"Anybody can die, not everyone can live." — Sandi Bachom, Denial Is Not a River in Egypt
Connor unlocked the door to the loft apartment above his antique store and entered warily. He'd felt the bittersweet song of Immortality even before he'd reached his home, and had chosen to confront his potential enemy rather than avoid a possible fight. He heard the strains of some up-tempo dance number twanging through his stereo and he frowned. Though he'd left the unit on when he'd gone to run an errand, he was certain that it had been playing something other than what was currently pouring through the speakers. There was only one person he knew who would change his music, only one person who could have gained entrance to his loft without a key.
The minx, as he'd come to think of her, was back. A brief smile graced his lips before he remembered Paris. His expression tightened.
Still keeping his sword at the ready, he looked around, not seeing her in the living room. He felt the whisper of movement on his blind side and pivoted to meet it. Steel met steel in a resounding clash of blades. A woman with short-cropped platinum blonde hair, dark eyes, and an almost elfin face smiled charmingly at him over an expertly held broadsword. "Why, Connor, is that any way to greet an old friend?" she drawled.
"Friend?" Connor asked archly. "What makes you think I still call you that after Paris?" Though it had been five years since that incident, he was still annoyed by that; he'd been contemplating relocating to Paris, and she'd completely ruined his plans.
The woman's eyes widened as Connor pushed against her blade. She swallowed nervously. Clearly, this had not been how she had pictured this scene. He grinned wolfishly, enjoying her discomfort.
"Paris?" she asked, trying for an innocent voice and failing. "You're not still mad at me for that, are you?"
In reply, he pressed his advantage, forcing her to retreat right into the wall.
"That was an accident, Connor, I swear!!" she said in a panic. "If that truck hadn't been speeding, you wouldn't have gotten run over!"
"You pushed me into the road, Amanda," he reminded her. Easily, he disarmed her, laying his blade against her neck as her sword clattered to the floor.
"I was only teasing!" Her eyes were wide, and her breathing was heavy. He could see that he was really scaring her. "Besides," she offered in her most beguiling voice, "if you cut off my head, who can you count on to always show up at your weddings? You certainly won't have me."
Connor narrowed his eyes, then laughed, and put his sword away. He knew he could never really hold anything against her; Amanda held a special place in his heart. She had been many things to him over the years: teacher, lover, friend, enemy, partners in crime, and sometimes, just plain annoying. She did not bother to hide her relief as she stepped into the hug he offered, returning the embrace warmly.
"Good to see you," he greeted. "Looking for Duncan?" He presumed that was the case; Duncan had left a day earlier after a week-long visit.
She shook her head. "No, I came here for you."
She smiled again, that oh-so-innocent smile that would've fooled anyone who didn't know Amanda half as well as Connor did, and Connor knew she was trying to set him up for something. Then again, anyone who knew Amanda knew that her showing up unexpectedly invariably meant trouble of some kind wasn't far behind. Unlike his kinsman Duncan, though, Connor did not always let her get away with it. Sometimes, he insisted that she take him along for the ride.
Silently, Connor sighed. As much fun as being around Amanda could sometimes be, he knew all too well that she had a talent for proving the old adage about good intentions.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously. Amanda rarely asked him for anything, preferring instead to bother Duncan, who, Connor knew, had very little willpower when it came to denying Amanda anything.
"Why me?" he asked simply.
Amanda's smile widened. "It's been ages since I've seen you— " she began, only to be cut off by Connor's snort of disbelief. "Okay, so it hasn't been centuries, but it's been a while, and I really wanted to see you."
"The answer is 'no.'"
"Please, Connor," Amanda pleaded. "I've nowhere else to go, no one else to ask. I've tried everyone else."
Connor crossed his arms and waited expectantly, scowling.
Amanda bit her lip at his forbidding expression and hesitated. "Maybe I should just forget it. You already said no."
"Amanda," he said warningly.
She sighed heavily and dropped herself into the sofa. "I killed someone," she announced soberly.
Connor's eyes narrowed, but he nonetheless waited for the other shoe to drop.
"Except I thought I was doing him a favor so he wouldn't die permanently."
Now it was Connor's turn to sigh. "What was he dying of?"
"Poison." At Connor's stare, she added quickly, "He was messing around in something he shouldn't have. I told him that he should stay out of it, but Nick never listened to me." Rather crossly, she added, "He never listened when he should've been. He always had to be the cop who knew everything, who knew what was right. He never paid any attention to my warnings."
