Early in the morning, about two months later, Rhiannon switched off her Internet connection and sat for a moment lost in thought.
Methos was still in bed when she got back, but he opened his eyes and smiled sleepily as she slid under the covers.
"You been picking up the mail?"
She nodded vaguely. "I've had message from one of my pupils."
Methos's eyes flicked open. "The artist?"
"Yes. Do you know her?"
Methos frowned slightly. "I met her once in Florence, sometime in the late eighteenth century. As far as I can recall, we both thought the other was out hunting, and we kept out of each other's way." He rolled over onto his side. "I knew she was your pupil though."
Rhiannon gave him a withering look. The tattoo on his wrist might have gone, but the knowledge he had acquired as a Watcher remained. It ought to be flattering, she supposed, that he had spent so much time researching her history. But sometimes it drove her crazy that he knew so much about her life when vast tracts of his were still shrouded in mystery.
"Whatever," she answered shortly. "She wants me to go and see her."
Methos insinuated himself a little closer under the sheets.
"Am I allowed to come with you?"
In spite of herself, Rhiannon smiled fondly. "I don't see why not," she conceded.
"Good," he purred. "I'd enjoy a trip to Italy with you."
Rhiannon gave him a sidelong look. "Ah. Well. Giovanna's not actually in Italy at the moment," she admitted.
"Okay. So where is she?" When Rhiannon didn't answer at once he gave a resigned grunt. "Don't tell me. Philadelphia? Calcutta? Bogota?" With each guess - each one more improbable and less inviting than the last - Rhiannon gave a small shake of her head, until at last he said, "All right. Go on. Tell me."
Rhiannon ran her tongue over her lips. "Paris," she said. "Giovanna's working as a restorer at the Louvre."
There was a long silence during which Methos lay on his back and stared at the ceiling.
"You and Duncan can't go on avoiding each other for ever, you know," Rhiannon remarked gently.
"No," she answered firmly.
After a time, his hand began absently caressing her long hair, and he said, as if changing the subject,
"How did you and Giovanna meet?"
"You mean you don't know?" she retorted sourly.
"The Watchers don't know everything," he answered mildly.
Rhiannon took a deep breath, as the memories started to return.
"It was during the Gentileschi rape trial," she said. "1612. Artemisia Gentileschi accused one of her father's colleagues of raping her. There was a notorious, very public trial. Giovanna went along because Artemisia was a fellow artist. I went along because--"
"Because it was about a young woman who had been raped," he finished for her.
She nodded. "And then tortured by the state," she added.
Very gently Methos ran his fingers over the scars on her back - the scars that were still as exactly as he had first seen them, exactly as they had been when the Roman's first killed her. Methos knew every inch of her body, had known it for two thousand years, but he could never touch those scars without the pain they gave him showing in his face. He knew very well why she could never have stayed away from that trial.
"They cross-examined her under torture," she whispered. There were tears in her eyes as she remembered those scenes, the look on Artemisia's face. "She was the victim - and they tortured her."
Methos kissed her softly, brushing away the tears with his lips, and slowly she relaxed again.
"Giovanna was about fifty then," she told him. "She'd been an immortal twenty, thirty years maybe. And she and Artemisia had so much in common. Both their fathers had been artists, with no sons to pass their skills on to. But Giovanna's father had also been a duellist. And just as he had taught her to paint, he taught her to fight. She was the first female immortal I had met for - oh, centuries! - to whom using a sword came naturally."
"I can see how that would have appealed to you," Methos remarked wryly.
"Oh, it was a joy! Teaching someone who didn't handle a sword like a bread knife"
Methos chuckled softly, deep in his throat. "Now if I said that," he commented, "you'd call me a sexist troll."
"If you said that, you would be a sexist troll," she retorted.
"But if you say it, it's different?"
They grinned at each other, not needing to fight another battle on such old territory.
"So," asked Methos, his hand beginning to caress her again, "why does she want to see you now?"
"She didn't exactly say - only enough to make it clear she's pretty worried. And that's not like her."
"Sounds like you mean to jump on the next plane."
She nodded slowly. "What about you?"
There was another long silence. Then Rhiannon rolled over onto her stomach. "I had an accountant once," she remarked idly, "who took great pains to explain to me the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Now, I reckon," she went on, looking sidelong at Methos, "that staying here with me constitutes Duncan avoidance. Refusing to come to Paris with me when you know you want to sounds like Duncan evasion." She gave him a minute for that to sink in, then said quietly, "So the question is, Methos: are you an evader or an avoider?"
Methos was trying, unsuccessfully, not to meet her eye. Eventually he took one of her pillows and threw it at her, hard.
"You're worse than MacLeod, you know that?"
"Oh, I've had a lot more practice." She grinned at him imperturbably. "You coming then?"
"Yes, damn it! I'm coming."
The plane from Buenos Aires landed at Charles de Gaulle late morning two days later. Giovanna was waiting for them. She was small, but unmistakably powerful, dressed with Italian chic, her coal-black hair cut in a chin-length bob. It amused Methos how Rhiannon - not exceptionally tall in the modern world - still towered over Giovanna as she had towered over the Latin women with whom he had compared her when they first met.
He hung back a little while they embraced, then allowed himself the be introduced as 'Adam Pierson'. And he noticed the shrewd glint in Giovanna's eyes when Rhiannon casually said 'we go way back', as if she was well aware of just how far 'way back' was likely to be.
With great regret, he had abandoned the little flat above Shakespeare and Co. - that was Watcher territory and he dared not return there. Giovanna had a bed-sit flat attached to her studio that she no longer used, and had told Rhiannon they were welcome to use it so long as they were in Paris. But for now she took them to her own apartment, to freshen up and have breakfast in comfort.
"Allora, Giovanna," Rhiannon said when between them they had polished off the pain au chocolat and coffee that her friend had provided, "What was it that made you send for me?"
Giovanna looked uneasily at Methos, who held up his hands. "Do you want me to go? I can go"
"No." Giovanna shook her head. "No. I'm just afraid, I suppose, of sounding like a scared beginner." She looked from one to the other, and finally said, "I'm being hunted. I know - it sounds stupid. We're always being hunted. It's part of the Game. It's what we do."
"Not all of us," Methos muttered, sotto voce.
"Ignore him," said Rhiannon firmly. "He talks to himself sometimes."
"This is different, Rhiannon. I keep sensing another immortal nearby. But when I look, there is no one there. And when I try and track it down, the feeling vanishes. I have never seen whoever it is, but I feel him everywhere - at home, at work, in the street."
"You are sure there really is one of us there," Methos asked, not unkindly.
Giovanna shrugged expressively. "That is partly why I wanted another immortal here. But yes - I am sure."
Rhiannon leaned forward in her seat.
"You know who it is, don't you?"
"I think so, yes. I think it is Casavecchio."
"Casavecchio" Rhiannon echoed, almost to herself. And as the
memories came flooding back, she sat back in her chair, her eyes burning.
It was 1701, the eve of the War of Spanish Succession. She and Giovanna were staying in Valmonti, a tiny walled city near Turin, in what was then the kingdom of Savoie. Giovanna was working on a series of commissions for the governor, the Conti di Volanci, including portraits of all of his family.
As rumours of war grew, there were people on the move all over the region - those with somewhere to go moving south, leaving Savoie altogether; others moving in to gain the protection of the city. And with this shifting mass of people came Casavecchio, mercenary, opportunist, womaniser, and immortal.
Casavecchio was classically tall, dark and handsome. He had the charm, the manners, the bedroom eyes of the professional seducer. And the first woman he decided to seduce that spring was Giovanna.
Giovanna was by then more than a century and a half old, and she was nobody's fool. She knew very well what Casavecchio was. She allowed herself to be charmed. She allowed herself to be made love to. But she never for one moment allowed herself to fall in love. And it came as no surprise to her when after a few weeks he dropped her acquaintance and moved on to pursue other quarry.
