Chapter Eleven

Los Angeles, Summer 2003

Not trusting himself to speak, Methos kept his mouth shut as they crossed the car park. How the hell did the Highlander put up with this? He’d have strangled her centuries ago. Grimly, he unlocked the car, and silently gestured to her to get in.

“It’s not my fault!” The words tumbled out of Amanda’s mouth the moment the doors were shut

“It never is, Amanda,” Methos sniped, starting up the engine. “Yet somehow you always end up in the thick of it. I needed help, woman, not more trouble heaped onto my plate.”

“How was I to know he’d be in town?” Amanda protested. “The man hasn’t left Milan in over three centuries.”

“What the hell did you do to him? Three centuries is a long time to hold a grudge.”

“I…I was there to retrieve something,” she admitted. “But it’s not what you think.”

Methos’s grip tightened on the wheel. “It better not be, Amanda. I’d hate to think I’m risking my head because you couldn’t keep your sticky fingers to yourself.”

“I knew you’d react this way.”

“React like what, Amanda?” Methos shot back. “Like someone who’s been dropped in it by someone he foolishly thought he could trust?”

“I didn’t mean to,” Amanda said. “The words just slipped out.”

Methos kept his eyes on the road as he tried to rein in his temper. “How about you just tell me what happened?” he bit out. He heard Amanda take a deep breath beside him.

“Did you know he was one of Rebecca’s students?” She asked quietly.

Startled, he shot a look at her. “I though you were the only one left.”

“The only one with whom she entrusted a piece of the stone, yes,” Amanda said. “But there were others, the ones she considered her failures.”

Methos’s heart sunk. Rebecca had been a tenacious teacher, for her to give up on a student… “Tell me more.”

Amanda sighed, leaning back in her seat. “He was an Tuscan nobleman,” she said. “The DeLongis weren’t the most powerful family in Milan, but they were distant relatives to the Borgias in Florence, which meant a lot in those days, if you remember.”

Methos nodded. The Borgia’s family name still lived on in the history books, famous for their wealth and power…or infamous, it depended on the way you looked at it.

“He died in a duel,” Amanda went on. “Some silly little thing involving a courtesan’s favours. I can’t remember the details, but they aren’t really important, I suppose. Rebecca found him, drunk as a skunk, in one of the sailor taverns in Florence. Apparently, he had been stupid enough to go home after his death had already been reported. They sent a lynch mob after him, and he was lucky to escape the city without dying a second time.”

Methos winced. “Doesn’t sound pleasant.”

“No, I suppose it wasn’t,” Amanda admitted. “Anyway, Rebecca took pity on him, and convinced him to travel to Normandy with her. He stayed with her for three years; Rebecca said he had a lot of aptitude. She had never seen a student so eager to learn. Unfortunately, she hadn’t realised his motives at the time.”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Well, I did warn you,” Amanda said, dryly.

Methos rolled his eyes. “Go on.”

“The thing you have to understand about Arturo,” Amanda told him. “Is that his death scarred him permanently. Before his death he was an aristocrat, a man of power and respect. He’d spent his entire life believing that his position in life was unassailable, that he was unassailable, so when his family turned on him…he didn’t take it very well.”

“What happened, Amanda?”

“After his training was complete, Rebecca gave him one of the shards and sent him on his way, she never saw it coming. He was so polite, so deferential, there wasn’t a hint of his intentions,” said Amanda. “The first thing he did was return to Milan. Apparently, he just strolled into his family’s home and slaughtered them, every single one. Not even the children escaped.”

Methos’s eyes widened. “What did Rebecca do?”

“You remember what communications were like in those day, Methos. She didn’t even know what had happened until a decade later. She was furious, to say the least.” Amanda moved restlessly in her seat. “The first thing she did, of course, was hop onto the first ship to Italy. Arturo wasn’t stupid, however, he had been expecting that; which is why, when she tried to gain entrance to his Palazzo, she got a nasty surprise.”

Methos raised an eyebrow; it took a lot to surprise Rebecca. The unflappable Mycean had been over three thousand years old when she died, and she’d had the experience to prove it. “What did he do?”

“He used magic, mortal magic,” Amanda told him, studying his face.

Methos took a deep breath. “Go on.”

“What, no denials? I’m astonished.”

“Let’s just say I’ve been having a crash course, the last few days, and leave it at that, shall we?”

“Tara eventually opened up, didn’t she?”

Methos stared at her “You knew?”

“I knew,” Amanda admitted. “She asked me a lot of questions about the subject a few months ago, and I managed to drag it out of her. The poor girl didn’t know what had happened to her.”

“What did happen?”

“I don’t really know, to tell the truth. Rebecca once mentioned that it had something to do with energy flows. The power tends to flow into different abilities after your first death… heightened empathy, the ability to influence another’s thoughts - some immortals even develop an aptitude for illusion,”

Methos’s mind flitted to Cassandra. “I see…but if this is true, how was Arturo able to utilise mortal magic?”

