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And Hades Followed Him

by C.M. Decarnin

Part 7


"It belongs to a friend of Richie's. Two friends. They had to go out of the country, and they asked Richie to feed the fish and water the plants."

The silence had been growing, radiating from Methos tangibly. His lover was not sulking or glowering, but nothing Duncan said elicited any response, and finally after many glances across the front seat as he drove, he realized that Methos was only very, very afraid.

"I won't let her hurt you," he said.

"Yes, well, you won't be there, will you." Rapid, abstracted, Methos looking dead ahead.

"I've gone through the place a dozen times. I even went over it with a metal detector. No blades. No razor blades, no knives, no sharp gardening tools. Nothing in this place can hurt either of you."

Stone silence, and slowly Duncan realized that despite his one response, it was not really the physical that stressed Methos. He was trying not to let through how deeply, mortally afraid he was of her being. Cassandra was the evil he had done. She was all that was left of the slaughter and cruelty, the pain and the terror. How could he know what to say to her. How could he expect anything but pain to come back to him.

They were well out into the countryside when Duncan turned into the long drive that wound up through woods to the three-story house. It overlooked the corner of a protected lake, and some of the trees were thick, and old. Endless furrows of pale cloud stretched across the sky, and cool wind fluttered their long coats as they got out of the car.

They had only a few minutes to wait. Cassandra drove up in a sleek new Lincoln, and got out warily, taking in the place with quick glances, but never losing her deadly focus on Methos. She wore very functional pants and t-shirt under her long coat. She said nothing as she approached to within four yards and stopped -- near enough, her look clearly said.

Duncan had opened the trunk of the T-bird. "Take off your coats," he ordered. Eyes glued to each other, both complied. He gestured them closer, and took both awkwardly laden coats simultaneously, and laid them in the car, and locked the trunk. His own coat was pointedly still on. He patted down Methos formally, trying hard not to actually feel the tense flesh beneath the jeans and pullover, and then Cassandra, noting the similar tight muscles. Neither carried anything, and he ushered them to the house, mentioning again for Cassandra's benefit the precautions he had taken. On the porch, he stopped.

"Swear to me on what you hold sacred, that neither of you will do any injury to the other."

Cassandra's teeth clenched. "I swear by the Power to do him no harm. Unless he attacks me first."

Methos looked deep into Duncan's eyes. "I swear." His meaning was plain, and Cassandra's jaw set harder.

After an uncompromising look at each of them, MacLeod unlocked the door, and led them in.

They both looked up, jarred out of their preoccupation by the entryway, which would probably have had the same effect on them had they been locked in mortal combat.

There was no ceiling. Further in, the sides stepped back at each of the two upper stories, opening to the glass roof, but the immediate walls on either side of them were shimmering pale golden screens made up, at second glance, of cascading twenty-foot strands of yellow acacia blossom.

MacLeod heard them both draw breath. The walls of golden rain opened to a sunken garden, paved with pale blue and amethyst flags around a long, oval pond stretching away, the water almost black, islanded in the center with white calla, huge black leaves of colocassia, blue Himalayan poppies. At the far end, beyond the pool, a sheet of water slid two stories down a wall of glass.

Doors and windows looked from arches and caves of greenery along two stories of what were the general living quarters, set in a long horseshoe around this atrium.

They gawked -- there was no other word for it -- at the columns that supported the glass roof. They were smothered, their entire height, in the soul-sucking violet-rayed dark neon blue of California wild morning-glories.

So much green. It was like being in a house made of forest. MacLeod kept walking. They caught up. Curved twin stairs led up on either side of the glass waterfall, to long covered balconies edging the room behind the water, and away in opposite curves the stairs continued to the third floor, which by the looks of what hung down and sprang up from it, was the real greenhouse of the place. But Duncan turned off at the landing, and led them along one of the balconies, beside a glass wall. It wasn't mirrored, it was simply... impenetrable to the eye. Cassandra and Methos were still half looking back at the wonders of what they were leaving as they followed Duncan through a door into the room, turned -- and stopped.

They were in an aquarium.

At least -- the front wall was the back of the glass waterslide. And the side walls --

From this side, you could see through them.

But across them, now and again, swam a gold or orange or white or black fish, with trailing fins. Through the floor -- and the ceiling -- wound glass rivers, also with fish, lit by soft green and blue lights. The other lighting in the room glowed through lampshades of amber and sienna.

The back wall just had bookcases and a fireplace and one door ajar on a bathroom. The humidity and temperature fell markedly as they entered and Duncan shut the door behind them. The furniture was comfortable-looking, rich earth colors, the carpet so softly thick it made you look down.

They looked down.

Methos raised his head a second, eyes closed. Then he hunched his shoulders and put his fingertips into his jeans pockets. He threw off, "I take it the Taj was already booked."

Duncan could tell he had been knocked off balance, by the overload of beauty and artistry. Cassandra was staring out at the green architecture.

"Lights and temperature controls are here. There's food and juice in that cabinet if you want it." MacLeod was moving back toward the door, and caught the look of flat-out panic in Methos's eyes. "The room is pretty soundproof and no one can see in. I'll be in there --" He pointed to one of the deepset windows across the garden. "-- if you need me." He opened the door and walked out and shut it behind him.

Something in Methos sank down very close to despair when Duncan left the room. Cassandra....

They had turned to face each other, both, probably, moved by the same profound distrust. Methos struggled desperately not to remember. She had been the Immortal he had used the Watchers most scrupulously to avoid, not because she was the most dangerous -- he was not sure she would even remember him, it had been so long -- but because she represented everything he had been -- and too much that he still was. Her screams when Kronos dragged her away -- was his fear then any different than what he lived with day in day out -- the fear of death, the fear of the greater force, the too-great understanding of disaster and consequences?

"So you've come to protect MacLeod," he said lightly.

Then he realized that what was in her enormous green eyes was no longer distrust, but repugnance.

"I came to protect him, but even I could not have imagined you would make of him what you made of me! You have no understanding of what he is!"

"And what might that be?" Methos had gone white. Duncan had told her "just history" --?

"Something too important to lose -- either to your betrayals or your -- depravity."

Methos smiled, bitterly. They had one opinion, at least, in common. But nothing could come of this. She had nothing to say that he did not already know. Suddenly his eyes swerved from where they were looking. Too late. He had seen... sensed... the body under the fabric of the clothing, the... perfect body.

He had known many bodies, before and since, loved them in their differences and nuance, and mostly loved the souls that had illuminated them. But this, for him, had been the perfect woman form, the fit to his hands exquisite, the image in every way perfection to his sight, the knowledge of her a rapture. He had seen her at first as the perfect creature, to be tamed for his use in the best and most expeditious way; there was a way for women, a way for horses, a very different way, that Silas used, for birds and furred things, and you used the way that was quickest and fittest.

Women were the hardest.

He'd lost count of the times he'd made the mistake of turning his back on one.

But not for a long time now. He'd do his best work with her.... In the Horsemen's camp, "woman" was simply the word for a particular type of slave. With slaves, one made oneself clear from the beginning. Fear and pain were the most efficient training tools -- just the opposite of horse training. Methos had known and mingled with slaves all his human life, knew them as people first, then had spent a thousand years utilizing and controlling them. He was good at it. But in all those years he had never owned an Immortal. Nor bothered to train a woman to his bed. There had been no point.

He saw her, him sitting on the ground, her kneeling naked across his thigh... his hand... beneath her... just holding her gently...

He turned his eyes to her again. They were hardly here for that. And even if she could not kill him here, it would not behoove him to turn his back on this one, the last of his taming. Oh yes, he'd done a good job on her.

It was surprisingly hard to talk with no bars between them.

It hadn't been so easy even then, in the submarine base, as he'd sat guarding her -- terrified Kronos would come for her, now that MacLeod must be dead --

If she was going to die -- or if he was -- he had to know. And he had said it, finally, trying to keep any hope, any blame, most of all any fear, out of his voice. "It wasn't all bad, when we were together."

But when he saw, for certain, that she remembered -- all of it -- and how deeply she hated because she did remember -- he had known there was only one thing he could possibly give her, now, before it was too late -- a chance at healing. "Don't hate yourself..."

There, in Bordeaux, she had seemed almost harmless, overshadowed by the ice-breathed darkness that was Kronos's ever-present companion. The cold spirit he had given form and name in the animal he had trained: Death. Only Methos had ever been completely aware of the extent to which that freezing shadow stood apart from him; only he knew how completely the cold title belonged still to Kronos, because he felt its breath all over his skin, every time he lied, every time he dared, with an infinitely carefully laid and intricate scheme, to circumvent his Teacher's rule. Three millennia had not changed that. And though Methos, to his surprise, had found his fear was a changed thing, edged with implacable intent, still Kronos's presence had dwarfed the threat of Cassandra. There, it had seemed that Methos had presence of his own, had the power to give.

But even then, he had not been able to give her the truth. Had only been able to give her a rationale to comfort her. Had not been able to say....

It was his fear that told him what was there to say. But he had lived long with such fears and he did not seriously think of revealing himself to her. So what was there to be said?

He shrugged. "MacLeod does what he wants."

"He protects you. Never forget that! If you harm him nothing will keep me from taking your head!"

His pride bristled. The Highlander was his. He didn't have to defend his intentions toward him. He -- couldn't -- confess the depth and breadth of his love, his helplessness --

It was humiliating, and his humiliation belonged only to MacLeod.

Certainly not to --

...his woman.

His face reddened painfully.

Cassandra had seen him color. Abruptly she walked past him -- hesitated at the glass river, then stepped out onto the glass and across, to the sumptuous meadow of even thicker carpet beyond it. She turned, clearly waiting for him.

Little golden fish whipped away under his feet, and --

Oh. The carpet was so soft it called to him, pleaded to be lain on, stretched out on, revelled in --

Cassandra sank down on it. "Sit down," she said.

Both of them had grown up when the ground was mostly what there was to sit on. Both could remember greeting the highfalutin notion of stools with suspicion and ridicule.

But a good carpet was something that spoke to them.

As he sank down on it, a thousand years fell from his shoulders. The silence, the distant greenery, and framed in it a woman of antiquity, sitting across from him, on the ground. Centuries slid away. In desert and forest, in valley and high Himalaya, this scene had repeated.

In India he had sat so facing master after master.

In Persia a hundred scholars had taught him, just so.

He had sat like this across from sixty wives.

Now in some parts of the world, in most of the safe places Methos wanted to be, it was considered a little scandalous, a thing no adult would do indoors except with their closest intimates. Certainly it was not the way serious matters were ever conducted.

But for both of them, it had been the way things were done for long, long centuries. And their thoughts were far back in those reaches of time.

Her voice shook. "I suppose nothing would convince you to stop torturing and degrading a man who's worth a thousand of you."

A dozen questions leaped to Methos's mind. He settled for, "What?"

"Whose only fault is being too loving and giving to tell you to go find a real masochist to work out your twisted psyche on!"

She seethed with controlled anger and grief. Staring, Methos shook his head once. "You --" The words jammed up on him. What finally came out on an indignant squeak of rank incredulity was, ""Only fault"?"

And then in a completely changed tone, quiet, but with force: "No.

"Cassandra I -- it's been twenty-eight hundred years since I let myself -- do that. Hurt someone for sex."

"You learned to come without it?"

He was silent.

"Are you telling me you -- you -- have gone over two and a half millennia without an orgasm to avoid causing pain?"

An ember of anger glowed in his eyes. "You know that's not the only alternative." He saw only annoyance and lack of understanding reflected in her face. He looked down. How could she have not known? "Cassandra...everything you were to me... I was to Kronos. He was my Teacher, in everything. He brutalized me and made me love it -- for a thousand years."

There was a very long silence. Finally she said, "So now you let men..." Suddenly her eyes widened. "MacLeod?!" Her hand touched her face. He met her eyes. "Do you -- come with MacLeod?"

He turned his face and a blush suffused his cheeks.

"You do!" Her hand dropped away. "MacLeod. You've turned Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod into -- that?"

He could see she was on the brink of outrage. "I believe he thinks of it in terms of no sacrifice being too great."

