|The Age of Chivalry
by Maxine Mayer
I carefully scrambled the eggs in my favorite iron pan - an even dozen should do it - putting the spatula aside for a second to add a soupcon of milk and a few pieces of cream cheese. A final touch - chives chopped as fine as I could make them, fine indeed, considering my skill with a knife. I smiled when I adverted to the implications. What a use for my fifty centuries of experience - I do make a great plate of scrambled eggs!
"Ready, cherry blossom?" I asked my companion, the drooping blossom Amanda, who sat at my Paris apartment kitchen table in a blue funk, depressed by the latest developments in our hopefully unending saga. At least, that saga'd been going on for more than eight hundred years, three-quarters of her life thus far! What's a small affair in light of that? I mused.
"Hmm. Sure. Smells good," Amanda replied, rousing herself sufficiently to say something polite and bland. "Thanks, Methos." She dug into the eggs with her natural appetite intact. Like me, Amanda's instincts for survival are the essence of her being - she eats like a horse, when food's available. She satisfies her other physical needs with the same healthy abandon, when she can. It's an Immortal thing. An Old Immortal thing. Those among our Kind who can't do that don't live long enough to tell the tale.
Wiping her plate clean with the last chunk of hot garlic bread I'd served, while I was still chomping away slowly, Amanda said, "I might as well tell you, Methos, I don't think you and Duncan are good for each other. I think you'll drive each other nuts, in time. Not such a long time, either. You're simply - too different - to make a go of it."
"I know." I shrugged, putting down my fork, the weight of my knowledge making me lose my appetite, again. I stay pretty slim, not out of conviction or diet. I simply eat less than most people and burn off what I do eat pretty quickly. "And you know, there's nothing to be done for it but wait. You can wait, Amanda. I'm sorry this cuts into your sybaritic lifestyle. But facts are facts. Duncan and I are together now. How long it'll last is anybody's guess. But it's not up to you. You've gotta wait."
She was exasperated. "I just don't understand it, Methos! What do you see in him? What does he see in you? Neither of you like men - you both adore women! For that matter, you both adore me! For cripes sake, you're breast men!" She narrowed her eyes. "Why are you doing this, Methos? Is this payback for something I did to you in the dim dark past?"
"No. Of course not. Not for anything recent, either." I got up and took our plates to the sink, scraped them into the garbage, and ran hot water over them. "It's not anything that lends itself to rational explanations, blossom. It simply happened."
"What happened? What on earth happened, Methos?"
"We - fell in love. I think - the moment we set eyes on one another." I shrugged. "It's been growing ever since. I didn't know. Mac didn't know. Then, all at once, we knew."
"You didn't need to act on it, damn you! Duncan and I were lovers! Where was your sense of honor!"
"Honor? Ask your friend, Amanda! I was perfectly happy basking in his presence, saving his hide, taking his bullshit, giving him advice, acting the fool. He's the one who made things happen - 'acted' on it - not me! You didn't expect me to turn him away, did you?"
She shook her head. "No. You couldn't have done that. What would've been the point? If you had, he'd have kept coming at you until you gave in. When he wants something, he goes after it."
"Bloody annoying, that," I said of MacLeod - not for the first time - grinning.
Amanda grinned back. "Bloody," she said, nodding her head in agreement. "But sweet."
Then she sogged back down into her blue funk again, just when I thought we had everything straightened out to both our satisfactions.
"Is there something you're not telling me, Amanda?" I asked. She's an artist at concealment, as am I. We've both lived long enough to know how to hide what we think and feel, having needed to do so very often over the centuries. And we both believe secrecy is the "secret" of our survival. "We've been friends a long time, Amanda. I thought we could tell each other anything."
She sighed. "Yeah, sure. Anything."
"It's not about Duncan and me. It's about you and me, Methos. It's not my relationship with Duncan that's bothering me. It's us. You and me. Our friendship."
"Nothing can touch our friendship, blossom, you know that." I was surprised. True, I'd never taken a lover that belonged to Amanda first - at least not a recent acquisition of hers - but she'd never shown any sign she resented my other lovers, male or female. Or that she thought my affairs - or her own - might affect our friendship.
"I'm being silly, right?" she said, looking up at me with her best round-eyed innocent expression. When I nodded she jumped up from her chair and ran over to where I was still standing by the sink. She flung her arms around my neck, and I feigned startlement and boyish awkwardness, but managed to give her a heartfelt hug and a big kiss on the cheek.
"You're being very silly, Amanda," I said, holding her away from me and looking into her eyes. "Very silly indeed. We've been friends forever. We will be friends long after Duncan MacLeod is a memory for both of us. That's a promise, cherry blossom. Have a little faith."
She nodded, clamping her lips together. "Right," she muttered, through clamped lips. "A little faith. That's what I need." She took a deep breath. "I can wait." Then again, after a moment. "I can wait."
"Yes, you can," I said, letting her go and turning back to the dishes. Eggs are hell on pots, plates and utensils. If I didn't wash them now, I'd be scrubbing longer than I cared to, later on.
"I'm going, Methos. See you soon. Take care. Don't let him hurt you. Please."
Quickly, I looked back at her, but she'd already left, and I stood there, sponge in one hand, iron pan in the other, wondering what really was on Our Girl's mind.
Duncan arrived about quarter of an hour later, bearing groceries. "Methos - are you hungry?"
"Not really. Just ate. I'll make you something, though, if you like," I offered, sighing.
"Scrambled eggs?" he coaxed with a grin. "I brought all the fixings." I'd prepared them for him once, in a moment of weakness, after our first night of passion, and now he never could get enough of them. Or me, for that matter.