The problem was that the next object of his desire was not one of the many experienced and worldly-wise women who would have been glad to play his little game, but her friend - the fifteen year old daughter of the Conti di Volanci.
Francesca was newly arrived in the court from the nursery, barely aware of the facts of life, and ready to fall in love with anyone who would pay her his attentions and treat her as a woman. And fall in love she did - with Casavecchio.
There was of course no way her father would have regarded Casavecchio as a suitable match for her. Like most daughters of a noble house, her destiny was to provide an alliance. And until then, to keep herself pure. But her official suitors were dull and worthy. They danced nicely, but had no conversation. They brought her pretty presents, but stuck rigidly to the rules of formal courtship. Casavecchio was everything she had dreamed a suitor might be - and daring, forbidden, an adventure waiting to be had. He was of course still charming and flattering half the other women of the court - but he was clever enough to make sure that Francesca never suspected it.
Giovanna tried to warn her young friend about Casavecchio - with about as much success as such warnings ever have. Francesca and Casavecchio were in love: nothing else mattered. Francesca would die for Casavecchio
"And count the world well lost for love, I suppose?" Rhiannon muttered sourly.
"Rhiannon, you are growing cynical," Giovanna told her reprovingly. "Don't you remember what it was like to be in love at that age?"
"At that age I know what it meant when a man made love to me - and how to fight him off if he overstepped the mark," she countered.
Francesca's convent education had given her only vague moral principles with
which to fight off importunate suitors. And someone of Casavecchio's guile and
persistence had been quite beyond the imaginings of the nuns who had taught her.
It didn't take long before it was apparent to Giovanna that he had found his
way into Francesca's bedroom as well as her heart. And for a while - a very
short while - her innocence and naiveté must have amused him. But
boredom set in very quickly. Before Francesca's head had fairly stopped
spinning, he had ditched her for a married woman ten years her senior.
Francesca's training showed. In public, she betrayed nothing of what she was feeling. She even pleased her father by appearing a degree more welcoming to his chosen suitors. But in private, she poured out her feelings to Giovanna. And Giovanna quietly, implacably, promised revenge.
"But what can you do? What can either of us do? We're just women"
"You would be surprised," Giovanna answered grimly.
Late in the night, Giovanna waited outside the city walls for Casavecchio to return from a hunting trip, and challenged him. But before their fight had barely begun, they were interrupted by the city guard. And before they could meet again, the gossip mongers had gone into action.
Heaven knows why they had taken so long - pity for the little contessa, perhaps, fear of her father's wrath, or perhaps just amazement at Casavecchio's sheer audacity. He must have thought himself invulnerable, able to get away with anything. But someone, somewhere cracked, and suddenly the court was flying with rumours: Casavecchio had bedded Francesca; Casavecchio had abandoned Francesca; Francesca was carrying Casavecchio's bastard
"Well, at least we know that's not true," commented Rhiannon acerbically.
"Small mercies," replied Giovanna.
Giovanna went in search of Casavecchio again, but she was too late. The rumours had reached the ears of the Conti di Volanci, and Casavecchio was under arrest, charged - as his kind usually were - with impiety and witchcraft. He must have guessed that the game was up, because when the soldiers came for him, he was in his room packing to leave. Francesca was sent back to her convent in disgrace, and Casavecchio was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging.
The night before his execution, Giovanna was granted leave to visit him in his cell. He was angry, frightened, pacing his cell like a caged lion.
"This is your doing," he accused when he saw her.
"No," Giovanna told him.
"You know the rules," he said savagely. "One on one. No mortals. You betrayed me."
"You think I'm interested in mortal justice? They are hanging you tomorrow, not beheading you. You'll live - until I take your head."
"Then it must have been your friend - that Welsh woman. What's her name? Rhiannon."
"Mio Dio! Do you think that you can behave the way you were, that you can seduce the daughter of the Conti, and that no one will notice? You brought this on yourself, Casavecchio."
He stared at her strangely, and for a moment she saw the mask drop, saw the naked fear in his eyes.
"What are you afraid of, Casavecchio?" she asked softly.
"You want your fight, Giovanna? You shall have it," he told her feverishly. "But I won't be buried. I won't be trapped underground. You dig me up, and then we'll see."
Giovanna lifted the edge of her cloak just far enough for him to see the hilt of her sword. "There can be only one," she said quietly. And turned to go.
With her foot on the steps leading up from the dungeon, she was momentarily halted by the sound of his voice - not loud, but full of anger and revulsion.
"If you don't dig me up, Giovanna, if you leave me there - then I will
know it was you who betrayed me."
"The following morning at dawn," Giovanna told Methos, "they hanged him and buried him under the castle walls. Rhiannon and I were to go out that night to exhume him, to finish the fight. But the war was getting closer. That day, the Conti imposed a curfew, and we couldn't get out. And two days later, the French armies marched through. Just for fun, they thought they would use Valmonti as target practice. Half the city was razed to the ground. Casavecchio's grave was buried under many tonnes of rubble."
Giovanna stared at Rhiannon, both of them remembering their horror, their helplessness.
"There was nothing we could do. It would have taken an army to shift so much stone." She smiled wryly. "There were many armies, but they were otherwise occupied. The Conti and his family fled to Turin. And Rhiannon and I went south, to Siena."
"And you think Casavecchio has been buried for nearly three hundred years?" Methos asked.
"Until very recently," Giovanna nodded. "About six months ago, I read in an Italian newspaper that the site at Valmonti was being redeveloped, that archaeologists were excavating part of the old city before the bulldozers moved in. I went there at once, but it was too late." She shut her eyes, painfully remembering the scene. "I knew precisely where was the site of Casavecchio's grave - how could I forget? But it had already been uncovered, and the body was gone. Of that I am very sure. And ever since that day, I have been expecting something like this."
Giovanna looked up at the other two, her face angry.
"If he would face me, I would fight him. It is too late to avenge Francesca, I know that. But I was ready to take his head three hundred years ago, and I am ready to take it now if that is what it comes to. But this - hiding in shadows, never showing his face " Her lip curled in disdain.
"He wants to get you rattled," Rhiannon told her, "to take your head when you are no longer in any condition to fight him."
"I know." Her chin went up defiantly. "I do not intend to let that happen."
"Bravissimo," Rhiannon smiled at her friend. "And anything I can do to help. You know that."
"Just watch my back for a few days," Giovanna told her. "Tell me that I am not imagining the whole thing. And maybe you can help me to find him: it won't be so easy to hide from two immortals as from one." She gave her old teacher a penetrating stare. "But his head is mine, Rhiannon."
Half an hour later, Giovanna dropped them at her studio and drove off. Rhiannon and Methos changed out of their travelling clothes and wondered drowsily whether it was better to try and stay awake or to go to bed and sleep it off, and decided eventually on a pleasurable combination of the two.
A few hours later, standing in front of a tiny mirror, Rhiannon caught sight of Methos watching her with peculiar intensity.
"You know," he remarked as their eyes met in the glass, "three immortals could find your Casavecchio even easier than two."
Rhiannon frowned. "It's not your fight, Methos," she said.
"I know," he said, coming up behind her. "But if you're going to watch Giovanna's back, I think I could be allowed to watch yours." He panted a kiss delicately on the back he purported to want to watch. "By the sound of it, there's at least a chance this guy could be after you too. That could be the reason for all this skulking in corners - he may have counted on Giovanna eventually sending for you.
"Maybe," replied Rhiannon doubtfully. He kissed her again and she wriggled pleasurably. "I suppose we might allow you to help," she conceded, "if you promise not to interfere."
"On my oath as a Watcher," Methos murmured innocently.
"Ex-Watcher," Rhiannon corrected.
"Ex-Watcher," Methos admitted.
