Methos reached out his hand, laying it on Charlotte's shoulder comfortingly. He knew Istvaeone's death was still a fresh wound on her psyche. Looking at Tanimura, he said, "It's an appointment he won't be keeping." His meaning was clear.
"You killed him?" Tanimura asked.
Methos laughed. "First rule of immortality: don't make assumptions. I didn't—" he jerked his chin at Charlotte, "--she did."
The former Marine looked at Charlotte, reappraising the woman, who only a half hour ago, had been nothing more than a potential employer. "You're right, sir. Assumptions get you dead; I know better. Won't happen again. Apologies, ma'am."
"None needed, Major, but accepted." Charlotte reached up, her fingers intertwining with Methos' on her shoulder. "But now, we need to discuss matters other than your new job."
"I have the job?" He seemed surprised. "Pardon me for asking, ma'am, but it isn't just because I'm...." He waved a hand at himself.
Chuckling, Charlotte shook her head. "First off, please call me Charlotte, and secondly, no, you being Immortal has very little to do with it. You have an impressive resume, Colonel Rhodes' recommendation was glowing, and you made it past Miss Potts. I'd be a fool not to snatch you up. That being said, you are Immortal, you need a teacher, and decisions must be made."
"It's our way; an older Immortal takes on a new one as a student, instructing them in swordsmanship, teaching them what it is to be Immortal, mentoring them until they're ready to stand on their own," Charlotte explained. "And, to be clear, finding you a teacher is not predicated on whether or not you accept my offer of employment."
"Understood." He nodded.
"Still interested, Tanimura?" Methos asked
"Absolutely." Then he looked at Charlotte. "But wouldn't you like to actually interview me first?"
Shaking her head, she smiled. "I know all I need to, Jacob. Matthew?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Then it's settled, Now, we need to discuss this with the others," she said as she stood up, looking at Methos.
Before Tanimura could ask, Methos filled him in. "There are others of our kind here; an extended dysfunctional family, if you will." He chuckled as Charlotte grumbled something unintelligible. "Charlotte's something of a collector. And they are currently in our kitchen, no doubt helping themselves to my beer." She laughed outright at that, and Tanimura cracked a smile, finally beginning to relax.
"Make yourself at home, Jacob." Charlotte smiled reassuringly. "This shouldn't take long."
The door to the study had barely shut when Charlotte put a hand on his arm, halting him. "That means Mannus was in Afghanistan when Tony was taken. Then he shows up working at SI? That can't be a coincidence, Methos." She chewed on her lower lip, and Methos was sure she was leaping to all sorts of conclusions he absolutely did not want her anywhere near.
He put his hands on her shoulders, doing his best to be reassuring. "Charlotte, the man was an electrical engineer, SI is a military contractor, it was how he made his living. There isn't anything nefarious in the mere fact he was in Afghanistan."
"I don't know. I think I should look into it, just to be certain."
Damn it! Kissing her on the forehead, he brushed a finger down her cheek. "You have enough on your plate. Dawson said he didn't have a Watcher, but I'll talk to him and we'll see if we can't find out more about his recent past, okay?" She smiled, and Methos felt just a twinge of guilt at the warmth in her eyes. It's for her own good, he reminded himself.
"I love you, Methos," she said, hugging him tightly. "Thank you."
It seemed the day wasn't done with surprises. Walking into the kitchen, they were greeted by the sound of decidedly female laughter. "Darlings!" Amanda greeted them gaily, kissing a bemused Charlotte on the cheek.
Methos looked to Duncan and Ezra for an explanation. Duncan shrugged, a lopsided smile on his lips. "She just dropped by."
"Missed us apparently." Ezra's tone made clear just what he thought of that.
"Oh?" Amanda just didn't drop by. "Weren't you just here?" Methos asked. "I'm quite certain I remember you at Duncan's winery last month, and your distinct lack of enthusiasm for country living." Crossing his arms, he narrowed his eyes. "In fact, you were eager to be off to Hong Kong."
Waving her hand airily, she replied, "A girl can change her mind, can't she?"
Methos shook his head at her look of complete innocence. "Who are you on the run from this time?" Charlotte dropped her head, trying to smother a laugh, but the other two men laughed outright.
"Don't be that way, Methos—" Amanda leaned in, running a finger up his chest, "---you used to be so much fun. When did you get all dreary and boring anyway? I remember that time in Marseille, 1525, wasn't it? Maybe 26, anyway, you were anything but dreary," she said, her voice almost a purr as she looked up at him from under her eyelashes.
Methos firmly pulled her hand away. While Charlotte knew that he and Amanda had been lovers once upon a time, and even though she had seemed to take to Amanda when they had met for the first time last month, she didn't need to have their past waved in her face. "That was a very long time ago."
