One of these days I'm going to stop the boys from poking their noses into other fanfic worlds. As if they can't get enough angst in their own... :-)
Spoilers for the episode "Love Kills" (so does UPN, but we won't get into that!). And Cassie has a short scene.
For Highlander fans, the last season is ignored and forgive me for making minor changes to the "rules of the game." I figured if the movies and the television show can have different canons, so could I.
As usual, feel free to contact me. And, oh yeah, this was a bit long so it's in two parts: Part I (Chapters 1-5) is below. Part II (Chapters 6-10) can be found with a click.
(A Sentinel/Highlander Crossover)
Dr. Xavier Richoff sat hunched over his desk, eagerly and effortlessly translating the ancient text in front of him. Well, effortlessly now that he was on the third of four packets of pages that had been buried with their author nearly a thousand years ago. To Richoff, these "journals" represented his Holy Grail and he knew if he were to die during the night, he could go to either heaven or hell without a single regret.
He had first heard the legend of Robert McTeague from his undergraduate roommate as they shared the rich lore of their families one long, boring night. During his graduate school years and the decades of being a renowned archaeologist, he'd never forgotten the myth of the man who could see the future more clearly than Nostradamus or DaVinci or even H.G. Wells. Robert McTeague had been born at the stroke of midnight as the year 1000 A.D. dawned. That was the true source of his gift, according to the legend. His was a wealthy Scottish clan and young Robert was well- educated and well-traveled. He was welcome in the courts of several kings and many pleaded with him to stay in this country or that. But Robert always returned to his homeland. According to him there was Scottish soil flowing in his veins and it was necessary that he return to replenish his supply.
Then one day, Robert came home and never left again. The servants told tales of their laird who stayed awake for several days straight in his chambers, fiercely scribbling down thoughts that painfully afflicted his mind. Many thought it was the devil at work. Others thought he was merely insane; perhaps his mother and father had been too closely related. It happened that one of his servants had accidently learned to read as a child and he curiously took a look at the laird's wild writings. He immediately crossed himself, recognizing that he was looking at prophecies, portents of the future. He couldn't keep the news to himself and soon the whole village knew. But the Scots were a wise and cautious people and they kept the knowledge from spreading. When Robert McTeague died in 1054, they bound together all his prophecies and buried them with him, fearing reprisals if the wrong people ever got their hands on them.
Twenty-three years ago while on vacation, Richoff stumbled upon the cairn marking McTeague's grave. He sought the clan and asked for permission to excavate the site, promising not to disturb the remains. His request was denied. Patiently, he waited for those who were in opposition to die. A year ago, his patience was rewarded. The young cared nothing for their history; he offered cash and a share of any future book/movie deals and the grave was his. He was careful with the excavation/exhumation, hoping beyond hope that somehow McTeague's writings had survived. Once again luck was on his side and after preserving the writings, he sat down to translate the copies he'd made.
Richoff had been stunned by what the writings had revealed. McTeague had correctly predicted the coming of William the Conquer in 1066, the Christian Crusades, the Black Death, and the many struggles for the thrones of Scotland and England. He even told of the rise of a nation across the ocean, tiny territories banding together to drive out the English and eventually becoming a dominant world power. The third packet of notes ended with an easily recognizable account of Hitler and his Third Reich.
As he opened the final packet of writings, he wondered just how far into the future McTeague had seen. Unable to deny his curiosity, he went to the last page. McTeague's health had apparently been fading for the writing was difficult to read, but Richoff was determined to know just how much sight McTeague had been given. His breathe caught as he read of men walking on the moon-- this from a man who lived in a time where the earth was thought to be the center of the universe. A quick scan of the rest of the page showed the last prophecy was for the last day in the year 1999. He should have known; McTeague had seen the entire millennium of his birth.
"From the city will come two," he read aloud. "One will have the wisdom of the ages. The other will possess the gifts of the senses. The two will act as one and will rule... even until the end of world and beyond." Richoff shook his head at that final statement. "What the hell does that mean?"
"How badly do you wish to know?" a voice called and Richoff was alarmed to watch a large, powerful form emerge from the shadows of the room. He adjusted his bifocals and saw a man standing before him, carrying a gleaming sword and wearing a wicked smile. "Let's share secrets, doctor."
Detective Jim Ellison held up his hand and motioned Blair Sandburg back against the wall as he drew his gun. It was a sad tribute to everything Blair had been through that he merely did as Jim told him, even though it was their own loft which apparently harbored an intruder.
There was no sign of forced entry, but if Jim thought someone was inside, Blair knew there was. Aside from being a detective in Cascade, Washington's Major Crime unit, Jim was also a Sentinel, a person with enhanced senses. Being a Sentinel was a genetic "condition" and while it helped to make Jim one hell of a detective, it also had its drawbacks. That was why anthropology grad student Blair had become Jim's unofficial partner at the police station and roommate at the loft. He was Jim's Guide, helping him master his five amplified senses and anchoring him to the physical world when fixating on one sense threatened to overwhelm the Sentinel.
The door opened before Jim could kick it in. "Jim?" A slender woman with short dark hair peeked out. When she saw Jim's gun, she smiled. "Is that a gun in your hand, officer, or are you just glad to see me?"
Jim holstered the weapon and put his arms out just in time to catch the beautiful woman as she literally jumped on him. "Amanda, what are you doing here?' he asked as soon as she freed his lips.
"Don't tell me you aren't happy to see me, Jim." She leaned into him seductively. "Because I know that isn't true."
Blair cleared his throat, saving his embarrassed roommate from replying. "Uh, unless you two just want to give the neighbors a free show, I suggest we move this reunion inside," he said with a grin.
"You haven't answered my question, Amanda," Jim said as he took off his jacket.
"Can't a friend drop by to cook dinner for a friend?" she asked, indicating the apron she was wearing.
"Is that what that smell is?" Blair asked, his nose wrinkling in distaste.
"Amanda was never good at cooking, Chief."
"Oh, but I'm good at so many other things, Chief," Amanda purred. "You're a cute one, aren't you?"
Blair blushed and Jim shook his head. "Blair Sandburg, meet Amanda. What last name are you using this week? Of course, with your breaking and entering skills I don't think I, as a law enforcement official, want to know."
Blair was trying to understand that Jim was saying this beautiful lady was some kind of criminal. "She can't be all that bad, Jim."
"The stories I could tell--"
"But won't, because you're such a gentleman," Amanda inserted quickly. "Besides, we don't want to bore this lovely young man with old war stories, Jim. Instead, why don't you take us out to dinner? He's right about one thing, Chief, I am a lousy cook."
Wow. What a whirlwind. Who would have thought staid Jim Ellison would have such wild tastes in women? "Please, call me Blair."
She pursed her lips and studied him from head to toe, a flush growing along his body with the intense gaze. "No, Jim's right. Chief suits you." She tugged at a curl that had escaped his ponytail. Then she leaned back against Jim. "Take us somewhere nice, dear. I have expensive tastes, you know."
