Amanda stuck her hands in her pockets and walked angrily down the street, away from Duncan's barge. If he wanted her not to interfere, when he so clearly needed her help, then by God, she wouldn't. She was a good ten minutes' walk from the barge when she felt the discordant hum of another Immortal — old, extremely old, if the strength of the signal was anything to go by. She silently blessed the Fates that had given her that extra ability; it had saved her skin more than once. Still, she cursed the wave of nausea that accompanied it and swallowed painfully.
Her steps slowed and she reached for the sword hidden in her jacket. Briefly, she gave thought to the fact that it was a replacement sword and not her favorite. She'd lost her preferred blade when Kalas had trapped it in his guard and she'd chosen retreat rather than surrender.
Her mind flashed on the possibilities. Few Immortals still living felt this old. Even before the other Immortal came within sight, Amanda knew who it was. No one else made her feel this way with their Presence. Still, Amanda wasn't about to take chances. Too much had happened in the last few days. She'd misjudged everything so badly, and she was eager not to make the same mistake twice.
As the other Immortal came within sight, Amanda smiled with relief as her precognition was confirmed. Quickly, she sheathed her sword. He was a whipcord lean, black-haired, trench-coat-clad man with a hawkish face. He smiled easily, his eyebrows quirking over green-brown eyes at the readiness of Amanda's stance.
"Expecting someone else, Amanda?" he asked as he came to a halt before her.
"Just a little jumpy, Methos." Lightly, she added, "Care to have dinner with me? I know this really great place where the food is absolutely divine."
He looked at her with bland scrutiny. "Arguing with MacLeod again?"
That got her anger going. "He's a stubborn, judgmental — ooh, I could kill him!!"
Methos merely chuckled. "You said that about him in, oh, 1754, I believe." He stuck his hands in his pockets and studied her with the ease of old friends. "And again a century later. Do you really think he's going to change?"
Amanda sighed and began walking again, Methos falling naturally in step beside her. "No," she admitted, "but you've never had to deal with his judgment. He's still in awe of you, I think."
"As I recall, you never were."
Amanda giggled, remembering. "How could I be? You looked like a drowned rat the first time we met."
"Well, there was that," Methos allowed. "What were you doing in France then anyway? Or should I assume the obvious?"
She glared at him. "You did not have to kill me."
"Oh?" He glanced at her, an inquisitive expression on his face. "And what should I have done instead, just let you get away with robbing me?"
Amanda was furious, though some part of her acknowledged that Duncan was right — again. She really should be on her way out of France. Getting caught stealing in the court of Louis XIV wasn't a good idea, and though she'd not yet been caught, it was only a matter of time. She pouted as she thought of missing Marie Antoinette's reaction at discovering her tiara missing. That had been the point, after all. Her temper flared again as the face of the French queen came to mind. The spoiled, self-centered woman had all the gall to insinuate Amanda had bought her way into the palace... never mind the fact that Amanda had done exactly that, just not as recently as Marie had suggested.
She swore again. If it wasn't for Duncan hustling her out of the palace, she wouldn't be stuck in this godforsaken little inn, waiting for the rain to stop pouring. Adding to her funk was the fact that Duncan had decided to abandon her to sail to North Africa, "just to do something different."
She contemplated her companions in the inn. Most were locals, she surmised, glad for the excuse to not work in their fields. Her dark brown eyes, always on the lookout for a possible mark or an interesting distraction, surveyed the little crowd. Those eyes found the company wanting. It was getting harder to find a good gullible man these days — or at least one willing to treat a lady nice for a while. She sighed with regret and took a sip of her ale. It was warm and bitter, and she grimaced a little at the taste. It was so hard to get used to common ale after spending so much time in court, amidst all the finery money could buy. Mentally, she shrugged and told herself to get used to it. It would be days before she could reach the next largest city, and she hadn't even yet decided where she was going to go.
Suddenly, the warning came. Amanda had never felt it this intensely before, and she fought the urge to close her eyes, to block out the blinding, nauseating pain in her head that threatened to overcome all her senses and become the only thing she was aware of. The closest she could compare it to was when she sensed Rebecca, her first teacher — and Rebecca was three thousand years older than Amanda. Through half-closed eyes, Amanda looked to the door of the inn as it opened to admit the newcomer.
