Highlander: Time and Again - 09 - A Girl's Best Friend by Emby Quinn
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HIGHLANDER
A Girl's Best Friend
Fanfiction by Emby Quinn


Disclaimer: I do not own Highlander or any of the characters therein, nor do I own any characters based on actual historical personages. All original characters are my own creation.--eq

Morial Convention Center
New Orleans, Louisiana
10 February, Present Day

The ring sat nestled on a bed of sleek black velvet. The platinum setting was a perfect frame for twelve carats of flawless blue-white fire. Rather than the brilliant cut of most modern diamonds, this particular stone featured the older cushion cut that was popularized in the 19th century.

"Exquisite," Methos murmured appreciatively. He glanced at his wife, who nodded vague assent. "You don't like it?"

"It's pretty enough. I've never been much of one for jewelry."

"This isn't just jewelry; it's lapidary work elevated to an art form. Look here--" He guided her over to another display case, in which lay a large oval faceted diamond, golden brown in color, suspended from a necklace of gold and smaller stones. "There are 410 diamonds in the necklace proper, each about half a carat in size, while the Chrysanthemum itself is 104 carats. The stone has a total of 189 facets--you're not listening, Lucinda."

"Adam, darling," she said patiently, "I understand your knowledge of almost any subject is as vast as your thirst for fresh discovery is insatiable. What you must understand is that, to me, they're all just pretty rocks."

"It's not just the fact that they're diamonds, Lucinda. As an artist, you should be able to appreciate the skill and precision required to turn a 'pretty rock' into a faceted gemstone. Cutting and polishing a precious stone is exceptionally difficult--one wrong tap at the wrong moment and you end up with a handful of very shiny gravel." Methos led her through the crowd towards the center of the exhibit. "Faceting is particularly tedious. The facets have to be cut one at a time, ground and polished separately. It can take months, even years, to complete the work."

"Speaking from experience, are you?"

"Not quite," he grinned. "I have some patience, but not that much. No, back in the 1930s I made the acquaintance of one Lazare Kaplan; he cut the Jonker for Harry Winston, and I remember all too well the care he took sizing up the stone before even beginning to cut it. There was a flaw in the rough stone, a small ledge, that seemed to indicate a particular line of cleavage. If he hadn't examined the stone so carefully--if he'd gone on the word of the European experts--it would have destroyed the diamond entirely. As it was, the Jonker has long been considered to be the most perfectly cut stone in existence."

The centerpiece of the exhibit was roped off on all four sides, and the crowds were thickest there. Methos managed to work his way up to the front of the observers, Lucinda in tow. "And speaking of the late Mr. Winston," he said, "here's another of his stones--far more famous than the Jonker, possibly because it has a more euphonious name."

Lucinda looked at the necklace in the display case and scoffed. "Oh. That one. Of course."

Methos gave her a look. "Something wrong?"

She rolled her eyes. "It's a pretty blue rock."

"Really, Lucinda, you haven't heard a word I've said."

"I've heard, I've heard." She patted his arm consolingly. "I'm sorry, love. I just can't get too worked up about that...thing." She gestured at the case.

"That 'thing' is the Hope Diamond," Methos said, mildly affronted.

"That's what they call it now. It had another name the last time I saw it."

He blinked. "The last time you what?"

Lucinda smiled up at him and moved closer, speaking in a smoky velvet whisper. "Darling, do you remember me telling you about that little jaunt I took to Australia? The one that wasn't entirely voluntary on my part?"

Methos raised an eyebrow. "Botany Bay?"

"Mm-hm." She nodded towards the display case. "There sits the reason for it. Half of it, anyway."

Suddenly Lucinda went tense and alert. Methos's eyes cut around the crowd, seeking the Immortal who had just moved within range. "Well, look who's here," he murmured.

Lucinda followed the line of his gaze. "Isn't that?"

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Methos confirmed. "I had no idea he'd come to town."

"Why don't you go say hello?"

"What about you?"

"I need to visit the powder room." She gave him a kiss and disappeared. Methos looked after her for a moment, then shrugged. It was an odd time for Lucinda to start being shy, but he was hardly one to talk. He was about to head in the other direction when it suddenly became unnecessary to do so.

"Fancy meeting you here."

Methos turned around at the sound of the familiar voice, a voice that had never entirely lost its distinctive Scottish burr. "Isn't that my line?" he said, grinning at MacLeod.

"Haven't you used every 'line' at one time or another?" MacLeod looked the tall, slim, angular man up and down. There was a slightly different quality to Methos; he didn't have quite so much of the ready-to-bolt look about him now. There was a slight shift in the way he carried himself--still wary, yes, but slightly more confident, a touch more at ease. "You're looking well," he said truthfully.

"Yeah, well, New Orleans agrees with me, I suppose."

"So does married life?"

Methos started. "How did you?"

"Joe told me. He saw the notation in Adam Pierson's file."

Methos rolled his eyes. "Dawson's got a big mouth."

"I'm hurt, you know." MacLeod gave Methos his best 'big brown puppy-eyes' hangdog expression. "I brought the pair of you back together, you know; I would have thought I'd at least get an invitation to the wedding."

"The civil ceremony was a bit perfunctory," Methos answered tartly. "The actual wedding was a much more private affair, actually. Though we can re-enact it later if you want to stop by."

"Clothing optional?"

"None required." Methos was glad to see that MacLeod was more at ease around him now. He didn't think the Highlander would ever completely come to terms with what Methos had done in the past--particularly not to Cassandra--but with a bit of luck and a good deal of skirting the issue, they should be able to work around it. "So what brings you to the Big Easy?"

"Actually, I'm here with a friend."

"Blonde, brunette or redhead?"

"Brunette this week." MacLeod smiled fondly. "She wanted to take a look at the exhibition, since they won't let her in the Smithsonian anymore. Nostalgia, she said."

Something clicked in Methos's brain. "Amanda's here?"

"Yeah, she went to the ladies' room...what's wrong?"

Methos nodded towards the rear of the exhibition hall. A quick sweep of Immortal presence--two of them--slipped past both men's senses. They caught a brief glimpse of a tall blonde wearing a white leather coat before she vanished through the rear exit door.

MacLeod and Methos exchanged looks of abject horror. "She wouldn't--" the Scot began.

"They couldn't--" Methos said at the same time, his heart plummeting to his stomach.

A heartbeat later, both men were pushing their way through the crowd towards the back door. MacLeod shoved through the exit, and he and Methos emerged to the sound of steel ringing against steel. "Bloody hell," Methos muttered, breaking into a run.

Two figures were fighting in the breezeway behind the exhibition hall. The women were of equal height, but the dark-haired one had a lush, alluring figure, while the blonde was all long limbs and sleek angles. Amanda's tapered French blade struck sparks against Lucinda's heavy Viking longsword.