Blair couldn't take it anymore. He burst out laughing. "I have to know how you two met."
Amanda smiled and said in a loud stage whisper, "We'll talk over dinner. Now, let's all go get dressed." She sashayed over to the stairs. "Hope you don't mind I moved some of your stuff around, Jim. A lady needs space." Jim just stared at the retreating figure in bewilderment.
"Hey, man, you haven't zoned on me, have you?" Blair asked softly when his friend continued to just stand there.
"Did a woman named Amanda just break into the loft, dirty all our pots and pans, order me to take her to an expensive restaurant, then tell me she's moved my things to make room for her own?"
"Then no, I haven't zoned. I've just been 'Amanda'ed'.
Blair thought he talked a blue streak, but he was an amateur compared to Amanda. Throughout dinner he barely got a word in edgewise and Jim didn't even try. He just sat there smiling or scowling depending on which tale Amanda was telling at the time. Apparently Jim and Amanda had met several times when he was working covert ops in the Army. Amanda, according to her, just always happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and Jim was her personal knight in shining armor. The expression on Jim's face indicated he didn't exactly see it the same way. When Amanda excused herself to powder her nose, Blair turned eagerly to his partner.
"That is some woman!" he gushed enthusiastically.
"I'll second that, Chief," Jim agreed, somewhat dryly. "You didn't buy those romantic, heroic tales, did you?"
Blair shrugged. "I have, on occasion, Jim, embellished a few stories of my own so I'm perfectly able to cut through the thickest of bull. But you gotta love the spirit with which she spreads it," he added with a grin. "You are happy to see her, aren't you, man?"
Jim had to think about it for a minute. "Yeah, I am..."
"But?" Blair pressed.
Jim ran a hand through his short locks. "I'm getting edgy waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"Meaning Amanda has never appeared in my life without trouble being a step behind."
Blair laughed nervously. "Sounds like we have something in common. You don't have second thoughts about me being around, do you?"
Jim shook his head, wondering how Blair could still have doubts after all this time. "Give Amanda a few hours or maybe a few days and you'll see what I mean."
"Maybe it'll be different this time, Jim. I think she'll be good for you. Your past has been knocking you around lately. Maybe she can break the cycle. There's no danger she'll break your heart or anything, is there?"
Jim laughed. "No, Chief. Amanda and I are just close friends."
"Merely in it for the lust, huh?"
"A gentleman never tells."
Amanda's arms came around his neck as she pecked him on the cheek. "Isn't he just about perfect? Why you're still free to play with me, I'll never know. Someone should have scooped you up long ago. Don't you agree, Chief?"
"I can't really say I've thought about it quite that way," Blair admitted with a grin.
"Of course you shouldn't be running around loose either. I bet the ladies just adore those curls of yours," Amanda commented, rubbing one of them between her fingers. "So how do you guys do it? Does Jim take the older women and you the younger or you just rotate?"
"Excuse me?" Blair looked at Jim who just shrugged.
"The women that flock to your door. Do you take the odds and Jim the evens or do you go into the kitchen and toss for them?" she asked straight-faced.
Blair looked to his partner for help. "We have different tastes, Amanda. We don't fight over women."
"So does that mean you don't like me, Chief?" Amanda pouted.
"Of course I do!" Blair said quickly. "But I like you as Jim's woman... I mean he had you first... uh, that's not..."
Jim couldn't help but laugh. "Thank you, Amanda. I don't think I've ever seen the Professor so at a loss for words. What he's trying to say, I think, is that I have shown a preference and you have shown a preference but that doesn't mean he can't worship you from afar."
Amanda beamed. "That's so sweet. Worship is completely acceptable, Chief. But just so you don't get the wrong idea, I'm completely monogamous with the man I'm with at the time. Maybe next time we meet, hmm?"
Blair shook his head. "I don't think so, Amanda. You're definitely too much woman for me."
She patted his hand. "Good answer. We wouldn't want to make Jim jealous, would we?"
"I thought you liked me angry, Amanda," Jim mused staring at the raven-haired beauty. "It seems like every time we're together, you manage to get me in that condition."
"Actually, Jim, I like you any way I can get you. Lighthearted and laughing is perfectly acceptable. You can be such a tease sometimes." Jim saw Blair's eyes widen at that and he shot his roommate a glance designed to silence him. Amanda noticed. "Of course I don't mind that icy blue stare that melts as easily as it cools. And then that jaw clenches." She reached out and traced the outline of Jim's cheekbone, her finger trailing along until it reached his mouth. " When you get that way I can feel the raw power in your body, but still I know your touch will be so gentle and that despite the anger, despite the cause, you would never use your strength against me. That's because you know how to treat a lady, Jim, how to be tender or rough depending on what tickles the lady's fancy..."
Blair watched with the fascination of a voyeur. He couldn't help himself; Amanda's words were so stirring, her caress so intimate. And Jim just sat there as if carved in stone. Man, he envied his friend's control. If a woman came on to him so openly, he'd be across the street to the Holiday Inn so fast... Then the spell was broken by an odd sound. It took a moment to register that it was Jim's cell phone.
"Excuse me," Jim said politely and turned slightly away.
Amanda sat back and used her hand to fan herself. "Is it warm in here?"
"Ice water would probably help," Blair suggested, his hand going to his own glass.
"If I didn't know better, I would say that was what he had running through his veins," she said as she ran a finger along the back Jim presented to her. There was no reaction.
"How does he do that?" Blair whispered in awe.
"Sheer willpower," Amanda explained, her eyes drinking in the tall form. "He's a tease, I tell you. The only man I've ever had to work so hard to outlast. Of course, I've yet to succeed. But we have had several ties. It's very annoying to the competitor in me, but so delightfully satisfying to the rest..."
Blair was glad as Jim stuck the phone back in his pocket and motioned for their waiter. He was all for equal rights and yes, he felt it was possible for a man and woman to be friends, but there were just some things he didn't feel comfortable discussing with a woman. But what if Jim's ability to "pace" himself had something to do with his senses? Touch would be a good bet...
When the waiter arrived, Jim held out his credit card and badge. "I'm a police officer who needs to respond to an emergency. Would you mind rushing this through?"
"What's up, Jim?" Blair asked when the waiter left.
"That was Simon. He needs us at a crime scene."
"We're not on call tonight. Why us?"
"It's a homicide, Chief."
Blair frowned. If Major Crime was being called in on a homicide, it wouldn't be an ordinary one. And for Jim to be singled out, the situation was dire. Captain Simon Banks only called in his best detective for the really gruesome deaths or ones in a series. Whatever it was, a civilian probably shouldn't see it, except him. Not that he was used to such scenes, but backing Jim was his job. "Do we have time to take Amanda home first?"