Warily, he entered. The klaxon in Amanda's head receded to a more manageable level now that he was in the same room, and she took a shuddering breath of relief. She could see more clearly now, and her gaze found a pale, thin, black-haired man dressed in plain, though soaking wet, clothes. A saddlebag was slung across one shoulder, no doubt containing his possessions. His hand was on his sword as he surveyed the room for the source of the sensation echoing in his own brain. He nodded briefly, acknowledging her, then moved to speak with the innkeeper.
He didn't look like much of a threat, Amanda decided, a smile curving her lips. Despite looking cold, wet, and hungry, arousing her sympathies, he moved with a feline grace that aroused other urges. The inn was full, no doubt thanks to the storm, and Amanda knew she had taken the last available room. She watched as he spoke with the innkeeper and received the news. From her vantage point in the middle of the inn, she saw him start to turn away.
For a brief moment, Amanda considered his retreat. It was the smart thing to do, and she silently gave him credit for the maneuver. She would've probably done the same thing, given the same circumstances. She glanced over to the door as he opened it, hearing and seeing the driving rain. Today wasn't the day to be riding in search of another inn.
Her heart pounded as her mind raced with the possibilities. Common sense told her she would be better off leaving him be, to ride out in the rain, perhaps never to be seen again. He was an enigma, and she rarely resisted a good puzzle, especially when he was the most interesting thing to happen to her that day. Her lips curved as she prepared her usual method of dealing with potential enemies — or friends. Without giving the matter a second thought, she rose and stopped the stranger before he could step outside.
"Come," she invited, "I know a place where you can dry off and not be bothered by anyone."
"And the price for that would be?" he inquired, a faint English accent tainting his words.
"Nothing," Amanda replied, her most charming smile now at its highest wattage. "Unless you'd rather not have company and a dry bed tonight."
"Why should I trust you?"
Oh, you're a wary one, aren't you? Older than Rebecca, no doubt, and twice as cautious. Amanda's smile never wavered. "I could ask the same of you, but it's obvious to me that we're both not looking for a fight. It's raining, not a good day to ride, and if memory serves, there isn't another inn for miles. So why not?"
The stranger smiled faintly at that. "Indeed."
"Amanda Darrieux," Amanda returned. "Care for a drink in return for your name and your company?"
His smile became friendlier. "Michael Westleah, at your service." He paused. "First, the room?" He glanced down at his wet clothing. "It's a bit damp in these things."
"Of course," she said, leading the way up the stairs to the room she'd secured earlier in the day.
She opened the door. He stepped inside, surveying the sparse accommodations — a single bed, a dresser with a water pitcher and basin. Amanda's own bags lay stacked against the dresser. He dropped the bag he'd been carrying and turned to face Amanda, who stood in the doorway.
"Thank you," he said simply, and shut the door in her face.
Miffed, for she'd been hoping for a closer look at the whipcord lean body the wet clothes had outlined so clearly, Amanda stared at the shut door for a long minute.
Abruptly, her guest stuck his head out the door. "Would you grab me that drink you promised?"
Relegated to the lowly position of serving wench, Amanda gave a brief thought to ignoring the request. Oh, he's going to pay for that, she decided, and smiled wickedly as she moved downstairs for the ale.
Suddenly, she punched him.
"Ow! What was that for?" Methos rubbed the offended shoulder, though it hadn't hurt as much as taken him by surprise.
"That's for never telling me your real name," Amanda said. "I knew you were old, but I thought Methos was just a myth."
They paused at the crux of an intersection and waited for the light to change. Taking advantage of the moment, Methos turned to face her and stated mildly, "Safer that way."
It only took a second for her to realize the truth of his words. "True, but I've never been a headhunter."
He shrugged. "The only thing I knew definitely about you was that you're a thief." He smiled, the expression taking the sting out of his words. "I wasn't about to find out what else you were."
He paused. "Although I have to admit, you handled Duncan's introduction to me rather well. You never let on that you already knew me until after he'd left the room."
Now it was her turn to shrug as the light changed and they crossed the street. "I didn't know your real name," she replied honestly, "but I knew you were older than Rebecca. That was good enough for me. I wondered later if you might be Methos, but I thought it might be too far-fetched of an idea."
