Disclaimer: As usual, I freely admit that, Duncan, Amanda, Joe, et al. aren't mine. Rysher: Panzer/Davis owns them (isn't slavery illegal? Has anyone notified Amnesty International?) and I'm just borrowing them. They'll be back after the testosterone set has finished purring over that last tango. These are written purely for the pleasure and catharsis of writing. Aidan Logan, under her many names, and any other character who doesn't look familiar from movie or the series are mine.
Rated: R for some m/f teasing back and forth.
Classical music poured from the speakers mounted high in two corners of the room, completely unheard over the running stream of profanity which had just switched languages again. "Diseased offspring of a scorpion and a three-copper whore, which is the only way you could sting someone as you screwed them, may you be returned to the desert you come from in time to be scoured back to component particles! The library of Alexandria existed in vain if such as you are the result and descendant!"
The clicking of a keyboard being used too forcefully caught Duncan's attention as he stepped in, dropping his keys into the fanny pack he was wearing. Running a hand along his hair to be sure it was all in the ponytail, brown eyes gleamed with humor as he listened to the steady Arabic insults coming from the far end of the room. Aidan had been in the middle of one when he walked in, but he really doubted she was threatening him with being stripped, gutted, and burned to appease the djinn in charge of sandstorms.
Duncan walked across the room to her desk, absently looking around to see what else she had unpacked and put on her shelves. Aidan enjoyed displaying curios and some boxes she had stored ages ago had just been delivered two days ago. He paused for a moment to admire an intricately wrapped and mounted quartz crystal cluster. The shape of its copper mounting gave the whole piece an appearance of being arrested in explosive upward motion and the clarity of the individual quartz points caught the copper light until it almost burned at the edges.
"Did caravans actually move to carry your malformed, unproductive self? Slugs in a garden have a more important part in Allah's plan! A two-headed calf would work more efficiently! Your grandparents took in an alley thief for a child and are thus no blood kin to you... and grateful for it!" Without looking over, she switched to English and continued, "Dhonnchaidh, half a minute, please. Sorry not to be ready."
Duncan stepped behind her, wrapped his hands around her shoulders and started digging into stiff, tensed muscles. "Hey, we aren't on that much of a timetable. What have you done to your back?" As he continued massaging, he glanced at the computer screen she had been cursing so assiduously. "Data retrieval twenty percent completed? Aidan, what are you retrieving? I thought Stengel's computer was the one on the other end of the desk?"
She groaned and took a deep breath, deliberately relaxing into his hands and forcing muscles to loosen. Duncan caught himself admiring the contrast between his olive-toned skin on the creamy-pale smoothness of her shoulders before a detail clicked in his mind. "That's the same shirt you were wearing last night. Have you slept?"
"No, I haven't. At half-past two this morning, as I was shutting down for the night, my system tried to savage the completed translations since my last save. I'm trying to retrieve three hours of work. Thank the sweet Goddess for Norton." The dark head, hair coiled into a disheveled chignon, relaxed back against Duncan's stomach as he worked.
"Do we need to run tomorrow instead? You could come over tonight for a sparring session if you'd rather." Duncan watched how long it was taking the Norton Utilities to run and winced in sympathy when he realized how much she risked losing.
"Oh, please, no, let's run." She stretched upward, arching slightly, then tilted her head up and back to look at him. "Norton can work on it while we're gone, and the security installation is today. I don't know when I'll be free tonight." Aidan studied him unselfconsciously. Duncan could reduce any teen-ager and most grown women to drooling and he usually ignored it completely.
He had the muscle-tone of a serious martial artist, no surprise for one of the immortals, but his build reminded Aidan of the Athenian Olympic athletes from the early years. In the first centuries when the competitions were contested by gentlemen athletes, Apollo's role as sponsor of the Games was still taken seriously. In tribute to his role as god of harmony, the athletes worked to present a seemly form to the god, balanced between strength and speed, agility and grace. Duncan could have posed with any of them for a victory statue.
On top of that, he had a truly beautiful face, sculpted lines running from dark hair down strong cheekbones to lush, full lips. Olive-toned skin set off deep brown eyes under dark brows, and the mobile mouth usually told you exactly what he was thinking, if you knew how to read it. Today it said he thought she was pushing too hard again, but Aidan ignored that. She had survived much longer than the Highlander and knew full well where her own limits lay. She wasn't even close to the edge yet.
"Half a moment while I change. Come up and talk to me?" She plucked hair pins out as they walked up the stairs. On the second floor all the windows were open already, the ceiling fans turning lazily. Morning sunlight spilled across the room from the unshaded windows, reflecting back off of polished wood floors and laying long blocks of light across oriental rugs.
Duncan looked around, pleased with the look of the place and smugly proprietary. He had put as much work into the house as Aidan had, and enjoyed seeing the results and her obvious pleasure in her home. He glanced over at the large jacuzzi tub and saw ferns surrounding it, almost covering the ledge around it. Several flowering plants hung from the wall, trailing blossoms down toward the ferns. "When did you get those, Aidan?" There were ficus trees here and there as well, and a profusion of potted plants above the double sink in the kitchen.
As he turned back, Aidan pulled the last pins and deep brown hair uncoiled, falling to her waist. "I went out to one of the nurseries... day before yesterday. I'll need to mist the ferns today. There's a water bottle in the freezer, will you fill it for me, please?" Clothes flew toward the hamper as she moved across the room, and she dropped the hair pins into a pottery bowl on top of one of the dressers.
Duncan, used to her casual attitudes toward nudity, just smiled and headed to the kitchen. "So is the water bottle for you or the ferns?" He pulled out a runner's bottle, noticed she had frozen ice into the bottom third of it, and decided to remember that little trick for tomorrow.
Aidan turned to tell him, then laughed when she saw he had already filled the correct bottle and was dropping it into her carry-sac. "Smart ass, are you trying to tell me you think I need more sleep?"
"Why, when you'll do it for me?" He hung the pack next to the freight elevator, and headed to her bathroom. When he came back out, Duncan tossed her a hairbrush. Aidan dropped it on the bed and finished lacing up her shoes. He watched in amusement as she stood there, nude from the waist up, and carefully settled a sport's bra, then her sword sheath. She twisted and turned a few times to check the fit and bind of the harness, then nodded and swiftly untangled her hair, grey eyes unfocused as her attention settled into quick-moving fingers.
"Oh, hush, youngster. Where are we running today?"
"Oh, I don't know. You want to work on speed or endurance?" Duncan browsed through her cookbooks as he waited, pulling out one on Italian cooking he'd been wanting to examine.
"Why not both? Say, five miles in forty minutes, then another three in eighteen?" She tied the braid off with a ponytail holder, then slipped her shortsword into the back sheath. Over all of it, Aidan pulled on a hooded sweatshirt with the sleeves ripped out and felt at the back of the neck with her fingers. "All right, it doesn't feel like the hilt shows. Does it?"
Duncan checked from a couple angles. "Nope. Do you always run with a sword?"
"Yes. Ever gotten caught without one?" Aidan glanced swiftly around the house, decided she hadn't forgotten anything, and dropped house-keys into the little carry-sac. She fastened the strap around her waist and grinned at Duncan. "Shall we?"
"Come on, then. Eight miles, huh? Do you want to do the fast work at the start or the end?" Duncan walked down to his car with her.
"Oh, at the end of course, how else have the speed when it's needed?" Aidan double-checked the lock on the door, then nodded to herself and headed to the car, braid swinging behind her.
"Why did I know you were going to be a hardcase about this?" She glanced over and Duncan grinned at her to show he was joking. "And yeah, I did get caught without it once. I was running, the sword was in the car, and some of his dogs gave me a really bad time before I got back to the car."
"Dogs? Oh, would this have been Peter Canis?" Absently she began running through some aikido drills to loosen up her hands and wrists while Duncan drove.
"Yeah. You knew him or Joe told you?"
"Joe told me -- we were discussing some of the finer points of challenge etiquette down the centuries." Aidan shook her head, mystified. "The things that man can be interested in astound me. In any case, when we get back, I'll take your measurements and see about making you a carry sheath for your sword."
"I'd appreciate it. I always thought the car would be close enough." He shrugged a bit, a rueful smile on his face. "Guess not."
Aidan leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Idiot man, yes, we have plenty of time to think of possibilities, but most of us learn the same way: the hard way. Don't fret so."
"Did you ever get caught without a sword?"
"No, but remember when I grew up. I carried a sword for quite a few more reasons than just immortals, Duncan, and had more centuries to get into the habit. Come on, let's stretch and run."
* * * *
An audience is definitely cramping my style. Aidan sighed and restrained herself for the eighth time from venting her opinion of her computer's recalcitrance. Somehow she didn't think the tech installing the motion detector on the stairs would cope well with Russian profanity. Of course, on an hour's sleep, Aidan wasn't dealing well with the computer, either.