Jim regarded his female companion with the kind of stare that made Blair nervous. The Sentinel could read far deeper than most were comfortable with. "That's not necessary, is it, Amanda?" Jim asked casually. "Amanda is not the squeamish type, Chief. Besides, this kind of murder is right up her alley."
Amanda dropped her eyes and focused on her napkin. "What kind of murder, Jim?" Blair finally asked when he saw the other two weren't going to elaborate.
"A beheading, Chief."
The waiter came and Jim scribbled his name, then stood to pull out Amanda's chair. She was silent as he helped her with her jacket and escorted her to the truck. Blair was quiet too as he tried to figure out what was going on. At the loft Jim had intimated Amanda was some kind of thief, but said nothing about homicidal tendencies. Surely that would have been worth a sentence or two. "Jim, I'm confused," he admitted as his partner pulled out of the parking lot.
"Nothing to be confused about, Chief. Remember that shoe I was telling you about?" Blair nodded. "Well, it just fell."
"Jim, we could leave you at the crime scene and I can take Amanda home and come back for you," Blair offered as a compromise. It just didn't feel right dragging their visitor to a gruesome murder. What would she do? Just stand there over the body and watch them work?
"You are a sweetheart, Chief," Amanda said, praising his efforts at defending her sensibilities. "But it's okay. Staying with you and Jim is probably for the best."
"Does that mean you're in danger?" Jim asked curtly.
"I'm always in danger," she said flippantly.
Jim reached down to cover one of her hands. "You know I'll protect you."
She entwined her fingers in his. "Maybe this time I'm here to protect you," Amanda said softly.
Jim saw the flashing blue lights ahead and knew the discussion was over-- for now. "You'll explain what that means later." She nodded obediently but he wasn't fooled. Amanda knew how to avoid the truth in more ways than Blair did. He sighed and got out of the truck. It was going to be a long night.
"Hi detective, Sandburg, ma'am," a young uniform called as they walked toward the area highlighted by a series of halogen lamps. Jim automatically adjusted his enhanced sight, only then realizing that there were no lights in the area. True, it was a clear field but there was a housing development one block over. There should have been streetlights. He also noticed something else. "Ozone," he murmured.
"What's that, Jim?" Blair asked from the other side of Amanda.
"I smell fried ozone, Chief, like after a lightning strike."
Blair looked up at the sky. A zillion stars winked back. "No evidence of a recent storm," he said, puzzled.
Jim shrugged it off. "What you got, Richards?" he asked the eager officer.
"One male, approximately in his early to mid thirties. His head is here; his body is there. Doesn't appear to be an accident, sir."
"With observation skills like that, officer, you should be a detective in no time," Jim joked, trying to ease the tension he felt in young Richards. Either he was getting old or the police department was recruiting from middle schools these days. "Why is it so dark around here?"
"Power outage. That's how the victim was discovered. The power company guy came out here to see if a line had been damaged. Stumbled right over the body."
"Where is he?"
"In the back of my cruiser." Richards pointed to his police car. "He's pretty badly shaken."
"I can imagine." He felt a shudder and looked at the woman on his arm. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I just want to see the head." From the size of the body, she was pretty sure things had not gone the way they should have, but she needed to be certain. Jim escorted her over to the rest of the remains, ignoring the curious stares of the other officers. She looked at the face and closed her eyes. "Damn it," she muttered softly.
"I take it this isn't who you were hoping to find?" Jim questioned just as softly. Leave it to Amanda to be up to her pretty little eyes in his investigation. As if he hadn't known this was going to happen. He looked up when he heard the arrival of more vehicles. Simon, Dan Wolfe, who was the coroner, and Cassie Wells, head of forensics started toward them. "Chief," he called. "Take Amanda back to the truck and stay with her." He heard the protest even before his partner opened his mouth. "I'll call you if I need you." But he didn't think he would. After all, the answers he needed wouldn't come from the crime scene.
Captain Banks drifted away from his two companions to intercept the police observer and the woman he escorted. "Sandburg, could I see you a moment?"
Blair told Amanda to go on to the truck and he took the few steps to meet the captain. "Jim's with the body... and the head."
Simon nodded. "Is that a witness?" he asked, pointing toward the beautiful woman heading toward Jim's truck.
"You brought your lady to a crime scene, Sandburg? Well, that's classy."
"She's not my lady," Blair hurried to explain. "She's Jim's."
Simon scowled. "What the hell is he thinking... with?" he added as he appreciatively took in the long slim legs revealed by the minute skirt of her dress. "Have I seen her before?"
"I doubt it, captain. She and Jim go way back. She was waiting in the loft when we got home from the station."
"In the loft?"
"And Ellison didn't have her arrested?"
"No. He just took us out to dinner. Of course, by that point she had already moved her stuff into his room."
Simon sighed. Only one thing could pull his best team off track-- women. "This isn't another Lila, I hope." Lila, another woman from Jim's past, ended up being a hitwoman. That she died saving Jim was a plus, but didn't take away from the fact she had been hired to kill him.
"I think Amanda is in a class all by herself, Simon," Blair said, not disputing the captain's worry. He was starting to get concerned himself. He'd only caught part of what Jim and Amanda said over the body, but he realized Amanda apparently knew the victim. And Jim hadn't said a word. Not good. Maybe it had something to do with their covert past. Again, not good. "Jim told me to keep an eye on her, so I'm assuming he's on his guard."
"Don't assume, Sandburg. You be his guard. Understand?"
Blair nodded and quietly joined Amanda by the truck. "That's Captain Banks?" she asked, eyeing the tall, handsome man ambling to the crime scene. "Maybe I should hang out with cops more often." When Blair just continued to stare in the darkness, she sighed. "You're very protective of him, aren't you?"
That got Blair's attention. "What do you mean?"
"At the loft, the restaurant, you couldn't get enough of me. One hint that I might cause Jim trouble and suddenly, the temperature has fallen close to freezing. Your loyalty to Jim is admirable."
"He's earned it."
Amanda smiled. "I know that. I'm here because he's earned mine too. Believe me, Chief, I want to protect him as much as you do."
"Why? And I don't mean the bedtime stories you told at dinner."
"Take away my best props, why don't you?" she complained lightly. "I used to be in the circus, Chief. The Amazing Amanda. Acrobatics, high-wire, magic, the works. I dazzled them all; young, old, male, female. Some was skill, most sleight-of-hand. I guess that's my life in a nutshell. It's all about the scam and it has worked for me for a long time-- trust me, that's not an understatement," Amanda added with a laugh.
She sobered and stared into the night. "I don't regret my life. For the most part, it's been fun and one big adventure. But sometimes, you want more. Can you understand that?"
The question affected Blair more than she knew. He had wandered from adventure to adventure starting as a tagalong to his flower child mother and then on his own as an anthropologist. She was right; it had been fun. Then he'd met Jim and a whole different adventure had begun. And as far as the scams were concerned, he'd been involved in his share of those too. "Yeah, Amanda, I understand. It's starting to get weird how much we have in common."