At Methos's inquisitive look, she clarified, "When I sense you, your signal comes in pretty strong. Only the really old Immortals feel like that." She shrugged as Methos mulled over that comment. "Besides, not telling Duncan we'd already met seemed like a pretty good idea at the time."
"Oh?" Methos asked with interest. "Protecting me, Amanda?"
"You don't understand him like I do," she interjected passionately. "I don't think he'd take lightly someone he knows might have met you before he did. It would take some of the pride away from his discovery." She paused, clearly debating how to phrase her next words.
"Aside from that, I doubt very much that he'd accept the secrets you hold. He's very judgmental, and I'm not always sure why he accepts me the way I am. I don't claim to know everything about you, but I know what I've lived through before the sixteenth century, and that Duncan has no way of comprehending that."
Methos glanced over at his companion as they paused in their walk at the crest of a bridge over the Seine. He'd read Duncan's Chronicle, and thought he comprehended what Amanda was alluding to. "No, I suppose not. Sometimes...." He looked off into the distance for a long minute.
When he spoke again, his voice held a cynical edge. "I'm surprised you haven't asked me about my past yet."
"Why?" Genuine puzzlement radiated from Amanda as she leaned against the railing and faced her friend. "You live long enough, you do things you aren't always proud of later, and you don't always walk away from them having learned anything earth-shattering beyond the fact that you don't ever want to do that again." She paused, hearing Methos's rueful chuckle of acknowledgment, then added thoughtfully, "Though I have to admit, sometimes it was worth it."
"Just sometimes?" Methos leaned an elbow on the railing and watched her with a casualness that added innuendo to the simple question. "Was me killing you for trying to steal my gold that night we met worth it?"
Amanda tried her best innocent look, knowing that Methos wouldn't be fooled. He had never been, not in the less than half-dozen times their paths had managed to cross. She used to wonder how he'd come to see through her so well, when so few others did. She'd dismissed it as simply a matter of experience or perhaps age, but now she was certain it was both.
"Did I do that?" she asked guilelessly. "I wouldn't do that to you."
She had secured the ale and was just going to head upstairs with it when she saw Michael move through the crowd to the bar. With an appreciative eye, she decided his walk reminded her of a cat's — long, fluid, casual, with the hint of suppressed power. He smiled as he reached her and grabbed the mug she handed him.
"I was hoping I'd catch you before you came back up," he told her as, by unspoken agreement, they took possession of a table near the back, where it was more private.
"Well, now that you have," she purred, "what shall we talk about to pass the time, hmm?"
He took a sip of ale and studied her. She got the impression she was being weighed for something he wasn't about to reveal to her, and withstood the inspection with a look of friendly curiosity. She didn't mind the stare, though as the minutes dragged by and he just watched her as he drank, she began to get more uncomfortable.
"Or we could skip all the small talk," she suggested, breaking the silence, "and just go to bed."
About to take another sip, he set his mug down on the table with exaggerated care. "You presume that I want the same thing."
She shrugged. Nine centuries of living had taught her that nothing ventured was nothing gained, and she had no use for the customs that decreed a woman was meant to be ladylike — unless the situation warranted it. This moment, in her mind, was not one of them, particularly with another Immortal. "If not, I'll be disappointed, but..." She smiled and reached out to stroke his arm. "I still get the bed."
Something flickered in his green-gold eyes and he toasted her. "Far be it for me to disagree with a lady's wishes."
She picked up her own mug and scowled. This was not working out the way she'd planned.
Despite the minor setback, she soon discovered Michael to be a fairly well-versed conversationalist. The ale flowed freely and the rain continued to pour into the night as they discussed current politics, their reasons for being in the area, told each other stories that might have held a hint of truth somewhere in them, and got to know each other. If Amanda surmised that Michael was withholding information, she bore him no ill will, for she was doing the same.
Soon, it was time to retire to their shared room. Somehow, the earlier agreement about the sleeping arrangements was overlooked in the alcoholic haze, and the two Immortals fell asleep in the same bed.
Amanda woke before her companion. She slipped out of bed, careful to not disturb him, and crept over to where his saddlebag lay. She smiled as she discovered his hidden stash of gold, and chuckled softly. This was better than she'd expected.
That was about as far as she got. She gasped as something sharp pierced her back and she died, still holding the loot.