She went blank for a moment, then despite herself, almost smiled. "So you haven't changed him."

"Not I," he said ruefully. "Leave that for the real masochists."

She sat regarding him. Memory blushed his cheeks rose-red again. Then drained his face pearl-white. She watched, her eyes thoughtful. Finally she said slowly, "Duncan MacLeod..." Magic in her voice reached out and enveloped him, through the two words he was most defenseless against. Terrified, he tried to move. "Be still." He could not stir. Her power was palpable in every cell. He was chained. She leaned forward into his fear. "Would you die for him?"


"Would he die for you?"

"I wouldn't allow that to happen."

"But he would try?"

"He would try."


"He loves me."


An abyss opened under him. His mind had been held in the net of her truth-demand. But now it had dragged him to a gulf where nothing existed, in all the vast deeps of memory, that could answer her. Between the command and the nothingness his being began to fall away.

Her voice rescued him. "Can't you answer?"

He shook his head, twice, sadness taking his voice.

"Hasn't he told you?"

He shook his head again.

"Ask him, Horseman."

She released him.

He fell back from her, fear in every line of his body. She had held total power over him and could have killed him -- had not Mac taken all the blades from the house -- without his being able to lift a hand to stop her. It chilled his vitals.

But she had promised no harm would come to him. And once before, with the axe blade raised over his neck, had been kept from ending his life by the bare force of MacLeod's will. His heart gradually slowed from the thudding crash against his chest to a normal beat. His eyes were still wide on her.

"Why do you care what he wants?" he whispered.

She heard the inner question. "Because he is needed. He is fated. What he wants may be important." Grudgingly she added, "And because he wants what is right."

"Why didn't you use that voice on me before?"

"I tried it on Kronos, it didn't work. It never even occurred to me to try it on you. It can only influence those who can be influenced by things outside themselves."

"Is that another way of saying "those with a spark of decency in them"?"

Cassandra shrugged. "Usually. It's said that certain enlightened beings are also immune."

"Yes, well, I think we can eliminate Kronos from that category."

And now, he realized with surprise, she must think she had proved the existence of some decency in him. How oddly embarrassing.

"Is that it? Was this why you wanted to see me?"

She countered, "Why did you want to see me?"

I didn't. Ah.

They shared a look, ironic.


"What do you think he expects of us?" Methos asked.

She looked disturbed.

"It was important to him," Methos persisted. "He said he -- told you things about me. What things?"

"That you were a child prostitute. About that temple, and after. And that Kronos was your Teacher." She paused. "All hard things."

"And about him and me?"

Her mouth hardened. "When he left me that night, after he discovered how you had manipulated him, I thought he was finished with you -- that he might even kill you. Then he called me the next day about us meeting, and he belonged to you. I could hear it in his voice." Her face was stony. "I hadn't thought your powers of persuasion could be so great."

Methos sat still, realizing for the first time the enormity of what the Highlander had done for him. For him, Duncan had lied to his revered witch, practiced deceit on her to enlist her aid in bringing Methos pleasure.

What should he do? He would have to test every word and step if he wasn't going to betray Duncan's deception. Or would it be better ultimately to let her guess he was lying, take Duncan down a peg in her lofty estimation, maybe break her obsession with MacLeod and get her out of their hair? But wouldn't Duncan kill him if he hurt her? What was he supposed to do?

What would Duncan say he should do?

Put like that, it was simple.

Dead simple.

How could he do this to me!

His mouth opened. "Duncan wasn't angry. He only wanted me to think he was. He misled you."

His mouth shut.

He felt like a victim of alien mind control.

A houngan taken over by the god he worshipped.

He was speaking in tongues.

The truth.

He could see she was thinking about it. His eyes focussed past her.

Those columns of flaring indigo --

And a pair of orange fish drifting....

Cassandra said, "He lied to me for your benefit. So you are his priority. He must think this meeting will benefit you."

"He said I should try to make some amends."

Her lip curled. "Amends!" Her voice was filled with disbelief.

"Well that's what I said. What could I do? What could I give you that would make any difference?" And he remembered Duncan's answer. Looking at her, his voice fell to almost a whisper. "What...?"

She was silent for so long that he realized there must, in fact, be something. He whispered again, dry-mouthed: "What...?"

Her eyes had become like darkening pools, deep, dangerous. "Without lying... say what there was between us, as you saw it. If you lie, there will be no point to this. Only the truth has any value."

And he knew it was so, on a deep level. But there were so many truths --

"From the beginning," she said, as if in answer to his confusion.

He had had practice, lately, in speaking the unspeakable.

But this... there were things he had never admitted to any living being... How to ever explain...

And it was strange, this, too, was what Duncan had wanted, to know his thoughts and perceptions when he had left Duncan's world to go to the Horsemen. It struck him with unease, that there were two avid to know his mind. And Cassandra, if anyone, surely knew...

The beginning. Well, no. She didn't know that....

What luxury the mortals had, to be able to stand up in court, and say, "I don't recall"... And even have it, possibly, blessedly, be the truth...

"When I was with the Horsemen... we raided. And I planned the raids." He paused. "I got two things that were essential to me, that I could only get by raiding. One was death. Death by my hand, my sword. I needed it less than I had in the early centuries, it was almost beginning to bore me. But the other thing wasn't so easily found. I had come to need it more." He closed his eyes. How to say it... "All of the Horsemen were sexual aberrants. Like being pale-skinned in dark-skinned lands, it was one of the things that held us together, when other Immortals only met each other to fight and kill. And they weren't even ordinary aberrations. We would have been outcasts wherever we went. Kronos needed rape and power, fever and delirium. Caspian needed blood and, ultimately, meat... Silas needed to watch and be watched. I suppose... in some ways I was the strangest of all. Kronos trained me to rape, but I could get no fulfillment, only frustration. I needed him to overwhelm me, afterward. Sometimes, to punish me, he would refuse, and I would be left tormented. But most of the time he loved it when I would rape and rape, he would find me in a state beside myself with the arousal and the murder, and he would have to subdue me.

"He liked women mature, strong, and at least as big as he was to give him something to conquer, and I imitated him in everything. So it was a long time before I discovered... I could come with a woman. If... she was a virgin.

"When I discovered it, I told no one. Eventually they saw me choose young girls over women, and knew that sometimes I was sated, but I never let anyone know why. It was my secret, and my passion, the one thing I managed to keep as my own. And... it was sacred to me.

"They mocked me for liking skinny young girls. Actually I preferred the full-grown body- type, but marriage came early in those days. I took what was left to me.

"Silas and Kronos kept women sometimes for years. For me women were only a frustration -- once I had had them, they were useless to me, and I needed more and more raids to find new ones. It was the only completion I could have without Kronos... and somehow I thought --"

He stopped. His own thoughts had been tangled, dark and secret almost even from himself. "Because I had wanted to go into the East, and he wouldn't let me, I had started to think, in some confused way, that I might leave him...

"It was a dream, a ghost of an idea, but it was always there. And somehow it seemed tied to this only other independent thing I had, my secret... a fantasy, that created a longing so strong I actually thought of a way it might come true... I... I wanted a woman... who..."

The words would not be said. His throat literally closed on them. He met Cassandra's eyes.

"You wanted what you found in me," she said with measured contempt. "An Immortal virgin. For you to hurt again and again, without having to go to all the bother of slaughtering whole villages first."

He absorbed the sting of her words, small truths beside the one immeasurable error. He had not found it in her...

"And so I was the answer to a young boy's prayer."

"You were more than anything I could ever have imagined!" The confession came out deep, impassioned. He looked down, eyes closing despairingly. "You must know that! You had to have known what you meant to me... You know... what we had..."

His hands had half reached toward her, in his plea for her at least to admit she remembered... Though they were nowhere near close enough to have touched, she pulled back in a small involuntary, indignant movement.

"We had nothing!" she spat. "You had a favorite toy, one you didn't even mind sharing with your -- friends. You aren't the self-deluding type -- I know you remember! You let Kronos have me without a backward glance! Maybe that's what you think would make the memory really special to me?"

"He would have killed you where you stood! I knew him in that mood! If I had even looked as if I wanted to refuse, he would have stabbed me and taken your head then and there -- that's if he didn't amuse himself with you first, on my dead body, then let me see you die screaming -- Don't you understand what he was? It was your only chance!"

"You could have fought him! I managed it!"

"I know..." He stared at her. "When I heard that death-scream... at first I thought it was you. Then I saw you running off into the darkness. I couldn't believe what you'd done." He paused. "I suppose I just assumed everyone feared him as much as I did. Then the fact that they searched for days without finding you -- that you got away with it.... You don't know what that did to me. I was already so in awe of you..."

Her lips compressed. "In awe of me. Oh please!"

"Not at first, though even then you were so important to me, so precious.... But later, after we'd begun to talk. You were different from anyone I had ever known. And... you understood my feelings... my..."

"Perversion," she said dryly.

"I thought you must understand it all. I didn't really know then that the way I saw the world wasn't necessarily universal. You had only begun to show me that."

"You were Death! If you had ever wanted to kill Kronos you could have. You were good enough at it!"

"Kronos alone, perhaps, if I had ever dared. But it was always three to one. The others followed him, unquestioningly."

"You were second there. Anyone could see they obeyed you!"

He shook his head. "Only as Kronos's right arm. When they knew he was behind me. When he wasn't... I might as well have been one of your tribe. You have to understand, Cassandra, I belonged to him. I had no power except from him."

"You excuse yourself on those grounds, from what you did as a Horseman? You were forced to it?"

"No! I didn't mean that." What did he mean? "I liked what I did as a Horseman. But if I hadn't liked it... I would never have survived. What command I had there was as his shadow only."

She looked frustrated. Finally she said, "Continue. From where you left off. Your boyish hopes and dreams."

She hadn't forgotten. She wouldn't let him get away from this narrative. He felt the walls of fact closing remorselessly in on him. Would she know if he lied? Left out the one detail that changed everything...?

And if she couldn't detect it? If he got away with lying? Then what would be the point of this self-torture? He might as well get up and walk out now.

His heartbeat was picking up speed. He wouldn't have believed, yesterday, an hour ago, that he might even be considering this --

Your only chance to make any amends. ...why don't you ask her?

The only thing she had asked of him was the truth. Without this one truth, he suddenly realized, the rest would become skewed... he could never say what he had really felt, later, the hell he had made for himself... and her...

If she sensed his lie, would she use that terrifying magic on him again?

"The raid on your little collection of tents was nothing, not even planned. We stumbled on you, saw you were defenseless, attacked.

"Kronos rode in the lead. He always had to make the first kill. We rode down the rest, until he stopped in front of you. I don't know if he sensed your pre-Immortality or overlooked it in the excitement, or if he thought it came from your shaman. More likely, he lost it in my stronger Presence behind him, as I lost it in his.

"You stepped out to shield the shaman. The first time I saw how thoughtlessly brave you were.

"Kronos stabbed you and rode on. I was the one who cut down your shaman. And because I always looked for such things, I had seen that you wore no marriage-jewelry, you had no braiding in your hair, and no child-bearing tattoos... I looked, and that kept me by you long enough to feel your faint pre-Immortal Presence. And from that instant, the battle -- the slaughter, ceased to exist around me, except that it kept the others away. Nothing existed for me but you."

"But I was dead."

Methos turned his face aside, eyes closed. For a long moment he attempted to gather courage that wasn't there. Finally he forced the words. "No. You weren't dead." They sounded empty of meaning. "Oh, you would have died. Nothing in those times could have saved you. But you would have lived hours, maybe even days. Lying there. And one of them... Caspian -- he liked mortal injury. Or Kronos because you were someone important to your tribe.... Or, because you were --" He stuck over the word. "-- not married... if you had been mortal, it might have been me -- Someone would have... had you... before you died." He could hear in her speechlessness and her breathing that she was beginning to understand.