She looked at him, first in disbelief then with grudging acknowledgment. There was something in his eyes that looked very familiar. "Let me give you a piece of advice then-- never scam a Scot. Believe me, they just won't buy it. I should have realized that when I first met Jim but at the time I thought it was only one particular Highlander that I couldn't fool. But I was wrong, Chief.
"I was in Turkey; that part I didn't lie about at dinner. But instead of stealing secret intelligence for a government agency, what I really stole was a stunning diamond necklace. Whoever cut those stones was a genius. Each facet so--"
"You're drifting," Blair warned as her eyes took on a strange glint.
"Sorry, Chief." She banished the memory of the necklace from her mind. The loss hurt too much anyway. "The owner of the necklace starts chasing me down the street and I was scared to death. They have very strict, very nasty laws about thievery in that part of the world. Anyway, I see this handsome American officer in his perfectly pressed uniform and I run up to him, begging for his help. I weave this tale about my being a fellow American unfairly accused of a crime. I hide behind him and he confronts the Turk convincing the man I am innocent because I had just flown in to meet him, my fiance. How could I have possibly planned a jewelry heist? I thought I could work a scam, but Jim has the face of innocence down pat. Hell, Chief, even I started to believe I hadn't taken the necklace." She laughed in remembrance.
"After the Turk left, thoroughly convinced he had chased the wrong person, Jim invited me to dinner. Of course I said yes. Toward the end of the meal, he casually mentioned the strict laws Turkey had for stealing, how I could get lost in the prison system and never see the light of day again. But if he was to speak to that Turk tomorrow and find out the necklace had miraculously reappeared, then I wouldn't have to worry about what the Turkish authorities would do to me. I was a bit miffed that he'd figured me out and I cooly told him I wasn't worried, that by tomorrow I would be miles and miles away. I expected a retort, maybe a threat. But he merely smiled and said that I couldn't get away from him, that he would find me.
"I should have laughed. There was always one man or another telling me he would find me and exact revenge, but they never did. They're usually quite serious about it and this man was smiling when he said the words. Yet, I believed him. It took every ounce of willpower I had, but the Turk was able to tell Jim he was sorry for the trouble he had caused because the necklace hadn't been stolen, merely misplaced in the wrong case."
"Didn't returning it make you feel better?" Blair asked.
Amanda looked at him in pity. Such naivete. "No. But Jim did. We were together for seven glorious days and nights."
"So Jim earned your loyalty by making you toe the straight and narrow," Blair guessed.
"Alas, the lesson didn't take, Chief. Once the seven days were over, I headed right back to the crooked and wide," she admitted shamelessly. "The next time I ran into Jim someone was after me again. But this one didn't want me in prison; he wanted me dead."
"What had you stolen this time?"
"Precisely the question I expected from Jim. But he merely took care of the situation for me."
"So you claim to be protecting Jim now because he protected you before."
She shook her head. "I'm loyal to Jim because he saw, he sees, the real Amanda and likes her anyway. He could save my life a thousand times and it couldn't increase what I feel for him simply because when I needed help, he took me in."
"Amanda, we are so much alike, it's scary," Blair remarked hauntedly. Jim had seen him at his worse and not only had taken him in, but kept him. No matter how often he screwed up, the door to the loft remained open to him. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say we were twins."
"Maybe in the cosmic sense," she said with a smile. "So, does that mean you believe I'm not a threat to Jim?"
"Yeah. But if you're not the threat, who is?"
Her eyes narrowed as she focused on the crime scene. "That's what I'm about to find out. Who is that red-haired hussy brushing up against Jim?"
Blair laughed at the description. "That's Cassie Wells. She's head of forensics. You have nothing to worry about, though. Jim barely tolerates her."
"Can't scam a Scot," she repeated softly. "So what do you think of her, Chief?"
"Jim and Simon have warned me away from her."
Amanda nodded emphatically. "Listen to your friends, Chief, and if you won't, listen to your 'twin'. If all poisons were bitter, no one would drink."
He was about to compliment her analogy when he noticed she was halfway back to the site. He scrambled to catch up with her. "Hey, where are you going?"
"Danger is danger, Chief, and I promised to protect Jim. If that means making sure Miss Cassie Wells keeps her distance, so be it."
Jim easily heard their approach. "I was just coming to tell you guys to go on to the loft. I have a witness to interview and a report to file so it's going to take a while."
"I can take Amanda home, then come back," Blair offered.
"That's okay, Chief. I'll bum a ride to the station and back home." His blue eyes made an appeal to Simon, who nodded.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends, Jim?" Amanda asked sweetly.
"Forgive my slip," Jim said, wondering what she was up to. He was pretty sure she'd already grilled Blair about his companions. "Amanda, this is my captain, Simon Banks. And this is Cassie Wells who heads our forensics department."
"I'm sorry your dinner was interrupted," Simon said politely as he quickly assessed Jim's latest lady. She was beautiful, but... He shook his head, not able to label what bothered him.
"Were you at dinner with Blair or Jim?" Cassie asked impertinently.
"Both," Amanda replied with a smile to the men.
"They didn't stick with you with the check, did they?"
Amanda's eyes widened in disbelief. "These gentlemen would never do something like that to a friend. They are both just so sweet. I'm sure they're going to pamper me my whole visit. Jim even cleared a drawer or two for me."
"You're staying at the loft?"
Amanda made sure to lean back against Jim as she answered. "Where else would I stay? Jim doesn't mind and neither do you, do you, Chief?"
"No, of course not. You and Jim go way back. Who am I to stand in the way of that?" he replied, trying to ignore the strange looks he was getting because Amanda called him Chief.
"You're Jim's best friend, that's who," Amanda said. "And I know better than to try to come between you two. It's quite obvious you're a team."
"Well, Blair, if you ever start feeling like a third wheel, you can come and crash at my place," Cassie offered, touching him on the arm.
Quick as a flash, Amanda maneuvered Blair away from Cassie and to her side. "I'm partial to third wheels, Cassie. They provide balance and company when the other wheel has to work. Come on, Chief, we need to go home and let Jim do what he has to. Captain, it was nice meeting you. Jim," she kissed him soundly, "don't work too late. Cassie, take care." Amanda's flashing eyes made it a warning. Both Jim and Blair were under her protection.
Simon grinned when Cassie turned away in a huff. "Your Amanda seems to share in your opinion of the feisty Ms. Wells."
"The Amazing Amanda knows all," Jim said softly.
Jim shook his head. "Nothing, Simon. Let's go have a talk with that power company guy."
It was the wee hours of the morning when Simon let Jim out in front of the loft. Thankfully the captain was as tired as he was, Jim thought as he dug in his pockets for his keys. Minimum questions about Amanda, a few vague warnings, that was all Simon had said on the way home. But tomorrow, he'd probably call his detective into the office and demand an explanation. But then, hopefully, by that time Jim would have an explanation handy.