"I'm really sorry, Methos," she apologized now. "I was just — "
"Give it a rest, Amanda, I've known you too long," he chided her now, "and I've long gotten over that incident. I don't hold grudges."
She nodded, understanding. She knew that there were things she'd lived to regret, things she should've never done, and probably a lot more of them that, given some thought, would have to be included on that list. She surmised that it was the same for Methos, though multiplied at least four times. A part of her was infinitely glad that he was so accepting.
A thought crystallized in her brain, and she gave voice to it before she could consider the impact of the words. "How come I didn't fall for you instead of a certain Highlander we know?"
Methos turned and leaned his back against the concrete railing. "I don't know," he replied, giving the matter serious thought. "But you know I've always wished for the opportunity to try and charm you away."
Amanda laughed. God, it hurts to laugh. Here I am, the world is falling apart around my feet, and I'm laughing. She banished the morbid thought and concentrated on the sheer pleasure of the moment. "You never asked. All you had to do was ask."
"Was it that simple?" His face grew thoughtful, then he shook his head. "Couldn't have been."
"Oh, really?" Amanda cast a speculative glance over at her companion. "And what was that night in Natchez all about then?"
Methos feigned innocence, though his green-brown eyes flashed with recognition. "When was that?"
"It was 1854, and you were the town doctor."
"That wasn't me," Methos demurred. "Your memory must be going. I was never in Natchez that year."
Amanda narrowed her eyes, not trusting his quick denial. A habitual teller of selective truths, she recognized when someone else was doing the same thing. Methos, she knew, was an expert at the technique, to the point where she accepted he only gave as much information as he chose to, when he chose. He was hiding something, but what?
She clearly remembered that time. She owed him for that, more than she could repay, and that kiss.... Could he have wanted her more than he'd let on?
"Some things I never forget, old friend, and I certainly don't forget someone who's kissed me."
He merely looked at her blandly. "You remember what you choose to remember, Amanda. Don't try that line on me."
She met his stare without flinching before relenting. "Okay, okay, so maybe I don't have the year exactly. But I know you and I — "
" — never did anything," Methos finished for her. Memories flashed in his eyes, though they didn't show on his face.
Methos, lately known to the world as Dr. Benjamin Adams, was not in a hurry as he rode through the shadowed woods about an hour's ride north of Natchez, en route to a cabin he kept on the outskirts of the growing city. The autumn wind whispered tantalizing promises of heavy rain, but the bright sky shining through the woodland canopy belied that promise. Methos had been smelling that humid aroma for miles now, and did not think it would rain for hours yet. He had plenty of time to get to Natchez.
Suddenly, his horse shied. Taken off guard by the motion, he nonetheless managed to keep control and calm the bay mare. He paused as the faint shimmer of Immortality registered on his senses, then died. His nostrils flared as the wind shifted direction and brought with it the scent of blood.
He swore. He was not in the mood for handling brand-new Immortals, and gave a moment's thought to just leaving the scene. One tug on the reins, and he could be on his way. The mare whinnied, clearly agitated at the unfamiliar scent, and refused to budge.
Methos swore again, and dismounted. He knew this mare was stubborn, and no amount of persuasion would sway her once she got the idea that she wasn't going anywhere. He half-suspected she knew she was going to be sold in Natchez for a much more cooperative mount. He took two steps, intending to lead his horse around, when his boot struck something solid and squishy.
He looked down and immediately wished he hadn't. His stomach recoiled at the sight. He hadn't noticed the still form in its tattered clothing, as a layer of leaves and the brown coloring of the clothing had combined to disguise it.
Further inspection revealed that the corpse had been neatly skewered on a sword and with such force that it pinned the female body to the ground. Methos wondered what could've been the reason even as he reached for the sword. A quick, professional eye appreciated the simple lines of the edged weapon. He reached out tentatively and, ignoring the sword for the moment, he brushed the long black hair aside from her face.
He knew who this Immortal was, and she was not new to Immortality, either. Though it had been a century since he'd last seen her, and the black tresses were new to him, the pert nose, the sassy mouth, the graceful sweep of cheekbones, the slender yet distinctly feminine body clearly identified her as Amanda. For a half-second, he gave thought to just leaving her, knowing she'd recover on her own without his help. After all, she was a thief, and probably wouldn't appreciate being rescued by someone who'd once killed her. For himself, he wasn't much for rescuing damsels in distress... especially Immortal ones. It could very well be a trap, but he doubted it.
