All this time she had known, and said nothing.
Now everything that had happened in the past year was suspect. Nick didn't know if he was angrier with Amanda for withholding the truth, or with the fact that he was now irrevocably Immortal. Either way, he felt screwed. It wasn't a feeling he tolerated for very long, and having to deal with it left a sour taste in his mouth. He hadn't asked for this, had pretty much decided that he didn't want to be Immortal, and yet here he was.
Even now, Nick couldn't say what exactly had made him stay around Amanda. Life around her was one endless stream of half-truths, old friends, intrigue, and the constant threat of danger. Only a fool would willingly commit himself to a relationship that fraught with jeopardy. Yet Nick had never been one to shy away from risk. Nor had he ever been one to disregard his heart. He'd tried, only to find that his feelings ran too deep to be ignored. Seeing Lauren again had only served to prove that in spades.
He knew he'd fallen hard for Amanda. He'd tried to tell himself that it was simply proximity that made him feel that way, but he knew it was more than that. He'd felt the connection down to his soul, and it had knocked him almost senseless. He wasn't supposed to have felt that way about someone who regularly flouted the law. Nevertheless, the more he learned about Amanda, the stronger the love became, until he wasn't sure just how he would live without her. He'd thought that he could be content to just be friends with her, but now he realized he'd been lying to himself.
To put it simply, his heart hurt.
Already aching from the loss of his beloved Lauren, Nick felt like he had ripped the scab off of the wound and plunged a knife into it just to make sure it was still bleeding. Part of him regretted the turning away. His heart screamed at him, with the force of a storm wind, to just walk down the stairs of the cheap hotel where he was currently staying, and take a taxi back to Sanctuary. He was a fool to just abandon Amanda, the one person who could teach him to fight with a sword, who would understand when he'd rather use his gun instead of said sword, who had taken his heart when he'd least expected it.
He wondered if Father Liam would teach him, and doubted it. Father Liam did his best to stay on Amanda's good side, Nick knew, if only because Amanda was so generous in her contributions to the church. Moreover, Liam was a pacifist; Amanda's battle on his behalf demonstrated clearly that Liam wasn't one to wield a sword. That left... no one Nick knew.
"Damn it, I never asked for this!" he swore.
He sighed, and stared at the wall, unseeing. He had to find a way to move on, to make a life for himself, to separate himself from the life he'd shared with Amanda, if only to gain some distance. From some of the conversations he'd had with Father Liam and Amanda, Nick got the impression that he was better off than most others in his position. He knew the rules of the Game, he knew what a Quickening looked like, he even knew about the Watchers. He would figure the rest out eventually.
In his wildest dreams, Nick knew he could have never imagined the reality that now lay ahead of him. Had it only been a few weeks ago that he'd used a sword to behead someone, not knowing just how prophetic that action would be? He'd been so consumed by vengeance for the ex-wife he still loved that all he could think about was Julian Heller's death. Sitting in the rented room, he stared at his hands as if he had never seen them before.
A part of him wanted to rage, wanted to scream against the destiny he'd been given. He hadn't lied to Lauren when he'd said that his relationship with Amanda was more complicated than it had appeared. His life had literally never been the same from the moment he'd chased the master thief, thinking that she was just another criminal. He'd long since gotten past his sense of having stepped through a rabbit hole into a world he hadn't known existed, but the boundary lines of that wonderland had shifted again, and he hated feeling lost, out of control.
He closed his eyes and shuddered, thinking back over the past several months. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He was supposed to have lived out a normal life as a cop. That had been pretty simple: someone broke the law, he investigated the evidence, and then arrested that person.
Meeting Amanda had changed his life in ways he hadn't anticipated, forcing him to accept his new life as an ex-cop in love with an Immortal thief. He'd gotten used to his life crossing paths with people she'd known. He'd accepted the need for swords, secrecy, beheadings, freak lightning, and people pulling Lazarus-like feats. That had been a bit harder for him to come to terms with, but he hadn't been able to deny the facts he'd witnessed or the amount of evidence that had come his way.
Now he was supposed to accept that he was an Immortal ex-cop in love with the Immortal thief who'd killed him. 'Complicated' didn't begin to cover the mess his life was now.
Everything he had known had been defined by a set of rules he thought he'd understood. The Game was something Amanda was a part of. He had interfered enough to know that he had, through his actions, become a target in that Game. He just never suspected that he would be forced to be an active player. It had been one thing when his assignments for Bert crossed paths with Immortals Amanda had known, or when a friend of Nick's needed help that ended up involving an Immortal. But to be a direct part of the Game...to have to kill to survive...it all seemed wrong somehow.
He'd never dreamed that getting the truth from Amanda would be so painful. He'd never wanted to know about Immortality, not like this, not this intimately. No, he'd wanted to know it as much as he did the American Indian myth of the Raven...something that he'd found fascinating, but never imagined that he would be living it.
