Methos dug his toes into the black sand of Kamari beach on Santorini as a cool wave washed over them. New light burned a fiery path across the water and lit the wispy clouds at the horizon with an orange glow, but the sunrise no longer sang to him without Alexa there to breathe wonder into the moment.
He moved back from the shoreline and sat cross-legged in the sand, listening to the shifting pattern of the waves and letting himself be blinded by the bright rays bouncing off the water. Alexa had been enthralled by Santorini - the black beaches, the red cliffs, the villages with narrow flagstone streets and white-washed buildings, the exotic food, the crystal clear water. Being with her had made the world seem new in a way he hadn't felt in so long he couldn't remember.
Now he felt older than he had in a long, long time. Even here it was hard to remember her eyes, her shy smile, her soft, windblown hair, even her tears of pain without the memory of everything that had happened in Bordeaux breaking into his thoughts. For the first time since Alexa's death, Methos felt a twinge of wistful gratitude that her battle was over, that she was safe beyond the reach of sorrow, beyond reach of the truth of what he was, and what he had once been.
Finally he heard it. A tiny rustle in the long grass behind him, so faint that the sound of the waves would have swallowed it up if he hadn't known it would be there.
Without moving, without turning, he said to the empty beach, "Are you going to take my head, or are you going to follow me like a bad batch of oysters for the next five hundred years?"
After a moment his senses were assaulted by the presence of the immortal behind him. She had been careful to keep her distance throughout his long, wandering journey, but it he had always known she was there.
She didn't answer him, but suddenly he saw the point of a blade hovering beside his neck. It hung there, catching the rosy morning light, for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally he heard her voice behind him, throaty and precise, a voice from so long ago it seemed like it should have been a dream. "I don't know yet."
He pondered this admission, still making no move to avoid her blade. What would make her hesitate? She certainly hadn't in Bordeaux, when she stood over him as he knelt sobbing in the aftermath of Silas' quickening. Only MacLeod's bellowed insistence - "I want him to live!" - had stayed her hand then.
Suddenly the blade disappeared, and he gasped as he felt it pierce his heart and saw the tip slide out smoothly between his ribs. Pain blossomed as she drew it out again, and the world spun and began to go black. "Perhaps I want more than your head," was the last thing he heard.
He came back to life with his face in the sand and a fountain of agony in his chest. The first, involuntary gasp for air drew sand into his lungs, and he coughed painfully with a hand pressed against his chest until finally he could breathe and wait for the pain to subside.
He glanced down at himself, and then quickly looked around. Good thing this was a private stretch of beach - no one was likely to happen by and notice the man lying dead on the sand with a bloody slice in both sides of his shirt. Cassandra was nowhere in sight, but no doubt she was still watching. As soon as he could manage, he crawled into the surf, pulled his shirt over his head, and washed himself off.
The beach house he had rented was undisturbed. He wasn't carrying much - he had fled Bordeaux with only a coat, a sword, a few changes of clothes, and a wad of bills he hadn't counted in some time. At first he hadn't been going anywhere in particular, except away from Bordeaux, away from MacLeod, away from the ghosts of Kronos, Silas, and Caspian who came back to avenge their shattered brotherhood whenever he closed his eyes. He took whatever train or bus presented itself, with no thought of what direction it would take him, until finally he realized that his footsteps were unconsciously leading him back to Santorini.
Last night he had slept untroubled for the first time in weeks and awakened early, in time to go out and watch the sunrise. But whatever power the memory of Alexa had to keep the headless ghosts at bay, she couldn't protect him from the one that was still alive.
Methos sighed, washed his face in the narrow sink, dressed in the cleanest, least rumpled clothes he had, and went to look for something to eat.
He found himself in one of the small cafes that he and Alexa had frequented. He ordered fried zucchini and shrimp tourkolimano, which had been her favorites. The aroma from the steaming plate took him back eight months in an instant, and he almost looked up expecting her to be there. A sudden vision of her face flashed through his mind, clear and breathtaking, her pale blue eyes lit with delight, and warming with something more when she looked at him.
But just as quickly it was replaced by a vision of Cassandra, her eyes full of hopeless defiance, staring bitterly at him from behind the bars of the cage in the bowels of the horsemen's lair. Methos stifled the urge to glance around the café. Let her follow if she must.
He spent the rest of the day wandering through the tourist shops and village streets, past the museums and restaurants and churches, retracing alone the paths that he and Alexa had walked together. When she died he had sworn to himself that he wouldn't do it - wouldn't chase after her memory like a broken-hearted puppy. It wasn't as if this was the first or second or even the hundredth time he had lost someone he loved. You'd think he'd have gotten used to it over the centuries. Why did it always have to hurt so much?
He'd been doing all right, until the horsemen had reappeared out of the black depths of his past. Until MacLeod had ended their friendship, seeing his own deepest wounds reflected in the horsemen's slaughter. Until Cassandra had come to collect on an unpayable debt thousands of years old. Until Kronos had found him and reclaimed him as his strong right arm and stirred the terrible horseman still lurking inside him.
In a tavern at sundown Methos finally realized that it wasn't just the memory of Alexa that he needed - but the memory of who he had been when she was there.
Finally he went back to the beach house and fell into bed, but slept lightly, still afraid of who might be lurking in the shadows of his dreams. But again no one came for him.
Once again he awakened before sunrise. He closed the door quietly behind him and walked barefoot to the beach, breathing deep, slow breaths of the still air. He walked along the edge of the waves where they fanned out across the sand in thin foamy layers, watching the eastern sky gradually lighten until finally liquid fire spilled out across the water.
