer. Cassandra did not look at Elena or the dog.

Elena poured them both a drink, not even bothering to ask Cassandra
if she wanted it. She pushed one drink toward Cassandra, then
leaned back in her chair with her own, letting the sun warm her.

Beyond the house, in the direction the dog had come from, a group of
children had started a game of *futbol.* A girl of about eight years
kicked the ball high, and Elena watched its trajectory until it landed
again amidst a pile of screaming, laughing kids.

Elena sat and let her eye lose focus for a moment, simply sipping and
savoring the peaty taste of the Scotch. She could actually get to like
this poison. Elena wondered if she could really do without it, for now,
or if she was hooked again, as she'd been in the past. An addict. An
alcoholic. She took a deep breath; she'd think about that later.

Right now, she had a different problem. Elena knew that Cassandra
would never feel better if she kept her anger, fear, whatever, bottled up
inside. And Elena remembered what she'd noticed about Cassandra
before, during those long weeks on that Atlantic crossing. Elena was
convinced now that Cassandra's rigid control was not about confidence
or calm. It was about fear. But Roland was dead. Why was Cassandra
still afraid?

*I'm an idiot!* Elena thought suddenly. *A self-centered idiot! Bethel
is dead, and I'm still afraid. Every fucking night. I can't even say
Bethel's name without stuttering.*

Maybe Cassandra had nightmares, too. Probably. Of course she did!
She just wasn't a screamer; it was more of that rigid discipline. Well,
she'd need to relax some of that anal-retentive control if she was ever
going to be free. And Elena could help.

"Cassandra," she said softly. As soon as they made eye contact, Elena
continued, in an almost soothing voice, "You can let it go, you know.
You can let yourself get angry if you want. Getting angry is ... it's
liberating sometimes. Didn't it feel kind of good, upstairs, just now?"

Cassandra looked at Elena as if she had sprouted wings, horns, and
tentacles. "No, it did not feel good, Elena. It felt...." She stared into
her drink.

Elena ventured, "It felt ... scary?" Taking Cassandra's silence for
assent, she asked, "Look, I don't think you're afraid of me, and I don't
want you to be, not really. But you are afraid of something, or
someone, aren't you?"

Cassandra blinked once, but kept staring at the amber liquid.

Elena leaned forward and said earnestly, "Roland is dead. And so is
B-Bethel." *!Carajo!* she thought savagely, *just say the fucking
word*. Bethel. Bethel. Bethel. Maybe next time she could say it
without stuttering. "We don't have to be afraid of them anymore.
Except for in here," she amended, tapping her temple, using the same
argument Duncan had used to convince her.

Cassandra glanced once at Elena, ironic and bitter. "I'm not afraid
of Roland. I'm afraid of myself." She picked up her glass and emptied
it in a couple of swallows, not stopping. Then, her voice raspy from the
whisky, she said, "I'm afraid of what he made me become. I'm afraid
of what I can do." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Of what I have
done."

"What have you done?" Elena prompted, curious, but beginning to
worry a little. Did she even want to know?

Cassandra reached for the bottle and poured herself another shot,
but she did not drink it. She tilted the glass back and forth, watching
the ripples in the whisky. "You were afraid of the Voice, Elena." She
put down her glass and looked directly at Elena. "You were afraid of
what I could make you do."

"Yes," Elena admitted. Not this again, *!Dios mio!* This was exactly
what she had been afraid of, from the beginning. She remembered
Duncan telling her about losing control of his own actions, of his own
body--of his own mind--and how terrifying it was.

"The Voice gives me a great deal of power. Too much," Cassandra
said, interrupting Elena's almost-panicked thoughts. The ancient
Immortal glanced at the katana, then went back to looking into
Elena's eye. "I could tell you to give me your sword, to put it into my
hand. I could tell you to kneel, here on this patio, and not move. I
could hold the sword to your neck, then tell you to lean into your own
blade and slit your own throat." Cassandra smiled, a small cruel smile
of power and contempt. "And you would do it."

Elena didn't doubt it for a moment. Bethel had gotten her to do
anything he wanted. So could Cassandra, and she could do it easily,
with just a few words. Elena wouldn't even be able to fight back at
all; her pride, her strength, her will, were all illusions. We are ashes,
we are dust, we are nothing.

Now Elena realized the full extent of the mistake she'd made, inviting
this woman here. Because if Cassandra attacked Elena, the Indians
would try to stop her, possibly shoot her. The Oniocos had tried to stop
another Immortal in the past, and one of them had died for it.
Cassandra could kill several of them, could make them do things, shoot
themselves. Or each other! *!Madre de Dios,* she wouldn't even have
a chance to warn them!

Elena held her breath as the fear slithered within, paralyzing her, and
Cassandra watched her unblinkingly, her eyes dark green with cold
amusement.

"I've done it before," the older Immortal continued, "and I did it to
someone I cared about." Cassandra lifted her glass in an ironic toast.
"And I did it when I was angry." She took a large swallow, then
slammed her glass on the table, slopping the whisky over the edge.

Raul whimpered once. Out of the corner of her eye, Elena saw him
back away, then turn and run.

"And that was just the first time," Cassandra said. "The second time I
forced him to his knees, I didn't bother to tell him to lean into the blade.
I simply ... drew my arm back for the blow." She wet her lips with the
tip of her tongue, but her eyes were haunted. "I wanted to take his
head, and I almost did."

Cassandra blinked and the hunger was hidden, but Elena knew it was
still there, waiting. Not always waiting, either. *!Cono!* She wouldn't
want to be on her knees in front of this *asesina loca.* That poor
bastard must have been terrified, whoever he was.

"I gave you my word I wouldn't harm you," Cassandra said, "and I
don't want to, but now I'm giving you a warning. I'm not always ...
in control of my anger. Sometimes, it controls me." Her hard stare
challenged Elena. "So don't ask me to spar, and don't push me again.
All right?"

Elena swallowed in a dry throat and nodded. What had she gotten
herself into by letting this woman into her house? Cassandra could
kill her, behead her, and Elena would be helpless to stop it. The
muscles in her thighs twitched with the desire, the instinct, to simply
run, to jump up and escape. But then she closed her fists and took a
deep breath, and then another, calming herself.

She had run from New York to Seacouver, and then she had run to
Argentina--but now she was home, and she was not going to run
anymore. And she was not going to be afraid in her own home; she
was not going to let the fear rule her anymore. Not again. And she
was not "nothing."

If Cassandra tried to use the Voice on her, Elena would try to crush
her larynx, quickly, efficiently. She'd killed enemies quietly and
efficiently before--it was a matter of being alert and careful and
watchful. *Coitela.* And maybe pushing a little less.

Now she leaned forward slightly, not back, not away. "Cassandra
...," she began, then paused, wondering what the hell she could say,
how she could get Cassandra to open up and let that rage out,
without hurting Elena or her people.

Cassandra blinked again, and the hard stare was gone, replaced by
uncertainty and regret. "I didn't mean to scare you," she said.

*Oh, but you did mean to,* Elena thought. *And you succeeded.*

Cassandra continued, "I just thought ... you should know." She
sighed once, then offered, "I'll leave the *estancia* if you want me
to."

"No," Elena said swiftly. She was not a whimpering dog running off
with her tail between her legs. She was an Immortal, and she was a
fighter. "No. I invited you here. You are my guest. You listened
to me last night, and it's my turn to listen to you." She smiled
tentatively at Cassandra, and waited until Cassandra gave her a
small smile in return. Elena sighed inwardly with relief, then leaned
even further forward, interlacing her fingers in front of her on the table.
In spite of Cassandra's warning, and the real danger of the Voice, Elena
found she wanted--no, needed, to satisfy her own curiosity if nothing
else--to hear Cassandra's story. And she still felt an obligation toward
the older Immortal. So Elena asked, "What did he make you become?
What were you before?"

Cassandra shrugged, and now her eyes were empty. "The person I
was, is gone. And now there's no one left."

*The lost soul of the broken bird,* Elena thought. It had indeed been
too long. Three thousand years of horror, *!Maria Santisima!* But
Cassandra needed to tell, even if she didn't want to. "Tell me,
Cassandra," she urged. "You came here to talk, remember?"

"Yes," Cassandra said, but she made no move to do so.

Elena decided to ... well, not push, but encourage her. "You dream
of him, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes," Cassandra answered in surprise. "And not just of him." She
added quietly, "These last six months or so, it's been every night.
I thought ... I hoped, that after they were dead, the dreams would
stop. But they didn't."

"You have ... quiet nightmares," Elena observed diplomatically.

Cassandra was surprised again. "Of course. If I cried out, or screamed,
he would beat me, or kill me. He liked strangling best." She reached
for her glass again, her hand trembling ever so slightly. "And he would
kill me if I protested, or tried to fight back, or protect myself, or showed
anger, or hate, or fear--" She stopped abruptly and set the glass back
down. Her voice lost the edge of hysteria and became slower. "He
killed me over and over again, until he tamed me, until I did exactly
what he wanted, whatever he wanted."

Elena winced, sickened, swallowing even more whisky. She knew what
that was like. She squinted against the morning sun. One of the boys
playing *futbol* had fallen, hurting himself and losing the ball. He
began to cry. The others ignored him, and after a moment he got back
up and ran happily after the crowd with the ball.

Elena felt like crying, too. She stood unsteadily, her vision blurred, got
dizzy, then sat back down. Now that it was her turn, she didn't want to
talk. So she began. "He broke my sword, the one...." She hadn't
wanted to start, and now she couldn't finish.

Cassandra finished for her, in a low and gentle voice. "The one that
Don Alvaro gave you."

Elena nodded bleakly. She didn't want to cry anymore. She felt like
she'd been squeezed dry, and the only liquid left in her body was
Scotch. She poured herself another drink, emptying the bottle. She
and Cassandra had downed the whole thing.

Elena emptied her glass, too, then slammed it down on the table. She
wanted more, but wasn't sure she could get up again, much less walk.
She was *not* going to ask Carmela for another bottle. So she had to
talk instead.

______________________________

Seven weeks earlier
Bethel's Basement
______________________________

"What toy should we use today, Elena?" Bethel asked, his echoing voice
filled with amusement and anticipation; the only sound she ever heard
anymore, except for her own whimpers, her own pleadings, her own
screams. "The sledgehammer? The knife? The branding iron?" He
picked that up out of the coals in the small grill on the table and studied
its glow. "Being burned is your least favorite, isn't it?"

Elena whined, a hurt animal caught in a trap, giving herself completely
away, again. She didn't even have the strength left to writhe in her
seat, strapped to the metal chair. She could clearly remember the smell
of her own charred flesh, see the orange-hot iron in her mind's eye, feel
the pain of the branding rod as he held it against her thigh--always her
thigh, always the same spot--then the agony as he pulled it away,
searing her skin off in a long band from her hip down to her knee.

He was going to burn her, and she couldn't stop him. *!Dios mio!*
she couldn't get him to stop, he'd never stop, the pain would never
end! But maybe if she--

"Choose, Elena. Choose, or I'll use them all." He came near her,
and she could feel the heat of his body as well as the hotter fire
of the metal, as it came near her cold skin.

"No, please, please, the ... sledgehammer."

Bethel smiled. He put the branding iron down and picked up the two-
pound metal sledge. "Good choice. It's a nice toy." He looked her
over. "Your right forearm," he decided, always warning her, always
telling her ahead, so she could know what was coming.

He lifted the sledgehammer high above her.

______________________________

26 November 1996
______________________________

Elena shuddered and reached for the whisky again, holding the empty
bottle in her trembling hand. There was no Scotch left in it anyway,
and she used up all the willpower she had at that moment to keep from
smashing the bottle into the ground, gripping it instead until her
breathing came back to normal.

"Hurting me made him feel better, stronger." She put the bottle down
carefully and looked at Cassandra. "Do you know that he was first killed
by the Gestapo? Tortured and murdered. He broke under torture, just
like me, just like anyone would, and he had to do the same thing to
everyone else, I guess."

Cassandra looked sick, too, but she shook her head and said
emphatically, "That does not excuse what he did, Elena. Nothing
does."

"No. It doesn't." Elena thought about it a minute, then asked,
"Roland was insane, too, wasn't he? Just like B-Bethel." No, she
still couldn't say it. Not quite yet, damn it. But she would--she
had a whole Immortal lifetime to say it. "Both of them needed so
desperately to control us, to tame us. And they succeeded," she
added, bitterly.

"Roland?" Cassandra repeated in confusion. "Oh. Yes. Him, too."
She grimaced and pushed away her whisky. "I was thinking of Methos
when I was talking about taming."

It was Elena's turn to be confused and surprised. Lacing her fingers
together in front of her on the table top, she leaned forward and asked,
"Methos? *Our* Methos did that to you? You mean, the Methos
Duncan knows?" she said, while thinking, *the Methos *I* know?*
Duncan had told her Methos had been one of the Biblical Horsemen,
and she knew that the Horsemen had killed Cassandra the first time,
made her Immortal, but she hadn't realized that Methos had captured
Cassandra, or tortured her, or.... "He killed you over and over again?"
Elena asked. "To tame you?"
Cassandra just looked at her, flat and bleak and hard. "Yes. *That*
Methos." The bitter twist to her mouth could not be called a smile.
"We have a lot to talk about, Elena, you and I."

~~~~~

The two women talked all that morning, and all through that afternoon.
Often they wept. That night, getting drunk and eating popcorn and
cold *empanadas* and staying up late, sometimes they even managed
to laugh. Finally, exhausted and tipsy, they lay down side by side in
Elena's bed and slept.


===========================================


When Cassandra woke the next day, she lay absolutely still, listening to
the bird songs and the faint voices of the workers in the stables. It was
morning. She had slept all night, and she had not dreamed. Elena had
obviously not dreamed again, either. Sometime during the night, Elena
and she had moved closer together, perhaps for warmth, more probably
for comfort. Elena's leg lay against hers, barely touching, and their
heads were on the same pillow.

Cassandra turned her head slightly to look at the other woman. Elena
looked younger in sleep, softer, more vulnerable. But only for a
moment. Elena woke and stared back at her, her gray eye unblinking,
wariness tightening the lines of her face again. Cassandra immediately
moved away, giving Elena more space.

"Afraid I'll bite?" Elena said, now looking somewhat amused.

"I know you can," Cassandra replied, smiling a little to take the edge off
that statement. "I just didn't want to crowd you."

"You mean threaten me," Elena corrected, and Cassandra
acknowledged that with a nod. "You're very ... closed," Elena observed,
sitting up, oblivious to her nudity, revealing her early Indian childhood
by her casual attitude. "Very private, even cold."

<You've never been interested in me at all. I'm just something for
you to use.>

Connor had thought she was cold, too, but she had cared for him, once.
Hadn't she? It seemed so long ago. "I hide what I feel," Cassandra
acknowledged, sitting up, "and I know it makes me seem ... cold. And I
do keep people away; I feel safer that way." She suddenly realized that
she had crossed her arms tightly and pulled her knees up, protecting
herself. "Even now. I'm not comfortable being touched."

"I know what you mean--now," Elena agreed. "And the worst part is
feeling so alone, so completely alone. Still. Because Bethel took
everyone I ever cared for away from me. I betrayed them all."

<I betrayed my people, and they died. They all died.>
Cassandra pushed that memory back down, all those memories down.
She didn't want to remember how they had died.

Elena was still talking. "And I knew that the last face I would ever see,
the last voice I would ever hear, the last touch I would ever feel *in my
life* would be B-Bethel's." Elena looked down, shuddering, then looked
back up at Cassandra. "And now, I don't know if I can ever look at
anyone else again, or listen to their voice with love, or allow anyone to
touch me." She met Cassandra's eyes and said softly, "Ever."

"Ever is a very long time," Cassandra said, offering what little comfort
she could. "In time, it gets easier to be with someone, to trust...."

<This doesn't have to hurt. Don't fight me, and I won't hurt you.>

Pain came in many forms, and Cassandra knew them all. Methos had
been her first teacher in pain. Kronos and Roland and Connor had
given her lessons in pain, too. Trust might get easier. It would never
be easy.

"Someone?" Elena asked, cocking her head to one side. "Do you mean
a man? Or a woman?"

From Elena's tone, Cassandra knew that the other woman was not
offended at the idea, simply curious. At another time, with another
woman, Elena might even be interested. "Either," Cassandra said
calmly, knowing they needed to talk about this if they were to continue
sleeping in the same bed. "But women are safer, less threatening. It's
easier, perhaps, to start with a woman."

"Was it easier for you?"

Cassandra nodded. "It was common in the harems and the women's
quarters throughout most of history. Even in the nunneries, though
we had to hide it then." She shrugged. "For a long time, the Christians
took a very dim view of any kind of sex."

"I know," Elena said fervently. "I was raised a Roman Catholic,
remember?"

"But that didn't stop you," Cassandra observed. "You've had women
lovers."

"Yes, twice," Elena said. "Maria was...." Elena stopped and shook
her head. "She died."

"I'm sorry," Cassandra said simply, knowing what that was like.
"It's hard to say good-bye."

"We never had the chance to say good-bye," Elena retorted grimly.

Cassandra knew what that was like, too.

Elena blinked, blurring the gleam of tears, then hopped off the bed
and headed for the bathroom at the far end of the spacious bedroom.
"I'll see you downstairs," she called, then shut the door behind
her.

~~~~~

Cassandra chatted with Carmela in the kitchen while they waited for
Elena, the good smell of baking bread warm and comforting. Someone
had been working in the kitchen very early. "Are there many workers
on the *estancia*?" Cassandra asked. "Do they live here?"

"About two dozen workers and their families, plus the *gauchos*--the
Norteamericanos call them 'cowboys'--and their families, who live
west of here on the pampa. My family the Oniocos has lived here for
hundreds of years," Carmela said with pride. "There are houses, the
veterinarian's office, the blacksmith--a village almost, behind the
main house. The children go to school in Las Flores or Buenos Aires.
Some of them are home-schooled." She grinned at Cassandra.
"We put them all to work, too."

<What work do I do, Mistress?>

Roland had liked to help her paint the pottery they made together.
He had been so eager to learn when he had been little, so curious,
so bright, such a happy child. At first. Cassandra added sugar to
her coffee and sat at the kitchen table. "Is this mostly a farm or
a horse ranch?"

"An *estancia* is both, and this is one of the largest, and the oldest,"
Carmela said proudly as she took the pan off the stove. A tiny bell
rang, and Carmela called out to a teenage girl, "Maribet." The girl
nodded and took several fresh-baked loaves out of the oven.

Carmela turned back to Cassandra. "We grow wheat and corn for
crops, and raise cattle of course. A lot of money comes from the polo
ponies." She shook her head. "What some people will pay for a
horse...." Carmela removed the *empanadas,* the beef pastries, from
the pan, drained them, and poured them onto a decorated plate, then
said, "She loves the horses, you know. The faster the better."

"Yes," Cassandra said, remembering the young Elena's desire for an
Andalusian.