"Why should he?" Connor drawled. "You only tell half the truth, and then the rest when it becomes necessary."
Amanda's eyes flashed. He knew she hated it that he knew her well; it didn't leave her much room to try and manipulate him. Mentally, he shrugged. It made little difference to him at this point; in his eyes, Amanda's inability to be completely honest was a part of what made her Amanda. It was a trait he found to be endearing or annoying at the same time, depending upon the circumstances. "Did you mention the fact that if he died of poison, he'd still come back?"
She winced. "He would?" she asked in a very small voice. Suddenly, she looked extremely young, younger than the thirty-some-year-old woman she'd been at her First Death. Connor couldn't remember ever seeing her like that.
Not trusting the sound or the look of that, Connor replied slowly, "Yes. Didn't you remember that?"
Amanda buried her face in her hands. Her response was muffled. Connor went to his knees to pull her hands away so he could hear her better. The comment he was about to make vanished from his mind as he saw her face.
"You forgot that?" Connor couldn't believe what he was hearing. He knew Amanda was capable of recalling every detail of a meal she'd eaten centuries previously.
She nodded, and sniffled, blinking through her tears.
"You were the one who taught me that. How could you forget?" His mind flashed back to someone he hadn't thought of in a very long time.
"How do you think Honor will survive in the Game like this?" Amanda nearly shouted at him as Connor knelt by the bed. Only her respect for the sleeping child, and their shared need for secrecy, kept her voice low, aware of the penchant of servants to listen when they shouldn't. They were in the house where Amanda had been hired on as a governess; it belonged to Brian Whittenhall, a business associate and close friend of Connor's. Honor was Brian's daughter, and from the moment he'd met her nearly a year ago, Connor's heart had been ensnared. He knew if he hadn't caught Amanda trying to pick his pocket, he wouldn't have had the opportunity — or the pleasure — her connection with Brian Whitehall provided.
Now, Brian was dead.
"I'll take care of her," Connor swore. Tenderly, he tucked the fallen doll back into the little girl's arms. A rare smile lit his face as he watched her unconsciously snuggle the cloth doll closer.
"For how long?" Amanda demanded.
Something in her voice made Connor look up at her, and he saw pain in the high-boned face he'd come to cherish. Love wasn't a word for how he felt about Amanda, who'd picked his pocket one day, then had gone on to teach him more than he'd dreamed at that point in his life. She'd managed to charm her way past the defenses he'd erected after Heather's death, and he knew that she'd always have a special place in his life. Still, that didn't automatically grant her special dispensation. Right now, all it meant was that Connor thought that Amanda was being uncharacteristically harsh.
"What if you wake up one day, and she's wandered off? Or someone starts believing you're both witches?"
"I won't let that happen."
"You think that now that you can read and write, you know everything?" Amanda scoffed. "Honor was poisoned, Connor. Someone meant for this child to die, and die she did."
Amanda's eyes reflected her anger at the situation, yet Connor got the impression she had already distanced herself from the situation, as she had buried her emotions deep and was concentrating completely on what had to happen next.
Connor stared at her, as if to say "So?"
"She would've been better off dead." Amanda's voice was cold.
"How can you say that?" Incredulity laced his tone. He knew Amanda had loved Honor as if she was her child; she had said so the morning before the girl had gotten sick. The morning before the world fell apart.
His mind flashed back to how thrilled Brian had been about his daughter's christening, how he'd named Connor as Honor's godfather in appreciation of Connor's friendship, and a hundred other plans. It seemed incredible to Connor to think that had only been yesterday Brian had been alive. All Connor had been concerned with then was how Brian was taking his recent breakup with Elizabeth Kryler, a merchant widow. There had been something about Elizabeth that hadn't sat well with Connor, but he'd chosen not to enlighten Brian with his feelings. Even Amanda had hinted that Elizabeth wasn't all that she seemed. He couldn't help but wonder if he had made a mistake, been too quick to dismiss Amanda's beliefs as being just simple gossip.
Even so, he had a hard time believing Amanda could be so cruel.
"Look at her, Connor. Take a good look." Amanda grabbed him, shaking him. "She'll live forever as a six year old. Her parents are dead. How much will you sacrifice of your life to protect hers? What happens to her if you lose your head?" Her voice rose with the fervor of her emotions. "Damn it, Connor, I love her, but she can't survive like this. She's too small, too easy of a mark, and she'll never have the strength to wield a full sword."