Intervening, Duncan took Amanda's arm. "We need to talk, excuse us." As he led her to the other side of the room, Amanda looked back at Methos, flashing a mischievous smile.
"She and Tony should never ever meet," Charlotte said, sounding amused. Then she looked up at Methos, a wicked gleam in her eyes. "You know, it has occurred to me that I'm the only one in the room who hasn't had sex with her. Maybe I should rectify that."
Just for a moment, he wasn't entirely positive she was kidding. She had been friends with Stark for seven years after all, and if the tabloids were to be believed, the man threw some very wild parties in Dubai. Then she laughed, reaching up to kiss him, forestalling his thoughts of just what kind of sex life Charlotte had led since they'd last been together.
"You're quite enough for me," she whispered against his lips.
He smoothed her hair back. "Good, because I don't like to share."
The look she gave him was unreadable. Then she giggled, walking her fingers up his arm. "That's not what I've heard." Before he could respond, she'd already turned away, walking towards the others. "Methos and I have something we need to discuss with you."
They gathered in the back garden, the scent of honeysuckle strong in the mid-day warmth, mixing with the briny smell of the nearby ocean. Charlotte had introduced Jacob to the group of Immortals, while Ezra had poured wine, serving it to the gathered company. They all settled on chairs and benches as Charlotte explained to the new Immortal just what had been decided.
"We're going to try something of a novel approach." Charlotte sipped at her wine. "Instead of having one teacher, we're going to share the responsibility, and hopefully, in the end, give you a more well-rounded education. And it will help accommodate what will be a hectic schedule. After all, you'll be splitting your time between my office at Stark Industries, here at the winery, and the traveling we'll be doing."
Ezra picked up the explanation. "I'm going to be spending more time in L.A., so I will handle teaching duties there. When you're here, Charlotte and Duncan will do their part, and of course, when you're traveling with Charlotte, she will be your primary teacher."
"And Matthew will butt in when the mood strikes," Duncan said, grinning.
"A mood that will strike very infrequently," Methos promised.
"When was the last time you had a student anyway?" Amanda asked Methos.
"It's been awhile," Methos conceded.
"Something along the line of one hundred and fifty years?" Ezra asked, his gold tooth glinting as he smiled widely.
Methos shrugged. "Give or take."
"He was your teacher?" Amanda demanded. "You never said."
Ezra shrugged. "It wasn't really relevant."
Smacking Ezra lightly on the arm, she asked, "Just what other secrets have you been keeping from me?"
"Me? Oh, dozens, I'm sure."
"We're supposed to be friends!"
"Precisely the point, my dear Amanda – I know you far too well to share all my secrets." Amanda looked put out. "If it makes you feel better, you know more of my secrets than my mother does."
Amanda tilted her head, considering. "Actually, it does."
"I'm sure that comes as a great relief to us all." It was clear Methos was becoming impatient. "Now if we might return to the subject at hand?"
Amanda huffed. "Fine."
Charlotte shook her head, a slight smile on her lips. "Duncan and Ezra are going to show you around town, give you the lay of the land," she told Jacob. "I think you've had enough to deal with today that getting down to business with your new position can wait till tomorrow."
Duncan stood, dropping his hand on Jacob's shoulder. "We'll all meet at my place for dinner later. If that's okay with you?"
"Sounds like a plan, sir."
"It's Mac." He pointed to himself before turning to Amanda. "You coming?"
"As if I'd miss spending the afternoon with my two favourite guys, and one very sexy new guy." She held out her hand to Ezra who obligingly helped her to her feet. "Thank you, darling."
"We'll see you two at dinner," Duncan said to Methos and Charlotte.
"Thank you. Oh, and Duncan?" Charlotte called after him. "Any chance of those little shrimp stuffed mushrooms of yours?" She looked at him entreatingly. "You know how much I love them."
Obviously pleased by her request, Duncan smiled warmly. "Anything for you, Charlotte. Besides, they're practically the official food of the Immortal Wine of the Month Club." Charlotte's laughter followed them out of the garden.
Ezra propped himself up on an elbow, looking down at Amanda. She was pretending to be asleep, but he knew better. "Tell me, Amanda, if MacLeod weren’t dating the very lovely Tess Helm, would you still be in my bed?" He wasn’t sure why he was asking. It wasn't jealousy – after all, he'd known about Amanda's longtime on again, off again lover for decades. But knowing about and knowing the actual man was turning out to be quite entirely different things.
Amanda grumbled something under her breath before rolling over to look up at him. "Come on, Ezra, are we really going to have this conversation?"
"I'd like to know," he insisted stubbornly.
Amanda slapped her palm against the mattress. "I don't know, okay? It's complicated."