He sat down to wait for Cassandra to come, choosing a spot beside a tall clump of grass in case she should decide to kill him again.
She didn't bother to disguise her approach. He heard her striding up from the opposite side of the beach even before he felt the sudden rushing in his head that indicated her presence. She didn't look as if she had even noticed the spectacle of light and color painted across the sky.
He turned toward her as she approached, and her footsteps slowed. They stared at each other in silence until finally she spoke.
"You knew I would come for you, didn't you? You knew I was following you - from the beginning."
He nodded, but kept his voice light. "From the moment I left MacLeod in the cemetery."
She made a sound that he interpreted as derisive laughter. "It's not very difficult to track someone who wakes up screaming at least once a night. People talk."
She tilted her head, looking down at him like some loathsome spider. "Do they come for you in the dark of the night? Hijad, my village, all the people you slaughtered?" She looked as if the idea pleased her immensely.
"No." He hesitated, but it was too late to lie now. "The others. Kronos, Silas, Caspian. We were brothers for a thousand years. I betrayed them. I was the one who broke up the horsemen before, and now I killed Silas and led MacLeod to them." He took a deep breath, their dark displeasure welling up keenly in his imagination. "Their ghosts have not been forgiving."
She drew her sword and advanced a few steps. "You will not find me any more so."
He sighed. "I'm sure MacLeod told you that revenge won't do you any good in the end. If you didn't believe him I suppose there's no point in me saying it."
She snorted and tossed her head. Then her eyes narrowed and quite deliberately she stepped closer until he was in reach of her sword.
"‘I will kill you as many times as it takes to tame you.' Do you remember that?"
He grimaced a little. "Yes."
"Then I'm going to kill you as many times as you killed me."
"OK." He wondered how good her memory really was. "Then what?"
"Then I'll decide if I'm going to take your head."
He saw her grip tighten and her weight shift a moment before her blade flashed and sliced across his stomach. Apparently he had died too quickly the first time. Warm blood poured from the wound, and he tried to keep his guts where they belonged with one hand while he braced himself with the other and tried to breathe against the lake of fire in his stomach.
But it wasn't a fatal wound, not for an immortal, and surely she knew that. Already he felt the underlying muscle starting to knit itself back together. As if in answer to his thought, her sword slipped between his ribs to pierce a lung. He heard himself choking horribly and tasted blood. Still he might have cheated death, if he'd had the will for it, but instead he surrendered to shock, and blackness.
Once again she was gone when life flooded back into him, which was odd, since he had always held her until she awakened, knife pressed against her skin until she submitted to his will. He groaned at the hideous ache in his chest and stomach, and dragged himself into the surf again, washing the much more copious amounts of drying blood from his second ruined shirt.
The sun was higher than it had been, already warming the black sand to uncomfortable temperatures. He limped back to the beach house and collapsed on the bed, the soles of his feet tingling as they healed. If Cassandra meant what she said, it was going to be a long month, or maybe two or three. She had not been easy to tame.
Finally he washed and dressed and went to the same café he had gone to yesterday. Memories of Alexa whispered again in his ear, and to keep his mind from other thoughts, he tried to piece together some of the wandering conversations they'd had over meals.
She seldom wanted to talk about herself, her life - as if it touched too closely on her impending death. Likewise there wasn't much he could tell her about himself without revealing his immortality, and he could not bear for her to know that he might live forever while she had only a few precious months.
Which left only the here and now as topics for conversation. So they talked about the food, Greek culture, the history of the island, the other places they had been together, and what they might do that day. He told her stories of Santorini's volcano and its periodic fits and explosions, being very careful not to let slip any hints that some of it was personal experience. She drank in every word, hungry for history, for knowledge, for life.
When he was finished eating, he left the café and resumed his wandering pilgrimage of Santorini, trailing his invisible shadow. This time rather walking past the museums and churches, he stopped and drank in the memories of a few particular places. The Megaron Gyzi museum, a beautiful old 17th century mansion that had been converted into a cultural center, tugged at him with a hundred tiny strings of memory, and he bought a ticket and went inside.
Something about these lovely dome-shaped rooms full of manuscripts and engravings and dresses and paintings and maps had caught Alexa's fancy the way none of the other museums had, and more than once she had talked him into coming back.. He wondered if it touched some childhood fantasy, and had smiled to think of her imagining herself a great lady, and he the master of these walls. His real place in the history of this mansion had not, unfortunately, been so flattering, but much less conspicuous. The first time he had come with Alexa she had hurried from one room to the next and then back again, trying to take it all in at once and yet miss nothing. Later they had lingered over some of the manuscripts dating from the early 16th to 19th centuries that gave a picture of everyday life in the quarter occupied by Catholic nobility. He thought he recognized a few of the names and events. Alexa frequently got lost in the jumble of centuries, and he had to remind himself that she had no context in which to recall that the Russians came before the Turks, and the Venetians and Franks before either of them.
He emerged from the museum into the bright afternoon light, and after only a few minutes he caught sight of a bus heading to the archeological excavation of the Minoan city of Akrotiri. He and Alexa had only been there once, but it had been a memorable afternoon. He dug into his pocket again and boarded.