However, she had no complaints with the security company. Cutting Edge definitely lived up to their name, and they had not blinked an eye at her requirements for the system on her house. Motion detectors on all four floors, motion activated lights in the parking lot and driveway, alarms on all the roof accesses as well as the windows and doors on the first floor hadn't surprised them. Circuits to drop the elevator to the first floor if the alarms went off also fell well within the realm of standard procedure.
But they had not said a word about the pressure plate triggers in front of the stairs and elevator on both the first and fourth floors, nor the solenoids to lock down the elevator grates if the alarm was triggered, including the first floor (which was against fire code). They had been equally nonchalant about the motion-activated halogen lights on the fire escape, and the solenoids to seal the stairway doors from the inside (also against fire code). Last, and to Aidan's mind not least, they had not protested once about the apparent paranoia of rigging alarms on all windows within ten feet of the fire escape, regardless of what floor.
So four techs were working quickly but efficiently around the house, all of them bonded, all of them competent to Aidan's appraising eye. I wonder if they know any retrieval techniques beyond Norton? Oh, well, time to face it, I may well have lost that last hour or so. Damn, that was a truly beautiful transliteration, too! Wait -- I wonder, do backup batches overwrite, or run in series? Let's see....
As she began to page down, already promising extravagant offerings to the Gods and Fates if this worked, she felt an immortal on the edge of her senses. Grey eyes widened, then the Irish woman stretched lazily and stood from the computer chair. Glancing at the tech, she offered, "Do you want some water?"
"No, thanks, though."
Aidan nodded and turned to the mini-fridge, scanning to find the other immortal. Female, strong, where is she.... There. A striking brunette in an extremely fashionable dress and heels, a long light-weight elegant trench coat thrown over the whole, stood in the doorway looking around with just a trace of uncertainty in the corners of dark brown eyes. She actually managed to look good with hair clipped so short the military would have approved. I know her, but from where? We've never met, but I've seen her before.
The other woman moved forward, extending a hand. "Ms. Logan? I'm Amanda Darrieux, one of the owners of Cutting Edge. I wanted to come by and make sure everything met with your approval."
Aidan couldn't help it; her sense of irony forced a single chuckle out, but she got it under control quickly. "I appreciate that, Ms. Darrieux, but please call me Aidan. May I offer you a Coke?"
Amanda's eyes widened just a bit, then she smiled and dipped her head a bit in agreement. "Please. It's a bit hot out."
"Well, let's try the elevator. I think the stairs are occupied." Aidan waved at the tech, then walked through the doors into the other half of the first floor, her other work area. Amanda tried to stare unobtrusively at the tools set up, and came to the conclusion that Aidan was either an artist or an artisan and she didn't know which. A small forge, a mini-kiln, and gem-cutting tools were organized in different sections of the room, and other tools and tables besides that she didn't have time to identify before they were in the elevator.
Aidan shut the grate and hit the button for the second floor. "By the way, I'm not hunting heads, and certainly not yours. We have some mutual friends."
"Oh, good, I'm not really in a mood for a fight myself. This is a new dress; I'd hate to have to dry-clean it so soon. Which friends?"
As they moved into Aidan's living quarters, Amanda looked around appraisingly. "This is lovely. How much work did you have to do on it?"
"Coke, orange juice, cran-apple, water, tea, what would you like? And thank you, it took about a month with three of us working like mad, and a fourth helped the last week. I'm not really finished, but I have a deadline to meet for a contract, so...." Aidan shrugged, a wry smile on her face.
"Oh, tea would be good, thanks." Amanda watched the other immortal move smoothly through the place, getting two glasses and filling them with tea, offering lemon with a gesture, and dropping some in both glasses.
"Here you go. And I was a friend of Rebecca Horne and Hugh FitzCairn." Aidan sat down at the kitchen table, listening to the scream of a masonry drill through the open window as they attached lights to the brick wall near the fire escape.
"You knew Fitz? And Rebecca?" Amanda blinked in surprise. "I don't remember hearing your name before." She sipped her tea, thinking.
The quiet reply came, "Well, they didn't know me as Aidan. Fitz called me Sidra and Rebecca knew me as Edana. If you need someone still in the Game to vouch for me, Duncan MacLeod will. Phone's on the counter," and she waved a casual hand at it.
"I see. And what is your relationship with Duncan?" Amanda could not seem to keep a tinge of jealousy out of her voice until the memory twigged. "Wait, excuse me, did you say Edana?"
Aidan gave her a very amused look over the glass. "That's me. And Duncan and I are friends and sparring partners. Should I assume that you two have a slightly different relationship?"
"Aren't you the one who never...? No, we are going to have to take this conversation somewhere else, definitely." Amanda drained her tea, looked at Aidan and continued, "You look frazzled, and with all the noise I don't blame you. Why don't we go get some lunch, discuss your security system, and gossip while they work? This is going to go on for at least another three hours or so. Plenty of time to be back."
Aidan laughed and drained her own tea. "You're right, I am getting frazzled. And I'd love to, I've been hearing about you for years. I'll need to stop downstairs to save my work and shut down that damn computer, but gladly. Just tell me you don't want to eat at Joe's."
Amanda blinked, then said, "Why didn't you say you know Joe? Isn't he a dear? But I wouldn't go there for food. Good music, definitely; dancing, maybe; but food? No, no, no."
"Oh, Joe is wonderful. But I agree with you, unless you're in a mood for pub grub. Although Tony does make a killer reuben." Aidan pulled on some sandals as they spoke, scooped up her car keys, and checked to make sure her wallet was in her back pocket. "What are you in the mood for?"
"How does Greek sound? I know this great place, out by the pier...." Amanda watched the other woman move around, surprised that she hadn't reached for a jacket or something. "Do you have everything?"
"Yes, thanks. Shall I drive or you?" Aidan arranged an oak-leaf necklace on the front of the plain red t-shirt, glanced down at white dockers and sighed. "Will this be all right for where we're going, or shall I change into something a bit more...?" She waved her hands, words failing her.
"Oh, it's fine. With that hair, you'd look dressed up in cut-offs, don't worry about it. And I'll drive. You do look tired. Troubles?"
"Computer problems, but I'll get them under control." Aidan rolled her eyes and sighed. "You know, word processors are just too convenient -- until the files blow up on you."
"Oh, I know. Come on." Amanda nodded to the techs on the first floor and calmly turned off only the monitor on the computer. "Let's leave the CPU on until you get some rest."
As they climbed into Amanda's rental car, she commented, "Not that I want to convince you to get back out, but do you usually trust strange immortals this quickly?"
"No, but I don't have black & white photos of most immortals, either. Rebecca sent me a picture of you with your name on the back years ago. 1949 in London, I think it was. She had inadvertently avenged one of my students, and when she sent me Holly's sword she sent me pictures of some of her favorite students. I think she was trying to cheer me up."
"Did it work?"
"Actually, it did." Aidan chuckled softly. "Fitz had mentioned you to me more than once. Seeing your picture reminded me of stories he'd told, and of Fitz for that matter. He made it impossible for anyone to stay depressed, didn't he?"
Amanda sighed. "Yeah, he did. I miss him, pipe and all. He had the worst taste in tobacco, though."
"Oh, Gods, yes. And no one had the heart to tell him. I mean, how do you tell a man who loves a good smoke so much that he can actually fence while smoking that his pipe is a health hazard?" Aidan chuckled again.
"Well, that settles that. You really did know Fitz. So you and Duncan are friends?" This time it didn't sound nearly as catty.
"We met at Joe's, and he's one of the ones who helped me with the house. I had done him a favor earlier...." Aidan's voice trailed off as she paused, trying to decide what to tell Amanda. At last she threw her hands up mentally. "I know you're a friend of his, so I'll warn you now. Watch out for Cassandra."
"Cassandra? What's she done this time?" The sharp tone of voice brought Aidan's head around.
"This time? What are you referring to?"
"I don't know, but that little bitch went through Paris and the next thing I know Mac and M... Adam weren't talking to each other for weeks. If I could find her, I might be tempted to go for her head."
Aidan put her head back on the headrest and laughed until tears streamed down her face. Amanda glanced over once to be sure she was all right then waited patiently for her to finish. Finally, the long-haired immortal got herself under control. "I'm sorry, Amanda, I'm not laughing at you, honestly. I just think I've discovered a new natural law."
"What?" Amanda hadn't quite decided what she thought of this new immortal, but she was willing to wait and see. It was the least she could do for Rebecca.
"Everyone but Duncan thinks Cassandra should be shorter by a head. Even Joe agrees with us on this." Aidan shook her head. "And I promised Duncan another two weeks before I'd even consider hunting her. Damn."
