Triona's reverie was broken by Stephanie's arrival. She could feel her cousin's presence nearby. Startled, she realized she must have dozed off, because she could see the gray light of pre-dawn out the window. Carefully, she disentangled herself from Methos' sleeping form, gently lowering his head to the pillow.
Wrapping her robe around herself she quietly opened the door to the sitting room, spying Stephanie sprawled on the couch, staring at the ceiling.
"It was bad, Trie," she said quietly.
"Yep, sweetie, I know."
"He told you?"
"He didn't have to." She sat down beside Stephanie on the couch. "I don't know the details though."
"It was awful, Triona. We were only a few days out and came to the Pine River settlement. They'd only left dead bodies behind."
"Raiders?" Stephanie nodded. Triona sighed, "No wonder Methos was so upset."
"They had taken any girls and women of childbearing age and slaughtered the rest. I knew there was a lot of desperation in some communities about procreation, but I had no idea it was this bad." A blood tear slowly rolled down Stephanie's face. Her voice practically a whisper, she continued, "They had even killed the children, the babies. We were all horrified, but Methos lost it. He tossed our mission aside and set us out to find the raiders -- and destroy them."
Triona hugged Stephanie, keeping her arm around her cool shoulders as she continued.
"We trailed them for several days, then, when the sun set, we attacked. They never knew what hit them; they didn't stand a chance against us. Janette and I gorged ourselves. I can barely remember it, just rage and bloodlust. We didn't leave a single one of them alive, all dead."
Triona stroked her hair. "And their prisoners?"
"We rounded them up, most of them were still so much in shock they barely noticed. We put them in the wagons and headed back here."
"I guess we can add them to the orphans LaCroix decided you and Lauren can keep here."
Stephanie sat up, a smile on her face. "We can? He agreed?"
"Uh huh. In fact, we've already started fixing up a dormitory for them. Should be done soon."
"Cool!" Stephanie jumped off the sofa. "I can't believe Lauren convinced him!"
"Well, she did. And she did a wonderful job." Triona got up to look out the window, suddenly quiet. It was almost dawn, almost time to tell Methos.
"What's wrong?" she asked, concerned, knowing when something worried her cousin. "Methos will be okay, he just needs a few days," she reassured, thinking that may be the problem.
"I'm afraid he won't." Triona sighed unhappily. "Cassandra is here, she came in with the latest refugees." Triona waited for Stephanie to settle down, reminding her that Methos was sleeping. "She was to have been gone long before you got back. Now, I have to tell him when he wakes up, and after your experience, this is *not* a good time." She slammed her hand into the stone wall. "I should have taken her head when I had the chance."
"It'll be okay, Triona, as long as we keep them apart. No reason he needs to see her at all really."
"I hope you're right."
In the end, Triona decided she needed moral support. Before Stephanie left for bed, Triona had her take a message to Sarah and Lauren, then to the kitchen staff to have breakfast sent up. She peeked in on Methos, seeing he was still sound asleep. Softly, she closed the door and headed for the shower. As the hot water poured over her, she mulled over what she was going to say, how she was going to tell him. Sighing in frustration, she turned off the water. This wasn't getting her anywhere. As she dried off and dressed, she heard the staff setting up breakfast. By the time she left the bathroom, they were just finishing up.
"Will there be anything else, ma'am?" one asked her.
"No, that's fine," she told them as she eyed the table they had set.
They nodded respectfully before they withdrew.
She took a deep breath, Sarah and Lauren would be here soon, it was time to wake him up. Once more she entered the bedroom, and moved slowly to stand by the bed. Triona hated to wake him; he looked so peaceful lying there. Peace was something of a rare commodity these days. No more delaying, she told herself firmly. You have to get it over with.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, she stroked his arm lightly, calling softly, "Methos, it's time to wake up." She shook him slightly.
He grumbled something unintelligible at her.
"Methos, I know you're tired, but you have to wake up now," she said as she kissed him gently.
"Why?" he grumbled, not opening his eyes.
She avoided the question. "Breakfast is here, all your favorites." She ran her fingers down his chest.
He caught her hands in his. "Food wasn't what I had in mind," he growled, pulling her down and snaking a hand in her hair.
His kiss left her breathless, but she couldn't allow herself to be distracted this morning. Still, it never ceased to amaze her that after all these years; Methos still had the power to reduce her to a quivering mass with just a look, not to mention a kiss.
She broke away. "I'm sorry, but not now. I promise I'll make it up to you." Triona handed him his robe.
"Slave driver," was all he said as he sat up and stretched, pulling on the robe.
Methos followed her out to the breakfast table noting it was set for four and looking at her inquiringly.
"I asked Sarah and Lauren to join us. I thought you'd like that." She didn't quite meet his eyes.
"Thoughtful of you," he told her, wondering what was going on.
He was about to ask when the arrival of the other women interrupted him. Methos hugged each of them in turn. As he released Lauren, he saw a *look* pass between Sarah and Triona. What the hell is going on? Once more, he began to ask, but was bulldozed by an outburst of female chatter that rivaled the noise of a subway at rush hour.
"I'm famished!" Sarah told everyone brightly. "Been too busy to sit down to a decent meal in days. This was such a good idea, Trie!"
"Wasn't it? I'm the same. Rush, rush, rush!" Lauren replied.
"That's what I thought, so this seemed perfect, after all, Methos needed a good breakfast, we needed to catch up, what could be better? So here we all are, and we really should do this more often," Triona said in one long burst, never pausing for breath.
Methos watched and listened, bemused. He had no idea how they managed to talk as much as they did and still eat. Though, he noted they didn't eat very much, mostly pushed the food around their plates. Something was up, no doubt about it; he could read them like books. Then, they all stopped talking at once, looking at each other, then at him, then down at their plates.