"Sure," I replied, going back to the kitchen. I muttered, "A man's work is never done."
"I'll cook, if you're too lazy," he said, taking off his coat and settling into a kitchen chair, looking very much at home there.
"No. It's okay. Just finished washing and drying up after Amanda's breakfast and mine, is all," I said. "A bit like deja vu all over again."
"Just do it. Stop bitching."
"I'm doing, I'm doing." Sometimes Duncan is such a pain in the ass.
"Amanda visited you this morning?" he asked, the penny dropping. He sounded surprised. Amanda wasn't a morning person. Never occurred to him she'd slept over.
"Hmm. She's upset about us, Mac. I don't blame her."
"The way she's flitted in and out of my life - and my bed - over the centuries, she's the last one to complain," Duncan said. "You don't think she's got any problem with - same gender sex - do you?" He sounded casual. Making small talk. He didn't really care what Amanda thought. Or how she felt. Either that, or he didn't have a clue how important she was to me. One or the other.
"Hardly," I snorted. "I think she's missing me, though."
"You? But you two are good friends. She can always turn to you - or me, for that matter - when she's in trouble. Our love -" I suppose he meant his and mine -"won't change that."
"Exactly what I told her, Mac, but she didn't seem to be buying." I pursed my lips. "I'm a bit concerned."
MacLeod sat up straighter in his chair. "Why?"
"Something more's going on, and she won't tell me what. That's - uncharacteristic - of Amanda's dealings with me."
"She's always keeping secrets from me," Duncan commented. "I never know what's really going on in her head. Oh, I know she loves me. And that our relationship is important to her. That she'd do anything to help me - effective or not," he added ruefully. "But other than that, I don't know anything about her."
"Well, I do. I've known her for eight centuries, MacLeod. We've been friends that long. From when Amanda was a Green Girl, her foot in her mouth, traipsing about after Rebecca."
"She's still got her foot in her mouth, most of the time," Duncan interrupted.
"Maybe with you. Not with me." I was serious. And a bit angry. Of course, Mac didn't understand. Amanda was another person when he was around. With me, she was the real thing. With him, she played Little Girl Lost. How could he know who she was?
"What is it, Methos? What's going on?"
"I think what's happened between us is hurting her more than I could have imagined."
"She's okay with it, Methos. I'm certain. She's not upset about me and you. She wished us luck -"
"We'll need it!" I retorted before I could stop myself.
"Yes. We will," he replied evenly. "But it's worth it. I believe that. So do you. What's the problem, Methos?"
"I love Amanda. She's the closest thing to family I've had in a thousand years. I don't like to think of her hurting."
At that point, my mood permeated Duncan's hearty spirit. "You backing out, Methos? After everything we went through to get this far?" He sounded hurt and angry both. "I love you. I want you. I need you -"
I interrupted, "Shut up, MacLeod - you sound like the lyrics to a song! I'm not backing out. At least, not yet! Keep that kind of patter up, and I'll consider it!"
"I'm not doing a threesome, just to keep Amanda happy!" he retorted, his mind making a characteristic - yet always surprising - leap.
"Nobody's asking you to!" I told him, exasperated. I ran my fingers through my hair. "Damn!" I'd finally leaped too. Took me long enough. "Damn damn damn!" I said, unconsciously quoting the Professor's opening lines to a song from "My Fair Lady."
"It's not you! It's me! Blasted woman's in love with me!" I grinned. "Must've surprised the hell out of her!" I added.
"If that's true, it sure surprises the hell out of me!" Duncan replied. "How'd you come to that conclusion?"
"Process of elimination, MacLeod," I said, wandering about the room in my lecturing mode, counting off my points on my fingers. "One, she's never shown a sign of being jealous of you, as long as you were willing to sleep with her, on the side. Two, she's never failed to tell me what's bothering her, no matter how inconvenient the knowledge, and what I'd need to do for her about it. Three, she's congratulating you and hiding things from me. Voila!" I concluded, snapping my fingers. "She's in love! Not with you, with me!" I grinned. "Just found out herself, by the look of it."
I've gotta hand it to Duncan. He's a true survivor. His first thought was for himself. "What do you plan to do about it? Leave me and run to Amanda?"
I teased him. "I'll have to think about that, MacLeod."
"That's not funny, Methos! I love you! You try and leave me now, and I'll hunt you down and take your head, I swear it!" He was on his feet, a black mass of anger, his brow creased with a frown. His eyes already on his coat, wherein his sword was hidden.
"Now, now, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! Don't do anything hasty that you'll regret in the morning! You don't want to kill a 'Good' Immortal - or another 'Old' One - do you?"
"You try to leave me, and you'll find out!" He snapped at me, angered beyond anything I'd have expected.
"What's the matter with you, Mac? Where's your sense of humor? Where's your sense of justice? Amanda saw me first. She's got first dibs!" I continued to tease him, reveling in the sport.
"Okay. I'm outta here. Call me when you miss me again, Methos! Call me when you can't live without my buzz again! Call me when your heart bleeds again!" He wasn't above a bit of tit-for-tat, my Duncan.
"I'm calling you right now!" I answered. "How've you survived this long? You're turning your back on someone you believe is an enemy, MacLeod. Again! Or does that mean you still trust me?" I jabbed.