Carmela shook her head again as she set butter and jam on a tray.
"She used to ride everyday, without fail. But she hasn't even gone
near the stables, or gone anywhere, not since Senor Mac left last
week. In fact, after he left, she didn't even come out of the ballroom
for days, only to eat. We have all been ... so afraid for her," she
finished, wiping her hands on her apron, her voice trembling slightly.

Cassandra murmured soothingly, "It will take time," knowing that even
for an Immortal, there might never be enough time to overcome such a
nightmare. The back of her neck tightened with the approach of an
Immortal, and Cassandra turned to look toward the kitchen entrance.
Carmela had no such warning. "!Ay, Mariaelena!" Carmela said a
moment later, putting her hand over her heart, startled by Elena's
sudden--and very quiet--appearance in the doorway.

Elena said, "Carmela, Maribet, I'm not real hungry this morning.
*Solamente cafe con leche, por favor.*" She nodded to Cassandra,
then went into the dining room.

Carmela sighed, then immediately poured her mistress a cup of
espresso, added hot milk from another pot on the stove, then went
into the dining room carrying the coffee pot. Cassandra and Maribet
followed with the food.

~~~~~

After breakfast, Cassandra said to Elena, "You showed me the house
yesterday. Can we see the rest of the *estancia* today?"

Elena shrugged and nodded, then went to the sideboard to pick up her
katana before she led the way outside. Always the sword. Always the
need to fight. Always the need to kill. Cassandra followed, her hands
empty.

Raul and the brown and white dog came loping over as soon as the
women stepped outside. "Raul is very friendly," Cassandra commented,
patting the black dog's head. At the sound of his name, Raul's tail
started to wag.

"Yes, we already know he likes you," Elena said, but today her voice
was not resentful.

They went out the back gate to the stables. Lean and watchful barn
cats peeked out from their perches on hay bales and on wooden
rafters, and every available wall surface was hung with riding
equipment, made of leather, rope, and metal.

"Those must be the polo ponies," Cassandra said when they reached
the first stable. A foal switched his short black tail in satisfied ecstasy
as he nursed, and his dam chewed her feed contentedly. Four other
horses peered inquisitively over the gates of their stalls, two of them
whinnying softly.

A boy was mucking an empty stall, but he paused and leaned his
forehead on his rake when the women came by. "Buenos dias,
senorita," he said.

Elena nodded at him. "Eh, Paco."

Cassandra smiled at the boy, then looked over the horses. "They're
lovely." Grace and speed showed in the sleek lines of the horses,
and they never seemed to stand still. One by one, they came to the
gates to peer at them curiously.

"Yes, we breed those famous and expensive Argentine polo ponies,"
Elena agreed, but she did not linger.
In front of one of the other stables, a young man was grooming a
horse with long brush strokes. "Senorita Elena," he said, sounding
almost surprised. "*?Como esta Ud?*"

"*Muy bien, gracias, hombre,*" she answered, but she did not smile.
Elena pointed to the fenced pasture across the yard, where several
more horses grazed. "Those are the *criollos,* the native horses
that the *gauchos* ride when they herd cattle."

Cassandra nodded. The horses in the pasture were shorter and
stockier than the polo ponies, and had been bred for strength and
endurance, not speed and agility. There were more *criollos* in the
last stables. "Do you ride these?"

"Yes. I don't play polo," Elena said shortly.

A mare the color of dark topsoil whinnied a special welcome at the
sight of Elena. A girl of perhaps fourteen years of age, wearing a
dirty white T-shirt and jeans, came over immediately. She blew a
loose strand of dark hair back from her face and smiled at Elena.
"You're back, senorita!" she said. "Adelita's missed you." The mare
was nodding her head as though she were agreeing. "Are you here to
ride her?" the girl asked. "I can have her saddled for you in two
minutes."

Elena rubbed the white blaze on the mare's large head, smiling a
little, but standing off. When Adelita tried to nuzzle her hair, or
what was left of it, Elena pushed the mare away. "No, *nina,* I'm
not riding today. Maybe later." Elena walked out of the stable.

A cat curled himself around Elena's legs, but she didn't pause.
Grasshoppers leapt away as the women walked around the east side of
the house in the morning sun, heading back toward the main house.
The scent of cut clover hung spicy-sweet in the warm air. Cassandra
walked beside the young woman, silent. It was too soon for Elena.
One day and one night of talk was not enough time. Cassandra could
wait. She had had practice in waiting: three thousand years of practice.

Three men digging a hole for a new fence post stopped and lifted their
hats as Elena walked by. "Senorita," they called. Surprise and genuine
pleasure did not quite cover the cautious respect in their voices.

This time Elena stopped and greeted each by name. "Juan, Pepito,
Rini. This is Senorita Cassandra, my guest."

The three lifted their hats to her, too, and Cassandra nodded
graciously in return. "A hot day for such hard work," she commented,
for the men's shirts were darkened with sweat and their brown skin
gleamed.

"But it is a glorious day," Pepito answered, grinning, looking above
him at the arch of blue heavens that reached to the earth in a great
circle, surrounding and enclosing them. The clods of dirt around
his feet were dark brown and crumbling, rich with the possibility of
life.

"Yes." Cassandra swallowed hard, hearing the truth in his words.
"A glorious day." This time the nods she and Pepito exchanged were
ones of recognition.

Elena had already moved on. Cassandra caught up to her, and they
stopped under the shade of a tree to watch a group of children
playing another ball game in the empty field; apparently there was
no school today. The teams were mismatched, for the ages of the
players ranged from five to at least fifteen, but the children didn't care.
They were playing, and they were happy. The dogs ran off to join
them, chasing the ball.

Cassandra glanced at her companion. Elena was staring in the direction
of the children, but she was not really watching them. Her fingers were
tight around the katana, and her shoulders and her mouth were tight,
too. The easy grace and exuberance of the young woman from the
convent all those years ago was gone.

Perhaps it was time to talk. "Why don't you want to ride?" Cassandra
asked.

"I haven't been on a horse since ...," Elena swallowed, but she said it
anyway, as Cassandra knew she would, "... since Duncan left." Elena
seldom shied away from saying or doing much of anything.

<I haven't really done much of anything, lately.>

Cassandra hesitated, then decided to continue. "Why did Duncan
leave, Elena?" Her decision had obviously not been a good one, for
Elena turned to her, bristling.

"Why do you want to know?" Elena demanded, but she didn't give
Cassandra time to answer. Elena moved closer, invading her space,
breathing in her face. Elena's left fist was clenched by her side,
barely restrained, instantly ready to draw her sword from the sheath
she gripped in her right hand. "Are you going to go after him and
take him for your lover? Again?"

"No," Cassandra answered, quickly and firmly, knowing how sensitive
Elena was about this, how Elena must wonder if any man would ever
want her again, damaged as she was. "I told you already," Cassandra
said, "I don't want Duncan." Cassandra knew he didn't want her.
"And Duncan and I weren't lovers. It was just one night." She added
softly, more to herself than to Elena, "One very special night."

"And what the hell does that mean?" Elena demanded.

Cassandra stepped back from Elena, not in fear, but in caution.
Elena's right hand was still tight on her sword sheath, the knuckles
white. "Come," Cassandra said, leading the way to some hay bales
that were stacked near the fence. "Let's sit." Elena followed her
slowly, but while Cassandra sat, Elena stood, still wary, still upset.
"Elena...," Cassandra started, then pulled one knee to her chest and
wrapped her arms around it. She forced herself to continue. "Sex ...
isn't easy for me. To let a man touch me, to put myself in his hands, in
his power, to be so vulnerable...."

<Make love to me before I kill you.>

She closed her eyes briefly. "Being killed during sex, and then reviving
to find the man still...." Her throat went tight, and she tried to swallow.
"It makes it hard to relax and enjoy it, you know?"

Elena walked off a few paces, shook her head, then came back, her
previously hostile gaze now one of bleak memory. This time she sat
next to Cassandra. She laid her sword on the ground near her feet,
then reached over and took Cassandra's hand in hers, squeezing it
softly. "*Yo se, chica.*"

"Si," Cassandra said, squeezing her hand in return. "*Tu sabes.*"
Last night they had talked about the rapes. "So, unless it's a man I
trust, completely, and a man I care for, I'd rather do without."
Cassandra took a calming breath, then shrugged, pulling her hand
away. "It was special with Duncan partly because I hadn't been with
a man ... lately. Not willingly, anyway."

The two women exchanged another glance, and Elena muttered,
"Bastards."

"Did you ever notice," Cassandra asked, ready enough to change the
subject, leaning back on the hay bale and staring into that glorious
blue sky, "that the two most common ways to insult a man--son of a
bitch and bastard--really insult his mother?"

"Not in Spanish," Elena commented with a small grin. "*Pendejo* has
nothing to do with the mother. Only with the man's ... inadequacies.
Don Alvaro told me Ramirez called him that all the time when they were
fighting the Moors."

"True," Cassandra answered, grinning in return. *Pendejo* actually
meant pubic hair, but to call a man that implied that he had nothing
*but* pubic hair between his legs. "Ramirez used it a lot. It was his
favorite nickname for Connor, too."

"Oh, that's right," Elena said. "Duncan mentioned Ramirez had been
Connor's first teacher, too. It's a small world of Immortals. It's
almost ... incestuous, in a way." But she obviously didn't want to
change the subject, or talk about Connor or Ramirez or about
Immortality. "What did you mean by 'lately'?"

"This last time?" Cassandra hesitated, then decided to tell her.
She was here to talk, after all. "Over three and a half centuries."

Elena was dumbfounded. "No."

"Yes." She could not help but smile at Elena's surprise. "I told you it
was special. And there was more to it than that. After all those years
of waiting for the prophecy to be fulfilled, of hiding from Roland, finally,
I was free. I could choose. Being with Duncan was ... a celebration of
life, a rebirth for me."

Elena nodded slowly, thinking about it, then turned to her suddenly.
"All right, so maybe I was wrong about your being a whore," she
admitted. "That time."

Cassandra stopped breathing as the rage surged within her. She
stood abruptly and walked away from Elena, away from that arrogant,
vicious bitch. Cassandra made it to the fence before the anger
completely overwhelmed her. She started to breathe deeply, trying
to control it, but breathing wasn't enough. She gripped the wooden
board with both hands, welcoming the pain from the splintered wood
in her right palm.

Cassandra was used to that attitude from men, but to hear it from
another woman, from a woman she had wept with and laughed with
only last night, from a woman she was trying to help, from a woman
she was starting to trust ... That insolent, self-righteous, pampered little
slut!

She whirled as Elena came up behind her, and was pleased to see Elena
stop short at the sudden movement. Elena had left her sword by the
hay bales, about two meters away, and the young Immortal glanced
back at it now. "Have you ever been a whore, Elena?" Cassandra
demanded.

"No," Elena answered, a trifle too quickly.

"Haven't you?" Cassandra drawled, mixing sarcasm and disbelief. "Oh,
maybe not for money. You've always been wealthy. You've always
been the darling daughter, always had a choice."

"*!Mentira!*" Elena protested. "I haven't always had a choice! When I
was nine years old, the Spaniard who called himself my 'father,' Don
Rafael, started handing me around to his friends, like...." She stopped,
panting, obviously still remembering clearly.

"Like a whore?" Cassandra finished for her. "But that was rape, wasn't
it?" At Elena's stiff nod, Cassandra said, "I'm not talking about being
raped, Elena. I'm talking about being a whore--offering your body, or
the promise of your body, in payment for something. Have you ever
used your good looks to get what you wanted?"

Elena closed her eye tightly, calming herself a little. Then she smiled in
rueful remembrance. "Yes, I've done that."

"How about Duncan? Has he ever done that?"

"Of course he has; he does it all the time." She put her hands on her
hips and glared at Cassandra. "Haven't you?"

"Yes," Cassandra admitted. "We all do that, if we can. Does that
make us whores?" Elena was silent, thinking, and Cassandra added,
"It's far easier to be a willing whore with someone you know, than
to be an unwilling whore with someone you don't. But you're still a
whore."

Elena opened her mouth to reply, but Cassandra cut in, "Can you say
you haven't used sex to get something you wanted? Or because you
felt you owed a man something? Not even one time?"

"No," Elena admitted finally. "I can't say that."

Cassandra stepped back and tried to speak calmly, needing to convince
Elena. "I did not go to bed with Duncan to convince him to kill Roland,
or to pay him for killing Roland. I went to bed with Duncan because I
wanted to." She knew Elena would not want to hear that Duncan had
been just as willing.

But Elena knew Duncan MacLeod very well. "You weren't the only one
who wanted to, Cassandra," Elena said bitterly.

"No," Cassandra admitted. "I wasn't. But it wasn't just...." She tried to
explain what that one night had meant to her, needing to convince
herself. "I know your religion called sex the original sin, but in my
religion, for people to make love is a sacrament. When two people care
for each other, it's sacred ... holy...." Cassandra stopped, hearing now
the shattering lie in her words. Duncan didn't care about her at all; the
events in Bordeaux had made that very clear. That night with Duncan
had been sacred to her, but she had been just another easy lay to him,
just another fuck. She meant nothing.

<She's no different than the others.>

She was nothing. Why was she surprised? She knew that. She was
used to that. Cassandra blinked rapidly, but she could not stop the
tears. It still hurt.

Elena reached out to her in surprise and concern. "Cassandra, wait.
Don't--"

Cassandra turned away and took a few steps. Then she started to
run.

~~~~~

Elena let her go, knowing that Cassandra needed some time alone
right now. She watched as the other Immortal ran, her long legs
moving in smooth strides over the grass as she headed out into the
fields. Raul's head went up, and he abandoned the children to chase
after her.

Elena blew out a gusty sigh of self-disgust. Cassandra was right. She,
Elena, had been a whore. Recently. When the samurai Hosokawa
had held a blade to Duncan's throat, she had offered to go with him;
she had offered her body to save Duncan's life. And she'd certainly
been a good little whore for Claude Bethel!
______________________________

Six weeks earlier
Bethel's Basement
______________________________

Bethel finally released her bonds. Her legs were weak from lack of
use, from starvation, but she still managed to stand up from the chair,
to struggle over to the metal cot, trying not to stumble. He'd hurt her
again if she wasn't fast enough. She crawled onto the cot on all fours,
her thin body trembling with cold, with fear, with weakness, and waited
for him to enter her from behind. For a while she had resisted; then
she had done this but still hated it. But by now she just rushed to the
bed, kneeling the way he liked, breathing heavily.

Her forehead pressed against the bare mattress--she didn't have the
strength or the will to hold her head up, and she hoped her emaciated
muscles would hold her in this kneeling position long enough. Still she
waited for him to fuck her ass at his leisure--because being raped, even
body and soul like this, was relatively quick, was better than having her
bones broken with the sledge or her skin cut with the knife or better
than being branded--God, being burned!

The room was so cold she could see her own breath in front of her
face, and still she waited. After an interminable time--he liked
making her wait, building up the anticipation, letting her fear of the pain
to come grow, because he didn't always use his penis to fuck her,
sometimes he used something else--she heard the rustle of clothes, the
snick of his zipper. Then she felt him approach her slowly, his heat
getting closer, his breathing more labored. She could smell how ready
he was.

Bethel said one word, "Open," and she immediately obeyed, spreading
her legs further. Then he abruptly pulled her cheeks apart and rammed
himself into her, deeply and viciously, and she didn't bother to hold
back her cry, because he liked to hear her in pain and when she obliged
him he hurt her less. Sometimes.

So she knelt there for Bethel, whored for him, the once-proud Elena
Duran now a whipped dog, a beaten animal who did not dare cross him,
who went to her knees before him, who did not have the heart or the
soul to defy him, who went out of her way to try to please him. A
good little obedient whore.

______________________

27 November 1996
______________________

Tears of shame and impotence came to Elena's eyes. "*!Carajo!*" she
murmured under her breath, kicking the fence and hurting her foot in
the process. Cassandra had only done the same, to save her life.
*Well, Elena*, she berated herself, *you're certainly being a good
hostess, aren't you?* Cassandra had come to her to talk, to unburden
herself, and Elena had responded with hostility, anger, and jealousy.
That was it, wasn't it? In spite of her and Duncan's unspoken
"arrangement," in spite of the fact that she knew Duncan loved her,
Elena was jealous.

There. She admitted it. She was envious of Cassandra's beauty and
her cool elegance. But more than that, she was jealous of Duncan
helping Cassandra, of Duncan's chivalric response to the "lady in
distress." Not that Cassandra hadn't been in distress, but damn it,
so was she! And Duncan had walked out on her.

Well, neither one of them had Duncan now. All they had at the moment
was each other. And Elena hadn't even been helping Cassandra, had
she? She'd called her guest a coward, a liar, and a whore, all in less
than twenty-four hours. The fact that they were all true only made it
worse.

Elena sighed once more, climbed the fence, and watched the children
for a few minutes, trying not to think, not to feel anything. At least for
a while.

Finally, Elena gave up on watching the *beisbol* game and went into
the ballroom, her dojo, to work out, to get strong again, to make herself
whole again. Bethel had weakened her, almost destroyed her, body
and soul, and she was stubbornly determined never to feel this way
again.


===========================================


Cassandra ran. Tall grasses whipped at her bare legs; sunshine beat
down on her head and back. Raul loped alongside her, his tongue
hanging out, his black coat dulled with dust and speckled with green
seeds and burs. Cassandra ran until her breaths came in harsh gasps
and her feet stumbled. She ran as long and as far as she could, and
it wasn't far enough. The voices followed.

<Another customer for you. That's twenty-eight today.>

<Just spread your legs and pretend you're enjoying it.>

<Who wants a turn with this one? She's got a tight ass.>

<Smile, you stupid cow! Do whatever they tell you to and keep the
men happy. That's your job.>

<Lie down.>

<Touch my balls.>

<Bend over.>

<Suck my cock.>

<Kneel.>
<Lick my ass.>

<Another customer for you. And remember to smile!>

Cassandra stumbled and fell, then stayed on the ground. Raul circled
back and nuzzled at her, his cold nose pushing at her neck. She
reached out to him blindly, held onto the warmth of him as he lay by
her side, buried her face in his fur.

Elena had not been wrong.

<You stay alive, as long as you please me.>

She had been a whore for Methos, a completely willing whore. She
had given her body and her soul to her father's killer, and she had
lived only to please him.

<Show me what you do for Methos.>

She had been a whore for Kronos, done whatever he wanted, given him
everything.

<Make love to me before I kill you.>

She had been a whore for Roland, too, in more ways than one.

Cassandra got up and started running again, trying not to think, not
to remember, not to hear. The voices followed.

When she finally got back to the *estancia,* Elena came out to greet
her. Cassandra veered away and went to stand by the fence again,
staring out at the fields. The children were still playing ball. Raul
flopped by her feet, panting happily.

Elena joined her there and spoke first. "Cassandra, I'm sorry.
What I said was unfair."

"No. It wasn't." Cassandra carefully twined a pale yellow stalk of
hay between her fingers. "You were right. I have been a whore."