He heard their voices as he approached the door. "I'm sorry I'm so late," he apologized as he shrugged out of his jacket. "But I'm glad you stayed up. We really need to talk." He joined them in the living area. Blair was in sweats and Amanda had apparently not only moved some of his things but borrowed them as well. His Cascade P.D. T-shirt made her look adorable, even innocent. "Ready to tell me what's going on, Amanda?"
"No," she replied honestly. "And believe me, if the body found tonight was the right one, you wouldn't be hearing this story. Baring my soul to Chief here was bad enough."
"You bared your soul to Blair?" Jim looked at his roommate in admiration. He managed to keep Amanda from lying, but a look at her soul had always been out of his reach.
"Had to if I planned on turning my back on him anytime soon."
"She's exaggerating, Jim," Blair said defensively.
"Am not. Your friend was very sweet and kind to me until he thought I was going to hurt you or get you into trouble. After that he was so menacing I had to explain some of my deeper thoughts until he believed I was here to protect you."
"This is the second time you've mentioned protecting me, Amanda," Jim said softly. "Maybe you should begin by explaining that. Does it have anything to do with our mutual past?"
"No, Jim. It's not about you and me. It's about you and Blair."
"Blair's in danger too?" Amanda nodded. The calm, patient Jim disappeared. Danger to himself was just part of the life he'd chosen; danger to his partner was an entirely different matter. One that had to be taken care of with expediency. "Damn it, Amanda, stop playing games and tell me!"
"Wow. That protective streak runs both ways, doesn't it," she remarked, touched by the way both men looked out for each other. She'd seen this type of companionship before and she felt sorry for anyone who tried to separate them. Maybe she wasn't needed here after all.
"Sorry, Jim," she said sheepishly. "Just trying to get my thoughts together so that this makes some sense. A few years ago, some guy discovered a set of prophecies by a Robert McTeague."
"Xavier Richoff," Blair imparted, recognizing McTeague's name. "He was a famous archaeologist. He found the prophecies, then before he could translate what they said, he died when his house caught fire. The prophecies were destroyed as well."
"He didn't just die, Chief," Amanda pointed out.
"No, some believe it was suicide because of what he'd read. After all, why would he have had the originals and copies with him when his house burned."
Amanda shook her head. "It wasn't a suicide either. He was murdered and his murderer took the prophecies."
"You know this to be a fact?" Jim asked. He had been content to let them discuss the archaeologist and his prophecies but murder was his area.
"Yes. Because it is his murderer that is after you."
"Why?" Blair and Jim asked at the same time.
"For some insane reason, he thinks one of the prophecies is about the two of you. I'm not sure how he came to that conclusion," she said apologetically.
"Do you know what the prophecy says?" Blair asked.
"Something about a guy with the wisdom of the ages and a guy with the power of his senses joining together and ruling the world forever. I admit I stopped listening when I heard it was you he was after, Jim. I just hopped on a plane and came to Cascade." Amanda was so busy telling her story that she failed to see the meaningful glance between Jim and Blair.
"Robert McTeague lived about a thousand years ago," Blair hurriedly observed. "I'm sure his prophesies are open to misinterpretation, not to mention bad translation."
"It doesn't matter whether the prophecy is true. What does matter is that Coy Duvall believes it and has targeted the two of you," Amanda declared.
"How do you know this?" Jim demanded. "Who is this Coy Duvall to you and why did he tell you this?"
"He didn't tell me. Jim. I barely know the man."
"But you knew he wasn't the dead body found tonight."
"The body tonight was one of the committee sent here to protect you."
Jim rubbed his temples and wondered if he shouldn't have put this conversation off until he was better rested. Amanda never took the forward approach to the truth. She preferred batting it around for awhile, then coming at it from an angle. Why hadn't he remembered that? "What kind of committee, Amanda? And if Duvall didn't tell you what was going on, who did?"
Amanda nervously brushed her fingers through her hair as she paced the loft. "Just to make this easier in telling, let's just say Duvall belongs to a club and his fellow club members don't like what he wants to do."
"You a member of this club, Amanda?" She nodded. "And was it club business that required you decapitate the man I killed for you in Rome?"
Blair's head snapped toward his partner. He'd been sitting back listening, trying to sort out fact from fiction as Amanda talked. But he had to react to this. "Jim?"
"It was a righteous shooting, Chief. The man came after us with a sword. I went to contact the authorities. When I returned, the guy was minus his head and Amanda had disappeared."
"It was something that had to be done, Jim."
"The man was already dead," he stated flatly.
"No, he wasn't."
"I don't know dead, Amanda? I put a bullet through his heart." The kill shot had been instinctive.
"But he wasn't really dead until I took his head," Amanda argued. "You don't understand, Jim."
"Then make me understand, Amanda. I think you owe me that much."
She thought about what she'd confided to Blair. "You're right. I do owe you." And it's something you have to know anyway. "I could do this more dramatically, perhaps," she said as she headed toward the kitchen, "but I'm really not into pain."
Something in her voice tipped Jim off. "What are you planning, Amanda?" he asked anxiously, rising from his chair to watch her. He saw her take the butcher knife from the cutlery block on the cabinet. "Don't, sweetheart," he pleaded, when he saw her intention.
"Shit," Blair swore softly beside him as he saw Amanda holding the knife over her wrist. What the hell had happened? "Amanda, what are you doing?" he asked in a hushed whisper.
"Making you understand." Squinting her eyes shut, she brought the knife down deeply across her wrist.
"Call 911, Chief!" Jim yelled as he sprinted to Amanda. She stood there, watching the blood stream from her arm and he knew she was in shock. He also knew he had to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible. He reached for a clean dishtowel.
"God, I hate blood," Amanda muttered. The things I do just because a man likes me. She looked up to see the panicked men in action. "Hang up the phone, Chief," she ordered softly. By that time Jim had taken her wrist into his hand and started to wrap the towel around it. Then he stopped.
"Tell the 911 operator you made a mistake, Chief."
Blair frowned. He'd ignored Amanda's order, but this one came from Jim. He apologized and hung up the phone. "Jim, she needs medical attention, man."
"No, she doesn't," Jim said hollowly. He revealed the wrist he still held in his hand. There was only a faint red mark where the laceration used to be.
"What the hell?" Blair looked at Amanda angrily. "You pulling your stupid carnival tricks on us, Amanda? That's sick!"
"It wasn't a trick," Jim said. "I saw it, felt it, healing, Chief." He looked at the wrist one more time, then at the lady it belonged to. "Who are you? What are you?"
"I am an Immortal."
"Why don't we go back to the sofa," Jim suggested, breaking the silence that had fallen in the loft.
"I'm fine, Jim," Amanda protested. "I don't need to sit down."
"Yeah, but we do," he explained, gathering Blair with his eyes.
Blair thought about Alice falling into a rabbit hole and knew she couldn't have felt as displaced as he was right now. "You're immortal? As in, 'can't die'?"