"All right, that is enough," Methos said quietly into the sudden silence. "I want to know what is going on, and I want to know now." He swept a piecing gaze over all three women. "Now, which one of you is gong to tell me?" His tone was low, but it was one they all knew better than to trifle with.
Lauren, seeming to have found a sudden fascination with her plate, started to drag her fork through the maple syrup. Sarah fussed with her napkin, and Triona looked like she'd rather be out in the noonday sun, anywhere but here.
"Fine. I'll pick one. Triona, since you left me the note, you will tell me what is going on. Now."
Triona gulped a little, looking at the others for support. Sighing, she nodded. "Yes, Methos." Pulling her chair closer, Triona took his hand in hers. "A new group of refugees showed up a few days ago." She paused, still not knowing how to tell him.
"Yes?" Methos prompted.
"This isn't easy for me to have to tell you." She would have gotten up to pace, but Methos tightened his grip on her hand, keeping her where she was.
"Just tell me."
Taking a deep breath, she finally said, "I'm sorry, but Cassandra was with them. And she's still here, in the compound." She squeezed his hand. "I'm sorry," Triona said again, her voice unsteady.
Triona winced a little as his hand unconsciously tightened on hers. She looked at the other women worriedly, waiting for him to react.
"Methos?" Lauren asked tentatively, concerned.
He didn't seem to hear her, lost in his own dark memories.
"She is out in the compound, you never have to see her," Sarah offered. "And she'll be gone for good in a few days. Triona has it all arranged, it will all be all right," she told him, trying to get some reaction.
"I'm sorry," Triona apologized, "I should have never listened to Duncan. Never agreed to wait for even a few days." She shook her head in despair. "This is all my fault."
"No, it isn't!" Lauren objected. "It was a good plan. There was no way for you to know what would happen."
Sarah looked concerned. He was still silent, maybe he was angry with them. "Lauren's right, Methos. It isn't anyone's fault, we all agreed that Triona's plan seemed the best for us and for the refugees we have to turn out. Please don't be angry."
Triona couldn't stand it anymore. "Methos, please!" she pleaded.
He started, as if suddenly realizing they were there. "It's okay, love," he said, running his fingers down her cheek. He looked at the others. "I don't blame any of you, I know you've all done the best you can in horribly difficult circumstances," Methos said reassuringly.
Their shoulders slumped in relief. Getting up from their seats they smothered him in a group hug.
"I do not know why you don't just kill her and be done with it." LaCroix leaned back in his chair, his legs outstretched.
"You know why, Lucien," Methos snapped, taking another swallow of his scotch.
"Ah, yes. Your guilt." LaCroix smirked. "How quaint."
Methos glowered and slumped a little farther into the sofa. "I don't want to hear it. It has nothing to do with you!"
"It has everything to do with me," he corrected his old friend. "If it concerns Triona -- and anything that affects you affects her -- it is my concern as well." LaCroix considered for a moment, refilling his wineglass. "Did you know that Triona actually pulled a blade on her? Would have challenged the wretched woman, had MacLeod not interfered. It would appear your *guilt* has infected her as well," he finished, his voice tinged with disgust.
"Guilt has nothing to do with it," he snapped at the vampire who just quirked a brow in disbelief. Methos shook his head. "Cassandra's fate is not something uppermost in my mind most days. But whatever her eventual fate, I don't want Triona to have any part in it! Don't you understand?"
"Then you'd best make sure that the you keep Triona well away from her. She would separate that woman's head from her neck in an eye blink if she thought you were threatened," he informed him. "And I would think twice before getting between them again should they decide to fight."
"It won't come to that. Duncan is keeping a close eye on Cassandra -- there will be no more incidents."
"I wish I shared your confidence," -- LaCroix drained his glass -- "because this is an explosion just waiting for a spark to set it off."
Methos covered his face with his hands, groaning something unintelligible before smashing his fist back against the sofa. "Damnit! How many Immortals could Triona have befriended? And out of all those, she stumbles across Cassandra! And now she shows up here. Not even World War Three can keep that woman from bedeviling me."
LaCroix looked thoughtful. "Why does it matter so much?" he asked softly with no hint of his usual acerbic tone. "Cassandra here and now, or in the past, doesn't change Triona's love for you. You should realize that by now," he chided the ancient Immortal.
"Cassandra is a face on my past. It's one thing intellectually to accept, but quite another for it to be a real woman that you've come to care for." Methos' jaw clenched. "And what kind of a face would my past have if Triona had Cassandra's Quickening? I won't risk that, Lucius. I won't risk her."
"You worry too much, old friend. Triona accepts my nature and her feelings for you wouldn't change no matter what residual, amorphous knowledge she might receive from a Quickening."
The other man shook his head. "It's not that simple, and you're fooling yourself if you think it is!" He waved away LaCroix's protest. "Yes, she accepts your nature...now. But you've changed, Lucius. Circumstances, time, changed you, as they have us all. Be honest, what would you have done if you'd met Triona a century, or two, or three ago?"
Looking away, he replied, "I don't know."
"Liar! You know very well - and so does she, you're fool if you think she doesn't - she wouldn't have lived more than few nights at best." Methos shook his head. "I know you, Lucius, like I know myself. We took what we wanted and used it up because we could, because we ached for the feeling of power it gave us. The man you were would have utterly consumed her, because total possession was the only way you knew to get you what you craved. Whether you'd drained her or brought her across, the result would have been the same."
"It is foolhardy to wonder what one would do, or what one would have done, Methos. I prefer to concentrate on the here and now - and so should you," he said pointedly.
The Immortal laughed. "The here and now is highly overrated."