“There are ways to get around the block, apparently, but Rebecca shied away from them; she said it involved the deepest black magic.”

“Arturo doesn’t seem to suffer from the same sensibilities,” Methos mused aloud.

“No, he really doesn’t,” Amanda agreed. “His entire house was caught in the web of a protection spell that automatically released a rather nasty demon the moment a strange Immortal crossed his threshold. She was lucky to escape with her life.”

“So how did you enter the picture? Surely she didn’t expect you to kill him?”

Amanda shuddered. “Are you kidding? With his power, he’d eat me alive. You’d have to be crazy to challenge him.” Methos threw her a look. “Oh, yes… did I mention that I was really sorry about that?”

“Just finish the story, Amanda,”

“She needed to get back the Methuselah shard she’d given him, and I was perfect candidate to get it.”

“Let me get this straight. Rebecca asked you to steal it?”

Retrieve it,” Amanda countered, scowling. “There’s a difference.”

“I don’t understand…surely Arturo knew you were Rebecca’s student.”

“Oh, he did,” Amanda said, smugly. “He also knew I was a liar and a thief. A bad reputation can come in handy, sometimes. So when I visited Milan and caught his eye, I made sure I already had a believable story set up. You should have seen me, darling; it was the performance of a lifetime! Oh, oh, poor me…my mentor doesn’t understand me and has cast me out from the fold…oh, oh!

Methos laughed, despite himself. “You’re incorrigible, do you know that?”

“It’s one of my more attractive traits,” Amanda drawled. “Anyway, a few months down the line, he’d ensconced me in his house, and was introducing me as his wife. Not the most pleasant period of my life, but I grinned and endured it. It took me two months to find the spot he stashed it. Needless to say, I hightailed it out of there, the moment I found it. Some of the rooms in his Palazzo still give me nightmares…I did mention the black magic, didn’t I?”

Yes, I believe we covered the subject,” Methos said dryly.

“Is this the moment when I tell you how very, very sorry I am again? Because I am, you know. You can’t go through with the challenge of course, you wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Methos said, amusement colouring his voice. “I do believe there is a certain red-headed witch that owes me an apology and a favour.”

“Is there indeed?” Amanda gave him a considering look. “And who would that be?”

“Willow Rosenburg.”

Paris, Spring of 2003

“You look like shit, old man,” Joe observed as Methos flopped onto the barstool.

“Gee, thanks, Joe,” Methos said, smirking. “Glad to see you’re so concerned about my looks.”

Joe shrugged. “Just saying,” he said. “What will it be, the usual?

“Please, it’s been a long day.”

Joe looked at him sharply. “Another one of those crazy ‘Bringer’ guys?”

Methos nodded, leaning on the counter. “Yeah.”

“How many does that make it, three, four?”

“Make that five, they’re starting to come in pairs.”

“Man, they’re really piling up, aren’t they?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Methos asked, sharply,

“Relax, I’m not judging you. I’d probably do the same thing if I was in your position.”

Methos slumped in his seat. “Sorry, Joe, guess I’m feeling a bit touchy at the moment.”

“No leads on why they want her dead so badly?” Joe enquired, handing him the beer bottle before grabbing one for himself.

“Nothing other than what Tara told me; that they’re the same things that attacked the girl in the alley,” Methos grumbled.

“You still think she’s holding back?”

I know she’s holding back, Joe. I’m just not sure what she’s keeping from me.” Methos took a gulp from the bottle. “Ah, that’s better.”

“You know, maybe you should sit her down and ask her tell you a little more about her life before she died. It might shed a bit of light, make her open up a bit.”

Methos grimaced. “Not a good, idea, Joe,” he said. “She’s been dwelling on Sunnydale too much as it is, recently.”

“Really?” Joe asked. “Maybe she’s trying to tell you something.”

“You mean, other than the fact she misses her old life?” Methos shook his head. “Leave it alone, Joe.”

“So, if you’re not here to talk, why are you here, then?” Joe asked.

“Maybe I just needed a beer?”

“Yeah, right! I haven’t seen you this stressed out since that Ahriman incident.”

“You had to bring that up, didn’t you?” Methos muttered.

“I’m just saying that the world isn’t always as it seems, Methos. You know, what they say, “There are more things on Heaven an Earth than are…”

“…dreamed of, in your philosophy,” Methos finished, irritably. “I think things are bad enough without dragging old Bill into it, don’t you? He was a boring old fart, anyway. Marlowe was a lot more fun.”

“Really?” Joe asked, perking up. “Why? What did he say…aw shit! You trying to distract me, aren’t you? Well it ain’t gonna work, buster! You need to start listening to Tara, instead of just telling her what to do. She may be a kid, in your eyes, but she’s more than able to make her own decisions.”