"So have I," Elena admitted. "And more than once."

Cassandra nodded without looking at her, hearing the effort behind
those words, knowing how hard it was for Elena to admit that. She
also knew Elena didn't really understand. "Do you mean with Bethel?"

Elena looked down at her feet, then up at Cassandra's face squarely.
Still, she had to take a deep breath before she said his name. "Yes.
Him. B-Bethel."

"Elena," Cassandra began, hoping to reassure her, "they don't have
to hit you every time. When you do it out of fear, it's still rape."

"No," Elena answered slowly. "Yes, I know that, but," her voice
speeded up, "I did everything he wanted, everything! I got on my
knees for him, willingly. I wanted to--"

"Yes, you wanted to," Cassandra cut in. "You wanted to please him.
You did anything, everything--willingly. And after a while, you even felt
grateful to him when he wasn't hurting you, right?" At Elena's reluctant
nod, Cassandra said, "I know what that's like, Elena, and I know exactly
how you felt then, and how you feel right now."

Cassandra took her own deep breath for control. Methos had been the
first to make her feel grateful in that way, and right now she wanted to
peel the skin from his still-living carcass in long, thin strips, braid the
strips into a rope, and then use the rope to strangle him. When he
revived, she wanted to crack open his skull, scrape out his brains, and
call the ravens in to feed. Then she might cut off his head, just for fun.

Cassandra closed her eyes and took another breath. She'd had her
chance. She'd made her decision. It had been the right decision, she
knew, but she still hated it, and she still hated *him.* Maybe somebody
else would kill him. Maybe she could put his picture on the Internet
with keywords like Methos, Immortal, World's Oldest Man, and "Get a
5000-year-old Quickening here." She'd better add Horseman, Murderer,
Rapist, Torturer, and Death, just to make sure people could find the
website.

The thought cheered Cassandra immensely, and she opened her eyes,
only to find Elena still looking miserable. "Even if you wanted to then, it
was still rape," Cassandra said gently. "Physical rape *and* mental
rape."

Elena sighed, clearly remembering what it felt like. "Yes, that's exactly
what it was. Rape." She shook her head, unshed, angry tears in her
eyes. "If God is just, that bastard is burning in Hell now, like he burned
me. Exactly what he deserves," she added, grimly.

Methos deserved hell, too, and Cassandra hoped he was still in the
hell she had foreseen for him. A few weeks ago, when the Horsemen
had caged her in Bordeaux, she had dreamed of Methos. She had
heard the innumerable, ceaseless voices that whispered and jabbered in
his mind, seen the despairing madness in his eyes, watched him stand
crucified, drowning in blood. Cassandra didn't know how, but she
knew the Furies would pursue Methos--into madness, unto death, and
beyond. Maybe she shouldn't put up that website after all. Maybe
it would be better for the voices to haunt him the same way they
haunted her. She wouldn't mind seeing Methos alive and in pain, for
a thousand years and more.

Death was too good for him.

Cassandra turned around and leaned her back against the sun-warmed
fence, then started to peel off the layers of the hay stalk with her
fingernails. "You said you'd been a whore, Elena, but it's different when
whoring is your job, when they pay for it. When they pay for *you.*"

Elena nodded, but she had never sold her body that way, had never
spread her legs for every man who walked in the door. Cassandra
wanted the younger woman to understand what it meant to be a
whore. "Whoring is like any other business. You need advertising and
satisfied customers. You have to smile at them, entice them, encourage
them. You have to tell them, 'Come back and fuck me again sometime.'
And no matter how diseased, or how repulsive, or how perverted they
are, you have to pretend you enjoy it--day after day, man after man."

Elena shook her head, disbelieving. "How could you pretend ...?"
Elena began, then shrugged. "Of course, I suppose when you have no
choice ... no choice for centuries ... for millennia." She sighed, then
muttered softly, "*Madre de Dios!*"

"The choice is there," Cassandra said, "but after awhile, you get tired of
fighting. You get so ... dead." The stalk hung in shredded filaments,
and Cassandra reached over and picked up another one. "Roland used
to make me work in his brothels."

"But ... why didn't you use the Voice to stop him?" Elena asked.

"I couldn't. When I taught Roland how to use the Voice, he also
learned how to resist it," Cassandra said bleakly.

Elena shook her head. "You should never teach your students
*everything* you know, Cassandra."

"I didn't," Cassandra said sharply, then sighed and admitted, "But I
taught him too much. It was a mistake, one of the worst I've ever
made."

"You mean in three thousand years you've made some mistakes?
Really?" Elena snorted. "Sometimes I think I've made three
thousand years' worth of mistakes just *this* year." Then,
relentlessly returning to their topic, she asked, "Couldn't you get
away from Roland?"

"I did. But that just made it worse when he caught me again. And I
knew he would eventually sell me, so I stopped trying to escape."
She looked at Elena's eyepatch, stark black against dusky skin.
"That's why he never damaged me permanently; I wouldn't bring as
good a price."

Elena's hand went to her missing right eye automatically, and she
grimaced, as if in pain. "Roland was a greedy son of a bitch. All
B-Bethel wanted was my soul. When he had that, he intended to take
my head. I got away from him just before he blinded me completely.
Fortunately, he never caught me. If he had ... I don't even want to
think about that."

Cassandra didn't have to think about being caught again. She could
remember. "Bethel wanted to destroy you, to kill you eventually,
right?"

"Yes."
"So he could be very permanent. Roland wanted to tame me, to own
me, forever. The first year I escaped three times, but I was caught
and sent back to him. Slave-catching was good business. The last
time I ran away from him, he decided to teach me to 'appreciate'
him."

______________________________

1182 BCE
The Phoenician City of Tyre
______________________________

"You can't leave me here!" Cassandra protested, as the whoremaster
started to drag her up the stairs.

Roland turned from the door and walked over to her, then reached out
casually and wound his fingers through her hair. The whoremaster let
go of her, and Roland tightened his grip and pulled her toward him.
"You're my slave, Cassandra. I took you prisoner last year, when Troy
fell. Surely you haven't forgotten that?"

"No," she said, remembering that day, and all the days since then.

"And you're still my slave," Roland said. "Just as the other women in
this house are my slaves. And you will do whatever I tell you to." He
smiled and forced her to her knees, one hand in her hair, one hand
under her chin, forcing her head back so that she looked up at him.
"Won't you?"

"Roland, please...."

He let go of her chin and backhanded her across the face. "Won't
you?" he demanded. She didn't answer him that time, and that earned
her more blows. Then he yanked her to her feet, his gray eyes close
to hers. "You will do as I tell you," he said again. "And if you leave
here, Cassandra, if you try to escape, I will kill every woman in the
place. Slowly. Do you want to be responsible for more deaths?"

"No," she whispered, seeing again the headless bodies, the burned
and bloody limbs of the other priestesses, hearing again the screams
of pain.

"Then do what you're good at. Spread your legs for every man in
sight. Maybe when you've serviced a few thousand of them, you'll
appreciate me more."

"Roland," she said desperately, "I promise I'll stay with you. I won't run
away again."

"You promise," he repeated, soft and sneering. "I've heard your
promises before, Cassandra. You're a liar and a slut. And now you're
going to be a whore." He smiled, a loathsome, vicious smile. "And I'm
going to be your first customer."

"No!" she said, wrenching away from him, running for the door. But
the whoremaster grabbed her, and Roland wasn't far behind.

"You see why I can't trust you, Cassandra?" he said sadly, shaking
his head, while the whoremaster pinned her arms behind her back.
"You just promised me you wouldn't run away, and then you did." He
stepped closer and took her by the throat. "And I did tell you what
would happen if you tried to escape, didn't I?"

"No, please! Not them!" she pleaded. "They haven't done anything."

"But you have. Haven't you?"

She knew what he wanted to hear. "Yes," she admitted dully, as she
had admitted so many times before.

"And you'll do whatever I tell you to do," he said, his fingers warm
along her throat.

"Yes," she said, giving him whatever he wanted, hoping to keep the
other women safe.

"Good." Roland looked at the whoremaster. "How much for this one,
do you think?"

The whoremaster let go of her arms to fondle her breasts and pinch
her nipples. "She's a looker, and she's got nice tits on her," he said.
"We could probably charge double."

"No," Roland said judiciously, stepping back to look her over. "Let's
keep her cheap. I want everyone to be able to afford her." He smiled
and tossed the whoremaster a coin. "And I'm going to be the first."