He continued to the door, and opened it. Then he said, without turning around, "No. I don't trust you. I never have and I never will. I simply love you. Wish I didn't. You can be sure of that! Wish I didn't." Then he left, closing the door carefully and silently, another example of why he'd caught my fancy. He was good, MacLeod. Very good. No satisfaction given. No quarter given, either. Choose. Her or me. Ah, Duncan, what'll I do with you? Will you never learn?
I turned back to the kitchen and continued unpacking the groceries Duncan'd brought with him. He'd remembered every ingredient, of course. And with his characteristic generosity, he'd added a good bottle of wine and a six-pack of my favorite beer to the cache. What a sweetheart! What an idiot!
I checked the clock. Nine a.m. I gave him ten minutes, then began his scrambled eggs. I was just dishing them onto a plate when I experienced the unmistakable "feel" of an Immortal's buzz in the vicinity. I put his plate on the kitchen table, dried off a fork, put out a napkin, the remains of the garlic bread, cold, a glass, and a bottle of milk, and sat down in my kitchen chair. I crossed my arms and waited.
He didn't use his key. He knocked. "Methos? May I come in?" Repentant, humble. Gotta love it.
"Do, please," I replied, fixing a stern expression on my face. When he opened the door and poked his head in I nodded. "Your breakfast is ready. Sit down."
"Methos - I - I'm sorry. I've got a quick temper. I know you didn't mean to insult me. I didn't mean to insult you either. Forgive me?" He smiled, a lopsided feeble attempt. Did he really imagine I wouldn't? Seems incredible to me, knowing how I feel, as I do know. But then, he's out there, I'm in here. He cannot know.
"Eat your food, MacLeod, before it freezes! Let's get at least one thing done to everybody's satisfaction today!"
"Okay," he mumbled, throwing his coat on a chair and attacking the eggs. "Hmm, delicious, as always."
"I know," I replied, shaking my head. "MacLeod, when will you learn? You're not alone! And neither am I, it seems! Even an old solitary like me's figured that out!"
He didn't reply immediately - too busy demolishing the eggs and gulping down the milk. At last he asked, "Is there more?"
"No, there's not! Damn it, MacLeod, this isn't the International House of Pancakes!"
"I know. Just teasing." He grinned. Then he looked at me seriously. "I'm just not used to consulting with anybody about my plans. Neither are you," he accused.
"No. I'm not," I said, getting up and collecting his plate. If this was going to become a routine - cleaning up after Immortals - I wanted none of it! "But this is one time we've gotta consult."
Mac shook his head. "It's funny - when I think back. When Connor and I were together, I was a baby, his student. Fitz - was Fitz. Darius was so far above me, I didn't dream of taking my stupid plans to him for consideration. I hardly ever saw Sean. And Richie was my student. I couldn't burden him with my problems."
"And Amanda's just a woman, so -"
"Yes, I suppose you're right," he admitted. "Maybe if she'd been a different kind of woman, I'd have trusted her with my concerns. But as it was -" he shrugged. I understood.
He'd forgotten what we were talking about, I could see. "Now - there's me. The Oldest Immortal still living. You'd got in the way of telling me your troubles, trusting me. Then - boom -" I threw my hands up into the air -"your trust exploded in your face! I quite understand your dilemma, Mac."
"Methos, I do trust you. What I said before - I was just angry. I do trust you. I always have. I always will."
"Sweeping statements, MacLeod. Not worth the breath it takes to make them!"
He shook his head, changing the subject. "What do you want to do about Amanda, Methos? Maybe we can work together." My Duncan, always cutting to the heart of the matter. How could he dream I'd ever leave him, for any reason, or anyone?
"I'm relying on you to come up with a plan, Mac. Women are your field, not mine."
"Really? You coulda fooled me!" he retorted. "You certainly swept Alexa off her feet in a hurry! For a guy who looks like Mr. Peepers, you scored pretty fast!"
"Hmm - liked that, did you, MacLeod? Impressed you? That was love, not skill. Love will find a way."
"Right. Look at us!" Duncan said, smiling broadly.
"Which brings us around to our topic, again. How shall we handle Amanda?"
"You really think she's in love with you, Methos? It seems - strange - after all this time. Centuries."
"Threat of loss. Does it every time. As long as I was there for her - a possibility - she didn't need to consider me as anything but a friend. But the moment she thought she'd lost me - voila! - I became the focus of her attention. You, she knows she cannot lose. Because what she has with you is generic. The man/woman thing. But me - ah, that's another story! Lifetime upon lifetime, thick and thin, every incarnation, every dream, every loss, shared! Not easily come by, not easily given up. I felt the same, when she and you - when Kalas threatened -" I couldn't finish.
"You were jealous of Amanda, when Kalas threatened?" MacLeod asked, astonished.
"Whatever I felt for you - and I knew already how much I cared for you - that was nothing compared to the thought I'd lost Amanda for good."
"But I'd been with Amanda before - many times!"
I shook my head. "Not the same. You'd made love. You and she weren't in love. What happened when Kalas came - it was a blow, MacLeod, believe me."
"Perhaps. At any rate, it's why I understand how Amanda feels now."
"We'll think of something, Methos, I promise. I don't want her hurting either. She means a great deal to me."
"I know that, MacLeod. Believe me, I know."
It was time. Time to make love. Time for MacLeod to re-assert his ownership of me - body, heart and soul. He had it all. I retained only my mind. Barely. This morning, he was driven. Threat of loss. The same for him as for Amanda. And I, I didn't intend to choose. Not now. Possibly, if I worked things right, not ever. I could see no valid reason why I couldn't have my cake and eat it too. Certainly, Amanda wouldn't mind. She was a fine woman. She'd keep the secret, no question.