“And what if she gets hurt, Joe?” Methos asked, toying with the bottle. “What then?”

“Let’s put it this way, old man, how long can keep this up? You can’t be by her side twenty four seven. Sooner or later they’re going to catch her off guard, and you won’t be there to help.”

Methos eyed the old blues man. “Mortals aren’t supposed to be this smart, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I guess it comes with the grey beard. Talk to her, Methos, asks her what she wants to do.

Los Angeles, Summer of 2003

“Doesn’t look like he’s here, luv,” Spike said, as they entered the hotel suite.

“I realise that, Spike,” Tara said, homing in on the coffee table, and the notepad placed upon it. Where was he? Had Arturo already got to him?

“Oh, right, that ‘buzz’ thing you were telling me about,” Spike muttered. “Must come in handy, that.”

“Um? Oh…yes,” Tara answered, her eyes scanning the notebook.

“What’s that?” he asked, looking over her shoulder.

“Flight details,” She said, shortly.

“He’s leaving? Funny, I didn’t think he’d do that.”

“No, these are arrival times.” Tara frowned puzzled. “Although who—“ The buzz crawled up her spine, and she straightened. “We’ve got company,” she said, pulling out her sword.

“Bloody hell!” Spike eyed the blade. “You really do carry one of those around in your coat.”

“It’s a thing…besides, you’re one to talk”

“Hey, Fists and fangs, that’s me!” Spike protested. “I don’t need any other weapons.”

“Wasn’t that the line you used on Buffy?”

“The bloody woman really did tell you everything, didn’t she?” he complained. “What else did she spill?”

Tara smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Spike groaned. “Women.”

“Oh, stop protesting so much,” Tara said, snorting. “I know very well that you’re secretly pleased Buffy gossiped so much about you; makes you feel all special.”

“I’m am not—“

A knock on the door, punctured his bluster, and Tara felt the tension fall from her shoulders as Adam’s dry voice wafted through the door. “Tara? “

“Adam!” she cried out, pulling the door open. “Where were… Amanda?”

“Hello sweetie,” Amanda said, hugging her. “How are you?”

“Better now that you’re here,” she said, pulling Adam into the hug too.

“My, my,” Adam drawled. “Last time we met, you were ready to thwack me. What happened?”

“Arturo DeLongi, that’s what happened, mate,” Spike drawled, from inside the room

Adam’s eyes narrowed. “He didn’t try to hurt you, did he?”

“What? No! It was you he was after, not me… but don’t worry; it’s all a misunderstanding. I’ll get it cleared up.”

“Tara, listen to me,” Adam said, suddenly serious. “You’re not to approach DeLongi, under any circumstances.”

“But you don’t understand—“

“No, Tara, it’s you who doesn’t understand. DeLongi and I have already met, and it didn’t go too well. He made certain…threats.”

Tara’s mouth went dry as she caught the expression on Amanda’s face. “What happened, Adam? Oh Goddess, he didn’t challenge you, did he?”

“Let’s all sit down, shall we,” Amanda said, covering the resulting silence. “I don’t think you’ll want to be standing up for this

Tara carefully examined Adams’ expression as he brushed past her into the suite. They had been through some sticky times over the last few months, but she’d never seen him looking so…so…grim.

“Sit down, Tara,” Amanda reminded her gently, nudging her back into the room.

Not knowing what else to do, Tara silently obeyed, perching on the edge of the armchair as she searched their faces “So, which one of you is going to tell me the bad news?”

“Amanda, I think the honour should be yours,” Adam said, dryly.

“Very well.” Amanda pulled a face and launched into her story, explaining how she and Arturo had first met. Numbly, Tara slid into the armchair when Amanda finished recounting her history with DeLongi. How they hell did he mange to keep this a secret from Buffy?”

“Buffy always did have a blind spot when it came to her lovers, Glinda,” Spike said, as if he knew what she was thinking. “She went out with me, remember?”

“That’s different,” Tara said, frowning at him.

“They didn’t call me William the bloody for nothing, luv. It was a name well earned,” Spike reminded her. “I may have a soul now, but I didn’t when we were lovers. Sometimes, the Slayer doesn’t see what’s in front of her face…she doesn’t want to see it.”

Tara shook her head in bewilderment. “Black magic? Are you sure?” she asked, turning to Amanda.

“As positive as I can be,” the Immortal said. “I’m afraid I don’t know as much about it as my teacher did. I never had the gift for magic, you see.”

Tara nodded. “Well, there’s nothing for it,” she said. “We’ll have to confront him. Force him to the tell the truth.”

“Hold on there, Sundance,” Adam drawled. “Don’t you think it would be best if we had a plan in place before we go charging after him?”

“Why? Do you have something in mind?”

Adam’s eyes glinted. “As a matter of fact, I do.” .