"You what?!" The words came out in something closer to a squeak than Amanda really liked to admit.
"There were good reasons, unfortunately. But my word holds."
"Damn, no wonder you and Duncan get along. How in the world did he get you to promise that?"
Aidan sighed tiredly. "He and Adam owed her a very large debt, and no, I'm not going to say more than that. So I paid it off for them by letting her live. If she keeps her promises, she's safe from me from now 'til the Gathering. She breaks the least tiniest part and I eat her for an early morning snack. She wouldn't make lunch. How can a three thousand year old immortal be so bloody incompetent with a sword? I ask you."
"Three thousand! Are you sure? Never mind, is she likely to break them?" Ever practical, Amanda went to the important portion of the conversation, at least as far as she was concerned.
"I'm sure on her age. And I don't know if she'll break her word or not. Possibly, in a few years, when some of the terror fades. She struck me as being sufficiently... unstable to eventually forget how serious I was and how dangerous I am. The trick will be hearing about it. I'll manage something, somehow." Aidan put it from her mind as Amanda pulled up in front of the restaurant.
"Hmm, let me see what I can do about the line, all right? Now, if that adorable maitre d' is still here...."
Five minutes later they were seated with Turkish coffee and water for Aidan, a glass of white wine in front of Amanda and Aidan was still shaking her head in disbelief. "I saw you, I heard every word, and I know I can't do it. You are wonderful at that!"
Amanda polished her nails on her napkin, mouth set in a truly lovely moue. "It's a gift. Now, shall we discuss your system first and get it out of the way so we can go back to gossiping?"
"Oh, by all means. Have I missed anything that you saw?"
"Well, if you're really feeling paranoid we could put laser sensors here and there, possibly some video cameras, but it's actually a very thorough job. That's really why I came over. I wanted to see who had designed something like that. It's an odd set-up that ought to trap quite a few people who think they're pros. How did you come up with it?" Amanda sounded professionally surprised and impressed.
"The old tried and true method: I looked the house over, determined every way I would consider attacking it, added on a couple that I thought were too insane to be tried, since I know there are a lot of idiots in the world -- and countered all of them. Well, compensated enough to give myself a chance to bail out if necessary, and start hunting them." Aidan offered Amanda the plate of dolmades, then took one herself.
"Well, it's a good job; I wouldn't care to try the place. You're a devious woman. But are you telling me you'd go hunting someone who attacked in the middle of the night?" Surprise underlay Amanda's tone, and a sneaking suspicion that this immortal might lose her head soon.
"In my own home, knowing where everything is? Oh, yes. Most assuredly. If someone comes after my house, they'll find a way to hunt me if I leave -- assuming they haven't left an ambush outside with my name on it." Aidan shrugged. "I'll make lives hellishly short if it comes to that, but it never hurts to be prepared."
Amanda cocked her head and gave into temptation. "How old are you?"
"Older than you, Amanda. I can't even tell you not to ask; I'd have to claim I was a lady." Since she'd finished a second dolmade, Aidan offered the plate back to Amanda, who took an olive.
The short-haired immortal smiled at her. "Oh, tell me another one. You can make eating a grape-leaf cigar look dainty. Are you sure you were never a noble?"
Aidan grinned at her, eyes lighting up. "Well, only by injection, I mean marriage."
Amanda giggled and replied, "Well, aren't we all if we make it long enough? So, what country, what rank, and when?"
"Oh, that was in Navarre, back in the tenth century. I was a very minor countess. Miguel was a good man, but it was one of the shortest marriages I've had."
"Really? What happened? Did he die?" Amanda smiled at the waiter as he set their lunches down. "Thank you so much, if you could possibly refill my wine and her water, we won't bother you again until we're ready for the check. Thank you." The look she gave him out of those brown eyes should have felled him like a log; as it was the poor boy stammered and nearly tripped over his own feet as he went to get the drinks.
Aidan put one hand against her mouth, chortling. "How do you do that?"
"Talent, and practice." Both of them fell silent as he refilled the glasses, then Amanda restarted the conversation. "So what did happen to your count?"
"Not a thing to him. I, on the other hand, got stupid and fell off a horse. Broke my idiot neck and died all too publicly; had to sneak out of the chapel when I woke up. They held a closed casket funeral, I understand, to hide the fact that there was no body."
Amanda looked sympathetic. "It's always bad, leaving before you're ready. He was mortal, wasn't he?"
"Yes, very much so. Why?" Aidan nibbled an olive, already becoming fond of the exuberant immortal across the table from her.
"Rebecca mentioned one of us once, an immortal friend of hers who refused to take immortal lovers...."
"Yes, I'm that Edana." Aidan flushed just a bit, but on skin that pale the color stood out like a banner. "And Joe sort of argued me into changing my mind."
"Really?" Amanda's eyes widened slightly. Rebecca had implied that she and Edana were somewhere close to contemporaries, although she'd had no idea who trained the other immortal. That meant Aidan had abandoned a policy possibly two thousand years old. "After this long? Can I be nosy and ask who?"
"Not Duncan, Amanda. And other than that all I'll say is that I must have been out of my ever-living mind." She sipped at her water, more to avoid talking than anything else.
"What, to change your mind? Who didn't take good care of you? I'll have words with him. What does he need, an instruction manual?" Amanda looked thoroughly indignant
"'Manda, no, no, not crazy in that direction! I was insane not to do it earlier! And he took very good care of me." Exasperation, amusement, and regret crossed her face in rapid succession. "Actually, too good, if you want the truth. Now I miss him desperately."
"Oh, dear. Now that's a different problem." Amanda took another bite of her kotopita, savoring the mix of chicken and vegetables wrapped in phyllo dough. By the time she had finished the mouthful and taken a sip of wine, she had an answer, though.
"Well, in that case, we'll just have to take your mind off it. I don't suppose you like to dance?"
"Love to. What did you have in mind? Shouldn't you have a date with Duncan tonight?" Aidan bit into her own pastry of feta cheese and spices in phyllo, waiting for this answer.
"Oh, we'll bring him along, too. But first we take you shopping for something to wear." The gleam of anticipation in Amanda's eyes told Aidan this had just become a project.
"'Manda, I need sleep, I need to retrieve the rest of my work from last night, and I have clothes for dancing. Honestly."
"Mmm-hmm. Let's see. First we'll try that little boutique over on First, and the shoe store on Main has some of the most incredible heels...."
Aidan sighed and reached over to catch Amanda's hand. "Are you listening? I really do have something somewhere, probably two or three outfits that would pass even your inspection."
"No, no, no, that's not the point. We have two hours where you can't get sleep -- no one can sleep through masonry drills and nails and sirens screaming while they do preliminary checks -- so I'm going to distract you. Shopping will do nicely, you'll see. Eat up, you'll need your strength." Amanda smiled as she tore into her food. "This will be fun."
* * * *
The worst of it, Aidan later had to admit, was that it had been great fun. Shopping with Amanda had the same inevitability as pulling down the safety harness on a roller-coaster. You were there for the ride and you might as well enjoy it, because it didn't stop until the end of the track.
The first boutique hadn't quite had anything Amanda liked for dancing, although Aidan had picked up a very nice silk sweater for fall, in a mix of plum and indigo. While they were there, however Amanda had gone back in the dressing area with Aidan -- partly to help get her out of the sword sheath without it being too obvious, and partly to see what she looked like out of clothes and start debating current styles that would suit her.
After that, things moved much faster. Amanda moved through the boutiques and shops at hurricane speeds, glancing at dresses, skirts, tops, velvet overalls, linen blouses -- discarding, considering, sometimes squealing over something for herself then shaking her head and moving on. Aidan followed behind, laughing and rueful, trading notes on other friends they had in common (Robert and Gina de Valicourt, Connor MacLeod, Damien Appesard, Terrence Coventry) and collecting outfits Amanda liked, so that the two of them could keep talking in the fitting rooms.
"You trained Terrence? Really?" Amanda turned around in surprise at that piece of news.
"Yes, one of the best times I've ever had with a student. He already understood the concept of discipline and study from all his musical practice. All I had to do to get him to practice swordwork was agree to teach him new songs: one hour of new music for every three of practice. He even agreed to that, since he was farther behind in his fencing than his bard craft. Haven't talked to him in a few years. I need to write and give him my new address."
"I met him a year ago, his new wife is a romance writer. We didn't exactly hit it off at first, but she grows on you. And Terrence is madly in love with her." Amanda shrugged. "Come on out so I can see how that looks on you."