"And we all know how much that is worth," she muttered. But then
she got distracted by what Methos was doing with his hands, and the argument was
The following morning, Giovanna picked them both up from the studio, and they went together to her workshop in the basement of the Louvre where she did her restoration work. For a while now, she had been working on restoring quite a large canvas by Mantegna. ("Older than I am," she remarked wryly.) It had already been cleaned, and the small damaged area prepared with two layers of gesso, and now she was ready to begin inpainting.
She began carefully selected her pigments, referring back regularly to the panel itself. "They say I have a flair for this work," she smiled, "that I have a feel for the old techniques." Once she was satisfied that she had the right pigments to match the cool marble tones of the painting, she started to mix her paints with linseed oil. "I've worked on Artemisia's canvases, some of those I worked on when I was her student. And even one of my own. That was strange," she mused. "They age and I don't."
"I take it you don't work under your own name," commented Methos.
Giovanna shook her head, still smiling. "Here I am Gianna Luti," she told him. "Like most of us, I change my name as little as possible." For a second, her eyes raked across Methos, as if once again she was seeing beneath the person he portrayed. But then her eyes returned to her work, and for a long while none of them said nothing.
Just before lunch, all three of them felt it - the tingling in the fingertips, the eyelids, the lips that was the first sign of the approach of another immortal. Almost before they were aware of it, they were all three on their feet, looking around them, hands near the hilts of their swords.
Giovanna saw the other two and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God," she murmured. "It is real."
Each of them moved towards a different exit from the workshops, but before they could reach the doors, the feeling had gone and they were left only with a heightened awareness of each other.
Returning to Giovanna's workstation, Methos asked, "Have you thought about how he gets in here. To come this close to the workshops, he can't simply be a member of the public."
Giovanna nodded. "A couple of months ago I broke into the personnel computer and checked the records. No one that fits his description has been hired since Casavecchio's grave was uncovered."
"But if you could break in, then so could he," Rhiannon objected, "change the records on the computer "
Giovanna shrugged. "He has been buried for nearly three hundred years. I do not think he will be a great computer hacker."
"No. But he's clever enough to understand the importance of those records. And plausible enough to persuade someone else to change them for him."
"Or to get him through the security systems."
If either woman had been looking at Methos at that moment they would have
seen a light briefly go on in his eyes, and Rhiannon at least would have been
immediately suspicious. But they were both of them too absorbed in their
conversation, and neither of them noticed.
There were no more manifestations for the rest of that day. Maybe their invisible immortal had seen what he wanted to see and left. At any rate, Giovanna was left of work in peace, and Methos and Rhiannon were left to amuse themselves, studying the paintings that had been brought down for restoration, or talking - conversation not being something they were ever short of.
Around five in the afternoon, they came out into the forecourt of the Louvre, having sauntered through a few of the salons on the way. ("You never know whose cast-offs are going to turn up in one of these places," commented Methos, and earned another of Giovanna's sharp looks.)
They were crossing the forecourt when they felt it again. All three of them turned, searching the crowds, quivering like dogs catching a scent. And then, around the corner of the Pyramid - his feelers too at full stretch - came Duncan MacLeod.
Methos saw him first and froze. He and MacLeod were face to face, only yards apart, their hands unconsciously moving towards their swords. Rhiannon could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up as if they were her own. She looked helplessly from one to the other, then did the only thing she could: She grabbed Giovanna by the arm, steered her firmly towards Duncan and said blithely,
"Duncan! What a pleasant surprise. I don't think you know my old pupil, Giovanna Lippi. Giovanna, this is Duncan MacLeod "
Duncan, reacting with automatic courtesy, turned to the two women, and was confronted by Giovanna - uncomprehending but playing her part obligingly - holding out her hand, smiling enchantingly and saying, "Buona sera, Duncan MacLeod."
Duncan took the proffered hand and answered in perfect Italian, "Contento di fare vostra conoscenza." Two pairs of chocolate brown eyes, both melting a degree, met and smiled. And when Rhiannon looked round, Methos had evaporated away.
"Typical," Rhiannon muttered, through her teeth.
Duncan, too, noticed that his one-time friend had gone, but he said nothing. He set about making himself charming to Giovanna, and before long they were all three sitting in the elegant café overlooking the salons of the Louvre, and Giovanna was telling the history of Casavecchio all over again.
"I met him once, when Fitz and I were in Italy," Duncan admitted grimly, "I made the mistake of thinking he and Fitz were two of a kind. Once."
Rhiannon saw, and wondered if Duncan did too, the flush that appeared at the base of Giovanna's throat.
"I remember Fitz," Giovanna reflected. "I too once thought they were the same. I gave Fitz a hard time because of it." She smiled at Duncan, and those chocolate eyes melted a little further. "He must have fallen in love -what? A dozen times a year? In his lifetime. He had a big heart, did Fitz."
"He had that," agreed Duncan warmly.
Giovanna and Duncan were getting along so well that Rhiannon eventually slipped away and headed back to the studio on the Metro. Methos was already there - she knew that as soon as she reached the door. When she called out to him, he appeared at the bedroom door, his sword half-drawn, and only sheathed it when he saw she was alone.
Rhiannon pulled a face at him.
"You disappeared pretty sharpish, didn't you?"
"I'm not exactly flavour of the month with MacLeod at the moment, in case you've forgotten," Methos said sourly. "And we weren't on Holy Ground."
"Oh and MacLeod was going to pull a sword on you in the middle of a crowded square in Paris?" Rhiannon retorted.
"I don't take chances," Methos replied evasively. "Besides, I had someone I wanted to see."
"See them, did you?" Rhiannon enquired sceptically.
"No. She was out of town."
Rhiannon noted the 'she' and let it pass. Methos was coiling an arm around her, making his peace.
"So what have you done with MacLeod?" he asked.
"I left him having dinner with Giovanna."
Methos gave a bark of laughter. "Perfect! Someone for him to exercise his chivalry on."
"He'll be lucky," Rhiannon answered sardonically. "Why do you think she left Italy?" Methos's grin widened a little. "But don't worry. She's more tactful than I am."
"Too bad," Methos murmured.
When Giovanna had left the two immortals at the studio, she had told them that from time to time she used the big, well-lit floor area for sword practice, and that they were welcome to do the same provided they took care not to damage any of her paintings. Waking early the next morning, restless and with limbs stiff from too much enforced inactivity the day before, they decided to take advantage of the offer.
They had made something of a habit of it, in the months they had spent together in Patagonia - honing their skills on each other. And as their trust in each other grew back, so their 'practice' got less restrained. They pushed each other to the limits, drawing blood, only stopping short (out of courtesy? or because Methos didn't trust anyone that far?) of killing each other. On the face of it they were well matched, though Rhiannon was sure that, even with her, Methos never showed everything that he was capable of.
That morning was no different. It started quite gently - just a warm up really. But it couldn't stay like that. They were both in high spirits, relishing their first taste of swordplay in several days. Before long they were pressing each other hard, advancing, retreating, dancing round each other - the blood singing in their veins.
Suddenly Methos shouted, "Mind that painting!" and, momentarily distracted, Rhiannon looked round. But she was still several feet from the easel that stood by the wall, and a split second later she felt a sharp burning sensation as Methos's blade sliced her arm, the warm trickle of blood running down her arm.
"Oh ho! Fighting dirty, are we?"
"Is there any other way to fight?"
Half angry, half laughing, she fought back, backing him across the room until he really was hard up against the stack of canvasses that were piled against the wall.
"Now you really are in danger of cutting those paintings," she told him, holding his eye. "And if you damage them your head will be the last bit of you Giovanna will cut off."
"Then I'll have to be careful, won't I?"
Methos was grinning broadly, plainly enjoying himself. He moved swiftly, wheeling round out of range of the paintings - but not quite out of range of Rhiannon's sword. Rhiannon saw a long, diagonal slash appear in his loose knit shirt, and knew that underneath her blade had met flesh.