He wanted to refuse the new life he'd been given. Everything he'd seen about Immortal life involved deep pain and lies. He'd felt sorry for Amanda, having to live with one eye out for someone who wanted her Quickening. He'd been moved to protect her, even avenge her when he'd believed her to be dead, but he hadn't imagined that he might be among those with the potential to be in the awful holocaust she'd called the Gathering. He'd wondered how she'd managed to have Immortal friends at all; all that he'd seen hadn't been exemplary models of behavior. Even Father Liam wasn't a saint. Still, Immortality had been remote in the way that he'd always had the option of shelving it under "Amanda's Immortal business", and not letting it affect his life.
She'd known from the start just what he'd become. She'd tried, over and over, to shield him from it, but once he'd known about Immortality, he'd been all too eager to prove that it didn't matter. He'd been more concerned about justice than destiny, more intent on completing the assignments he'd been given than whether or not his life might be at stake. With blissful ignorance of the secret Amanda had been keeping, he'd rushed headlong into danger, all too willing to risk death. He'd brushed her concern aside as just her attempts to protect her past, never really understanding just how she'd been caught between him and that past. He'd never understood that there had been more at stake than protecting the secret of Immortality. Now, in hindsight, he realized that she'd been trying to protect him from becoming Immortal. There were things he wanted to ask, things he wanted to say, but he didn't trust himself with her.
It would be far too easy to go back to her now. Amanda had the charm to spare, and he could hold his own with her up to a certain point. He was sure that, given the way he was feeling now, it wouldn't take much to convince him to stay. He clenched his hands into fists at the thought.
Damn it, I am not that weak!! I don't need Amanda to survive.
His heart scoffed in response.
The only option that offered even a semblance of peace was living on Holy Ground. That had been precisely what he'd been doing ever since his arrival in Paris, and Nick wasn't entirely certain that was any way to live. Moreover, Nick wanted to stay angry with Amanda for withholding the truth from him. He wanted to live out his life the way he'd thought it would go.
Quoth the Raven, nevermore, he thought sardonically.
With a deep sigh, he rose to his feet and crossed the short distance to the dresser. He stared at his reflection a long moment before picking up the jacket he'd tossed there. He had a new life to start, and he couldn't change what had already happened.
He knew, though, that he wouldn't forget Amanda. Not for a very long time to come. He wondered, not completely facetiously, if she would haunt his dreams as well.
Maybe in time, I'll be back, and she and I can act like reasonable adults about this.
He shut his mind to the possibility of opening up that dialogue in the near future.
"How can we, when there can only be one?" he asked his reflection.
I need to go away, just get the hell away from here. Even knowing what I know, or maybe because I know what I know, I still have so much to figure out. I can't do that here; there are too many reminders of what cannot be.
Tossing on his jacket, for it was a damp, foggy day, he walked out of the hotel room.
Still, his heart whispered out a lonely cry. Amanda, I love you.
Across town, Amanda sat at the bar in Sanctuary, trying desperately to pretend that her life hadn't fallen apart. Again. She was half-tempted to run away, like she had countless times before when things hadn't gone her way. This time, however, was different.
Face it, Amanda, you screwed up.
She still saw Nick's blue eyes the moment he realized the impact of his reawakening. It was a look she knew she'd never forget. She had wanted so much to run after him, to explain that they still could be together. Yet her courage had failed her. The look he'd given her had speared her heart as surely as a sword. She couldn't put into words just how she felt; she only knew that it hurt, and she could only hope that in time, she'd find a measure of peace.
When she'd met him all those months ago, she'd been caught by the strength she'd glimpsed in him. Oh, sure, the fact that he was Pre-Immortal then had captured her attention, but she'd met many over the years, and not all of them had fascinated her the way Nick had. He had a deep sense of who he was, where he was going, and how he was going to get there. Amanda knew, though, that the qualities that she found intriguing in Nick were more than that. He'd gotten under her skin in a short amount of time, and there was little she could do to change that now.
The largely unspoken attraction had matured into something deeper as time had gone on; and Amanda had tried to tell herself to be content with Nick's friendship. Tried to tell herself that it was better to not carry the lust to its logical conclusion, for fear of Nick leaving when he became Immortal.
It had happened anyway.
And now she was left with regret.
She sighed, ducking her head and running a hand through her short-cropped hair.
Maybe a vacation was what she needed. She could leave the running of the bar to her more than capable assistant manager, then call her travel agent and within a few hours, Amanda could be sipping margaritas on a cozy little beach somewhere. Or she could call any number of friends who would be more than happy to serve as her distractions for the foreseeable future. Still, she made no move towards the telephone, rooted to the bar stool by the sweeping sense of remorse.
It was too late to change anything. She was condemned to live with the consequences of her actions, and this particular result hurt worse than when she'd discovered she'd been responsible for the deaths of a battalion of men. This was infinitely more personal. She'd killed Nick in a twisted attempt to save his life. He'd been less than happy with the outcome of that grand experiment. Admittedly, it had been a desperate measure, one based on Amanda's understanding of Immortality, but she'd thought she'd made the right decision. While she still felt it had been the right one, she felt as abandoned as if he'd died.
