Until Then by Raine Wynd
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Author's Notes:
Disclaimer and Notes: This story is the product of hunting down the perfect song to give to someone for the Lyric Wheel, and, in the process, rediscovering some artists I'd forgotten I'd liked. Inspired by Michael W. Smith's "Somewhere Somehow"; lyrics borrowed without permission and are at the end of the story. This takes place after the Highlander: The Series episode "Not to Be" and the Highlander: The Raven episode "The Inferno" (see timeline below.) Thanks to Carin Lamontagne, Daniel Archer and Parda for the beta-read. I can't thank y'all enough for keeping track of the details and putting up with my constant worrying about the story.

Timeline notes: This is a bit confusing. I'm basing this on the Watcher CD-ROM's dates for the deaths of the k'immies in HLTS, plus dates in Highlander: The Raven. The timeline I used is:

May 19, 1997: Richie dies. Duncan goes off to monastery.
Spring, 1998: Duncan returns to Paris.
June, 1998: Highlander: The Raven begins. Amanda moves to Torago/Chironto (the city that Raven's supposed to take place in, wherever that is, prior to leaving for Paris.)
July 26 & 27: HLTR: Immunity
July 27: HLTS: Diplomatic Immunity
Also in the end of July/beginning of August:
HLTR: So Shall Ye Reap, Birthright
HLTS: Patient #7 (the Kyra ep), Black Tower

Between August and the end of October:
HLTS: Justice
HLTS: Deadly Exposure
HLTS: Two of Hearts
HLTS: Indiscretions
HLTR: Crime and Punishment
HLTR: Unknown Soldier
HLTR: Cloak and Dagger
HLTR: Passion Play
HLTR: The Devil You Know
HLTR: A Matter of Time

November:
HLTR: The French Connection (Nick goes to Paris, Amanda follows)
HLTR: The Rogue
HLTR: Inferno

HLTS: To Be (Amanda is kidnapped by O'Roarke)
HLTS: Not to Be (O'Roarke is killed November 7, 1998)


Paris — 1998

The golden rays of early morning streamed through the portholes in the barge. Out of long habit, Duncan awoke promptly with the dawn and rolled over, expecting to find Amanda cuddled beside him in sleep. He grunted with surprise as he discovered she wasn't there.

Odd, he thought. Amanda was more likely to be going to bed with the dawn than getting up with it. He could still hear her Presence whispering in his head, so he knew she was still around. Slipping on a thick robe, he checked the bathroom, then went on deck. His breath came out in puffy clouds as the mid-November air stated clearly that winter was settling in.

He found her sitting on a pile of luggage, watching the sunrise over the city. Dread oozed through him as he realized she was dressed for travel, a long black trench coat wrapped around her body, a rose-hued scarf around her neck. He didn't understand why the sight of her atop all that luggage scared him. Yes, they'd fought the night before over something completely trivial, but they'd made up for it. Even now, the memory of their lovemaking ignited a small spark of desire within him. He thought they'd apologized for whatever it had been to make them angry. Hadn't they?

Her words to him did little to reassure him.

Without turning from her contemplation of the skyline, she addressed him. "The taxi should be arriving any minute now." Her voice was uncharacteristically flat.

He didn't like the woman he was seeing, the tone she was using. It was as if she never planned to come back, and that scared him. Had more than her hair color changed and he'd just missed it somehow? She radiated remoteness as she sat there in the shadow of the sun. The early light turned her already pale hair whiter. For one brief moment, she looked like she had a halo, and the irony of the image made his heart ache. He had never liked that feeling, and he especially didn't like it now. He blinked past the sudden rush of tears and swallowed his fears.

"Leaving without saying good-bye? That's not like ye." He kept his voice light, not wanting to reveal just how much her sudden decision alarmed him. He swore quietly as he registered the sound of his accent slipping through, knowing how she'd interpret that.

