Paris — November 1998
Methos found her standing on a bridge over the Seine, dressed in a black leather coat, a brightly colored scarf hiding her blonde hair. Somehow, he'd known she would come here, to stare out at the river as if it held answers. He had been inclined to ignore the urge that had drawn him to seek her out, but after trying to read the same passage for the fifteenth time in a row, he'd given up. He knew he was feeling restless, given all that had been said and done in the past few days. He was mildly annoyed that he was actually pleased to discover his hunch had been correct. A part of him had been hoping that it had been wrong.
His sharp eyes noted that the barge was gone, moved from the place he had come to expect it to be. Mac had left that morning, off on some grand tour of the world in search of some distance from the events of the past few years.
Not, Methos thought, that we couldn't all use a bit of distance from each other; life has been intense lately, to say the least. But I would've bet that Amanda would've been long gone by now; she's not known for sticking around after Mac's left. Her apparent reluctance to leave annoyed him. He'd been looking forward to not having her around to possibly drag him into some scheme. With the ease of long practice, he ignored the voice that said that he was glad that she was still in town.
The ancient Immortal watched her turn and scan the area warily as his Presence registered. Wariness turned to pleasure as she recognized his lean, trench coat-clad figure. Closing the distance, he accepted and returned the warm hug she offered. He drew in the lightly floral scent of her perfume, knowing that he would always associate that fragrance with her. For a moment, he let the ghost of missed opportunity haunt him, then he shut the door on that regret. He and Amanda were friends, nothing more. She was someone he could trust with his life, though not necessarily his property; someone he cared about more than he was willing to admit to anyone.
"What are you doing here?" she exclaimed, clearly surprised.
He ignored her question. "I thought you were headed for Tahiti," he remarked instead.
"My luggage is," she answered breezily, her grin infectious. "I'll pick it up at the airport when it comes back. I do hope that it doesn't get lost in transit, though." She frowned, then shrugged philosophically. "Then again, if it does, I'll just have to go shopping." Almost imperceptibly, she leaned closer to Methos, and he instinctively took a step to the left.
"Not on my credit cards, Amanda," he growled. Suspiciously, he checked for his wallet, and found it missing. Damn it. His gaze narrowed on Amanda.
Her eyes widened in perfectly feigned innocence. "I wouldn't dream of it, Methos," she said airily.
"Amanda." He said her name mildly, but the look he gave her left no doubt that he meant it as a very dangerous promise.
Still, she stalled a moment longer before she sighed, and handed back the worn, slim, suede leather wallet.
He checked its contents, and didn't hide the relief he felt when he found them intact. He wouldn't have put it past her to give his wallet back with a card or two missing. She'd pulled that trick on Mac once, racking up a thousand dollars in charges before Mac had realized what had happened. Methos had heard about it, and had promptly let Amanda know the consequences of her pulling the same stunt with him. She'd promised him then that she wouldn't even attempt it, and yet here she had.
"I didn't even have it for a minute," Amanda protested, looking insulted. "That's not enough time to do much of anything except take it."
Methos eyed her carefully. "You must be bored and looking for a distraction if you're trying that trick on me. I warned you before about stealing from me."
"What are you going to do, kill me?" she said, irritated. "I'm not afraid of that. You did that once to me already, and I'm still here. Besides, I would've given your wallet back to you eventually."
He snorted in disbelief. "After you'd used my credit cards like you did Mac's?" he questioned pointedly.
She held his gaze a moment before looking away. "Why should I be bored?" she questioned, trying for a light tone that would've fooled a less observant friend. "There's a collection of early Renaissance paintings at the Louvre, and I think I might go and check it out this evening."
"That's been there for weeks," he pointed out, watching her carefully. "If you haven't already stolen and fenced what you wanted, there's probably nothing in that exhibit worth your interest." He didn't mention the fact that the museum would be closed by the time Amanda arrived. He knew that locked doors were mere playthings to her. "So don't try and pretend that there is. Something's on your mind. Is it Mac?"
Amanda started to shake her head, then stopped. "I really didn't expect him to leave town," she admitted. " I just didn't think he was really serious about leaving for good. I'm the one usually exiting stage left after something happens."
"He didn't ask you to go with him?" Methos asked with some surprise.
"He did," she replied. "But I told him I couldn't go."