"As in, 'can die', but only if you take my head."
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"You eventually get used to it, Chief," Amanda said knowledgeably.
"The victim tonight, the man I shot in Rome, hell, this entire club you talked about. You're all..." Jim shook his head, not in disbelief but bewilderment. Since finding out he was a sentinel, he was far more open in his thinking. Three or four years ago, he would have simply laughed in her face and called her a liar. But now, he merely struggled to comprehend what he'd been told.
"We are Immortals, Jim. There are quite a few of us and doubtlessly, you know more of us than you think. There are no physical differences between us and mortals."
"Except for the part where we die," Blair said dryly. "Where do you come from? Are there any distinguishing features about your people?"
"We don't know where we come from, Chief, or how we arrive here. All of us are foundlings, taken in, adopted, whatever. We start out as babies, which is a mystery in itself since we can't have children. As far as distinguishing features, we are as diverse as mortals. Males, females, Black, White, Asian, you name it." She hesitated for a second.
"But?" Blair prompted. He was still pretty shocky over the whole discovery but he was beginning to see the anthropological significance of such a society. And the historical value...
"I can recognize an Immortal when I meet one. Something goes off in our heads when another Immortal is nearby. Sorta like a buzzer."
"You all get the same reaction?"
"Most of us. However, there is this one guy who always sneezes when one is around."
Blair smiled at that. "There must be a reason for this recognition mechanism," he mused aloud.
"Oh, that's an easy one, Chief. We recognize each other so we know who to kill," Amanda replied blithely.
"You've been given this gift and you use it to kill each other?" Blair sputtered in outrage.
Amanda perched beside him and patted his hand. "It's alright, Chief. It's what we're supposed to do. It's part of the Game."
"Doesn't sound too friendly to me," Jim remarked mockingly.
Amanda crossed her arms and stared at the two stubborn men. Apparently, she was going to have to give the long version of the story. "Immortals have a power, an essence, which is called the quickening. It is released when he or she is killed and absorbed by the nearest Immortal around, usually the killer, making that Immortal stronger. In the time of the gathering, which is now, the Immortals battle and in the end there will be only one and that Immortal will rule the world."
"So, in other words, you and your kind just go around offing each other when you cross paths?" Jim asked. As if there wasn't enough violence in the world.
"You make us sound like barbarians," Amanda huffed defensively. "We have rules. How do you think we've kept ourselves hidden from mortals all these centuries? We don't fight in public. And we absolutely, positively, don't fight on Holy Ground."
"What happens if an Immortal is killed on Holy Ground?" Blair inquired curiously.
Amanda shrugged. "Rumor has it that the only time an Immortal committed such a sin was in Pompeii in 79 A.D."
Blair paled. That was the year the city was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Nothing survived. "What are the other rules?"
"Just like in the mortal world, they depend on whether you're a good guy or a bad one. The bad ones stick to the first two on a regular basis. They don't kill on Holy Ground, nor do they fight in front of mortals.. The good guys, my side," she asserted with a smile, "believe in honorable combat. That means we can't interfere in someone's else's fight once in starts. We don't gang up to take out another Immortal. We don't attack innocents. And we generally stay away from fighting if possible. However, we do defend ourselves and those who are defenseless. It's really quite civilized. Believe me, I have several close Immortal friends and I would never consider killing them-- unless they needed it."
"So is Duvall bad or good?" Jim asked.
"We all thought he was okay until this prophecy thing took over."
"What rule is he breaking? Teaming up, according to you, is discouraged, yet Duvall is doing something so awful that is has a committee of you trying to protect Blair and me. What is it? Do you not come after mortals?"
Amanda looked across at Jim, wondering how to phrase her answer without hurting him. He was a most capable man, but no match for a seasoned Immortal and it was important he knew that. "The general consensus is that mortals die, so what? It may seem cruel and some of us with stronger consciences than others, find it troubling. But unless the Immortal's actions are threatening to reveal our existence, we generally stay out of it."
"So what makes us so special?" Jim reiterated. It bothered him that there were people dying protecting him. Protection was his job, his specialty. The sacrifice of even one life for his was not acceptable.
"You're defenseless, Jim. You may have managed to shoot Duvall before he killed you, but as soon as you turned your back he would have taken you. At least now you possess the knowledge of how to kill him permanently. But you still lack the skill." His flinch was so tiny she almost missed it, but she realized maybe she had been too blunt. Damn it. As long as she had been handling men and their fragile egos, she should have been better at this.
"I can handle a sword." Blair and Amanda stared at him. "Dad made both of his sons take fencing. It was to help us with coordination and build upper arm strength, something he thought his two quarterbacks should have. Then I took it up again in the Army."
"I had no idea," Blair said, constantly astonished by his friend's hidden talents.
"You know my Army training, Chief. If it's a way to kill, I had to learn it."
"This is good," Amanda announced eagerly, hoping he wasn't just trying to salvage his pride. But she'd never known Jim to boast. "We'll have a practice session tomorrow. Maybe see if you're a little rusty, share a few pointers, that sort of thing."
"I don't have a sword. It's not like I thought I would need one again."
She waved away his concern. "Not a problem. I'll take care of it."
"Fine," Jim said, abruptly getting to his feet. "Is there anything else we absolutely have to know tonight or can we just go to bed and start again tomorrow?"
"Jim," Blair wailed. "We can't stop now, man. Do you know how many questions I need to ask Amanda. We haven't even gotten around to finding out how old she is."
"Jim's right," Amanda agreed hastily. "The rest can wait. I'm not going anywhere and I promise to answer all your questions-- if they're not too personal. I'm sure your mother taught you never to ask a lady her age, Chief," she chided.
"I don't know about that, Amanda," Jim commented as he checked the locks on the door and started clicking off lights. "You don't know Naomi."
"Very funny, Jim," Blair complained. "I don't know how you expect me to sleep when I have all these questions. Moments like this don't--" he paused to yawn-- "occur every day, you know."
"I know, Chief. But it's been a long day and we need clear minds to handle this properly. Amanda's going to stick around. In fact, I'll hold onto her all night just so you can be certain she won't leave. Does that make you feel better?" Jim asked with a grin.
"The fact that I'm going to bed with a few thousand questions and you're going with a beautiful woman? No, Jim. That does not make me feel better, man," Blair replied with a rueful smile. He got to his feet, surprised to feel exhaustion tugging at him. Maybe Jim was right about getting some sleep. "Good night, guys."
"Good night, Chief," they chorused.
"So, Jim, how tired are you?" Amanda asked as they walked up the stairs together.
"I don't know, Amanda. How old are you?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Seducing little old women just isn't my style."
"I'll give you old," she said, thrusting her elbow into his stomach. He bent over laughing. "Besides, who said you could do the seducing? I'll have you know I learned the art when it was considered an art form. I could probably teach you a thing or two."