He drew closer to her and, after pulling her to her feet, enfolded her in his arms. To his surprise, she went willingly, only making a small sound that could've meant a multitude of things. He nuzzled her neck in preparation for an assault of tiny nips and kisses designed to lure her below deck. He had a million questions, but all he could think of to do was somehow convince her to stay at least long enough for him to show her how very much she was not alone, how much he loved her.

She shuddered, too aware that she really didn't want to go, wanting desperately to find the strength to leave. She'd been sitting on the pile of luggage for hours, trying to convince herself to go. Nick would be worried about her, though she'd told him that she was going to take that trip to Tahiti after all. She just hadn't told him that she was going to take a small detour in the process. He'd seemed to understand that she'd needed to get away, and she'd been grateful for that. She'd hoped to find comfort in Duncan's arms, and she had, but their argument last night had only served to hammer in the fact that Amanda wasn't quite the same woman anymore.

Nick's influence — and her recent ordeal with O'Rourke — had opened her eyes to her treatment of Duncan. On some level, she'd always been aware that she was a liability to him, forever getting him into trouble when her good intentions careened into disaster, or ending up as a pawn in someone else's way of playing the Game. The last time, he'd nearly died, and even his apology afterwards hadn't stopped her heart from feeling like it had been ripped to pieces. She just hadn't stopped and acknowledged that fact, that emotion. Duncan was Immortal, after all, and he was capable of taking care of himself — but it never had hit home before just how willing he'd been to sacrifice himself for her. Knowing precisely how Duncan felt about her made it ten times worse than before, when it had been silent, unacknowledged except in breathless cries in the glory of lovemaking. Adding to her quandary was a growing attraction to Nick, a tall, broad-shouldered, ex-cop with sandy blonde hair and a code of honor to rival Duncan's. The fact that both of the men in her life had felt she was worthy of self-sacrifice left her feeling uncertain.

Oh, why can't we go back to what we were before, Duncan? Why do you have to make everything more difficult than it should be? Why can't I just walk away like I've done a hundred times before? she moaned silently. Why do you mean so much? Why does love have to make me choose?

Duncan was kissing her with hot, wet, quietly forceful demands that she forget why she wanted to leave. She could feel herself wobbling indecisively, and then he pulled her more firmly against him. She couldn't quite stifle the instinctive arching of her body in response. The familiar heat ignited her blood and made her feel lightheaded. She felt her knees, along with her resolve, weaken as his mouth claimed hers. Unconsciously, she gripped his muscular biceps for support, her hands slipping to his broad back as he pressed her even closer.

Oh, but she would willingly drown in this... the undeniable passion, the unspoken love, the sweet persuasive tenderness of his knowing lips. She reveled in the feel of his body, naked under the robe, against her own. She knew every curve of him, every childhood scar. She remembered clearly exactly where to press her lips to fan the flames smoldering through them both. She'd never forget, not when she loved him with all of her soul. She couldn't disguise her body's reactions to his touch, and she knew that as well as he did. He took blatant advantage of that fact, ceaselessly touching her, tasting her, promising wordlessly of the wondrous things to come if she'd let him.

She could feel the roaring of her blood in her ears, the sharp, helpless little gasps for breath as he traced her face, her ears, her neck, with his lips. She was liquid fire, heavy with heat, and certain to dissolve into a pile of ashes any moment now. Breathless, her stomach tingling in anticipation, she lifted his head from its position just above the swell of her breasts and pressed her lips to his.

The taste of his lips was bittersweet, and she briefly closed her eyes. The electricity between them was a tangible thing. She could smell it, taste it, feel it. It only made her tremble more even as she sensed the air of sadness overlaying the desire. If she could only bottle this moment, make it last, turn into something she could hang onto on the cold nights to come...

Abruptly, the horn of the taxi she'd requested resounded, interrupting the sensual spell.

Reluctantly, she tried to draw back. "Duncan, I have a plane to catch."

"You can always catch another flight." He released her long enough to dismiss the taxi. Caught off guard by his action, she could only gape at him in rising fury.

She swore at his presumption, his high-handedness, and anything else she could think of to swear. "You have no right — " she began.