"I knelt there beside you and it was all I could think of, that they would be coming back. To take you from me. To take what you were. It seemed like eternity I looked down at you. So beautiful. So perfect." And Immortal. The memory took him, of kneeling in the hot sand, the screams tearing the air around him, the smells of blood, horses and camels, food, and smoke, and before his eyes, the object of his most secret dreams, the lovely body, that he could not keep his hands from touching, from possessing, the supple, female waist under his palms... He slid his hands gently onto the breasts. What shivered through him unceasingly was nothing so small as lust, it was the universe, a want so profound he was certain this could not be real. She would be taken from him. For her body, for her Quickening, petty reckonings he knew could invade and collapse his world of need as if it had never existed. That was what life did. That was what the Horsemen did. It was what they were.

The body under his hands stirred, a groan of agony coming even before consciousness. Only a thousand years of learning to be cause rather than effect allowed him to move, through the thick drag of his desire and fear. It seemed to take infinite time, but suddenly he had drawn his broad, razor-pointed bronze dagger. He ran his eyes over her one last time, having to tear them from where her pubic mound rose faintly under her skirt. He pulled her garment down, placed the point of the dagger over her heart and thrust his weight down on it. The body under him convulsed sharply, stretched, and shuddered. And died. Fathoms under in lust, he wanted to rip leather and cloth from her, revel in her like a mad animal --

But he was not an animal. No more. He was a master of the universe whose mind ruled passions. Like Kronos.

Yet in truth it was as much animal as man that worked in him to conceal his kill from view. He dragged the corpse into a tent and then rolled it up inside a broad rug. As long as she remained dead no one would feel a fifth Presence in the camp. The screams he heard now were all of women, the living rather than the dying, the raid was accomplished, with success and speed as usual. No one would note or care if he rode off while they sated their arousal on survivors, surely....

Kronos would know.

He brought his horse to the tent, and flung the rolled burden over its withers. The dutiful little grey was used to bloody spoils and didn't flinch. He mounted and rode to where the others were seeing to the subduing of the remaining women.

Silas turned to him. "Brother! You're just in time for your share! You want this one?" He held out the arm of the woman he had just picked for himself. "Isn't she pretty?"

"Thank you, brother." Methos made no attempt to hide his elation. "But I want the one in this carpet!"

Kronos looked up from the woman whose ankles he was binding. "Something special, brother?"

A woman screamed and broke momentarily from Caspian's attentions. The rolled bundle shifted against Methos's thighs and groin as his horse danced. He grinned, exuberant. "Very!"

Kronos shrugged at Methos's taste for the young and underdeveloped. He glanced back down at his own voluptuous, dark-skinned, gagged and bound selection, flame beginning to light in his eyes. He yanked her skirt up. "Your choice, brother."

Methos turned and rode out of the camp, into the dunes, away until he could no longer hear the sounds or smell the scents of the ruined camp. He had slain only a few, had missed most of the good killing, but he didn't care. His woman in the rug would last forever -- if only -- he couldn't yet be sure -- And she hadn't yet woken from her first death. What if he had been wrong? What if she never woke, and he had wasted all her beauty and warm pain?

Panicked, he stopped his horse and dragged the rug down into the sand. But then he dared not open it. He imagined himself unrolling her, undressing her, parting her thighs, her labia -- Too much depended on it. Since the moment he had seen her and felt her faint, tantalizing Presence, it had seemed as though his entire life depended on her being everything he hoped. In a tribe, a culture, where chastity was so valued in women, it was possible...

He felt a slight movement under his hand, and his excitation took control of him. He straddled the rolled carpet, leaned forward, pressed against it. He felt the bundle try to thrash under him, heard a strangled scream, and the new-born Presence shot through him. He thrust against the carpet, stretched against it, and as she fought beneath him he rubbed harder, felt himself gather, felt her terror and pain as his Presence penetrated her; fucked against the rug, crested, and came, over her cries of confusion and fear his scream of exultation ringing back from the rocks and dunes.

Methos emerged with a gasp. Memory had taken him even more peremptorily than usual, to the point that he looked around, orienting himself in the warm earth colors of carpets, sofas, lamps, aqua glows, the glass wall, the greenery and long spills and spires of flower color beyond. Centered in it, the incandescent hate that was Cassandra.

Her rage was like a palpable radiation between them. He had never seen her look so powerful and focussed, and if it had been a question of swords, he was certain she would have cut off his head and sprayed the beautiful room, the wonderful soft carpet, with his blood, and shattered the place with his life-force. Entering her, his Quickening would have found a strange last home indeed. Easily strong enough to subdue his much older being and absorb it without a trace. For the millionth time he wondered if consciousness went with the Quickening -- would he be aware of her around him? -- or if it went to some "heaven" -- or hell -- or was simply extinguished. For the millionth time, he shrank from the answer.

Her eyes pinned him with green fire. Her body, in the subtle moss-colored t-shirt and brown jeans, loomed like the biggest thing in the room, its proportions yet speaking to him, breast, waist, hips, shoulders and limbs calling his hands, his cock, his mouth, his mind -- even as her expression and stance warned he would touch her at greatest peril.

"Go on!" Her voice was like flames crackling with all the suppressed things she did not say.

But now he was afraid that if he spoke, he would fall again immediately into the memory of that day, the nights and days that followed -- it was hard to speak of those things, but to be there -- after thousands of years of avoiding those memories -- he couldn't. Not like this. He shook his head. But before he could speak in refusal he felt her. A pressure. A grip within his mind -- a presence he only now recognized as that slight sense of an observer ghostlike in a corner of the memory that had flooded through him.


But where before she had only accompanied, now she drove him, forcing his mind like an unwilling mount to the precipice three thousand years deep, and over it --

He knew he had to have himself completely under control and he did, when he rode into camp. He let Death rise up. Death who was afraid of nothing. Arrogant. Crystalline. Perfect, both in command and in desire. Crown prince in Kronos's court. His camp and his world, business as usual. His woman -- he swelled with excitement as he hadn't since his first raids. No girl, but a woman grown, a miracle --

He would tame her more perfectly than any other woman. She would do his bidding in all things. No toil or exhaustion, disease or accident ever could harm her, only -- only one danger could take her from him, he must keep his Brothers distracted with enough loot and captives that they never grew jealous or curious, and Kronos --

Panic slithered even through Death's regal glaze. He had never been able to outmaneuver Kronos, never would, but by acquiescence. He tried to calm himself. He had but to let Kronos try her, if he wished, grow bored and throw her back to him. Her Quickening was infantile, could hardly increase anyone's power by a jot; and Kronos liked to give him -- toys. Amusements that kept his strategist content, especially since their clash about abandoning the East... The trick would be to let Kronos see -- just enough -- that he wanted her... Transparency. It had become his only way to hide.

As long as Kronos saw no secretiveness, no reticence -- it was hidden things and cherished in-turned hopes that set his Teacher seeking. Nothing hid from Pestilence, and Kronos could abide no thought he did not fathom, no motive he could not control.

Death dumped the carpet onto the ground and unrolled her out of it.

"Surprise, you're not dead." She focussed on his voice. He lifted his mask. "Your kind is hard to kill."

He held out his hand to her. Hesitantly, she laid her fingers warm in his -- the first time she had touched him. Good. Not hysterical; sensibly wary. Trainable, tough and resilient. Death drew her to her feet. And responded automatically when she lunged for the knife in his belt. Immobilized and turned her, pried the blade from her grasp. "You'll have to try harder than that."

He told her the fate of her people. Still no screams or tears. Showed her the site of her wound. Her shaman knowledge understood its fatal nature.

Time to instill awe of his godlike powers.

"You live because I wish it." Perhaps he should have stopped there, let her think about it. But lust couldn't resist adding, "And you stay alive... as long as you please me." Reaching out to caress her cheek, brushing back her hair --

She knocked his hand aside violently. Automatically, he slapped her face so hard she fell to the ground.

"That did not please me!"

He went to one knee, thrust his hand up her leg. She did not strike out. Learning.

Death spoke, almost trembling with Death's controlling ardor, that he shared. "I am Methos. You live to serve me. Never forget that."

Across the camp, Silas shouted in outrage, and Caspian snarled back. He recognized the tone. They would be at each other's throats within the minute. First things first --

By the time the fight was settled, with all the Horsemen distracted, she had had time to look about, locate his idly straying horse, and try her first escape. It was just as well, he thought, as she sank down dying under his punitive knife, for he wanted her, and wanted no struggle, no distraction, this first time. It would give him time to drive the long tent stakes, and arrange the ropes.

He made efficient use of the interval, and by the time she gasped in revival, they were inside his tent, he had stripped off her clothing, and was tightening the knot on the last of her limbs. Her arms were spread. Her legs stretched wide.

Her eyes flew open. He saw her realize her nakedness, her bonds, and his intent. In fear she blurted, "I am a shaman's apprentice! No man may touch me till I am ordained!"

She believed what she was saying. His eyes flamed. So --! He slid his long hand over her belly and down her inner thigh. Her flesh shrank beneath his fingers, but there was no escape from his intimate touch.

He put a rag into her mouth, and tied another rag over it. No biting, no screams right in his ear. He rose and dropped the cloth door of the tent, in sign that he did not wish to be disturbed. He pulled his cloak over his head and let it fall to the carpet. The desperate look in her eyes was almost enough to make him come. So many things were almost enough... He removed his soft dark boots. His belt dropped onto the cloak. He got out of his breastplate, and finally unlaced his wristguards.

He liked, often, to stay dressed, even armored, when he took a woman. But this time... he wanted to feel every quiver of her muscles, every shiver of her skin, against him. He pulled the white tunic off over his head, shook out his hair, and dropped the garment beside him. He wore nothing under the white trousers, and when they dropped, his erection stood out huge, obvious in its purpose.

He knew what was happening in her mind, the panic desperation for some escape, when no escape existed. He might have let it build, to see her trembling increase, but he could wait no longer. He sank to his knees between her legs, naked as she was, like a groom with a bride, pulled back her labia, and pushed his erection between. For some a virgin opening would be hard to find, but his experienced, sensitive tip slid to it immediately, as he lay down on her, and lodged as big and hard as the bronze implements in whorehouses into the slight hollow of hot flesh there. Usually he might save the moment, hold until he felt involuntary adrenalin contractions of the vulva around him, even, once or twice, the woman's orgasmic convulsion at the prolonged stimulus. He would lie for half an hour or more, treasuring himself and his sensations, before the irretrievable possession and loss at one jab. But this time he could not wait, he had to know and his lust possessed his whole body, dug him deep to her as he felt the wince of her pain under him and around his cock's head, gathered his loins, pulled back his hip muscles, and bucked them forward. He thrust through her. He felt the membrane split, felt and heard her cry of pain, felt the precious seep of blood around his cock. There was a scream in his own throat but no one must hear. His cock stretched into her. Hot. Hot. Soft --

He shuddered back. Her body was struggling but she was tightly secured and the spasms could not interfere with, only add to the thrill of the exquisite violation of his second, unimpeded, penetration, deep into her heat, the third, bloodslicked, sliding easily through her pain. Then he was riding her, brutally, hard, rough thrusts, his consciousness glutted on the muffled cries from the pain his cock freshened with every stroke, the scent and feel of bloodletting by the weapon of his sex, her body heaving under him. Mindlessly, he found her full, soft breast with his mouth, sucked hard on the nipple, and came, biting down to suppress his cry of ecstasy. A few more hard drives and shudders, and he was done, sprawled on her in repletion, eyes closed, almost falling asleep on her stretching and rocking attempts to escape from wretched pain. His softened cock was still in her, he wanted never to leave the warm place that was his, his, his, not hers any longer.

He felt the slight tingle about the base of his cock.

He held still, afraid he had imagined it.

It came again, stronger, and stronger, titillating into his balls, sending the tiny lightnings up the length of his cock, into her vagina. She stilled under him, and he knew she was feeling the relief from pain, and the pleasurable electricity for the first time. During her other healings she had been dead.

He felt a tightening. Like a touch around his cock.

The healing was building her hymen around him.

At the thought, and the increased tightening, his cock hardened and swelled. He heard her whimper. The healing that should have relieved her pain, was now increasing it, by tightening and tightening her virginity around him. Oh this, this was unthought of, unimagined gift -- His woman wailed, unmoving, trying to shrink her sex from around him. He raised up, the movement drawing another cry from her as the band of her flesh drew yet harder closed.