A lingering scent of spent electricity caught his nostrils, and he understood immediately. Amanda had willingly let herself be run through, and had somehow managed to behead her opponent before falling. Undoubtedly the force of the Quickening had slammed her to the ground, magnifying the effect of the sword in her gut, and leaving her unable to pull it out by herself even as she revived around it. He wasn't about to speculate the whereabouts of her opponent; he'd seen enough headless bodies to know what one looked like.
He could leave her... but he knew that action would probably make her into an enemy when he already had far too many. He no longer hesitated. He grasped the hilt and, bracing himself, pulled the sword out of the body.
A heartbeat later, she came back to life.
Moaning, she put a hand to her head, the other to where the sword had cleaved her. "Damn, that hurts," she complained artlessly. She blinked, seeing the tattered shreds of her clothing, Methos's gentle support of her body, and abruptly scrambled out of the embrace.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "Why does my head hurt so bad?"
"Amanda, you know me," he said soothingly. "You know who you are."
She looked at him with wide, fearful eyes, and she trembled. Several minutes passed in which Methos eyed her in much the same manner as he would a skittish colt.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he reassured her, breaking the silence at last. "Do you remember anything?"
She shuddered, breathing deeply. She buried her head between her knees a moment, then rose, rather gracelessly, to her feet. With a faint but wry smile on her lips, she told him, "Well, I know you didn't kill me this time." She took another deep breath, closed her eyes briefly, then asked, "If it isn't too much trouble, do you have anything I can borrow to wear?"
In reply, Methos shrugged off his coat and handed it to her. She accepted it with a nod of gratitude and quickly, unselfconsciously, stripped off the tattered remains of her clothing. Caught off guard, Methos could only watch.
"So where were you headed?" she inquired, noting Methos's lingering stare at her body. On any other occasion, she might've mistaken that look for interest, but with the memories of her death still fresh in her mind, she suspected he was just making sure she was healing from her assorted injuries. The thought left her with a vague sense of disappointment.
"I have a cabin down the road a ways." He didn't trust her completely, but he decided to risk it. She was in no shape to be alone, stranded in the middle of nowhere with only her sword and his coat. He told himself he was doing it only to make sure he got his coat back, but a voice in his head sneered at the thought. "You can stay with me tonight."
She smiled her gratitude. Soon, they were on their way.
Twilight had fallen by the time they reached their destination. The cabin was sparsely furnished, but not without the latest comforts. Amanda took advantage of a nearby stream to bathe, borrowing one of Methos's spare shirts to use as a shift.
While Amanda bathed, Methos prepared dinner. She returned to the cabin, accepted the rabbit stew he offered with a quiet murmur of thanks, and spoke little during the meal itself. It was a change from the woman Methos remembered — bright, animated, free-spirited. Now that he thought about it, her earlier show of spirit had seemed forced.
He waited until after the meal to broach the subject. "What happened to you, Amanda?"
"I don't remember," she said flatly, moving restlessly away from him. "I never thought I'd find you around here. Is it still Michael?"
"No," he answered, willing to let the issue drop. Clearly, whatever the other Immortal had done to her besides the obvious was a subject she wasn't willing to discuss. Still, something inside him crawled away in dejection at being rebuffed. He squashed that emotion as he would a bug and answered her question. "Benjamin Adams, doctor. What brings you to this area?"
"I was supposed to meet someone in Natchez." She shrugged. "He'll be really mad that I stood him up. Oh well, I'll think of something."
"You are not using me for an excuse, Amanda," Methos growled suspiciously.
"Now why would I do that?" Amanda smiled. "Good night."
Sometime during the night, Methos awoke to the sound of screams. He lay on the floor on a pile of blankets, having yielded the bed to Amanda. He quickly ascertained that the screams were coming from her.
He resisted the urge to go to her and offer comfort for all of a minute. He told himself that he was just doing it to shut her up so he could get back to sleep as he rose to his feet and crossed the short distance between his pallet and the bed. The room was lit by moonlight streaming through the lone glass window.