Triona grumbled and muttered, hunting through her closet for the third time. No, it was no use. It wasn't there. "Damn it, Terese, if you don't stop taking my clothes I swear I'll..." she slammed the closet door shut, "I'll..."
"Having a bad day are we, Triona?" LaCroix's smooth voice interrupting her stream of choice words on just what she would do to her sister one of these fine days.
Triona whirled, glaring. "And when do we have any other kind?" she said a little more forcefully than she had intended. One look at LaCroix's face told her she had better backtrack and fast. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap. It's just I've been worried about Cassandra, and Methos coming home and well...." she trailed off, sighing. She rubbed her temples tiredly, hoping that LaCroix would accept her apology.
Suddenly he was there, tilting her head up. "You know how much I dislike your fits of temper," LaCroix reminded her. Triona shivered a little at the implacable look in his eyes.
"I am sorry, really I am. It was just the last straw in a rotten day." She decided total honesty was her best hope. "I wanted to wear my black cashmere sweater to dinner tonight. The one you gave me in Edinburgh that time...do you remember?"
LaCroix smiled slightly, letting go of her chin, "I do indeed, my dear. I remember the Highland air heightened your *appetites* considerably." His eyes weren't quite as implacable anymore, and Triona breathed a silent sigh of relief. "One day, when the world settles, we must go again." He brushed his lips lightly over hers, before returning to the subject at hand, "So, you wanted to wear the sweater?"
Triona swore silently to herself. Damn, I should have known that wouldn't be the end of it!
"Yes. And I looked and looked. But of course I couldn't find it, because Terese took it." Triona started to get irritated all over again.
"Terese took your sweater?"
"Yes!" She gulped. "Yes, she did," she said more quietly. "She's always borrowing my clothes -- that sweater in particular. And it goes so well with my pearls and well, it just irritates me no end," Triona finished, pouting.
LaCroix's reaction was not what she expected. Anger, annoyance, but not -- laughter. "It isn't funny," she protested. "How would you like it if Methos ransacked your closet on a regular basis?"
That seemed even funnier to LaCroix, causing him to laugh harder. Triona just pouted some more and looked at him truculently.
"Ah, my dear, if you only could see your face! Do you know how amusing it is that you object to sharing articles of clothing, considering what you *have* shared all these years?" LaCroix asked her, shaking his head in amused disbelief.
Triona crossed her arms. "That's different!" The humor of the situation started to get to her too, her lips curling a little in a small smile. "Besides, you have to have your priorities straight. There are some things a girl just won't share -- my cashmere sweater being one of them."
"Are you comparing Methos and myself to your sweater?" LaCroix asked in mock offense.
Triona attempted to look haughty. "Not at all. There is no comparison. I won't share my *sweater*!" On 'sweater', she lost it, beginning to giggle.
"Then I suppose I'll have to work on becoming a worthy comparison, " he told her, his voice low. LaCroix's lips on hers, and the delicate scrape of his fangs against the soft flesh, stopped her laughter and all thoughts of sweaters.
The sun had just set and Triona, desperate for some fresh air, had climbed the many steps up to the top of the turret. She leaned over the edge, watching the lights in the valley settlement come on one by one. This view always reminded her of how important what they were doing here was. Her people, her family, her past and her future; it was all there spread out below her.
Straightening at the feel of an Immortal's buzz, she turned, her hand making a smooth, unconscious move to the hilt of her sword, and waited to see who it was. "Duncan?" she called out, seeing his familiar silhouette in the twilight. "What are you doing up here?"
"Looking for you," he admitted.
Sliding down the wall to sit on the floor, she patted the space next to her. "Take a seat."
Joining her, Duncan placed a companionable arm around her shoulders. "Did it help?"
Laughing softly, Triona shook her head. "Am I that predictable?"
"Only to those that love you." Duncan squeezed her shoulder. "Remember, in Seacouver, how you'd always sit on the roof of the Dojo when you were troubled?"
"Yeah, a million years ago."
"Let it go, Triona."
She didn't pretend not to know what he was talking about. "She was my friend, Duncan. Or I thought she was."
"She was," Duncan said firmly. "I spent the day with her. I think a part of her regrets what happened. Maybe, if you talked to her...."
"That's what got me in trouble before! I should have listened to Methos...."
San Francisco: Autumn 2036
Triona stood under a cypress tree, looking out at the sea of white crosses that stretched before her. Farther out, past the borders of the Presidio military cemetery, fog floated like smoke around the towers of Golden Gate Bridge, edging ever closer to land. The spotlights that illuminated the bridge cast odd shadows in the damp night sky.
She watched Sage...Cassandra, approach her from the road. Methos would kill her if he found out she'd arranged to meet Cassandra - Holy Ground or no. But she had to. Sage was her friend. She couldn't just turn her back on her without any explanation.
The other woman drew up to where Triona stood. Neither said anything.
Taking a deep breath, Triona finally spoke. "Thank you for coming. I wasn't sure if you would."
"I'm surprised he let you," Cassandra replied coolly.
"Actually, he doesn't know I'm here," she admitted. "He didn't want me to see you again." That was an understatement, she thought. Methos had been adamant that not only would she not see Cassandra again, but that they would leave town immediately. He seemed to think that Cassandra was a danger to her - something that Triona refused to believe.
Laughing with no humour, she moved closer. 'I'm sure he doesn't want you anywhere near me!" Cassandra looked at her intently. "But I'm glad you came. You're my friend and you deserve to know about the man you're married to."
"Cassandra...." Triona began.
"No, listen to me. I know you love him, but you need to know!"
"Cassandra!" This time, she said it with much more force, forestalling the other woman. "I do know. I know everything." A part of Triona wanted to wrap her arms around her friend. But she knew such a gesture wouldn't be welcomed.
