Disclaimer: Highlander don't belong to me...whimper.
A LESSON LEARNED
Paris, 1999 AD
Joe sat at one of the club’s corner tables, his trained eyes taking in the dancers on the floor. Amanda’s new nightspot was on holy ground and word had got out. What better place for an Immortal to party like it was 1999?
His fingers were tingling, as he resisted the urge to take out his pad and make a few quick notes. He hadn’t known, for instance, that Constantine and Ceirdwyn were that friendly…
His eyes rested on Amanda, flirting with Nick on the dance floor.
“A penny for your thoughts, Joe?”
Joe turned to look at Adrian as he took a seat beside him. The priest had become a regular at his bar since Amanda had introduced them to each other, a few months back. “Do you think it will last?” Joe asked, nodding in the direction of the dance floor.
“You mean Amanda and Nick?” Adrian shrugged. “They’ve seemed to have patched up their differences, but...”
Joe nodded. “Is it affecting his training, you think?”
Adrian laughed. “I doubt it. Amanda can be a slave driver when she wants to be. She got that from Rebecca.”
Joe turned in his seat and eyed Adrian. He had read Adrian’s chronicle, of course, but the early years were a bit patchy. Nothing unusual in that, of course; even nowadays, it took a while for a new Immortal to be identified, and then assigned a watcher. A century before, things were even more tenuous. "You sound as if you’re talking from experience?”
“Who do you think taught me how to use a blade, Joe?” Adrian asked, amused, nodding at Amanda. “Rifles and pistols were the norm for people of my station when I was born, not swords.”
Joe raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you’d participated in the game?”
Adrian shrugged. “I haven’t – but I’m still an Immortal, Joe, and not stupid. Besides, Amanda wouldn’t let me out of her sight until I learned, do you have any idea of how irritating that woman can be, when she sets her mind to it?”
Joe smirked. “A slave driver, huh?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
Normandy, 853 AD
Amanda tried to keep her footing in the snow as Rebecca circled her, but her boots slid as she tried to avoid her jabbing blade. She kept her sword up, but the cold was freezing her fingers, and making her grasp weak.
"And up, and parry, and watch your guard, Amanda," Rebecca said sharply, as she ccored the leather of Amanda's vest. Amanda pulled back, striving to catch her breath; her foot slipped again and Amanda just barely managed to keep from falling.
"My arms are sore," she complained. "Can’t I have a lighter blade? I know you have ‘em."
"I have all sorts of swords, Amanda, of all sizes and shapes, and even weight," Rebecca told her grimly. "But the broadsword is the most common blade in Europe and it is what your opponent will use against you once you leave this place. Even if you decide to use another blade in the future, it is still necessary for you to learn all you can about this one - if only so you may learn how to combat against it."
Amanda pouted. ”But it is cold; I can barely feel my fingers."
"Yes, it is cold, and there is snow on the ground, and tomorrow there may be hail or flood," Rebecca retorted. "Another Immortal will not take pity on you, but see it as a weakness and use it against you - so fight!"
Goaded, Amanda parried and struck, pushing Rebecca’s back. It was a short lived victory, however, as Rebecca twisted her blade and got inside her guard, striking her wrist.
“Better,” Rebecca said. “But you need to do more than just keep my blade from your neck. You need to win, and you need to do it before your opponent wears you down.”
Amanda tried to ignore the stinging pain in her wrist, and the chill that seemed to seep through the thick weave of her tunic, as she looked for a weakness in Rebecca’s defences. “It’s useless,” she grumped. “You’re a better swordswoman than I am, there’s no way I can win.”
“Gods, Amanda, if you think like that, you might as well lie down and accept defeat. You are young, an Immortal for less than a year. Everybody is more practised than you are!” Rebecca abruptly raised her sword “Enough, we are getting nowhere, today. We’ll start afresh tomorrow.”
She sauntered into the bar, a knowing smile on her face, and Joe recognised that glitter in her eyes. She wanted something from him, and it wasn’t something that came in a glass.
“Joe,” she purred, as she slipped onto a bar stool. “Just the person I wish to speak to.”
“How about we cut to the chase, and I just tell you no,” Joe said dryly, as he poured her her customary cup of coffee.
“And if I told you I wasn’t looking for Duncan’s whereabouts?” she asked archly, her lashes lowering as she dropped a sugar cube into the cup and stirred.
“I’d say you were lying,” Joe drawled, as he leaned back onto the counter.
She looked up “Then you’d be wrong,” she said, and gave him a sly smile. “It’s Methos’s number I need, actually”
Joe snorted. “Let me guess, there’s some murder and mayhem on the way, and you feel in need of an accomplice.”
“Not exactly,” she prevaricated. “More like a…patsy.”
It was Joe’s turn to smirk. “What did he do to you?”