"Stop!" MacLeod grabbed Methos's arm as the older man started forward. "We can't interfere," he said, and he sounded sick at heart.

"What are we supposed to do! Stand here and watch them kill each other?"

Amanda's high-heeled Prada boot hit a slick patch on the cement, and her foot went out from under her. With a yelp she landed flat on her back.

"NO!" both MacLeod and Methos shouted as Lucinda's blade cut through the air and descended--stopping just short of Amanda's quivering throat.

For three seconds, nobody moved.

Amanda broke the silence. "Dammit."

"Bad fighting conditions," Lucinda demurred, stepping back and propping her sword idly on her shoulder, her other hand on her hip. "Do you want to call a do-over?"

Amanda sat up and glanced towards the back of the hall, where MacLeod and Methos stood staring at them. "No, I think we're making the boys nervous." She held up a hand, and Lucinda pulled her effortlessly to her feet. In another moment, both swords had been put away, and the women embraced as joyfully as reunited sisters, their laughter ringing through the breezeway.

"God!" Amanda cried. "It's good to see you, Luce."

"You too, 'Manda. Let's have a look at you, then." Lucinda took the other woman's shoulders and held her at arm's length to study her. "You look fantastic."

"So do you. I've missed you so much--I had no idea you were here!"

"That's the general idea. You came to see the exhibition?"

"Something like that." Amanda looked back at MacLeod, who hadn't budged. Both men were as still as statues. "Hey, there's somebody I want you to meet."

"I have to introduce you to someone, too. Someone really special." Lucinda wrapped an arm around Amanda's waist and together they walked over to the men, moving in step with an unconscious grace, like thoroughbreds in stride. Amanda reached out and took MacLeod's arm. "Duncan, this is--"

"Lucinda," MacLeod nodded, holding out his hand automatically. "Good to see you again."

"You, too." The blonde smiled affectionately at Amanda's disappointed pout. "He was here last year for the Jazz Festival. Anyway, Amanda, this is Ad--"

"Methos!" Amanda squealed, then clapped her hand over her mouth, looking around. "Sorry," she whispered.

"Want to say that a bit louder?" Methos asked dryly. "There might have been someone asleep in Peoria who didn't catch it."

"--dam...Pierson, alsoknownasmethos," Lucinda finished faintly. She and Amanda exchanged astonished looks. "You know him!" they said in chorus. Then both women turned to Methos and chorused a second time. "You know her?"

There was another silent, motionless three-second pause. Then Amanda and Lucinda looked at each other again, and both started giggling. After a moment, Methos started laughing too. MacLeod looked at each of them in turn as though they'd taken leave of their senses. "What's so funny?" he asked no one in particular.

"Oh, come on, Duncan," Amanda said, twining her arm through his. "What, did you leave your sense of humor in the last century?"

"I have a great idea," Lucinda said, sliding her arm around Methos's waist. "Why don't I buy us a round of drinks? Finnegan's is just up the street from here."

Finnegan's Irish Pub
New Orleans, Louisiana
10 February, Present Day

"Married?" Amanda laughed. "Incredible. I don't believe it."

"Believe it, honey," Lucinda said, proudly showing off the golden claddagh ring on her hand. "He actually asked me."

"Oh, that I can believe," she said, winking at Methos. "I just can't believe you agreed to it."

"What can I say? He won me over. It's hard to argue with a five thousand year old man."

"It wasn't that big a production," Methos said mildly. "Alabama's nuptial laws are amazingly simple. If you offer a woman sugar for her tea and she says 'yes', there's a little man who pops out of the sugar bowl and hands you a marriage license."

"But is it for real?" Amanda persisted. "I mean, forever for real?"

Lucinda leaned her chin on her hand. "'Manda, I've been stuck on this man for a thousand years. Seriously. The rest of the world figured it out ages before I did. I've proven I can live without him, but I've decided I don't want to." She looked at Methos adoringly, and he lifted her hand to kiss it.

"So much for never marrying an Immortal, old man," MacLeod teased. "Didn't you tell me it was 'too much of a commitment'?"

Methos smirked across the table at him. "I changed my mind, Mac. I'm allowed."

"You should have heard him holding forth about it," MacLeod said to Amanda. "He was all like 'ooh, you'd have to love somebody a hell of a lot to stay with them for three hundred years'. And he'd been with Lucinda for--how long?"

"A thousand years, on and off," Methos said with a cool edge to his voice. "But we weren't married then. And I thought she was dead when I said that to you."

Lucinda noticed the warning signs and cleared her throat significantly. "Okay, enough of that, boys. Play nice."

"Absolutely," Amanda agreed. "No sulking or snarking allowed."

"Not tonight, certainly." The women grinned at each other with deep affection.

"Everyone all right here?" A tall ginger-haired man had appeared behind Lucinda's chair.

She looked up at him and grinned. "Lovely, Pat, thanks."

The Irishman held out his hand and shook MacLeod's warmly. "Patrick Finnegan, sir."

"Duncan MacLeod."

"Aye, I've heard the name. Quite a reputation you've got. Adam here speaks highly of you, too."

"Thanks," MacLeod said to Methos, who passed it off with a small smile.

"And this lovely lady?" Finnegan said, taking Amanda's hand.

"Just call me Amanda," she said, her dark eyes taking him in appreciatively.

"And I'm Pat, love. Another round, then, Lucy darlin'?"

"Please, if you would."

"Nice," Amanda murmured, looking after him as he moved off. "Very nice indeed."

"Down, girl," Lucinda admonished lightly. "He's spoken for."

"Since when has that ever stopped me?"

"He's married," Lucinda said in a warning tone. "And he's faithful."

"Oh. Rats." Amanda's spark of interest disappeared. "Pity."

"Maeve doesn't think so." Lucinda nodded towards a woman with chestnut hair, middle-aged but still pretty, who was busy tending the bar.

"A mortal?"

"Uh-huh. Married twenty-seven years. And she knows how to use a sword, too, so you'd better keep your distance. She's rather territorial about Patrick."

"The voice of experience speaking?"

"Uh-uh, not me." Lucinda took Methos's hand and squeezed it. "I've always been a one-man woman. By choice, of course."

"Mm." Amanda smiled as the server brought another round of drinks. "So, tell me something..."

Eastern Coast of England
30 October 1804

"Damn damn damn it all to bloody screaming hell!"

Swimming the English Channel had never been part of Amanda's escape plan. Neither had leaving Zachary Blaine behind in Normandy. But then she hadn't really intended to leave Duncan MacLeod in Bavaria to answer for the theft of the Baron's family jewels, either.

She pulled herself out of the icy water up onto the muddy, rocky bank and checked to make sure the heavy bag was still attached to her belt. That, her sword, and the clothes on her back were all she had left.