MacLeod would mind. But he'd never know.
I thought, not for the first time, as I watched Mac nap on my bed - my heart going out to him - of his dilemma.
Non-threatening Immortal males are a source of ambiguity to him. They threaten his core as Warrior and Protector. They frighten him in a way that Evil Immortals never do.
Loving me - accepting that I am not a threat, though I'm an equal - is for him beyond understanding. Same gender sex - that was easy for him to accept, once he'd experienced it. He's a sensualist, after all. But loving an Immortal male. It's like loving a mountain or the sea. He cannot understand it - it simply is.
The ambiguity of his position vis-a-vis Immortal males eats away at him. I often think it's why he could murder Sean Burns and Richie - but didn't kill Joe - with the same internal provocation. After all, in the End there can be Only One. When he's healthy, he ignores it. But when he's ill - ah, that's another story.
Another reason he'd caught my fancy - I loved thinking about him, the way his mind worked. Two men could hardly be more different.
He stirred. Opened his eyes. I smiled. "Good morning! Enjoy your nap?"
"I enjoy everything, when you're with me, Methos," he said, instantly awake and aroused again, leaning forward and stretching his hand out to me where I sat at the foot of my bed.
I pulled back with a joke. "No you don't! That's enough for one morning! Think of something else to do - I'm too old for this!" It was enough. I couldn't allow myself to fall any deeper into this insanity than I'd already plunged. Something must be held in reserve, or I'd never survive the end, when it came.
"You - too old? Never!" He smiled. "But you're right." He sat up, puffed a pillow behind his head and adjusted the sheet over his body. "We've got a problem to solve. I know you'll never relax until you've solved it."
"We've got a problem - but I've gotta solve it?" I asked, picking up on his unconscious choice of pronouns.
"You don't think I imagine you'll let me handle it! Amanda's too important to you to leave things to a Green Boy who'd probably make a mess of them. That's the way you see it, isn't it?"
"Not to put too fine a point on it - yes!" I replied, massaging his right foot through the sheet, to soften my words.
"That feels good," he said with a sigh. "Methos - I know I made a big thing before, about not doing a threesome. But if you believe it'll work - I'll try."
"That's very generous, Mac, but I don't think it'll serve. Particularly considering your aversion to the idea."
"If that's the only reason - I know it isn't so terrible. It's just another something I haven't tried. How bad can it be? We love each other, all three of us -"
"It won't work, Mac. Amanda can't make love with you and me at the same time."
"Why not?" Now I'd got his attention.
"Because - she's not the same person with each of us."
"I don't understand. Amanda's - Amanda! She knows I love her -"
"She knows you love her because she's beautiful and funny and a devil. But she can't trust you to keep on loving her if she isn't those things," I explained, wondering why I bothered. "With me -" I shrugged.
"Yes? With you?" When I didn't go on he asked again, "What does she think are your reasons for loving her?"
"She knows I love her because she's good and kind and she's always been there for me. Because I can trust her with my life. Because I do trust her when I'm not at my best."
"But I feel the same -"
"No." I shook my head, searching my mind for a way to clarify. At last I hit on an example I thought MacLeod might understand. "It's a little like Adam Pierson. You loved him. The - disillusionment you experienced when you were forced to confront the truth - that I can 'do cute,' but I'm really Methos - was devastating to you. If you really were confronted by Amanda - not 'doing cute' - the blow would be similar. She knows that. She simply has no desire to force the issue, and there's nothing in her past likely to come out of the woodwork and do it for her."
"So you're saying that a threesome can't work. Amanda couldn't make love with us both, because she's a different person with each of us?"
"Exactly. It's not so different for you, Mac. The man you are with Amanda isn't the man you are with me."
Mac shook his head and chuckled. "There aren't so many of me, Methos. I'm pretty much the same with both of you."
"I don't think so. After the Horsemen, you treated me as you'd never treat Amanda - or any reasonably good woman. Or Mortal man. You might be angry at Dawson, or stay far from him, for a time. But - in your right mind - you'd never attack him, be vicious or mean to him, as you were to me."
"Because I'm in love with you, not because he's Mortal!"
"Maybe. But you've goaded Immortal men as you'd never goad Mortals, or women. You are different with Immortal men than with Mortal men - or any woman."
"And you - you treat Amanda different from the way you treat me?"
"I treat her with the frankness I've offered Joe, or Richie - or anyone but you."
"This is the way you are when you're not frank?" he asked, finally pulling his feet away from my ministrations and getting out of bed. He started to dress.
"Yes. I show you who you are, not who I am."
He seemed to follow, replying evenly, "Not always."
"No. Not always. Sometimes I'm more open with you than I've ever been with anyone - in five thousand years."
"For example - I've never shown anyone how much I love them, as I have you."
"During your Dark Quickening. And when I asked you to forgive me, after the Horsemen."
"Never - you never did that! You asked for my acceptance, not my forgiveness!"
"Think back, MacLeod. I did."
He was silent, his eyes down. Thinking. When I began to speak again he looked up.
"I love you as I've loved no one in my life. I don't know why. You are different from anyone I've ever loved. No Immortal I've ever been with has been 'good.'"
"Not even Darius?"
"Darius was out of the ball park. We were never together. I was never in love with him - I simply loved him. Those I did love, in that way, well, no - they didn't all qualify for the 'Evil' Hall of Fame, I grant you. But they were - at least -" I squinted, trying to find words for the meaning I was attempting to convey. "They were at least - beyond Good and Evil," I said at last. "You'd probably call them cynical or jaded. I suppose I would too."