Aidan walked out to the mirror and she and Amanda both studied the skirt thoughtfully. Heavy satin fell to a few inches above her knees in sienna waves. "I don't know, it's a dark orange, but still. Orange?" Aidan considered it thoughtfully, then turned a bit to catch a glimpse of the back. The fabric clung lovingly around the hips, then flared, becoming looser for movement.
"Well, the color suits your skin beautifully. A nice chocolate brown top, or maybe something in indigo or forest green would finish it. Turn around and let's see how it moves." Amanda's eyes were narrowed in calculation. Shopping for someone else was such fun!
Aidan moved back from the mirror a bit, and spun into a slow pirouette, then another and another. The skirt flared out around her legs and dropped back down again, high enough to let the men guess, just barely contained enough to keep Aidan happy. But the effect of the richly colored swirling satin was just too good to resist. The two women looked at each other and grinned.
* * * *
Amanda watched as Aidan ran another check on the security system, singing softly in Gaelic as she worked. Her hands ranged back and forth from the system to the manual and back, making sure she could turn off individual sensors at will, and generally putting the whole thing through a work-out. Finally Aidan glanced up, smiled, and said, "Amanda, go browse the shelves or something. You insisted on staying until I was satisfied, and I'm going to run the entire list."
"Oh, well, since you offered. Yell when you're done." Amanda prowled across the room, heels abandoned by the front door. Oh, my. A Burne-Jones original? And I don't know who did the marble and malachite Celtic knotwork, but it's lovely. As she continued to look, Amanda came to the conclusion that Aidan didn't mind dusting. Ivory scrimshaw sat on one shelf next to Navajo pottery; another shelf held nothing but worked stones and minerals, in a variety of shapes and sizes. On one wall of the stairwell, where Aidan could look over from her desk and see them, hung a glorious collection of small tapestries, some of them medieval European, two of them Middle Eastern prayer rugs, and three small textile pieces that Amanda recognized as work by Danielle St. Vir, a New York artist that Connor had introduced her to. These were the best she'd seen.
Most of the shelves, however, held books. Folios and first editions rubbed shoulders with paperbacks, trade editions, and cheap reprints, on a variety of subjects. As far as Amanda could tell, they were organized loosely by topic, and then alphabetized. The art history and architecture section alone was formidable; the collection of foreign language dictionaries and basic texts took up an entire shelf by itself. A variety of herbals sat next to nineteenth century editions of The Book of the Dun Cow and the Mabinogion. Evangeline Walton's fantasy novels based off the Mabinogion sat there too, as did Mary Stewart's Arthur series, and Tolkien's Silmarillion, Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
Poetry, drama, and music took up another entire set of shelves by themselves: Shakespeare and Virgil, Chaucer and Khayyam, Li Po and Maya Angelou. Tom Stoppard and Chekov mixed themselves with Gilbert and Sullivan and Neil Simon. A flute case sat next to a harp satchel, and a music stand was neatly stored below that. Amanda gave up on the shelves and moved over to see what Aidan had been working on that had given her so much trouble on the computer.
On the table next to the desk sat three different Latin-English dictionaries, and an Arabic translation of the Satyricon which had to be six hundred years old or more. Glancing carefully through it, Amanda noted Latin comments on the margins in a familiar handwriting. Flipping back to the front, she read the Latin inscription silently to herself. "Edana, Not everything was lost at Alexandria. Enjoy." The signature was in an alphabet Amanda couldn't read, but she knew that quick, decisive script. Methos had written the annotations and inscription.
At last Aidan called over, "All right, Amanda, everything looks good. What time do I need to be ready?"
Amanda straightened up and walked back toward the door. "How much sleep do you need?"
The longer-haired immortal looked at the clock and thought about it. "How late are we staying out?"
"At least midnight, then I'll probably go get a snack with Duncan. Plan on dancing a lot."
"Well, it's three now, I've been up since five yesterday morning.... Shall I meet you at eight? That gives me four hours of sleep and a bit over half an hour to get ready, depending on where we meet."
Amanda quickly offered, "Why don't I pick you up at eight? That way you get a bit more sleep, and you don't need to drive if you're that tired."
"That sounds wonderful. I'll see you then." Aidan walked her new friend to the door, and casually mentioned, "By the way, that silver dress you liked so much is in the trunk for you."
"Aidan! What did you do that for?"
That got an amused look. "Because I wanted to, and because you liked it so much. Thank you for everything today, Amanda."
"Oh, you're welcome. All right, I'll see you in five hours. Go set your alarms and get some sleep." Amanda flounced out to the car, trying to decide whether to tell Duncan she was back in town or not. Either way, this evening should be fun. Maybe a girl's night out was the best idea...?
* * * *
So far, we've hit a pool hall, two clubs, and a bar. I'll say this much, Amanda definitely believes in equal opportunity in dancing partners and bands. Aidan watched, amused, as Amanda brushed off her latest dance-partner, smiling and purring as she informed him that one dance per person was her limit tonight, thanks. He turned to Aidan, bowing in the Asian style, and asked her to honor him with one dance.
Amanda exchanged a glance with her and they both nodded. "Certainly, thank you." Amusingly enough, they had managed to trade partners this time. By the time the extended techno piece was over even the two immortals were gasping for breath and wanting something to drink. Aidan glanced at her watch, caught Amanda's eye and indicated the door with a quick head motion.
"What time is it?"
"Midnight already. Didn't you want to catch up with Duncan? Gods, let's go outside. It's hot and too noisy in here." Aidan rolled her beer bottle across her forehead, enjoying the cool glass against hot flesh.
"Agreed. I think between us we've danced with all of them. Well, the good ones, anyway." Amanda held the door open and they slipped out. She watched with interest as Aidan leaned back against the car, pulling the hair off the back of her neck and laughing. Amanda leaned in and blew across the exposed skin, seeing damp hair and sweat from the dancing and the barely noticeable sword-hilt.
"Thanks. Whoof, I like techno, but can't anyone ever play it at something under 100 decibels? Sweet Lady bless." Aidan caught her breath and grinned at Amanda. "You were right, this is a wonderful distraction. Do you need to just drop me at home?"
Amanda donned her best innocent look. "Actually, I was thinking we could finish up with something a good bit quieter. Shall we go say hi to Joe?"
"That would be a perfect end to the night. Just remember you're my ride home, all right?" Aidan's mouth quirked and she shook her head in wonder. "Do men really fall for that?"
"What?" Amanda increased the wattage on the innocent look and Aidan started laughing again.
"All right, all right, come on, let's go. You can put the air conditioning on, too."
All the way to Joe's, both of them chattered about the music, the guys, the other women, the clothes, the make-up. Aidan tried to remember the last time she had enjoyed just talking and gossiping with another woman and realized it had been a while. She had kept busy in Syracuse, but a lot of it had been superficial. Dani's death threw me into a holding pattern, I suppose, even though I talked to Darius about it. I wonder who we'll go talk to now? I can't have been the only immortal who bounced problems off Darius and Sean. Now they're dead, Adrianna is, too....
"Aidan? Earth to Aidan?" Amanda sounded a bit concerned. "I'm sorry, do I need to take you home after all?"
"No, I'm fine, Amanda, I was just thinking. It's been ages since I had a female friend I could really talk to about... everything, really. Anything. I hadn't realized I missed it so much." Aidan fell silent again. Ah, me, blurting out the first things through my head. She doesn't even know me, may not consider me a friend yet.
"I know, I could tell Rebecca anything. When she died two years ago, I felt... I guess it's what mortals go through when their mothers die." Amanda determinedly changed the subject, trying to sound more cheerful. "What about you, is your teacher still in the Game?"
Aidan sighed. "One of them is. The other-- When Ramirez died, I thought my heart would break." Changing the subject, she went on, "Who killed Rebecca, anyway? Was it at least a fair fight? Gina de Valicourt called me to give me the news about Fitz, and we started comparing notes. I'd been... out of touch."
Amanda started, then concentrated on her driving. "Luther killed Rebecca. He had been one of her students for awhile, but he tried to steal her crystal. He killed all her other students to get their pieces, then he blackmailed Rebecca into giving him her head. He tried to kill me, too."
"He what?! Is he still alive?" Aidan hissed it, furious.
"No, Duncan killed him. I still have my piece of the crystal, but the rest of it is somewhere in the Seine."
Aidan sighed, relaxing again. "I keep owing him for taking care of my debts in the Game. He avenged one of my students for me, too."
"That's the nice thing about the MacLeods," Amanda purred. "No one crosses them for long"
"No," Aidan agreed. "No one ever crosses our line for long."
Amanda pulled into the parking lot at Joe's. "Oh, good, plenty of people to dance with. And there's Mac's car, too!"
Aidan gave her an amused look. "Are you sure you don't want to drop me off?"