Well, I've been worse off, she thought as she stood up and surveyed the landscape. Just not for a long time. She could see the swell of hillocks in the pale moonlight, and beyond those there would be a road leading somewhere. The agile thief squared her shoulders and trudged away from the shoreline. She'd have to walk to London, but once there she'd be able to find someone willing to pay a pretty penny for the treasures in her bag.

She hadn't gone far when she felt a sudden buzzing in her nerves. Oh, hell, not now, she thought desperately even as she reached for her sword. Exhausted, waterlogged and half-frozen, she was in no condition for a fight. Not that anybody would care.

The beat of horse-hooves came from the hilltop just ahead of her. A dark silhouette dismounted, sword already drawn. "You're out and about very late, my lady," drawled a harsh lowlander's voice, "and in such a condition, too."

Amanda put on her best abandoned-and-ill-used waifish air. "Good sir, you must assist me," she simpered. "I have been waylaid by varlets, cast into the river to drown. Pray, will you give me succor?"

"Waylaid, you say?" The burly Englishman gestured with his sword-point at the bag on Amanda's hip. "And yet they left you your treasures, I see."

Amanda looked down and bit off a curse. One of the diamond strands was hanging from the mouth of the bag. Did I lose any of them in the water? she wondered, then banished the thought with irritation. She had more immediate concerns. "I'm sure we can work something out," she said, dropping into a seductive purr. "You know...you leave me my head...and I give you...something else in return?"

"I'll take what I want, lady," the man barked snidely, "and your head in the bargain!" He took a step forward, then stopped. Amanda froze in the act of reaching for her sword. Oh, wonderful, she thought, not another one!

"If it's a fight you want, sir," a new voice intruded, "then it's a fight I'll give you."

The man looked up the hill and sneered. "Another woman? And this one dresses in the manner of a man."

The figure stepped forward--tall, long-limbed, with a severe expression and a crown of pale hair. "I am Lucinda," she announced. "Who are you?"

"Gregory Fletcher," the man said with a mocking bow. "If you will excuse me, I have business with this lady." He smiled nastily at Amanda. "The challenge has already been issued."

"So I see. To a woman near exhaustion who has obviously just come from a long cold swim." The blonde chuckled wryly. "Obviously, my lord, you do not seek a proper challenge. A real man would never choose a helpless victim."

"I'm not helpless!" Amanda snapped, before she thought better of it.

Fletcher rounded on Lucinda. "How dare you insult my manhood!"

She smiled mockingly at him. "It would be impossible to insult that which you do not possess."

Roaring, the Englishman charged up the hill at her. Amanda knew when the time was right to run, and this was it, while the other Immortals were busy with each other. Instead she leaned against a tree and watched, waiting.

It didn't take long. Fletcher was a brute, but he relied mostly on his strength and intimidating presence, and this Lucinda was obviously not very easy to intimidate. She let the man wear himself out trying to breach her defenses, then almost casually broke through his guard and took his head.

When the Quickening was finished, Lucinda was down on one knee, leaning on her sword, gasping softly. Amanda crept forward, her hand on her own sword.

She stopped when Lucinda spoke. "Are you going to take my head now?" she asked. "Go on, then, but make it quick."

"You...you saved my life," Amanda offered. "I wanted to thank you." Lucinda looked up at her, and Amanda could tell the other woman didn't believe her. She added, "And...I wanted to ask you...why?"

Slowly, unsteadily, Lucinda rose to her feet. "Let's just say I have a problem with brutes and bullies who pick on the weak."

Amanda felt a flare of anger. She drew her longsword and put it to the other woman's throat. "I am not weak!" she shouted. "Don't make me prove it to you."

Lucinda looked wearily at the blade, then turned away. Amanda almost drove the sword into her retreating back, but she held herself in check; she did owe Lucinda her life, after all.

The blonde pulled herself heavily onto Fletcher's horse and brought it around. "Do you need a ride somewhere?" she asked.

"I don't need you doing me any more favors," Amanda retorted, sheathing her sword and storming off in the opposite direction.

Lucinda watched her walk for a moment, then called after her, "You're going the wrong way."

Amanda stopped and cursed under her breath in old Anglo-Saxon.

"Mind your language," Lucinda admonished as she drew up beside her. Her voice was rather faint. "Besides, someone's going to have to handle the horse when..."

"When what?" Amanda said, at the end of her patience. She turned around in time to see Lucinda fall bonelessly off the horse's back to the ground. "What the hell?" She knelt beside Lucinda, who didn't have any obvious injuries. She was simply unconscious for no apparent reason.

Amanda wrestled with herself for a moment. This is ridiculous. I don't have a conscience. I should just take the horse and leave her here.

She was still arguing with herself as she strained to pick Lucinda up and drape her over the horse's back.

New Orleans, Louisiana
10 February, Present Day

"...do you still pass out after a Quickening?"

Lucinda blushed fiercely and didn't answer. Amanda looked at Methos, who nodded briefly.

"Ha!"

"You pass out?" MacLeod said to Lucinda. "As in, out cold?"

"Not every time!" Lucinda protested, her cheeks flaring. "Not for long, and even when it does happen I can usually hold out for a few minutes--long enough to get clear, but...sometimes...yeah," she finished lamely.

"Sort of inconvenient." MacLeod couldn't help grinning.

"Tell me about it."

Amanda reached over and patted Lucinda's hand affectionately. "You know, Lucy, I should be really pissed off at you."

Lucinda looked sharply at her. "You should be pissed off at me? Excuse me, who got her ass shipped off to an Australian prison colony when who skipped out on who?"

"It wasn't like that!" Amanda protested. "I would never have let you take the fall for me."

"Since when?" Methos coughed into his beer.

Amanda scowled at him. "I didn't skip out on you, Lucy, I swear I didn't. That's not the way it happened at all."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really." Amanda looked genuinely hurt. "We were partners, remember? Sisters? Family?"

"Oh, and you would never double-cross a partner in crime," MacLeod muttered out of the side of his mouth.

Amanda glared and elbowed him sharply in the ribs. "Not Lucy," she said. "Not ever."

London, England
5 November, 1814

"Isn't it beautiful?" Amanda breathed, holding the heavy pendant up to the light to admire it. "The French Blue. The Baron got hold of it after the Revolution, and I've been mad to get my hands on it ever since I saw it around the neck of Marie Antoinette. It wasn't in the stash I took from him in 1804; he'd already sold it to Prince George. If that snake Loyelle hadn't double-crossed me..." She looked over at her companion. "What do you think of it? Isn't it the finest thing you've ever seen?"

Lucinda looked up from mending her riding tunic and studied the precious jewel with eyes of a slightly lighter shade of blue. "Pretty enough, I suppose."

"Pretty!" Amanda was deeply shocked. "Lucinda, this diamond alone is worth more than all the jewels in England's crown."