“Recently?” Amanda returned. “Actually, he’d been very well behaved, of late. This marker is a little on the ancient side.”
“Oh?” Joe said, and kicked himself as he heard the eagerness dripping off his own voice. Damn it, now she knew she had him. Her smiled widened as he pulled out his cell phone and ran through his contacts list. “This had better be good,” he muttered.
“Oh, it is, Joe,” Amanda purred as she leaned forward in the stool and read the number from the phone. “In fact, I'd advise you to take out your notepad. You’ll want to take notes.”
Amanda anxiously twisted her hands as she raised herself onto the balls of her feet. She searched for the familiar trimming of Rebecca’s shawl, but she couldn’t see her in the market throng. Rebecca had said she would only be a few moments, a quick assignation to agree to a time and place for the challenge, but what if the strange Immortal had decided that he could not wait. What if Rebecca and he had already joined swords?
She felt so useless.
The quiver of an Immortal’s presence ran through her, and she turned on her feet, letting out a harsh breath as she noticed Rebecca hurrying in her direction. “We need to leave,” Rebecca said, catching her elbow and steering them towards the horses.
“But what about the wool we bought?” Amanda protested.
“Eric will arrange transport,” Rebecca said shortly. “We need to get back to hol… to the abbey.”
Amanda felt a chill run up her spine. “Rebecca, what’s wrong? Surely you’re not afraid? You’ve always said that one should meet a challenge head on and—”
“Amanda, please, not now,” Rebecca said, cutting her off as she looked over shoulder, her eyes warily watching the crowd. “We’ll discuss it when we’re safe within the abbey walls.”
“Amanda,” Rebecca stopped, and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to snap, but…” her words drifted off as her eyes lost focus and, a moment later, Amanda felt the presence of the strange Immortal. “Damn it,” Rebecca muttered, as the Immortal stepped from the crowd and gave them a speculative look.
Amanda felt as if someone had splashed cold water on her face as the stranger caught her eyes and smirked. She couldn’t make out the colour of his eyes from this distance, but his hair was dark, and face angular and beardless. In normal circumstances, she would have thought him quite handsome, but this wasn’t normal circumstances. Amanda felt a tug on her arm.
“Come on, Amanda, let’s not give him time to find his horse,” Rebecca said, through gritted teeth, and Amanda let herself be led away. They found the horses, and Amanda hastily raised herself into her saddle, and kept up with Rebecca’s rough pace as they sped through the village gates.
“It’s me, isn’t it?” Amanda called out, over the thunder of hooves on the dirt road. “The challenge was for me, not you.”
Rebecca didn’t answer.
It was answer enough.
Joe raised an eyebrow as Nick slammed through the door and stormed towards him, slapping his hands on the bar counter. “I need your help,” he said.
Joe kept cleaning the glass in his hand. “Coffee, or something a little stronger?” he enquired.
“It didn’t come here for the witty repartee,” Nick growled. “This is important.”
“No, Nick, this is a bar,” Joe countered. “How about you take a seat at the back, and I’ll join you in a minute.” For a moment, Joe was sure that he was going to protest, but Nick paused and noticed the sudden lull permeating the bar.
“I’ll be waiting,” he said, intensity burning in his voice. “But this is urgent, Joe. I think Amanda may be in trouble.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “What’s new, kid—” But Nick was already striding around the tables, in the direction of the booths in the back. Joe sighed; was it his imagination, or did Amanda go for a certain type?
“Tom, keep an eye on the bar, will you?” he said, as he grabbed his laptop from under the bar. Amanda’s little visit, a few days before, had clued him into what Nick had come looking for. He’d been a bit dubious about her reasons, but Nick was her student and Adrian had warned him that she wasn’t exactly conventional in her methods.
“You know this goes against all the rules - yours as well as mine?” he asked, as he lowered himself onto the chair opposite Nick.
“Do I look as if I care?” Nick asked impatiently.
Joe leaned back in his seat, and looked the young Immortal over. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in a few days, which wasn’t surprising, considering what he knew. “Why don’t you tell me what happened, and we’ll take it from there,” he suggested.
In quick, terse words, Nick told him about the strange Immortal that had followed Amanda home, a few nights before, and had been dogging her steps ever since. He would have taken Amanda’s head today, if Nick hadn’t arrived in time and shot him—
“Wait – what?” Joe’s head shot up. “You took his head?” he asked sharply.
“And have Amanda tear my ear off about the rules?” Nick asked, disgust showing in his voice. “It’s stupid; I know it’s stupid, and yet…” He sighed. “And yet those are the rules, one on one, and never on holy ground. Even putting a bullet through him was stretching the rules, according to Amanda.”
“When did this happen?” Joe asked quietly.
“About an hour ago,” Nick said. “Why?”