He pulled back, tearing the new-healed membrane afresh, freeing his cock from its mooring in her flesh, and plunged again into her, ripping again a clear path through to her tight heat. A moan of unbearable pleasure lingered from him, and he could think of nothing, nothing at all, but the strokes of his cock that shuddered pleasure out through his entire body, till his back and shoulders and leg muscles each seemed to be having their own separate orgasms, and his consciousness was empty, suspended amid ecstasies.

He lay on her getting his breath. Part of him wanted to go again, and again, and again, till it made him a mindless sweatsoaked rag, and he would do that, he knew, sometime, but now, part of him wanted to stop, to recover, keep order, and -- Ea, but he was tired. They had ridden far to scout, and encountered the nomads when almost back in camp. Slaves would have attended to his horse by now, but there was still his woman and his sword to tend before he slept. Such things were not to be put off.

He withdrew from her and got to his hands and knees, head hanging. He should probably be scraped and washed himself, but he was just too exhausted. He looked up to find her watching him. He saw hatred and dread in her eyes. Well, that was normal.

Across her pale skin were smears of his blue paint.

He dragged on the thin djellabah he slept in, untied her without a word, fastened leather hobbles on her wrists and ankles, raised the tent door and clapped for slaves. He ordered the new captive taken to the slaves' tent and cleaned, given clothing, and brought back to him with food. They were about to drag her out naked, and she shrank back.

He gestured to them to wait. He picked up his thick white cloak. He lowered it over her head, and settled it around her so that she could hold it closed in front. Then he waved them out.

He wanted to go with her. Likely the others would not come to his side of the camp, employed as they were with novelties from the raid. If they got close enough to sense her.... She wore his cloak, it was clear enough whose favor she lived under and who would have to be dealt with if she were harmed. He wouldn't be able to hover over her always....

Still, as he cleaned his sword anxiety preyed on him, and when they brought her back safe to his door he looked up with relief. He had them place the food, and raise the edges of the tent to let in some breeze. He had never trained a bedslave before -- there had been no point -- but the relationship between food and obedience was second nature to him. If he tried to feed her she would spurn his hand, at this point. He knew the type well. He merely placed a bowl of food in her reach as if it were no concern of his and dipped his own flatbread into his bowl without looking at her.

She kicked the bowl aside.

He sighed inwardly. He should punish her instantly but he was hungry. He let a slave clean the spill and finished his meal in peace. He dismissed the slave, and tied his woman's wrist and ankle bonds to two of the driven stakes, using cords long enough that she could move around and even turn over as she slept. He put a blanket over her as the cold of the desert evening was settling fast.

He said, "You can starve to death a thousand times, but you will not die. You will only get hungrier and thinner and everything in your body will hurt." He almost said, "Believe me, I know," but it would not do to let her guess they were the same. "It could take weeks for you to prove what I'm telling you, and I don't find it amusing. Tomorrow you will eat what I give you."

She wouldn't, most likely. Till he showed her he meant it.

He settled slowly onto his pallet, prudently out of her reach, with sighs of mixed pain and pleasure as his muscles stretched and relaxed. Oh god that felt good. Someday this incessant scouting and riding and moving camp would wear his Immortal bones to dust. He could imagine a life where he did nothing but lie around all day. Read scrolls. And fuck his woman.

In the night he woke to hear her crying. Good, she wasn't a wailer. The Horsemen ultimately only kept the ones who were quiet about it.

Methos stabbed his captive violently to the heart, cursing a blue streak in three languages at once. He swiped scalding porridge off his face and hands and swabbed a cool wet rag to his burning eyes and nose. Damn the bitch! And his best white tunic!

When his burns healed he scowled down at her, still wiping at his clothes. He pulled the dagger out of her chest finally. Bloody thing would need sharpening.


Couldn't she see that there was no chance of escape here? Neither into the desert nor into death. Logically she should just submit, eat. Live. Grow stronger....

One by one the Horsemen had drifted over to take a look at her, as they realized what he had. Kronos had laughed, Caspian had almost thought of making a few greedy noises till Methos distracted him. Silas had looked at her curiously.

"An Immortal, Brother? What will you do with her?"

Methos shrugged one shoulder slightly. "Use her to scare the others perhaps. It makes a change. She interests me."

Silas nodded. He understood about pets.

But for two days food had become a battleground between them. She would take nothing from him, and it was far trickier to force her to eat than to force his sex into her as he had each night -- teeth and spitting were to be reckoned with.

He glowered over at her as she gasped back to life. He dared not lose this ridiculous contest of wills, nor could he let it go on longer -- either way his dignity suffered, calling his omnipotence into question. And if it became known that a slave defied him --

There was always torture. Messy, loud, time-consuming and without the intellectual elegance he preferred. It was through worshipping Kronos that he had come to adore the devious mind, though he had long ago outstripped his Teacher in love of the beauty of pure reason. It was his weapon and his vocation, praised and encouraged and constantly tested by Kronos, who delighted in overthrowing his best efforts with a followthrough of force he knew Methos would not oppose.

For Methos, the least possibility of the threat of death outweighed all calculations. This woman seemed hardly to fear death at all. How could you threaten such a creature? What would she rather submit than face?

Of course. How obvious.

He sat by her -- just out of reach -- with a new bowl of porridge, idly sharpening his dagger as she sat up, glaring at him, trying not to show the pain he knew must be lancing through her heart as the healing completed. He examined both sides of his blade.

"I'm going to make this quite simple," he said, stroking the stone along the dagger's edge. "This --" He tapped the bowl with the point of his dagger. "-- is your breakfast. Either you will eat it now... or I will tie you down again and fuck you." He waited, sharpening the blade, for it to sink in. He looked up, and his gold-green eyes met hers. Oh, yes.... He moved the bowl toward her. "The choice is yours."

With dignity, she picked up the bowl, and ate.

He sat companionably, perfecting his edge, glorying in having made her do his bidding, and having found the leverage he would need to train her. The one thing she would hate above all else.

Like someone drowning, Methos fought in the dark waters of memory, burst through to the present, and put up his hands futilely as he felt Cassandra start to force him down again. "Please! No! Wait!" She released her pressure, tentatively, as he gasped and sobbed for air, as though there were none, there in the past. "Please -- Please --!"

The pain was more than he could bear, a mortal agony as if a deep putrid wound had been laid open and all its reeking contents scraped out. It had been so long since he had dared go to this place -- so many of the deathly sealed places in that past that had become for him his living karma, hells he dragged with him like white-hot chains, the tortures he had inflicted for moments or days seared to him forever, the loss, the screams of severed love wanting to rise and drive out sanity -- It was a Hell that did not have to wait for death.

He twisted from side to side -- get up -- run -- but he did not, and did not think it was Cassandra's magic held him there -- despite him something drew toward her, a vortex from within him, sucking toward this dangerous, dangerous, terrifying woman --

He fell into it and sank with a cry of fear and despair.

He raped her night after night. He made excuses to rape her in the daytime, for the slightest delay or mistake in following his orders. It was the most exquisite pleasure he had ever known, that was not dependent on Kronos. He didn't have to wait for anyone else to be willing, or circumstances to favor him, and the sensation -- he was dizzy sometimes just with the thought of it -- of her --

He found himself watching her when he didn't even mean to have sex with her, wondering at her, her form, her hair, her eyes. Her little feet, the way they showed under her dress when she knelt at some task. She never looked so defiant anymore, didn't meet his eyes unless he ordered her to, but somehow he was not as pleased with her submission as he'd planned to be.

She never spoke now. Unless he ordered her. He had made her tell him her name. Cassandra.

He would roll off her and fall asleep within her reach and she made no attempt to destroy him. He had convinced her it was impossible.

One night he woke from a strange dream to hear her crying heartbrokenly. He felt a confused ache inside. She was lying with her back toward him, as always, the only shelter she ever had from his eyes and presence. If he disturbed her, that illusory safety would be broken. He hesitated. But she wept on, sounding so alone....

He reached out his hand, very slowly, and laid it lightly on the back of her shoulder.

Her crying checked, as she tried to be silent, but her sorrow overwhelmed everything, and the sobs returned.

He lay there with his hand on her, until she fell asleep again.

The next day he caught her looking at him.

They rode out on a raid and it went badly, all four of them taking painful wounds and the village taking two days to subdue. They were so irked they took no captives, and he returned to camp exhausted and depressed.

He was really sick of the sound of screaming.

It never used to irritate him so. It seemed like half the time now he killed his victims just to make them shut up.

He let Cassandra take off his armor as he had taught her, wash him all over with cool rags, and bring him food.

He could fuck her. It would probably improve his mood.

He thought of the way her skin would tense when he laid a hand on her.

He didn't feel like it.

There was loot to divide, and packing to oversee. They were moving camp in the morning, north and west, a week's trek to fresh pickings and a bigger river. He put on clean clothes and went out.

At night he went to bed, tired, without taking her. Before dawn he woke, his cock hard, and pulled her to him. As he broke through and sank into her warmth a strange feeling suffused him; like wanting her, only -- more. He thrust hard, and then slower, his body crested with bliss, again, and again, luxuriating in drawn-out ecstasy, and he wanted more, and more -- he wanted -- her. He wanted her to... like him.

He had a vision of Silas's women, the way they clasped him and gasped and writhed under him. Silas taught them that, he liked to watch them as much as fuck them, and he would do things to them.... Methos had watched, as Silas wanted, many a time, even tried it once or twice experimentally, but it was singularly useless to him. He had never become proficient. But at the bare idea, now, of Cassandra wiggling under him and clutching him and breathing hard -- crying out -- he moaned, and thrust frantically and came a fourth time, rocking, embracing her and gasping her name.

He sat her behind him on the trip and made her talk to him. "Her people are nomads," he told Kronos; pretending only to be gathering the latest intelligence of their routes. The Horsemen ranged much more widely, but knew no land with the intimacy of herders, hunters, or farmers.

Cassandra had been found an abandoned baby leagues to the north and east, left by a people, it was said, who roamed as far as the Takla Makan, in the mythic land of Chin, source of a magical cloth called silk. She had been traded west and into the nomad tribe; when its shaman saw her, they told the tale, he insisted that the tribe buy the child of two for the outrageous price of a young camel, and make her one of them. She will take care of you, he told them, long after I am gone, and there was no arguing with him. Well, it was their tradition that foundlings did make the most powerful shamans. Heizhad himself was proof of that... So they had made room for her in their lives, and had been almost ready to celebrate her investiture --

Cassandra fell silent.

"This land of Chin," Methos began, but she knew no more of that than her own little legend. Methos had seen silk, he told her, and it made him almost wild to know what creature had a wool so fine. Cassandra gave a slight laugh. "What?" he asked.

"It is no wool. It's made from the spinnings of butterfly worms."

Methos smiled to himself. The tales these yokels would swallow!

He took her roughly that night, roused again and again throughout the day by her body against him, the times she had had to hold to him for balance, and the sound of her voice. He no longer had to tie her down, she had learned better than to fight him, but only winced and cringed, and mewed a little at the pain of his tearing her. As he felt the thin flesh rip around his cock he came extravagantly, pumping and lusting, taking her breast in his mouth and sucking, digging his toes into the carpet, at the end. He slept like the dead.

He woke while she was still sleeping. She had relaxed onto her back in the night, and her dark hair spread out around her beautiful face, framing the paleness. The dark scimitars of her lashes, the slow breaths that issued with such delicacy between her lips -- she smelled of their mint tea, and river water, and woman. And him. Scenting himself on her, he suddenly was overcome with the strangest feeling... as if she were... another him... or no... but... another interior... as infinite, as aware, as central yet -- not him. How could that be? Yet he immediately knew that it must be so. And not only her, but every living being. Of course he had known that people were people, separate from him and with their own concerns. But it had never come to him before -- that what he was, she was; all of them were; and as astoundingly as it set them apart from him... it also made them -- identical to him.

Imagine if he could bring that space to orgasm also. The thought was dizzying.

What would it take to make that happen? What did it take, he thought, to make him come?

She would have to want him. And have to be roused. Of course she would not need virginity, but -- it occurred to him -- might she have some such need of her own, as he and his Brothers all did?

Were women different?