"But what is it really worth?" Lucinda asked, and her question was a sincere one. "That stone won't make you impervious to harm. It won't give you a quicker eye or a keener blade. It's little more than a pretty rock."

"This 'pretty rock' and her sisters will make us rich for the rest of our lives," Amanda said with confidence. "And I intend to live for a very long time. Don't you?"

"I'll live till I die."

"Oh, don't get all maudlin again. It's tiring." Amanda tucked the pendant carefully away. "I've got an appointment with a jeweler in the West End. He's going to cleave the stone in half and make a pair of matched jewels for us. One for me, one for you. Won't that be fine?" She held the pendant up to Lucinda's face. "It will go well with your eyes, I think."

Lucinda smiled patiently at the only friend she'd had in the past ten years--longer than that, if she was honest with herself. "It was daring of you to take it from the royal treasury," she said. "Is that why we're leaving London tonight?"

"That's as good a reason as any. Besides, the Prince can hardly accuse us of stealing something he didn't rightfully purchase, can he?" Amanda dropped the French Blue into its velvet pouch. "When the Baron sold it to him, it still belonged legally to the French."

"And now?"

"Now the statute has expired. It's fair game. In any case, once it's cut, the French Blue will be no more." Amanda reached for her cloak. "What do you think of The Two Sisters as a name for them?"

Lucinda felt a rush of warm affection. "If you like--sister."

Amanda giggled and kissed Lucinda's cheek. "I'll be back before nightfall," she promised, "and when the bonfires are blazing merrily, we'll make our way to France."

After her companion had gone, Lucinda rose from her chair and set the room in order. It was a comfortable room--hardly surprising, since Amanda was very fond of comfort indeed. The bed they shared was adorned with soft pillows, a goose-down mattress, and a velvet overspread; the chairs were plush and well-padded; even the rugs felt sensuously thick under bare feet.

A clamor outside the window drew her attention. A clutch of boys were struggling to get a scarecrow-like figure, old clothes stuffed with rags with a bag for the head, down from a wagon. "Penny for the Guy!" one of them shouted on seeing her. Lucinda grinned down at them and took a handful of coins from the purse on the bedside table, tossing them down. "That should buy plenty of fireworks, lads," she called as they scampered away, bearing the effigy over their heads and chanting the traditional rhyme:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot--
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Lucinda shut the window with a sigh. She remembered the Gunpowder Plot all too well; it had hardly been the only conspiracy to remove the maddeningly unpopular King James from the throne. She sat down hard on the windowsill, assailed with a flood of unwanted and unwelcome memories.

Is there nowhere in the world I can go, she thought bitterly, that doesn't remind me of him? After Fawke's folly, she had fled England at Methos's side to escape being ground under the wheels of one political machine or another. They had traveled Europe and Asia together, gone to the New World, seen the founding of New Orleans--

Stop it. It always came down to that; she'd start thinking about Methos, and inevitably her thoughts would turn to the disaster she'd caused, the lives she'd destroyed, the mentor and lover she'd betrayed by refusing to listen to him. Twenty-six years after the fact, the guilt was still as deep and sharp and raw and open as an axe-cut to the stomach.

A sudden knocking roused her. She rose and went to open the door. She was met with a grim-faced man standing before a pair of armed guards. "Where is Amanda Darieux?" he asked without preamble.

Lucinda drew herself up to her full height--which meant she was towering over the official wearing the King's colors. "I do not know," she replied, which was substantially the truth.

"Search the rooms," the magistrate ordered. As the guards rushed to obey, he flashed a tight little smile. "I have the authority to arrest you, lady, and punish you as I see fit. You will do yourself no good by protecting the Darieux woman. She is the very Devil in woman's guise. She will not come to your aid."

Lucinda knew perfectly well that was true. She knew also what the guards would find when they searched the apartments. There were jewels hidden in the pillows, in the goose-down of the mattress, as well as a dozen other places in the room that were more accessible. But under no circumstances would she betray her only friend. She raised her chin defiantly. "Do your worst," she said. "I will tell you nothing, do you hear? Nothing."

New Orleans, Louisiana
10 February, Present Day

"And I didn't," Lucinda said stoutly. "Not a word. They threatened me with every torture imaginable, but I held my tongue--even when they threatened to cut it out." She smiled wryly at Methos's expression. "What? It would have grown back," she said placatingly.

"That's not the point!" Methos couldn't decide whether to be shocked, horrified or outraged, so he settled on a combination of all three. "You do remember the standard English method of execution, don't you? They could have taken your head off!"

"Actually by then they were more likely to hang me, which wouldn't have been quite so final. But they weren't going to do it. while they thought they could learn where the French Blue was. They didn't, of course, simply because I didn't know. Eventually, the King died, and they had more serious problems to worry about. They pretty much forgot about me."

"I tried to get you out," Amanda said, ignoring MacLeod's look of astonishment. "But when George the Third died, all hell broke loose. I was lucky to get out of England with my own head on my shoulders."

Lucinda nodded in understanding. "They were pretty bad times in merry old England, that's for sure. Not as dangerous as Bloody Mary's reign, mind you, but bad enough."

Amanda nodded. "So how'd you get out of Newgate?"

"Actually, I didn't. In 1820 they started rounding up able-bodied prisoners to ship to Australia--particularly females. I guess I looked like fertile breeding stock." Lucinda snickered. "Ironic, if you think about it."

"You could have jumped overboard and gotten away..."

"No. Escape wasn't important to me. I wanted to go somewhere I'd never been." She spared a quick glance at the man beside her. "I needed a fresh start."

"And you were there for...?"

"About fifty years, give or take. I didn't stay in the penal colony for long; I ended up wandering the Outback for a while, before I headed off to Japan. It was just opening up to foreigners then, and the people there were good to me." She smiled fondly. "Then, after the Great War, tensions started rising, and I felt it was better for me to move on." She looked around the noisy, busy pub. "So I came back to New Orleans. It was the only place I'd ever really felt at home. And...I suppose I had to prove to myself that I was over...what happened."

Methos sighed quietly and put his arm around her shoulders with an air of weary patience. MacLeod and Amanda exchanged looks, each acknowledging the other's complete lack of comprehension as well as the mutual agreement not to ask any questions.

"Anyway," Amanda said briskly, "that's all water under London Bridge, right?"

"Of course." Lucinda leaned forward and smiled slyly at Amanda. "That's why you just happened to show up in New Orleans when the Hope Diamond is on loan from the Smithsonian for an exhibition."

Amanda held up a hand and shook her head firmly. "Oh, no, not me. My jewel-thief days are definitively over, never to be repeated."

"Right. And I've gone from being a shield-maid to Betty effen Crocker." Lucinda looked down at her empty glass and toyed with the stirrer. "So what happened to the other one?"

"Which other one?"

"The other half of the French Blue. Half of it's sitting in that exhibition hall. What happened to the rest of it?"