"Amanda," he said commandingly. "Wake up. You're having a nightmare."
She thrashed on the bed, still in the grip of the nightmare, then suddenly sat bolt upright, a scream dying in her throat. In the semi-darkness, Methos couldn't quite make out her face as he sat on the bed beside her, but he could hear her frantic breathing, see the tremors that racked her slender frame.
"Oh God," she whispered. "I was dreaming...."
Drawn by her obvious pain, Methos reached out and drew her closer. He told himself he was making a mistake, but she needed him. The silent plea for help wasn't one he resisted easily. She shuddered against his chest, accepting the wordless comfort as she drew increasingly calmer breaths. She was warm and feminine and soft and trusting in his arms. He closed his eyes against the instinctive shiver of awareness that rippled through him like stretched red silk in the wind, and forced himself to concentrate on just giving her what she needed at that moment.
He heard her sigh and he opened his eyes. The nameless urge that had prodded him to ask her earlier about her ordeal resurrected itself and he gave in. "Want to talk about it?"
She shook her head and leaned closer, wrapping her arms loosely around his waist. "You know how it is," she said simply, though her words resounded with less confidence than they were meant to have. "The things you wish you don't remember are the hardest to forget."
He nodded, forgetting momentarily that she couldn't see the movement. She seemed to take his silence for assent anyway.
She was a warm weight in his arms, and he found himself strangely comforted by the trust she gave freely. Her head lay cradled against his right shoulder, and he could feel her breathing against his chest. His hand rubbed her back in an unconscious gesture of reassurance. How long they stayed in that gentle embrace, neither was aware. At last, Methos moved to end it. He was surprised to hear a softly voiced request.
By now, his eyesight had adjusted to the dim lighting. His gaze searched her face, reading the sudden, desperate need for something more than just a hug. His pulse quickened at the possibility even as his mind told him it was a bad idea. He preferred not to get involved with female Immortals, especially when that female was Amanda. Still, he couldn't deny the slender thread of attraction that rose up between them or the potent lure of the invitation she offered. It had been a while since he'd been with someone....
She must have sensed his reluctance, for her hands slipped from his back to draw his face closer. Her lips feather-touched his in tantalizing persuasion. The entreaty sent a jolt of pleasure through his entire body. Meeting no resistance, she kissed him again, her right hand going to the back of his head as she laid the makings of a fire that was beginning to burn through Methos. His mouth opened to register a protest, but she took that opportunity to deepen the kiss instead, asking a permission Methos found increasingly difficult not to give.
He could hear his heart hammering in his chest as he surrendered to the rising flames. Crushing her to him, he began returning the kiss. She moaned, the sound coming out as a half-suppressed whimper as he showed her just how drugging a kiss could be. He tasted the soft fullness of her upper lip, reveling in the sweetness as she arched her body against his. His tongue traced a perfect circle around the edge of her mouth as she unconsciously parted her lips.
She was so sweet, so responsive to each subtle twist of his lips, the world dwindled down to the sheer joy of exploring every nuance. Time lost its meaning as breathing become secondary to the pleasure of the kiss. Methos forgot anything beyond the need to taste, to feel the exquisite pressure of her lips against his. The heat generated weighted his thoughts and sent tendrils of passion sparking through his veins.
Gently, he eased her back onto the bed as his mouth left hers to shower kisses along her jaw. He traced the line of an earlobe as she trembled underneath him, whimpering at the pleasure he evoked. He felt his groin tighten at that response and smiled. His mouth traveled lower, tasting the creamy expanse of her neck.
Her Immortal neck.
The realization sent a cold wave of reality into Methos's brain. A long-held vow against getting involved with female Immortals teetered on the edge of being broken. Oh, it would be so easy to ignore that oath, as easy as sliding into sin. She was so ready, so willing, and silently begging for more of his touch. It had been far too long since he'd had a lover, and the talent she exuded promised a level of delight he rarely found in a lover.
Breathing deeply, he called on centuries of restraint to cool his desire. With true reluctance, he captured her mouth again in a bittersweet kiss of apology.
"Go to sleep, Amanda," he bid her.
She looked at him in dazed confusion. "But — "
He touched her lips with a finger, silencing her.
She licked it enticingly, not understanding his abrupt withdrawal, but not wanting him to stop either.