His arms came around her. "Okay, teach. I'm all yours."
"Morning, Chief," Jim called as he came downstairs. He'd heard his partner shower, then start the coffee.
"Morning, Jim. Should I make breakfast for three?"
Jim joined Blair in the kitchen. "Yeah, go ahead. Amanda's still sleeping, but I'll wake her after I shower. I don't think it's a good idea if we separate today." He looked at the floor. "I see you wiped up the blood. With all that went on, I forgot about it."
"I did too, man, until I came in here to make the coffee. You okay with last night?" Blair asked in concern. Sometimes it was hard figuring out how Jim was feeling. He was so used to hiding his emotions.
Jim shrugged. "Amanda is an Immortal. Whether I'm okay with that or not, won't change anything."
"And the fact that one of these Immortals is after us?"
"SOP for us, isn't it, Chief?"
Blair reluctantly nodded. When had having a killer after him become standard operating procedure and why didn't it frighten him more? Apparently his first anthropology professor had been right; man could adapt to almost any conditions. "So what's on today's Do List?"
"We need to go down to the station and have a talk with Simon." His roommate gave him a dubious look. "Not about that. But he should know this Duvall guy is after us. Then if we can get Amanda to agree, we should visit with our self-proclaimed bodyguards."
"It bothers you that guy was killed last night."
"Hell, yes, it bothers me, Chief."
"Because these people assume you can't take care of yourself?" He certainly knew the feeling-- too well.
"Because someone died, Chief. In my city. In my name. I don't agree with the way Amanda and her friends are handling this situation, but I understand their motivation. It's the same excuse the government has used for its police actions around the globe: the assumption is made that said native is not only too weak to defend himself but too stupid to even comprehend the danger. Bad politics but good intentions... Who I'm pissed at is Duvall. He reads something that is probably no more prophetical than the weatherman's forecast and decides he has the right to kill us. That is arrogance, plain and simple."
"Maybe it comes with being an Immortal," Blair hazarded. "Can you imagine how it feels to have lived through history? To have seen the rise and fall of kingdoms and nations? To have watched disease ravage the land and know you're safe? To go into battle and know you will not fall?"
"To have to cut off someone's head because he's trying to take yours?"
Blair's animated face became still. "Man, you just have to suck the romance out of everything, don't you?"
"Just trying to make you shed those rose-colored glasses, Chief," Jim replied. Sometimes his partner got too caught up in life, then life, usually unfortunately, would catch up with him. "We're dealing with killers, Blair. Always remember that."
Blair nodded solemnly and Jim went to take his shower. Jim was right; now was not the time to be elevating these Immortals to gods. These people had been trained to kill, to ruthlessly slice off their opponents' heads. Constantly pursued, constantly pursuing.
"Morning, Chief. Lost in thought?" The anthropologist hadn't even noticed her come down the stairs.
"Why don't you so-called good Immortals just retire to Holy Ground and let the bad ones fight it out among themselves?" he asked abruptly.
"Ah, the thousand questions begin." She adjusted the tie on her robe. "Why don't you and Jim just let evil take over Cascade? You're not even a cop, yet you do not stay in the shadows where it's safe, do you? Good must fight evil. Chief. It is the way of nature." Amanda looked at him with very sad eyes. "There was one, an Immortal named Darius. He participated in some of the most bloody wars in history. Then one day, he gained enlightenment. He became a priest and vowed never to lift the sword again. Of all the deaths I have experienced, both mortal and Immortal, I think his was the most devastating."
"He left Holy Ground?"
"No. He was killed in his church." Her eyes flashed dangerously. "By a group of mortals who know about us."
"I'm sorry, Amanda," Blair said quickly, feeling guilty for what his own kind had done.
She shrugged off his sympathy. "It's over and done. Death is just as much a part of immortality as life. It's something we all come to learn eventually."
"Do Immortals fall in love with mortals?"
"Frequently. There are more of you than there are us, you know."
"And we watch them all die. Friends, lovers, people we consider family. They all die and we know that from the moment we love them. I think that's why it's so hard to lose an Immortal like Darius. You start depending on him to be around and when he's not... This is certainly a gloomy way to start the day, Chief," Amanda said suddenly, shaking off the depression that had started to descend. "Breakfast should be served with a smile, not a tear."
"You're absolutely right, Amanda. You like eggs?" Blair asked, turning around to the stove.
"I like anything I don't have to cook. Where's Jim?"
"In the shower."
"Now there's a sight that could brighten my day." She headed toward the bathroom.
Blair wondered if he should put breakfast on hold, but five minutes later the bathroom door opened and Jim stepped out, ducking as a bar of soap flew across the space where his head used to be. "You tease!" Amanda shouted as he reached back and shut the door.
Jim picked up the soap and brought it to the kitchen sink, still laughing. "Think she's so hot at me, she won't notice when the--" Amanda's indignant shriek almost deafened him-- "hot water runs out?"
"I guess she no longer wonders why you don't have a wife," Blair said, amused by Jim's playfulness. The big guy apparently was handling things okay. "You know it was a rotten thing for you to do, considering you're taking her to the station. There wouldn't be any stories you wouldn't want her telling the guys, would there?"
"Oh, shit," Jim muttered as he hurried back toward the bathroom. "Amanda, sweetheart, I'm sorry for not warning..."
Blair continued making breakfast, occasionally chuckling as his partner pleaded in the background. Just another glorious morning in Cascade.
Jim eyed Amanda apprehensively as he and Blair headed toward Simon's office. She was sitting at his desk and already the rest of the Major Crime guys were inching in her direction. He thought he'd made up for the morning prank but he wasn't sure.
"Come on, Jim," Blair ordered beside him. "You have to trust you'll still have a reputation when we get back. Of course, what kind of reputation that will be..." He grinned at his friend's discomfiture. "Good morning, captain." He opened the door and stepped inside, leaving Jim no choice but to follow.
"What's got you so happy this morning, Sandburg?" Simon asked as he looked at the two men entering his office. "And what's got your partner so worried?"
"Amanda's at his desk and the rest of the guys are sniffing around."
"He's worried about Amanda?"
"He's worried about himself. Amanda knows quite a bit about him and he made the mistake of using all the hot water this morning."
Simon smiled and put his hand on the phone. "Should I call out there and tell someone to start the tape recorder?"
"Everyone's a comedian today," Jim griped as he settled into a chair. "We have information concerning last night's murder, sir."
All joking was immediately put aside. "What do you have, Jim?"
"We have reason to believe the victim is not the intended target or targets for the killer."
"This guy just got in the way? An innocent bystander?"
"No, sir. He intentionally put himself between the murderer and the targets."
Simon shook his head. "No matter how many times we tell people to go to the police, some of them still insist on hiring private security. Give me the names of the intended victims and I'll see if I can't convince them to use the police to help with this problem."
Jim looked at his partner, then straightened in the chair. "Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison."