I'd upset him, and worried him. Talk about former lovers is apt to do that - even I'm not immune to the green monster. But he didn't react as I would. Didn't strike out. Instead, he allowed himself to be more vulnerable rather than less.
"Methos, what we have, what I feel for you - I love you so much - please, please don't give it up for Amanda. Please try to find a way. Love will find a way. You said that yourself. Try, Methos."
"Not for your sake, but for my own, I'll try."
We left my flat soon after that talk. I'm not certain when Mac trained nowadays, but he'd made many concessions to my more casual approach to Immortality and the Game. He'd stopped suggesting that we go for a run together, spar together, work out on the mat, and so forth. Must've disappointed him that I wouldn't often do any of that with him. He needed us to do things together, I think. Probably, that's how he defined love. As a more time-intensive sort of friendship.
However, he could get me to take a walk, almost whenever he wished. So we walked quite a lot. Today, when we'd a problem to solve, even longer than ordinarily.
It was late afternoon when MacLeod asked me, after a long period of silent reflection as we traversed nearly the whole of Paris, "Do you owe her, Methos?" He didn't bother explaining who he meant. I knew.
"I owe Amanda much. More than you can dream. I have suffered in her arms, in her life, many times. Many times."
Again, he opened himself. He stopped walking and grabbed my arm. "I can't, Methos." I could see he was close to tears. "I cannot lose you now! The gift is too great! I admit it - I'm selfish - I can't bear the thought of losing the gift you are to me!"
"You will never lose me, Duncan MacLeod," I assured him. "That's a solemn promise!" I hoped I was telling him the truth.
He stared at me for a few moments, then turned and walked farther on. We were near a small park. I followed him and joined him when he sat on a bench.
"What shall we do about Amanda?" he asked finally, turning to me.
"Do you trust me?"
I nodded. "Very well. Leave it to me."
"No consulting, after all, Methos," he stated wryly, with a small smile. "That's the way it'll be?"
"Only if you trust me."
"Will you tell me what you've done, afterwards?"
"I might. Is that a condition of your trust?"
"Very well. Here's the plan. You will tell Amanda that we're through - you and me."
"Why would she believe me?" he asked, surprised.
"As you once said to me - because you'll be very sincere. And miserable. And angry. And you won't want to talk about what happened between us. Too painful. Too ugly. Simply - we're through. Got it?"
"I got it. I don't like it but I got it." The echoes were unpleasant, to say the least.
"Amanda will try to comfort you," I stated authoritatively.
"You don't think she'll turn right around and go after you? Wouldn't it be the perfect opening?"
"No! No! You don't understand! Amanda loves you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! You're wounded, she bleeds! Remember Stephen Keane? She was willing to take the risk I'd lose my head, on the off-chance I'd take Keane's and save yours! No doubt she'd have mourned my passing. But that didn't make her hesitate to seek me out, no matter how dangerous what might happen would be, for me. Absolutely, she'll attempt to comfort you. When she sees you're angry and inconsolable, she'll be furious with me."
"I thought you said she's in love with you now!"
"MacLeod, old habits die hard. You two've been an item for a long time. She'll revert to form - protect you."
He fell in with it. "Then she'll go to you to try to make you - make you what?"
"She'll try to find out what's wrong, and insist I fix it."
I thought his eyes would pop out of his head. "She'd really believe you could fix such a thing?" he asked, astonished.
"My dear boy, if aliens invaded the planet, Amanda would believe I could 'fix it,' as you put it! A quarrel between two people who love each other - Amanda would think that's child's play, for me!"
"Incredible! I used to believe she came to me when she had problems. That she thought I could fix anything."
"She does think that - in practical affairs. But affairs of the heart - or the Game - that's another story! Age does count for something, Mac."
"What'll you do, Methos?"
"We have an agreement, Duncan. You aren't going to ask me what I'll do."
"No buts. I've told you the basic scenario. Just react according to your nature, to whatever comes next."
He looked away. He was upset. I put my hand on his and he turned to look at me. "Mac, you've gotta trust me. I've pulled off much more difficult things than this."
"I know." He nodded. "You pulled off the death of the Horsemen. As Amanda would say, this is child's play to you." He didn't sound pleased. And he didn't sound impressed. He was disgusted.
"It's all right, Methos. You calculate. You manipulate. You plan. It's who you are."
"It's not who I am. It's only part of me. The other part, Duncan - ah, the other part -"
"Yeah - what about the other part, Methos?" he asked with a vicious snarl. How he hated my deviousness - it was the only thing that really could drive a wedge between us. One day, probably, it would destroy our love. I'd use every ounce of deviousness I possess to prevent that. But one day, it won't be enough.
"The other part wishes only to take a long long vacation from intrigue. Preferably on a desert island. Preferably nude. Definitely, with you."
I was very sincere. I won him over, this time. Oh happy chance!
We'd only just begun - Duncan and I - our love was green as the first grass shoots one sees in the Spring. But already I smelled Autumn. Dead leaves. Compost heaps. Already, the scent of snow was in the air.
I had no choice. Amanda came first. If there was to be a sacrifice, I'd make it. And Duncan. Not Amanda. He'd asked me if I owed her. I did. Yes, oh yes! I did.
1371 A.D. - A small town several kilometers from Paris, France
I banged on the door of Rebecca and Amanda's hut on the outskirts of Paris, almost in the forest. I was breathing hard, wounded, fleeing. And I was not alone. With me was my current Mortal lover, Elena Rimbaud, a Witch whom I'd saved from the mob several years before, then taken to my heart.