"He told you?" Triona nodded silently. "About his past, Kronos..." she practically choked on the name.
"Yes," she almost whispered. "Kronos, the Horseman, your village, what he... did to you." Triona shook her head. The pain on Cassandra's face stabbed at her heart. "All of it, Cassandra, all of it."
Cassandra stiffened, her expression growing hard. "He didn't just tell you after we met at the restaurant, did he?" Her question was more like an accusation.
"No," she admitted, shaking her head slightly. "I was Duncan's student when Kronos found Methos again. It was only fate that you and I didn't meet then, I suppose. After it was all over, he told me what had happened. He didn't hold anything back."
"How could you?" Cassandra shook her head in disbelief. "I thought I knew you. But I don't know anything about you!" she cried.
"Nothing's changed, Cassandra!" Triona wanted to reach the other woman somehow. She knew it was too much to expect that they could remain friends. But god, she hoped they wouldn't end as enemies. "Our friendship wasn't a lie. You must know that!"
"No!" she accused. "My friend would have never stayed with, let alone married, a murdering bastard like Methos!" Cassandra was panting. "I can't even comprehend how the woman I thought I knew could do any such thing."
Triona closed her eyes tiredly. This was degenerating fast, and she didn't know if it was possible to salvage anything at all. "Stop, Cassandra, this isn't getting us anywhere. I won't defend myself to you because I love my husband. He's a good man," she said quietly.
"Good man?" The older woman made an outraged sound. "You have no idea what it's like to be...violated. To have your family killed in an instant, destroyed, and your entire life ripped apart in terror."
She stiffened at Cassandra's verbal attack, pushing back dark memories of Divia and Hakeem. Now she was angry too, despite her promise to herself to stay calm. "Do you think you have the market cornered on suffering, Cassandra? Just because I'm young, that somehow I couldn't possibly understand what it was you went through? That I haven't been in that place where all you can hope for is to finally be allowed to die; to escape the torment?" Brushing away angry tears, she put her hand against the cypress for support. "No, I guess you didn't know me at all."
"Then why? If you do understand, then it's even more inconceivable to me!"
"Why bother? You don't want to hear what I have to say. You don't want to hear about the man *I* know. How he's saved my life and my sanity, on more than one occasion. How he's loved me and filled that empty place in my soul that I didn't even know was there." Clasping her arms across her chest, she took a deep breath.
Cassandra laughed bitterly. "You are so naive. You think he loves you? Maybe you're right; maybe he does in some small, selfish part of him. But you're deluding yourself if you think he'd put you before his own survival!"
"This is pointless," the young Immortal said in exasperation. "I should have never come. I thought I needed to at least try, but I was wrong." She'd been a fool to come here. What could have possibly possessed her to imagine she could try and affect something that happened in a time so long ago that it was barely comprehendible?
"You told me that you were in Seacouver when Kronos found Methos?" Triona nodded warily. "Then think about this: what do you think would have happened if Kronos had gotten to you first? Do you honestly think that Methos would have lifted a finger to save you?" Cassandra didn't wait for an answer, pushing past Triona, leaving her alone in the fog...
"And did you think about it?" Duncan asked his former student.
Triona peered up at him. "Do you *really* want to discuss this, Duncan? After all, you were less than forgiving in the beginning," she reminded him gently. In fact, Duncan had told Methos to stay away from Triona if Duncan were to continue training her. Thankfully, it was only a few months before Methos and Mac had begun some rapprochement, but it had been an unpleasant few months for Triona.
At first she'd refused to go back to Duncan with the conditions he'd attached. But Methos had made her see reason, convincing her that he wanted what was best for her, and that was for the Highland Scot to finish her training. Triona hadn't been happy about it, but she'd agreed to go back.
Duncan sighed. "No, not really. But I know you, and I will bet you that you barely allowed yourself to dwell on Cassandra's question, let alone talk to Methos about it."
"Guilty as charged." She shifted her legs into a more comfortable position. "What was I supposed to do? Walk up to my husband and drop it into our breakfast conversation? 'Oh, by the way, Cassandra wants to know if you would have protected me from Kronos?' Yeah, that would have been great."
"I don't know how two people who have been together as long as you can just ignore so many major issues." Duncan shook his head.
"Damn it, Duncan, Methos was hurting and he was vulnerable. How could you expect me to bring up a subject that would most definitely bring him more pain?" Triona jumped to her feet, hands on her hips. "Just to make me feel better? To reassure myself that he loves me totally and unflinchingly? I am *not* that self-absorbed, thank you very much!"
Reaching a hand up to her, Duncan drew her back down to sit in front of him. "You're too damn good by half for him, you know that, don't you?" he asked fondly, tapping her nose.
"You're just biased because I'm a girl," she accused good-naturedly. Tilting her head slightly, she chewed her bottom lip, thinking.
"But you did think about it at least a little, didn't you?" the Scot asked softly.
"Of course I thought about it, Duncan." She sighed. "And you know what my answer was?" Duncan shook his head. "That I just don't know."
"That's brutally honest," he told her, squeezing her hand.
"I think he would have done his best in that convoluted manipulative way of his. But at the time, I think he would have thought the best way to protect me was for him to stay alive. " Triona shrugged tiredly. "Methos saved me from Hakeem, but it wasn't pleasant."
Snorting, Duncan said, "That's an understatement! He stabbed you to death with your own dagger!"
Patting his knee reassuringly, Triona continued, "I won't tell you that the whole experience wasn't horrifying, but he did it to save me. And he did, that's what counts. I forgave him, remember?"
"And then you married him."
"And then I married him," Triona agreed, smiling. "Do you know that when he asked me, I said it was redundant?" She chortled. "He was so mad!"
