Duo ex Machina
Leah Rosenthal & Ann Wortham

Methos huddled down into his long black coat, his shoulders hunched up. He blew on his hands, wishing he’d thought to wear gloves. But, then, he hadn’t really thought she would be late for their meeting. She was usually, in his experience, punctual. Stomping his feet, he tried to decide whether he should continue to wait, or just give it up. The sun was already setting. Soon it would be night—a moonless night and, given the heavy cloud cover, a very dark one. The threat of snow was in the air. He didn’t like the thought of haunting the cemetery at Elysium church another night, even if it did provide the sanctuary of Holy Ground for his meeting. It was too reminiscent of the previous night when he had met there with MacLeod.

They had talked about the end of the world, then. They had talked about a past that Methos would much rather forget.

They had discussed Cassandra.

“You’re getting careless in your old age,” her voice washed over him at almost the same instant the unmistakable signature of her presence filled his being.

He jumped, in spite of himself. “How do you do that?” he growled.

Cassandra didn’t help matters much when she burst out laughing. She strolled into view from behind a large monument, a tall, thin woman, her figure concealed beneath a long coat very similar to his own. Her long brown hair was loose, hanging down around her shoulders. The wind lifted it and blew it across her face, obscuring her features as she approached. She was carrying her sword casually slung over one shoulder. “That would be telling.”

Methos’ eyes narrowed. “Look, it’s cold out here. Can we get this over with?”

Cassandra came a little closer, but still not too close. She returned her sword to the folds of her coat. “Where’s Duncan?”

“I sent him on his way. I told him what he wanted to hear. Now it’s your turn, I suppose.” Methos studied Cassandra, taking in her flushed appearance and the way her large eyes blazed with hatred. “You’re still mad at me, aren’t you?”

“Bright boy!” she hissed. “What did you expect? Did you think a few tears would melt my heart?” She gave a bitter laugh. “I’m not that gullible. You never do anything without your own reasons.”

Methos put one hand over his heart, putting on his best “who me?” expression. “I’m hurt.”

“Don’t play stupid,” Cassandra scoffed. “If you had a heart, I might believe you.”

Methos was getting really confused now. He cocked his head to one side. “Why are you so angry?”

“You sent Kronos after me,” Cassandra snarled. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Methos shrugged. So, that was the problem. It was easily fixed. “I didn’t know what Kronos was planning.”

“You expect me to believe that?” Even in the encroaching darkness, her eyes continued to blaze.

Methos took a step backwards. Maybe it wouldn’t be as easy to convince her as he thought. She always had been good at seeing through his manipulations, his lies. He thought about it a moment, and decided it was probably best to simply tell her the truth. She couldn’t kill him on holy ground, after all. “All right,” he admitted. “I knew he might try.”

“More than that, I think,” Cassandra pressed. “You put the idea in his mind, didn’t you?” When Methos didn’t answer immediately, she stepped right up to his chest, leaning forward into his face. “Didn’t you?”

Her breath was warm in direct contrast to the frigid night air. Methos shivered, both from the cold and from the look in Cassandra’s eyes. It was true that she wouldn’t harm him on holy ground…but he’d like to be able to leave the church grounds someday. The fury in her gaze was promising retribution, no matter how long it make take.

“Things got out of control,” Methos admitted.

“I’ll say! You were going to go back to Kronos, weren’t you? You really thought Duncan was dead and you were going to leave me to that monster, just like you did before!” Cassandra shook her head. “You are incredible, you know that? You’d sacrifice anything and anybody to save yourself, wouldn’t you?”

Methos couldn’t help himself. He laughed at her. Of course he would. Didn’t she understand that yet? He’d told her enough times. He’d tried to tell MacLeod. It wasn’t his fault if no one bothered to listen to him. Did they think he’d lived to be five thousand years old by worrying about anyone’s head but his own? Yes, when Kronos sent both Caspian and Silas after MacLeod, he’d been certain the Highlander was dead. He still didn’t understand how Mac had gotten out of that situation with his head attached. And, if Mac had been dead, all their careful planning was in pieces. Cassandra was Kronos’ prisoner. Hell, he was basically Kronos’ prisoner. Under the circumstances, what else could he do except keep Kronos happy until he could come up with a new plan?