"Of course not. I want to watch the look on his face as he tries to decide which of us didn't tell him I was in town. Besides, let him wonder how long we've known each other." Mischief dripped off Amanda's voice, and Aidan smiled.
"Let's see, what have we been doing today? Business? Pleasure? Shopping? Headhunting?"
"No, let's really frighten him. Girl talk, definitely."
"Done. Let's go listen to Joe." Aidan waved Amanda toward the door.
Inside the bar, Duncan sat backwards in a chair, arms folded over the back of it, listening as Joe poured himself into 'Sweet Home, Chicago.' He straightened up, checking for his coat as he felt an immortal nearby, then immediately Aidan's unique signature interwove itself with the first presence. Whoever this was, Aidan was coming in right behind--
"Amanda!" Duncan stood up and went over to collect a kiss, admiring a silver dress he hadn't seen before. Light painted every curve on her gorgeous body. He had no idea how she was walking in those heels, but from previous experience the rear view must be something else.
When they came up from the hug and kiss, Aidan was commenting, "You know, other people use a piece of wood to hold doors open. I'll have to congratulate Joe on his aesthetic triumph in using you two instead. Much more interesting to look at."
Amanda replied, "You are so bad! I suppose I could go back to the pool hall and give that cute redhead your phone number!"
Aidan immediately cowered against the wall, hands held up defensively. "Please, anything but that. Young, gorgeous, and didn't have the common sense to come in out of the rain. Gods forbid!"
Duncan looked back and forth between them. "I take it you two know each other?"
Amanda shrugged. "Well of course, Duncan. But aren't you going to let us in? Joe will be so upset if you don't."
Aidan did a credible imitation of the Sphinx and replied, "I don't tell you everything, Duncan."
"You don't tell Adam everything, Aidan," he replied, wrapping an arm around Amanda's shoulders.
"Adam? Adam?! Aidan, did you really?" Amanda squealed as she realized exactly who her new friend was missing so badly.
"Amanda, Adam and I are old friends. What Duncan said was that we've been keeping each others' secrets for ages now. Besides, we've been over this; I don't kiss and tell." Aidan managed to keep her face composed, but she could tell from the mischief in Duncan's eyes that she was in for it later.
"C'mon, Amanda, come say hello to Joe when he takes a break. Leave Aidan's love life alone. So, when did you get the dress?" He stopped and took a closer look at Aidan's outfit. "Speaking of dresses, you look gorgeous, Aidan. I didn't think you ever wore heels."
Aidan shrugged, feeling both pleased and surprised. "Every now and then. But thank you, Duncan."
"I nagged her into it. She does dress up well, doesn't she?"
At the proprietary tone, Aidan laughed and swatted both of them. "Come on, you two, move. Joe doesn't see me this dressed up so often that he should miss it." She pushed past and headed to the bar as Duncan continued to admire Amanda and her dress and catch up on news.
"Beer and cider, please, Renee," she requested.
The blond bartender nodded automatically, then did a double-take. "Aidan?"
Aidan rolled her eyes. "I know, I know, I dressed up, what happened?"
"No, I've seen you in some killer clothes. You wore make-up -- what happened?" Renee laughed and passed her the drinks. "What's his name and do I know him?"
"No, no, no, this is not a date. I went out clubbing with Amanda over there, and she insisted. The woman has a whim of Damascus steel."
Renee laughed. "I'll take it off your tab. Go dance. Joe was wondering if you were coming in tonight."
Joe grinned and nodded at her when she dropped the beer off next to his stool, never missing a note or a word of the song as he nailed down the end of 'Sweet Home, Chicago.' "All right, folks, the singer needs a break."
Aidan kept right on dancing with her mug of cider as a partner, completely unconcerned with such minor details as the music being over. One of her favorite regulars at Joe's dropped a dollar into the jukebox and walked over. "May I have this dance?"
"Glen, shouldn't you be getting home? Your daughter will worry." Aidan reached for his hand anyway, not about to deny either of them this pleasure. She drained off the last of her cider and dropped the mug neatly on a table as she spun.
"Oh, she already called to check on me. Besides, young lady, one of these days you're going to tell me who taught you to dance like this. No one likes Swing anymore." He swung her out neatly, and she returned right on the beat as they moved into a cleared space on the floor. Already some of the regulars were moving out onto the floor, both the ones who remembered how and the younger ones Aidan had been teaching.
Amanda stared, poise abandoned for a moment. "Good God, Mac, that song's by Benny Goodman. There are Gen X-ers dancing to Big Band out there."
"'Manda, where's my hug?" Joe squeezed her for a moment, then stepped back and looked her up and down. "Classin' up my joint again, damn you look good. What have you and Aidan been up to?"
"Oh, girl talk, shopping, dancing, breaking hearts. Joe, forgive me, but I have got to get at least one dance out of Mac before the music changes. I haven't gotten to do this in ages! Come on, Duncan, do you still remember how to dip a lady?"
The sardonic reply of "I'd have to be dancing with one," got him a sharp left jab in the ribs. Then they were dancing next to Aidan and her partner, Glen, a dapper gentleman in his sixties who didn't move quite as quickly anymore but still enjoyed it anyway. He stepped out neatly, doing most of his dancing in one space and letting Aidan do most of the footwork. Quite obviously the two of them enjoyed this and Joe smiled watching three immortals cutting a rug with a bunch of mortals who were loving the show.
As 'Sing, Sing, Sing' finally finished, Aidan dropped a curtsey to Glen. "Thank you very much, sir. The best dance I've had this evening." She stepped back up and kissed him on the cheek.
"Those were some good years and you bring 'em back. Thank you."
Amanda moved in and asked, "Did you save a dance for me, too?"
Aidan laughed and said, "Watch out, Amanda, he's got some impressive moves."
"I saw. Kind sir? Surely you wouldn't make a lady dance alone?" Amanda gave him her best pleading look and Glen melted.
"Of course not. Aidan, do you mind?"
"Not at all. I have a partner in mind for this dance. If you all will excuse me?" She headed straight for Joe, who saw the look on her face and groaned.
"Aidan, I don't dance. Honestly."
"Joe, it could be worse. I could ask you to slow dance. Come on, you can do this. We both know you like to push your limits. Well, this is one. Come on, it's swing, I get the rough parts. Now, jitterbug we delegate to Mac so he won't have wasted all the time lifting that deadweight under his...."
"Aidan, I'm listening to this." Duncan restrained his mirth with difficulty. Usually it was Joe pushing him to change his mind, try something different, stretch what he could do. Watching his Watcher get pulled, protesting, onto the dance floor should go down in history. Behind the bar, Renee caught his eye and pulled out a camera. Mac's grin broke free and he high-signed her to do it.
Aidan never looked. She was having too much fun dancing with Joe, trading laughs and moves with Amanda, trying to keep her skirt from getting too far out of hand, or at least off thigh, and watching as Duncan danced with a young woman who really should be old enough not to blush like that. Joe had relaxed and started enjoying the dance. Finally, even the Glen Miller Orchestra wound down.
"Joe, thank you, very much." Aidan watched him sputter, then laugh.
"All right, you got your dance. But one dance a decade is my limit. Did you get the alarm in place?"
"Oh, Amanda took care of it for me." Aidan collapsed into a chair in exaggerated exhaustion and stole a sip of Joe's beer. Joe dropped into the chair next to her, staring aghast.
"Amanda took care of your security system? Did I hear that right?"
"No, Joe, you haven't gone deaf. What's the problem?" Aidan watched him with feigned concern. She knew exactly what kind of rascal and scamp Amanda Darieux was -- both Rebecca and Fitz had warned her over the years. She also understood that Amanda would never, ever steal from a site guarded by her own company. She'd be too obvious a suspect, and besides, having access to the plans would make it too easy to be any fun.
"My God, you set a fox to guard the hen house? What happened to Cutting Edge, I thought they took the contract?" Joe liked the thieving immortal, but trust Amanda? No, he knew a little too much about her. She'd give it all back, assuming she took anything at all -- but she might leave extra things behind, just 'storing' them with Aidan, as it were.
Aidan started laughing, unwilling to keep this going. "Joe, truly, it's all right. She's part owner of Cutting Edge. And Amanda would no more steal from me than I'd foist shoddy merchandise on Connor."
Duncan and Amanda brought over drinks, including water for Aidan since Duncan knew her opinions on too much alcohol while dancing, just in time to hear the last bit. Amanda gave Joe a thoroughly indignant look.
"Joseph, how could you even think that of me? I wouldn't dream of robbing Aidan. Now, I might discuss some mutually profitable deals, but theft? Hah! She'd ruin my insurance!" Amanda glared at him like a spitting kitten, indignant as a teen-age mischief-maker accused of the one tree on the block she hadn't rolled.
"Amanda, you tried to steal from Rebecca once, by your own admission..."