______________________

27 November 1996
______________________

Cassandra shrugged and wound the hay stalk around one finger, the
outer case cracking instead of bending. "For the first few dozen men, I
pretended it wasn't really me. After the first few hundred, I couldn't
pretend anymore. After the first hundred thousand, I didn't even care."
The hay stalk broke. Cassandra let the pieces fall to the lush grass
below, and then she walked away.

~~~~~

Elena stared after Cassandra, shocked again. Over a hundred thousand
men? Going without sex for over three centuries was incredible, but to
sleep with--no, to be used by, forced by--that many men? *!Que
barbaridad!*

Elena picked up her sword and caught up to Cassandra near the base
of the ancient *ombu* tree in the courtyard of the house. "Cassandra,"
she began, "how ...?"
"Three tricks a day for a year is a thousand men. Sometimes there
were thirty men a day."

"Thirty a day?" Elena repeated. "Thirty? *!Ay, Dios mio!* That's
like--," she did a quick computation in her head, "--ten hours, three an
hour, one man fucking you every twenty minutes."

"It wasn't always one at a time," Cassandra said dryly.

Elena closed her eye, filled for just a moment with such horror at what
Cassandra had gone through and such rage against the world and such
guilt at herself that she was unable to even look at Cassandra. When
she opened her eye again she just shook her head. She literally didn't
know what to say.

"Some days there were more," Cassandra said then shrugged again.

"For how long?"

"I was in that whorehouse for three years, and I was a slave or a
whore, or a slave *and* a whore, for nearly two thousand years."

But it hadn't been every day, not for two thousand years. It couldn't
have been; it wasn't physically possible, not even for an Immortal.
Although, there certainly had been mortal women who had been fucked
thirty times a day, and more. And women were still being fucked like
that, even today. Elena wondered how long those women lasted, how
long they *wanted* to last. *!Carajo!* she murmured. "But you
weren't with Roland all that time," Elena said. "Why didn't you use the
Voice to help you escape?"

"I did sometimes, but using the Voice in public is dangerous, and I
can't use it on a lot of people at once. I couldn't tell everybody
to forget all about me and just walk away."

Elena smiled grimly. "No mass hypnosis, eh?"

"No. Even if I had escaped, there were rewards for catching a
runaway, and punishments for helping one. I hated being a whore,
but being a slave ... most cultures were closed to outsiders like me,
and as a slave I belonged somewhere, even belonged in a family
sometimes. And for a woman, being a slave was not all that
different from being free."

Elena nodded. "Don Alvaro bought me, you know. I was his slave, too.
He adopted me pretty soon after, but even as his legal daughter, I was
still just a woman."

"Alvaro loved you," Cassandra said, sitting down on the edge of the
fountain and dipping her hand in the water.

"Yes, he did," Elena answered, nodding with some pride and a kind of
fierce satisfaction as she joined Cassandra in the shade of the *ombu*
tree. "From the first day he saw me, he said. He was my father," she
said simply, summing it all up in one word. "Not my master."
"You were lucky," Cassandra said, then pulled her hand back and shook
off the water drops. "And with a kind master, slavery isn't bad. When
it was really bad, I escaped. Or tried to. One time ...," she began, then
stared at the ground and finally shook her head. "Dying is not the
worst thing that can happen to an Immortal."

"Tell me about it," Elena said, sitting next to her. "I was hanged from
this tree--," she looked up into the spreading branches, "--for treason to
the Spanish Crown, then burned as a witch by the Inquisition for not
staying dead. And they didn't burn me right away. I told you that story
on the *Constanze* in 1736, remember?"

Cassandra smiled wryly. "You're talking to the Witch of Donan Wood,
remember?" She picked up one of last year's withered leaves in her
hand, and she started shredding the leaf into thin even strips with
her fingernails as she spoke, the words coming hard and forced. "At
first, I was only a whore when I was sold into it. But after a while it
didn't seem to matter anymore--*I* didn't matter anymore--and I
started selling myself." She dropped the leaf and rubbed her hands
clean on her shorts, then looked straight at Elena. "You weren't wrong.
I have been a whore. But I didn't ... with Duncan, I wanted *that* time
to be special, to mean something."

Elena didn't like the way Cassandra sounded, so beaten, so ... dead.
She tried to apologize once more. "Cassandra, it still wasn't fair of me.
I'm sorry. I admit I was jealous of you and Duncan. He has the power
to hurt me so badly...."

Cassandra closed her eyes briefly. "Yes," she whispered. "I know."

"So I took it out on you," Elena finished. She had to keep that
jealousy in check; it was hurtful to both her and Cassandra, and it
didn't make any difference in Duncan's actions anyway.

Cassandra shook her head and sighed. "Elena, I didn't even know you
knew Duncan, and I wouldn't--I couldn't--come between you. And you
have no reason to be jealous now. It was just one night."

Elena still couldn't quite believe it. "But what about when you were
hunting the Horsemen, when you were together in the loft, in the same
hotel room, for a whole week?"

"The Horsemen," Cassandra said distinctly, "were about rape, murder,
and plunder. Emphasis on the rape. Believe me, while I was focusing
on destroying them, the last thing on my mind was love, or sex. With
anyone, including Duncan." Cassandra sighed again. "I told Duncan I
didn't want to. I couldn't."

Elena closed her eye, her one eye, the only one Bethel had left her.
She remembered lying on the starlit pampa with Duncan, unable to let
him even touch her. She covered her eyepatch with her hand, feeling
the familiar phantom pain there again. Quietly, she said, "I told him the
same thing, after B-Bethel."
Cassandra nodded, then actually grinned a little. "So, it's been what?
Over a month for him now? Sleeping with women but not getting any?
How do you think he's doing?"

Elena shook herself free of thoughts of Claude Bethel. Bethel was
dead. But Cassandra, flesh-and-blood before her, was alive. And so
was she, Elena Duran. They'd both survived. And Duncan was very
much alive, too. She said, with a rueful grin of her own, "Suffering,
*pobrecito.* He probably called Amanda right away."

"Well, that's Duncan, isn't it?" Cassandra asked sharply. She added
more gently, "He may have called Amanda, Elena, but while Duncan
and I were hunting the Horsemen, he told me there was someone
special in his life, someone he loved very much." She smiled at Elena.
"That was you."

"I know he does love me, in his own way," Elena admitted. In her
heart, she knew Duncan had wanted to stay with her. But after her
quarrel with Connor, and Elena's refusal to confide in her lover, Duncan
had truly felt he had no choice but to leave. In his place, she probably
would have done the same thing. That didn't make the hurt, the sense
of abandonment, any less. "It's just that I wish he were here."

"Why did he leave, Elena?" Cassandra asked again, probing delicately.

Cassandra was not going to let this go. Elena put the point of her
katana sheath into the soil between her feet and twisted it, leaving
a small indentation there. She shrugged, carefully not elaborating.
"Connor got angry at me and left. Then Duncan ... I didn't want ...
Connor didn't want me to tell Duncan what happened, so I didn't. So
Duncan thought I'd hurt Connor, which I had. And that I didn't trust
him, Duncan, I guess ... I don't know what he thought."

She could tell that Cassandra was trying to follow this complicated
train of thought. But if she hadn't told Duncan, she sure wasn't going
to tell Cassandra what had happened between her and Connor
MacLeod. She wasn't going to tell the older woman *everything.* And
she was sure that Cassandra wasn't telling her everything, either.

After a moment of silence, Cassandra confided, "You know, Elena,
Connor was furious at me before."

"Oh?" This was certainly interesting. "Why was Connor so mad at
you?"

"I lied to him," Cassandra admitted.

Elena's eye widened slightly. Not very many people lied to Connor
MacLeod. It was not a place she herself would want to be.

"Why is Connor mad at you, Elena?" Cassandra asked in turn.

"I told him the truth."

They stared at each other. And suddenly, uncontrollably, they both
burst into semi-hysterical laughter. Raul lifted his head and smiled his
dog's grin at them, head cocked to one side.

When Elena finally caught her breath, she added, "And he didn't
listen when I tried to explain--"

Cassandra snorted. "He never does."

"He gets angry so easily!"

"I know, I know," Cassandra agreed, shaking her head.

But Elena just had to ask. "What did he do? When he found out you
had lied?"

Cassandra looked away again, as she always looked away when she
didn't want to answer, but then she faced Elena and answered the
question. "He said he would kill me if I ever came near him again."
She stared at her feet and added quietly, "And then he told me he
would take my head."

Elena blew out a small puff of air and nodded. That was about what
she had expected. Connor MacLeod had threatened to behead her
once, and she'd taken it for what it was: a death sentence. Fortunately
she'd gotten a reprieve. That time.

Cassandra was serious now. "Whatever happened between you and
him, Elena, you're going to have to face him eventually."

Elena wasn't laughing anymore, either. She shook her head.

"You're going to have to talk to him," Cassandra insisted. "After
Connor has calmed down, he'll probably be more willing to listen to
you. He listened to me."

This time Elena nodded. She knew that she would have to face Connor.
This wasn't what frightened her. Well, not the main thing. Going back
to Connor also meant she'd have to face Bethel, or rather, her
memories of Bethel. But she wasn't ready, wasn't strong enough. Not
yet. She would go back eventually; she always faced her demons. But
later.

"Yes, I know," Elena agreed. "I know you're right. I'll talk to him." She
pulled her sweaty shirt away from her chest. "Right now, I think we
could both use a shower, eh?" As they walked toward the house, Elena
asked, "How long did you wait for Connor to calm down?"

Cassandra opened her mouth, then shut it again. "Three hundred
sixty-six years."

Elena stopped, her mouth opening wide in shock for the third time that
day. Then she started laughing again.

So did Cassandra. "And he still threatened to take my head when I
showed up," she added between gasps of laughter.
Elena was still laughing, and she waved her hand for emphasis. "That
man just doesn't know when to quit. And he's too sensitive!" She
sobered instantly, again, then continued her litany of complaints. "All I
did was accuse him of ... He just didn't understand that I had no choice.
Or he didn't want to understand. And when he left, he took Duncan
with him. Damn him!" Elena blinked back the tears. "He took Duncan
from me...."

Cassandra was silent for a moment, then she said, "Elena, Connor gets
angry easily, and he's stubborn, but he's not totally unreasonable once
he's calmed down. Can you explain things to him, and then explain
things to Duncan?"

Elena was not sure she could ever make things right again with Connor.
She wasn't even sure that he'd ever forgive her, or that she deserved to
be forgiven. But she knew that Duncan loved her, so maybe....

As they started walking again, Elena realized what Cassandra had said.
Three hundred and sixty-six years? And the last time Cassandra had
made love with a man, willingly, had been over three and half--

"*!Carajo!*" Elena breathed, forcing herself not to ask, not now. She
could not help but glance at Cassandra curiously as they walked side-
by-side. And here Elena had thought she had problems with Connor.
Not only had Cassandra been Connor's lover, but she had *lied* to him.
No wonder Connor had threatened to take her head!

And just what had Cassandra lied about? Another Immortal? Or worse,
another lover? The second was more likely. Did Duncan know
Cassandra and Connor had been lovers all those years ago? Did
Connor know Cassandra had slept with Duncan this summer? Elena
clenched her fist tightly around her katana and walked faster,
knowing that now was not a good time to ask. Maybe later, if
Cassandra were drunk....

Elena was determined to find out eventually. But that could wait.
For now, she wanted to do something nice for Cassandra, something to
make up for her harsh words, her lack of hospitality, and she knew
just what to do.

"Hey, let's go for a drive," Elena said, smiling. Her sudden inspiration
filled her with determination and energy, and at the kitchen threshold,
she put her arm through the older woman's, then twirled them both
around. She steered Cassandra toward the garage and the Jeeps there.
She picked up a set of keys from a peg on the wall, motioned Cassandra
to the nearest vehicle, and set her katana in the back. "I'd like to show
you something."

They did not speak as Elena drove past all the outbuildings, past the
horse pastures, and into the low, flat pampa itself. The grass was
knee-high in some places, swaying in the summer breeze, flat, green
and lush. Elena followed a rough outline of road, two faint tire tracks in
the grass.
"Look!" she called about twenty minutes into the trip, when the
*estancia* was only a dim dot on the horizon behind them.
"*Nandus.*" Elena stopped the Jeep and pointed out the two ostrich-
like birds to Cassandra. The birds were pecking away, their heads
bobbing up and down, eating constantly as birds always do, undisturbed
by the encroaching humans.

Ten minutes later, Elena stopped the Jeep again. Off to the west, so
far in the distance that they looked like children's plastic toys, was a
herd of wild horses. Elena pulled out a set of binoculars from the glove
compartment and stood on her seat, looking for *El Negro.*

"There he is," she said to Cassandra, handing her the binoculars.
"See the black stallion?" At Cassandra's nod, she explained, "He's a
descendant of the Andalusians the Spanish brought from Europe, mixed
with the *criollos.* And so beautiful!"

"He is beautiful," Cassandra agreed. "And he's started to run now--
magnificent!" After a moment, she handed the binoculars back to
Elena.

"He loves to run," Elena said, watching until the entire herd started to
follow their spirited leader, and were lost from sight in the dust. She
sat down and put the binoculars back in the glove box, saying, "The
*gauchos* want to catch him. But he's too wily, and too wild. I almost
hope they don't get him."

"You want him to be free," Cassandra said.

"Of course," Elena said, glad that Cassandra understood. "Their pride
and their freedom--that's what I like best about those wild horses.
What I admire. And envy." Even after all this time, Elena could still
hear the bitterness in her own voice. She knew Cassandra could hear
it, too. And probably shared it. She considered for a moment, then
decided, "In fact, I'll tell the *gauchos* to stop hunting him."

Elena started the Jeep again, and they did not speak for the rest of the
trip.


===========================================


Cassandra was hot and thirsty by the time they finally arrived. It was
near mid-day, and the late spring sun was hot. Elena had a canteen in
the car, but the water was stale and warm, and there wasn't enough of
it to quench Cassandra's thirst or cool her off. The hot grass smell,
brought by an oncoming soft breeze, was overpowering, almost
intoxicating, the scent of baking bread and roasting grain. She
wondered how many other animals were unseen in the ocean of grass
that surrounded them.

The faint smudge on the horizon in front of them had gradually resolved
itself into a sizable stand of trees, acres of them, an orchard of *ombu*
trees with a narrow river on the eastern side, right in the middle of the
vast plain. Almost completely hidden in the shade of the trees were
two buildings, a mud-brick adobe cabin, and a larger wooden barn.

Elena parked the Jeep inside the barn, then led the way--katana in hand
of course--to a tiny overhang which could not properly be called a
porch. Her hand hovered over the doorknob, then she resolutely
opened the door and strode in.

Cassandra followed, surprised by the unlocked door, and by the
cleanliness of the room. Not a speck of dust showed, not even on the
gleaming black lid of the baby grand piano directly in front of her.
Another grand piano. It must be nice to be so rich. The stone fireplace
on the wall to her left was free of ashes, and a small pile of wood lay
neatly stacked on the hearth, though certainly no fire was needed
today.

The cabin was cooler than outside, but the air was stuffy and empty-
smelling, and the neatness of the room was oppressive. No one had
lived in this cabin for quite some time, not even for a few days'
vacation.

"Is there water to drink?" Cassandra asked, and Elena nodded abruptly
and pointed to the far end of the cabin. Cassandra made her way
between the sofa and chairs, past the small dining table, and into the
small but well-equipped kitchen. The ceiling was a standard height
there, not the soaring cathedral ceiling of the living area. Cassandra
found a bottle of mineral water in the refrigerator and poured them
each a glass, then joined Elena at the bottom of the staircase, located
in the center of the cabin.

"That's the bedroom," Elena said, pointing to the closed door on her
left. "And the bathroom is between it and the kitchen."

Cassandra tilted her head, trying to see into the loft above, which ran
across the whole back of the cabin, above the bedroom, bathroom, and
kitchen. "Can we go up there?" she asked.

Elena nodded again, then drank the water and set down her glass on a
side table next to the couch. Once again she hesitated, almost wincing,
then once again she resolutely strode forward, this time up the stairs,
her sword still in her right hand, her left hand gripping the banister
tightly enough to make her knuckles turn white.

Cassandra followed again, glancing up to the row of polarized skylights
on the southern half of the peaked roof. Soft light filtered through the
glass, ideal for an artist's studio, at least in the southern hemisphere.

As Cassandra came up the stairs, she saw that was what the room had
been used for. Brushes, paints, and chalks lay in ordered rows on the
shelves against the far wall. Canvases--both painted and blank--leaned
against the other walls and the railing. An electric potter's wheel stood
near the sink on the far wall, a partially-shaped vase on the wheel, a
casually draped towel over the potter's stool. But the clay of the vase
had cracked long ago, and the paints on the canvases were dry.
"Maria worked here," Elena said, her voice harsh with the effort not to
tremble. "She was very artistic, very creative." She avoided looking at
the paintings and went straight to the railing, leaning both elbows
there, staring down into the living room below. "I had the loft added to
the cabin for her. I would play the piano for a while--not too long.
O'Sensei used to say I had the attention span of a bedbug. Then I'd
read, or listen to music, or go outside while Maria worked up here, in
the loft. Her studio."

Cassandra joined her at the railing and asked softly, "When did Maria
die?"

"About three years ago." Now Elena's voice did tremble, but she went
on, as Immortals always had to go on, "They shot her, not too far from
here. We were trying to get away...."

Cassandra reached over and held Elena's hand in her own, a tight grip
for both of them. "Who?"

The harshness was back in Elena's voice, but this time from anger. "A
group of mortals who knew about Immortals."

"Watchers?" Cassandra asked.

Elena looked at her sidelong. "I should have known you'd know about
them." She shook her head and released Cassandra's hand, closing
and opening her fist. "They were Watchers, but they weren't like the
ones who just write chronicles, like Joe Dawson. That little sub-human
group of fucking elitists and self-appointed saviors of mankind were
Hunters, and they had decided we were evil, an abomination. So they
tried to eliminate us, and all our friends. Even pregnant ones." She
took a big gulping breath, obviously fighting for control.

Cassandra closed her eyes briefly, remembering other women.
Pregnancy was no guarantee of safety, in this time or in any other.
Methos had been the first to show her that.

"She would have been a good mother," Elena said, her voice quiet and
slow. "And so would I. I wanted that baby, too. I...." She turned
around and walked to the far wall, then abruptly pulled the cloth cover
off another canvas. It was a sketch, the bare beginnings of a portrait of
a seated couple. Cassandra couldn't even tell if it was a man and a
woman, or two women. Elena looked at it briefly, then placed the cloth
back over it. Elena dusted off her hands and said briskly, "I thought
maybe you might like to use some of this stuff. No one has touched it
since--"

Elena stopped there, but Cassandra had no trouble finishing the
sentence: since Maria died. Cassandra knew Elena had not been to the
cabin since that day, either. And yet in spite of her painful past, Elena
had brought Cassandra here today and shared this part of herself, and
shared her memories of Maria. The trust Elena was showing, and the
thoughtfulness of the invitation, were precious gifts, offered in
atonement for Elena's earlier harsh words. Elena had not changed that
much over the years after all; she was still brash and impulsive, still
generous and considerate.

"You're the artistic type, aren't you?" Elena asked, before Cassandra
had said anything. "You draw? Or paint?"

"I used to," Cassandra said. "But I haven't--"

"--lately," Elena broke in and finished for her, then grinned. "Want to
start again?"

"Yes," Cassandra said, then repeated more firmly, "Yes. I do." She
went to Elena, reaching out to touch her arm, trying not to be so cold.
"Thank you, Elena, for sharing this with me."

"This is an art studio," Elena said. "It should be used by an 'artiste'."
Then her grin broadened. "Didn't you use to worship the ancient
Muses? Let's see...." She closed her eye in obvious concentration, then
began. "Erato, Euterpe, Thalia, Polyhymnia, Clio, Calliope...." She
counted each off on her fingers, then continued, "Melpomene, Urania ...
damn, I can't remember the ninth one." She opened her eye and
smiled at Cassandra. "You are old enough, aren't you?" she teased.

Cassandra was more than old enough, and she felt even older. But she
laughed, amused and almost accustomed by now to Elena's abrupt
mood changes, to her peculiar sense of humor. "Very good recitation,"
she teased back in her best "teacher" voice. "Yes, I am old enough,
and yes, I did sacrifice to the Muses." And to Artemis and Aphrodite,
but they had been the powerful Minoan goddesses, not the later,
weakened Greek versions. "The ninth Muse is Terpsichore."

"Terpsichore!" Elena said, snapping her fingers in frustration.

"Muse of dance," Cassandra added for good measure. "Speaking of
dance, you were right the other day, Elena. I do need to get more
exercise. Maybe I could join you in your workouts, when we get back
to the house?"

Elena tilted her head and regarded Cassandra for a long moment. "You
mean sparring?"

"Perhaps something less ... confrontational?" Neither of them was
ready for that possible level of violence, not with the anger still within
them, still between them. "You mentioned O'Sensei; do you do Aikido?"

"Yes," Elena agreed enthusiastically. "I've just been back to Japan,
recently. I can tell you what I understand about the philosophy of it,
show you the circles in motion, the beginning moves. Do you want to
start learning the basics?

"Yes," Cassandra said again. "I do."

===========================================
"Quite a thunderstorm we had last night," Elena said a week later, as
she picked up another fallen branch from where it lay on the path.
"Really shook the house."

Cassandra dumped her load of sticks and twigs into the wheelbarrow,
then adjusted the tie on her ponytail and wiped the sweat from the
back of her neck. The storm had cooled things off a bit, but it just
made the air that much more humid. "The rain felt good, though."

"It sure did," Elena agreed, throwing the branch onto the pile of wood
at the base of the *ombu* tree. "The last time I played in the rain like
that was ... with Duncan. In Paris. We really couldn't strip all the way
down like you and I did, of course," she said, winking. "But he and I
got so wet, we looked like we'd gone swimming in the Seine. And you
know 'la boue de Paris'."

"Yes," Cassandra said, remembering when Paris had had quite a
reputation for its mud--a peculiarly slimy, odorous substance. "Your
idea about stomping in mud puddles was great, too, Elena," Cassandra
said, grinning. "You looked like a spotted leopard."

"So did you," Elena said, grinning herself. "And it felt good." She
picked up another branch and tossed it. "Do you do that often?"

"Oh, sometimes," Cassandra answered, reaching for more twigs. "Not
in Scotland, of course, or I would have been outside every day, but I
grew up in a desert. When it rained--every three or four years or so--all
the people would disrobe and stand in the rain, singing a song of
welcome and praise." She had tried to sing that song last night, but
she had forgotten the words long ago, and now the music had gone,
too. "Need a hand?" she asked Elena, who was dragging a tree limb
along the grass.

"Please," Elena said, and Cassandra lifted the other end, and together
they carried the limb to the pile. "That will be good firewood, come
next winter," Elena said in satisfaction, dusting off her hands. "Let's see
how the garden is doing."

Francesca, a young housemaid, was restaking the tomato plants, and
two older women walked by, each carrying a basket of yellow and white
roses. "*Buenos dias, senoritas,*" the women said to the Immortals,
then headed for the gate in the tall iron fence which surrounded the
house and garden.

Elena nodded at them, then led the way to the rose bushes climbing
the fence. "A lot of the rose bushes were damaged by the hail. We'll
have to do some pruning, but we'd be cutting the roses anyway today,
to decorate the chapel."

"Is that for the *Festival de la Imaculada Concepcion de Nuestra
Senora*?" Cassandra asked, picking up a pair of gloves from the
basket the women had left behind, trying to remember which Catholic
feast day occurred in early December.
"Yes," Elena said, reaching for the other pair of gloves. "There's a
bigger celebration in Veiloso, of course, and that's the nearest church.
But here in our own little chapel we give praise--*la Virgen Maria* is
very popular in these parts--and Padre Silvero from the orphanage
comes every year, for the big feast days. He never leaves empty-
handed."

Cassandra nodded as she cut off great yellow blooms with the clippers,
then handed the roses to Elena to place in the basket. She knew Elena
was the sole support of a Catholic orphanage-school in the area, and
several men and women in habits had come to the *estancia* during
her visit. None of them had left empty-handed either. Elena was a
good, faithful daughter of the Mother Church, even now. "Were you
ever a nun, Elena?" Cassandra asked, switching to English to talk about
immortality, for Francesca was close by.

"Me?" Elena started laughing. "Oh, no. Don't get me wrong. I've
spent several years resting--actually hiding--in convents. In fact,
I remember one particular Mother Superior in Mexico who would have
made an Immortal to be really afraid of! But I never took vows.
Obedience, poverty, and chastity are not my style, and as for all the
prayers ... no." She shook her head. "When I was a girl I could barely
get through a rosary without being told to be still, and even today I
have trouble sitting for long. Short attention span," she said ruefully.
She put the last of the flowers in the basket, then asked, "But what
about you? Were you ever a nun?"

"Several times," Cassandra said, trying to decide where to start
pruning. "Convents weren't that bad. Quiet, usually peaceful, no
Immortals, no men."

Elena started laughing again. "See? Not my style at all." She gave
Cassandra a curious glance while she wove a rose cane through the iron
bars of the fence. "Have you always hated men?"

"I don't hate men," Cassandra said, stopping with the clippers in her
hand. "Well," she admitted, "not all of them." She went back to
snipping off the canes, each cut precisely placed--snip, snip, snip. "At
least, not all of the time." She bent down and snipped off a long cane
that had been broken near the root.

"*Mi vida,*" Elena said. "I think that poor bush has been pruned
enough."

Cassandra stopped again and looked at it. Elena was right; there
wasn't much left. Cassandra set the clippers in the basket, then
went to sit on a bench under the leafy grape arbor, and Elena joined
her there. "I don't hate men," Cassandra tried to explain. "I just
don't like men *as* men. When they act like human beings, they're
fine."

"Men are men," Elena said wryly. "In my experience, their primary
motivation comes from their cocks."

Cassandra snorted in amusement; Elena never minced words. "Oh,
sometimes, some men act like people," Cassandra said. "I just don't
like them when they get macho, or start to come onto me, or treat me
like an idiot simply because I'm a woman, or--"

"Or most of the time," Elena concluded. "Although you must admit,
men can be very entertaining sometimes." Then she asked curiously,
"Don't you ever flirt, just for fun?"

"No." Cassandra shrugged once more and said, "Flirting feels like ...
advertising to me, like soliciting."

"You know, with the right person, sex can be just for fun, Cassandra,"
Elena said, stretching her arms slowly, luxuriously, over her head, her
T-shirt pulling tight over her breasts.

<Don't fight me, and this won't hurt. It can be fun.>

"I never want a man to touch me again," Cassandra said flatly, then
stood and went back to the roses, but Methos's voice came with her,
inside her head.

<I can even make you like it, make you beg me for more.>

Cassandra folded her arms closely around herself, refusing to listen.

She couldn't refuse the memories. Methos had been right; she had
liked it, and she had begged him for more. He had smiled at her--not
his usual cruel mocking smile, but a smile of warmth, of tenderness, a
smile she had trusted--and then he had given her more. Later, she had
eagerly asked to be allowed to do the same for him, and he had smiled
that smile and given her permission.

Then he had given her to Kronos, and never looked at her again. Rape
of body, rape of mind, rape of trust. Cassandra picked up the clippers
again and methodically squeezed the handles over and over--open and
shut, open and shut, snip, snip, snip ...

Elena's soft touch on her arm made her jump. "The voices?" Elena
asked in concern, and Cassandra nodded stiffly. "You said you didn't
hear them at all yesterday," Elena said.

"I didn't," Cassandra agreed, hopelessly. The voices would come back
again and again to haunt her, just like her enemies.

"That's a start," Elena encouraged her. "I haven't had any nightmares
these last two nights, so we are getting somewhere. And I don't feel
nearly as ... hesitant about being with a man as I was, before you
came. It's helped me so much to have you here these last ten days."
She patted Cassandra gently on the shoulder. "I'm very impatient by
nature, but even I realize it's going to take time, Cassandra."

"I know," Cassandra said, trying to relax, trying not to flinch from the
other woman's touch. "My dreams aren't so bad now, either. I think it
helps, to get it out, into the open, into the light."
"To let them go, instead of keeping them inside us," Elena said,
nodding. "When you shine a bright light on the monster, you realize
he's not so monstrous after all. I hadn't talked to anybody for days,
right before you got here. I just kept exercising, trying to make myself
tired enough to sleep without dreaming." She grinned. "Guess I should
have tried exorcising, instead."

Cassandra grimaced at the pun, in English, no less, then acknowledged
Elena's triumphant grin with a nod. "Good one, Elena." Cassandra
picked up the basket of roses. "Speaking of exorcising, let's go to the
chapel and help decorate it."

"OK," Elena said, "as long as I don't have to say the rosary."


===========================================


Elena swirled the wine in her glass, marveling at its deep red color, the
way the liquid flowed so easily, not at all sticky and viscous like blood.
She held the liquid in her mouth for a moment, a slight dryness from
the alcohol puckering the roof of her mouth, then swallowed. Of course
it didn't taste as good now, alone, as it had with dinner, and she'd
actually eaten a little piece of steak to go with the wine. But it was
good enough. She shrugged and poured herself another glass from the
bottle she had left over from dinner. It was the second bottle, actually.
She had drunk the first bottle of wine all by herself, and she fully
intended on drinking all of the second one, too.

She sprawled more comfortably on the sofa, settling her feet on the top
shelf of the double-tiered coffee table, tracing the geometric pattern of
the sofa fabric with her fingertip, following the lines of creams, rusts,
and reds. More red. It must be late, maybe near midnight. The wine
quivered in the glass as her hand trembled, ever so slightly. Argentina
was one of the largest wine producers in the world, but they didn't
export much--they drank it all, she thought, amused. Or maybe it
wasn't so amusing.

She drank again, not caring. She didn't care about anything. She felt
tired but not sleepy; she didn't even have the energy to go into her
library and read or listen to music, or even to go to bed. Of course,
that was hardly surprising. Working out for most of her mornings;
eating barely the minimum; not sleeping very well; existing mostly on
coffee and alcohol--especially alcohol--these were not conducive to
good health. And listening to Cassandra's horror stories--and
remembering her own--while cathartic, also helped remind her what a
mess she'd made of her long, wretched life.

Elena took another drink, then rested her head on the back of the couch
and stared at the ceiling, wondering how hard it would be--this time--to
stop drinking.

She swallowed her mouthful of wine.