"Why not?" Methos countered. "Some fabulous jewel coming to town that you feel like liberating?"
"Well, there is a sapphire heart that's part of an old collection," Amanda began, then stopped before she could incriminate herself any further. A faint flush colored her cheeks. Uncomfortably, she tried to cover her slip of the tongue, belatedly realizing it was too late. All that was left for her to do was hope that Methos wouldn't use her words against her.
Methos chuckled at her flustered expression. He wouldn't deliberately get her in trouble with the police unless she annoyed him enough. He'd been tempted a time or two, but he hadn't yet. As irritating as her pickpocketing of his wallet had been, it was a mere trifle in the larger scheme of things. He was aware that her careless words were an indication of how comfortable she felt with him. Nonetheless, he didn't want her to assume that he never would turn her in, so he let her stew anyway.
"That's not the reason," she argued. "I've had that pendant before, and I'll probably get it back again."
"You, turn down a chance at getting back something of yours?" Now Methos was intrigued. As long as he'd known Amanda, he knew that she was determined to keep what she considered hers, even if it meant stealing it back from someone. "Are you feeling ill, Amanda?"
"No," she denied hotly. Then, just as quickly, she added, "Oh, I don't know." She bit her lip, and, hugging herself, rubbed her upper arms. The lighthearted mask she'd tried to fake vanished.
"I'd rather be anywhere but here right now, but I can't leave just yet," she said honestly. She seemed resigned. "It's not so easy to run away anymore."
"Sure it is," Methos returned. "You buy a ticket to Bora Bora and you go. In a couple of hours, you could be sitting on a beach. Knowing you, you'll probably find some sucker to play sugar daddy for you within a couple minutes of boarding the plane."
Amanda stared at him a long moment. "I hate it when you do that," she said crossly. "You're not supposed to know me that well. It's not fair."
"Fair? Did you just say fair? When did we enter fairyland?"
She scowled, and he knew that she wasn't happy with that situation. At the moment, he didn't care; she knew him enough to persuade him when she felt like it, and that was more than anyone really needed to know. The knowledge that she had the ability to charm even someone as jaded as himself alternately amused and annoyed him.
He lounged against the concrete railing and studied her. In her frustration, she'd pushed back the scarf that hid her hair. The short cropped hair style only served to emphasize the almost elfin planes of her face, making her expression all the more poignant. Perhaps they really were in fairyland. "You don't look too happy about staying, Amanda. So what's keeping you here?"
She stared out at the river, and exhaled slowly. "Obligations," she said softly, "and friendships."
Friendship has never stopped you before from doing what you pleased, he mused. Boredom would have you stealing something, but you don't seem so enthused about doing that. What was so important that it could make you reconsider leaving?
"Obligations?" he started to ask, then remembered something Joe had mentioned to him. "Oh yes, that bar of yours." She looked astonished that he knew, then appeared to guess where he'd gotten his information. "Going straight, Amanda?"
"Bite your tongue," she retorted, and he laughed. "I keep trying, and it doesn't work. Besides, what's a girl to do for fun?"
"Take a class in art appreciation?" Methos offered blandly.
His companion and longtime friend shot him an exasperated look. "That may be your idea of fun, but it's not mine."
He said nothing for a moment, following Amanda's gaze to a distant pair of lovers walking along the bank. "A Kodak moment," he commented, referring to the lovers. He glanced at her face, seeing her wistful expression. "Who is that you want to be with, Amanda?" he asked gently, turning his eyes away from the couple to watch her reaction. "Is it MacLeod, or someone else?"
She shook her head and tried to smile. "It's nothing— "
"Bull," he said succinctly. "I've known you too long to be fooled by that."
She didn't answer for a long moment. When she spoke, her voice seemed distant, as if she was trying to separate herself from the pain. "I used to think that if I just pretended everything was fine, it would be."
"You've managed this far by doing that, why change?"
Amanda sighed and hugged herself again. "Too many things happening all at once," she admitted. She shared a look with Methos, and he knew she was thinking about how O'Rourke had kidnapped her, and how willing Mac had been to die for her, until Methos had intervened. From what Joe had told him, Methos knew that she'd recently taken the head of a former teacher. His mind raced with the possibilities.
"What did he say?" he questioned, guessing. His hunch paid off when Amanda drew her arms in tighter in response to his query.