Duncan joined Triona's laughter. "I remember Methos telling me about that. I could *hear* you telling him."
"And just what else has Methos told you about me?" Triona tapped her finger on the stone, arching one expressive eyebrow.
"Only how he can't believe how lucky he is that you love him." He stroked her cheek, smiling gently. "You both are lucky. I remember the night I walked you down the aisle. I envied that look of absolute love that you had only for him."
"Oh, Duncan." Triona threw her arms around him, sniffling. The buzz of another Immortal made Duncan stiffen. "It's Methos," she whispered, smiling against his ear.
"I think this is where I tell you to unhand my wife," Methos' sardonic voice floated in the Montana night. The lamp he held illuminated the small roof of the turret.
"Do I have to?" Duncan asked with mock regret, sitting back and looking up at Methos with twinkling eyes.
"Oh yes, you do." Methos took Triona's hand, pulling her to her feet. "Take this." He thrust the lamp at Duncan. "Now for you," he said in a low, heated voice, pulling her into his arms.
Matching his tone, she asked, "Is this the bit where you ravish me?" Her arms snaked around his neck, her fingers skimming into his hair.
"Okay, now I know it's time to go," the Scots Immortal said mostly to himself. "You two have fun."
"Not a problem, Mac," Methos answered, laughing softly.
"Love you, Duncan," she called out airily, giggling as he squeezed her shoulders and pressed a kiss onto the top of her head before exiting the turret roof and leaving the two lovebirds alone.
"So here we are," Methos said against her lips, pulling her closer.
"All alone." He tickled her along the ribcage, making her twitch.
"Always the observant one," she teased.
"Just watch it, miss! Need I remind you that you're all alone with me up here, and I caught you in the arms of another man?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," she replied wickedly.
Snorting, he smacked her lightly on the bottom. "What I put up with!"
"What *you* put up with?" She tossed her head.
"Yeah, whatever," he said, laughing. Suddenly serious, Methos looked into her eyes. "Promise me you'll stay away from Cassandra."
Shaking her head, she began, "I can't promise..."
"Yes, you can. I'm not asking you not to defend yourself if it comes to that, you know that." She nodded. "But I am asking you to walk away if you can. Please."
"Damnit, Methos, whatever you might be thinking, I honestly don't want her dead!"
"I know you don't. But I also know how things can spiral out of control, especially when it comes to you and Cassandra. You two have a history after all, not to mention your habit of being less than honest with me when it comes to your dealings with her."
There was no accusation in his voice, but nevertheless, Triona winced a little at the not so subtle reminder of the last time she and Cassandra had crossed paths.....
Heidelberg, Germany: Winter 2037
Triona glanced at her watch as she entered Methos' office at the University of Heidelberg. Five thirty p.m., not as late as she thought she'd be. She'd gotten totally engrossed in her latest project, totally forgetting she was supposed to meet Methos at his office before meeting up with Duncan and Amanda in Frankfurt for dinner. Fortunately, Methos knew what a space cadet she could be, she thought, smiling to herself. His phone call an hour before, with an amused, "You've forgotten, haven't you?" had brought her back to reality with a snap.
But she was here now - thought it appeared Methos was not. His secretary, Marta, looked apologetic as she explained, "I'm sorry, Dr. York, but he had a last minute staff meeting to attend. He asked if you would mind waiting for him here, or, if you prefer, you could go on to Frankfurt without him, and he'll meet you and your friends at the restaurant."
Triona sighed. All that rushing around to get ready and it turned out *she* wouldn't be the one to make them late. She briefly considered going on ahead, but noticed Marta surreptitiously looking at her watch.
"Why don't you go home, Marta, " Triona suggested. "I know your children would like to have their mother home on time." She smiled at Marta's look of relief. "I can hold down the fort till Brandon gets back."
"Are you sure it would be all right?" the woman asked, looking torn.
"Of course it will, Marta, " Triona said soothingly. "Now, I insist you leave! No arguments."
"Thank you, Doctor. I really do appreciate it. My son is singing a solo at his school recital tonight and..."
"And you need to be there," she finished for her. "Now, shoo!"
She quickly gathered her coat and purse, thanking Triona yet again on her way out the door. "Oh, I almost forgot!" Marta stopped in the doorway. "An envelope came for Professor York just before you arrived; delivered by messenger. Would you make sure he sees it when he comes back?"
"I'll make sure, Marta," Triona assured her husband's worried secretary.
Finally, she was gone, and Triona shut the door quietly behind her before making her way to the back of the small reception room, pushing open the door to Methos' equally small office. Dropping gracefully into the leather upholstered chair behind the desk, she took a deep breath, sinking into the cushioned depths of the large old chair. With the edge of her foot, she pushed against the desk, spinning back and forth idly, wondering how long Methos would be. Stopping, she looked out the window to the left of the desk, watching the lights twinkle in dark.
She liked it here in Heidelberg, liked listening to Methos as he regaled her with stories of his time here at the very same university as a medical student centuries before. Everything seemed so peaceful, even normal. But Triona knew it was a false calm. The world was becoming a more and more unsettled place, with wars and rumours of war. She knew too, that Methos and LaCroix were concerned and were talking about taking measures to safeguard them all should the worst befall. But even those worries seemed far away to Triona tonight, watching the lights of Heidelberg. Right now, in this moment, she was happy. And she intended to hold on to that happiness with every fiber of her being.
Turning away from the window, she glanced over the desk, shaking her head in amused despair at Methos' bits and pieces strewn over every visible surface of the desk. Now where was that special delivery envelope that Marta had told her about? Ah hah! There it was, perched precariously on a pile of books and data pads. Rescuing it from its less than stable perch, Triona looked at it curiously. The handwriting on the envelope looked oddly familiar she thought, biting her lower lip as she tried to place it.