To hear Silas talk, they weren't. They each had quirks and stimuli that worked for them.

How did they learn them, he wondered. So young....

He didn't know where he had learned his.... He never tried to remember anything from before the Horsemen -- before his First Death -- but maybe -- perhaps even then he had liked something hurting under him, around his penetration...

Later, he had been married! It startled him how it came out of nowhere, the memory/experience of his/Another's love -- how he had made his, that Other's, beloved wife lust and pant and roll with him, long after she was old and he still young. But she had been that Other's wife, and it had been He who'd known, already, the ways of her love and ecstasy. Methos had not had to discover anything....

And when she died, the Other left him, and it was as if he had spent the last thirty years a mere servant in their now-deserted house. Oh, he did not like Quickenings.... The whole business so hideously dangerous and then even if you survived, to end up a slave to your conquest, raped of your own body --! No bit of orgasmic lightning was worth that. At least when you killed a mortal, they stayed dead. Did not infest you, put you on like a suit of clothes...

Then throw you away...

He'd loved them so.

The past clearing from his vision, he slowly lifted the blanket off Cassandra's naked body.

Her nipples wrinkled up from the dawn chill. Palest tan, they looked redder when they did that.

He touched between her legs with his fingertips. He did it lightly. He sensed it might be easier to arouse her in her sleep. She wouldn't know it was him, for one thing.

He trailed the fingertips further down along her softly closed crevice, and back. Slowly, delicately, he worked the tip of his little finger in, between her labia, stroking no more than an inch back and forth across the damp flesh there. Tiny muscles moved under his touch. It seemed to him her breath came slightly faster. He had seen Kronos come while still asleep, and he'd barely moved, nor needed any touch but those of the denizens of the Other World.

He gradually increased the speed at which his little finger moved, varied the rhythm and pressure, and touched a fingertip of his other hand to her nipples, one by one tracing delicate patterns over them. He felt increasing slick wetness and heat in her labia and suddenly something clenched and let go rapidly and repeatedly, then slow, in the deep muscles beneath, and Cassandra rolled a little, with a moan, and half woke, pressing up against his hand; he pressed back as she shook, still slack-limbed, moaning again in the pleasure. Her closed eyes fluttered, her face looked other-worldly.

Methos moaned with her. Pushing apart her thighs, he rolled onto her and forced his hot, exquisitely sensitive lengthened organ between her labia, through the resistant veil of flesh and into her soft clenching depths.

She made cries of grief and surprise and pain, her still half-dream returning to the nightmare of her reality. Thrusting in, he told her in low breaths full of sex, "Give me your pain. Offer it to me like incense. Open yourself to me, surrender, Cassandra, give yourself to me. Make your pain your sacrifice, make yourself my altar, make me your god. Cassandra. Cassandra. I will take you --" He thrust harder and harder -- "with me to heaven --"

He knew not where the words came from, but he believed them with all his lust and passion, and whether her sleep-dazed mind fell before his orders or whether her still-orgasmic flesh responded of itself, he heard her cry take on a guttural note, felt her crotch thrust back against him, and when he took her breast in his mouth and sucked, her head went back and her body arched up under him, as if she were trying to throw him off. Some instinct or memory moved his hand in between them, and he pressed his thumb in just below her pubic bone, moving it slightly side to side. Her legs raised, wrapped around him, as her hands pushed away at him, and as his orgasm shook him, she arched, still and tight, fell soft at the hips and reclenched, grasping his expending cock in a long, slow pulse, that made him thrust, again, once, and that made her writhe under him, and with their helpless movements they pushed each other to longer and longer extension of their ecstasies. At last the final orgasmic drop had been wrung from them and they were done. But instead of collapsing or moving from her, Methos nuzzled her face and throat all over, making tiny sounds of need and longing, keeping his oversensitized cock still, but holding her to him. He didn't know what was happening to him, except the joy of his body seemed to have filled his mind and his heart and overflowed to include her, and now it was receding, and he wanted to keep her with him, somehow, somehow...

No --

She was separate from him. He looked at her face and saw she was shocked, drained, lost, unable to understand. He held her gently close. But he was the source of her horror. How could he comfort her...

When he started to pull out, he hurt her; and the hurt hardened him, before he was even all the way out of her. Groaning, he plunged slowly deep in her again, and felt her twist under him. He held her down. Lust shook through him. He dragged back through soft flesh that tried to shrink away from him, and sank into it again. "Give me your soul," he gasped. "You are mine." He would have her whenever he wished. She would be helplessly open to him, her breasts and her inner thighs would know his weight, her cunt would know the thickness of his cock, better than she knew the thickness of her own wrist. "Make your offering to me." Her breath deepened, in time with his rough thrusts. "Give me everything. Now!" His voice forced her, her pelvis rocked up to him, she cried out and trailed out into a moaning wail as he strove into her, feeling his cock heat and twitch within her as sweet electricity took him and his ejaculation sought her depths. He continued pushing against her open labia and crotch, twisting his body between her thighs, and she came again.

He drew away from her, so that she could heal. Outside, the camp was stirring, loading camels and horses, striking tents. He lay exhausted, for the moment, on his side, gazing at her. She opened her eyes, looked at him, and quickly closed them again, as if in pain.

The ride that day was long and hot. Every time he thought of something to say to her, a strange feeling would stop his tongue, a feeling as if what he might say would be... somehow incorrect. They stopped in the shadow of rocks through the noon hours, then rode on, her body behind him a constant reminder at his buttocks, thighs and back, that gradually became like a part of him.

The land here was less and less sandy, but could not be considered anything, still, but poor scrub. The Horsemen didn't ride in well-patrolled lush cultivated territory, where treasures were guarded by zealous armies and summary beheading was a popular response to the pettiest theft. It had crossed his mind often in recent decades that their power and freedom were much more circumscribed than Kronos fancied; and that their lives were toilsome, harsh, and meager, compared to what he had read of. Look at the goods Caspian and Silas came to blows over. A warm cloak; some half-starved wench. Hardly the riches of kings and princes.

Was this all there was....?

He felt such a tugging, sometimes, toward what else might be out there... Not lands he hadn't seen, but something... more. More than corpses rotting in the sun behind them, people fleeing in terror ahead.

Strange that he would be thinking this now, when he had what he'd only dreamed of for so long.

Now, he realized with a chill, that he had something to lose.

The Horsemen worked as hard as their slaves to get tents pitched, horses cared for, and all the chores of making camp done at the fall of night on journeys such as this. They fell into bed and when Methos reached for Cassandra it was only to pull her back against him and sink into sleep in their comingled warmth.

He woke to feel her crying in his arms; after a few minutes he gradually fell asleep again, and slept till morning.

He remembered this when they had been riding for about an hour, and asked abruptly, "Why do you cry, in the night?"

She stiffened behind him, and he once again experienced a wave of that feeling, that whatever he might say to her was wrong.

Finally she said, so many emotions in her voice he could not even identify them all, "Wouldn't you cry, if your brothers and sisters, your father, your aunts and uncles and all your friends were dead, slaughtered by --" She stopped.

He wondered what she called him, in her mind.

If his Brothers were all killed.... It would be terrifying to be alone. Though interesting also.... If Kronos could never again caress him... or hurt him... If his Brother Silas were gone, with his openness and generosity.

"No," he said finally. He didn't cry. And he didn't really understand why other people did. It was a display of how weak they felt -- never a good plan.

There was a startled-feeling silence at his back. Somehow he sensed that his answer had given him a chill alienness that nothing else could have done.

That night he put his mouth on her cunt for the first time. He wasn't very certain of the technique, and for her part she seemed revolted by it. But when his tongue slipped between her labia and tickled her clit, she went attentively still. As he experimented, her breath got heavier, her hips moved, finally she groaned and stretched and sought against him. He rubbed his broad thumb over the opening of her vagina, and she went off, undulating in slow jerks into his busy tongue. He liked the sensation and didn't stop, and to his amazement she almost immediately went into another crescendo, and another, and another, her hands in his hair guiding his speed and pressure. Later she begged him to stop, but he pushed her further, on until she wept and fell completely open to him, orgasming slowly, helplessly. Intoxicated, finally he lifted up, a weight like lead in every limb, a crude and irresistable focus in his mind, lowered on her warm sweaty body, sliding up between her thighs, and forced her with his bronze-hard erection.

Ripping her open he rode into her heat with hard lunges, ignoring her cry of pain and the tightening of her body under him. He seized onto her and thrust, and orgasm irradiated him. Paralyzed with ecstasy, he simply let his heavy body be rocked by her struggle as she fought to free herself of him. Slowly he sagged, and half smothered her. Finally she was able to lurch out from under him part way, heave, and roll him off her.

The next thing he knew was a horrible, tearing pain in his gut. Only his lightning battle reflexes saved him. He caught her hand coming down again with the dagger in it. Shock and pain were already weakening him -- out of the corner of his eye he saw blood everywhere on his belly. With a savage jerk he broke her wrist. He was dying. If they caught her, with him dead by his own dagger, they would take her head without hesitation. Biting back his scream of pain, he got a grasp on the knife and plunged up with the last of his strength, sinking the blade deep into her torso. She fell on him without a sound, their blood running out together, as his vision went white, and consciousness left him for death.

When he woke with a gasp she was still dead. He had managed to get the dagger lodged up under her ribs. There was sticky drying blood on everything.

He cleaned up as best he could, and called a slave to take away the bloody rags. He tied her and finally pulled out the dagger. It chilled and terrified him to think how close he had come to losing her, what his life would be like if he had woken to find her headless corpse. Lying down, he took her in his arms and rocked the cold body, almost unable to bear the length of the wait until the rush of warmth flooded under her skin, and she too gasped alive again. After a few moments he looked into her face and found her green eyes glaring at him.

He sat up and demanded indignantly, "What was that for?"

She looked outraged. "You hurt me!"

Baffled, he said hotly, "So? It's not like it's the first time!"

And to his absolute amazement, he saw hurt seep into her eyes and she began to cry.

After his first astonishment, he exclaimed, "What are you crying for?"

Still sobbing bitterly, she cried, "It's not supposed to be like this! I'm not supposed to know any man till I'm ordained. That's why the pain keeps coming back."

In a rush, Methos was carried back two thousand years, to the superstitious theories that had clouded his brain when he realized he wasn't staying dead.

It was as good an explanation as any.

But she looked up at him again fiercely. "It's your fault! I told you not to!"

"So why kill me now, all of a sudden?"

"Because. It was so wonderful, it felt -- and then you ruined it. It hurt."

Well, he supposed that made sense.

"I have to hurt you," he said simply. "But I will give you pleasure too. Both before and after. If you will let me."

He reached behind her and untied her hands. He thought about how he had made her come, before, even while he tore her. The difference was... he had told her what he was going to do, instructed her in how to respond. He had talked to her. As if... as if he had sunk into her being as well as her body. Was she so suggestible? He recalled many painful proofs of the opposite. But when she was aroused....?

Mortals could be so complicated. It was intriguing. He would figure her out. He would have to, to get her properly trained to him.

That night Kronos wanted him. It often was so on journeys, the opening vistas and change made Kronos's eyes bright and his manic excitement frothed over in sexual energy only his Brother's Immortal nature could satisfy. Methos might try to temporize, but Kronos overwhelmed resistance, and then reluctance, till in the end it would be Methos pleading not to stop when Kronos fell back content to sleep. In a moment of the fleeting double awareness of memory, he sensed the cold Observer's presence, but was powerless to stop event and emotion as Kronos came up behind him when he'd lashed the last of the big tent's ropes down, and he felt the small blunt hands on his shoulders, Kronos's breath at his ear. As always he remained passive, indefinably hostile; and Kronos whispered against his neck, "Brother."

"I'm knackered," Methos murmurred, indifferently, looking away east.

Kronos's hands went around his waist. "If you're too tired to make it to my tent, you can always bend over right here."

There was a thrumming undercurrent of lust in his voice, and without further comment Methos turned and gazed into his eyes a moment, then walked toward Kronos's tent. He could hear Kronos following, enjoying, he knew, the view from in back. It was Kronos who had first made him wear the white trousers and short tunic, so revealing they drew scandalized gasps whenever the Horsemen strolled through a town too large to sack.