"Oh, you know how tricky diamond-cutting is. When you refacet a stone, you always lose net weight."

Lucinda fixed Amanda with a steady, steely stare. "The French Blue weighed a total of one hundred twelve carats," she said. "The Hope Diamond weighed forty-four carats before Henry Winston purchased it and had it recut to increase its brilliance. That leaves roughly sixty-eight carats unaccounted for."

Methos blinked and nearly dropped his beer. "You were paying attention," he said.

Lucinda shrugged. "I have a personal interest in that particular stone, is all."

"The 'Hope Diamond'," Amanda scoffed. "Figures that pompous blowhard Henry would get his name attached to it. He cheated me on the deal, too. He gets the finest blue diamond in the world, and all I get is a lousy fifteen hundred pounds."

"So you're looking to reclaim it?" MacLeod asked mildly.

"Of course not. It's like I told Lucy, I'm done with that sort of thing. I mean it," she said as MacLeod shook his head. "It's just a matter of principle, that's all."

"Principle," MacLeod echoed, exhanging a knowing look with Methos.

"I didn't know you had any, Amanda darling," the elder Immortal said.

Amanda gave him one of those looks. "You know, sometimes I really don't like you."

"That's all right," Methos replied, unruffled. "There are times I don't like myself, either."

It was well after midnight when the two couples went their separate ways--one to the gallery, the other to the Royal Hotel--with a promise to meet for breakfast.

"I had no idea you knew Amanda," Lucinda said as they walked up the gallery steps. "It was good to see her again."

"Mm." Methos stifled a yawn behind his hand. "No big surprise, really, with that diamond exhibition in town."

"She says she's not a thief anymore."

"You say you're not a shield-maid anymore, but that doesn't stop you charging into the fray with your sword drawn on the spur of the moment." He leaned against the jamb as Lucinda unlocked the door. "Relieving other people of the burden of excess wealth is Amanda's joy in life. She loves the thrill, the challenge, the acquisition. She cannot change her basic nature."

Lucinda followed him into the gallery. "Maybe not, but she can resist the impulse to indulge herself--for the right reasons. She cares a lot about MacLeod."

Methos hung up his long coat. "Yes, but still--she's known him longer than she's known you, and she's still left him holding the bag more than once."

Lucinda locked the front door and headed across the room. "You are entirely too skeptical."

He caught her at the foot of the stairs and turned her to face him. "You," he said with fond sternness, "are entirely too trusting." He chucked her under the chin.

"It's part of my charm."

"Just so long as it doesn't get you killed someday."

"I don't think Amanda's going to kill me." She kissed his nose and headed upstairs.

Methos looked after her; he couldn't help admiring her long legs until they disappeared. "No," he muttered, "because I'd kill her first." He took the steps two at a time as he followed after her.

Clair de Lune Gallery
New Orleans, Louisiana
11 February, Present Day

Lucinda looked out of her office as soon as the bell jingled. She was reaching towards her sword when she realized the Immortal who'd just appeared wasn't an enemy. "Duncan, we missed you at breakfast--what's wrong?"

The Highlander's dark eyes were black with fury. "Where's Methos?"

"Sssh!" Lucinda looked into the gallery, but it was empty except for them, thankfully enough. "Adam is upstairs working on his computer. Duncan, wait!" She hurried after him as he sprinted for the spiral iron stairs. "Duncan MacLeod, he does not like to be disturbed while he's working--Duncan!"

She darted in front of him and stood in front of the door to the office Methos had set up in her spare room. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, I don't know who you think you are--no, I take that back, I do know who you think you are--but you are not in charge around here. this is my gallery, dammit, and--"

"Get out of my way." He took her shoulders and tried to move her aside, but she braced herself in the door frame and refused to budge.

"And another thing," she said, glaring at him, "my husband's name is Adam Pierson. Nobody in New Orleans knows anything different, not even my best friends, and I'd like to keep it that way, if you don't mind!"

The door behind her opened, and the gentleman in question peered out. "Do you think you two could keep it down to a dull roar? It's a bit hard to concentrate with World War Three going on out here."

Lucinda shot a venomous look at MacLeod. "Adam, darling, I'm sorry, but your Highlander friend just came storming up here like--"

"Like he usually does, yes, yes. It's all right, Lucy." Methos started to pat her shoulder, but MacLeod still had a death-grip on her. "Mac, do you mind not throttling my wife, please? Take it from me, it puts her in an awful mood." MacLeod let go of Lucinda, and Methos gently but firmly moved her out of his way and stepped out into the hall, closing the door firmly behind him. "There. Now. What's all this about, anyway?"

"Amanda's gone," MacLeod said.

"Is she." Methos didn't sound surprised.

"Well, she's not here," Lucinda said waspishly. "What, did you two have a fight or something?"

MacLeod pulled a folded newspaper from his coat and tossed it to Methos, who caught it reflexively. He opened it--it was the first section of the Times-Picayune morning edition. His hazel eyes scanned the front page, and he made a face. "Oh, for God's sake."

"What? What is it?" Lucinda looked at the banner headline. "'World-Famous Exhibit Robbed--twenty million dollars in jewels missing...' Oh, no."

"You missed the best part. 'Hope Diamond Stolen'." MacLeod folded his arms. "Where is she, Lucinda?"

"I don't know!" Lucinda was outraged. "Why would I know? For that matter, how do you know she's even responsible?" Methos snickered softly, and Lucinda glared at him. "It's not funny, Adam! She gave all that up, she told me so."

"And last night even you didn't believe her," MacLeod pointed out.

"She wouldn't lie." Lucinda shook her head firmly. "Not to me."

Methos groaned. "My dearest love, you are entirely too trusting. Amanda's the world's best liar--"

"No, you are," Lucinda said, turning on him, "and you've never lied to me either."

"You just haven't caught him at it," MacLeod said with finality.

"You stay out of this," Lucinda snapped at him. "No wonder Amanda likes you, she's always preferred them big and dumb."

"Stop it," Methos ordered as MacLeod's eyes flashed angrily. "Both of you. This isn't getting us anywhere."

"You're right." MacLeod shoved his hands in his pockets. "Methos, we've got to find her."

Methos sighed and nodded. "Lucy, do you have any idea where she might have gone?"

She gaped at him. "I haven't seen her since 1814. Who knows how many bolt-holes she's got? And I'm still not convinced she's responsible for this."

Methos waved his hand impatiently. "Sorry, MacLeod, doesn't look like we can help you."

"There is something you can do." MacLeod was looking right at him.

Methos shook his head. "No. Absolutely not."

"What?" Lucinda looked from one man to the other. "What's going on?"

"All you have to do is contact her Wat--"

"MACLEOD!" Methos grabbed the Highlander by the collar of his coat, opened the door to his office, and practically threw him inside. "Lucinda, darling," he said pleasantly, "could you go make some coffee while I talk some sense into my good friend Duncan?"