They fought their way back across the room - cut and parry, cut and parry - two pairs of bare feet gripping the floor as they felt their way, step by step. The only 'rule' of their dangerous game was that, if either of them managed to touch the neck of the other, it was over. Methos nearly succeeded once, but Rhiannon ducked, and was nicked just underneath the eye for her pains. Then Rhiannon managed to get under his guard and delivered another slicing blow, deeper this time, and on the leg.
They were moving in a tiny enclosed world of their own, neither of them aware of anything but the other - the immortal and the blade - feeling each other's movements almost as much as seeing them. They were both of them on the verge of laughter, but deadly serious. Testing themselves. Testing each other. Taking pleasure in trusting their lives to each other.
Neither of them really had the advantage. Then a pace or two from the far wall, Rhiannon missed her footing and went down hard, her sword clattering inches away from her fingers. Methos yowled with pleasure and raised his sword
When you're fighting one immortal, you don't need to defend yourself from another. Neither of them felt the approach of a third immortal until he was on the threshold. Methos was standing over Rhiannon, his sword raised over his head, lips drawn back with the effort so that his grin seemed to have turned into a snarl. Blood covered his shirt and the leg of his jeans. And Rhiannon lay on the floor, unarmed, blood on her face, blood on her arm.
"Methos - no!"
Duncan gave a howl of protest and stood frozen in the doorway, his face creased with horror. Shaken, Methos swung around, confronting his friend.
"MacLeod, what are you doing here?"
"Giovanna asked me to meet me here. What the ?"
But Rhiannon was still under the spell of the fight. Taking advantage of Methos's distraction, she grabbed her sword and kicked his legs out from underneath him, drawing him back into their charmed circle. A moment later she was straddling him, holding her sword against his throat.
"Rhiannon!" Duncan wailed. But neither of them heard him.
"Hey! No fair!" Methos objected.
"I thought you said that was the only way to fight?"
Methos grinned. "You're learning. Another thousand years and--"
Almost imperceptibly, Rhiannon increased the pressure of her blade on his neck. "Think very carefully before you say anything," she warned him. But her grip was already loosening on the hilt, and their bodies were beginning to relax
"Would someone tell me what the hell is going on here?" Duncan demanded.
Reluctantly, Rhiannon sat up and faced him. "Sword practice, MacLeod - remember that?"
"Practice? Rhiannon, look at you."
"We might have got a bit carried away " Methos began.
But Rhiannon saw him struggling with the corners of his mouth. And her own
sense of humour was starting to get the better of her. She grabbed his arm. "Come
on, Methos. Let's go get cleaned up," she said.
The two of them made it far as the bedroom and managed to shut the door before collapsing back against it, helpless with laughter.
"Oh Lord - did you see his face?" Rhiannon asked, between gasps.
Methos nodded speechlessly. Tears were beginning to well up in his eyes.
"Our game's not for spectators," he wheezed, when he could catch his breath, and set them both off again, giggling childishly.
"Oh, poor dear," Rhiannon said, making an effort to pull herself together. "It's not fair. He really thought you were about to take my head."
The laughter died on Methos's lips.
"God forbid," he said soberly. He looked at the blood starting to dry on her arm and her face. "Come here."
He perched on the edge of the table by the tiny sink, stood her between his legs, and moistened a cloth. Then he gently washed away the blood, first from her arm, then from her face.
"Good thing we don't scar," he said tenderly, touching his lips to the smooth skin below her eye where his blade had caught her.
"Much you cared ten minutes ago," she grumbled. All the same, she allowed him to hook his legs together behind her knees and draw her close. After a moment, though, she pulled back.
"We've got a guest - remember?"
"Serves him right for all the times I've played gooseberry for him," he answered indistinctly.
"You can play mental games if you like," she said firmly. "I'm going to talk to him."
She extricated herself, and Methos stayed put, watching her intently as she
pulled on a clean blouse. Then she went out.
Outside, Duncan angrily paced the same expanse of wooden floor that Rhiannon and Methos had fought over. He didn't believe - didn't want to believe - what he had just seen. But he could make no other sense of it. Methos had been on the point of taking Rhiannon's head. Hadn't he? Yet Rhiannon had looked more as if she was about to burst out laughing.
He heard the door open and jerked round. When he saw Rhiannon on her own, he took two strides towards her, his face creased with anxiety.
"Are you okay?"
"Of course. I'm an immortal, remember? I heal."
He shook his head at her. "Rhiannon, what the hell was going on?" he demanded.
"I told you," she said. "Sword practice."
"Practice? For god's sake, Rhiannon, you were both covered in blood. He had his sword ready to take your head"
"You don't believe that."
"Rhiannon, how can you trust him?" he protested.
She out her hand on his arm. "Duncan, I sleep every night with his sword by my bed. If he wanted to take my head, he could have done it a hundred times over." She met his eye, coolly questioning. "Or do you credit him with enough honour to pick a fight with me first?"
"I don't know what I believe any more," he said, turning away angrily.
"Haven't you ever trusted anyone that much?" Rhiannon asked him softly. "That you'd put your life in their hands?"
MacLeod shrugged. "I'm damn sure Methos has never trusted anyone that much."
"No? Seems to me he's trusted you that much - more that once."
MacLeod hesitated, fragments of memory tugging at his brain - his sword at Methos's throat under a bridge by the Seine, his blade threatening Methos inside the little church - on Holy Ground
"And there have been times when you trusted him like that, haven't there?" Rhiannon persisted.
More images crowded in. He and Methos returning to the trashed barge. Rachel's voice. 'It's a good friend you have there.' Then others, sliding across, superseding them. Methos by his car. 'I didn't kill a hundred. I didn't kill a thousand '
"He's not the man I thought he was," he said finally.
No? Methos's face. 'I did it because I enjoyed it.' Then again, looking up at him from the bottom of the submarine base in the second before his blade took Silas's head. 'I killed Silas - I liked Silas.' Which one did he believe? Which one did his gut tell him to believe?
MacLeod threw out his arms in exasperation. "I want to believe he's the same. But then I see you two fighting like that and."
The door opened behind them, and they both turned.
Methos was leaning in the doorway. "And what, MacLeod?" he said. "You think I'm about to take Rhiannon's head? If you think that, then you don't know the first thing about me."
Methos glared at him, his eyes half hooded, and MacLeod answered with knee-jerk irritation, "That's the problem. I don't know the first thing about you."
Rhiannon's patience snapped. "Oh, don't be ridiculous! Like it or not, you two have a history. Look at it. Learn from it. Trust what you've experienced, not what you've been told!"
Her anger caught them both off balance. The two men stared at each other for a moment, then both of them opened their mouths to speak. But before either of them could get a word out, they all three felt the approach of another immortal.
"This is getting too crowded for comfort," Methos muttered to
himself, and Duncan found himself fighting down a smile.
Giovanna came into the room with a spring in her step and beamed at MacLeod.
"Oh, Duncan, you're here already. I'm sorry I'm late. I've been doing a little shopping."
There was an almost audible 'pop' as the tension in the room broke. All three of them smiled and started talking at once. And Giovanna looked from one to the other, detecting the atmosphere just before it dissipated. But getting no clue from any of them, she proceeded cheerfully,
"I have been thinking. Today is Saturday and I do not have to work. And Casavecchio is the one who is hunting, not I. Why should I waste my time on him? Why don't we go somewhere, out in the open, away from the crowds. Let him challenge me if he dares. And if he does not, then we can have a nice day and for the time being let the dead past bury the dead."
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Rhiannon applauded. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well," she said, "I have a picnic packed in the back of the car. Why don't we do something very un-French, and go and eat it al fresco in the Bois de Boulogne?"
"Suits me," said Rhiannon cheerfully.