Realization dawned and a cold hand clutched at her heart as, without thinking, she ripped the envelope open. The cold hand turned to ice as she read the enclosed note. Leaping from the chair, the envelope falling unnoticed to the floor, Triona crushed the piece of paper in her hand violently, hurling it against the far wall. She practically flew out of the office, only stopping long enough to leave a note for Methos: 'Gone on to Frankfurt. See you soon. Love, T'. Her hand hovered over the note, as she battled with guilt at the lie it contained. Well, it would be true, she reasoned with her little accusing voice. She would take care of this once and for all, and then she would meet Methos in Frankfurt as promised.
Satisfied with her rationalization, Triona squared her shoulders and taking a deep breath, walked out of the office, closing the door with a snap behind her.
Parking on the street above Heidelberg Castle, deserted in the winter night, Triona's hands tightened on the steering wheel. She'd never sought out a fight before. Oh, she'd battled other Immortals, but only when threatened. This was different somehow; she was going to do battle with someone that had been a friend, and if she had to, kill her. She knew what LaCroix would say, "If you're going to kill, do so without regret, and without doubt." And what would Methos say? Her hands trembled against the steering wheel. Oh, god, what Methos would say? Did he even have to find out? Could she lie to him?
No time for that now and no place for doubt of any kind. She had to focus on what lay ahead. In the months since her last meeting with Cassandra, Triona had managed to put everything back in its proper mental compartment. And had even convinced herself that it was over, that Cassandra would leave well enough alone. What Methos thought, Triona hadn't asked. As a couple, they'd always excelled at avoiding troublesome topics; Cassandra had just been one more to add to the list. Triona knew that a part of her resented the intrusion Cassandra had made into her life with Methos; not that the woman had become involved in her life with any ulterior motives. It had all been so innocent. Triona knew it wasn't fair, or sensible, but that was how she felt. And now, Cassandra was back. But this time, it wasn't innocent; the note she'd sent to Methos proved that.
Triona took a few deep breaths before getting out of the car. Instinctively, she felt for the comforting length of her sword, hidden in its sheath in her long wool coat. Squaring her shoulders, she slowly made her way down the steps that led to the castle gardens. She knew exactly where she was going; she and Methos had spent many happy summer evening hours strolling through the castle grounds and gardens. Unerringly, she made her way to the bottom terrace to the twin ponds and the hedges that made the spot private and secluded.
Cassandra had chosen well, she thought as she smoothly pulled her sword from its hiding place, slowly blocking out the surrounding area, refreshing the memories of summer walks, letting her feet remember the dips in the frozen lawn and cracks in the paving stones. Then she felt what she'd been waiting for - the touch of an Immortal's buzz. Silently she watched the other woman approach. It was a dark night, with no moon. Only the indirect light of some nearby light posts and ground lighting illuminated their battleground. This was to Triona's advantage, her night vision enhanced by her vampiric mutation.
Finally, Cassandra was only a few feet from her, and Triona watched with grim amusement as a look of surprise crossed her opponent's face. "Not quite who you were expecting?" she asked sardonically. "What can I say? I'm nosey. I have this really bad habit of opening Methos' mail."
Cassandra seemed taken aback at the unforeseen turn in her plans. "You aren't supposed to be here."
"Life's a bitch, isn't it?" Triona replied with a none too friendly smile on her face. "Shall we?" She gestured with her sword.
The other woman took a step back. "You don't want to do this," she told Triona in a soft voice, looking at her opponent intently. "Walk away."
"As Jabba the Hut said, your Jedi mind tricks won't work on me." Triona strode across the distance between her and Cassandra. "Let me show you how it's done." They locked eyes, and Triona's voice took on a different timbre. "Just relax, Cassandra. You're so tired, you don't want to fight. Do you?" She reached out with her free hand, running one finger softly down Cassandra's cheek. "There now, that's it, just breath, relax." The finger traced the line of her jaw, brushing down to rest against the pulse that beat there.
Triona felt a guilty thrill, as gently but inexorably, the tendrils of her control flowed across Cassandra's mind. The other woman struggled against the unexpected assault, and Triona could feel her anger and her fear. To master another in this way, especially a mind as strong as the other Immortal's, was a feeling like nothing else. There were few times that she could truly be at one with her Vampire nature, and this was one of them. It was as if her blood was on fire with emotion and power, heady and addictive.
She took a shuddering mental breath, releasing her hold over Cassandra with a snap. Whether she could have mastered Cassandra totally was something she'd never know. Ironically, it was Cassandra's attempt to mentally control her that had exposed the older woman to Triona's power, leaving her vulnerable to something she couldn't have possibly expected. And no doubt, the woman would have been able to resist Triona's mental machinations once she'd gathered her wits. Perhaps, perhaps not. She was, after all, LaCroix's creation and had been studious in learning to utilize the powers she did have to offset the vulnerabilities of her mutation.
Quickly stepping back, Triona raised her sword. "There will be no mind tricks for either of us, Cassandra. This is going to be a fair fight with no extras."
For a moment, she was unsteady as she shook off the remnants of Triona's mental attack. "Why are you doing this? My battle isn't with you!" Cassandra began to warily circle Triona.
She followed suit, with a bark of laughter. "You can't really believe that! Did you think I'd let you walk away if you somehow managed to kill him? That I wouldn't hunt you down, no matter how long it took?" Triona was beginning to think that Cassandra had thought exactly that. How could the other woman have misjudged her so thoroughly? She shook her head sharply. "Why couldn't you just leave this alone? Why couldn't you leave us alone? Why, Cassandra? The woman I knew, the woman that was my friend had a complete life; friends, work, a future. She would have left well enough alone!"