"How is it that one person can change your life forever?"
"Is it because you let them, or is it because the change was predestined? Life rarely goes the way you intend it to, no matter how much you try to plan for everything." Methos shrugged, and stuck his hands in his pockets. "So who is he?"
Amanda watched the lovers fade from sight. "Someone who'd die for me if he could," she said quietly. "I thought I already knew someone like that, and now...."
She turned to Methos and smiled ruefully. "It's been a long time since I met anyone who made me think like Nick does. It scares me," she admitted. She gestured expansively. "I tried to get him out of my life, but he insisted on staying." She lifted her shoulders upward in a helpless gesture. "Maybe it's a good thing that he did. He's made me remember that there are consequences for my actions, even if I don't know about them. I tend to forget that. I'm not sure that's a good thing. I'm so confused, and I hate it."
She paused in what seemed to be an attempt to gather her thoughts. Methos waited patiently for her to continue. When it became apparent that she had forgotten that he was there, Methos prompted, "There's more."
Amanda nodded. Her eyes were dark with bittersweet knowledge. "He'll be one of us eventually."
"Ah," Methos observed. The single syllable conveyed a wealth of meaning, and he saw her expression tense in response. "Does he know?"
"That he'll be Immortal? No." Amanda shook her head. "He does know about us, and the Watchers. I thought knowing that much might prevent him from dying too soon."
"He's tempted Fate enough." She smiled ruefully. "He's so intense, so determined to see justice done." She sighed, and set her hands on the railing, leaning into it a bit, as if she needed the extra support. "I can't just walk away now. He'll look for me, no matter what the cost. Better that I stay here, and hope that I can protect him."
Methos realized that he hadn't seen her this miserable in quite a while. She would never be a woman who did things in half measures, at least not when it came to her feelings, or her friends.
"Perhaps it's better that he doesn't know then," Methos suggested. "Though you can't protect him forever. You know that."
Amanda inclined her head in acknowledgment of that statement. "I'd like to try."
Methos nodded. He knew Amanda could be selfless when she chose to be, though she tended to rely too heavily on chance for Methos's taste. "So what happens when he dies the first time?"
"I don't know," she said honestly. She glanced out at the river, seeing the waves lapping gently at the shore. The sun was beginning to set, and the gathering gloom struck a responsive chord within her. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath before opening them again. "I'm sure I'll think of something."
Methos looked at her a moment, then remarked quietly, "I believe you will."
She stared at him as if she didn't quite believe his words, then let out a deep breath. "Thank you."
He shook his head, dismissing her gratitude.
She seemed to consider protesting the dismissal before deciding to remain silent. Gratitude did not come easy for either of them, he knew. Too many people had used gratitude as a means to gain favors, and he suspected Amanda had calculated the cost of his.
"I think," he announced, "it might be a good idea for you to leave this all behind for a while."
She considered the idea, then shook her head. "I told you, I can't leave here."
"Surely Nick can manage without you for a couple more days. I'll even lend you the keys to my villa on Bora Bora."
Surprised by his sudden generosity, she narrowed her gaze on him. "Trying to get rid of me?" she asked distrustfully.
"Maybe," he hedged.
She chuckled softly. "I swear, I won't get you involved in anything while I'm here." She smiled at his look of disbelief, and changed the subject.
"So why are you staying in Paris, Methos? I thought you were going back to the States."
"I didn't say when, now did I?" he reminded her.
She stared at him, then shook her head slowly in silent appreciation of his tactics.
"Weren't you worried about the Watchers knowing who you are?"
"I took care of it," he said shortly. "The lovely thing about computers is that data gets lost sometimes. People get reassigned, paperwork gets filed incorrectly, and all sorts of strange things can happen."
At Amanda's arch look, Methos explained guilelessly, "It happens, you know."
"Uh huh, sure. That still doesn't answer my original question."
"I live here, I like it here, and I really don't feel like packing to leave again. Satisfied?" He crossed his arms.
"No," Amanda answered with a smile. "But I know you probably won't be here long."
"Don't get your hopes up, Amanda," he said dryly. "I'm not leaving yet."
"I'm glad," Amanda responded, surprising him. She laughed softly at his expression, and patted his arm. "I know you are too, so don't look so astonished."
His mouth quirked into a reluctant grin. "Anyone ever tell you that you see too much?"