"I was young and foolish. And only once!"
Joe overrode her protest swiftly, "... and you've stashed stolen jewelry in Mac's barge before..."
Amanda studied the ceiling for a moment. "Well, I was in a hurry."
"... and you used to rob banks for fun." Joe raised an eloquent eyebrow at her. "Can you really blame me for worrying a bit?"
"Joseph, how could you think I'd deliberately hurt Aidan?" Amanda appeared genuinely wounded.
Aidan just laughed. "And where did you get the idea she was an idiot? Or desperate?" The two women traded understanding in a quick glance.
Joe cocked his head, blue eyes watching them closely. "Glad you two are getting along so well. So how secure is the system, 'Manda?"
Amanda sat and thought about it. "I could get in without setting it off -- maybe. I'm not really sure. Let's see, power lines are always vulnerable--"
"Uninterruptable Power Supply." Aidan immediately replied, eyes apparently watching something far away and engrossing.
"Mmm. Well, let's see, come in through the roof--"
"Motion sensor on the fourth floor."
Amanda nodded, gazing at a different far off point, hands sketching quick lines and figures in the air. Duncan and Joe looked at each other, slightly nervous watching this.
"The windows on the far side from the fire escape, near the stair well. Come in through the transom, stay on the ceiling to avoid the motion detectors."
"Hmm. Exposed beams, but they run parallel. Wood ceilings, but with ducting." Amanda's eyes widened, then her eyebrows drew down as she frowned, but she didn't say anything. "Ceiling fans to avoid. Tricky. Claws are noisy coming out of wood. Possible, but unlikely. Sound concealment?" Long, strong fingers drummed on the table, a constant flexing motion that Aidan never noticed she was doing.
"Local celebration, do it on the Fourth of July. Firecrackers. Leave small bags where the neighborhood kids can find them." Amanda dismissed that consideration with a wave of one pale hand.
Duncan flinched as the conversation continued. Those smooth, impassive, uninflected voices as they discussed ways to break in for... what? Theft, surveillance... maybe assassination? He'd been a scout both in the military and out, but to hear these two lovely women, his friends, discussing it so calmly, as if it were a normal way to think....
"Possibly. Try another avenue. That one's questionable. Too many risks in coming in that way. One of us is too vulnerable, anyone else won't want to drop fifteen feet."
Amanda nodded, thinking furiously. "True. The ceiling fans on the beams make it tricky. Fog in the stairwells, move at a crouch to avoid the detectors?"
Aidan nodded slowly. "Possibly. It would need to be extremely dense. Try again."
Joe cleared his throat roughly. "If you two are quite through?"
The female immortals looked over at him immediately, eyes focusing. Aidan shrugged, not even mildly chagrined. "Sorry, Joe, old habits. Amanda, you're very good at this. Remind me not to cross you."
Duncan wrapped his arms around Amanda. "Remember, you went straight."
"I remember, Mac, you'll notice I'm helping her, not--"
"Enough. You were indeed, Amanda, and I thank you for it." Aidan smiled at her. "Call me tomorrow, you two. Amanda, I'll get someone to give me a ride. It won't be a problem."
"If you're awake enough to drive, I'll get a ride from Mac in the morning to get my car." Amanda held out her keys, giving Aidan a questioning look.
"Done. Call when you're ready, so I can come give you the keys." Aidan stretched, yawning. "Good night, all. Joe, I'll see you in the morning, or who?"
"Renee's got early shift tomorrow." Joe contemplated that now-mobile face and decided he had to ask. "Aidan?"
"Yes?" She turned to look at him, mouth quirked into an amused smile and eyes half-lidded in response to an undertone in his voice.
"Why'd you learn to evade security systems, anyway?" The question left Joe's mouth before he realized her defenses had just gone up and he regretted the syllables before they had fallen silent.
Aidan studied him, body relaxed, hands loose at her sides, the left still curled slightly around Amanda's car keys. The impartial regard traveled down from hairline to waist, all she could see from where she stood, and back up to Joe's face. She took her time, considering body language and word choice and tone of voice. The others did not hurry her. At last she nodded once, slowly, and her face relaxed into a tired sorrow.
"Joe. You know what I am and some of what I've had to do. Don't ask what you don't want to hear of me. I'll see you in the morning. Good night, Duncan, Amanda." She turned and walked out the door, wrapping silence and strength around herself almost visibly as she went.
Amanda stared after her new friend, then skewered her older one with a confounded look. "Joe, she's not a thief!"
Joe sat there, still trying to figure out what had just happened. "Amanda, I don't get it. I just couldn't think of anything she'd want bad enough to learn to be a thief. But if she's not a thief, what is she?"
Amanda shook her head, dismayed, unable to think of a way to break it gently. "I'm sorry, she's going to have to tell you. That's her secret."
Duncan stared at Amanda, then asked, "Why do I feel like I just missed part of this conversation?"
"Because you did. Let's go home, Duncan." Amanda threw the mood off, and twined herself around him. "I thought of something I want to show you." She leaned into him, whispering details into his ear that brought a flush to his face.
"Night, Joe." Duncan dropped the subject, perfectly willing to let Amanda distract him. Later. He could ask one of them about it later. "By the way, what were you two doing today? Other than Aidan's alarm?"
"Oh, girl talk...."
* * * *
Amanda ran her hands through short, dark hair, rumpling it up and then sleeking it back into place. "All right, shall we call Aidan and go get my car?"
Duncan slid an arm around her waist, trapping her against the kitchen island, and nibbled the side of her neck. "Why don't we call later? We could get lunch, maybe see a movie...?"
"Duncan, I have an appointment with my investment broker at two." Amanda leaned back and kissed him, a long thorough dividend on the night before. "I'll be free this evening, though. Now, what's the phone number?"
He sighed, reached for the phone, and dialed one-handed. "Here you go."
Amanda settled the receiver against her ear, teasing MacLeod with her free hand while she waited. And waited. After four rings, the answering machine picked up, and Aidan's voice spoke up. "We're sorry, all granite is busy. If you think you have reached the correct standing dance, please leave your nemeton, number, and a brief message in Ogham. We'll get back to you in the next stone age." Amanda giggled listening, wondering how many telemarketers had floundered on that message.
"Aidan, it's Amanda. If you're there, pick up, please. Come on, dear, I need to get my car keys."
Just as Duncan commented, "I've got spare--" a beep cut off the answering machine.
"Hi, 'Manda, sorry, I was in the shower. I'm still dripping, Lady bless, but I hate portable phones. Are you on the way, or getting dressed to get on the way?" Aidan sounded breathless, amused and irritated all at once.
"Oh dear, go dry off. I'm dressed, we'll be there in about fifteen minutes. Do we need to pick up breakfast for you?" Amanda squealed as Duncan ran the back of his hand across her breasts. "Duncan, quit that, I said breakfast for her, not you."
Aidan laughed. "No, Amanda, thanks. Tell Duncan to use his keys to let you in. See you in fifteen." She hung up and headed back to get the shampoo out of her hair, grimacing at the mess she had to clean up in front of the elevator. Can't leave water on a hardwood floor. Maybe I should tile here? No, simpler to put a phone over here by the tub!
Amanda looked at Duncan. "You have spare keys? Why didn't you just say so?"
"Other than the new alarm I don't know how to deactivate, Amanda? Because I have no idea where Aidan put your keys and I'm not walking in on her unannounced. She's faster than I am, and as trusting as Methos." He waved a finger at her. "And no, I'm not telling you what's between her and Methos, ask her yourself. She does know his real name, though."
"You're taking all the fun out of this, Mac. I just wanted to surprise her with my sources. Please?"
"And get me or Joe killed? No, Amanda, ask her yourself."
Duncan shook his head, and from the look on his face, Amanda knew he had decided this was somehow a point of honor. Oh, well, she'd get this from the horse's mouth -- one of them, anyway!
* * * *
When Amanda walked in from the elevator, Aidan stood there, hair wrapped in a towel, saber in hand, and completely nude. Amanda blinked, then smiled and Aidan laughed herself. "Ah, well, as they say, paranoia ne'er hurt fair lady. Catch."
She reached into the pottery bowl on the dresser and pulled out Amanda's car keys. With an easy underhand toss she lofted them across the room.
"Nice view. Aren't you worried about the neighbors?"
"Nope. I'm on the second floor, how can they complain? Peeping Tom laws. And if they think I'm easy prey to be raped, I'll geld them." Aidan shrugged, and pulled on panties and a bra. "Where's Duncan?"
"He headed out to run some errands. He thinks I have a two o'clock appointment with my financial adviser."
Aidan glanced over, curious. "Do you?" Dropping the hair towel over a chair to dry, she waited to hear the answer, t-shirt in hands.