~~~~~
Cassandra lay back on the sofa cushions in the cabin, feeling unusually
relaxed and at peace. While the *estancia* reflected Elena's love of
bright colors, especially reds, this cabin had obviously been influenced
by Maria's more sedate tastes. The furniture and pillows were all done
in sea-greens and sky-blues, and an evening breeze fluttered the off-
white curtains against beige walls. Over the fireplace, one of Maria's
paintings repeated the ocean theme, with bright yellow sunshine on the
beach umbrellas providing just a touch of cheerful color.

And just a touch was enough. Cassandra found Elena's constant
frenetic energy exhausting. She had driven out to the cabin by herself
several times during these last two weeks, seeking peace and solitude.
This time, she had come with still another reason--she wanted to get
through a night without alcohol. She and Elena had been talking
constantly ever since she had arrived, and that had been helpful. But
they had also been drinking constantly, and that was not. Cassandra
knew she needed to stop drinking.

And she wanted to start painting. On her earlier visits, she had finished
some pencil drawings, then experimented with the modern paints,
learning the way they mixed and flowed and dried, painting abstract
sketches and swatches of color. The acrylic paints were brilliant in color
and smooth in texture, and fine details should be easy to paint. She
hoped.

Cassandra climbed to the loft, then stared at the blank canvas on the
easel for a moment before selecting her paints: bright reds and yellows
and golds. Since she had been in Argentina, it had become her habit to
watch the sunrise from Elena's bedroom balcony, to see the sun lift
laboriously from the flat edge of the pampa in a glorious explosion of
color and cloud. She wanted to capture that beauty on canvas.

Or try to capture it, anyway. It had been centuries since she had
painted anything, but she thought was ready to start.

She wasn't.

Cassandra set the paintbrush on the color palette and walked away
from the easel, pressing her hands together to stop the trembling, then
clutching at the railing while she stared into the living room below. She
wanted a drink.

~~~~~

The back of Elena's head suddenly tightened with the indisputable
presence of another Immortal, and a dog barked as a car drove up to
the front gate. For a moment, just for a second, she panicked--but then
she realized it was probably Cassandra, coming back instead of
spending the night at the cabin, as she had said she might do. Raul
was just welcoming her back, happy and excited to see her.

Elena couldn't say she was happy and excited about much of anything,
but she was glad Cassandra was back. She wondered how much liquor
Cassandra had taken with her to the cabin. She wanted to ask
Cassandra if *she* could stop drinking.

Then the dog stopped barking abruptly, probably because Cassandra
was petting him. Or maybe ... Cassandra wouldn't drive up to the front;
she'd take the Jeep back to the garage.

Elena glanced at her katana, lying on the bottom shelf of the coffee
table, within easy reach, as always. The richly carved ivory hilt was
dull, in stark contrast to the gleaming black lacquered sheath. She
blinked back tears as she remembered another sword, straight instead
of curved, gray instead of black and ivory. But her broadsword--the
broadsword her father, Don Alvaro, had gifted her with centuries
before--was gone. Broken. Destroyed.

Well, she wasn't destroyed. Not anymore. She never had been. And in
a pinch, the katana would work. It already had.

She continued sipping her wine, but sat up, taking her feet off the
coffee table, more alert, and switched the glass to her right hand,
freeing up her sword hand, which was suddenly no longer trembling.
Adrenaline was a wonderful cure for the shakes.

She heard hurried, booted footsteps on the staircase as Juanito rushed
down. "Senorita, there is a man at the gate, a stranger--," he breathed.

"I know," Elena interrupted briskly. Obviously he'd seen the Immortal
from his window upstairs, where he was staying, right in the house,
close to Elena, to *protect* her. It was sweet, but no longer necessary,
and tonight she would tell him so. She could deal with being alone in
the house now, without a nursemaid. After she dealt with this next
Immortal. "Is the gate locked?"

"No."

"Good. Stay out of the way," she ordered.

Juanito hesitated briefly, then nodded and headed quickly toward the
kitchen and out the back door.

A moment later there was a booming knock on the door, someone using
a fist. The Immortal was not bothering with the doorbell, and she
recognized the sense of drama, of impending doom, in his action.
Ordinarily she might have been amused. But not today. Today it was
another Immortal, coming to challenge her at her own house! Another
one! *!Mierda!*

She took deep breaths, filling her body with oxygen, letting the rage
course through her, overtake her. This Immortal didn't have the guts to
come at her before, when she was healthy; he only came skulking
around when he thought she was weak, hurt, vulnerable. Blinded in
one eye. *!Cobarde!* He had no honor, and soon, like the other one
before him, he'd have no head.
Elena moved forward in her seat a little, placing her feet under her so
she could get up quickly and effortlessly. Then she took another sip of
her wine. She couldn't even feel the effects of the alcohol any more.
All she could feel was rage. And contempt.

"*!Veni!*" she called in a firm voice, inviting the other Immortal into her
parlor, and to his death.

She remembered something Connor MacLeod had said to her once, and
she murmured to herself, "It's show-time."

~~~~~

Cassandra faced the easel once more. The canvas lay blank, white, and
empty before her. Once that had been an invitation. Now it was a
challenge.

There was nothing to be frightened of. She could do this. She could
create again. She didn't have to spend her life in an endless, pointless,
stupid waste of waiting. And an even more stupid waste of hating.
That was over. She was free.

She could be free, if she could let herself be alive again, let herself
laugh and love. She could live again, if she could just remember how.
If she could just find the courage to try.

Cassandra took a deep breath, picked up the paintbrush, and started to
paint.

~~~~

Elena watched the door, waiting. "*!Entra, hombre!*" she called again,
impatiently.

The door opened and the Immortal stepped inside. He was small,
blond, muscular, dressed all in black, from his shirt and black pants to
his duster and shiny boots--probably, like the pounding on the door,
also for dramatic effect. Physically, he was perhaps only seventeen.
This was all good news. She had the advantage of reach and, she
hoped, strength. Maybe experience, too.

He walked into the living room with a long even stride, a youthful strut
that reminded her of Richie. He stopped two meters from where she
sat, then crossed his arms in front of his chest and openly studied her.
His eyes were an intense blue, deepened by the black clothes to almost
turquoise. His sneer was arrogant, and annoying. "Duran?"

She could smell his aftershave from here ... Brut? Cheap stuff! He
could probably smell the alcohol on her from there, but at least it was
expensive alcohol. Of course, he didn't need to smell it. He could see
it--the mostly empty bottle, the wine glass in her hand. Fortunately,
she hadn't started on the Scotch yet tonight. He was too early--lucky
for her. She lifted her glass to him in an ironic toast and nodded
slightly, acknowledging her name, but not letting her anger show. Yet.
He announced, "*Me llamo* Alexander--"

"I don't care what your name is, *pendejo,*" she interrupted him.
"The only thing I care about is how long you're going to keep me from
this *rioja,*" she said contemptuously, taking a last sip and putting the
glass down next to the bottle, scooping up her sword smoothly as she
stood, ready to cut him down on the spot.

Alexander automatically took a step back from her, shifting his weight a
little. He was grim, determined ... and scared. And he had let her see
it. Big mistake, little boy. She smiled at him with anticipation, and she
made sure he saw that. "Let's go."

~~~~~

A sunrise didn't have to be that difficult to paint, Cassandra reflected, as
she started to paint the grass fields of the pampa. There didn't have to
be realistic details or tricky perspectives. She could use the style Elena
had told her was called Impressionism, and focus more on the colors
than on getting each cloud and blade of grass exactly right.

This wouldn't be that hard.

~~~~~

Alexander followed Elena in his rental car to "the killing fields," a small
clearing by the canal, two kilometers from the cabin, near the stand of
*ombu* trees.

Elena got out of the Jeep, leaving her lights on so they could see to
fight, glancing around as she did so. She expected to kill this Alexander
quickly, before her batteries died, and her limited energy died as well.
The tree close by the water still had a white slash across the bark; she
could see it contrasted against the darkness of the trunk. She had
gouged it with her katana just a few weeks before, when she had
beheaded the *other* Immortal who had come for her. Someone else
who had thought she was weak and helpless.

Surprise.

The boy Alexander stopped his car across from hers in a cloud of dust
and got out. He pulled out a rapier, placed it on the car hood, then
removed his duster and threw it back in through the car window. He
approached with his rapier already in hand, taking no chances. The
night was warm, although a faint breeze had started, auguring the
rain to come. She wondered if the sweat on his face and staining his
shirt was from the heat or from fear. No matter.

She'd have to do something about his rental car.

"Duran--," he began.

"We're wasting time," she interrupted him again. "It smells like rain,
and I don't want to get wet." Her head was clear, all traces of the
alcohol gone, and even the rage was gone by now, replaced with a cold
determination--she had let the passion make her stronger, help her get
ready, but she knew better than to fight in anger. It was time to put
away the anger and begin the fight.

~~~~~

Cassandra stepped back from the easel and opened the window at the
end of the loft, then listened to the raindrops dancing on the leaves of
the *ombu* trees that Elena had planted all around the cabin, almost
two centuries before. Cassandra inhaled deeply of the newly-washed
air, then went back to the painting. The pampa was done. It was time
for the sunrise.

~~~~~

Elena bent her knees and sank down a little, further lowering her
center of gravity. It had started raining, a light shower that was
getting progressively stronger, and she didn't want to slip on the
wet grass. Or the blood.

Within the first three passes, she had discovered that Alexander
what's-his-name was a strong and skilled fencer. Someone had taken
the time and trouble to teach him the basics, and teach him well.
Apparently his youth and energy and confidence had carried him so
far. But he was also as inexperienced as he looked. She wondered
if he was aware of the barely-audible whimpering sounds he was
making with every exhale. Probably.

*Sorry; your youth and energy won't carry you this time, che,* Elena
thought as she smiled at him.

He met her gaze, then lunged at her once more, a desperate gambit
which left him over-extended, off-balance, and open. Elena could
have impaled him then, finished it. Instead, she knocked him to the
ground and slashed at him, again, as he fell. He cried out and lay
panting, his sword up, his body curled in on itself; and she waited,
looking down on him. His shirt was only thin black ribbons on his
chest by now, crossed with red ribbons which healed and closed with
short bursts of blue light, only to be reopened again by her blade,
sometimes by using the identical maneuvers.

"You didn't think it would be this hard, did you, little boy!" she said
viciously. But she was tiring of it, and the rain was getting harder, so
she decided to finish him. When he'd first arrived she'd been angry.
Now she didn't care anymore.

He wasn't stupid, either. His blue eyes were dark with pain and effort.
Now they darkened even further with fear as he saw his death on her
face. He mumbled something under his breath, "*Thee mou.*"

It sounded vaguely like Greek, which she didn't understand. But she
recognized a prayer when she heard it. "God can't help you now, and
I won't."

Slowly he pulled his tortured body upright. He wanted to die on his
feet, and she was going to let him. Only that much--no more. "I
don't want to die," he stated.

She'd listened closely this time. He wasn't pleading, and he hadn't
tried to run or tried to talk her out of killing him. "Neither do I," she
retorted. "But when you came for me, you didn't care about that, did
you?"

"No," he answered simply and honestly, laboriously raising his sword
to the en garde position for the last time.

She had to admire his honesty, and at the end, blade in hand, he was
proving he had *cojones.* At that point, she almost let him go. At
another time, she might have, but she couldn't forget the cowardly,
opportunistic timing of his challenge. He was going to die tonight.

She enveloped his weapon and deftly twisted it out of his hand. It
flew through the air in a perfect arc and landed point first in the grass
three meters away.

Alexander looked at his rapier measuringly, and then, amazingly,
leaped toward it.

Elena took a long step to her left, raised her katana with both hands,
and swept down, beheading him. "I don't care, either," she said, then
waited to take his Quickening.

~~~~~

The pampa looked wrong, flat and dull, with no hint of the reflected
light from the sun. She should not have painted the pampa first.
Cassandra added a dash of yellow and a touch of orange to the ochre
and gray and green.

Those colors were wrong, too. The yellow was too bright, the orange
too brown. Maybe some red.

No. Now the whole painting felt off, with the focus on the ground
instead of in the sky. Maybe some more red where the sun was
supposed to be.

That didn't work, either. She had just ruined the entire subtle effect
she had been trying to create. The sun blared in the center of the
canvas, a splotch of red in a yellow and orange mist. A five-year-old
could have painted it.

More red was needed, much more. Cassandra picked up the widest
brush she could find. As lightning flickered outside and the rain fell
harder, Cassandra made wide sweeping strokes, back and forth, up and
down, top to bottom. Stroke by stroke, she covered the canvas in red--
bright red, vermilion red, blood red. She wiped out and erased and
destroyed.