Amanda mulled over the thought. "Not that I can recall," she replied flirtatiously. She became serious again. "Sometimes it feels like all I can do is watch, knowing what will happen is something I can't stop, and I want so much to prevent it from happening. It's terrifying." She inhaled a breath and released it slowly. "Am I asking too much?"
Methos winced at the pain he saw in her eyes. "It never gets any easier," he told her quietly. "Whether or not you have any control over the outcome, there's always a risk that you'll get burned in the process."
She moved restlessly away from him. "I know."
He closed the distance between them and reached out to her. She held herself aloof a moment before stepping into his embrace. He said nothing while she shuddered through silent tears, holding her gently. He thought about how he'd rarely seen her vulnerable like this, and he knew that even in this position, he'd never make the mistake of assuming she was defenseless. Her strength and skill only added to her attractiveness. He had a flash of deja vu, recalling another time when she'd let her emotions go in his arms. He inhaled carefully, not wanting to reveal just how seeing her like this affected him. When he felt her tremors slow down, he stepped back slightly.
She took a deep breath, then closed her eyes as she exhaled slowly. "I just wish," she remarked, her voice gaining strength, "that the fire didn't scar like it does."
His mouth tightened in acknowledgment of that statement. He thought about how Mac had brought him out of his self-imposed exile, and how much pain he'd been through as a result. Just how much had Mac changed his life? Methos didn't have to think too long to have that answer. And with all those changes, all the fires their friendship had endured, Methos knew he'd been irreparably branded.
If Amanda had met someone who had made an even greater impact in her life than Mac — and Methos was sure that anyone who'd met Mac couldn't help but be impacted by him — then it was no wonder that she was troubled. As long as Methos had known her, Amanda had always danced through the doorways of life, taking what she wanted and paying little heed to the dangers inherent in her actions.
He let the silence run its course before speaking. "Come on, I'm starving." He deliberately changed the topic, knowing that Amanda in a maudlin mood was a temptation he couldn't afford. It would be too easy to give her the comfort and understanding she sought, too easy to take their friendship over the invisible line they'd long ago decided not to cross, too easy to accept the salve to his scarred soul she would offer in return.
Recognizing the ploy for what it was, Amanda smiled. Her dark eyes still held the shadows of her pain, but she seemed willing to lighten the mood. "Oh, and I'm supposed to do something about this?"
"You're the one with the bar," he shot back. "Man can live by beer alone."
Amanda made a face. "Man might, but this woman would rather not do that again," she retorted. "Though," she mused, "it was a rather good time to be a thief. Everyone was too drunk to pay much attention to little old me."
"Everyone?" Methos reminded her.
She had the grace to look sheepish. "Okay, so not you," she conceded. "But did you have to kill me for stealing from you?" she complained, remembering how they'd first met, centuries earlier.
"And have you walk away with everything I had?" he questioned, his voice dry.
"But that's not the way it was supposed to work!" she grumbled. "Don't you know that there are rules to being a thief's mark?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Methos replied sarcastically. "I forgot it was my turn to play stupid that day."
Amanda scowled. "Okay, so I shouldn't have assumed that. But I needed the money."
"All you had to do was ask nicely, and I might've been inclined to be generous," he returned, smirking.
"Ask nicely?" Amanda huffed indignantly. "You slammed the door in my face! I would've rather have gone with Plan A, but no, you had to be— "
Laughing at her, knowing that he'd effectively made her forget her troubles for the moment at least, Methos started walking away. He was certain she'd follow; she hated to lose an argument. He smiled to himself, feeling oddly content.
"Oh, yeah," Amanda snorted, catching up, and failing a little every time he quickened his pace. "Laugh it up, but who is paying for this, huh?"
Methos smiled, knowing Amanda couldn't see it. "You are," he replied gingerly.
"Oh no," Amanda shot back, yanking on his arm to slow him down. "Not this time, Methos. Methos are you listening to me?"
"Yes, dear," Methos answered, choking on laughter as he made his way up the left bank.
"Cause I mean it this time," she sounded. "I really really do!"
"It takes love over gold
and mind over matter
to do what you do that you must
when the things that you hold
can fall and be shattered
or run through your fingers like dust"
— Dire Straits, "Love Over Gold"
© June 7, 1999