"Why are you in such a hurry to leave?" he asked her reasonably. "Whatever's worth stealing will probably still be there tomorrow."

Her eyes narrowed. The assumption hurt, though she knew he didn't mean it that way. "That's not why I'm leaving." So typical of you, my darling love, she thought with a pang of bitterness. You want me go straight, be content to live in your shadow, and yet you still expect me to be a thief, someone who's liable to get you in trouble. I wish you'd make up your mind as to who you want me to be. At least, with Nick, I'm allowed to change. I love you, but I can't go on like this.

"Then whatever it is can wait."

Duncan was in a one-track mind mode, Amanda realized. She knew she could probably cajole him into hopping onto a different track — one that went her way. She'd done precisely that a million times before, but those times hadn't been this one. This time felt like once she stepped off the barge, there would be no turning back. The thought scared her more than she was willing to admit. Still, she tried to assert her independence. "Duncan, ordering me around isn't going to work."

"No?" His voice sparkled with the thought of a challenge.

She glared at him, and she saw from his expression that he realized he had gone too far.

"Amanda, please stay," he pleaded gently. "We haven't celebrated my birthday together in years, and I was looking forward to doing so this year." He followed this up with a series of feather-light kisses along her jaw and neck.

Already warm by desire, she trembled at this new assault.

"I promise," he added, "it'll be worth it." He paused and looked at her with chocolate brown eyes dark with emotion.

She looked back, torn between her conflicting needs.

Like a sculptor, he chiseled into Amanda's determination to leave. "Whatever is driving you away, we can work it out."

"It's not that simple anymore." She pulled away from him and pressed folded arms close to her body. Her stomach was churning, and her soul felt like it had been sliced by a sword. It's not supposed to feel like this. Damn it, why does this have to hurt? I hate pain.

He shook his head. "Maybe not, but we can talk about it. Work on it together. You know we can talk about anything."

Chip, chip. Amanda heard the sound of the pieces of her limestone resolve cracking and falling loud in her head.

Passionately, he added, "If I hurt you, I'm sorry."

Chip, chip. The fissure widened even further as the rate the pieces fell increased.

"I love you. Don't go."

Crash!

She drew a shuddering breath, told herself she was only doing it to stop the hurt, told herself that it would be a nice change to be away from Nick for a few days, and completely ignored the voice that snickered at her self-deception. "I'll stay."

"Amanda, you know you don't have to go." The airport was crowded, but Duncan had eyes only for her, and they were pleading with her to stay. He reached for her, no doubt hoping to seduce her into staying again as he had two days earlier.

Amanda expertly dodged the attempt to pull her closer. She had spent too long with him as it was. Nick was expecting her to be back from Tahiti soon, and it would take several hours just to fly there and back. More importantly, she needed time away from Duncan to be herself, and to simply be.

With him, she had a certain role to play. For as long as she could remember, she seemed to invariably be cast as his chosen damsel in distress to his white knight. While that role had proved handy to her survival, it wasn't entirely how she saw herself. Unfortunately, Duncan did, and expected her to continue that way. In his eyes, she was someone in need of guidance and protection, as if she was some kind of child. He seemed to forget that not only had she survived eight centuries on her own before he was born, but she'd managed quite well without him when they weren't together.

It was true that she'd relied heavily upon him in the past to provide the security of his high morals, his warrior's strength, and his ceaseless affection for her. It was also true that she'd come to him seeking that unconditional reassurance, but in return, he seemed to be wanting more than she could give him.

For the last five years, she had tried stop being a thief, and she had failed miserably. Not that she was miserable at the idea of giving up thievery, but she couldn't quite seem to make ends meet without that occasional influx of petty cash. There had been a time when she could have coaxed him into joining her, but she didn't think that time was now. Not when she was falling in love with someone else, not when she was so unsure of precisely who she was, and definitely not when staying meant living in Duncan's shadow. In his way.