"What, Triona? Forgive and forget? I'm sorry I can't oblige!"
"And I'm not asking you to! It's none of my business! I wouldn't presume to tell you to forgive, let alone forget. Your heart is yours. But you have to understand, the world has moved on. Methos has moved on. And part of that moving on includes me, and his family and friends." Triona's voice rose. " I won't, I can't, allow you to destroy my home and my family no matter what justification you may have to do so!
"You don't understand!" she replied in desperate, low voice. "You could never understand," she declared, her voice now full of anger.
"You're so wrong, Cassandra." She shook her head wearily. "Give me your word that you'll leave us alone, that you'll stop this now, and we can both walk away." Triona didn't hold out much hope that she would do so, but she held her breath, waiting for what she prayed would be agreement.
Emotions chased across Cassandra's chiseled face, as if she were waging some internal battle. Then she shook her head. Triona's heart sank even before the words fell into the cold night. "I can't."
It was time to end it once and for all. Triona didn't wait, throwing herself into battle, her sword crashing into Cassandra's with a sound like shattering ice. It took only seconds for them to be fighting in earnest, neither of them offering quarter. Blades locked, Triona shoved the other woman back, causing her to stumble. As Cassandra regained her footing, Triona pulled back slightly, reassessing her strategy. That was when the buzz of another Immortal hammered at both of them.
"Methos," Triona whispered under her breath, a tumult of emotions assaulting her - both hers and his.
He stopped midway on the steps, to the left of where Triona stood, hands in his coat pockets. "Subterfuge was never your strong suit," he said calmly, glancing at his wife. He walked down a few more steps. "You shouldn't leave the evidence just lying around."
The voice was calm, but she knew he was furious with her. What did you expect? she asked herself. But Cassandra swiftly interrupted her thoughts. The other woman, recovering from her surprise, swiftly moved towards where Methos stood on the steps. "Oh no you don't! You're fighting me!" She threw herself between Methos and the advancing Immortal. "Or had you forgotten that, Cassandra?"
"I've forgotten nothing!" she hissed, looking past Triona to where Methos stood behind her.
"Then let's get this show on the road, because you're going to have to get through me first!"
"Enough!" Methos snarled. "This is over, right now."
Triona heard a familiar snick behind her. She didn't need to see him to know that one of those hands that he'd had in his pockets now held a gun. "Methos, you can't," she began to protest.
"Don't you dare tell me I can't interfere, Triona! You lost that right when you started this little adventure of yours." His voice was withering in its rebuke and she winced inwardly.
"How typical," Cassandra said. "Fine, you don't want her to fight your battles for you, then don't. Fight me now, or I fight her." She moved closer to Triona. "It's very simple. Or are you too much of a coward? At least she," Cassandra pointed at Triona, "has the courage to face me."
Methos just laughed. "You don't have to tell me my wife has courage, I know that. And don't you think taunting me about cowardice is just a little too grade school playground?"
Cassandra snorted. "What's it to be, Methos?"
"I'd think that would be obvious. No one is going to die here tonight, at least not permanently. You're going to leave quietly, and we'll do the same."
"And if I don't?" she asked, quirking one expressive eyebrow.
"Then I'm going to shoot you," came the simple reply.
Cassandra shook her head, laughing with no humour before lunging towards them with no warning. Triona began to react to the attack, but a gunshot, muffled by a silencer, made any defense unnecessary. Cassandra collapsed to the ground at her feet.
Triona whirled, her sword still in its defensive position. "And you think that fixes this?" she asked angrily.
"Yes," he snapped. "And now, you are coming with me." It wasn't a request; it was a command. And Triona bristled at the tone, the adrenaline from her interrupted fight still racing through her.
"The hell I am! If you think I'm going to let her just come after you again, then you've totally lost your mind, Methos!" She was so angry, her words came out in pants.
"Damnit, Triona!" Methos was equally enraged. "What part of me telling you to not pull these sorts of stunts don't you understand? How do you think I'd feel if she'd killed you?"
"It wasn't a consideration. I would have won - and I still can, if you'd just butt out!"
Methos shook his head in disbelief. "Just like that."
"I'm good, you know I am. Besides, I have a lot to live for." She tilted her head back towards where Cassandra lay. "She only has a lot to die for. It makes a difference," she said, her voice now quiet. Suddenly, she was very tired and her hand, grasping the sword hilt, trembled.
Wearily, he closed his eyes, scrubbing at his hair in agitation. When he looked at her again, he held out his hand to her. "We're going home now. Come on."
Still she hesitated. "Methos..."
"Triona," he warned, his voice once again becoming stern, "don't push your luck."
"Or what? You'll shoot me?" Once the words were out, she regretted them. At the look in his eyes, she wanted nothing more than to take her ill considered taunt back.
"Do you really want to find out?" he replied coolly.
She didn't answer immediately, carrying on an internal debate as to whether he really would shoot her if she didn't cooperate.
The debate was interrupted by an exasperated, "Yes, I would."
Glaring, Triona ignored the still extended hand, and pushed past the ancient Immortal in offended silence, his soft laughter behind her only making her feel more persecuted. He came up to walk beside her not saying a word, but she knew if she looked at him, he'd have that damn smug smirk on his face.
They walked for a few more minutes, Triona stubbornly refusing to speak to him, or even look at him. Finally she blurted out, "I hate you sometimes."
'I hadn't noticed," was the nonchalant reply.
"No, I don't suppose you would have," she muttered.
'Hey!" Methos grasped her arm, pulling her to a halt. 'I'll take you hating me over standing at your grave any day."
She stamped her foot in exasperation. "I'm so pleased you have so much confidence in my abilities!" Pulling out of his grasp, she stomped away angrily.