He was hardly through the tent flap when Kronos closed the distance and thrust his hand between Methos's buttocks. Methos swayed back instantly into the erotic invasion.

Kronos circled around him. A half smile showing the tips of his white teeth, his head cocked slightly, eyes brilliant -- the electricity of his arousal fairly poured off him, and Methos met his look with increasing challenge.

"Feeling independent, are we?" Kronos whispered. "Rebellious?" He flicked Methos's sleeve. "Get those off."

Methos felt a strange sensation. He had fought Kronos before during sex, but always in passion. Never had he felt this sudden sulky indifference to his interference, an irritation with having to spend the time on it. It was unsettling, frightening because he knew beyond any doubt that Kronos must not see this.

He turned his back. Slowly, with provocative movements, he removed his armor and accoutrements. He stretched his arms over his head. He moved his hands down behind his neck, and stretched again, arching back. Then he caught the back of his shirt and pulled it up, slowly, shifting positions as his torso was revealed bit by bit. It was almost a dance.

Behind him he could hear Kronos breathing.

When the shirt was finally off, he turned around, wearing only boots and trousers. He stroked down his loins onto his thighs. Then he turned his fingertips inward and stroked a little way up his inner thighs, letting his legs open a bit at the knee.

He raised his eyes to meet Kronos's just for a moment.

Then he turned his back again, propped one foot up on a low table, and bent over to remove his boot.

Kronos was at him, then, one hand with fiercely controlled motion pulling loose the drawstring of his pants, then both hands shoving the trousers roughly down off his hips. The pants fell further, hanging up around the boot-tops, as Kronos's hands moved on Methos's nether cheeks and cleft. Then Kronos threw him, and he was face down on Kronos's pallet, ankles hobbled by his clothing, and Kronos between his knees. Kronos raised the skirting of his armor and without preliminary plunged his hard hot cock deep.

The pain was serious. Methos cried out, and Kronos began thrusting fast, hurting him badly. He began to struggle, and Kronos cried aloud, exultant. At the sound, the violation, and the pain, Methos's sex suddenly hardened. He struggled more, cried out "No!" and the heat of surrender suffused him. He was nothing, he was a rape-toy, he was Kronos's pleasure-boy and pet, no matter the centuries that passed, he had been a slave and a slave he was at heart. He suddenly remembered -- with an odd, doubled thought of "Who is remembering?" -- how as a little child he had been punished if he came before a customer was done with him, spoiling his erection and illusion of mutuality. The punishment was a whipping on his genitals. To do no permanent damage, it was a light whipping, but the lashes still sent him screaming into agony in the bonds that held him, legs splayed, helplessly open to the whip. Usually they would get a customer in to watch, one who liked that, and he would be taken, crying and screaming, in his pain, not to waste his anguish and the time before he would be capable again. All day, at least, just a touch on his genitals would make him cry. Those customers often paid for the full day....

By the time he was old enough to ejaculate, he rarely came... except...

He felt himself spiralling up, terrifyingly, out of himself, out -- out of memory, into the day, into --

A room --

An acquarium --

He felt like screaming.

He felt like crying.

He kept absolutely still, except for some trembling in his hands that wouldn't stop.

He opened his eyes so he would look calm.

He saw Cassandra, staring at him with revulsion. She had seen... the children he had raped when scarcely more than a child himself, before audiences of customers or in his own private assaults for his pleasure.

His eyes winced closed again.

It was pointless, with her, pretending not to feel what he felt.

She could see him. The thought filled him with terrified desolation.

She'd see that too....

He tried to hide.

She could still see him.

Out of desperation, he opened his eyes again. She sat there, such a small, dark person, in the ember-warmth of the color of the carpet. Thousands of years old. He remembered the feel of her in his arms, the boniness when she had fought him, the muscled softness when her sexual struggles slid seamlessly into his thrusts, the flinching of her pain, the stretching of her ecstasy under him --

Oh god no --

He was getting a hard-on --

He flashed his mind desperately away. Where was Duncan? How long had they been here? Was the slant of sun really different, now, beyond the water walls?

Cassandra didn't seem to be paying attention to him. She, too, had been sunken deep in events immemorial, fundamental. Her family... Teacher... Someone in that little tribe probably slated to be her husband....

He sat quietly, waiting. His hard-on faded. He knew they weren't finished. He didn't want to go back there.

When she finally looked up, meeting her beautifully cut green eyes was like meeting a blow. Uncharacteristically, he had nothing to say.

She didn't look like she wanted to go back there either. But she ordered curtly, "The rest."

Like a human sacrifice, he stepped up to the edge of the great well, and let himself fall.

The night they arrived at the new camp he awoke to find her gone. In the blackness he searched between the tents but her Presence was nowhere to be felt.

The camp would stir before first light. No one must know she had escaped.

He outfitted his horse and led it silently away down the path they had come over.

When he found her quickly, it was pure luck. Something had told him the one source of cover, tumbled rocks north of the trail, would be irresistable -- to anyone but her. He ranged out into the barren southerly scrub, and couldn't see her even minutes after her Presence registered. Dawn had long broken. He searched and searched, finally his horse almost trod upon her. She had covered herself with a cloak the identical yellow-grey of the land, and just kept perfectly still. She flew up, flapping the cloak and scaring his horse into a conniption. By the time he'd dissuaded it from bolting, she was well away, but he pursued and caught up to her easily. He settled into a canter beside her until she stopped, finally. There was flat emptiness around them as far as they could see. He looked down at her, calmly, as she gasped for breath.

He should probably do something perfectly terrible to her.

Instead, when she was breathed, and stood, shoulders down, and finally looked up at him, he just reached a hand down to her.

There was nothing else for her to do. She gripped his arm and let him pull her up to sit sideways before him.

He put his arms around her and turned his horse.

He looked with curiosity at the bits and pieces of things she had managed to steal for her escape, in little bags tied to her belt; food mostly, a broken knife blade. One by one he tossed them away. He untied the small water bottle and refastened it to his own belt.

"Why didn't you take my knife?" he asked curiously.

She looked at it with the slightest shudder. But she said only, "You would have followed for it."

His eyes widened. "Do you think I care more about a knife than about you? You are the most precious thing I have ever owned! I would follow you a thousand times further than any knife!" He hugged her close impulsively. Then, quiet, he warned, "They must not find out you tried to escape." He still held her, his face hidden in her hair. And suddenly he couldn't stand it. Couldn't stand how he could lose her, a thousand different ways, because she or he did something the others didn't like; or because -- because she didn't want to be with him.

It was inconceivable. She was the center of his world. He didn't know how he could exist without her. He could make her moan, and come, and come again, and call in coming, undulating with fierce gasps, jerking into rhythm to his strokes, shuddering side to side under him.

How could she not want to be with him?

What did humans want?

He'd seen them like puppies and kittens in their nests, tussling and snipping at each other -- then turning to fight and die for one another against the Horsemen. Cassandra herself had died, for her shaman.


He would ask her questions until he understood what it was she wanted. Then he would give it to her.

Then she would stay with him. Forever.

In the next months, as they raided and moved, he made her talk, about herself and her people. At first it was painful to her, and she cried thinking of them. But gradually it began to seem a relief to her, to be able to speak of her older sister, her young brother, her favorite aunt, to someone who knew their names, their places in her world, and finally their characters. Someone who could laugh at the right references, or feel sorry if bad luck overtook them. Methos almost felt that he knew her people, that they inhabited his world too. One night when he had laughed very hard at a story of their witty goat-boy, he found himself remembering with a pang that the child was dead. They all were dead. He wished they were still alive, and he could talk to them. If he and his Brothers had known they were such exceptional people...

He discovered she could read, and they discussed letters and sounds and the wonders of the thought transmitted across time and space.

He still didn't know what she wanted most, so he simply gave her everything he thought she might wish for.

In their sex he made her come again and again and again, before he rode into her, commanding her surrender to him, and each time she gave herself up to his strict rule it was more deeply, though she might, in fact, fight more, at first. It was as if they both understood this was a necessary part of a ritual, and sometimes took it to passionate heights of resistance and brutality, but with a known, mutual goal. And as he rode her writhing heat, and looked down at her, his mastery and his pride in her shone down and reflected in her lustrous half-closed eyes, self-absorbed and blank with recurring completion.

It seemed as if she liked it when he hurt her. Just as he did with Kronos.

It wasn't what he had found in women before, but then, what did he know of women?

He spoke cautiously to Silas, not naming her; Silas could remember a woman or two like that but, he confided to Methos, it wasn't something he cared to have to satisfy. If you got a woman like that, the best thing was to turn her over to Kronos, who didn't care one way or the other.

He had trained her to endure him. It hadn't occurred to him to try to make her like the pain itself. Had he made her that way? Or had she been miraculously already what he needed, in yet this further way? He remembered Kronos grinding him into the dirt, crying roughly, "You love it!" -- and he did. Only through the pain, the force, could his heat be opened.

And he could tell that she knew, too, that it was that exact moment he needed from her for his ecstasy.

She was different, though. She could come without pain. It bore her to a special place and depth, but merely his roughness excited her, even his lightest touch, if he ordered her to undergo it, could clutch her together in climax.

It fascinated him.

When he noticed that she had begun to do little extra things for him, unasked, he pretended to take it as his due, but delight and hope sparked in him. She looked at him in a different way, calf-eyed; and one night he blushed, realizing he'd looked at her that way too.

Every time he broke her, felt her tense, and heard the little cries she was learning not to hide, he felt his soul spread, spread wide, and warm. And when she rose with him through the pain into orgasm, he came again and again in her, forcing her with him, unable to stop until his body collapsed of exhaustion. He spent whole nights fucking her, making himself appear in the daytime to take part in the life of the camp, while longing only to return and deflower her again, and again. Her reluctant legs seemed to open to his touch against their will, her breasts peaked with tight-pointed nipples if he only looked at them, her teeth that used to bite at him savagely now parted for his tongue, his cock... He couldn't keep away from her. They were like a heartbeat of hurt and orgasm, hurt and orgasm, never-ending, as he took her or, sometimes now, she rode him, suffering from the depth of his penetration as always, yet pushing down to spread her cunt against him. She would touch her clit with her fingers, but never seemed to be able to bring herself off, he always had to push her hand aside and work his thumb on her labia to make her climax, and then she would rock on it time after time, as he came in her, shrank, hardened and came again, as unable to stop as she was, sobbing finally, pleading with the gods or the universe, he did not know for what.

He came to dread the moment when he hurt her. He knew well that not all women felt so much pain on first entry. But Cassandra was unlucky. It caused her anguish, whatever elegant flutterings of pleasure surrounded it, and the pain never left her till the hymen healed; till he had done with her. He loved to see her in her throes of pleasure, unguarded and responsive to his every touch, loved the way she opened in her sacrifice to him; it even seemed as if, in some strange way, the pain had made her love him. As if she could not give of herself in that way, letting him violate and wound her to bring on his glory, without also coming to adore... and to cherish. It was that that stopped him. Veneration he could accept, but that she wanted to take care of him, comforted him sometimes when he hadn't even known he was in pain... He didn't know till long, long after that it was because he loved her that these things filled him with emotions he didn't know the names of. He treasured her. And one night he simply couldn't do it. His erection pained strongly, and she questioned him with her eyes. But he only smiled. When she fell deep asleep he rose in silence. The camp was dark and still. He wove his way among the tents and cookpits till he stood outside the closed flap of Kronos's tent. Silently he slipped inside, let his cloak fall, and stole like a naked ghost to Kronos's bed. He knelt on the edge of the pallet.