Cassandra stepped back and looked at the completely red canvas, then
turned and walked away.
~~~~~

When it was over, Elena got to her feet even more slowly than he had.
She was almost too exhausted to move, but she forced herself to go
through his pockets, get his keys, and muscle his body and head into
the trunk of his own car. Tomorrow--*manana*--she'd deal with
Alexander what's-his-name. She stood in the rain, looking at nothing,
panting. It was finished. She turned on her heel and walked away.


===========================================


Rain came through the hole in the canvas top of the Jeep and dripped
on Cassandra's back in a steady maddening stream, and the windshield
wipers squealed on every backstroke. The dusty grass road back to the
*estancia* had become a muddy grass road, slippery and treacherous.
Cassandra drove faster. She wanted a drink.

To the east, light gray clouds against the darker gray sky heralded the
coming of the sun. The sunrise wouldn't be glorious today--no pink-
streaked sky, no explosions of color.

Except red.

Still, even if she hadn't managed to paint, she wasn't a complete failure
at everything. She had forced herself to stay at the cabin almost all
night, even gone outside for a walk in the rain, and she hadn't had a
drink. She could be proud of that. When she arrived at the *estancia*
it would be morning, and then she could have a drink. Or two. Or
maybe three.

She wanted a drink now. Cassandra drove faster, while the rain
dripped and the wipers squeaked. Finally, she saw the lights and the
large dark line of buildings against the horizon. As she drove past the
house she felt the familiar tingling on her neck at the presence of
another Immortal. That would wake Elena up. Maybe they could have
a drink together. Elena would understand.

Cassandra parked the Jeep in the garage and headed for the back of
the house. The rain was still falling, but she didn't hurry as she
opened the back gate and walked through the courtyard to the kitchen
door. She was already soaked. The kitchen light was on, and the
room smelled of fresh coffee and baking bread, but there was no one
there. Perhaps whoever was supposed to stay in the kitchen tonight
and attend to Elena--who was a notoriously bad sleeper--had gone to
the bathroom, or was somewhere else.

But Elena was still in the house and close by; Cassandra could sense
her. Cassandra followed the faint strains of music and went through
the living room to Elena's library. "Elena?" Cassandra called, opening
the door and taking half a step inside, peering into the dark room.

The smells alerted her first--mingled scents of blood and alcohol, a
stink of fear. The sounds came next--a whisper-soft step behind her, a
swish of air from the moving blade of a sword. With the instincts
learned during three thousand years of running and living in fear,
Cassandra was already stepping sideways and ducking as Elena buried
her katana in the open door. "*!Parate, Elena!*" Cassandra
commanded, using the Voice as she scrambled farther into the library to
escape, hoping Elena would respond to the command to stop.

But Elena was screaming, "*!Te mato, carajo! !Te voy a mandar al
diablo!*" as she wrenched her blade out of the door, and she did not
hear.

Cassandra grabbed the nearest leather chair and pushed it into
Elena's path, all the time yelling herself, desperately wishing she
knew Elena's native Indian tongue, "*!Elena, para tu golpe!*"

Elena sidestepped the chair easily and came forward, sword raised
above her head, still screaming at the top of her lungs, "*!No mas!
!Ni uno mas! !Los voy a matar a todos!*" followed by a string of
curses.

Cassandra wasn't interested in Elena's vocabulary; the only thing
that mattered now was getting away from this madwoman, and away
from that sword. Goddess! Elena was really trying to kill her! Too far
to the window to go out it, too close to the wall of books to maneuver,
and Elena was only getting closer, still swearing. Cassandra half-dove,
half-scrambled over the desk, scattering papers and pens, but she
wasn't quick enough.

A searing line of agony sliced through her from left shoulder to waist,
and Cassandra fell sideways with a cry of pain. The wound wasn't too
deep, though already she could feel hot blood all along her side. She
forced herself to keep moving, to push down the fear, and she
struggled away from the next sword thrust, meant to impale her. She
rolled off the desk and onto the floor.

Cassandra kept rolling, then got to her feet to face Elena, who had
just climbed onto the desk herself, looking for the advantage of high
ground. Elena was still screaming incoherent obscenities, and
Cassandra decided to shut her up.

She reached sideways and grabbed the floor lamp next to the wall, then
swung the long pole horizontally at Elena's legs, knocking her down
onto the desk. It was Elena's turn to yell in pain--but now their faces
were almost level with each other, and Elena was finally quiet enough
to listen. Cassandra looked into Elena's one eye and commanded,
"*PARATE!*" using all her own fear and rage and everything she knew
about Elena to add power to the word, to freeze Elena where she lay.

And Elena froze, lying on her side on the desk, her sword held two-
handed in front of her, the tip of the blade quivering slightly as her
muscles protested. Cassandra took a deep breath, splitting open the
still-healing skin on her back. Fresh blood poured down her ribs, and
fresh pain and rage poured through her. Elena was staring at her in
shock, and she opened her mouth to speak, but Cassandra had heard
quite enough of the other woman's ravings. "Keep silent, Elena,"
Cassandra ordered, and then turned on the light over the desk. Elena
blinked at the brightness, but did not move when Cassandra reached
forward with one hand and gripped the hilt of Elena's sword.

"Give me your sword, Elena," Cassandra commanded, and the other
woman's fingers relaxed enough for Cassandra to wrench the katana
from Elena's grasp. "Good girl," Cassandra said approvingly and
noticed with cold amusement the flare of anger--and awareness--in
Elena's eye.

Good. Elena needed a lesson in manners, and Cassandra wanted her to
remember it. "You wanted me to use the Voice on you, remember,
Elena?" Cassandra said sweetly. "So you would know what it felt
like? Well, now is your chance." Cassandra took a step backward
and shifted to the Voice of Command. "Get off the desk, Elena."

The other woman complied, stiffly and none too steadily, now that
the bloodlust had been drained from her. Elena stood in front of
the desk, wavering on her feet, waiting for the next command.

Cassandra drew in a deep breath and nearly gagged. The room still
stank of blood and fear and alcohol, but now the strongest scents of
blood and fear were hers. But not for much longer; it was Elena's
turn. "You seem tired, Elena," Cassandra said in mock concern, then
said firmly, "Kneel."

Elena trembled as her knees bent, but she ended up on the floor. It
took her a moment or two to lift her head, but she finally managed
it, tilting it to look up at Cassandra, the anger in her eye deepened to
rage and hate.

Cassandra was not impressed. Elena couldn't even begin to understand
rage, had not the faintest conception of what hate really was.
Cassandra knew, and she could taste them right now, hot and salty-
sweet like the blood on her back, cold and black and dead like rotten
ice. She lifted the katana and held it level with Elena's neck, about a
foot away, so that Elena could see it, and then Cassandra moved in
closer.

"An elegant weapon, Elena," she said, holding it just away from the
smooth, dusky skin of Elena's neck. "Slim, black, deadly--rather like
you." Cassandra tilted her head to examine the sheen of the metal, the
gentle curve of the blade. Elena's neck would fit nicely within that arc.
"Shall I break your sword, Elena?" Cassandra asked. "Shall I snap it in
two?" Bethel had snapped Elena's broadsword, just like Roland and
Kronos had broken all of hers. So many broken swords over the
centuries, so many broken dreams.

She looked over at Elena, whose one remaining eye now gleamed with
both fury and despair. Poor, poor Elena. To have suffered so much,
to have been so abused. Cassandra tightened her grip on the sword
and smiled. Elena knew nothing. She know nothing of real fear,
nothing of real vulnerability, nothing of real despair, but Cassandra was
going to teach her tonight.
As Cassandra brought the blade closer, Elena drew back, bringing her
hands up to protect her neck. "Stop, Elena," Cassandra ordered. "Sit
back on your heels. Hands on your thighs." Elena complied, then
Cassandra brought the edge of the blade right under Elena's chin,
forcing her head back, the sharp edge just nicking the skin.

"I don't think I'll break your sword, after all, Elena," Cassandra said to
her silent victim, going back to looking at the weapon. "It's so
beautiful. And so useful. I'm sure you have found it so. I think I will,
too."

She looked at Elena and smiled again, slowly. The other woman was
breathing rapidly through her nose, but she didn't look completely
terrified yet, not the way Cassandra had felt just a few minutes before,
not the way Cassandra wanted her to feel. Telling Elena to lean into
her own blade would be the most effective way to terrify her--it had
worked on Connor, after all--but Elena was too drunk even to stand.
Pity.

"Don't move, Elena," Cassandra said softly. "Not at all." Cassandra
twisted the blade just enough to slice into the skin, and then she
watched the slight puckering of the flesh as it parted under the blade;
watched the dark beads of blood appear, a choker necklace of black
pearls; watched the pearls flatten and grow, reaching out to each other,
forging a collar of death. The scent of blood was hot and salty-sweet,
and this time, it wasn't her own.

Neither was the fear. Elena had closed her eye, and now she was just
kneeling there, barely breathing, rigid with effort, trying not to sway,
just waiting for death. Good.

Cassandra knew she could do this. Oh, yes, she could!--slice off Elena's
head and take the Quickening, revel in that glorious pain, take the
revenge she'd been denied for so long. To kill would be so easy, so
satisfying, so ...*good*!

Cassandra pulled the sword back for the blow, and Elena slumped
suddenly, her strength totally spent, gagging, the blood dripping
onto her chest. Cassandra stopped with the sword held high.
Suddenly the rage wasn't so hot and sweet anymore, and the hate
wasn't so cold. She started to tremble, realizing what she'd almost
done--again.

Cassandra carefully set the katana down on the desk and stepped away
from it. Elena was still kneeling on the floor, her head down now,
gulping air with every breath, and Cassandra briefly debated telling
her to forget all about this. However, they both needed to learn this
lesson, and they needed to talk about what had happened. But not
tonight.

"Sleep," Cassandra said, a final command. "Sleep," she urged, her
voice low and soothing, and Elena collapsed onto her side on the floor
and fell asleep.
Cassandra's trembling turned to shaking, with mingled fear and relief
and rage. And, she realized, with the need for a drink. She didn't just
want a drink; she needed one. She took another deep breath and left
the room, then went outside, away from the liquor, away from the
sword, away from Elena's vulnerable and very tempting neck.

The rain had finally stopped, but the air felt thick with moisture, and the
early morning light was gray. Cassandra stood on the patio for a
moment, still breathing deeply, taking in the familiar smells of horse,
manure, and ripening corn, letting the tension of Elena's "welcome
home" fade away, trying to control the remnants of her own bloody
rage.

Juanito came into the back courtyard from one of the other houses.
He had apparently been watching for her, or for Elena.

"Juanito!" Cassandra called, and he came to meet her by the kitchen
door. "Your mistress needs watching."

"She is all right?" Juanito asked in a worried tone. "She told us to get
out of the house, and I'm glad you were here to talk to her, Senorita
Cassandra."

Cassandra did not tell Juanito that she and Elena had just had a very
short, very blunt, conversation. "She is asleep in the library," Cassandra
told him, "but she might have more nightmares. Do not get too close,
and do not wake her up."

Juanito nodded. "I know, but this was not just another nightmare. A
man came about midnight, and he left with the senorita." Juanito
looked at the ground for a moment, then looked up at Cassandra again,
his eyes dark, not bothering to hide his fear. "She came back alone."

Cassandra nodded slowly, not really surprised. Tonight Elena had been
screaming, "Not one more!" and earlier she had said, "Everyone comes
for me." This made two Immortals in the last three weeks, and Elena
had mentioned another one, an insistent Italian whom Duncan had
dispatched. So stupid of Elena, so irresponsible! To live here so
exposed, to endanger all of these people she cared about, just so she
could have a home. Spoiled, selfish child! Elena was going to have to
grow up and leave home sometime, and the sooner the better.

Juanito looked toward the house grimly and asked Cassandra, "How
many more will come?" He turned to her, desperation on his face.
"How many?"

She could not answer that, and Juanito knew it. "Tell me when she
wakes," Cassandra said. "She and I need to talk more." Juanito
nodded and went toward the house, while Cassandra headed out into
the fields. She wanted to drink. She wanted to break something. She
wanted to kill Elena.

She went running.
===========================================


Elena lifted her head, a sour taste in her mouth. She tried to open her
eye, but the bright light--it was sunlight, coming through the window--
was physically painful. Her cheek had been lying on a wet spot on the
tile floor, and she wiped her face with the back of her hand. Her head
felt like it had been bashed in, and her stomach--

*!Madre de Dios!* Cassandra! Last night she'd tried to behead
Cassandra, oh, yes, she had; she'd attacked Cassandra with a sword,
and Cassandra ... Cassandra had used the Voice on her.

Even dead-drunk last night and hungover and sick now, Elena clearly
remembered the Voice. She remembered the words working their way
inside her, sinuously, like a clinging vine, tendrils reaching deeply into
her mind and clamping down, compelling, commanding. Irresistible.
Leaving her as helpless as her torturer, Claude Bethel, had left her. She
also remembered Cassandra ordering her to kneel, to *kneel!* Elena
brought a hand to her neck and felt the not-yet-healed wound there. It
hurt.

Cassandra had done that; she'd been going to take her head. No
mistake about that. But Bethel had been her enemy--Cassandra was
supposed to be a friend.

Elena sat up suddenly, filled with rage, and lurched to her feet, looking
around for her katana. There it was on the desk, and she took it in her
hand, automatically feeling stronger, better. But someone else was in
the room with her, and she hadn't even noticed him. Juanito Onioco
was sprawled on the sofa, asleep.

She wanted to ask him what the devil he was doing here. Just the
night before, she'd told him he didn't need to stay in the house
anymore, protecting her. She hadn't been very nice about it, either. In
fact, she'd told him and Carmela and all the others to get the hell out.

But as she opened her mouth to speak, she cried out instead, then
staggered the few meters to the bathroom, sinking to her knees onto
the cold tile, dropping the sword, and emptying out a bottle's worth
of Scotch and anything else that was in her stomach, or had ever been
in her stomach. In the back of her mind, glowing like a hidden ember,
was the sensation of another Immortal right here in the house, and the
knowledge of how vulnerable she herself was, on her knees again,
vomiting with her back to the open door.

But it didn't matter where she was, or even if she was armed.
Cassandra could attack her with the Voice alone, from across the room--
how could Elena have forgotten that!?--stripping her of all her will and
reducing her to a slave--a slave on her knees. Elena closed her eyes.
She'd been on her knees in front of other men and women before: her
father, Mother Superior, O'Sensei. But it had always been of her own
free will--until Bethel. And now Cassandra.
She pushed against the toilet seat and stood, then moved past the sink,
avoiding looking at herself in the mirror. She didn't have to look. She
knew how she looked, how she smelled. She got inside the tiny
shower, clothes and all, turned on the cold water and let the hard spray
wake her, revive her, clean her a little. After a minute, she turned off
the water and stepped outside, her shoes sloshing, and bent to pick up
her sword.

Elena stood up, dizzy. She needed a little time to recover. She was in
no shape to fight, no condition to face anyone, and yet she had to talk
to Cassandra now, right now! Her gun! She needed to get her gun! It
was upstairs, in her bedroom. She headed for the stairs and found
Juanito hovering in the living room. "Where is she?" Elena asked him.

"I'm not sure," he replied. "I'm sorry; I fell asleep. But--"

"She's in the house. Give me your gun," she ordered, holding out her
right hand, the one without her sword in it. She knew Juanito had been
carrying a gun since the second Immortal had come, right after Duncan
had left. But he wasn't going to use it, not on an Immortal. Killing
Immortals was her job, and Elena was good at her job.

"Por favor, senorita," he ventured, breathless. "I don't think--"

"Give me the gun, Juanito," she repeated calmly, and this time he
reluctantly obeyed. Elena knew he liked Cassandra. They all did. But
he hadn't heard the Voice, felt it possessing him. Raping him.
Cassandra hadn't cut into his neck, either, or threatened to kill him
while he knelt helplessly. And he shouldn't even be here. "Go home,
*hombre,*" she called over her shoulder as she rushed to the stairs.
"Stay out of this."

She put the gun and sword down on the bottom step and sat down to
pull off her sodden shoes and socks, all the time taking deep breaths,
trying to get oxygen into her lungs and her brain, fighting the nausea
that threatened to bring her back down to her knees, her fucking knees,
again! Then she stood and slid the katana inside the belt of her shorts,
close to her hand. Juanito's gun was loaded, of course, and she took
off the safety and chambered a round.

As she rushed up the steps she repeated to herself, "I attacked her, she
was just defending herself, she didn't break her word to me, she didn't
take my head," but overlying that was the sound of that Voice, stripping
her of her will. "Stop. Kneel. Be silent and hold still while I cut your
head off." Like a steer to the slaughter!

And Elena had obeyed, just like she had obeyed Bethel.

She hit the top step running and without preamble, without even trying
to be quiet, she burst into Cassandra's bedroom. Hitting the door made
her head swim, but she ignored it, forcing her concentration on her
enemy.
Cassandra was already facing the door, her hands at her sides, looking
cool and comfortable in white shorts and a green cotton shirt. "Elena--,"
she began, not at all surprised or upset, only watchful.

"No! Shut up! Don't say a word, not one word!" Elena held the
automatic in both hands, the gun barrel slightly trembling. She could
shoot Cassandra; she could shoot her in the face, a head shot. It
wouldn't be easy but she could make that shot at this distance, empty
her gun into Cassandra's calm face. Maybe even that wouldn't stop
Cassandra from using the Voice again.

The Voice. Elena's finger started to squeeze the trigger--but no,
Cassandra had *not* taken her head, and Elena couldn't shoot the
other Immortal until she was sure. "You used the Voice on me,
Cassandra. That's what it was, that ... rape, that control of my body,
my mind! That's what it was, the Voice!" she accused, her own voice
shaking.

Cassandra nodded, not saying even one word, the end of her long
ponytail swaying with the movement.

Cassandra wasn't lying, wasn't denying it or excusing it. Elena's finger
tightened on the trigger again. But then she remembered what
Cassandra had said: *I swear to you, Mariaelena Concepcion Duran y
Agramonte, that I will not use the Voice on you, unless you try to
kill me.*

*Unless you try to kill me.*

Panting in effort, and yes, still in fear, Elena nevertheless lowered the
gun to her side, effectively giving up her only defense against the older
Immortal. "Unless I try to kill you," she murmured.

But Cassandra heard. "Yes, Elena," Cassandra said, each word careful
and precise, "you tried to kill me. You came at me with your sword,
and you were going to take my head. Do you remember that?"

Elena nodded. "Ay, si. I remember it very well," she answered. She
couldn't get her voice to stop trembling. "I also remember what you did
to me."

Cassandra sat down on the bed and crossed her legs in full lotus
position, and Elena relaxed, a little. Cassandra was lowering her guard,
the same as Elena had done.

"Yes, I used the Voice," Cassandra said. "I was afraid for my life." She
looked Elena over with a hint of a smile on her face. "You're rather
intimidating when you have a naked blade in your hand and you're
screaming like a banshee, Elena. Do you know that?"

Elena nodded again, smiling a little herself. In spite of her own fear
and weakened condition and Cassandra's all-powerful Voice, she really
had come close to killing Cassandra, hadn't she? "I scared you, eh?"
she said.
"Yes, you frightened me," Cassandra acknowledged, "and I wanted to
frighten you."

So, that's what it had been. An eye for an eye. Still ... No! "No, you
didn't just want to frighten me, Cassandra!" Elena burst out, making the
pounding in her head even worse. "You wanted to take my head. You
*wanted* to!" she exclaimed, daring Cassandra to deny that.

"Of course I wanted to!" Cassandra shot back. "You wanted to take
mine!"

"No, no!" Elena protested. "I didn't even know it was you! I though it
was just another Immortal coming for me! Look, Cassandra," she
began, "there was someone else last night, a Greek, I think. I told you
before. They won't stop coming. And I was so drunk, afterward, I
didn't even know it was you. I didn't even care." She put her gun
down on top of the dresser, then held her hands open in front of her
and pleaded, "Do you understand?"

"Yes," Cassandra said. "I do. I've been confused like that with other
people, and I wasn't even drunk. I was angry."

"Like last night?" Elena asked, seizing on that as an excuse for
Cassandra's behavior, for the way the other woman had completely
taken her over, body and mind. "Did you know it was me?"

Cassandra looked away, then answered slowly, "Part of me did. But
to the other part, the part holding the sword, you were just another
Immortal who had tried to kill me." She met Elena's gaze and said
dryly, "I'm not very rational when it comes to losing my head."

"Neither am I."

"I noticed," Cassandra replied, and the two women managed to
exchange meager smiles.

With the ease of long practice, Elena grabbed her sword hilt to angle it
just so and sank into the rocking chair, grateful not to have to stand up
anymore. She was starting to feel less hungover, and now that she
wasn't going to have to kill--or die--in the next few minutes, the
adrenaline rush was wearing off. But still, her sleep hadn't been restful,
and she was totally exhausted, body and soul. She also wanted--no,
she needed--a drink.

But that would have to wait, because there was something else she
had to ask Cassandra. "You liked it, didn't you?" Elena accused.
"When you were ... controlling me. I could see it in your eyes, the
pleasure you took from that kind of power." Just like Bethel's eyes.

Cassandra turned her head to look out the window for a moment,
breathing slowly, before she answered. "You know what's *really*
frightening, Elena? You're right. Controlling another person does
make me feel better; it makes me feel safe. I like power. So I don't let
myself use the Voice, unless I absolutely have to. Because I know, that
once I start, I might not be able to stop. Ever."
That was frightening. Elena didn't even want to imagine Cassandra
run amok, but all Elena said was, "Like an alcoholic." She thought
again about that drink she needed so badly.

"Exactly. Power's a drug for me, Elena, and I'm addicted. Or I could
be, if I let myself feel like that very often, the way Roland did."

"The way B-Bethel did."

"And Methos, when he was a Horseman," Cassandra pointed out. "The
power of life and death over other people can make you feel like a
god."

Elena nodded, seeing the lure of that power for all of them, even
herself. Power did corrupt, didn't it? Last night, she had toyed with
that young Immortal, unnecessarily hurt him over and over, and she
had enjoyed it, yes, enjoyed it. That little glimpse into the darkness in
her own soul made Elena a little sick again, and she swallowed her bile.

Elena also saw, more clearly than she ever had before, that beneath
Cassandra's beautiful, cool exterior was one messed up, dangerous
bitch. But was she, Elena, that much different? Maybe not. But this
time, at least, Alexander had been a stranger come to kill her, whereas
Cassandra.... "You know," Elena added, trying to keep her teeth from
grinding together, "you had already won. You didn't have to force me
to my knees, humiliate me, order me around. You made me feel ...
broken ... just the way B-Bethel did."

"Your worst nightmare," Cassandra said, then sighed gently and closed
her eyes, as if in pain. "It's mine, too, to be so helpless. And everyone's,
I suppose, but especially so for us." She unfolded her long legs and got
off the bed to go to the window and stare at the garden below. "You're
right, Elena," she said finally, turning around. "I didn't have to. I just ...
had a hard time stopping myself."

"Yeah, well, I guess.... You did stop yourself." Elena still had her head,
after all. "And...." And none of this would have happened if she hadn't
attacked Cassandra in the first place. Right was right, and Elena had
been wrong. So she said, "Cassandra, listen. I betrayed you, I broke
the laws of hospitality, and I broke my word. Drunk or not, there's no
excuse for what I did. I want to apologize. The traditional way."

Without the slightest embarrassment, Elena knelt in front of Cassandra
and bowed her head. It was the same position Elena had been in the
night before, but there was a difference. This was of her own free will.
She wanted to do this. She had to. Taking a deep breath, she looked
up at Cassandra and said, "I'm sorry. I ask for your forgiveness for
breaking my word and attacking you, Cassandra."

Cassandra looked at Elena from across the room, and Elena steadily
met the older woman's gaze, to see what Cassandra would do, knowing
that if Cassandra didn't forgive her, she'd just have to accept that. She
might not easily forgive Cassandra, if their situations were reversed. So
Elena waited. On her knees.
Cassandra walked over and touched Elena gently on the top of the
head, then Cassandra knelt, too, settling back on her heels in the
Japanese style. She put her palms on the floor and bowed her head
almost to the ground.

Elena stared across at Cassandra. What the hell--? "Why are you
kneeling to me?"

Cassandra did not look up, but her words came clearly. "I was wrong
too, Elena."

"No, wait," Elena said, with some heat. "I'm the one who's apologizing
to you!"

"You're not the only one who needs to apologize," Cassandra snapped,
sitting up and glaring at her.

"*!Cono!*" Elena swore, then opened her mouth, closed it again. This
was ridiculous! But for the first time in twenty-four hours, she was
actually amused. She pointed at her chest and finally said, a smile in
her voice, "But I started it!"

Cassandra started to snap back another retort, then stopped herself and
began to laugh, and Elena joined in. After a moment, Cassandra asked
ruefully, "Aren't we a pair? We can't even apologize to each other
without getting angry."

Messed up for sure. Shaking her head, Elena put her hand on the bed
beside her and got to her feet as Cassandra rose smoothly. Elena ran a
hand across her shaven, stubbly skull, happy to have gotten the
apology, discussion, argument, whatever it was, over with. And happy
to be still alive. She could actually smell the roses in the garden
through the open window. "So I take it we forgive each other?"

"It would seem so," Cassandra said.

"Good," Elena said, nodding. "Great." But then she continued, for
there was one more thing. "Then I would like to give you my word.
Again. If you will accept it, Cassandra." Elena held out both hands.
"*Palabra de honor.*"

Cassandra took her hands. "And I give you my word, Mariaelena.
Again." A smile, a light squeeze, and then Cassandra let go. "So,
do we drink to this again, too?" she asked.

"I really want a drink," Elena said, rubbing her hand over her mouth. "I
need it. But I can't. I've decided alcohol is bad for my health," she said
wryly, touching the cut on her neck.

"It's bad for both of us," Cassandra said. "Let's go to the cabin and get
away from the alcohol. That's why I went yesterday."

"Well, I'm glad *one* of us was sober this morning," Elena said
seriously. "But ... the two of us alone at the cabin? With a sword? Or
two swords? Are you good with that?" she asked, wondering if
Cassandra would trust her anymore, word or no word.

"Will you attack me when you're sober, Elena?" Cassandra asked.

"No," Elena said immediately, sure about this, at least, shaking her
head, grateful that it wasn't throbbing anymore.

"And I won't use the Voice unless you attack me." The two women
shared a grim smile, and Cassandra said, "We can do this, Elena."

"Yes," Elena agreed, relieved and hopeful. "We can."


===========================================


"*!Carajo!* Elena exclaimed, taking the blow on her right thigh. She
gripped her weapon more tightly and circled warily, her opponent
moving with her. Elena focused all her concentration on Cassandra.
They were both sweaty, both determined to win.

"Got you that time," Cassandra said, grinning, an exultant smile on
her face.

"Yes," Elena admitted, not too grudgingly. Of course, if they'd been
fighting with real blades, instead of bamboo *bokken,* her thigh muscle
would be laid open now, and she'd be limping, or maybe on the ground.
Cassandra had gotten inside her guard. That time. But Elena had
gotten in at least four or five hits to each one of Cassandra's. "Your
point," Elena conceded, "this time." A few passes, then Elena feinted to
the left.

Cassandra had to move her sword across the front of her own body to
block Elena's blow--sometimes it was a joy to be a left-handed fencer!
Then Elena pressed against her opponent's right shoulder, pushing
Cassandra, out of balance now, back across the slick wooden floor. But
when Elena thrust at what should have been Cassandra's exposed back,
the other woman had already twirled, using her own momentum to
swing her *bokken* around barely in time, but solidly deflecting what
would have been a killing blow.

"*!Muy bien!*" Elena congratulated her. "You're getting faster." She
stepped back and pulled her *bokken* straight up and down by her side
to the end position. The two women had spent the last five days at the
cabin. On the way back to the *estancia* this afternoon, Cassandra
had suggested they spar before dinner, but with *bokken,* not real
swords. They had been at it for almost an hour, and Elena knew they
were both ready to stop. She bowed formally, and Cassandra did the
same.

As they were toweling off, she told Cassandra, "I never liked that
spinning stuff myself, because it exposes your back to your opponent,
makes you take your eyes off him. But if you're fast enough, it works
really well, and gives you extra hitting power." She studied the older
Immortal for a moment and said, "But I have a feeling you know a tiny
little bit about fencing; don't you?" she said, smiling to make sure
Cassandra knew she was joking. It was obvious to her that Cassandra
was an experienced swordswoman, although woefully out of practice.

"A little bit, yes," Cassandra said, as she blew a strand of hair off her
forehead. "The old moves come back easily enough, but I have a hard
time learning the new ones." She shook her head as she put the
weapon away on the rack. "And there are a lot of new ones to learn."

"Yes," Elena agreed. "We have to keep up with the times. I've always
found that hard to do. The old ways are not always the best ways, not
even in fencing. That's why I practice every day. You should, too."
Cassandra didn't respond to that, and Elena knew why. She put away
her *bokken,* then made her decision.

"Cassandra, come with me for a minute?" The two women crossed the
long ballroom-dojo, and Elena took down a rapier from the wall where
the weapons were hung. "Cassandra," she said, standing in front of the
other woman, offering her the blade flat on her palms, "this is for you."

Cassandra made no move to take it. "Elena--"

"I want you to have it," Elena broke in. "You need a sword to protect
yourself, and I think I can spare one." With a jerk of her head, she
motioned to the ten or so weapons displayed on the wall--among them
a Roman legionnaire's short sword, a Moorish scimitar, a cutlass, and a
massive double-handed long-sword over five feet long, as well as a
spear and a double-bladed ax. They represented some of Don Alvaro's
kills. And some of hers.

Cassandra hesitated, then smiled and nodded. She bowed slightly, then
took the weapon from Elena's hands. "Thank you." She pulled it out of
the scabbard and examined it, holding it up to the light. "It's been well-
cared for."

"A dull blade is useless," Elena said. "This is one of the early Spanish
rapiers, sixteenth century, I think. It's double-edged so you can use it
for cutting in addition to just thrusting. Its original owner made the
mistake of underestimating my father."

Cassandra took a few practice lunges, getting the feel of it, testing the
balance. "It's lighter than the broadswords I've been using lately," she
commented, then resheathed it. "Thank you, Elena, for this gift," she
said, actually reaching out to touch her on the arm. "I needed one. It's
a good blade, and a good choice for me."

"I thought so," Elena said, pleased and a little flattered. "And as the
captain of the musketeers said to d'Artagnan in the movie, it will 'keep
your enemies a foot or two further distant.'"

Cassandra grinned. "Yes, it will. And now I have something for you."
She headed for the door, taking the sword with her, and called over
shoulder, "I'll be right back."
Elena was left to wait, and to wonder. Cassandra had not left the
*estancia* to do any shopping, and during their time at the cabin,
Cassandra had spent most of her time painting pictures she meant to
give to someone else. Elena had played the piano, listened to music,
meditated. But they had also spent a lot of time together--exercising,
working on the basics of Aikido, watching old movies, watching sunrises
and sunsets and the animals of the pampa, and not-drinking.

The not-drinking had taken a lot of energy. Drying out and sweating
out the D.T.'s were--Elena knew from long experience--the worst part
of drinking. She and Cassandra had slept in late at times and stayed up
late at other times, encouraging each other, trying not to let the by-
now-occasional nightmare get to them, not too much, as they slept side
by side in the double bed. They had, Elena hoped, learned to trust
each other again.

Cassandra soon came back with a neatly wrapped rectangle, about the
size of a large book.

Elena quickly tore the paper open and stared at the framed charcoal
drawing of *El Negro* running in all his glory, wild and free.

"I saw him running almost every time I drove out to the cabin,"
Cassandra said. "I thought you would like to see him every day, too."

"Yes, I would," Elena said, touched. The only art in her bedroom was a
sketch that Pablo Picasso had given her, and a watercolor of the
*estancia* at sunrise that Maria had painted the year she had died.
Elena would put this drawing next to those. "I'll put this on my
bedroom wall, Cassandra, where I can see it every morning. It will ...
inspire me. Gracias, chica."

"*No hay de que.*"

The two women smiled at each other. Then abruptly, impulsively,
Elena put her arms around the older Immortal. For a moment she felt
Cassandra stiffen, then slowly relax. Elena held Cassandra in a soft
embrace and squeezed one more time, slightly, then looked at the other
woman. "Let's go get cleaned up," Elena suggested, then led the way
to the sauna.