"Michel," Elena told me, her voice weak with the effort to speak. We'd escaped from another mob, but she'd been jabbed with a pitchfork first. "I cannot -" She sank to her knees, despite my best efforts to hold her up. "I will die, Michel! No one can save me."
"Hush, beloved," I replied, crouching beside her, cradling her in my arms. "My friends Rebecca and Amanda will help you. They know many remedies for such wounds as yours. They've studied with the great physicians of the age. They've traveled. They will help you."
Frantic, I banged on the door once more. At last it opened, and Amanda stood there, sword in hand, a fierce expression on her face. "Methos!" she exclaimed. Her hand flew to her mouth when she saw I wasn't alone. "You're hurt!"
"How quickly they forget," I said, to give myself an opening to say my current name. "It's Michel, Amanda. And this is Elena Rimbaud, Witch of Orleans! Will you help us?"
"Of course, goes without saying," Amanda replied. She put her sword aside by the doorway and grasped the wounded - and now unconscious - Elena's shoulders. Slipping her hands under Elena's arms, she ordered, "Get her feet, Michel!" and we hefted Elena into the hut.
"Thank you, Amanda." I was healing quickly from the knife wounds I'd sustained to provide the time and chance for Elena to escape, but my Mortal companion was not so resilient.
"She's lost a great deal of blood, I think, Michel," Amanda told me after cutting away Elena's gown and examining her stomach wounds expertly. "You all right?" she asked, sparing me a glance. I'd collapsed into a chair near the bed where we'd placed Elena.
"I'll be fine, blossom," I replied dismissively. "Do what you can for Elena."
"This isn't an illness, Michel," Amanda told me as she worked efficiently to clean and bandage my lover's wounds. "It's not going to respond to herbs and poultices. Nothing Rebecca's taught me can replace a Mortal's blood, when once it's run out. I'm not making any promises. I don't know if this woman will live."
I nodded. "I know. But we're safe here with you, if you'll have us for a bit. While she heals - or not. Do what you can for her, please," I repeated. "More I do not ask."
Amanda snorted. "More I cannot do, Old Man." She patted my lover's hand, smoothing Elena's brow with a damp cloth while she spoke to me. "It's good to see you again, brother. Even under these circumstances. Your friend will sleep for a while. I've dribbled a few drops of medicated liquid into her mouth. Should ease the pain, quiet her. She mustn't be moved, mustn't toss and turn. We'll need to take shifts watching her, keeping her still."
"I'm grateful for your help, Amanda."
She dismissed Elena from her mind, momentarily. "Would you like a drink, Michel? Sorry I've nothing much to offer. Some tea. Water. I've a small flask of beer around here somewhere -" she added with a twinkle in her eye.
I perked up. "Beer will be fine, blossom." I accepted a mug from Amanda's hands.
"You're a sight for sore eyes, Old Man," Amanda told me, sitting cross-legged on the dirt floor next to my chair and looking up at me. "Even dirty and disheveled the way you are now! When you've eaten and slept a bit, you can wash up in the stream behind the hut. And I've got a shirt you can keep, for you to change into, when you've healed."
"Thank you." I sipped the beer, trying to make it last. I knew Amanda and Rebecca didn't have much - of anything. Witches - Mortal and Immortal - usually gave away more than they were given in repayment for their medical services and good advice. "Where's Rebecca? You two haven't parted again, have you?"
"No. She's on a pilgrimage to Paris. She got a message that some of her old friends needed her advice, so she's taking the opportunity to visit her favorite Lady Chapel there, and say some prayers, light a candle, the usual." Amanda sighed. Rebecca's religious fervour drove Amanda mad, sometimes. "She'll be sorry she missed you."
"I'm sorry I missed her! But being with you, even for a moment - is recompense! It's been too long, cherry blossom."
Amanda held up her hand, "Hush - she stirs!" Quickly, Amanda was at Elena's side again, gently forcing another drop or two of her special medicine into my lover's mouth. "Her color is good, considering how much blood she's lost, Michel!" She turned to me with a bright smile. "I think she'll live, after all!"
"Ah, Amanda - from your lips to God's ears! She is - a very special person, my Elena -"
"They all are, to you," Amanda teased. "Well," she added with a grin, "this one will live, if I've got anything to say about it! Long enough to torment your days and enliven your nights for another few decades at least, Old Man!"
Putting aside my beer and standing, I told her seriously, "I won't forget your kindness, Amanda. Never."
She laughed. "I'm counting on it, Michel! You owe me! And you pay your debts!"
It was quite late when Amanda came to me. I'd sent Duncan back to the barge a little before nine. She must have visited him not long afterwards. But she'd waited to come to my home until nearly midnight.
"Methos!" she greeted me, tossing her coat, gloves and sword on the couch carelessly. She passed by my chair slowly, ruffling my hair as she went into the bathroom. "Mind if I spend the night again? I don't feel like being alone."
"Mi casa es su casa," I replied with a smile. Then I frowned. Perhaps she hadn't spoken with Duncan yet. I checked. "How's my boy, Amanda?"
"Who - Duncan? Pissed with you. Says the two of you are through. Can't take that seriously, can I?"
"If I were you, I would."
She came out of the bathroom with a jar of cold cream in her hand. As she spoke, she lathered dollops of cream onto her face with brisk efficient motions. Watching her do that was a treat for me, reminding me of how young she'd looked when I'd first seen her long ago, before she wore make-up all the time, before her eyes grew old with wisdom and the pain of her lives.