Lucinda's eyes narrowed, and she got that stubborn set to her chin.

"Please?" he entreated.

She rolled her eyes. "Fine."

He watched her clatter down the stairs and shut and locked the door. He turned to MacLeod and shoved him hard, with surprising strength. The big Scotsman landed with a "Whoof!" in a black leather armchair. He started to get up, but Methos lunged forward, his hands closing on MacLeod's forearms to pin him down. "Lucinda knows nothing about the Watchers," he hissed into MacLeod's face. "And I want to keep it that way. It's safest for her."

"And for you." MacLeod refused to be intimidated by the older Immortal. "What she doesn't know won't hurt you, is that it? Same old story?"

"Believe me, MacLeod, if I thought it would be in her best interests, I'd tell her everything, but I really think she's happier not knowing. The Watchers don't know about her, either, or any of the other Immortals here--at least for the moment."

"What about Kerrigan?"

"Kerrigan's dead. He was killed a month ago." Methos's long fingers dug into MacLeod's arms. "Need I remind you that Lucinda is married to Adam Pierson? And Pierson's an active researcher again."

"Which means if the Watchers learn that you've married an Immortal--"

"There's more to it than that. The Tribunal knows who I really am. They're only letting me play 'mortal' so long as I behave myself. If they learn that Lucinda's Immortal--and that I knew she was, and said nothing--can you imagine how many different levels of hell are going to break loose?"

"Fine. Keep your secrets, it makes no difference to me. But I have to find Amanda."

"Why? What good would it do? You can't change someone's basic nature, MacLeod. This is what Amanda does. If you want to be with her, you're going to have to accept it." Methos let go of MacLeod's arms and stepped back, spreading his hands. "It's who she is."

"I"m not going to let her get away with this, Methos." MacLeod's expression was a mixture of anger, frustration and deep betrayal. "She promised me she wouldn't be causing any trouble. She swore she loved me too much to put me through this again. I'm not going to let her get away with it--not this time. I'm going to track her down, return those diamonds, and then I'm done with her. Once and for all." He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "All I'm asking is that you help me find out where she is."

Methos rubbed his eyes wearily. "All right, I'll see what I can find out. If she's still got the same Watcher, she would have checked in with Beau before leaving town. I assume you have looked for Amanda in the city?"

"As soon as I got up this morning and found her gone."

"Okay, okay. Give me a minute and I'll call--" He stopped, and both men looked around. There was a knock from the hall and a brush of presence, there and quickly gone. Methos went to the door, opened it, and found a tray with coffee and mugs on the floor just outside. He looked out in time to see a glimpse of Lucinda's head as she went back downstairs.

"Lu--" He started to call after her, then thought better of it. He picked up the tray and carried it into the room. He let MacLeod get some coffee while he dialed Beau Rimbaud's number.

He spoke at length with the bookstore owner, and after he rang off he met MacLeod's questioning look. "He's going to look into it and see if Amanda's Watcher filed an exit report this morning. He'll call back if he finds anything."

MacLeod nodded. "Thanks, Methos."

"Don't thank me yet."

"Well, how about I'm sorry I ruined your morning?"

"That's acceptable." He waved off the mug of coffee MacLeod offered him. "Make yourself at home--but don't touch my computer. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Going to smooth things over with the little woman?"

Methos paused in the doorway long enough to give MacLeod a dirty look, and was gone.

"I'm just finishing up a plate of sandwiches," Lucinda called over her shoulder as Methos entered the kitchen. He stood in the doorway watching as she put the bag of croissants and the condiments away, then washed her hands. Finally she turned to look at him. "Want to carry them up?"

"Lucinda..." He went to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Listen--"

"Shush." She laid a finger across his lips. "If you wanted me to hear about it, you would have already told me."

"But--"

"I know you have your secrets," she said, smiling. "I've always known there are things you don't tell me. I trust you enough to believe that if I needed to know, I would."

He sighed and closed his eyes, but he couldn't help smiling a little. There were times when Lucinda's simple, direct insight surprised him, even now. He put his arms around her and pulled her against him, resting his forehead against hers. "How can you be so patient with me?"

"That's why I have no patience for anything else--I use it all up on you."

"Well, thanks for that." He kissed her and picked up the platter.

Before he left the kitchen, Lucinda said, "Just promise me one thing."

He paused and looked back. "What, dearest?"

"Just don't leave me." She looked suddenly serious. "If you have to go, please take me with you."

"As if I wouldn't." He gave her a wry look. "Do you really think I'm letting you off that easily?"

She relaxed and grinned at him. "So you aren't planning on running off to Borneo with MacLeod?"

"Borneo's overrated," he laughed. "Besides, Mac isn't exactly my type."

"I hope you're not his."

"Hardly. My breasts aren't big enough." He set the plate on the table and went back to her. He took her hand in his and held it up between them, the light glinting off the gold ring on her finger. "This is a promise," he said, and his tone was both gentle and resolute. "I have no intention of breaking it. Ever."

She gave him a grateful smile and cupped her hand against his cheek. He leaned in to give her a long, sweet kiss, and when he pulled back, she grinned at him, any hint of uncertainty gone. "Get along with you. Let me know if you boys need anything."

"Yes, Mum."

She wrinkled her nose and started cleaning up the kitchen as Methos headed back upstairs.

It was mid-afternoon before the telephone rang. MacLeod automatically dived for it, but Methos beat him to it. "Yes? Beau, thanks for calling back. Anything? Yes, I know...I just need you to tell me if--yes, she's a friend of mine. No, I'm not going to kill her. Yes. All right, thanks." He hung up the handset and turned to face MacLeod. "She left on a plane bound for London at about four o'clock this morning."

"I knew it!" MacLeod hit his forehead with the heel of his palm. "I knew I couldn't trust her."

"Mac--"

He began pacing back and forth frantically across the office floor. "I'm going to London. I'm going to find her if I have to search every pawn shop and back alley from Ickenham to Southend-on-Sea, and I'm going to wring her neck. See if I don't."

"MacLeod--"

The Highlander barely stopped to draw breath. He wasn't paying any attention to Methos at all. "It's not the fact that she stole the jewels so much, it's the fact that she lied to me, Methos. She pleaded, she wheedled, she swore up and down she was through with thievery, she said she wanted to prove it to me, and--"

"MacLeod, shut up, won't you?" Methos planted a hand in the center of MacLeod's chest, halting him in mid-pace. "If she was on the four A.M. flight to London, she couldn't have stolen the jewels."

MacLeod blinked at him. "What?"

"According to the newspaper story, the break-in occurred sometime around three A.M. The police estimate that it took the thieves no less than an hour to clear out the display cases, and possibly longer than that. There is no possible way that Amanda could have managed it."