Akrotiri had been buried in one of the more spectacular cataclysms of Santorini's volcano. He hadn't been there, fortunately. The volcano had given enough warnings in the form of tremors and the sea changing color and growing suddenly warmer that all the inhabitants had abandoned the village before the eruption occurred. Unfortunately, that hadn't saved them from the tidal wave caused by the volcano that had washed over Crete and destroyed a good portion of the Minoan civilization. But the walls of the buildings and the floors and the streets of Akrotiri had been preserved by the fiery ash, and some of them had been laid bare in the last fifty years by teams of Greek archeologists. If his memory of the size of the village was at all accurate, most of it was still buried, no doubt awaiting further funding.
The bus arrived, and Methos got out and stood looking over the ruins, ignoring the pitches of the tour guides. When he had brought Alexa here to wander around the chest-high maze and admire the frescoes and mosaic floors, the storerooms with their pithi jars and the living quarters of the wealthy families, he'd had to bite his tongue a dozen times with against the sudden flashes that arose from the vast sea of forgotten memories. There was so much he wanted to tell her about how the ancient Minoans had lived, their customs, their government, their gods, the way they caught fish and wove baskets and made bread.
He had solved his dilemma by turning their tour into a game of make-believe, pretending to imagine who had lived in this house and that house, making up their life stories, making her laugh at their predictable small-town relationships, filling in the details with bits from his own life and gambling that the true source of his knowledge was so preposterous it would never cross her mind. It had been reward enough to hear her laughter echoing in the open spaces where the top half of the buildings had once been.
Strange that his strongest memories of Alexa should be in the places where he himself had been before, centuries or millenia ago. Perhaps it was in such places that he had been able to share more of himself, choosing carefully from the best of what he had been. He could not tell her the truth, but when he put his mind to it he had found ways to give her the benefit of a few pieces of his vast experience. Walking home after the bus had returned him to the village, he found himself realizing how many more things he could have told her, if he'd had the sense to think of them at the time.
That night he dreamed that he was with Alexa again, and that they were excavating the Minoan ruins together. It was very, very hot, and the wind kept blowing her hair loose, and she was getting sunburned, but she still kept digging determinedly. They were in the remains of the marketplace, and every time they found something, he would remember what it was and explain it to her. But he had a nagging hunch that there was something buried there that he shouldn't let her find. Any minute she would stumble onto it. He had to get her away.
He awoke suddenly in the darkness. He had to admit that it was better than dreaming of the horsemen's revenge, but the bittersweet memory of being with Alexa clung like an aftertaste in his mind, and he felt even more alone than before. It seemed like hours before he fell asleep again.
The next morning he didn't have to wait long on the black sand at sunrise before Cassandra came like a messenger of doom from the opposite end of the beach. She would have made a good horseman, if he'd ever had the guts to try and talk Kronos into it.
She stopped a few feet away. "So, Methos. You're not afraid to die a few hundred times? Or are you hoping that if you let me kill you enough times, I won't take your head?"
He looked her in the eye. "I'm not afraid to die," he said steadily, changing her meaning of the word.
Cassandra laughed harshly. "You were Death, Methos, but you've run from it like a startled rabbit for centuries."
He held her gaze. "I don't want to die. But someday it will happen. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a few more millennia." Alexa's face, empty and still, lanced across his mind's eye. "Everything dies."
"Unless you are the last one. Unless you take the prize."
"I don't want it."
"No?" She sounded quite incredulous.
"I don't want the power of all the immortals. I don't want to live forever. I just want to live today. It's all I've wanted for thousands of years. One more day, one more year, one more decade. Maybe someday I'll stop wanting to live. But so far it hasn't happened."
Her eyes seemed to darken, remembering. "I wanted to die. On a hundred nights in your tent I would have killed myself, if I'd known how."
Finally he looked away. "I know. That's why I didn't tell you."
She took a slow breath, and rage seemed to rise like a gathering storm in her eyes. "I'm going to make you taste what it feels like to wish for death."
Like a metal serpent her sword hissed through the air and bit into him. She ran him through and gave the blade a vicious quarter turn before drawing it out again, tearing everything inside. He gasped in unbearable agony and doubled over, vomiting blood in the sand.
She waited until the wound finally began to heal and then slid her sword into his side, twisting it again. He couldn't scream, couldn't move, couldn't see, couldn't breathe. She was a dark shadow against the sun, waiting - but she needed more practice in keeping a victim alive. She had punctured a lung, and he drowned in his own blood before the damage could heal.
He came back to life in a red haze of memory and pain. After a few minutes he could breathe again, but he lay hunched around himself until his perfectly healed body began to cramp up at the awkward position. He stretched gingerly and limped across the hot sand into the welcoming waves, letting them slowly wash away the dark crust of blood and sand from his torn clothes.
He didn't feel like eating until early afternoon. He went up to the café and ordered only an Athenian salad, as Alexa had sometimes done when she wasn't feeling well.
She was always so disappointed on days when her illness interrupted their plans. And it was hard for her not to believe that he wasn't disappointed as well. Over and over he had to convince her that her company was far and away the most compelling attraction on Santorini, and that he would be perfectly content to sit quietly on the back porch of the beach house with her and watch the waves roll in and the clouds drift by.
Even though neither of them said it, the knowledge that she was dying was always there, every minute of every day. When it was too much to bear she would crawl into his arms at night and weep for hours, and he had held her close and wept too, his heart aching with the weight of so many years when even the few she should have had were being cut off prematurely. He would have given her all he had left, if only he could have found a way.
But even the mysterious crystals had disappeared into the river before his eyes, and he had never felt so helpless as he did standing on the edge of that bridge in Paris with his hands tied behind him. He had returned to her empty-handed, unable to tell her how close he'd come to saving her. He had been with her, had loved her, had told her stories and jokes and described all the beautiful, exotic places she would never see as she struggled to breathe, had held her hand in his when she closed her eyes for the last time. It was all he could do.