"Duncan, you know I can't stay here," she reminded him gently. Denial and frustration flashed in his face, and she sighed. Stubborn Scot. "Something will happen," she told him, "and you'll want to go charging in to protect me or to stop me from whatever it is I decide to do. Or else someone like O'Rourke will decide to use me as bait." She laid a hand on his chest. "I can't go through that again." She shook her head slowly. I almost lost Nick, and then you go and offer your head to O'Rourke... how much more do you expect my heart to take?

Duncan closed the distance, pulling her in anyway. Pressed close against his sweater-clad chest, she could feel the subtle ripple of his muscles, hear his heart beating, and for one brief moment, she closed her eyes. Love, deep and abiding, swelled up in her. She let the feeling take control, let herself be swept away by the current.

I love you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Do you know how much you make me feel like living forever is not a curse or a gift, but something to simply cherish?

Not for the first time, she cursed Fate for its cruelty. She loved this man like she did no other, but their opposing personalities and the Game made it impossible for her to live with him for an extended period of time. The silence lengthened as they simply drank in the simple embrace that said more than either was willing to say.

How many times had they done this over the centuries? Amanda wondered. By horse, by ship, by train, by bus, now by plane — the aching feeling never changed. And the fear never changed, either, the fear of never seeing the other again. It was deeply buried yet always present, a slow swell of a tsunami that might one day crash onto the shore and wipe out everything they had shared. No, saying good-bye was never easy, and never casual. Maybe that was why she had gotten so good at slipping away instead, and she chided the foolish urge that had prompted her to go this route.

He would always have the best part of her, the part that wanted to be noble and brave and moral and yes, damn it, Duncan's lover, and she loved and resented him for making her see that part of herself. Nick had only brought that fact into sharp relief, and the truth of it hurt.

Why does it feel like I'm going to leave me behind?

Amanda forced her eyes to open in a conscious effort to override that confusing wave of emotion. As another woman would reach into a makeup case for concealer to hide a blemish, she reached for the mask of an easygoing personality that some mistook for shallowness.

"Come now, Duncan, it's not like I won't keep in touch." She smiled flirtatiously, keeping her voice light. "This century's so wonderful for the communication technology. Remember when it took months for a letter to reach someone?"

"Aye," he agreed. His jaw twitched as he realized his accent had slipped through again, and he cleared his throat. "I've gotten used to you being around again."

The memories of the past few years flashed through her mind, a videotape on fast-forward. Silently, she admitted she had gotten used to having him around as well — too used to it, if what Methos had told her about Duncan's willingness to sacrifice himself on her behalf was true. She was glad that she had been unconscious through most of it. She would have yelled at Duncan for sure, or done something rash that probably made things worse. As good as she was planning a heist, she knew she often acted impulsively and without a lot of prior thought.

Still, she'd lived without Duncan for eight centuries before he'd walked into her life. Maybe it was time to get used to that idea again. Even as she thought that, her heart reacted as if someone had stabbed it with a knife, splintering with the pain and trying futilely to pump more blood into an open, sucking chest wound.

God, the way this one man had become entwined in her soul... there was absolutely nothing she wouldn't do for him — lie, cheat, steal, scheme, sell her body, her skills, kill, die for him if need be. Hell, she'd dance naked under the moonlight if that made him happy.

Her lips tugged at the workings of a smile as she remembered that she'd once done exactly that. It faded as she contemplated the man standing before her, his arms holding her as if the most important thing in the world right now was to cling to her. As if clinging to her would somehow prevent her leaving.

He was relatively a child in age to her, but it didn't matter. He had the spirit of a man much older, the ideals of a time long past, an honor she admired, and the romance of a lover beyond compare. She wasn't entirely sure if she'd still be here, standing in the boarding area of a busy airport, had he not been around when she needed a friend the most.

Maybe that was the problem. They were entirely too close, knew too much about each other. He knew all the embarrassing incidents that Amanda sometimes conveniently forgot, sometimes conveniently remembered. The desire would always be there, familiar, warm, secure in the way only old lovers could be, but it wasn't anything new. The flame of their love had endured so much over the centuries, and yet it still burned. She had no doubt that he'd be waiting for her somewhere down the line, somehow knowing she needed him.