Giovanna smiled engagingly at MacLeod. "What about you, Duncan? Will you join us?"
"I'd be delighted," he replied smoothly. He turned to Methos. "What about you, Adam?" he added with exaggerated politeness.
Methos shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
They all four fitted into Giovanna's car, she and Duncan in the front, and Rhiannon and Methos in the back. ("Safer that way," Rhiannon hissed, under her breath.)
On the way Duncan noticed Giovanna checking her rear-view mirror for signs than anyone was following them.
"You really think this Casavecchio will follow us?"
Giovanna gestured expansively with her free hand. "He has managed to follow me just about everywhere else," she said.
"For someone who has been buried for three hundred years, he seems to have got to grips with the twentieth century pretty quick," Rhiannon commented from the back.
"If you ask me, he's had some expert help," said Methos.
"Got someone in mind, have you?" MacLeod asked.
"I might have," Methos murmured, but Rhiannon was pretty sure that
only she heard.
When they got out of the car, Giovanna held back for a moment and Rhiannon, catching her eye, fell into step alongside her.
"Your Adam and this MacLeod, they have a history, yes?"
"You could say that."
"Anything I should worry about?"
Rhiannon shook her head emphatically.
"No. Nothing at all. They're just a bit - out of joint with each other at the moment. It will blow over."
"It's just that if we are going to have a quickening with our picnic, I'd like it to be Casavecchio's," Giovanna smiled.
Rhiannon grinned. "Don't worry. Indigestion you may get, if you make the mistake of paying them any attention. But no quickenings."
"Well, I hope you are right."
"Trust me on this."
The day passed pleasantly enough. As Rhiannon had predicted, Methos and Duncan kept up a volley of conversational sarcasm, tossing the ball back and forth between them at intervals all afternoon, while the two women ignored them entirely and enjoyed themselves hugely, eating, gossiping and reminiscing.
After a time, Giovanna and Duncan disappeared off on a long walk, and Rhiannon and Methos were left along together. For a while, Rhiannon tinkered about, packing the remains of the picnic back into the basket. Then she came and sat back down beside Methos.
"You survived, then?" she remarked casually.
"Your first encounter with MacLeod."
Methos snorted disparagingly. "He's distracted," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Smitten. Enamoured. Succumbing to Giovanna's charms."
"Mmm. Well. I think that could be working both ways," agreed Rhiannon. "Though I doubt if it would stop him taking your pretty little head if he really wanted to."
"No," answered Methos - for a brief moment looking really dangerous - "I would stop him taking my head."
Rhiannon - too used to him to be impressed - just smiled and relaxed her
body against his.
They were sitting together with their backs against a tree, their fingers interlaced, watching the other two walking back towards them, feeling their shared awareness of each other intensify with every step. Giovanna and MacLeod were walking very close together, not actually touching but transparently connected, their heads inclined together as they talked. Giovanna's hands danced as she talked - two olive-hued birds fluttering before them, punctuating her sentences. MacLeod, the Scotsman, saying one word for every ten of hers, but his eyes on her the whole time.
Methos looked on approvingly, feeling a paternal interest in this well-matched couple. It was odd how he could separate his fondness for Mac, his desire to protect him, from his own sense of self-preservation, the powerful need to keep more than a sword's length between them. He could, he thought with interest, apparently keep those two thoughts in watertight compartments, without either of them leaking into the other.
But as Giovanna and MacLeod came within hailing range, something else intervened - urgent, unmistakable. Like a jolt to his spine, he recognised - not the slow approach of the two he had been watching, but another immortal, moving swiftly.
"There's got to be a critical mass of immortals," he muttered darkly to himself.
The others had recognised it too by then. They were all wary, alert, looking around. MacLeod had his sword drawn. But as before, there was no one to be seen.
"Stay here," MacLeod commanded and disappeared into the trees.
"Nice move," Methos muttered wryly.
Giovanna gave Rhiannon a look of exasperation and began circling the other way. Rhiannon met his eye, and he shrugged helplessly and set off in pursuit of MacLeod.
It wasn't difficult to follow him. He could, Methos knew, be a swift and silent hunter, but he had little reason this time to remain hidden. His intention was to draw Casavecchio out into the open.
MacLeod was at one side of a clearing, Methos still in the trees at the other side when he saw it - the glint of sunlight on steel. The blade began to perform an upward arc just behind MacLeod head, and Methos shouted out a warning just in time. MacLeod spun round, and the serrated blade of the katana halted the swing of the rapier in a shower of sparks.
The immortal - a tall man dressed in black - stepped out of the trees and into the clearing; "Duncan MacLeod," he acknowledged.
"Casavecchio," MacLeod countered. "We've been expecting you."
"What's this, MacLeod?" he said in Italian, glancing towards where Methos stood motionless among the trees. "Hunting in packs now?"
"I'm not hunting at all. But it seems like you are."
"Yes, I'm hunting. But not for you. In case you haven't heard - I have a score to settle with Giovanna Lippi."
"The way I heard it, she had a score to settle with you."
"Then it's a pity she won't come and fight me herself." Casavecchio's lip curled. "Three hundred years ago she had the mortals bury me to avoid fighting me. Now she sends her whipping boy to fight me for her." He swung his sword up, pointing it at MacLeod's throat with deliberate insult. "I have no quarrel with you, MacLeod. Just don't stand between me and Giovanna."
"You come for Giovanna and you'll have to come through me!" MacLeod countered angrily.
"Oh, I will - if I have to. You tell her that from me. I don't fight whipping boys."
"You want me - you know where to find me," MacLeod growled.
The levelled sword was flicked up and back, and the tall figure in black melted back into the trees. MacLeod turned back towards Methos, his face looking like he was spoiling for a fight.
"Well, that was smooth," Methos commented. "He thought Giovanna wouldn't fight him three hundred years ago. Now he thinks she won't fight him now either."
"He can think what he likes so long as he stays away from Giovanna," Duncan snarled.
"I'm not sure Giovanna's going to see it like that."
"You gonna tell her?" he demanded. Methos shrugged. "And why didn't you stay with the women?" MacLeod added, rounding on him.
"I was levelling the playing field," Methos answered artlessly. "I thought two thousand, four hundred years experience on their side was probably enough."
MacLeod snorted in disgust and strode off through the trees.
"Well, at least he didn't take his head," Methos murmured to
himself, following more leisurely. "I don't know how I'd have explained
that to Rhiannon."
The two women were back at the clearing where they had started, and Giovanna's face was contorted with frustration.
"Niente. Nothing. And again nothing. Why is it he will never show his face?"
"MacLeod found him," Methos said softly. "It is Casavecchio."
"You found him?" Giovanna's sword was out of it's sheath almost before the words had passed her lips. "Where is he?"
"He left," MacLeod said heavily. "Giovanna, you want to be careful. He's a dangerous man. He's angry"
"And angry men make mistakes," Giovanna put in. "No, MacLeod, his head is mine. No one is going to cheat me of it this time."
Methos felt MacLeod's eyes on him, and knew that MacLeod expected him to
give him away. It was a temptation, undeniably. But he stayed quiet, half
turned away from the others, and the moment passed. Sometimes it was just too
easy to prick MacLeod's bubble.
They packed up the last of their things in silence and returned to the car. Not far from an RER station, Methos asked to be dropped off and - plainly curious but saying nothing - Giovanna complied.
The other three went back to Giovanna's flat, where Rhiannon - getting bored of refereeing an argument between the MacLeod and Giovanna about whether Giovanna would be safer if she stayed for a while in Duncan's barge - eventually left them and took herself off on her own. Duncan, she concluded, would get a lot further with Giovanna if he could leave his chivalrous impulses out of things - but the leopard can't change his spots, O best beloved, she told herself.