~~~~~

"So, you did a lot of painting at the cabin. Are you finished?" Elena
asked after dinner, as she set the small tray on one of the tables on the
patio outside the dining room. Several bottles of soft drinks: *materva,
maltina,* Coca-cola and sparkling water--absolutely nothing alcoholic--
stood on the tray, as well as a few *pastelitos* Carmela had baked for
dessert, still trying to fatten Elena up. Elena smiled and selected a
bottle of *materva,* then sat down across from Cassandra.

Cassandra had been watching the fading clouds of the sunset. She
turned to Elena and answered, "Yes, I'll wrap the paintings tomorrow,
before I leave for the airport."
"Looking forward to spending Christmas with your friends?" Elena
asked, still a little surprised--though pleased--that Cassandra had
such good friends as that.

"Yes," Cassandra said, reaching for a *pastelito.* "These last three
weeks have been good for us, Elena, but somehow I feel as though I've
been here a lot longer."

"We went though a lot," Elena pointed out, then leaned back in her
chair, enjoying the lingering warmth of the day. The light was fading
fast. Soon the waxing moon would rise, silvering the tops of the
cornstalks, and the stars would come out.

Elena drank slowly, letting the dark, slightly bitter foamy brew slide own
her throat. She had plans for Christmas, too, although not as pleasant.
First, she wanted to spend a few days in Argentina, alone, *without*
another Immortal, just to prove she could. The house was already
decorated, filled at all hours with bright-eyed, expectant children and
adults who couldn't seem to stop smiling. It was downright contagious,
and cheering.

But she had to fly back to get Claude Bethel buried once and for all, and
she wanted to get it over with. She'd miss the holiday celebration here,
when everyone would come to the *Nochebuena* feast on the twenty-
fourth and the *Misa del gallo,* the Midnight Mass, in the chapel
afterward. But it couldn't be helped. She wasn't going to celebrate this
holiday or allow herself to relax until she had resolved her problem with
the Immortals, the dead Bethel and the two live MacLeods. And where
she'd been afraid before, now she found she was ready, she was finally
strong enough, and she wanted to go. No, she needed to go.

Cassandra picked up the embroidery she'd been working on for the
last two weeks.

"I thought you hated embroidery," Elena said, remembering that long,
boring ocean crossing aboard the *Constanze.*

"I did," Cassandra said, making small, even stitches. "I hated a lot of
things."

*All right,* Elena thought, *let's go there.* "Like Methos. And you still
hate him, don't you? But you didn't take his head when he was on his
knees, helpless in front of you." She'd wondered about this, and
decided to ask now. "Why not?"

Cassandra jerked a knot tight in the thread and said nothing.

By now Elena was used to Cassandra's silences. She leaned back and
considered her own question. The answer wasn't because of cowardice.
Elena put herself in Cassandra's place--hell, she had been in that same
place--and realized that the ancient Immortal had finally, after three
millennia, gone almost single-handedly to destroy her worst nightmares.
All four of them. Maybe hunting the Horsemen had been the act of an
insane woman, or a desperate one, or even a suicidal one. But it had
not been the act of a coward.
Or maybe Cassandra just didn't want Methos' five-thousand-year-old
Quickening. Elena could still clearly remember Robert Trent's
Quickening, how it had overpowered her, overwhelmed her, almost like
the Voice from the inside, a Dark Quickening. Maybe Cassandra was
afraid that might happen to her. Or maybe Cassandra had just
decided to be merciful. "Did you forgive him?" Elena asked, a little
surprised.

"I wanted him dead," Cassandra replied, then snipped off the thread
with her teeth. "And if someone took his head tomorrow, I wouldn't
mind at all."

"I would feel the same way, in your place," Elena said, finishing the last
of her drink and putting the bottle down on the table. She leaned
forward again. "So why didn't you kill him?" she persisted. "Did you
stop because Duncan told you not to?"

"Duncan's wishes had nothing to do with it," Cassandra snapped. "He
had interfered between me and Methos before, and I wasn't about to
let Duncan tell me what to do." She set her sewing on the table. "But
he did slow me down," she acknowledged, "and I needed to take the
time to think." She tried to thread the needle, then gave up and shoved
the sewing away from her. "I hadn't been thinking much at all that last
week--that last month--and I hadn't been sleeping very well, either."

"*Las pesadillas.* Those nightmares. Been there." The two women
shared grim smiles of understanding. "But at least ... you're not
dreaming as much any more, are you?" Elena asked. "I know I'm
having fewer dreams myself."

"No," Cassandra said. "Not any more. The talking has helped." This
time the smiles they shared were ones of success. "But back then, and
with what they did to me those last two days...." Cassandra shrugged
and admitted, "I was--truly--too angry to think straight. When Duncan
stopped me and I did start to think, I realized that both Roland and
Kronos were finally dead. I could have a new life. And I decided I was
not going to start my new life by killing someone who was helpless in
front of me. I was *not* going to be the same kind of murdering
butchers they were." She picked up her sewing again, threaded the
needle and started to embroider the petal of a flower. "I didn't do it for
Duncan, and I didn't do it for Methos. I did it for me."

Elena nodded, accepting it. "I'm glad for you. And for him, too."
Elena noticed they didn't have to spell out who "him" was.

Cassandra leaned back in her chair and considered Elena. "You like
him, too, don't you?" she asked, then added in an undertone, "He's
good at being charming, I'll give him that."

"Yes, I do like him, although I don't trust him completely," Elena
replied.

Cassandra shook her head again, and snorted in pitying scorn.
"Trust."
"Duncan trusts him."

Cassandra snorted again, an elegant sniff of disdain.

"And he is charming," Elena said, remembering the man she called
*viejo.* "Plus, I was always taught to respect my elders," she added,
grinning a little. Then she got serious again. "But beyond that: Methos
saved Duncan. More than once. And for that one good deed, alone...."
She stood and paced, interlacing her fingers, then releasing them again,
framing her words, trying to explain to Cassandra how she felt about
these two men.

Finally, she stood in front of Cassandra and said, "When Duncan and
I first met, it eventually became all about saving Methos' life, the life of
the oldest Immortal, because he is the oldest of us, and also because
Duncan cared about him. And still does. And I love Duncan, Cassandra.
Being with him ... he makes me feel special. He makes me want to be
better than I am, somehow. He does the same for Methos. Simple and
selfish, I know, on both our parts."

Cassandra gave Elena an ironic look, but she didn't say anything.

"What?" Elena asked.

Cassandra shook her head, still silent, so Elena continued, wanting to
have her say about Methos. "As for Methos--he might not have
betrayed Kronos and killed Silas by his own hand if Duncan hadn't
shown up. He might not have been able to. Duncan not only helped to
save you, he helped to save Methos, too."

"To save Methos from what?" Cassandra asked, showing only simple
curiosity now, no irony or sarcasm or disdain. "Himself?"

"Yes," Elena said firmly. "From Death. From what he used to be. Can
you imagine how hard it must have been for him to go against men who
had been his brothers for a *thousand* years? Or was it two thousand?"

"One thousand," Cassandra said, brittle and sharp. "And that was
quite enough."

"One thousand, then," Elena agreed quickly, not wanting to get into
that again. "But Methos did it; he went against his brothers. If he
hadn't, Duncan would be dead, *you* would be dead, and the
Horsemen would ride again. Think about that horror story. No," she
said, shaking her head and sitting down across from Cassandra again,
leaning forward earnestly. "Methos isn't Death anymore, Cassandra,
and you obviously believe that, or you would have taken his head when
you had the chance. You wouldn't have stopped if it had been Kronos
on his knees, would you?"

Cassandra made a few more stitches, a steady even rhythm to the
needle. This time Elena waited. Finally, Cassandra set the sewing
down on her lap and looked at Elena. "Methos gave me a chance to
live when he killed Silas, and I decided to give him a chance to live.
I've wondered sometimes if I made the right decision, but ... knowing
that both you and Duncan respect him...." She said slowly, "That helps.
Some."

"Methos has changed," Elena reassured her. "Look--Kronos didn't
change, Silas was too stupid to change, Caspian was too insane. And
Roland ... well. But Methos changed. There is a difference between
him and the others, and you saw it with your own eyes."

"I pray you're right, Elena," Cassandra replied, leaning forward
seriously, "and so should you."

Elena chuckled dryly. "I pray every day, for a lot of things," she
admitted. Sometimes Elena thought she burdened God too much with
her prayers.

"I know you didn't like listening to what I had to say about him,"
Cassandra said, "and I know that at times you didn't believe me."

"No, you're wrong," Elena corrected. "I believe what he did then, three
millennia ago. I just don't believe that Methos *today* would enjoy ...
torturing someone. Like Be--" She paused, annoyed with herself. Even
after nearly a month of talking about him, she still couldn't say that
name aloud. Bethel. Bethel. Oh, fuck it. "Like he did," Elena said,
"like he enjoyed it."

"I'm not so sure Methos did it purely for torture," Cassandra mused.
"It was taming. I think, on some levels, he did enjoy it--enjoyed the
power and control--but inflicting pain to break in a new slave is simply
... how it's done. Most slave-owners did that. After enough pain, you
break. You'll do anything your master tells you to."

Elena knew *that.* She nodded.

"Once I stopped defying him," Cassandra continued, "once I started
trying to please him, he didn't hurt me anymore. The other Horsemen
would have--the way Bethel and Roland kept hurting us--but Methos is
too efficient to be a true sadist." She shrugged. "It wasn't anything
personal for him, Elena. It was just another village to raid, just another
person to kill, just another slave to break--like getting up and going to
work in the morning."

"He is a cold bastard, no question," Elena said. A man who had lived
for so long by killing others could not be the charming innocent he
pretended to be. Cassandra had confirmed it, and Elena would have to
be more careful of him, that's all.

"I know," Cassandra agreed. "And I'm the one who gave him a chance
to live." Her eyes were no longer empty, as they had been when she
first arrived. They were determined and unstoppable. "One chance,"
she emphasized. "If he ever becomes Death again, I will find a way to
stop him. One way or another, he will lose his head."
Elena closed her fist. "If Methos ever becomes Death again, you call
me," she said in an icy, deadly tone. "I'll help you hunt him down, no
mercy. And so would Duncan."

"He'd better," Cassandra muttered.

"As for Methos losing his head...." Elena shrugged. "One way or
another, *chica,* we will all lose our heads. All but one."

Cassandra said nothing, but knotted the thread again and bit it off.

Carmela brought a bowl of fruit, and Elena chided her, asking her to
go to bed. The two Immortals kept talking, about this and that, about
men and horses, about sex and gardening, about all kinds of things.
They talked all night long.

As the sky was beginning to lighten in the east, Elena went into the
kitchen to get a tray of fresh *cafe con leche.* When she came back
to the patio, Carmela and Juanito were there. "What's going on?"
Elena asked, putting the tray down on the table.