"No. It's at 3:30. I needed to talk to you." Amanda shrugged. "I knew he'd find something else to do."
Aidan pulled on the shirt and grabbed a pair of cut-off denim shorts. She stepped into the shorts and fastened them as she walked to the kitchen. Grabbing an apple from the basket hanging in the window, she asked, "What's up?"
"A couple of things." Uncharacteristically Amanda hesitated, then pulled a beer out of the fridge.
Aidan watched as she drank and commented, "You know, that should be illegal. You'd have Duncan panting on the floor just from the way you licked that drop off the rim."
Amanda laughed unwillingly. "Actually, let's talk about Joe first. He doesn't have the faintest idea what you do. He honestly thought you were a thief from what we said. He had no idea what you could possibly want so badly that you'd go steal it."
The grey eyes across from her closed, then Aidan started to laugh, a soft, hurting sound. "Oh, Gods. Of all the.... Maybe I will tell him I've been a thief. It's certainly true."
"He doesn't know you've been... what, an assassin, a guard, a headhunter? All three?"
Aidan stepped blindly forward and sank into one of the chairs. "Yes. All three. Rarely a guard."
"Look, neither of them is an idiot. Mac's occasionally too moral for his own good, but he's hunted heads in his time, too. They haven't twigged yet, but Aidan? Sooner or later they'll figure out that the only ducts in your house are on this floor. You were making plans as if you were an immortal assassin after your own head."
Her new friend looked up, eyes open again. "I'm here. I heard you. Just-- I know how much trouble-- Oh, Gods, I can't even...." The older immortal pounded her hand on the table, then did it again and again. It hurt less than worrying about the death of friendships.
Amanda reached out and caught Aidan's fist firmly in her own hand. "Stop that. Talk to me. What trouble? What's wrong?"
"I know why Duncan and Adam weren't speaking to each other. I sort of browbeat and blackmailed and manipulated them into talking to each other, after I argued Duncan into being reasonable." Aidan shook her head. "But the same logic will not apply for me. I have been an assassin in the recent past; I will do it again tomorrow if I decide there's need. I don't want to lose Duncan's friendship over this, and I don't want to be a strain between him and Connor. But what do I do? I won't lie to him."
Amanda reached over, sympathetic, and wrapped her other hand on top of Aidan's clenched fist. "Sweetie, you said you aren't sleeping with Duncan and I believe you. But do you want to?"
"Ask the difficult ones next time, why don't you? Yes, I want him. Yes, I love him, which is the other question you were asking. But I don't want to hurt what's between you two. Of course, once Duncan figures out I've been an assassin, against immortals and mortals both, he may not want to admit he knows me, much less anything else. It's too soon, Amanda! I haven't managed to pound expediency and survival into his head and I want the idiot to live!"
Aidan's hand trapped firmly between her own, Amanda tightened her grip even more. "We both do. Look, don't lie to him, that won't work. For now, just... dodge the question. He knows I'm a thief, even if I have gone straight. And when you can beat him into admitting it, he knows that it's more difficult for us, for the females who really are smaller and carry less muscle mass. We do what we have to, in the Game and out.
"Why are you so scared? Why did Mac fight with Methos-- Oh, damn, that's not how I meant to bring that name up."
Grey eyes stared at her, gone huge in a pale face. "Then you do know. I wasn't sure. Methos has had more time to do things Duncan can't cope with than I have. But at least he's changed from what he was. Everything I did that Mac will disapprove of, I still do."
Amanda's mind worked overtime trying to fill in the gaps Aidan left in that description. Duncan won't like the fact that she's still what? An assassin, I guess. Although there may be other things. Agreed, but he's going to have to live with it, or at least talk to her about how she picks her targets and why. She's cautious almost to the point of paranoia, but hell, she's two thousand and still alive! From everything I saw, and heard, and we discussed yesterday, she's as far from evil as an old immortal can be. Solidly neutral at worst, but you have to be capable of some serious self-interest to stay alive in the Game.
At least Methos has changed? He was worse than an assassin? What? Mass murderer, rapist, arsonist, poisoner, witch, genocide, regicide, traitor? In five thousand years, damn near anything is possible. Some of those centuries it was probably be worse or endure worse. God, London after the Great Fire, France during the revolution, India when the Khakhan's came through.... Ugh. Can't blame him for that.
And Aidan knows some or all of what's he's done, and accepts it. Accepts, Hell, she's sleeping with him -- I think. Hmm....
"Look, are you sleeping with Methos?"
"Amanda.... I know you can be discreet. Will you keep this to yourself? You can talk to Mac about it or Joe, but no one else. Even Connor doesn't know all of it. Please?"
Amanda smiled at her, surprised and honored somehow. Whatever this was, Aidan had guarded it fiercely and now she was trusting Amanda to guard it, too. "Only Mac or Joe. I promise. Well, or you."
That got a quick chuckle, but Aidan quickly became serious. "Yes, I'm sleeping with him. That makes him vulnerable to me. I'm perfect leverage for anyone who wants the oldest immortal's quickening. That's bad enough, but I'm also his oldest living student. That makes this worse. And then add in who I am, even without being leverage against him.
"Amanda, I'm over twenty-six centuries old. From age alone, my quickening is pretty damned strong. Add in all the heads I've taken, and the fact that I'm a druid...." Aidan shook her head. "I will not let someone take my head, or use me against him."
Amanda blinked as Aidan finally wound down. "Twenty-six.... Good Lord, I thought you might be two thousand from something Rebecca once said, I hadn't thought you were that old. What I don't see is how your religion make you a better prize for head-hunters."
"It's not just religion. Watch." Aidan cupped her hand in the air, palm up, fingers slightly curved, and blew across her finger tips. Wind poured through the windows behind the two women, tearing across the house in the direction her fingers had pointed, whipping Aidan's wet hair around her face, and shaking the leaves on the plants as it poured back out the transom. "Elemental magic, sung command voice, and a fair bit of second sight all came with my package deal. Whoever takes my head gets it all. Assuming I don't manage to fight them even after I lose my head and take their body. I suspect that's what happens in a dark quickening. If it ever comes to that, I most assuredly plan to try."
"Oh. Oh, my." Amanda looked at the glasses pressed against the wall, at Aidan's hair tangled around her face and blanched at the thought. "No wonder you're so careful. Look, sweetie, worry about it if they figure it out. If you decide to go to bed with Mac -- and I'm giving you my blessing by the way -- tell him about it... but tell him what you do to pick targets. I don't think you go in for killing pre-immortals or new immortals. Do you?"
"Oh, Gods, no. I've been known to teach manners with the flat of a sword or a thick stick, but I don't hunt innocents."
"Then don't worry. You'll be fine. Just remember, I saw him first; I get dibs when I'm in town." Amanda exuded smug contentment over the way this had worked out.
"You don't mind?" Aidan watched to be sure Amanda meant it, then smiled radiantly. "Thank you. Or we can share. Let me know which you want."
"That could be fun," Amanda mused. "I haven't done that in ages." She smiled wickedly. "Another time. I only have a few days in Seacouver this trip. Besides, you two should get to concentrate on each other the first time. But maybe next trip...."
Amanda stood up to go. "All right. I'm going to go get a present I wanted to buy Duncan, and then I do need to see the dear man who keeps me solvent and shopping. But I meant what I said. They don't know yet; they will almost certainly figure it out. Joe will take it in stride. Duncan will need time to think about it. Then you hit him over the head with a heavy brick carved with your side of things and seduce him and it gets better." She shrugged. "Nothing to it, really. And he's definitely fun in bed."
Aidan got up from her chair and hugged Amanda fiercely. "Thank you. For everything."
"You're welcome. Just remember I want to hear about it later!"
Aidan giggled at that, waving one hand to fend off any assumptions of a promise on that. "Come on, I'll walk you out. Call me if you have free time before you leave town, or if I can cook you and Duncan dinner. For that matter, call me whenever. Thanks, Amanda. I think I'll straighten things out with Joe when he asks. Duncan may require more careful timing."
"He will. And I'll call. Take care, Aidan. Sometime let's sit down and talk about Fitz and Rebecca? It would be nice to hear someone else's stories. You're going to have to show me that picture, too."
* * * *
Aidan started in on set up at Joe's Bar earlier than usual, but getting in wasn't a problem; she had her own key. Sometimes it was easier to set up at five AM, then go meet Duncan for their usual morning work-out. Today she was only in an hour early; it was nine and she set up the music on the jukebox for her own pleasure and stress relief. It made for an odd play list: Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir', Sarah McLachlan's 'Possession', Annie Lennox' 'Primitive', Billy Joel's 'The Stranger' and 'She's Always a Woman to Me', Rusted Root's 'Laugh as the Sun', Fleetwood Mac singing 'The Chain', and other songs, new and old, jazz, rock, and big band. All of it music that she loved, that dragged her out of her own moods and into theirs. Today that was what she needed.