Methos shook himself, mentally derailing the train of runaway memories, and left his salad unfinished. Was this why he had come to Santorini? To torture himself? Wasn't being violently murdered every morning punishment enough?
He spent a restless day wandering around the village without really seeing it, stopping occasionally at taverns and nightclubs but never drinking enough to challenge his immortal metabolism. Toward evening he went back to the beach house, but instead of going to bed he wandered aimlessly through the rooms. Memories of odd moments with Alexa hovered everywhere, like ghosts - talking while they brushed their teeth in the bathroom, impromptu picnics at odd hours with leftover food from the cafe, sunlight streaming across the comforter as he lay beside her waiting for her to wake up, his deadly duel with a small black hairy spider that could jump like nothing he had ever seen.
Finally he lay down, but sleep eluded him. After a couple of restless hours he finally went outside and sat on a large padded chair on the back porch, looking up at the stars. The last night before they'd left for Switzerland Alexa had been in too much pain to sleep, and he'd carried her here and held her during the long, dark hours. He'd wiped away her silent tears and run his fingers through her hair and sung old Russian lullabies to her as the cool breeze blew over them and the waves broke invisibly against the shore. Twice he'd felt her breathing relax into the cadence of sleep, and though his legs fell asleep and his neck ached fiercely, he would have died rather than disturb her.
If he held still long enough he could imagine her in his arms now. There were many, many more stars visible here than there ever were in Paris - almost as many, in fact, as there had been above the horsemen's camp so long ago. Silas had believed that they were tiny campfires of people living in the sky, and was forever irked that there was no way to go there and conquer them. Methos had often found Cassandra staring up at the night sky, but what she saw there he never knew.
The first hint of dawn awakened him, and he realized that he had dozed off unawares. He took a deep breath and got up with an effort, stretching to get the kinks out of his muscles. He was hungry, but he held himself to just a glass of water. It was better to die on an empty stomach.
He walked along the beach and found his usual spot. The sunrise was as lovely as ever, unmindful of the fact that he was coming to dread the daily transition from darkness to light. Just when the too-bright circle of the sun had fully emerged from its watery resting place, Cassandra came striding on cue up the beach, her sword already unsheathed in her hand.
He watched her approach, and in spite of the fact that she was undoubtedly coming to kill him, he realized that he felt oddly comfortable in her company. No masks, no deception, no fear of discovery. She knew the worst of what he had been. She hated him for it with all her soul, but her honest hatred was somehow less of a burden than the mixture of betrayal and bewildered loyalty that he had seen in MacLeod's eyes.
He decided to delay the inevitable a few minutes. "I've been a slave myself, you know. For longer than you served me."
"What? I don't think so."
"How long do you think you lived in the horsemen's camp?"
"Fifty years? A hundred? What does it matter?" She shifted restlessly, and he wondered suddenly if he weren't just making the inevitable much more painful.
"It was only seven years. No, six and a half. You escaped in early summer."
She shook her head. "No. It was a lifetime. It was more than one lifetime."
He ducked his head. "I'm sure it seemed that way. I can still remember every load of bricks I carried, every time I fainted in the sun from thirst, every mile I dragged those chains, every stroke of the lash. They never seemed to notice how many times I died."
"At least they didn't kill you on purpose."
"No. They simply didn't care how many slaves' bones went into the foundation, as long as their bloody wall got built."
"‘I am Methos. You live to serve me. Never forget that,'" she quoted, and he heard centuries of nightmares in her voice. "I didn't even know what I was. I didn't know why I was alive. I can never do to you what you did to me. But I could kill you."
Her sword traced a thin line across the side of his neck. A heavy drop of blood trickled down his collarbone.
A real shudder ran through him, and he realized that he still wanted very much to live.
"Cassandra," he said very quietly, very evenly, "you don't want my quickening. You will relive everything I've done. You will feel everything I've felt. I will be with you for the rest of your life."
The blade dug deeper into the side of his neck, and he flinched, but the unsteadiness of her hands that he could feel through the blade told him that his words had given her at least momentary pause.
A few seconds more, and then in one fluid movement she drew the sword back and drove it into his heart. He was dead before the next wave reached the shore.
When his heart jump-started again, Methos reached a fumbling hand to his chest to make certain her sword wasn't still sticking out of it, since that's what it felt like. The sun had shone into his eyes while he was dead, blinding him, and it was a minute or two before the blackness gave way to morning sun on the beach again. He sat up slowly, waiting for the throbbing ache in his chest to subside, and ran the edge of his thumb solemnly along the side of his neck. Surely it had been a hundred years or more since he had come so close to dying as frequently as he had in the last few months.
He went back to the beach house and added one more sliced and blood-stained shirt to his growing collection. He took a long, hot shower, put on fresh clothes, started walking to the café. But on the way he suddenly paused, recognizing a small, familiar side street. Abruptly he turned and wound his way through the maze of cobblestone alleys until he stood in front of the Byzantine church of Panagia Episkopi.
It was the only place left on Santorini that he had not yet gone back to - one that he realized he had been avoiding. He stood in the street staring at the door for a long time before finally ducking inside.
Musty dimness and the odor of incense enveloped him as he entered, and he scanned the pews out of habit even though he knew that he would not catch sight of Alexa's bowed head among the few worshipers. Nevertheless he slipped quietly into an empty pew as if to wait for her as he had always done.