Connor hesitated, beginning to see the ramifications of his rash oath. "I'll make arrangements for her."
The question hung in the air like a just-sprayed perfume. Honor had no living family; her parents had died as well.
"You could," Connor said at last. His eyes pleaded with her.
"I won't," Amanda refused. "I tried once to take care of a child Immortal, and I hanged for it. I don't care to repeat the experience."
"So you'll just do nothing?"
Amanda held his demanding gaze, but remained silent.
"This is insane," Amanda hissed at Connor as he watched Honor playing in the field with a short sword he'd found. "She thinks that sword is a toy, not anything she can really use against anyone."
Connor ignored Amanda. It had been a week since Honor's death, and though he'd managed convince the household staff that Honor had merely been ill, not dead, Amanda had kept reminding him that he was running out of time.
"Do you honestly think Elizabeth won't figure out what's happened? She's not dumb, Connor."
Connor shot Amanda an annoyed glance. "So if you think Honor's in trouble, why aren't you helping?"
Amanda set her hands on her hips and sniffed haughtily, then ruined it with a snort of exasperation. "Fine," she told him. "You think you can handle this, so I'm leaving."
So saying, she turned, and walked away.
Two days later, Elizabeth slit Honor's throat while she was sleeping. Connor 's first realization that Honor was dead was when the Quickening hit him. Elizabeth was tried and convicted of murder, only to be reborn as an Immortal with a grudge against Amanda... and Connor.
"How could you forget Honor?" Connor demanded. His heart ached for the little girl he'd once loved, in a time when he'd been far more naive than he was now.
"Like you've thought of her in the past three centuries?" Amanda shot back.
Caught by the truth, there was nothing Connor could say. Still, the faded echo of a Honor's bright, trusting smile reverberated through his mind. He stared at Amanda, willing her to remember the past.
As if realizing that her words had come out harshly, Amanda lowered her head.
"I wasn't thinking then," she excused herself, shaking her head slowly in bitter self-mockery. "All I could think of was that Nick had already been through too much pain. I was so sure he'd die forever if I didn't kill him first. I didn't want to live without him in my life, not after everything we've been through. Now he won't forgive me." She drew in a ragged breath, and gestured expansively. "He left, and I'd hoped that he took one of my old swords with him, but he didn't. All he has is a gun."
"That's more than some," Connor pointed out, suspecting what was coming next.
Amanda looked at him, tears in her eyes. "Please, Connor, you have to help him."
His eyebrows went up at that. "To do what?" Connor asked reasonably. "How much does he know about us?"
"Everything." She sniffed again, and this time, Connor rose to his feet to grab a nearby box of tissues. She took one with a quick, grateful smile. After blowing her nose, she continued, "He's been a part of my life for almost the last year, and he's even taken two heads. I got the Quickening on one. I can't say I didn't want it, just not that way."
Connor said nothing, moving only to sit next to Amanda on the couch. He had a feeling that she needed to talk, so he let her, drawing her into a loose embrace as he did so. She leaned into it gratefully, seeming to take strength from the simple gesture.
"Some people, it's enough to tell them what they are and the Rules, and send them on their way," she said after a moment. "I didn't want to do that with Nick; I thought we'd have time together."
She lifted her shoulders in a helpless gesture and smiled tremulously. "I thought I'd give him a few days to think it over, and then things would be back to the way they had been... but I got home, and his things were gone." She held her breath, and released it slowly.
"Please, Connor. Help me make it right."
He was inclined to refuse. Amanda's problems were her own, and getting involved in fixing anything she had screwed up had the potential of being too dangerous for his own safety. Even if he hadn't heard about her exploits from Duncan, Connor had his own experiences with her as proof. He cared deeply about her, and there was a lot he'd do for her, but he generally preferred to stay out of her troubles.
Connor shook his head, refusing, knowing as he did so that his refusal would only make Amanda try harder.
"Connor, Elizabeth Kryler is after him, and there is no way he can cope with her."
Elizabeth. Connor recognized the name instantly, and his blood grew cold. Elizabeth had been the reason Honor had died. Elizabeth had been jealous of the comfortable friendship Brian had shared with Amanda, and had tried to discredit Amanda by poisoning Honor. The only problem was that Honor would never eat anything unless her father ate with her. As a result, they'd both died.