MacLeod pondered this. "She could have had someone working with her--"

"Maybe, but she wouldn't have let anyone else do the job for her. That's part of the thrill for her, taking the goods personally. It's not just the value of the object, it's the challenge of obtaining it. That's her fix, her basic reason for doing it."

"Then..." MacLeod shook his head, completely nonplussed. "Then why did she leave?"

"You'll have to ask her when you catch her up in about five or six years."

"What the hell could she want in London, anyway? Why now?"

"I've no idea. It's a very long way to go for a flying visit. She won't even be in Britain till--" Methos glanced at the clock on his desktop--"eight o'clock tonight. That's two AM Greenwich time. It's a sixteen-hour flight, give or take how long the stopover is in Atlanta. Trust me, I know."

MacLeod sank into the armchair, defeat evident in his very posture, the set of every limb. "I really thought she meant it this time."

"Maybe she did, when she said it." Methos slouched into the executive chair behind his desk, picked his beer up off the blotter, and put his feet up. "Why don't you stay for dinner tonight? I'll cook you something that'll get that hang-dog expression off your face."

"Lucinda won't mind?"

"Not a bit. She loves company."

"I don't think she likes me very much, Methos."

"Pfft, of course she does. If she didn't like you, believe me, Mac, you'd know it."

After dinner, the three Immortals relaxed in the upstairs living room. Lucinda sat on one end of the long sofa with Methos stretched out full-length along it, sitting up against her. After a few beers, MacLeod was in a somewhat more sociable mood, and he was regaling Lucinda with stories about his adventures with Amanda and Hugh Fitzcairn.

"The Stone of Scone?" Lucinda giggled. "And it's still?"

"Gracing the green of a lovely Scottish golf course," MacLeod said, smirking. "And no one the wiser."

"Oh, that's classic." She gave Methos's arm a poke. "We never did anything that fun."

"If you call that 'fun'," Methos replied mildly. "Besides, when we were in England they chopped people's heads off for messing about with royal relics."

The decorative phone on the writing-desk jangled, and Lucinda groaned. "Bugger, I thought I'd turned that off. It's half-past eleven, who the hell would be calling us?"

"Let the machine get it," Methos advised. "I'm comfortable, so you can't move."

Lucinda scoffed at him, and MacLeod chuckled. After a few rings, there was a click, followed by Lucinda's recorded voice. "Hello, we're not available, you know the drill. If you don't leave a message, we can't call you back."

"Lucy? Lucinda, if you're there, pick up. Methos? Come on, guys, please be home."

Lucinda stood up so quickly she would have dumped Methos off the sofa if he hadn't jumped up at the same time. MacLeod was on his feet as well. The three of them raced for the phone, almost knocking each other over in their haste--but it was MacLeod who got there first. He snatched up the handset. "Amanda!"

"Mac! Damn you, Duncan, I've been calling you all day! Where the hell have you been?"

"Where the hell are you? Why did you leave like that?"

"I'm at Heathrow, waiting for a flight back, and I left you a message on the hotel voicemail. Didn't you get it?"

"No, I didn't get it." He held off the other two with his hand and tried to focus on the conversation. "You could have woken me up, you know."

"No, because you're always such a grouch when you wake up in the middle of the night. You know, you've really got to get another celphone."

MacLeod rolled his eyes. "You're waiting for a flight from Heathrow, are you? To where?"

"Back to New Orleans, you goofball. Where do you think?"

"Wait a minute. You took a sixteen-hour flight from New Orleans to London, stayed there a grand total of--" MacLeod checked his watch and did some quick mental calculations--"four hours, and now you're coming back? That's another sixteen hours, Amanda!"

"Whoopee, the Scotsman can count. I should be back there by six tomorrow evening, your time. Just sit your ass there and wait for me? Please?"

"Amanda!"

"They're calling my flight. Gotta run." A smooching sound in his ear, and then the line disconnected.

With a dazed expression, MacLeod hung up the phone.

"What's she up to this time?" Methos inquired mildly.

Lucinda was more concerned. "Is she all right?"

"She's fine." MacLeod walked over to his chair, plunked down, and picked up his beer. "She'll be back tomorrow night. And the minute she sets foot off the plane I'm going to kill her." He took a long swig as Methos and Lucinda exchanged uneasy glances.

New Orleans International Airport
New Orleans, Louisiana
12 February, Present Day

Amanda climbed into the sleek black Saturn beside MacLeod. "God, I'm wiped," she groaned, leaning back and closing her eyes. "Just get me back to the hotel, let me take a shower and get some sleep."

MacLeod didn't say a word; he just put the rental car in gear and took off. Weighed down with the bone-deep exhaustion of nearly forty hours without proper sleep, Amanda dozed fitfully in the passenger seat until the car stopped. She sat up, unlatching her seat belt, and blinked at the long, lazy stretch of river outside. There wasn't a building larger than a boat shack in sight. "This isn't the hotel," she said in a drowsy half-daze.

"First I want some answers." MacLeod turned in the seat and faced her grimly. "I want to know what the hell is going on with you. Why did you take a two-day round trip to London at the drop of a hat?"

"Duncan..." Amanda stifled a yawn. "I'm suffering from two cases of jet-lag and the worst case of sleep-deprivation I've had to cope with since the French Revolution. I'm in no shape for an interrogation."

"You mean you're in no shape to think up a convincing lie. That's the whole point." MacLeod leaned forward, his thick brows pulled down low above his chestnut eyes. "Let's have it, Amanda. Start to finish."

Under the weight of that heavy gaze, Amanda crumbled. She wasn't up to dissembly, not after the arduous journey she'd undertaken. "I had to go get something. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing."

"Haring off to Europe and back with barely a pause in between is a 'spur-of-the-moment thing'?"

"Yes!" She sat up in the car seat, energized for the moment by indignation. "It wasn't for me, Duncan. I had to get something. Something for Lucy. I owe her."

"You could have told me." MacLeod sounded genuinely hurt.

"I left a message. I did. Anyway, I wanted it to be a surprise." Amanda sighed heavily. "I suppose I didn't really think it through."

"Since when did you ever think anything through?"

She gave him a conciliatory smile. "Duncan...I'm sorry I skipped on you. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." The smile widened a bit, and her dark eyes glinted with a hint of mischief. "I didn't know you'd grown so used to having me around."

MacLeod grinned wryly. "The diamond exhibition was robbed the same night you left town."

"It what? Damn--Oh, wait, Duncan, listen, I swear, I had nothing to--"

"I know. I know you didn't. They caught the thieves this morning; turns out the exhibition manager was involved. All the jewels have been safely recovered."

"But you suspected me, didn't you? Oh!" Amanda scowled fretfully. "After all this time, after all the promises I made to you, you still don't trust me?"

"You're the world's best liar, Amanda."