Carmela turned to her mistress. "We were just wishing Senorita
Cassandra a good trip, Mariaelena. And telling her that we enjoyed
having her."

"And thanking her," Juanito added, significantly.

So, even Juanito had unbent enough to accept Cassandra. Elena
smiled at them and nodded.

Cassandra said, "You have truly made me feel welcome." Then she
added, "And I now understand why your tribe was the only one in
South America the Spanish *conquistadores* were never able to
conquer."

Juanito laughed--startling Elena, who didn't hear that very often--
and Carmela's eyes gleamed. "I see you have your coffee then," the
housekeeper said. "I'll bring you something to eat as well."

"No, don't do that, *abuela.* I'll get it, if we get hungry later,"
Elena said. "And I hope you haven't been up all night."

"Oh, no! We mere mortals need our sleep. Especially us old ones."

As soon as Carmela left, Raul and the brown dog appeared. This time,
even the smaller dog let Cassandra pet his head.

Elena grinned and said, "I knew you'd win him over, too. You've won
everyone over. All my people--even the animals--think you're
wonderful."

A ghost of a sad smile flitted across Cassandra's face. "They don't
know me. Not really."

"I know you. Somewhat."
"And do you think I'm wonderful?" Cassandra asked acerbically.

"No," Elena said, shaking her head and grinning. "I think you're
messed up. But I like you anyway."

"I feel the same way about you," Cassandra answered, still with a
hint of sharpness.

"Something else we have in common," Elena said, amused. "Hey," she
continued, suddenly remembering, "I meant to ask you. Your fencing
style reminds me of Don Alvaro, a little. Did you ever spar with him?"

"No, but Ramirez was Alvaro's teacher, and Ramirez and I were sparring
partners for about a century, all told. Everyone learns from each other."

Elena nodded--of course Cassandra and Ramirez had been fencing
partners at one time, therefore....

"Connor recognized some of my moves, too," Cassandra added as she
reached for her cup.

Elena sat up in her chair abruptly, wondering what else Cassandra
hadn't told her. Elena herself had never sparred with Connor. She
hadn't quite dared, and all things considered, that was probably a good
thing. Sometimes she felt like she and Connor were oil and water and
would never--could never--be friends. "You've sparred with Connor?"
Elena asked.

"Oh, yes. Before I went after Kronos, he was helping me. And...."

"What?" Elena asked, leaning forward, knowing this was a good story.

Cass hesitated, then grinned. "I was his teacher for a time, you know."

"You were!?" His teacher and his lover, both! *!Que barbaridad!*

"Mmm. A few years after Heather died, he came to my cottage in
Donan Wood. Ramirez had been dead for fifty years, and Connor
hadn't had much chance to practice since then. And I knew some tricks
he hadn't seen."

"I just bet you did," Elena said. "And not only with a sword, eh?"

Cassandra merely smiled at that. "Do you want to hear about
Connor's training, or not?"

Elena smirked. "I'd rather hear about ... no, yes, I would. Please go
on," she said, respectfully this time.

"The first day of training, I told him to do this." Cassandra stood,
pretended she had a sword in her hand, and showed Elena a basic
overhand stroke.

Elena said, "The Japanese call that 'bringing down the mountain.'
It's not as easy at it looks."

"No, it isn't," Cassandra agreed. "But Connor was insulted. I believe
his words were: 'I don't need a woman to teach me such an easy
stroke.'"

"Oh, of course! Typical male!" Elena exclaimed, amused and outraged
both.

"I asked him if he wanted to learn more advanced techniques, and he
said, 'I'm ready for them, and I'm ready for you.'"

Elena grinned. She was looking forward to this. "But he wasn't."

Cassandra grinned back. "No. I knocked him on his backside three
times in a row." She sat back down and picked up her coffee. "But,
of course, that was four hundred years ago. He's gotten much better.
He knocked me down all the time when we were sparring this last
year." She shrugged. "I think he rather enjoyed the chance to even
the score."

Elena shook her head. This reinforced her view of Connor MacLeod--
smug, condescending, arrogant. "He didn't take it easy on you, eh?"
Nor would he take it easy on Elena herself, would he? Still, she had to
talk to the man. She sighed.

Cassandra snorted, and this time it was not at all elegant or refined.

Elena said it out loud for her. "He's such an arrogant bastard."

Cassandra set down her cup and chimed in. "An arrogant, stubborn
bastard."

"Right." Elena sat up straighter. "An arrogant, stubborn, fucking
bastard."

"Absolutely," Cassandra said, then stood to make a toast with her
coffee. "To Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, the arrogant,
stubborn, fucking bastard!"

"To Connor!" Elena replied, standing to join Cassandra. They clinked
cups and drank, laughing.

"But, you know," Cassandra started as she sat down again, "he's not
really that bad."

"No," Elena admitted. "No, he's not." Connor had been chased out
of his own home by Bethel and his gunmen. Connor had held her while
she screamed in the night. Connor had protected her, soothed her.
And he had never shown, by word or deed, that he thought less of her
because of what happened to her in New York. "He saved my life."
More than once. "And I cried on his shoulder."

"So have I. And he saved my life, too, in a way. If it hadn't been for
him...." Cassandra added more sugar to her coffee, then stirred slowly.
"Duncan saved my head, but Connor ... Connor saved my soul." She
stood and lifted her cup in another toast, a heartfelt one this time. "To
Connor!"

"To Connor." Elena stood and drank with her. When she saw Connor
again, she'd tell him that she was sorry. And grateful.

Cassandra lifted her cup again. "And to Duncan!"

"To Duncan!" Elena agreed enthusiastically. "He's a stubborn, arrogant,
fucking bastard, too, but he's magnificent."

"Magnificent!" Cassandra chimed in.

"Fucking magnificent!" Elena proclaimed, and took a large swallow of
the hot *cafe con leche.* It burned its way down into her stomach;
much better--and safer--than the alcohol, she thought.

Cassandra echoed, "Fucking magnificent!" and did the same.

Elena sat and slammed her cup down on the table decisively. "And a
magnificent fucker, too."

Cassandra laughed and choked on her coffee as she took her seat,
then added, "And Connor is, too."

Elena had often wondered about that. "He is?" she asked, leaning
forward, hoping Cassandra would say more.

But Cassandra murmured only, "Mmm-hmm." Then she looked up and
grinned. "*Es un come-candela.*"

"A fire-eater? In bed? Really?" Elena was surprised. "I knew he had a
temper, but I always thought he would be cold in bed."

Cassandra stared at her. "Connor? Cold?" She shook her head
decisively. "I know he's changed since I knew him, but he can't have
changed that much. He's passionate, warm, caring ... so gentle...."
Her words trailed off, and her eyes went distant.

Elena watched, knowing that Cassandra was remembering something
good for a change, remembering a man who had made her heart sing.
Elena had never thought Connor could do that for a woman--for any
woman. She wondered what else she could learn about Connor from a
woman's--a lover's--point of view. Elena almost wished they were
drinking something stronger than coffee so that Cassandra would keep
talking freely.

But Cassandra was obviously already regretting having said that much.
"But don't tell Connor I said that."

"No?" Elena asked, raising her eyebrows. This wasn't fair--to give her
such ammunition, then forbid her to use it.
"I mean, not that he isn't like that," Cassandra tried to explain, "but I
don't want him to know that I told you."

"Oh. No, of course not." Elena would never tell Connor that she knew
this about him. However, she would know. The thought filled her with
a small inner joy.

"And don't tell Duncan," Cassandra added.

"No," Elena agreed. That wouldn't work either. Too bad. Maybe she
could talk to Amanda; she felt sure that Amanda had known Connor
rather intimately at some point. But Cassandra dashed that plan to
the ground, too, and stomped on it.

Cassandra leaned forward earnestly. "Don't tell anyone."

She couldn't betray Cassandra's confidence. Damn! "All right," Elena
agreed again. "It's our secret." She considered it for a moment, then
said, in a wheedling tone, "So tell me more. About Connor. In bed. I
won't tell anyone."

"I know you won't tell," Cassandra said, "but I don't think I should,
either. I know I wouldn't want men talking about me."

Elena knew Cassandra was doing the right thing, but her nod was more
one of frustration than of agreement.

"Do unto others," Cassandra quoted, with only a trace of bitterness.
She leaned back in her chair and reached for her coffee again. "You
know, Elena," she said decisively, "we're magnificent, too."

"We are, aren't we?" Elena said. "Those bastards tried their damnedest
to destroy us, but they couldn't do it. In the end, they're dead and
we're alive. We're not going to let them win. Any of them." She
leaned across the table and held up her cup yet again. "A toast,
Cassandra. To us, this time."

"To us!" Cassandra said, and they toasted each other, then leaned
back in their chairs again and watched the sky turn to blue while the
ripening corn fields turned from a dull gray to a light green. "It's
beautiful here," Cassandra said, then turned to Elena. "I wanted to
thank you, Elena, for listening to me, and for making me welcome in
your home. I really needed...."

Cassandra was silent for a moment, unable to finish her thanks. Elena
finished it for her. "You needed someone to talk to." Elena said. "You
needed a confidante. So did I. And I didn't even know it." *And yes, it
is beautiful here,* she thought. *It may be the damn crossroads of the
universe for all the Immortals in the southern hemisphere, but it's
home.*

"Yes," Cassandra agreed, "we have been confidantes." Then she added
softly, "And I'd like ... for us to be friends."

Elena studied the other woman. "You said you didn't want friends."
"I couldn't, before. Roland killed everyone I cared about, and I
wouldn't put people in such danger. So I kept everyone away."
Cassandra poured herself a new cup of coffee, then said as she stirred
in the sugar, not looking at Elena, "But I'd like to try to be a friend to
you, for there to be trust between us." Cassandra glanced up briefly,
then went back to staring at her coffee. "If you want that from me."

Elena thought about it. Friendship between Immortals was even more
rare than the temporary truce she and Cassandra had had. The two
had connected, two people in the same sinking boat reaching out for
each other. And they'd helped each other--no question about it.
But what about afterward? How much did she trust Cassandra?

That was easy to answer: enough to let Cassandra stay in her house,
eat at her table, sleep in her bed, share her worst fears. If Cassandra
had wanted to hurt Elena, she'd had plenty of opportunity to do so.
Hell, if Elena still trusted Methos, who had turned out to be a brutal,
murdering savage, surely she could trust Cassandra! She wanted to
believe in her; she'd wanted to from the very beginning. And from trust
to friendship--how far a leap was that? For an Immortal.

Cassandra didn't wait long enough for her to answer. "I shouldn't have
asked, Elena. Never mind." She set down her spoon and went to the
edge of the patio, her back to Elena, her arms wrapped tightly around
herself.

Elena sighed. This wasn't easy, any of it. In a way, fighting a duel
where only your head was on the line was easier than this. She stood
and walked to Cassandra, wondering. Trust was a two-way street. Did
Cassandra trust her? "You don't trust easily yourself," Elena pointed
out. "Or make friends easily."

"What you and I have done together hasn't been easy," Cassandra
retorted sharply. "Has it?" At Elena's murmured no, Cassandra took
a deep breath and continued, "I'm trying to remember how to be a
friend. And I'm trying to remember how to trust, both in myself, and in
others. But you're right; it's not easy."

Elena winced inwardly. She put her hand on Cassandra's arm and
squeezed lightly. "Yes, and I betrayed your trust, too. I'm sorry I came
after you that night, Cassandra."

"You were drunk and frightened, *'manita,*" Cassandra said, turning
to her, touching her arm in return. "But lying to someone, abandoning
someone who believes in you ... That is betrayal. You would not do
that."

"No, I wouldn't." Elena smiled a little. "Not deliberately like that." She
wouldn't do that even if she were exhausted, drunk out of her mind,
and feeling persecuted. "And for what it's worth, I would like to call you
amiga, too."

"It is worth a great deal to me, amiga," Cassandra said.
"To me also," Elena answered, embracing Cassandra, this time getting
no resistance, letting the other woman's warmth soak into her. "God
knows we can both use a friend, eh?" she said, pulling back to look
at Cassandra, but not letting go.

"Yes. We can." Cassandra smiled then, a complete and happy smile.

Elena had never seen Cassandra smile like this, or open up in this way.
At this moment, Cassandra reminded her a little of the animal they had
both so admired, the wild stallion, animated, spirited and free. Maybe
she wouldn't have to worry so much about Cassandra. Maybe
Cassandra would be all right, after all.

"So, amiga," Elena said, stepping back, then standing on tiptoe and
stretching her arms, feeling her joints pop and her muscles protest,
"let's go riding."

"Riding?" Cassandra repeated in some surprise, then she grinned.
"Yes, let's."

The dogs followed them to the stables, dancing around their feet and
getting in the way while they saddled two mares. Twenty minutes
later, they were ready to go. Cassandra was already mounted on
Petunia, a bay mare, and Elena swung herself into her saddle.

Adelita pranced beneath her with excitement and eagerness. After
weeks of refusing to ride, Elena felt the same way she always did on
the back of a horse, wild and free. And she knew Adelita loved to run;
she wondered if the mare remembered their favorite trick. Elena bent
down over the horse's neck and urged her, "*Anda, arriba, Adelita.
!Arriba!*"

The mare didn't disappoint her, and Elena leaned forward in her saddle,
staying erect as Adelita reared up on her hind legs and pawed at the
air, whinnying loudly. Her heart racing, Elena threw her head back and
howled like a coyote as the horse came down to four legs again, feeling
at that moment like her favorite romantic hero--the *caballero* known
as Zorro.

"*!Vamonos!*" Cassandra called, as she urged her horse to a gallop
and let loose with a wild abandoned cry of her own, her hair streaming
out behind her as she rode.

Elena laughed in surprise at Cassandra's sudden show of enthusiasm,
as Adelita raced out of the stable yards and into the wide open pampa,
eager to run. She soon caught up to Cassandra, and the two heroines
rode off into the magnificent sunrise, wild and free.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elena's story is continued in
"TRUST I"
Cassandra's story will be continued in
HOPE REMEMBERED 4 - Kindred
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you want to let the authors know what you thought of the story,
write to:
Janeen: darkpanther@erols.com
Vi: vmoreau@mindspring.com

If you want to read more stories by the authors, go to:
Vi's Webpage: http://users.erols.com/darkpanther/moreau
Janeen's Webpage: http://users.erols.com/darkpanther




TRANSLATIONS:

ELENA IN THE DOJO
estancia - Argentine combination farm/ranch
!me cago en la mierda! - double damn!
viejo/a - old man/woman
otro condenao Imortal - another damn Immortal
?oigo? - hello? (telephone greeting)
?y vos? - and you?
Fiesta de Santa Maria Magdalena - Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene
- July 22
Sagrada Hermandad - Sacred Brotherhood of Holy Inquisitors in Spain
un momento - wait a minute
buen viaje - have a good trip


THE MEETING IN THE CHURCH
!Madre de Dios! - Mother of God!
!Sangre de Dios! - God's blood!
?por favor, donde esta? - please, where is?

CASSANDRA'S FLASHBACK TO SPAIN
Asuncion de Nuestra Senora - feast day of the Assumption of our Lady
- August 15
Caballero - gentleman or knight
asqueroso - filthy
hermano/a - brother/sister (in this case, religious brother/nun)
nino/a - boy/girl
padrecito - little father


CASSANDRA ARRIVES AT THE ESTANCIA
Bienvenida - welcome
Mi casa es tu casa - Spanish proverb for hospitality: My house is your
house
Palabra de honor - word of honor


THE DISCUSSION AFTER BREAKFAST
puta arrogante - arrogant whore
no somos nada - we are nothing
!Dios mio! - my God!
asesina loca - crazy assassin
Maria Santisima - Holy Mother
futbol - soccer


THE DISCUSSION NEAR THE STABLES
solamente cafe con leche, por favor - I only want coffee and milk,
please
?como esta Ud? - how are you?
muy bien, hombre - I'm fine, my man
yo se, chica. si, tu sabes - I know, kid. yes, you know.
!mentira! - lies!
beisbol - baseball
!que barbaridad! - what a horror story!
ombu - the only native tree of the Argentine plains, the pampa
pobrecito/a - poor baby


PRUNING ROSEBUSHES
*Festival de la Imaculada Concepcion de Nuestra Senora - Festival of
the Immaculate Conception of our Lady - Dec 8th.
mi vida - my dear

ELENA'S CHALLENGE
mierda - shit
cobarde - coward
veni - come here
entra, hombre - come in, man
me llamo - my name is
che - Argentine term for friend, trusted comrade
thee mou (Greek) - God help me
cojones - balls (testicles)


ELENA ATTACKING CASSANDRA AND THE APOLOGIES
!Parate, Elena! - Stop, Elena!
!Te mato, carajo! !Te voy a mandar al diablo! - Dammit, I'll kill you!
I'm going to send you to the devil!
!Elena, para tu golpe! - Elena stop your blow, hold your hit
!No mas! !Ni uno mas! - No more! Not one more!
!Los voy a matar a todos! - I'm going to kill you all!
!Cono! - damn
Madre de Dios - Mother of God


TALKING ALL NIGHT
no hay de que - you're welcome
pastelitos - pastries
!que barbaridad! - what a horror story, or what a story!
muy bien - very good
'manita - little sister
anda, arriba - come on, get up
!vamonos! - let's go!

==========================

QUOTES
"Affliction is a treasure" is a quote from John Donne.
Dona Perfecta is the title character of a Spanish novel by Benito
Perez Galdos.


PROSTITUTION

In the American West in the 1800s, the cheapest prostitutes
worked in "hog farms" (each woman lived and worked in a small room
rather like a pen) where they serviced between 50 and 80 men a day.
- (From the book "Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West" by
Anne Seagraves. )

During World War I, the German military High Command debated
forbidding soldiers to visit prostitutes because of disease, but
decided this would decrease morale and be impractical. Instead,
prostitutes were given regular health inspections and allowed to
follow the troops in caravans. Brothels with red lights on the
outside were for enlisted and NCOs; brothels with blue lights were
for officers. (In a curious coincidence, current U.S. military
enlisted personnel put red stickers on their cars, officers get blue
stickers.)

In WWI, a sergeant from the medical corps would stand outside the
brothels and inspect paybooks and health certificates, note the name
and unit of each customer, supervise a brief medical inspection,
dispense prophylactic medicine and ointment (before and after each
visit), and collect a fee on the madam's behalf.

The prostitutes averaged 10 customers each between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.
At the peak of the off-duty rush hour, 10 minutes per man was all
that was allowed before the duty sergeant bellowed out "Next!"
-(From the book "Sex in History" by Reay Tannahill.)


THE NINE MUSES
Clio - history
Erato - erotic lyric poetry
Calliope - eloquence and epic poetry
Euterpe - music and lyric poetry
Melpomene - tragedy
Polyhymnia - sacred poetry
Urania - astronomy
Terpsichore - dance
Thalia - comedy

				
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