Joe came in at ten, having called the night before and switched shifts with Renee. He stood there silently, watching the immortal sing along with Queensryche, almost dancing as she moved among the tables and chairs of the bar, sweeping the last debris off the floor. She turned and headed back to the bar with the dustpan, slowing as she saw him, then resuming her quick pace. "Good morning, Joe. I thought Renee had this morning's shift?"
"She did. I wanted to talk to you." Joe looked at her thoughtfully. "C'mere, idiot woman." When she did, Joe deliberately set his cane against the bar and hugged her hard.
"Damn it, Aidan, I let you live with me for a month. Hell, I pulled a gun on you one morning, and then cheered when I found out you'd terrorized Cassandra. Did you really think I couldn't stand the fact that you used to be an assassin? Would I let you hold me up like this if I didn't trust you?!" He felt her arms tighten around him and she left her head against his chest for once.
Finally, muffled, he heard her say, "Joe, it's one thing to consider a possibility, it's another to have it confirmed. And you didn't know when you let me live with you." She pulled back slightly, looked at him and a smile began to creep onto her face. "Although I did try to warn you."
"Yeah, I remember, you said that for all I knew you could be an ax murderer. Well, guess what, lady. You're an immortal and you kill people when you have to. So? I'm a mortal and I've killed a few in my day, too, not all of them while I was in the Marines. It happens. So you plot, plan and sneak. Not my style, but you know what? I might do it too if I was in the Game. Don't worry so much." Joe met her eyes until both of them were smiling. "Enough. What's your usual comment? Have done."
"Done. Now I just have to do damage control with Duncan. He can handle the fact that I ran away from the Kurgan, but I don't think he's going to apply the same logic to the assassinations." Aidan sighed. "One of these days, I am going to manage an uncomplicated relationship. Well, I suppose there's always Connor, but I don't lust over his body." She blinked and thought about it. "I think."
Joe started to say something, then stopped and then laughed. "I don't know why I'm surprised. I've seen you and Duncan together, you're both interested. Hell, you're the only woman I know who talks about balancing enough husbands and wives to make up a basketball team. You think he's up to sharing you with Methos? Hell, is Methos up to sharing you?"
"I think it can be managed, and I do have practice in judging these things. I'm just hoping Duncan still wants me." She shrugged. "My problem. I'll do what I can and hope. What do you think -- bite the bullet or let him bring it up in his own time?"
"Hate to say it, but from the mess with Methos maybe you had better bring it up and tell him." Joe gave her a sympathetic look. "Don't let him chase you off, darlin'. You're older than he is, you're entitled to your own beliefs and way of life. It's worked for you how long?"
"Mmm. So is he. I'll work this out with him, Joe. Thanks. Some time when Amanda isn't around, I'll bring it up. She'd just support me, and he doesn't think much of a thief's morals. Idiot. As if she can't have ethics anywhere else, simply because she believes in absconding with other people's possessions." Aidan rolled her eyes.
"Well, killing is the ultimate theft." Joe shrugged. "Come on, let's get set up for the day. Am I still coming over for dinner tomorrow?"
"Let's make it tonight, now that you're working the morning shift."
Joe grinned. "Done. Anything you want me to bring?"
"Some of that lovely lemongrass you found would be great, I'd love to cook Thai tomorrow."
* * * *
Duncan's head came up sharply, already scanning for the immortal before he registered the unique signature. Aidan? Well, it was seven in the morning; they frequently worked out now. He hadn't expected her in the dojo; she had been staying away the last day or so, giving him time with Amanda. "Good morning."
"Good morning yourself. Amanda still asleep?"
Duncan smiled at the innocent look on her face. "Yes, and you knew it."
"I'll admit, she doesn't seem like much of a morning person. Katas or run?" Aidan settled down into the extra chair in his office, dropping her backpack on the floor.
"Katas, and then some sticking hands? We haven't done that in a while. Maybe some quarterstaff for variety?" He eyed her curiously. Something seemed slightly off-kilter here. Not the clothes, not the hair, what?
"Sounds good. Let's throw some hatha yoga on the end." But she made no move to get up. Finally she sighed and said, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"What? The conversation in the bar the other night?" Now Duncan understood. She thought he wanted to argue and had decided to get it over and done with. The idea that one of his friends expected this from him... was troubling.
"That would be the 'it' I meant, yeah." She looked rueful, stubborn, and troubled.
"Are you doing anything you're ashamed of?"
Aidan blinked, then looked at him oddly. "No. I almost never do. If I'm not willing to do something one way, I'll find another. We usually have time."
"Then I don't need to hear about it. Aidan, I made this mistake before with Methos. You're six times my age, I know damn well you've done things I won't like. That's my problem, so I'm not going to ask."
"Dhonnchaidh. What happens when we run, pardon the expression, nose-first into one?"
Duncan walked over and kissed her on the cheek. "You're the one who said you were too stubborn to let me chase you off. You live up to it. Come on, let's work out."
"Mac, are you sure?" Aidan hesitated. She did not want to fight, but she didn't want anything to surface explosively at the last moment. She knew damn well that she could put pieces back together for Duncan and Methos. Whether Methos could do the same for her and Duncan she didn't know.
"Since when do you call me Mac?" He held out a hand to pull her out of the chair.
"Do you mind?" Aidan reluctantly gave in and stood up. She knew Scottish stubbornness when she ran into it. Duncan would try his damnedest not to pry, try to accept without knowing, without asking. Personally, she thought it a disaster waiting to happen, but a conversation required two people speaking, and two people listening. He wasn't going to help on this and she couldn't do it by herself.
"No, actually, I've noticed you use short forms or nicknames for Joe, Adam, and Amanda. I wondered how long it would take you to come up with one for me. I was almost worried because you hadn't."
Aidan laughed. "No need. There aren't many short forms of your name I like, that's all. Dhonnchaidh is probably as close to a nickname as I have for you. Your last name is too impersonal, and Mac usually feels like I'm calling you 'son'. I don't feel at all motherly toward you, dearheart. So...." She shrugged.
Duncan grinned. "Just don't try to use the mother's voice and the middle name of doom and we'll be fine. Come work out, o ancient one."
"No, no, no he's in Paris. You know, the other one with the nose." Aidan set aside her misgivings and went to work out. Maybe by the time the first conflict surfaced, the bond would be solid enough to withstand the blow. May the Lady grant it so! I suppose I could call Connor for advice, but I would hate to worry him over something I ought to be able to handle. So. Wait and see, then. If it starts to get out of hand, I will call Connor and damn my pride.
In the meantime, she had drills to work on, 18 more chapters of a text to translate, annotate, and index, and some friendships to solidify. Aidan put her mind firmly to the practice forms and left tomorrow to work itself out. Today was entirely busy enough.
~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~
Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:
As usual, I don't take full responsibility for Aidan's tastes, but Greek food is wonderful stuff!
1. The early Olympic athletes did in fact try to keep a balanced form, and the winning athletes routinely posed for the sculptors. As an example, a runner might run wearing the breastplate and backplate of his armor to build up his back and shoulders to match his legs. In Plato's time, the emphasis shifted to winning instead of respect for Apollo's position as patron of the games. For more information, or simply some excellent works on the time period, I recommend Mary Renault's novels, in particular Last of the Wine.
2. Ah, the fun stuff: the Greek food listed. The 'grape leaf cigars' are dolmades, which is a marinated grape leaf wrapped around a mixture of ground beef, rice, and spices. Aidan's feta cheese/cream cheese pastry is called tiropita; Amanda's chicken, vegetable, and Gods know what else pastry is called kotopita. One of the other common Greek dishes (at least in restaurants) is a spinach and feta cheese pastry called spanokopita.
3. Darius and Sean Burns were counselors to the other immortals, as per TPTB, Rysher: Panzer/Davis. Adrianna of Constantinople is one of my characters who did the same thing until she lost her head.
4. Amanda's various mischief (as cited by Joe) can be found in the episodes 'Legacy', 'Methuselah's Gift', 'Forgive Us Our Trespasses', and 'Money No Object'.
5. A standing dance is another name for a henge or circle of standing stones (Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain being the most famous example). A nemeton is a standing stone, but I can't find it in any of my dictionaries, so who knows? I could be wrong. Ogham is the carved alphabet used by the Celts.
6. For Mac & Methos' reconciliation after the whole bloody mess of Kronos and the other Horsemen, see "Absent Companions" & "Quarrels of All Kinds".
7. Sticking hands/sticky hands is a sparring session where you stay in contact with your opponent at all times to be able to read their intentions.