"Something I can do for you, Brother?" The purr was calm, amused and lusting at once. He had never known Kronos to let any Immortal come upon him still asleep. Methos reached out, met Kronos's blanketed hip, felt down to what jutted at the crotch. He felt Kronos's hand at the back of his neck, stroking a little, then pushing him down, till he was bent like a supplicant and his lips met Kronos's hardness, and he took as much of the strong- flavored width and length in his mouth as he could. Far from all of it; it was his weapon's size that made it so simple for Kronos to hurt Methos thoroughly and bring him into submission with one thrust. "Ah..." Kronos responded luxuriantly to the tongue and mouth laving his swollen flesh. He fell over onto his back as Methos shoved blankets and clothing away. His hand found Methos's bare ass and stroked across it, and Methos moaned around the massiveness in his mouth. He pulled up, slid his lips and tongue off the broad end, slid down and repeated the withdrawal again and again till Kronos was rocking, moaning, forcing his head down, but he deliberately missed the cock and let it slide up across his cheek. With a growl of lost patience Kronos immediately rose up and pushed Methos down onto the pallet, grabbed his legs and lunged his shoulders under them, and ignoring Methos's gasp of anxiety carried the momentum on forward till he found the exposed hole completely vulnerable to his position, and began to thrust into it until he managed to force entry. Bent double under him Methos cried out at the torment and tried to push him away, but Kronos had his weight above, and used his hands in a paralyzing grip to Methos's upper arms. His cock was well lodged, and he thrust it full in with all his strength. Kronos crooned, "I've missed you, Brother. No one makes me come as hard as you do, no one takes me like you take me, and best of all, yes -- oh, yes --" He started coming and Methos rode it out helplessly, finding it not so easy, this time, to let the pain overrule his pride, to lose himself in Kronos's will. He was still hard when Kronos finished and began to laugh at him. "Best of all, Brother -- you can't come unless I force you to!" Kronos laughed on, and squeezed his priapic organ. Methos cried out softly. He was beginning to panic. He shouldn't have come here. He wasn't responding to Kronos -- and if Kronos realized --

He saw teeth gleam white in the darkness. "Brother," Kronos whispered, and suddenly Methos knew that Kronos was enjoying his inability. "This is going to be a long night."

Methos crept back to his own tent in the small hours, collapsed beside Cassandra and pulled their blankets over himself. Kronos had battered and used him till he had sunk down to his accustomed status of whipped hound, in his own heart, which let Kronos bring him to orgasm again and again. The force, the mastery that was Kronos, brought to bear on him alone, until he crawled at his Teacher's feet, humility becoming his identity.

Was pride, he wondered, anything really but fear? Was it his fear Kronos knew how to destroy?

It became a way out. He would rouse himself unbearably with Cassandra, denying himself the ecstasy with her that he craved. Hunched with pain, he would go to be ridden by Kronos into release.

He hated it.

Why couldn't he be like other men, gain glory and beauty in the sheer friction with flesh. But even if he were like them, it was too late, too late for Cassandra to ever be like other women. When he finally realized that, and what it meant, looking down the long centuries to the future...

He couldn't face himself. He felt trapped in a web every strand of which glistened with the poison of his own soul. What he had made he could not unmake. Cassandra looked at him, inviting him to take her. He touched her, not knowing how to say what he felt, how to show, through the mask that was his face, the anguish of the jaws that closed on him tighter every time he tired to escape into his need for her.

And now he saw that if he ever left Kronos he would have no way to finish his lust but in her. He would be forever caught between her pain and his own.

Ea -- clever and shining -- oh Magician -- help me.

But he didn't believe in the gods any more.

Although this was beginning to feel like some terrible, all too divine, retaliation.

She looked at him uncertainly, now, anxious at his rejection of her, however kindly he tried to perform it. He had almost stopped talking to her as well, feeling so tangled in conflict he could no longer be sure what it was safe to say. One night, finally, she put her hand on his penis, a thing she rarely did, stroking gently up the underside, and with her other arm pulled him down, moving him close into the vee of her thighs. When he tried to pull back her hand closed firm around his cock. His head went back, his eyes closed, mouth open. Wet warm labia thrilled his organ. She released him, seeing his desire, and he looked into her eyes. This was a gift, from her, who had nothing, but knew his need. But the happiness he had had in possessing her was crushed now by this misery that had come upon him. He was no longer what he had been, and didn't understand or like this new, mean thing that stole all his pleasure and left him haunted and wretched just when joy should have been his. He was ashamed to admit, even to her, that his proud lust could be defeated so.

It seemed especially foolish when what he needed she -- he thought -- he was almost sure -- had come to crave.

But the wave of negation engulfed him. He pulled away from her, slowly, touched her cheek in thanks he hoped she understood.

The first time he heard a light joke about his spending a lot of time in his tent, he took a woman. They were on a raid, far from camp, and the return should take three days with slaves to herd. The woman he raped wasn't a virgin. And she wasn't Cassandra. He didn't come. He looked around for another and took the youngest girl of the catch. She was a virgin, and she screamed when he forced his aching cock through her hymen. He gave her enough freedom to fight him, and managed to come on her struggling body, but it was unsatisfying; all he wanted was to be done with it. When she caught him a round clout on the cheek as he withdrew he didn't even bother to strike her, just got up and left her lying in the dust.

"Rapist" she sat up and screamed after him. He turned and looked at her. It was a feeble attempt from someone beside herself with pain and rage and ordinarily it would have seemed as ridiculous as trying to insult him by calling him male. But her wet, dirty face, looking like a child's, twisted up with fury and humiliation and hurt, seemed to raise up a powerful, and powerfully unpleasant, sensation within him. Something he remembered.

And as he turned and hurried away he had another thought.

What would Cassandra say?

He panicked. He could kill the girl -- But everyone had seen him take her, anyone might mention it in front of Cassandra, any of the slaves, any of the other Horsemen. He had done it to keep Cassandra, to prevent anyone from knowing how he had become submerged in her. But --

She would hate that he had done this.

He didn't know how he knew, but there wasn't the slightest uncertainty. She knew how he killed and looted on his raids, and seemed to have blocked that from her mind, in her need for him.

But this....

This girl smeared with blood and dirt and tears and his cum....

She would hate.

If only no one said anything. If no one said anything, he vowed, he would never touch another woman on a raid again, never risk this horror --

...of what she might say.

...of how she might look at him.

...revulsion she might feel toward him.



The same as the unknown girl herself felt.

...how strange.

...as if feelings could crawl from one person to another.

It gave him a creepy feeling, on top of his fear.

He grew more troubled, and distracted.

It came as Kronos dismounted after a perfect raid.

"Come. Let's celebrate. Divide our bounty."

Methos's white clothes were unstained. Too often he had found his hand stayed past the moment of striking by thoughts and doubts he had never known before. He wanted nothing but to be quiet. "You can have my share, I'm tired."

A moment's thought would have told him how fatal it was to reveal indifference to their spoils. He was just so tired of it all, all the need for such pretense... He understood with the clarity of lightning, as soon as Kronos appeared in their tent. And his first words told Methos the form his retribution would take, as the clear eyes fixed on Cassandra kneeling before him, cool damp cloth in hand.

"My compliments, Brother. You taught her well in everything, I see." Kronos would punish his attitude in its implied criticism of Horseman ways; would break any bond he might be forming; would slake curiosity along with other lusts, and affirm dominion again over him. All in one simple act of -- theft! Methos's soul screamed.

"Made quite a prize of her, haven't you?"

"She's no different from the others." He knew it was useless, that nothing would deter Kronos, that all his speech was just to point out the exact nature of the crime Methos would be punished for. And to rub his face in it. His chest felt as if it were being torn open, as he let Cassandra be dragged out the tent door without a sign, without a glance from him, cutting into the sweet fruit she had brought him. Kronos might still kill her, though the first razor edge of danger had passed. All he could do was wait, nauseated with terror. And Cassandra -- He pressed the blade through the flesh and tender skin of the fruit and on, through the skin, the flesh, of his hand, and let his head arch back, turning side to side infinitesimally, in the distraction of the pain. His blood soaked unheeded into the peachy flesh of the fruit, and dripped to the ground mingled with its juices.

They both were pitched into the present with the same violence, as if their minds had ejected them. Methos's head was still back, Cassandra's body was bowed forward, long hair disheveled. She raised up, and in the midst of her darkness her eyes burned.

"Coward!" she flung at him. But she knew, with his awareness, how meaningless the concept had been to him, how clear it all stood -- choose the way that would get you through, alive, it was all that mattered. Anything -- anything -- could be recovered from; but not that final severing. After that, all there was left was to rot.

Anything that blurred that truth was madness, but he had found himself almost catapulted, by need, fear, anguish, into some insane attack. It would have been the end. He knew that. It wasn't the way one survived. He sat stiff and chilled with the horror and inescapability into the night, until he heard her death-scream -- No -- that wasn't her voice --

He surfaced again from the maelstrom like a flailing swimmer, he would not go back, he would not -- it was over, let it stop there, let it die --

-- Oh god he wanted Duncan, wanted to hold him warm and tight against him, hear his voice like rut itself in his ear, like love, the breath of life --

He had seen Kronos dead before but the same panic filled him every time, at the open, glassing eyes, the corpse -- his Teacher, lover, parent, Brother -- panic upon panic this time as he knew Cassandra had now sealed her doom. No. No. He hadn't taught her, he should have told her -- but couldn't she see, that Kronos was Death itself?

But Cassandra wasn't afraid of death.

He closed the staring ice-blue eyes. Waking up dry-blind improved no one's mood.

As Silas and Caspian rushed into the night -- in the wrong direction -- to try to sense her Presence, he waited numbly for Kronos to awake. The dead hands that had held him so exactingly, the face that had been the sun and moon of his universe... Kronos could die now, if someone took his head like this, while he was helpless.

If someone did, Silas and Caspian would be back before the Quickening lightnings died, exacting vengeance. Like some low creeping poison thing that could still kill, after its head had been cut off.

Or he could run... but if they found Cassandra...

The great gasp came, the ice-clear eyes fastened on him, the teeth bared.

"Where is she?" The snarl was beyond anything he had heard from his usually cold, sharp Brother.

"Silas and Caspian are looking for her."

"But not you."

He said carefully, "Someone had to watch till you revived."

"You let her go." Hatred honed his implacable intuition.

"I don't know where she went!"

Kronos sat up in his long bloodsoaked brown tunic and his sword was at Methos's throat. "When was the last time you wished you were dead?"

-- No!

Cassandra was looking at him without comprehension, changing to curiosity, then intention. He felt her impelling him, and tried to escape, but somehow escape turned in exactly the direction he didn't want to go.

He was hanging by his wrists. His feet touched the ground but much of the time he had no strength to stand on them. The last time he'd looked up, his hands were blackened, dead. His naked skin was burned in the sun, never healing till sundown. He'd died more times than he could count, because he couldn't breathe hanging like this, for long, and because each time Kronos passed he sank a blade in him, again, and again, and again. He had slit his belly and wreathed him in his own intestines, left him to scream and die, wake screaming -- Kronos rode out, and scoured the waste to hunt Cassandra, and returned to torment his traitorous Brother. "Where is she?" There was one piece of information he had not revealed, the only thing he knew. Each year the nomads met and feasted at a certain town to trade their cloth and kids and lambs and camel colts for salt, metalware, pots, dried food they could not harvest wild. It was their dazzling holiday. Cassandra might go there, in the spring, he thought. If Kronos knew, he would surely be there looking for her, if he couldn't find her now.

He sewed his throat shut. Blanked his mind. The tiny bead of knowledge was like something sealed within the halo of the pain, the only thing he had to call himself, in the universe of mindless torture. Cassandra --

Each nightfall they'd returned to camp without her, Kronos had stabbed his helpless Brother in the groin. "This is what your bitch owes me!"

He didn't know if he would survive. But each night he felt a wash of hot savage triumph gritty as hatred, that they hadn't found her, under the fear and pain as Kronos rode to him, dismounted and stared into his eyes. It was on the fourth morning that Kronos had cut him open, and rode out to the sound of his shrieks. But they were back at mid-day, and when Kronos came up to him, he only said, "Take him down." He heard another voice say, "Someone will take her head soon enough." For the first time he realized she had gone from him knowing nothing. Easy prey. He could have taught her so much. Someone cut the rope, and Methos fainted and died. He revived while they were winding his guts into his reopened abdominal cavity, writhed, and died again.

Kronos threw him broken into his tent, covered in filth and blood, where after the last healing he lay curled like a beaten child. His mind shied away as it always did from that time, before Kronos, before the feral centuries -- the time when he had been a prisoner, raped and tortured...