She had had enough, she decided, of playing piggy in the middle between two immortals. It was time to surround herself for a while with mortals and strangers. On impulse, she bought herself a ticket to a chamber concert at the Orangerie de Bagatelle, and sat for the evening immersed in the music, a million light years from Casavecchio and the others.
When she got back, late in the evening, Methos was sitting cross-legged on the bed, sewing a patch on the jeans her blade had slashed that morning. She gawked at him and he smirked back.
"It's a good job my mother taught me to sew," he said, biting off the thread, "because yours surely didn't."
"You don't remember your mother," she objected reasonably, lying down on the bed next to him.
"Well, somebody taught me, because I've always been able to, for as long as I can remember."
Rhiannon propped herself up on one elbow and looked up at him. "Bet you didn't, though - so long as you could get someone else to do it for you."
"Perhaps not," he conceded. "But then one of my survival tactics is to recognise a losing battle when I see one." He leaned over her. "Besides, if I keep fighting with you like that, I'll run out of clothes soon."
"Now there's a thought."
But he wasn't yet entirely focused on her. After a moment, he felt in his pocket and brought out a small piece of folded paper.
"I've got something your friend might want," he said.
"This is where Casavecchio was about three months ago," he told her.
Rhiannon gaped. "The Watchers?" she hazarded, not believing it.
Methos gave her a 'now you know better than that' look. "If there is one lot of people more calculated to want my head than MacLeod," he said reprovingly, "it's the Watchers."
Methos hesitated. "I just played a hunch and it came off," he told her. He made a face at her. "You're going to have to trust me."
"Huh! That's rich, coming from you," she grumbled.
Methos smiled. "Going to phone her with it tonight, are you?"
Rhiannon shook her head. "There's a good chance she's with Duncan," she said. "And she's not going to want him around when she gets this. I'll get it to her tomorrow."
Methos nodded, content that his evening was not going to be disrupted any more by the intrusive affairs of other immortals. He slid his hand under the thick coils of her honey-coloured hair, caressing the soft skin at the nape of her neck, feeling for the button at the top of her blouse. But for a moment his mind refused to let go of Giovanna and MacLeod.
"You know, MacLeod could take him out easily," he said out loud.
"Who?" asked Rhiannon drowsily, not paying attention.
Rhiannon's eyes snapped open. "Just because you put survival before honour, doesn't mean everyone else has to," she told him.
Methos chuckled. "I knew those two were well matched," he said,
and closed his eyes.
In the morning, Rhiannon called Giovanna's flat. The phone was answered, but in the instant before Giovanna spoke, Rhiannon was sure she heard in the background a mean's deep voice. So that's how they worked it out, Rhiannon smiled to herself.
"I've got something for you," she told Giovanna. "Can you meet me at the Café Marly in half an hour? On your own?"
At the café, Rhiannon handed over Methos's piece of paper. "Casavecchio was there, a few months ago," she told her.
"How did you get this?" Giovanna demanded.
Giovanna gave her a hard look. "Adam," she said shrewdly, and left it at that.
"What do we do now?" Methos asked when Rhiannon returned to the studio.
"We wait," Rhiannon replied.
"He may not be there."
Methos saw, and pitied - and knew there was nothing he could do about - the
tension, the fear that had taken hold of Rhiannon.
About an hour later, Duncan arrived. He seemed surprised to find them alone.
"Where's Giovanna?" he asked. "I thought she was with you."
Rhiannon looked at Methos and swallowed, feeling that she was about to put the lighted match to the blue touch paper, with no room to step back.
"She's out hunting," she told him frankly. "Following a lead."
"On her own? You two let her go off on her own?"
"It's what she wanted, Duncan. You weren't going stop her."
"She'll get herself killed!" he stormed.
"Duncan, she's a good fighter," Rhiannon remonstrated. "I should know. I taught her. I think she can take him."
"And if she can't?" he demanded.
Rhiannon held his eye steadily. "Casavecchio insulted her friend. Now he's insulted her honour. She doesn't want to live with that." Her voice softened a fraction. "You of all people should understand that."
Duncan havered, opening and shutting his mouth for a moment and eventually vented his spleen on Methos.
"And what about you?" he growled. "Since when were you so keen on putting honour before survival?"
"Me? Nothing to do with me if she wants to get herself killed. I've only just met the woman."
MacLeod gave him a look of disgust. "Oh, I forgot," he said sarcastically. "You don't get involved, do you? After all, it might interfere with keeping Methos alive at all costs."
"At least I don't stick my nose in where it's not wanted," Methos retorted.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Giovanna's not your clanswoman. You fight her battles for her, then she loses. Her choice, MacLeod, not yours."
"Well maybe it's a pity you never found anything you valued more than your own neck."
Somewhere in the course of this, Methos lost patience with Mac's goading. He would take a lot from MacLeod - he knew most of it was deserved - but even he had his breaking point. He turned slowly - and his eyes reflecting every day of his five thousand years.
"Do you know why it is I am so determined to survive, MacLeod?" he said dangerously quietly. "Do you know why after five thousand years I've never got bored? Why I've never thought it would be easier just to let someone take my head and have done with it all?"
MacLeod shook his head, truculent but fascinated.
Methos circled closer to MacLeod, his voice rising to a peak then dropping again; so that Rhiannon, standing further away, had to struggle to hear what he was saying.. "Every one of those thousands, those tens of thousands the Horsemen killed - in the moment before we took their lives, what would they have said was their most precious possession? What do you think they would have given for another day, another half an hour of life?"
MacLeod stared at him, silenced by the onslaught of words. And Methos, palms upward, fists clenching, groped for the expression that would convey what he was trying to say.
"We immortals, we have life in such abundance, and they have just one little cupful. Well, who am I, who am I," he demanded, his voice finally exploding out of its constraints, "to devalue what they held so dearly?" He paused again, seeing Alexa, and behind her so many others - lovers, victims. "If I ever think that I have had enough, that there must be nothing left to see, nothing new under the sun - then I think what one of them would have done with that extra half an hour of life "
"And then again if you were dead, you'd have to answer to them for what you did," MacLeod put in sourly.
Methos glared. "You're not listening, MacLeod. I'm not afraid to die: I want to live."
"Yeah - and at what cost?"
"Cost to whom?" Methos asked. "To immortals? We immortals take our chances - in the game or out of it. We choose what we do. And mortals? Mortals live out the span of their life, and then they die. That's it. No second chances - not for Alexa not for Tessa, not for any of them. It's out of our hands, MacLeod."
"Out of your hands?" MacLeod raged disbelievingly. "What about the virus in the water supply? What about Kronos's plan?"
"We stopped him, didn't we?" Methos answered softly.
"You were ready to go along with him - you were ready to let thousands of them die again just to make sure you survived."
"Was I?" The words dropped like pebbles onto a pool. "I could tell you I was. I could tell you I wasn't. There is no way you can ever know if I am telling the truth or not."
"So I just have to trust you?"
Methos's eyes raked across him, already way down the path MacLeod still had to tread. "You have to decide what you believe," he told him. "And you have to act on it."
"And if I believe you were ready to let them die?"
"You are who you are, MacLeod. If you believe that, then you will judge me. And we will fight. Even if I spend the next thousand years trying to stay out of your way, the day will come when we will fight. And one of us will die."
Methos drew his sword - slowly, as if he were practising a movement.
"What do you say, MacLeod? Are you going to fight me?"
The stance he took was wide open, patently vulnerable, as if he was offering himself to MacLeod. Yet Rhiannon knew - and she guessed that Duncan did too - that if he made any move to attack, Methos would defend himself. All the same, the psychology was clear. If you believe me guilty, Methos was saying, you have to fight me. And you have to kill me. It's part of who you are. But if you cannot bring yourself to kill me, then I cannot be guilty - because that is part of who you are too.
"Put that away," MacLeod said, turning away. "I'll not fight you."