Alexa had been raised Catholic, and thought she hadn't been religious for most of her adult life, she had fallen in love with this little Greek Orthodox church. He was almost jealous of the peace she seemed to draw from praying silently in the semi-darkness, surrounded by the icons and paintings and candles.
Methos had seen so many religions wax and wane over the ages, had been an adherent at least in name to most of them at some point in his long existence, had even believed in some of them after a fashion while he was immersed in the culture. But he had never attained the simple faith that Alexa seemed to cling to like a solid anchor as her world faded into loss and suffering. Here her eyes seemed to hold a wisdom older than the world, and illogically he felt like an inexperienced school boy. It was the one thing they couldn't share, but he loved her enough to be grateful for whatever comfort it brought her.
He sat for a long time, listening to the occasional shuffle of a footstep and the faint murmur of whispered prayers in the stillness. Then finally he moved slowly to the alcove beside the altar and lit a candle. The flame rose high and thin in the still air. "If there is a God," he whispered, "please take care of Alexa." If there was an answer, he left before he could have heard it.
Blinking in the sunlight, he thought he caught a glimpse of Cassandra's face, a mask of anger and suspicion and doubt. But by the time his eyes adjusted, she was gone.
He started back toward the café, but realized he didn't feel like eating anymore. Instead he wandered down to the waterfront and settled himself against a post, watching the fisherman coming and going from the pier and secretly hoping not to stir up any more memories of Alexa. But the spectacular red cliffs rising against a deep blue sky and the sailboats skimming the crystal water and the white-washed houses set into the cliffs all reminded him unavoidably of the way Alexa had tried to capture it all on her small camera, as if their existence was in jeopardy rather than her own.
So he left the pier went up to the monastery of St. Ilias, the highest point on the island, somewhere he and Alexa had not had time to go. He wandered around looking at the bishops' vestments and Byzantine manuscripts and silver boxes with relics of saints on display there. But he couldn't help imagining what she would have liked, what she would have said, the details he would have carefully added to the old, hand-typed placards. He even found himself keeping an eye out for benches where she could rest. The empty space under his arm grew into a hollow ache that threatened to fill his chest.
When the church closed he found a nightclub featuring Greek music, tried to lose himself in the rhythms which still carried echoes of music he had known long before her time. But how could he forget teaching her to dance, and how easy it had been to be patient with her diminishing coordination, and the simple pleasure of moving together with her in his arms? Even if the horsemen didn't come for him, his dreams would give him no peace, tonight. He didn't leave the nightclub until he was so exhausted he was certain that his brain would shut down the instant his head hit the pillow.
When he awoke and stepped out of the door into the black sand the next morning, he had a sudden sense that he had already done so, just a few minutes before. Days were beginning to blur together just like they had when he was a Roman slave, and a prisoner of the Inquisition, and when he had been stranded in Iceland, and at Dachau, and a hundred other times of misery when he couldn't escape.
But this time, he could, if he chose to. He paused, seized by an overwhelming desire to simply turn around and walk away, away from Santorini, away from Cassandra's terrible vengeance, away from all the precious, painful memories of Alexa. The world was a wide place, and there were still corners of it he had never visited. If there was one art he had truly perfected, it was how to disappear.
But if he broke the pattern now, Cassandra would never forgive him. She would hunt him to the ends of the earth. She would never heal, never find peace. And he owed her - something.
As if knowing what his decision would be before he did, his feet carried him across the black sand to the beach. He walked down to the edge of the water and let the waves wash over his feet while he watched the sunrise. Then he went back and sat down and closed his eyes to wait for her.
When he opened them she stood before him, sword in hand with the sun at her back like some ancient, implacable goddess.
She took a breath but then stared silently at him for a moment as if abandoning what she had originally intended to say.
"Why did you come here, Methos?" she asked abruptly. "There are a thousand places in the world you could have run to, but you came here. Why?"
He took a quick breath. "Because someone I loved was happy here."
"Someone you loved? You don't know how to love. You only know how to own someone."
"I didn't know how to love when we were together. That was several thousand years ago."
"Not for me," she said, almost a reflex. She paused, though, and curiosity got the better of her. "Who was she?"
He took another deep breath. Alexa was dead. Cassandra couldn't harm her, couldn't destroy what they had shared.
"Her name was Alexa. She was mortal, and dying. She hadn't ever been outside of the western United States. She wanted to travel, to see the world. I showed her as much as I could before she died." He paused again, trying to keep a catch from his voice. "She loved Santorini."
Cassandra was silent for some time, but when she spoke her voice had a hard edge. "You killed so many women, raped and terrorized and destroyed so many lives - how can you expect me to believe that you willingly gave your time one pitiful woman who was already dying?"
The words bit deeply, but he couldn't deny the truth behind them. And there was no answer she would accept, not yet. He took a deep breath, and chose his words carefully.
"I didn't know how to love you, Cassandra, but I wanted you for myself. And in my world, the only way to do that was to own you." He met her eyes, knowing he was only an impulse away from losing his life, if not his head.
She stared back with enough venom to poison an elephant. "You never owned me," she whispered.
Her sword flashed, pain exploded, and he heard a cry wrenched from his throat. No simple thrust through the heart would do this time, and she didn't wait for the wounds to heal. Each thrust of her sword was new agony, and it wasn't long before even his immortal body was overwhelmed, and he sank into welcome oblivion.
Even the black sand couldn't quite hide the pool of blood in which he came back to life. She must have stabbed him a dozen times or more even after he was dead. It was some time before he could even roll himself onto his back.