It came to him in an aching wave of understanding. This was no different. "Cassandra!" he whispered voicelessly. The purity of his despair was such that though, on some rarified stratum, he knew he was glad she had escaped, he only felt the grief, and wept, and wept, and wept.

Why did Kronos ruin everything? Was there nothing he could allow to exist except himself? His name meant Time, like Time he sought out and destroyed, without exception, all loved things.

This time he had destroyed more than he knew. Though no conscious thought jelled in the puddle of abjection, Methos's whole focus had altered, and if he worked to survive Kronos now, it would not be to coexist, but to escape. Some other world only dimly imagined, so far that Kronos would not follow him ...could there be such a place?

He wanted to be shut of everything that leashed and hindered him. He wanted to make his own life, answer to no one, be left in peace.

Now finally, when it was too late, he knew what it was Cassandra wanted.

When Kronos came to the tent, Methos, on his belly, crept to his feet, and bowed his forehead onto the leather-shod instep. Kronos knelt, and dragged his head up by the hair.

"I didn't get my fill of your woman, Brother."

He pulled the head back further, and leaned in.

"Satisfy me."

This time he returned stretched full-length on the carpet, his hand limp on Cassandra's boot. He lay as if in shock, eyes open but not seeing.

She left him. He felt her mind withdraw, and made a small sound. He rolled onto his stomach and pushed up to his knees.

He looked up. Cassandra. She was safe. He took her in his arms.

She didn't fight or pull away. Gradually he realized where he was. But the warmth in his arms was more than he could bear to lose. He felt as if they were still under only the thin cloth of a Horseman's tent, exposed to every danger of the camp. They were safe. They were safe... His hot mouth found her lips in tender and urgent need like nothing they had shared long millennia past, before kissing was known to him.

With frantic hands he lifted her shirt, and bent to fasten his mouth on her bare breast, sucking and touching his tongue to her nipple, that roughened and became pointed in his mouth. He whimpered and heard her gasp and sigh quickly above him. She rose onto her knees. His hands felt over her hips, her seat, her loins, into her crotch, and finally he unfastened her jeans and tried to feel inside. She was moving against him. He shoved panties and jeans down, trampled them with his knees and lifted her over him. His mouth was pulled from her breast as he ground against her crotch. One arm held her hips to him, his grip like iron, the other palm pressed and moved her breast. The sounds she made pushed him on. His hand smoothed down over her belly, where skin convulsed away, then undulated back into his touch. He slid lower. Her vulva was in his hand. He slipped his middle finger between the hot folds. There was slickness he slid back and forth in, pressing in harder till wetness trebled and denial moaned from her. "No. No..."

He shucked his jeans and bore her down, his hand guiding his hard, thick cock into the threshold of her flesh. "Yes," he hissed breathlessly. "Oh yes!" He moved, and she tightened and cried out. He slid the tip of his penis up over her clit, and she moaned, rolled, began to gasp. He moved the cockhead down... and where he knew it belonged, he pressed it, tight.

"Cassandra." He pressed in. She cried out, again.

"I made you Cassandra. I created your pain. I made your pain for me. For all time, it is mine. Give it to me. Now." He pressed in, hard, harder, felt the tearing and then slid deep; the warm, wet, softly rough interior enfolding him as Cassandra's body flailed around him. He clasped her roughly and thrust, thrust, thrust, and again, and again, taking her as he felt her alternately clutch and hit at him, and finally not touch him at all but just let him piston as her body lifted and locked under him in a shuddering climax that repeated, and repeated and repeated. Unable to control his blind taking, he simply met her there, sliding his swollen organ through her electrically tingling opening, where the membrane was now trying continuously to heal around his ripping incursions. Finally he felt something let go of him, something he hadn't realized till then was there, holding him to the movements that were bringing her again and again and again to satiation.

Shocked, he recoiled an instant, but recognizing her act to be as needful as his grasp on her, he forgot it in the instant's surge into climax, into Cassandra, into oblivion to all but ecstasy as he bucked, and froze, and poured into her his hot coming.

He collapsed slowly, and lay panting on her as she panted under him. It came to him he should move off her but he didn't want to, it was so perfect to feel her... But he moved, a moment later, though keeping his arms around her... not sure if she would want that, but unwilling to leave her body untouched and alone. He wondered if she felt as he did, transported back to a time of youthful pain and passion, "young love" and the springtime smell of it, the horror all around, and their island of wonder in it.

Or had he only raped her once again.

Fear started to encompass him. Whatever had happened, what would she say now? What did she feel?

What would she tell Duncan?

He could kill her...

Swiftly the thought came snaking.

Well, no, he couldn't. A chill touched him at how easily the old solution rose in him. It was, truly, amazing what a variety of problems could be solved that way. They all knew it, all had experienced it, the double thud of a body and a head, and some terror or irritation laid to rest at last.

But he doubted most of them thought it as automatically as he did.

He was used to ignoring it as the background static of his mind. But today it was the stark essence of what damaged goods he would be always. Connected him through any wall of time directly to the Horseman he had been.

It hurt horribly to think what Duncan would feel for the perpetrator of his witch friend's tortures, if he truly knew. But if he saw what I still am...

He sat up, lifting her with him, unable to bear the pain in stillness.

He looked at Cassandra and she was looking back at him, and suddenly he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was having exactly the same thought about him. That if he were dead, he could never tell her beloved Duncan about this debacle of an ending to her quest for vengeance on the slayer and rapist, torturer and traitor. Never tell what she responded to, what the memories brought back to her. He saw the image of his death in her green eyes.

Somehow it made him feel better.

"I won't," he said, as if she had spoken.

She closed her eyes. At last she said, "The body has truths of its own. Below all knowledge or will... I used to want the shape of you in my arms, the scent of you on your clothes when you were away. The first time I saw your face, it was like a shock going through me, how beautiful you were. It seemed an outrage. I hated you for that as well as every other horrible thing you were."

She seemed to shrink into herself.

A ghost of a voice came from her. "I kept waiting for you to come. Expecting you to come through the door of the tent with your sword and kill him. You didn't. You let him rape me.

"Every time I died and revived in the wilderness I thought you must be near, to bring me back to life. But you never came to me.

"When I met my Teacher and learned the truth... When I understood how you had lied to me and kept me in ignorance of my own power...

"Then I knew I had loved and submitted to the murderer of my family...

"...for nothing." Her voice skewed and she was crying, small within his arms, sobbing with the bitterness of her loss, and the agony of abandonment.

And as he had those thousands of years ago, Methos finally knew what it was Cassandra wanted, needed, now; the thing that was so hard for him, the truth as sharp as obsidian, terrifying as Death itself. What he had been unable to say to her even on the point of death, in the submarine base, through steel bars.

"No," he said. "No. No... You've seen what I was.... That I had no... great understanding... That I barely knew... what it meant, to be a human being. But what there was of me --" And it wasn't so hard after all. The words slid from him to her as if a natural link completed. "I loved you. I loved you.

"You taught me that. You revealed to me what honesty was, between people. I hoped for years, to find you, after I left the Horsemen... every spring I went to that place the nomads gathered... but you weren't there.

"My love wasn't worth very much. It was warped and damaging. I know that. But I loved you. You weren't wrong.

"You changed my life. It took three years, but I found a way to leave Kronos, and get away without them following me. You ended the Four Horsemen, because you did love me. I never would have left him, if I hadn't felt that love you gave and all the possibilities in it.

"I gave you no choice, but what you showed me gave me a choice, and all the choices after that.

"You rescued me, you rescued the world from me. That is the truth."

On impulse he added, not knowing where the words came from: "Don't doubt love."

Her throat sounded raw. "Like your love for Kronos?"

"It kept me alive." A shade of his wonted sniping spirit edged the tone. He quieted again. "One thing is certain. If I hadn't loved him for a thousand years, I never would have known how to defeat him." He met her look, again with more of his normal self. "We saved the bloody human race from him. You and I. We brought MacLeod to kill him. Neither one of us alone might have been able to do that.

"Kronos led you to Seacouver, knowing I was here, thinking he could use you to maneuvre me. It was the worst mistake he ever made.

"Remember that." He said it quietly. "The next time you feel like a fool or a traitor." He paused. "It's what I've been doing."

Hesitantly, he touched her face, wiping away some of the tears. He was roiling with the feelings of the past, as she must be, and finding it hard to remember she was not his, to touch as he pleased.

She sat up away from him. Slowly she said, "We are not, and never will be, reconciled. Forgiveness for what you did... Let someone forgive who wasn't there. Let someone forgive who doesn't live with the results of your acts.

"But I didn't know you suffered for my freedom. I thank you for that. For not letting Kronos find me when I couldn't defend myself. I did go to the nomads' gathering. That year, and the next. Not after that." She was silent a moment and he imagined the rejection she must have met with. "You made me understand that the world was worse than I ever thought it could be. Men were not brave. Women were not wise. Nothing was as I had believed, and no one would be true, not even myself. Your boys' games with Kronos would always be the important thing, compared to that my love meant nothing, and your love for me was only a mirage. It shattered my world all over again. Now I know that at least in your own mind, you were not a traitor to me.

"This is fate," she said in a stronger voice. "That you of all people in the history of the world have joined with MacLeod. There is power." The room seemed to grow darker around them, and yet with a nimbus of ghostly light englobing it. "Remember me when you decide how to protect him, old one." Her hair was dark around her intent face, darkness shrouded in that same dim sense of light. "You can't protect him as you would yourself, with deceit and treachery."

"I can only be what I am." The words seemed to belie themselves, and be far more than they were. He felt the exhilarating wind of truth blow through him, as if he were a black vastness answering her deeps.

Suddenly a golden warmth began spreading through his body, the strangest thing he had ever felt, part physical, part emotional. He had no idea where it came from. Out of the darkness... He felt power... safety... equilibrium. A golden temperature. Like an ardent dandelion.

That was odd, he thought, as it began to fade. He was certain it wasn't anything Cassandra had done. It was from himself, his speaking as he had, to her. How very odd.

The other world receded. They were back in a room.

Cassandra made a slight pained, shocked sound.

He looked where she was looking.

There on the beautiful carpet was a two-inch stain of almost-black wet blood.

The color left Methos's face. He breathed. In a strained voice he asked, "Did Duncan happen to mention if Richie's friends are Immortals?"

He pulled up his pants and bolted for the bathroom. In the cabinet under the sink were, thank god, paper towels. He rolled off a huge swatch and tossed the rest to Cassandra. She sopped as much blood as would come up into the dry paper, then took the length he had wet down and scrubbed at what had turned red. Methos was in the cabinets again and found the brown bottle he was willing to be there. He came out and knelt down by her and poured hydrogen peroxide onto the remaining pinkish blood. They waited while it foamed white a few moments, then wiped it up.

They looked closely. The stain was gone.

He let out his breath. "No matter how many times I see it, I never really believe it's going to work."

They had both gone limp. But tension gradually seeped back between them. Cassandra rose. She stood looking down at him.

"There is an innocence in animals," she said. "They don't know what they inflict because their minds can't work that way. Sometimes I think that damned few people's can either." Her green eyes slowly blinked. "To look back, from being a human being, to having been an animal..."

He didn't have to ask what her slight, grim smile meant.

She turned to leave. Then stopped. "Oh. One more thing." She wheeled and there was long glittering steel in her hand, the cold of an old sword against his old, old neck. He gasped and his mouth stayed open. Duncan! -- She moved a little closer, letting the sword slide.

"You saw MacLeod take my sword. Was that the illusion? Or is this?"

It seemed eternal, the blade at his throat, cold judgement standing over him. A female. That and death, the two things he had never been able to try. Together. Such power...

To become Cassandra --

"Don't!" he blurted. Panic and something else. "Don't take me!"

No one. No one should -- No one who --

"You don't want this! Please --!" Why couldn't he find the words? But she looked as if she might know what he was saying --

-- Of course she did. He felt her again in his consciousness, before she withdrew for the last time.

Her expression was unfathomable. The flat of the sword tapped against his neck. Once. Twice.

She turned away and walked to the door and left.

Methos sat looking after her with empty eyes.

End of Part 7

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