That was the way it always had been. She could choose to stay, just like she had before, and they'd go on, but she'd always wonder if she should've been stronger, if she'd given up a piece of herself, if she should've left before her identity was lost. If she hadn't sacrificed a chance at something incredibly haunting with someone else.

The Highlander could be an overwhelming presence, and there were things Amanda wasn't ready to face just yet. His steady love demanded a kind of all-encompassing commitment she could only handle on her terms. She knew he'd never ask her to marry him, though he was a forever kind of guy. Amanda wasn't prepared to give him forever, and she knew instinctively that if she stayed, it would amount to the same thing.

It wouldn't be fair to her attraction to Nick, and it wouldn't be fair to herself. She could easily pretend that her life outside of Duncan didn't exist, that she didn't have responsibilities — or another man — waiting for her. All she had to do was say she'd stay, and she'd live with Duncan on his barge or Seacouver or wherever he wanted to go. Without meaning any harm by it, he'd smother her in kindness and his Highlander honor and his love. All she would have to worry about would be pleasing him. In time, she'd forget about all the confusion the events of that other life had wrought. In time, she'd be so completely drowned by Duncan's good intentions and his expectations that all she was would be defined by him.

The prospect terrified her. She had to leave now, or she'd never come up for air again.

"Stay," Duncan entreated, dropping a kiss just under the curve of her ear, knowing how erotic that was for her.

She drew a quick, trembling breath as the passion, so easily roused with his simple touch, threatened to buckle her knees.

Overhead, the flight attendant announced, "Flight 841 to Tahiti is now boarding. Passengers for Flight 841 should report to Gate 11."

"No," she said resolutely, stepping back. Her back felt suddenly cold without the warmth of his arms to heat it. I'm sorry, darling, but I don't go now, I'll never leave. She ignored the deep pain of their parting, pretended it was a flesh wound, and thought that maybe, just maybe, she could pull this off.

He sighed deeply, and, though his expression clearly said he didn't like it, he let her go. "I'll be waiting for your call." Love, unspoken but not unheard, colored his words.

She smiled, though tears threatened to fall. She didn't quite understand why this good-bye felt more important than all the rest, but she wasn't going to question the sensation that her life was about to irrevocably change. Not now. Later, when she had put some distance between them.

"Don't worry about me, Duncan. I'll be fine." She leaned in close to press one last kiss against his lips, then picked up her carryon bag, and turned to file down the boarding ramp. Please be there for me when I decide to come back, she prayed, whenever that is.

Duncan watched her go. A part of him wanted desperately to pretend that this was just a dream, that she wasn't leaving, and he'd wake up and it would be over. He'd roll over in bed and find her curled up like a cat against him. Then he'd have to figure out just how to turn her so that her face was accessible for his wake-up kiss. He sighed, resigned to the reality. His instincts told him that it was more than the potential liability of her continued presence in his life that worried Amanda, but two days of trying to pry the real reason out hadn't gotten him very far. As a result, he didn't understand why she felt compelled to go, but maybe this was for the best.

Long after she'd disappeared down the boarding ramp, he stayed to watch the plane taxi out to the runway. Intellectually, he knew she was capable of taking care of herself. Emotionally, he wasn't completely sure. No matter how many years or how many other lovers in between, Amanda was the candle in his life. Or was that a firecracker? He half-smiled at the thought. She'd always managed to brighten his life, his lonely nights, and turn his already extraordinary existence into something completely unexpected.

Quietly, he acknowledged the truth in his heart. He loved her. Would always love her. She'd drive him half-mad the next time they met, whenever, wherever that was, but she would make his heart glad. He smiled in rueful anticipation. Until then, he could only do what he'd always done: live, pray that she was safe, and wait. Somewhere, somehow, they'd find their way to each other again.