He lay limp on the sand until the sun began to bake him in his bloody clothes. He didn't think he could bear to go back to the beach house, the village, to the memories of Alexa waiting at every turn. He might as well lie here until sunrise tomorrow.
Except that the sun was unbearably hot. The cool water called to him, and at last he crawled across the burning sand and into the gentle waves. Not far out from shore the sandy bottom dropped to unimaginable depths, and he dove deep and stripped off everything he had on, and started swimming out to sea as far as he could go.
Sometime after nightfall he washed back up on shore only a mile or so from where he had started. He lay on the still-warm sand and retched and coughed up sea water. He didn't want to move, but it wouldn't do for Cassandra or anyone else for that matter to come along in the morning and find him lying naked in the sand.
He found his way back to his beach house and collapsed on top of the bed clothes. He was terribly hungry, but he didn't have the energy to get up and find something to eat. He closed his eyes and let exhaustion take him.
A few hours later, however, he awoke twisted up in the blankets and shaking. He got up and turned on all the lights, trying to banish the image the dream had left. Cassandra had come to Alexa while he was away trying to save MacLeod from the dark quickening, and had told her, had shown her the truth about his past. When he returned, her betrayed, accusing eyes burned in his brain, and in the distance he saw Cassandra's bitter, vengeful smile.
It was just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream. It didn't happen, didn't happen, didn't happen.
But it could have. Not quite in that way, but something like it could have been. Was Alexa's love real, or had she only loved him because she didn't know what he was? Had he really loved her? Could he love? Had he really changed, in all the centuries, or did the horseman have him fooled, hiding behind layers of forgetfulness? Maybe he did deserve to die. Forever.
He found his sword where he had shoved it under the bed by slicing his hand open on it. He ignored the wound and dragged it out by the handle. All he had to do was cut his head off from his shoulders, and he would be free of this misery. He sat with his back to the wall with his sword clutched in white-knuckled hands for a very long time, taking comfort in the possibility of truly ending his existence. But when the sky finally began to lighten outside the window, he threw the sword back under the bed, put on some clothes, and went out to the beach.
He could still see a faint outline of the pool of blood in which he'd awakened the morning before.
Cassandra appeared almost without warning, as if she really were the witch some had named her. "Why did you let Kronos take me, that night?"
He took a deep breath and answered slowly. "I didn't have a choice. Wanting you for myself was a grave mistake. Kronos owned me as well, and he liked to remind me of it from time to time. You were merely a convenient opportunity for him." He paused. "I became what he made me, in order to survive. In some ways I was as much a prisoner as you were."
"You were his brother, his right arm. You weren't his slave! He never used you for his own pleasure -"
"- how do you know?" he interrupted pointedly.
That stopped her. Finally, she looked as if she were examining her carefully nurtured and codified memories for something she had not considered before.
He kept his voice low, controlled. "I killed you until I tamed you. Where do you think I learned that?" The truth was far more complex, but he wasn't sure he could explain the whole of it even if he'd wanted to. "We were brothers, but we weren't equals."
Still she said nothing. He pushed a little farther. "I saw you running from Kronos' tent, that night. I could have stopped you, but I didn't."
She looked up as if she would rather have died than learn that she was beholden to him for anything. "Why?" she demanded.
"I don't know. As a reward for defying him, something I couldn't afford to do. Or maybe because I knew he would never let me have you to myself again." He looked her straight in the eyes. "But, being Kronos, he knew that I let you go, let you escape after you, my slave, had killed him. Do you want to know the price I paid for your freedom?"
She turned away, and he saw a tiny shiver run through her. She had nurtured her version of the truth so long he wasn't sure how much more she could bear. Finally she turned back.
"I tried so hard to please you. You taught me to trust you. Then you betrayed that trust." She shook her head. "I think in the end I hated you for that even more than for forcing me to serve you."
He sighed wearily. "I couldn't protect you from Kronos any better than I could protect myself. I couldn't protect Alexa from what she feared most either. If you want protection, go to MacLeod. Protection of the weak is his specialty. He was raised to be a clan chieftain, not a wandering killer."
She took a sharp breath. "Don't bring MacLeod into this. He had no right to judge, no right to stop me. He could never know you as I do."
"Cassandra." He allowed a hair's-breadth of steel to creep into his voice, and she heard it and turned, her eyes bright and hard. "Look at me. For once, look at me as I am, and not as you remember me."
She tossed her head. "You have the same face. The same hands, the same voice. You are still Methos. You still deserve to die."
His fingers burrowed into the sand and clenched handfuls of it into fists. She walked around behind him, and it took every ounce of will he had left not to stop her. "You don't know me," he whispered, so softly that the waves covered the sound. "No one knows me." And then she struck.
As soon as his legs would carry him he stalked back to the beach house stood with locked muscles in the center of the room, wishing with all his soul that he was anywhere but here, and anyone but himself. Abruptly the beach house was too small to contain him. He dug into his duffel bag and found he had only one undamaged shirt left. He yanked it over his head and fled, slamming the door behind him.
He wandered the taverns all day, getting as drunk as was physically possible with his cursed immortal metabolism. Before noon he had downed enough alcohol to put a mortal under the table four times over. But he still heard it, over and over, his own voice repeating "You don't know me, no one knows me," like a mantra inside his head. No matter how drunk he got, he couldn't seem to silence it. After a while it became an accusation, spoken in the deep, merciless voice of the horseman he had once been.
At dusk he went back to the beach house and prowled inside and out, searching for something on which to vent the helpless rage growing inside him. His hands began to shake with the need to do violence to something, and he retrieved the sword from under his bed. Finally he stumbled over a pile of driftwood behind a corner of the beach house. Methodically he hacked away at it until there was nothing but scattered splinters.