"You know Elizabeth hates me," Amanda continued. "She's tortured every one of my male friends that she's come across."
Amanda stood, and for a moment, Connor thought she was leaving. Then he saw her grab a long black case from behind the sofa and set it on the coffee table. Without opening it, he knew he'd find a sword nestled inside.
"Maybe Honor would've had a chance if I'd listened to you," Amanda admitted now. "You didn't believe Elizabeth was capable of murder when I first accused her, but you were willing to try and prevent Honor from dying. That should've been enough reason for me. I should've given her something, anything, instead of just walking away. I — I couldn't teach another child again." Her voice cracked on those words. She closed her eyes, and took another deep breath. "I know Nick isn't a child, but... "
Her voice trailed off as Connor silently completed her sentence: "... but to me, you all are children."
"Would you give this to him? Please? For Honor."
At the mention of the name, a muscle twitched in Connor's jaw. Images flashed through his mind: echoes of a little girl's laughter, her wavy blond hair bouncing as she ran to greet him on a six-year-old's legs, the smile that had never failed to remind him ever so painfully of his beloved Heather... He shut his eyes briefly against the wave of half-forgotten memories, memories that demanded emotions he'd thought he wouldn't be feeling today. The images tore through him, leaving him feeling battered and bruised for the experience. Even before he opened the case, he knew he'd do as Amanda had asked.
He unlatched the case on the table and looked inside, unfolding the oilcloth that hid the inner contents. His fingers slowed as he recognized what lay there. It was a sword, and one that he'd made for a friend. Amanda had watched him painstakingly craft it; she'd even given him the rubies for the eyes of the wolf's head on the crosspiece. It had been one of the last swords he'd made before Honor had died. There were a lot of memories wrapped up in this sword. He glanced up from the blade to catch Amanda's eyes, and he could see that she too, was remembering that night before he'd presented it to his friend.
Even with the distance of centuries, he could hear Amanda's laughter when he'd told her she couldn't test out the sword, and how she'd promptly launched into a catch-me-if-you-can game around the room they'd been sharing. They'd ended up at crossed swords, and then Amanda had taken his blade and disarmed him. She'd kissed him senseless, and he'd forgotten all about being annoyed with her for using the new blade against his express wishes. He'd had no idea then that would be the last time they would spend as lovers, or that it would be one of the last times he'd feel less world-weary than he did now.
He shook his head; Amanda was playing dirty. He would never give a sword he didn't trust to a student, and to have one that he'd made as part of the deal was only more incentive. He knew that was precisely why Amanda had chosen it. He glared at her, not liking her manipulations.
She laughed, and turning in his arms, she kissed him fully. She kept the kiss brief, but it was enough for him to remember a time when they'd been more than the close friends they were now. For a moment, he let himself remember, let go of the tight self-control he kept on his emotions, and he felt her smile. With a sigh, he realized she had won.
She smiled, though he was glad that she wasn't gloating over her victory. "Always," she replied lightly.
He chuckled ruefully then. He considered himself to be an honorable man, but he knew he wasn't above using whatever means were necessary to get what he wanted, if the circumstances warranted it. Amanda was similar in that regard, and she'd pulled no punches this night.
He sighed. "So where am I going?"
Disclaimer and Notes: ::sigh:: You know, I'm tempted to beg for the characters of Nick Wolfe, Amanda, and Bert Myers since it's clear to me that someone no longer wants them now that Highlander: The Raven is over. However, since I know that won't happen, I hereby acknowledge that they belong to Panzer/Davis. Connor MacLeod, Heather MacLeod, and the concept of Immortality belong to those suited dudes too. The rain-soaked sandbox called Stonyland they're playing in is mine and I promise to send them back when they're through. (I make no guarantees on cleanliness. ) Elizabeth Kryler, Honor Whittenhall and Brian Whittenhall, however, are my creation.
A three-day Florida rain, Def Leppard's CD "Euphoria", and a marathon HL-watching session inspired this story. This picks up after Who You Will Run To, but it's not necessary for you to read that one first to understand this story.
Comments, constructive criticism, AriZona Green Tea coupons, and anagrams may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or just write me to say that you read this; I often wonder.
Acknowledgments: to the usual suspects, Amand-r and Dana; as well as Bridget Mintz Testa and Robert Sacci. Major thanks to the participants of the VidCon '99 fic writing panel for their comments and suggestions.