Methos had too much sense to press MacLeod any further. That was as near to an acceptance of who he was as he was ever likely to get. He sheathed his sword with the same slow deliberate action that he had drawn it, then stepped back and, without taking his eyes off MacLeod, put his hand gently on Rhiannon's arm.
Rhiannon felt all the tension in her body discharging, as if earthing itself
through Methos. She started to shake, and he put an arm around her, holding her
close. And before any of them could say anything, the phone began to ring.
Giovanna slipped past the concierge dozing in her office and started to climb the steep stairs. By the time she reached the first landing, she knew that she had found the right place. Her awareness, reaching out before her, groping for any sign that another immortal was near, made contact almost at once.
For a moment she paused, checking that the sense was real, not wishful thinking. Then she climbed on, swiftly and silently, pressing her advantage. If Casavecchio was not expecting her, then she might be able to get quite close before he felt her coming.
There was always the chance that he would get away, slipping out through the window and down the fire escape that led to the dingy yard behind. But it was he who had been hunting her. Surely after so many months he would not avoid a confrontation now?
On the top landing, she tried the door. It was unlocked. By now, Casavecchio would surely be fully aware of her. Somewhere on the other side of that door, he would standing, sword drawn, waiting. With four hundred years of training behind her, every instinct honed to a knife edge, Giovanna opened the door.
Casavecchio had his own brand of honour. He wasn't waiting behind the door to knock her out before taking her head. He didn't have a gun. Just the cup-hilt Italian rapier that she remembered - they must have buried it with him. He was standing in the middle of the room, taut as a leopard about to pounce, his blade held out before him.
"Giovanna," he whispered. "Now, I didn't think it was going to be you."
For the first time in three hundred years, she stood face to face with the man she had made a mortal enemy of. His hair had been cut short; he was clean shaven, and he wore his modern clothes surprisingly easily. But the look in his eye was the one she remembered from when she had stood looking back on him in his cell, the night before they hanged him.
"Why?" she said. "Who were you expecting?"
"Oh, I was expecting you - three hundred years ago. But you missed our appointment." His sword cut the air in between them. "What happened?" he sneered. "Did you lose your nerve?
Giovanna took off her coat and threw it on the floor. "I'm not the one who's spent the last six months vanishing into thin air every time I came after you, Casavecchio."
"And how did it feel like?" he derided. "To be scared?"
He made a lunge towards her, which she parried easily.
"You think your party tricks scared me?"
They were circling each other now, each of them looking for an opening.
"They scared you enough to send your friend MacLeod after me yesterday."
"I didn't send MacLeod," Giovanna told him. "He just got in the way. Trust me, your head is mine."
"Oh, I don't think so. After three hundred years, I have a powerful longing for a quickening - your quickening, to be precise."
He lunged again, pressing his attack. Their swords clashed, a tuneless carillon of metal on metal.
"Do you know what it is like to be buried for three hundred years?" he demanded. "Did you suppose I would be dead for the whole time?" His eyes reflected the horror of what he remembered. "From time to time the earth would shift, cracks would appear. Just enough air would get in to revive me, and I would be there, trapped, in a box, in the dark - waiting to die, again."
He was fighting hard now, deadly serious. Giovanna could feel his hatred. It was palpable - like a field surrounding him, making him more powerful, more focused. But it also made him angry.
"I had no way to get you out, Casavecchio," she told him, fighting back her own horror.
"You didn't try," he spat back at her. "I checked. The city was razed three days after I was hanged. What were you doing for those three days - you and that Welsh bitch? Sitting back and having a good laugh about it?"
"There was a curfew. We couldn't get out.!
"You couldn't get out?" He made a sound in his throat like a strangulated laugh - bitter and humourless.
"I have a long memory, Casavecchio, but I can't see the future. I thought we had time - that a few days would make no difference. If I'd known what was going to happen"
"Oh - sure. You'd have tried so hard," he sneered. "Just like you did for the next three hundred years."
"All right, Casavecchio! You have your grudge against me. I have my grudge against you. Let's finish it!"
Her counter-attack was swift, perhaps more skilful that he was expecting. She got a blow in to his shoulder, inches below his neck. She felt the blade strike deep, saw the pain in his face, the blood soaking his shirt. Then he came at her - wild, uncontrolled, breaking through her defences with the sheer craziness of his blows. She felt clothes ripped, skin torn - one deep blow glancing off her ribs. But there was no method to his attack. Eventually, she saw the opening she had been waiting for, and heard Rhiannon's voice - If you see the chance, take it. Never hesitate. The whole course of a battle can change in the wink of an eye And she swung her sword.
In the split second it took for the sword to complete its job, she saw the expression on Casavecchio's face change from hatred to despair, and then to relief. Then his body crumpled to the ground, and a few seconds later she felt the quickening, pushing her back, lifting her. Her own body went limp, and it carried her back a few feet before dropping her, on her knees, in the middle of the floor. Forks of lightening crackled in the air between her and Casavecchio, and for a minute she danced like a puppet on a string, feeling the power enter her, wave after wave - a feeling beyond pain, beyond pleasure. And as if from the other side of the room, she heard herself groan.
When the light show had died down, she lay on the floor, face down in the filthy drugget, unable to move, tears running down her face. She could feel her body begin to heal, the wounds closing, pain slowly leeching away.
Eventually - after how long she did not know - she sat up and looked down at herself. The wounds might heal, but her clothes were still torn. Her t-shirt was ripped open, her jeans slashed a blood-stained. Good thing I was wearing a coat, she thought grimly.
She got to her feet slowly and, having found a small, grimy washbasin,
washed away the worst of the blood. Then she picked up her sword and pulled her
coat on over her tattered clothes. Then, just as she had imagined Casavecchio
doing earlier, she opened the window and climbed down the iron fire escape and
out into the yard below.
It took her a few minutes to get her bearings. She had left her car behind at her apartment and walked from the nearest Metro station. Now it took her a moment to work out what part of Paris she was in. I came as a surprise to realise that she wasn't far from the barge. Given the present state of her clothes, it seemed like a good idea to head for the nearest refuge and sort herself out from there.
Not far from the barge, she stopped and phoned Duncan's number. Then getting no answer, she tried, first her own apartment, and then the studio. And there, at last, she had an answer.
"Yes," Rhiannon told her. "Duncan's here. Tutto bene?" she asked urgently. "Are you all right?"
"Si, Rhiannon" she answered wearily. "Va bene. But I need somewhere to go. I am near the barge."
"We'll meet you there."
"Ma Rhiannon, I need some clothes. Can you get them for me? There is a key to my apartment in drawer in the kitchen at the studio."
"D'accorda, Giovanna. I'll go get you some clothes." She glanced across at MacLeod. "I'm sure Duncan will meet you at the barge. And Giovanna - what about Casavecchio?"
"Morto," she confirmed. "Cassavecchio is dead."
It was Sunday morning, and there was very little traffic on the roads. Duncan drove from the studio back to the barge, breaking the speed limit all the way. Even knowing Giovanna was alive was not enough. He had to see her for himself.
He found her huddling on the deck behind the cabin, clutching her coat round her. For a while he just held her, letting the tension seep slowly out of her.
"You should have let yourself in," he said dryly. "Everyone else does."
She laughed shortly and shook her head, still too full for words. He led her inside, and showed her where she could take a shower, found her a robe to wear, and waited.
When she came out, dressed in his robe and drying her hair in one of his towels, she looked calmer, but still very pale.
"You want to talk about it?" he asked gently.
He sat down beside her and took her hands in his. He was ready and willing to be sympathetic, to console, to do whatever she needed him to do. But he didn't know what to say. She had set out to take Casavecchio's head, and he had taken it. Judging be the state she had been in when he found her, it had been a hard fight, but it was over and she had won. Physically now, she was fine. And yet she looked traumatised, and he didn't understand why
Giovanna smiled at him, but her eyes were light years away. He wanted to take her and hold her, to comfort her until she came back to him. He wanted to be alone with her, damn it. But Rhiannon was already on her way. It could only be a matter of time before she came clattering into the barge.