But he couldn't bring himself to destroy anything else in the house where Alexa had been. Finally he shoved the sword back under the bed and threw himself on top of the blankets.
It wasn't long before Kronos came for him in the darkness - alone, as they had been in the beginning. Kronos, his brother - in arms, in blood, in everything but birth. Kronos, who was better at killing, and better at surviving, than any other man or immortal he had known. Who had taught him to love power, and in whose company he had learned to wield terror as cunningly as he did a sword. Who had taught him how to own someone, and the penalty for trying to break free.
He awoke screaming. The sound brought him fully awake, as it always did, and he lay shaking in the darkness, trying to dispel the memories his mind kept spinning out. So much blood, so much death, so much intoxicating power and secret despair.
And what if Alexa - no, he could not bear to think of Alexa with Kronos' ghost still hovering at his side. He leaped out of bed and began feverishly pacing the floor. But nearly an hour later he found himself stumbling over his own feet in blind weariness, and he pulled a blanket from the bed and slept curled against the wall in the farthest corner of the room.
When he awoke at dawn, he reached out for the anger that had sustained him the day before, but it had dissipated with the darkness. In its place he felt nothing but a kind of aching emptiness, augmented by fact that he hadn't eaten a solid meal in at least three days. Stiffly he pushed himself to his feet, leaving the blanket where it lay, and went back to the beach.
The sunrise was one of the most beautiful he had seen, mocking his inability to find any real pleasure spectacular show of light and color. Heavy clouds caught the first light and turned pale orange against the white sky - the color deepened until their undersides burned red, casting a rosy light across the earth beneath. He was almost grateful when he felt Cassandra's approach.
She stood over him silently, as if trying to think up some novel way in which to take his life. But as yet she made no move to strike.
"Well?" he asked, after some minutes had passed.
"What? No more excuses? No last words?"
He shook his head. "It seems a shame to mar the sunrise, but if you're going to do it, go ahead." He hadn't meant his voice to sound so tired. She spared a glance at the last remnants of color rapidly giving way to white clouds on a pale blue sky.
"You never let beauty stop you. You never let anything stop you." She raised her blade for the killing thrust.
"What!?" Was it his imagination, or did he hear something in her voice begging him to resist, or try to escape, or at least say something that would justify her continued vengeance?
But he only pulled his shirt over his head and laid it beside him in the sand. He squinted upward apologetically. "It's my last one." Cool air caressed his back. He waited, unable to suppress a tiny shudder of anticipation in his belly. He was so tired of the pain, so tired of dying.
She shifted, staring at the shirt lying on the sand, and he wondered if she would spear it where it lay just to spite him.
But instead she brought her sword up ever so slowly until it just pricked the skin over his heart. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the blade to violate his body once more - it hovered there for long, long seconds, blood welling around the point. To his horror a tear trailed out of the corner of one eye.
Finally Cassandra rammed the blade home, and he convulsed around it once before darkness took him.
When life flooded back into him, the pain in his heart was almost more than he could bear. Within a few minutes the death wound healed, but the terrible ache in his chest wouldn't go away. He rolled onto his side, away from the faded sunrise, and let the tears come.
He had never wept for Alexa after she died - the grief had been too deep for tears - but now lying shirtless and bloody on the beach where they had kissed and caressed and made love under the stars, defenseless in the wake of Cassandra's unrelenting vengeance, grief and despair poured out of him in great, wrenching sobs, until finally he fell asleep.
When he awoke he was so exhausted he could hardly move, and he realized he must have burned and healed for hours in the blistering sun. A faint breeze from the ocean brushed his clothes and skin and hair. He felt scoured and bare as a collection of bleached bones washed up like driftwood by the waves.
He dragged himself to his feet, pulled on his shirt, and started walking down the beach. After a few miles the sand turned into a rocky outcropping that bruised his feet, but he didn't turn back. As long as he kept walking, he didn't have to think. This was an island - if he kept walking he should end up where he started. It wasn't until he was forced to swim past miles of sheer cliffs that he began to wonder just how big the island was. Could he walk around it in a day?
His feet blistered, bled, and healed more times than he could count. He stopped at beachside restaurants and bought food, but kept walking rather than sit down to eat it. He walked along the boardwalks of the two ports, skirted private beaches, and took a few short cuts as the afternoon wore into evening. The sun set and darkness fell, and the wind picked up, chilling him, but there was no choice now but to keep walking. In the starlight it finally seemed as if the shore line was starting to look familiar, and that any minute he would reach Kamari beach. But it was only a few hours from dawn when he finally reached the appointed spot behind the clump of grass.
His legs were like rubber as he sank onto the sand. Thoughts swirled dizzily in his head, and he knew that the instant he closed his eyes, sleep would swallow him up. He scooped up a pillow of sand and let exhaustion take him.
Dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky, washing out the stars and revealing the wispy layers of clouds just above the horizon when he awoke to the rushing sensation of Cassandra's approach. It took all the strength he had to force himself awake. He sat up slowly and started to take his shirt off again, but froze as soon as she spoke.
"I can't kill you any more."
He looked up at her, startled into alertness.
"Every time I do, I take one step closer to becoming you."
He nodded cautiously. He had wondered how long it would take her to figure that out.
Slowly she drew her sword, and stared at it for a moment before her gaze returned to him. "I don't want your quickening. But you still deserve to die."