“Stop laughing!” Cassandra almost screamed. She turned her back to him, her shoulders rigid, her head hanging. “I thought you were going to let Silas kill me,” she finally said. “Especially after all that crap you were spouting earlier. About how we had to make Kronos happy if we wanted to survive. ‘It wasn’t all bad when we were together,’” she mocked him. “Please!”

Methos put his hands on her shoulders, pretending not to notice when she automatically stiffened at his touch. “I didn’t want to fight him, you know that.”

“Yes,” Cassandra said, still turned away. “But you wouldn’t have cared if Duncan had done the deed.”

“Do you really think I’m that coldhearted?”

Cassandra spun to face him again. “In a word…yes. I think you would have done anything, sacrificed anybody, to be free of Kronos.”

Methos winked at her, his hands still lightly on her shoulders. “It’s a good thing we had that common goal then, isn’t it?”

Cassandra snorted. “Don’t you mean, it’s a good thing that we both know how to manipulate Duncan MacLeod?”

Methos smiled wolfishly. “You have to admit my strategy worked. There were a few bad moments when Kronos didn’t do what you and I had planned, but Mac performed just like he’d been programmed. He really is perfection.” He shook his head, thinking back over the past few days. He wondered now why he’d ever even been worried. It was like Kronos said: his plans were always perfect.

“It’s time for you to disappear,” he told Cassandra, running one finger lightly down one side of her face.

“I left my things in Duncan’s room,” she protested.

“You can buy new clothes,” Methos said. “I’ve got to work on getting Mac to trust me again. You laid it on a little thick with my past. He’s not in a real forgiving mood.”

“I told him the truth!” Cassandra said hotly. “You were a murdering, raping bastard. That’s not my fault. You live with it. I’ve certainly had to.”

Methos sighed heavily. “I thought we were past this point. Look, you got what you wanted, okay? Kronos is dead. We both know we used Mac to kill him. We got a little bonus when he killed Caspian, as well. Now it’s time for us to part ways. I intend to stay close to Duncan MacLeod. He’s good for my health, generally. Since he thinks you hate my guts and he wouldn’t be too keen to find out you helped me manipulate him into killing Kronos, I think it’s time for you to leave. Got it?”

Cassandra was openly sulking, but she nodded in agreement. “Oh, I’ll go. I just want it clear that you still owe me.”

I owe you?” Methos was quite honestly flabbergasted. He’d saved the witch’s life. Not once, but twice! What more did she think he should do? Sure, he’d been everything she accused him of in the past. So what? That’s the way the world was, in those days. Conquer or be conquered.

“Oh, close your mouth,” Cassandra snapped. “Did you think I was just going to forgive you for all those years of slavery?”

“Well, yeah,” Methos stammered.

Cassandra lifted a hand to return the caress he’d given her a few moments’ earlier. “Bear this in mind, Methos: I know what happened here in Bordeaux. If Duncan ever found out the truth…” she trailed off, the threat clear.

Methos gulped. MacLeod was easily manipulated, but he wasn’t stupid, and he had no moral objection to vengeance. Methos might lose more than his refuge behind the Highlander if Mac ever found out. He slid an uncomfortable finger around his collar. “All right. I might still owe you a thing or two.”

“Good,” said Cassandra, a feral smile quirking her lips. “First of all, you’re going to finance the replacement of the outfit you ruined when you ditched me in that filthy river back in Seacouver. Next—” she went on, drawing out a long list.

Methos sighed and nodded dutifully. The plastic was going to take a heavy hit paying for this brilliant scheme.

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Ashton Press/Ann Wortham

Leah Rosenthal

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