Behind her, Methos growled in frustration. "In case you've forgotten, I'm the one that's supposed to be angry here! You were the one that opened my mail, you're the one that lied to me about going on to Frankfurt, you're the one who stuck your nose in something that wasn't any of your business!"
She stopped abruptly, whirling to face him, Methos almost crashing into her at the unexpected action. "You always have an comeback for everything, don't you? Well, Mr. Ancient Smarty Pants, how long do you think it's going to take for Cassandra to show up at our front door or to waylay you on your way home from work one night? Well? At least my way, you'd have been safe!" She swallowed back the tears that threatened to fall with some effort. "I'd rather lie to you a thousand times than stand at *your* grave!"
Pulling her into a hard embrace, he said softly, 'It's going to be okay, love."
"You don't know that." The anger was gone and all that remained was the sadness.
"This time I do. We're going back to Montana, to the Keep."
Triona was surprised at the sudden decision. She knew Methos and LaCroix had discussed it, but hadn't realized they thought things were dangerous enough to warrant such a sudden move. "Do you think things are that bad?"
"I do, and so does Lucien. We need to have a safe place to sit this out, all of us." Methos sighed tiredly. "While we've both been through a few collapses of civilization, this will be the first where we could be vaporized. We'll be safer in the mountains."
"If it's even possible to be safe in such times," she whispered.
Methos didn't answer as she sank against the solid weight of his body, their arms wrapping around each other, as if warding off all the troubles of the world.
"Nothing's changed, Methos," she whispered. "I will still do anything I have to not to stand at your grave."
He sighed, stepping away from her. "If you can't give me your word, love, then you leave me no choice."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked suspiciously, grabbing his wrist before he could turn away.
He looked at her, his expression a mixture of love and resolve. "I won't risk you in a fight with her. I'll challenge her here and now to prevent you from doing so."
Triona searched his eyes and realized he meant it. "No! I won't let you!"
"This has gone on long enough. You were right in Heidelberg - it's long past time this was ended once and for all."
Furious and scared, Triona relented. "I promise! Damnit, Methos, I promise."
What his response would have been, Triona would never know. At that moment, the alarm claxon sounded in the night, drowning out anything he might have said. "Raiders!" they both said in unison, running to the tower door.
Triona reached her command post, shouting orders to those Keep inhabitants who were assigned to this section in the event of an attack. The Keep itself was not in danger, but the refugee camps were much more vulnerable to the raiders who were now attacking. Quickly, Triona gathered up her best fighters and raced down the hill to where the battle was already fully engaged.
Time ceased to have any real meaning as the fight raged. The sound of gunfire and explosions intermingled with screams of the dying and the crying of children. Running out of ammunition, something there was never enough of, Triona pulled out her sword and dagger, before charging a knot of raiders that were about to break the defensive line of the refugee camp. She felt the buzz of another Immortal, and only knew it was not family. Whether it was Cassandra, or one of the raiders, she had no way to know. It was just one more thing to keep track of in the confusion.
As suddenly as it had started, it was over. The silence, after the sounds of battle, was almost deafening. But one 'sound' was still there - that buzz of the other Immortal. Slowly, Triona turned, not surprised to see Cassandra standing there. The other woman looked as bedraggled as Triona felt. Clothing torn, covered in blood, an implacable look on her face. The light of the moon cast her features in sharp angles and shadows. And, she noted wearily, Cassandra's sword remained up, prepared to do battle.
Triona felt a wave of exhaustion pass over her as she realized that there was still one fight ahead of her this night. "Please walk away, Cassandra." There was no anger this time, only a resigned sadness.
"I don't know if I can." Cassandra's reply seemed equally resigned.
"Don't you? Look around. Hasn't there been enough death here tonight? Hasn't there been enough death since the war? Enough blood spilled?" Triona lowered her sword. "I think there has."
"It's not that easy." The pain in the other woman's voice made Triona wince.
Shaking her head, Triona replied, "I know it's not easy, I never said it was. But aren't you tired of this? I know I am. And more than that, it tears me up for us to be enemies. You have to know I never wanted that."
"You may not have wanted it, but it was inevitable," she snapped, her sudden anger taking Triona by surprise.
"Only inevitable to you." Triona held on to her calm with an iron fist. "Not to me."
Cassandra pointed her sword accusingly at Triona. "Not to you because you are the one who has *everything*!" She took a step forward. "He has everything," she said in a whisper.
"I don't understand, Cassandra!" Triona shook her head in confusion.
"Methos took everything from me!" she shouted. "I'd dealt with that, long ago. But then he took you from me as well. And if that wasn't enough, he had a family, people that loved him. He had what he took from me. And that, I couldn't forgive." Cassandra's voice broke.
Finally, Triona understood. It all made so much sense, she couldn't understand how she never realized it before. "I'm sorry."
Cassandra sighed tiredly. "It doesn't change anything."
"Maybe not, Cassandra. But you can change what your next step is going be. I don't want to fight you. I never really have in my heart." She reached her hand towards her onetime friend. "You said Methos took me away, my friendship away, from you. That's not true - you did that," she said softly. "I don't know if we can be friends again, but we can start by not being enemies. Can't we?"
"I think we can at least try."
Cassandra nodded, dropping her sword to her side, before walking away.
Triona didn't move, frozen in place for what seemed an eternity as she watched Cassandra grow smaller as the distance between them grew. She heard hoof beats, then felt Methos as he drew nearer. He drew even with her, dismounting and coming to stand next to her. "I kept my promise, Methos." She didn't look at him.
"And, it's over."
"How can you be sure?" He sounded worried.
"Because she can't bear to lose anything else." This time Triona did look at him, for a moment, before quickly dropping here eyes. "And neither can I."
Methos didn't try and stop her as she walked away.