"Not really. You love him, he loves you, and yet…"
"And yet, here we are." She sighed. "Yes, I love him, but we aren't the happily ever after types, you know? I'm grateful for the time we have had, and will have, together. That doesn’t make our time together mean any less to me." Sitting up, she kissed the hollow of his throat. "And I really hope it won't for you."
He stroked her hair. "I really shouldn't like him as much as I do."
Laughing, she said, "He has that effect on people."
"And you're sure he's okay with me and you…?"
"Perfectly – he wants me to be happy, Ezra. And you, you make me happy."
"Glad to hear it." Her teeth teased the corner of her bottom lip, and she looked at him slyly. It was a look he'd learned to be wary of. "What?"
"What?" she asked innocently. "Oh, honey, I was just thinking; you know what would make me very happy?'
"I'm sure I'll regret asking, but what, Amanda, would make you very happy?"
"Being your date this weekend on Tony Stark's yacht."
"Absolutely not!" Ezra couldn't think of a more disastrous idea.
"Come on, baby, why not?" She pouted prettily. "I would be very grateful. And you know how much you like it when I'm grateful." She slid her bare skin against his, nipping gently at his collarbone.
He shivered as her fingers began a tantalizing journey across his body followed by her lips. "Amanda," he croaked. "Amanda," he tried again, this time with more success. Grabbing her hands, he held her away. "This is beneath you."
A lascivious smile curled her lips. "That's the idea – I like you beneath me."
This was spiraling out of control. Firmly, while he still had some will left, he pushed her away, bolted out of the bed, grabbing his robe and putting it on. "Tony is my friend, Amanda, not a mark!"
Rolling onto her stomach, she propped her chin in her hands. "Don't be silly, Ez. I wouldn't take a professional interest in your very rich, very eligible, very sexy friend. Okay, fine, I might, but I'd resist the temptation," she added at her lover's snort of disbelief.
Shaking his head, he began to pace. "I believe you, but there's already the potential for enough disaster, I don't need anything more to worry about."
Briefly, Ezra explained the situation to her.
Following him out of the bed, she linked her hands behind his neck. "Then that's even more reason for me to go!" At Ezra look of doubt, she rolled her eyes. "Sweetie, I've known Methos for a very long time, and I know how to distract him. Listen, I've only just met Charlotte, but she and Rebecca were good friends, and I'd like to do this for her." Her eyes were sad. "For both of them."
It was late. Charlotte leaned against Methos, his arm around her waist, as they walked up the path to the house. They'd had a wonderful dinner at Duncan's, and for the first time, Charlotte felt as if all the pieces of her life were finally drawing together. For once, there had been no tension between Ezra and Methos, and she'd been able to talk about Tony freely, Methos having accepted Tony's place in her life. It was as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Methos opened the kitchen door, and as they stepped over the threshold, there was a feeling of truly coming home. She turned away, walking over to the stove, surreptitiously wiping away the tears that threatened as Methos closed the door behind them. "Tea?" She heard him come up behind her, but instead of answering, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tightly against his chest.
"I feel it too," he said softly at her ear.
She just nodded, not certain she would find her voice if she were to speak. Then Methos was turning her, taking her face in his hands and kissing her as if it were the first time. And maybe it was in a way. As she closed her eyes, the memory of another first time formed before her: the Pearl and a concerned Doctor Adams laying a gentle hand on her forehead, checking for fever. It was long ago, and yet, as vivid as if it happened only yesterday.
His thumbs stroked her cheeks as he broke the kiss, and she opened her eyes, looking up at him. They were the same eyes that had kept watch over her so many times in the past. She turned her face into his hand, kissing the palm.
"Thank you, Charlotte."
She gently pulled out of his hold. "For what?"
"For letting me back into your life, a life that didn't need me in it, for a second time." He shushed her protests. "It's true, you know it is."
"You are a ridiculous old man," she said, exasperation warring with fondness. "Do you think I would have the life I have now, the life I had in New Mexico if not for you? That is what's true, you idiot!"
"Shut up, Methos. This time, you're going to listen to me." She glared at the 'yes ma'am' muttered under his breath. "You gave me the gift of a mortal life, and that is something I can never truly repay. Those extra years, few as they were, changed the course of my life." Sighing, she remembered. "And when the time came, you taught me what it was to be immortal, to embrace what I was." Taking his hands in hers, she pulled him closer. "And then, my dearest Benjamin, and then…you let me go. I know now, if I didn't fully then, what that cost you." Tears streaked her face. "You are most dear to me, my love, as you have always been; my guardian angel. Even when you were not at my side, and the years passed, you were always with me."
He hung his head. "You give me entirely too much credit."
"No, my love—" she tipped up his head with one finger under his chin "—you don't give yourself nearly enough."