She closed her eyes. Oh Nick, I never thought you'd walk away from me, not after all we've been through.
Like a slide show, the pictures of moments she'd spent with Nick clicked through her head. And with every image, she saw his blue eyes staring at her, sometimes stunned, sometimes annoyed, sometimes angry, always a barometer of his mood. She'd thought she'd gotten to know him well, but this decision of his had thrown her for a loop. She'd been afraid that he'd leave her if they'd acted upon their mutual attraction and he became Immortal. Somehow, she'd never anticipated that he'd simply leave her once he became Immortal, whether or not they were lovers. She'd assumed that he would be happy to be alive, instead of dead from poison, but clearly, she hadn't really understood him at all.
How could I have miscalculated so badly? She shook her head. Face it, Amanda, you weren't thinking. How is it that you can break into the safest bank in the city and be so completely hopeless when it comes to the people you love? Haven't you learned anything at all in all the years you've been alive?
She sighed again and snorted. "Apparently not," she observed.
She wondered if she'd ever see Nick again. In her heart, she hoped so. He'd touched a part of her that she rarely chose to show. She preferred to go merrily through life without a care, but he had reawakened her conscience in a huge way. She would never be the same for his presence in her life. She'd been lost without a purpose, bored by the familiar routine of her life, and then he'd walked in. Nothing had been the same since.
All those months ago, life had looked fairly straightforward. Fly back to her old stomping grounds, spend a few months in Lucy's company, steal a jewel or two here and there. Unexciting, perhaps even routine, but there hadn't been as many old friends and enemies crawling out of the proverbial woodwork then.
When did I become the pin-up girl for headhunters? Amanda thought with irritation. I thought I left Paris to get away from all the danger that Mac lived in, not plunge right back into it with me as the target instead of Mac. She rose to her feet restlessly, and hugged herself.
No, that's not quite true, she reminded herself. You had some old grudges to settle, and Fate just provided a way for you to settle them.
Even as she told herself that, she knew she would've been perfectly happy to let those old grudges pass by for a couple more centuries. If Nick hadn't been around, so willing to throw his mortal life away, then Amanda might not have gotten as involved. Though she'd known he'd become Immortal, she hadn't wanted him to become one too soon. She'd been so wrapped up in that desire, that fear that he would be taken from her forever, that she'd been too quick to discard all the variables in the equation. Selfishly, she'd wanted to spare Nick the suffering of a lingering death. As a result, all the love she felt for him had gone straight to her head and clouded her judgment.
She knew there wasn't any way to go back and change the decision she'd made. Nick wasn't supposed to have walked away like he had, and she'd counted on their friendship to endure. Now, that friendship was lost, and whatever relationship they could've had beyond that would, in all likelihood, never happen. All that was left was for her to pick of the pieces and survive as she always had. Yet she couldn't stop wishing she could turn back time.
"Fool," she chided herself.
Heaving a sigh, she decided it was time to go and cheer herself up. She could always use a new stash of rainy day jewels.
She ignored the mental voice that demanded to know why she was considering a heist when she'd decided to go straight. It sounded suspiciously like Nick's.
In frustration, she banged a hand on the bar.
Will I hear his voice every time I think about stealing now? she wondered.
She knew she could play their final scene over and over in her head, and it wouldn't change a damn thing. She'd still be as alone as she was now, standing in an empty bar when she could be lost in a crowd somewhere, her carefree mask in place. She knew she could lose herself in the pretending, forget for a while about the pain in her soul. She'd gotten extremely good at doing exactly that over the centuries. It had gotten her through similar sorrows, and would probably serve her well again.
She thought about the words he'd said, and the memory of that brought a fresh wave of pain. Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to run away, to steal something, to call up her best friend and cry on his shoulder, but she knew those were just temporary distractions from the heartache she was experiencing. All she could do was wait, and maybe in time Nick's feelings would change.
Amanda moved away from the bar and stared at the door. As she did so, she fingered the crystal around her neck, lost in unconscious thought. She shook her head as she realized she was willing the door to open and for Nick to walk through in that quick, ground-eating pace of his. Though she believed magic existed, she knew she didn't have the power to will anyone to her. She couldn't help praying for divine intervention, though.
Can't hurt, she thought with a half-smile.
She sighed deeply and glanced at her watch. With a start, she realized she'd whiled away the afternoon lost in introspection, and that she had to get ready to open the club. Wherever Nick had gone to, she would be here for him, whenever he was ready to come to her. She wouldn't forget him, or anything that had happened between them; that wasn't plausible, given the way she felt about him. Life, however, demanded that she move on, and she'd never been one to resist the pull of that particular wind when it was blowing in her direction.
And if she missed the man who'd helped steer her boat onto a new course, she wasn't going to admit that aloud.
— Finis — -