"Methos - come on! You've only just begun, Mac and you! Besides, you're too smart to quarrel with him. And you love him too much to let him go. No, it's just a spat. He'll be back tomorrow, bright and early, ready for another plate of Methos' famous scrambled eggs. I promise I'll be gone before he gets here!"
"Amanda -" I was exasperated. This wasn't working.
"What! Did I miss something? Was there a news bulletin on CNN? 'Methos and MacLeod corner the market on chivalry - film at eleven?'" She giggled. "Sweetie, you're not the only guy who was born long before the age of chivalry! And Duncan doesn't know the half of it! We lived through it, you and me! Bloody centuries of it! I don't know about you, but I'm still washing the cow dung out of my hair!"
"Yes?" Her best wide-eyed stare accompanied the single word. I was at a loss for words, so she went on. "Methos, I said I can wait, and I meant it." She carefully closed the jar of cream and put it down on the floor near my chair, wiping her face and hands with the towel draped round her neck. She squatted near me, put the towel on the floor, and placed both her hands on my knees. "When Duncan told me that silly story, I knew you'd guessed what was bothering me. I've only just realized how I feel about you. Give me a chance to enjoy it! I haven't felt this good in decades! I'm reveling in love! Methos - do you know how long it's been for me, since the last time?"
"You were in love with MacLeod not two years ago!" I retorted, trying to hold back a grin. Her joy was contagious.
"No. That's not the same. I love him. I always have. When Kalas threatened, we spoke it aloud. It's not like this - not like being in love, falling in love. Don't pretend you don't know the difference, dear heart, because I know you know everything!"
"Amanda, it isn't that I don't love you -"
"That's not in question, Methos, never was, never will be. You're simply not 'in love' with me. At the moment. Probably just as well! Whatever would I do with you?" She grinned.
"Well, I can think of a few things -" I drawled, letting my sentence trail off, rich with innuendo.
"Methos! How shocking!" She grinned again. "What would Duncan say?" She narrowed her eyes at me. "You didn't suggest a threesome to him, did you, you devil?"
"No," I replied with a grin, "he did."
"I'm shocked to the soles of my feet! The Boy's getting Old, Methos! Pretty soon, he'll be too old for you!"
I covered her hands with mine, then brought them up to my lips and kissed each palm. "I'm afraid I blew your cover, Amanda," I admitted, saddened that I might have made a mistake in judgment that would cost her dearly with MacLeod.
"Really? How?" She sat at my feet and put her head in my lap, holding tightly to my hands.
"He knows about -" I paused, unwilling to tell her.
"Hmm, about what, Methos?"
I expelled a breath. "I told him you're not who he thinks you are."
She shrugged. "About time he knew."
"You're taking it pretty lightly, cherry blossom. But when this - thing - you imagine you feel for me passes, you'll be sorry Mac knows."
"I've never regretted the truth, dear heart. If I did, I couldn't love you." All this without once raising her eyes to my face. I was moved. Dreadful dreadful situation. Our timing was off. Way off. Damn.
"Manny -" I hadn't called her that but once before, when Rebecca died.
She looked up at me at last. "Methos," she told me earnestly, "please don't torture yourself. All I want is for you to be happy. With MacLeod or without him. That's my pleasure. You understand? That's all I care about now. Not him, not myself. Just you. Your happiness. It's how I know I'm in love with you."
"Damn! I wish I smoked!" I joked to push away our pain.
She laughed. "It's never too late to learn!"
"It can't take long, Amanda," I said seriously, assuring her of what she already knew. The cold clutch of impending Winter gripped my heart, making me afraid. "As you said, Duncan and I are - not good for each other. Unsuited. It can't last. You can wait it out."
"I know that."
"I was going to -"
"What? Two-time him with me? Keep secrets? More secrets? What would be the point, lover?"
I shook my head, gripping her hands tightly, my nails digging into her palms. She didn't flinch. "None. No point at all." I breathed deeply and released her hands. "I need a drink, Amanda."
She jumped up. "Me too!"
I got ice from the fridge while Amanda fixed us two scotches. I dropped a cube in each glass, then took the drink she offered me.
I couldn't get passed the fact that she'd saved me one more turn of deviousness by refusing my offer to two-time MacLeod with her. I was deeply moved.
"To the Age of Chivalry - long may it wave!" I toasted, clinking her glass with mine.
"No. To Time, that it might deal with us kindly and embrace us, in the End, with sweet silent oblivion."
I stared at her. "You didn't make that one up," I asserted.
"No. You did. Don't you remember? We were in Darius' church, during the French Revolution, wondering who'd thought up the guillotine? And he brought out his best brandy. We toasted. That was yours."
"What a memory you have, Amanda! I can scarcely recall what I said yesterday!"
"That's natural. An Old Guy like you - can't expect all your faculties to be intact after five thousand years!" she teased.
"It's longer than that, but don't tell anyone," I whispered.
"I'll keep your secret, if you'll keep mine."
I raised an eyebrow. "And that is?"
"I haven't got much patience."
"Hardly any. So - you and Duncan - hurry it up."
With a final serious look at me, she finished her drink, put her glass on the bar, took her coat, gloves and sword, and walked to the door.
"I thought you were staying the night," I called to her, missing her already. It isn't with everyone that a man can be himself.
"Don't you feel him? He's coming. He's on his way. He's almost here," she told me, and left my flat.
I was still staring at the door, reaching for Amanda's aura, sensing it fade, wishing she'd stayed, when I recognized a different Immortal's buzz. My "Main Man" was on his way up.