"Actually, Methos has that honor, but that's beside the point. How could you possibly think that I?"

"Old habits die hard." MacLeod reached out and put his arms around her. Amanda stiffened, but he wouldn't let her pull away. "For me as well as for you."

"I meant what I said to you in Paris, Duncan," Amanda told him ruefully. "I'm done with thievery. I don't have to resort to that anymore. It's fun, it's challenging, it's...profitable--but you're more important to me than that. It may have taken me twelve hundred years to get my priorities straight, but I'm working on it, okay?"

"Okay." He kissed her temple, and she began to slowly relax against him. "Okay. I believe you. And--I'm sorry I doubted you."

"Well, I guess I can see how it looked to you," Amanda admitted grudgingly. "But no more second-guessing, okay?"

"And no more running out on me in the middle of the night?"

Amanda winced a little. "Okay. Deal."

MacLeod grinned. "Done." He started to kiss her, but was interrupted as she yawned again, widely.

"Ho-ohh-hold that thought," she managed. "Get me somewhere I can get clean and pass out for a few hours, and we'll pick up where we left off. Okay?"

Clair de Lune Gallery
New Orleans, Louisiana
12 February, Present Day

Lucinda insisted on cooking for the lot of them that night. She didn't exactly consider herself a gourmet chef, but living in New Orleans for the past eighty years had given her a fair amount of practical experience in distinguishing and preparing Cajun-inspired cuisine.

After a lavish dinner featuring chicken and sausage gumbo, crawfish etoufee and ending with cheesecake adorned with candied pecans, MacLeod settled back in the loveseat in the comfortable living room. "Just roll me down the stairs when you want me to leave," he groaned appreciatively. "Now I know why Methos married you, Lucinda."

The blonde smiled and poured him a cup of roast blend Viazza coffee. "I'm going to take that as a compliment so I don't have to thrash you."

The Highlander snorted softly and took the coffee. "You can always try."

"Another time."

"Lucy?" Amanda stood hesitantly in the doorway, glancing from MacLeod to Methos, who had just settled himself comfortably on the sofa. "I have something for you."

MacLeod sat up, suddenly attentive. Amanda hadn't told him a damn thing more than what she'd said in the car earlier, and he was curious as to what surprise she had in store. Methos watched with all the appearance of idle curiosity, as though it made no difference to him one way or the other.

"Does this have anything to do with your skipping out on us like you did?" Lucinda tried to pass it off as a joke, but there was an unmistakable wariness in her tone.

"Well, actually, yes." Amanda brought her hands out from behind her and held out a small black velvet box. Lucinda took it automatically, her eyebrows raised quizzically. "I've been waiting to give you this for a long time. Go on, open it."

Still wary, Lucinda did as she was told--and nearly dropped the box. Her eyes went wide and she gasped audibly. Methos was on his feet in a moment and looked at what she held in her hands. He was visibly taken aback by what he saw. "Nice," he murmured. "Very nice indeed."

MacLeod got up to see for himself. Inside the box was a large, perfect, vividly blue gemstone, a bit larger across than a quarter-dollar piece, and cut into the shape of a heart. It was held in a platinum fleur-de-lis clasp suspended on a fine chain.

"What..." Lucinda sounded breathless, as if she'd been punched in the stomach. "...what...?"

"Now that," Methos murmured beside her, "is a very pretty rock."

"It's the other part of the French Blue," Amanda said, watching Lucinda's face eagerly. "I was going to have it cut in half, but the jeweler said it would ruin the stone. I left it to him to decide how to divide it up, and that piece wasn't the largest, but it had the best color--so he said."

"It's beautiful," Lucinda whispered. "Amanda--I can't accept this. It must be worth a fortune."

"Well, you'd damn well better accept it." The other woman sounded indignant. "It's yours, Lucy. It's always been yours."

Methos reached out and carefully lifted the pendant from the white satin lining. He fastened it around Lucinda's long white neck and admired the effect. "It matches your eyes," he said.

"That's why I knew it was perfect for her," Amanda said, smiling.

"Oh--" Amanda staggered a bit as Lucinda threw her arms around her. "Oh, Amanda--!"

Amanda laughed and hugged her back. "When did you get so excited about diamonds?"

"It's not the stone, silly." Lucinda pulled back to look at her, eyes shining. "It's what it represents. And it really is beautiful. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

It was after one in the morning when MacLeod and Amanda finally returned to their rooms at the Royal Hotel. They took a long shower, together of course, leaving the bath only when the hot water ran out. Afterwards they cuddled together in the lush king-size bed, listening to the sounds of the street outside--laughter, the occasional passing car, and the echoes of enthusiastic zydeco music coming from the cabaret on the corner.

"So what do you think, Duncan?"

"What do I think about what?"

Amanda sat up and looked at him earnestly. "Remember what I said a while back, about maybe settling down and playing house for seventy or eighty years? If Methos and Lucinda can go all domestic, why can't we?"

"You'd never be content with a sedentary life, Amanda. You'd get bored and restless, and go chasing off after the next great adventure."

"How do you know? How can either of us know if we don't try?"

He studied her expression. "You're serious?"

"Absolutely."

"You really mean it?"

"With all my heart."

"No more capers? No more break-ins? No more scheming?"

"No more."

"No more running off in the middle of the night without saying good-bye?"

"No more running off period." She snuggled up to him and looked at him with helpless, pathetic appeal. "Come on, Duncan. Please? Give me a chance?"

He let his head fall back on the pillow. "I must be insane."

Amanda felt a great burst of joy and hugged him tight. "You won't regret it, Duncan. I'm going to spend the next century or two making you disgustingly happy."

"I thought you said seventy or eighty years?"

She thumped his chest with her palm. "How about we start out with a hundred years and then renegotiate?"

MacLeod smiled with weary affection and kissed the top of her head. "We'll see."

"Darling, stop admiring it and come to bed."

Lucinda smiled over her shoulder and laid the pendant carefully in her jewelry box. She slid into bed beside Methos and turned down the light.

He pulled her into his arms. "I've never seen you carry on so about a bit of jewelry."

"Don't tell me you're jealous of a hunk of irradiated crystallized carbon."

"No, I'm not," Methos said, mildly affronted. "I'm just wondering what all the fuss is about."

"It took a lot for Amanda to give that to me," she said. "You should know that, you know how she is."

"I know. I was a bit surprised myself."

"It proves that--in the end--people really do matter more to her than possessions. She values friendship and love more than she does the acquisition of wealth. It's a big step for her; I'm proud of her."

"Mm." Methos had his own suspicions about Amanda's motives--that she'd given the diamond to Lucinda in front of MacLeod to make him believe she had turned over a new leaf--but he chose to keep that conclusion to himself. Why ruin Lucinda's joy for no reason? Besides, maybe Amanda had given up her life of crime.

Miracles could happen.