His voice sounded hollow in his ears. "My death won't bring them back. It won't undo what I did to you. Every day I have to live with what I was. No God will ever forgive me." He paused, then added quietly, "Are you sure living isn't a greater penance?"
Her voice was low, devoid of hatred, or even anger. "But it's still life. Why should you live when so many died at your hand?"
To that he had no answer. He bowed his head, and his voice dropped to a bare whisper. "If you're going to do it, do it now."
He closed his eyes, his breath coming in little labored gasps in spite of himself. Even the waves seemed to pause. If she swung, he knew he would not even have time to realize that his life had ended.
But nothing happened. When he finally looked up, she was gone.
He sat in the sand for a long time, aware as he had been at only a few times in his life of the pulse of each heartbeat through his body, of each new breath of life-giving air.
Finally he got to his feet, went back to the beach house, and slept the entire day away. No ghosts of past or possibility disturbed his sleep.
He awoke in darkness to a profound sense of having been cast adrift in time and space. He lay for a long time listening to the faint sound of the waves in stillness, that seemed like echoes of all the voices of his life that he could no longer identify or understand.
Finally he got up and turned on the light, ate some left-overs he found in the refrigerator, and then walked around the room collecting his scattered belongings, including all of his ruined shirts, and stuffing them back into his bag. He had paid through the end of the month, but there was no longer any reason to stay. The next ferry heading back to Greece would pass mid-afternoon. He had just enough time for one last sunrise, one last meal at the cafe, one last walk through the narrow flagstoned streets of Santorini.
He went back out to the darkened beach.
He halted abruptly when he saw the faint outline of Cassandra sitting in the sand in the spot where he had always sat waiting for her, her long hair blown gently by the morning breeze. She didn't have her sword. The inevitable rushing sensation announced his presence, but she didn't turn.
Methos sat down in the sand a little ways from her, hugging his knees to his chest. The stars seemed unusually bright. Waves rolled up the beach and dissipated on the black sand as they had done for thousands of years. Then the first pale hints of light appeared in the eastern sky, and almost imperceptibly the stars began to fade. He started when Cassandra finally spoke.
"You still love me, don't you?"
"What?!" He turned abruptly, and she met his gaze. She seemed faintly pleased to have shocked him, but her eyes were serious.
"Why else would you have kept coming back here morning after morning, knowing I was going to kill you, knowing I might even take your head?"
"What other choice did I have?" he said bleakly.
"You're better with a sword. You could have taken my head."
"I don't want it."
"You never could bring yourself to do it." He shivered a little at how closely her words echoed Kronos'. As if reading his thoughts, she continued, "You know he would have forced you to, sooner or later. Maybe that's why you let me go."
He hadn't thought of that, but it made sense. The clarity of her perception was somehow more startling than what she had said. And suddenly words came haltingly to his lips that he had never thought to say to her, that he had only considered in some hidden corner of his mind.
"You're the only one left. The only one who knows the whole truth of what we were. The only one I can even try to make amends to."
There was a weighty pause. Her eyes seemed to bore into his soul.
"I am the only one who can give you absolution."
He nodded fractionally, but could not meet her eyes. There was silence for a long time, broken only by the waves.
"No. There is no forgiveness for what you were, what you did. I can't."
He nodded again, hot tears welling up in his eyes. He buried his face against his knees. The fountain of guilt and shame buried inside him like the molten rock of Santorini's volcano suddenly burst, and his whole body shook as he tried to contain it. Bitter tears escaped his eyelids and slid down his cheeks as he rocked back and forth in the sand.
But she wasn't finished. "At least, not for them." Her words came very slowly, and he drank in each one as if the fate of the world rested on them. "But for me - you offered me your head. And your life, as many times as I wanted it. You set me free, Methos. I can walk away, and build a new life without your shadow across it."
He heard her stand and walk towards him. "Kronos is dead. He doesn't own you anymore. The horsemen are gone, and you helped destroy them. You're no longer one of them."
"Love as many dying women as you can, Methos. Be a friend to MacLeod, if he'll let you - he has more strength and goodness than anyone I have ever known, but he is going to need you. And maybe, someday, you'll be able to forgive yourself."
He felt her fingertips brush the spot on his back where her sword had first entered to pierce his heart. He drew a shuddering breath, and slowly, finally, looked up at her.
There was an gentleness in her eyes that he had never seen before. "Good bye, Methos." Her lips quirked into a tiny smile that lingered in his mind even as she turned and walked away. He watched as her shape grew smaller, walking away across the black sand. When she turned and vanished, the last invisible black thread, fine as silk but unbreakably strong, which bound him to the horseman he had been suddenly dissolved into nothing.
He got up and wiped the tears from his face with the heel of his hand and walked down to the shoreline. He dug his toes into the black sand and let the water wash over them.
And as quietly as a flower opening, the memory of how sweet it had been to have Alexa beside him returned. He remembered walking hand in hand with her, and how at this very spot he had once swung her around and kissed her. And all at once he knew that he had loved her, and she had loved him, and it had been as real as time, and tides, and history.
The terrible horseman who had haunted his footsteps for thousands of years, waiting for a moment of weakness or fear to break free, had utterly vanished in her presence. Kronos had tried to reawaken it but had finally failed. Cassandra had loosed her terrible need for vengeance on him until it was spent, and in the end had given him the greatest measure of grace he had ever known.
Color spread itself across the sky as if the Creator Himself were painting a new, never witnessed masterpiece. Then the first rays of true sunlight burst across the water with light so bright only an immortal with eyes that healed instant by instant could look at it. And the new light sang to him with all the wonder of a world reborn.