"You are very kind, Duncan," Giovanna said wearily.
MacLeod put his hand under her chin and very gently tipped her face up towards his. His fingers tenderly brushed her damp hair back from her face.
"Giovanna, what's wrong?" he asked.
Her lips parted, but whether she would have answered him then, he never found out. They both felt the insistent tug of awareness, and the only word that came out was, "Rhiannon."
She was not, after all, on her own. To MacLeod's surprise, Methos had come with her. He couldn't see why he would have bothered. He and Rhiannon weren't exactly inseparable, and he'd already made it clear he wasn't much interested in Giovanna. But here he was, fading into the background almost as soon as he arrived, draping himself over the furniture as if perfectly at home, yet detached from everything that was going on.
Rhiannon was talking to Giovanna, speaking in a stream of rapid Italian, touching her as if to assure herself she was still in one piece.
"Giovanna, cara mia, come sta ?"
They hugged each other tightly for a minute before Rhiannon pulled back and, holding her firmly by the arm, asked sternly, "Cosa accaduto? What happened?"
Giovanna seemed happier to talk to Rhiannon - or maybe it was just that they were all there now and she wasn't condemned to tell the story over and over.
She began, briefly, to tell them how she had met Casavecchio, how they had begun to fight. Then she looked up at Rhiannon, and MacLeod saw again the horror on her face that he had seen when he first found her up on deck. For a moment she choked, unable to get the words out, and when she spoke it was slowly, painfully.
"He was not dead all the time. He told me that sometimes the ground would shift and air would get inside the coffin. He would wake up to find himself trapped, and then lie there - waiting to die again." She gave a strangled sob. "Rhiannon, he had a horror of being buried alive, and I condemned him to it - over and over again."
Rhiannon put her arms around her. "Giovanna, it wasn't your fault. He brought it on himself. He was condemned by a mortal court for a mortal crime. You didn't make him commit that crime. And whatever he thought, you didn't betray him to the mortals. And you didn't trap him under the walls."
"He was condemned to die!" Giovanna protested. "Not to such torture. I could gladly have killed him, then or now. But to make him live with such a horror "
"There was no way you could know," Duncan told her.
Giovanna stared at him, not listening. "I should have dug him up. I should have tried harder."
He squatted down in front of her. "Giovanna, there was nothing you could do," he said urgently. "Half a city collapsed on top of him."
"I should have tried," she repeated mechanically.
MacLeod realised suddenly that Methos was standing over them, quiet and still, his face grave. After a moment Giovanna realised too, and looked up, meeting his eyes.
"What's done is done," he said to her, so quietly MacLeod had to strain to make out the words. "There is nothing you can do to undo it. What you have to do now is to live with it."
Taken on their own, the words could have seemed cold and unfeeling. But MacLeod heard the gentleness in his voice, saw the compassion in his eyes - and so did Giovanna. After a moment, she smiled a little and held out her hand to him.
Methos gave a small nod and, briefly, took her hand. MacLeod and Rhiannon both started to talk at once, to cover the tension, and so he only half heard Giovanna say softly to Methos,
"Quanti anni ha, Adam? How old are you?"
Methos gave an enigmatic smile - acknowledgement but not admission - before
turning away, his secret kept.
After that, as ease settled over the four of them. MacLeod offered to cook lunch for everyone, and all of them agreed to stay. First one bottle of wine was opened (though Methos drank beer) and then another, and they were just debating, idly, whether to open a third one, when they each sensed another immortal nearby. Only Rhiannon noticed that Methos, usually the first to react, hardly responded at all - almost as if he had been expecting someone.
A moment later, a pair of elegant long legs appeared in the hatchway, a body shown off to best advantage in a skin-tight top and trousers, a head with short-cropped brown hair as sleek as a seal's
"MacLeod, you've got company. Aren't you going to introduce me?"
MacLeod looked first surprised, then unmistakably embarrassed.
"Amanda! I didn't know you were back."
"No, you didn't, did you?" Amanda purred. "Adam, how lovely to see you." She offered her cheek to be kissed, and Methos grinning, introduced Rhiannon to her.
"And this is Giovanna Lippi, the painter," he added smoothly, leaving MacLeod to untie his tongue.
"A pleasure to meet you, Giovanna," Amanda smiled sweetly.
Methos wiped his mouth with a napkin, and whispered authoritatively to
Rhiannon, "I think this is our cue to leave."
Rhiannon, temporarily too surprised to fight back, allowed herself to be hustled gracefully out of the barge. But outside, under the bridge, she came to and rounded on Methos.
"Did you know Amanda was back in town?" she demanded.
"I might have heard a rumour," he admitted, squirming a little.
"And are you just going to leave Giovanna in there with Amanda?" she blazed. "I mean, she's not exactly in any state to accept another challenge if Amanda decides to get territorial."
Methos smiled imperturbably. "You don't have to worry about Amanda. She's feeling much too guilty to do anything to Giovanna."
"Guilty?" echoed Rhiannon blankly. "Why should she be feeling guilty?"
"She was the one who showed Casavecchio how to get past the security systems in the Louvre, who acclimatised him to the twentieth century."
Rhiannon blinked. "Amanda helped Casavecchio to hunt Giovanna? But why?"
"She didn't know that was what she was doing. She wouldn't exactly tell me, but I expect he told her he was planning some big heist - the sort of thing she wouldn't want MacLeod to know about."
"Okay, okay - so how did you know?"
Methos shrugged. "I didn't. But when you and Giovanna were talking about someone helping him to get past the security systems, Amanda seemed too obvious to ignore: someone who has been a thief and a whore for a thousand years, someone who could very well have run into Casavecchio before " He gestured expansively. "So I paid her a couple of visits. The first time she was out of town. And the second time she gave me that address."
Rhiannon let that sink in slowly. "And her turning up this afternoon" she persisted, "that was just coincidence, I suppose?"
Methos grinned. "You'd rather she turned up in the evening - when it was just the two of them in bed together?"
Rhiannon groaned audibly. "Couldn't you just have warned MacLeod?" she protested.
"I couldn't stand to see him dealing with another moral dilemma - his conscience might go into overloading."
Rhiannon glared at him.
"You know, sometimes I can understand why MacLeod finds you so annoying."
"I aim to please."
Later that night, when they were lying drowsily together in bed, their differences (more or less) made up, Methos asked,
"Now this is all over, will you go back to Patagonia?!
"I expect so - in a few days. What about you?"
"Actually, I was thinking I might hang around here for a while," he admitted. "Get my own place again. Keep an eye on MacLeod."
"You think MacLeod needs looking after?" she teased. But he answered her in all seriousness.
"Yes. I'm not sure why, but I think he might."
There was a long silence. The familiar sound of Methos's breathing grew quieter and slower. Then, just before he fell asleep, Rhiannon said,
"You remember the night of the storm? Those buildings you said you sheltered in?"
"Funny thing about the stream there - it never dries up. Unusual for Patagonia."
Rhiannon smiled to herself, knowing the wasn't really listening.
"I always thought it would be a good place to put a brewery."
There was a break in the rhythm of his breathing, a minute change in the attitude of his head that told her that she had his attention.
"That barn you used, it would be fine for a maltings Clean reliable water supply Its own access I never got round to doing anything about it though."
Methos rolled over, his eyes wide awake now, now saying anything.
"Why don't you have it, Methos?" she said, touching his face. "You can come and go as you please. I needn't even know that you're there. But if you need me, I'm only a couple of days ride away."
Methos tipped her gently onto her back and kissed her - a long, tender, exploratory kiss.
"I might do that," he said. "I might well."
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Last updated 11/07/1997