When had she developed a sixth sense, Our Amanda? Because it wasn't Duncan's aura she'd felt before she left, but his life pattern. I shouldn't be surprised, I thought. After all, she is a woman. She must love me a great deal, to face the world without re-applying her make-up, merely to prevent Duncan from finding us together. A great deal. A sobering reflection, had I needed one.
1795 A.D. - On the road from Dover to London
I was losing.
I'd been riding along at a brisk pace, bearing a pouch full of secret documents which my current patron, a Duke very much taken up with politics and intrigue - just my sort of man - had commissioned me to bring to his friend in London. I'd stopped for a moment to refresh myself at a stream near the side of the road. My horse was tired and so was I.
I'd removed my long jacket and hat and drunk deep of the water, then wet my face and hair.
Then I felt it - the buzz of another of my Kind, an Immortal. Not far away. I made a dash to my horse. I'd left him tied up loosely by a nearby tree. I grabbed my sword and waited. It'd been close to a year since I'd last faced anyone. I'd been determined not to do so again - ever - until the End. Now I knew I'd need to be clever to avoid such Battles. More clever still, to avoid Immortals altogether, in future. I needed to be out of the Game for good. For the sake of my sanity, and my soul, I couldn't kill again. One day at a time, I must avoid confrontation. One day at a time.
But I'd be obliged to start my abstinence again tomorrow, for today I must fight.
I was losing. I was out of training and using only the one sword. And I'd never cared for hills, as fighting ground. I'd always preferred flat land, as a contrast to my rocky style. I'd already slipped several times, not on purpose to deceive, either. This Boy was good. Brave, strong, passionate. Dangerous. I was losing.
With a clever move, he caught me, thrusting his broad blade between my ribs, under my heart. Damn, I thought, as I sank to my knees, already dying. Damn. I should have jumped on my horse and fled when I sensed him! I should have run for my life, to avoid this! I should never have fought! To my opponent I said, "Cut clean, Boy. And be grateful. You're getting more than you bargained for." I bowed my head, flinching, waiting for the blow, the slice, that would end my life after so many centuries. Waiting for the whistle in the air.
I heard it come - that whistle of a sword slicing air - but felt no pain. Nothing at all. I thought, not so bad, then - dying for keeps. Not so bad.
Then the crackling and lightening assaulted my senses. Instinctively, I flung up my arms to protect myself from the Quickening discharge. I squinted to see what was happening.
I saw Amanda, receiving Quickening from the Green Boy who'd challenged me and won. She'd taken his head as he'd raised his sword to take mine. Had he turned, sensing her approach at last, after the heat of Battle? Had he stared at her, astonished and frightened, in those final moments of his life?
I'd never know. But I did know Amanda'd saved my life again. Interfered in a Joined Battle without thought or hesitation. She might easily have waited another moment, until the Green Boy'd taken my head - and received both my Quickening and his - an incredible influx of Power. She hadn't done that, hadn't considered it.
No, I'd never know what the Green Boy thought at the moment of his death. But I did know how greatly Amanda loved me, and how much I loved her. I owed Amanda much. I wouldn't forget.
"Duncan," I acknowledged in greeting.
"Methos." He came in and joined me at my small bar, fixing a drink for himself. No ice.
"How'd it go with Amanda?" I asked.
He raised an eyebrow. "You should know. She's been here, hasn't she?"
"What makes you think that?" I asked, trying for wide-eyed innocence. It isn't my best look, of late.
"I smell her perfume in the air. And you've got that goofy expression on your face. The one you get when Amanda surprises you."
"Did I miss something? What expression is that?"
"The goofy one," he repeated, going to my chair and sitting in it. "You know - the look you get when Amanda does something more outrageous than usual." I stared at him without responding. He went on gently, "When she's good, Methos. When she's good."
"Ah, that look!" I replied with a laugh. "I admit it - sometimes she's so good, it frightens me."
"I know her pretty well. She wasn't buying what I was selling, tonight. I don't think she believes you'd let me go, Methos. Wonder why not?" He grinned, smug bastard.
"Other way around, MacLeod! She doesn't believe you'd let me go!"
"Whatever it is, I was selling but she wasn't buying. What'd she tell you?"
"That the Age of Chivalry lives on in the heart of a Female Immortal of a certain age," I replied, and sipped my drink. "And that she can wait."
"She doesn't think it'll be much of a wait, does she, Methos?" Duncan asked quite seriously.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said, crossing his legs and settling into the chair more firmly.
"I'm trying, Mac, but I don't know - I smell Winter in the air."
He changed the subject. "What'd you offer her, Methos? Your soul? Your body? Mine?"
"I offered her memories, and a pet name, if you must know."
"Yes, really. She appeared satisfied."
He hunched forward in the chair, holding onto his glass with both hands. "Methos - don't rush it. Please. I know we're not a match made in heaven. God knows, I'd have to be blind not to see that! But - don't rush it. It's Spring, for us. Let's enjoy it. And Summer, and Fall. Winter'll be here soon enough. Don't let fear of the cold spoil things for us now."
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod - you're a poet!"
"I'm in love. How about you?" So earnest, it scared me. What we had might soon break his heart. Had already broken his heart more than once. Yet, he stayed vulnerable. And I remained terrified.
"In love? Me? More than you'll ever know, Mac."
He stood and placed his glass on an end table. He came over to me, putting his hands on my shoulders. "As Amanda would say, have a little faith. How about it, Methos? Have a little faith. Love will find a way."
"It already has, Duncan," I said with a smile, thinking of Amanda's chivalry. "It already has."