Unable to completely resist, he shuddered at the promise inherent in that provocative action. "No," he told her firmly and stood.
"Why not?" she asked petulantly, reaching for him.
He dodged the obvious attempt to grab him and pull him back onto the bed. "Didn't you say something about meeting someone?"
She flushed, having conveniently forgotten that had been the reason for her presence in the area. Running into another Immortal who'd been dead set on taking her head hadn't been on her agenda that day. Without thinking, she answered, "Yes, Duncan MacLeod."
"Your lover," Methos guessed accurately.
There was nothing Amanda could say to that, but she tried. "He and I have an understanding," she began.
He looked at her, his expression sad, longing. With a fierceness that shocked her, Amanda suddenly wanted nothing more than to erase that look from his eyes. "Not that I'm not tempted," he responded gently, reaching out to touch her cheek, "but I don't get involved in that. Someday, when you're not with him."
It was a mistake to touch her. Too late, he realized his tactical error.
She caught his hand and turned her head into it. She began kissing his palm and soon was kissing a path up his arm, rising to her feet as she did so.
Caught by surprise, he could only feel the heat rekindle like a lighter held to a piece of detonation cord. She didn't stop until she reached his neck, echoing his earlier action. He trembled like a tree on the wind and felt her smile against his skin. She continued her assault up his neck, along the line of his jaw, then pressed a surprisingly tender kiss on his lips.
"Someday," she whispered, "I'd like to know."
By morning she was gone, along with a pair of his breeches, a shirt, some money, and the bay mare. He contemplated getting mad about the theft before shrugging philosophically. After all, he had been planning to sell the mare, he probably would've given her the clothes, and he'd already killed her once for theft.
More gently, Methos continued, "You've always loved the Highlander. No matter who else comes along in your life, you'll still be loving him."
He leaned forward then and brushed his lips against hers in the barest whispers of a kiss. Amanda closed her eyes at the aching sweetness in that gesture, remembering another kiss, another time, and felt the pang of missed opportunity. She'd always thought there'd be more time, and that someday would eventually come. Now there was no more time.
In a matter of hours, the world as they knew it would end, unless Kalas could be stopped. That made her think of Duncan, and suddenly, she found herself wishing it was Duncan who was kissing her. With a quiet sigh, she admitted that Methos was right. She felt his retreat and opened her eyes.
In that unguarded moment, she saw regret mingled with the flare of desire in his eyes. Then, the complex mask that kept the world at bay slid in place. Her heart caught as she realized that he had, indeed, wanted her that long ago night, and wanted her still. He wouldn't interfere with Duncan's prior claim, though.
He was smiling at her as if they'd always been nothing more than longtime friends. Suddenly, she wanted to tell him she understood, to articulate something to ease the longing she'd read in that flash of insight.
"Methos..." she began, unable to find the words as the wave of bittersweet acceptance flooded her.
"He needs you, Amanda," Methos told her. He reached out and touched the crystal she wore around her throat. "He needs all the luck a lady can give him."
She closed her eyes briefly, feeling the warmth of his hand imprinted on her flesh, and breathed deeply. Off-balance by the emotions swirling through her like the gathering fog around them, she retreated behind the screen of easy banter. "Feeling superstitious?"
He quirked a half-smile at her and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Can't hurt, now can it?"
Then he turned, and walked away into the fog.
She clutched the crystal and stared at his retreating figure. "No," she answered at last, "it can't."
With that thought in mind, she turned back to the barge.
Disclaimer and Notes: Panzer/Davis owns 'em. Well, I should know better than to say I'm not going to write regular HL fic for a while.... guess that's what I get for reading the challenges on Seventh Dimension when I'm bored. :-) Call me a sucker for a challenge, but I couldn't resist the idea of writing about when Amanda and Methos first met, especially since I'd promised Amand-r I'd write a Methos and Amanda fic someday. Guess someday arrived sooner than I anticipated. :-) Then I mentioned it to Dana, who said, "Oooh, why not Versailles?" This is the result, although I must admit that this thing took a life of its own. This story starts off during "Finale Part II."
Much gratitude goes to Jam, who kept me from losing track of the details; to Dana, who makes me laugh and keeps me from being too serious; and to Molly, for giving me that much-needed third opinion.