“Nothing, I just needed a time date to narrow my search,” Joe lied, as he opened his laptop. If the plan had changed, Amanda would have already contacted him by now.
Nick’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the laptop. “How did you know I wanted information about an immortal?” he asked.
“Experience,” Joe said dryly. “So, how about you give me a description?”
“White, athletic build, six foot, maybe six foot one, hazel eyes, no distinguishing marks,” Nick said, leaning forward as Joe tapped the description into the database.
“That’s a lot of detail,” Joe remarked.
“Ex cop, remember?”
“Oh, I do,” Joe said grimly, as he turned the laptop around. “Is this the guy?”
Nick peered at the image on the screen. “That’s the guy,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “This database of yours got an address?”
Amanda sensed Rebecca’s presence before she heard the tread on the stone steps. The cold was bitter, and Amanda grabbed her shawl as she crawled out from under the furs. She made her way to the banked fire. There was barely a glowing ember in the pit, but Amanda tried to coax it back into a flame.
The door opened and Amanda looked up, anxiously examining her teacher's face; she looked weary.
“You’re up,” Rebecca said.
“I felt you coming up the stairs,” Amanda told her.
Rebecca nodded. “And it woke you from your sleep,” she said. “That’s good. It’ll save your life one day.” She sat on edge of the bed and pulled off her boots, sighing with relief as she wriggled her toes.
“Was it bad?” Amanda ventured.
Rebecca shrugged. “It’s never good,” she admitted quietly. “Come and help me with this vest.”
Amanda went to her and pulled at the leather laces of her vest, her fingers numb from the cold. She noticed a tear in the boiled hide and a spotting of blood. “He wounded you,” she said, as she tugged the knots free.
“Nothing that didn’t heal within moments,” Rebecca said, as she shrugged out of the vest and shivered in the chill air. Amanda helped her pull her tunic over her head and then undid the bindings across her chest. Her pale skin pebbled in the cold, and their breaths mingled and clouded the air as Rebecca rested her forehead against Amanda’s.
“Is he dead?” Amanda eventually asked, and Rebecca silently shook her head.
Biting her lip, Amanda reached for the ties on Rebecca’s hose. “He’s not going to go away, is he?” she asked tentatively.
“Let’s not talk about it now. We’ll discuss it later.” She felt Rebecca’s hands pull through her hair, cradling her head as she bent for a kiss. Her lips were cool and soft, and full of promises, and she knew that this was Rebecca’s way of telling her that nothing had changed, that they were as they always were, but Amanda knew better.
Methos was sitting in his chair and rifling through his drawers, when Joe entered his office.
“Did anybody ever tell you it’s impolite to give out another person’s private number?” Methos asked, not even a bit embarrassed to be caught in the act.
“Did anybody ever tell you it was impolite to break into someone’s office?” Joe growled back.
Methos smirked. “I got there first,” he said, and pulled his hand from the bottom drawer, having found his bottle of Glenfiddich. “Ah, I knew you kept it here, somewhere,” he said, complacently.
“As if that were the reason you were searching my desk.”
“Oh, Joe, you wound me,” Methos said, as he produced the two tumbler glasses he kept with the bottle.
“Oh yeah, right, you're a real bleeding heart,” Joe grumped, as Methos poured from the bottle and handed him a glass. “How’s Amanda?”
“The consummate performer, as always,” Methos said mischievously.
“Yeah, I’ve had a visit from Nick,” Joe said dryly. He took a sip from his glass. “It was…interesting.”
“You gave him a name?”
“Smothe,” Joe said.
Methos burst out laughing. “Lets hope the kid doesn’t do crosswords.”
“Either way, I wouldn’t worry,” Joe said dryly. “I don’t think he’s in any mood for word puzzles.”
“No, I suppose he isn’t,” Methos said, as he sobered. “Ah well, off to play my part, I suppose.”
He stood, and Joe eyed the still full glass on the desk. The old man was worried. “Why did you agree to this?” he asked suddenly. “You could have just told her no.”
“Could I have?” Methos shrugged. “Let’s just say I owe her one.”
“Who? Amanda?” Joe asked, startled.
Methos gave him a small smile. “Rebecca.”
Joe watched him leave. “Immortals,” he thought, disgustedly, “Even when they give you answer, it’s still a damned question.”
As quietly as she could – and Amanda could be very quiet – she slipped out of the bed and threw on a robe. The door creaked as she opened it, and Rebecca shifted in her sleep. She froze, holding her breath, and Rebecca sighed and slept on. She closed the door softly behind her.
She took the tower steps downward, and ran to the stables. Her clothing and leathers were waiting for her in the corner, along with her sword. Quickly, she dressed and strapped on the blade, before covering it all with her cloak. Hopefully, if anybody noticed her leaving the Abbey, they will only report that she left by the side gate. If all went well, Rebecca would assume she’d gotten bored of being cooped up, and went out for a ride. Normally, she would have been right.
But not this time.
He was camped out in Bridle Copse. She’d heard Rebecca tell the stable hands to avoid it, at all costs. The copse overlooked the only road that led to the Abbey, and gave good cover for an ambush, which was why Amanda tied her horse off before she came within sensing range, and walked the rest of the way.
But the thing about being an Immortal is that you cannot creep up on your opponent unawares, no matter how stealthy you are. His campfire still had a blaze, but it was deserted. Amanda scowled.
“Why are you hiding?” she called out, as she pulled out her sword. “You came for me, didn’t you?” Well, here I am, come and get me, you dirty bugger!”
“My, my, such language from a lady.” The Immortal stepped out from the trees, and smirked at her.
“I am no lady, you piece of dung,” Amanda snapped. “And you’re definitely not a lord. C’mon, then, let’s have at it!” She squared he shoulders, and he laughed.
He laughed at her.
“I see Rebecca has found herself a real sewer rat. This should be interesting,” he said, as he raised his sword. Amanda looked it over; not a broadsword, not a longsword…ah, Rebecca had told her about these blades. She called it a bastard blade – which said a lot about it’s owner.
“I’ll show you interesting!” she said lowly, adrenaline and fear rushed through her as she jumped over the fire and darted to his side. The stranger was stronger than she was, but she was betting her life she was nimbler.
He swerved and caught her blade, as she attempted to cut into his side. “Cheeky,” he said, with a cold smile.
“I’ll show you cheek,” she said, as she kicked at the fire, sending ash and embers onto his clothing and and into face. He cried out and stumbled back, dropping his sword as he pawed at his eyes, and Amanda leaped forward, sword fell high. “I’ll teach you to come after Rebecca, you dirty—“
The dagger ripped though her chest, and the agony was too much for words. Her knees buckled, and the stranger looked down at her, almost with sympathy. “Not bad, for a first attempt,” he said quietly. “You’ll go far.”
And Amanda died.
She was on the stage, tinkling at his piano, when he unlocked the door.
“I let myself in,” she said lightly. The random notes coalesced, and Chopin’s Nocturne, in E minor, filled the empty bar. Amanda was very accomplished player. It didn’t surprise him.
“How’s Nick?” he asked, as the piece played out.
“Angry, not speaking to me,” she said, with a small shrug. “It’s to be expected. I was the same.”
“Then why did you do it?” Joe asked. “You know Nick doesn’t forgive easily, he may never speak to you again.”
Amanda did a quick run of the scales along the piano, and then stopped abruptly. “Because some lessons can’t be learned by rote, Joe,” she said quietly. “Some you have to learn from experience. He’s surprisingly good with a sword, but he still thinks like a mortal, like a cop.” Her lips flattened together, and Joe saw a flash of genuine sadness on her face. “He needed to make that decision, to go after an Immortal with the intention of taking his head. It’s not a pleasant lesson to learn; no one likes to be that well acquainted with the killer inside.”
Her fingers slammed onto the piano’s keys, and Joe became a silent audience, as he learned how Bach sounded, when played at a Jazz tempo by an angry Immortal.
A wren’s song was what brought Amanda awake. She opened her eyes and looked at the bare branches above. A familiar smell caught her attention, and Amanda frowned as she sniffed the air.
“You’re awake, good,” Rebecca's voice said. “I thought I might have to eat this rabbit by myself.”
The memories flooded back, and Amanda scrambled to her feet and stared at Rebecca, who was hunkered down over the fire. “The stranger, he was here.” Her hands went the torn leather on her chest, and the dried blood. “Why didn’t he take my head? I was dead, easy meat.”
And Rebecca looked up at her, and Amanda saw the grief on her face. “Oh, my darling Amanda, I’m so sorry, but there was one last lesson to learn, and I think you’ve learned it well.”
“But…but…I don’t understand.”
And then Amanda saw the full packs at Rebecca’s side, and the piece of crystal in her hand, and she knew.
Their time together was at an end.
Joe bit his lip, as he looked at the computer screen and read back what he wrote. At first, he had been determined to report Amanda's little test in loving detail, thinking it might give a good insight into the Immortal's teacher student relationship, but then…
November 23rd, 1999
Request for a new watcher.
Assignment: Nick Wolfe.
Details: Amanda Darieux’s mentoring of the new Immortal, Nick Wolfe, has come to a close. Information indicates she believes she has taught him all she has to teach, and it’s time for him to strike out on his own.
Joe leaned back, and pressed the send button. It was enough. Some things were just too private to share.
FICTION : BUFFY/ANGEL
FICTION : CROSSOVER
FICTION : E-MAIL ME