The captain took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "You're joking, right? Of course you're not. It's never a joke when you two are under the gun. I don't understand it. Most cops go through their whole careers without so much as a threat. But you two can't cross the street without someone trying to blow you away. Why is that, gentlemen?"
"We don't know, sir," Jim replied solemnly.
"Well, it's about time you figure it out," Simon said angrily. "Why am I just hearing about this? Why did someone have to die before you came to me?"
"We just found out ourselves, captain," Blair explained. "We didn't know someone was after us. We didn't know there were people trying to head the guy off."
Simon groaned and looked out into the bullpen. "What does she have to do with it?" He knew when he met her there was going to be trouble. What did he have to do? Neuter the two men in front of him? Probably wouldn't help. They could be eunuchs in a harem and still women would be their downfall.
Jim and Blair related what Amanda had told about the prophecy. Simon immediately caught on to the reference to Sentinel and Guide. "Does Amanda and these other club members know how close this Duvall is to the truth about the two of you?"
"No, sir. Apparently Duvall didn't let on why he was convinced we were the ones mentioned in the writings. I think they were hoping to talk some sense into Duvall and let it go."
"Well, I think we can safely assume that approach is not working," Simon said dryly. "Do we have an address on Duvall?"
"No, sir," Jim answered quietly. "And we have no reason to pick him up or search his home if we did. We only have Amanda's version of the story and I'm sure that wouldn't hold up before a judge."
"But you believe her?"
"And you, Sandburg?" He was hoping Jim's partner would be more objective, especially after their conversation the night before.
"She's telling the truth, captain."
Simon sighed and wondered if it would help if he moved away. Took a job in Key West maybe. No, better to get off the continent altogether. Ha. As if an ocean could keep these two from complicating his life. "How do you wish to proceed, gentlemen?" Why did he have these conversations with them? Why didn't they just come in, tell him what they were going to do, and go do it? Nine times out of ten that's what happened, despite his input.
"We're hoping to talk with our would-be protectors. See if we can't come up with a plan to get Duvall out of the way, legally and with no more deaths. They apparently know him better than we do."
"But not nearly as well as they thought," Simon pointed out. "Do you want back up?"
Jim shook his head. "Already have too much of that, sir. We'll keep you informed, let you know if we get in over our heads."
"Sure you will," Simon said, not believing a moment of it. Jim meant well, but... "Just remember, gentlemen, you're targets. Watch your backs."
"We will." They stood to leave.
"Jim, stay a moment, please."
Jim looked at Blair and shrugged, sending his partner into the bullpen. "Yes, captain?"
"Stop with the captain for a minute, Jim. This is just you and me talking, friend to friend. What am I missing here?"
Jim frowned. "I don't understand."
"Neither do I. Something's just not right with this picture. There's a man trying to kill you. Has murdered once already in his attempt. You don't suggest Blair go to a safe house because you know it would be a waste of time. That part I get," Simon said as he chewed on the handle of his glasses. "But the Jim Ellison I know would be trying like holy hell to get his friend Amanda to safety-- even if it meant force. But here she is, tagging along with you as if nothing is wrong and instead of worrying about her, you're wondering what she's telling the guys? It's not adding up, my friend."
"Amanda is no ordinary woman," Jim said as honestly as he could without spilling her secret.
"Please don't tell me she's another paid assassin. Strong women are one thing, Jim, but, hell, man, you can do better."
Jim laughed softly. "Don't worry, Simon. Amanda is many things, but an assassin is not one of them. She's a survivor, sir, and quite frankly, our best hope in getting this mess resolved."
"There's still something you're not telling me," Simon argued.
"It's best that you not know," Jim finally admitted. "It would only confuse you, not enlighten."
"You sound like a man speaking from experience."
"Yes, sir. That I am."
"Master Chin," Jim said, cupping his hands and bowing to the older Chinese man who opened the door to the estate Amanda had directed them to after leaving the police station. Somehow, he wasn't surprised to find out this man was an Immortal. As a teen, he'd thought his teacher to be the wisest person he knew. Now he knew why.
"Student Ellison," the man replied with a similar bow. "Welcome to my humble abode."
Jim looked at him, slightly startled. "I'm surprised you recognized me, master. I was only sixteen when I last saw you."
"Ah, the body ages and changes, my student, but the eyes remain the same as long as the soul does. Your soul is happier, but its essence is as I remember." Chin Wu smiled at his other visitors. "Amanda, you're looking well. I always did prefer you as a brunette rather than that ghastly blonde."
"Always complimentary, aren't you, Wu?" she said, smiling as well. "Why didn't you say something in the truck, Jim, to let us know you knew Wu?"
Blair chortled at the unintentional rhyme and Jim hastened to introduce him. "Master Chin, this is my associate, Blair Sandburg."
"Master Chin," Blair said respectfully.
"Mr. Sandburg, it is delightful to meet you. Come in, all of you. We have work to do, no?" Without waiting for an answer, he led them to what should have been a ballroom. Instead it was apparently a practice/workout room with a variety of swords on the wall, mats on the floor, and weights in the back.
"You know, if you'd told me Wu was your teacher I would have been a lot less worried," Amanda admonished.
"I was his student for less than two years. He and my dad disagreed on something and the next thing I knew, I was no longer taking fencing."
"Your father wanted to hold you back," Chin said as he took Jim's hand and held it up for inspection. "I wanted to push you forward. Perhaps we were both wrong." He walked over to a wall and chose a weapon. "You seem to have found yourself without either of us."
Amanda reached over her shoulder and pulled a sword from somewhere. Maybe it was another one of her magic tricks, Blair thought as she and Jim approached the center of the room. He and Chin watched the mock battle from the sidelines and even he recognized his partner was doing badly. "Well, he said it had been a while," he said to Chin defensively.
Chin shook his head. "His greatest problem is that he is fighting the woman, not the swordsman. Does he not remember that the sword is a mere extension of his arm? He need not fear it for it will do no damage that he does not command. He listens to you, Mr. Sandburg. Make him understand."
Before Blair could tell the man that he had grossly underestimated the control anyone had over Jim Ellison, the master was stepping out to the center of the room.
"Stop!" Chin called. He reached back to gather Blair by the arm and marched to the combatants. With a not-so-gentle nudge, he propelled Blair to his partner's side.
"I told you I was rusty, Chief," Jim said as he leaned over to rest his palms against his thighs. Chin was talking to Amanda across the room but he was too polite to listen in. Besides, he could figure out what they were discussing; his pathetic chances against Duvall.
"According to your old teacher, you weren't trying because of her. You need to remember what you were taught, Jim. The sword is supposed to be part of you. It will only hurt someone when you want it to. You don't have to stiffly hold back."
"It just feels so awkward doing this, you know? People in the twentieth century don't fight with swords. Maybe a knife, definitely a gun, but not a sword."
"Thing change. Yesterday this time, I thought all people eventually died. Now I've met two Immortals. And they fight with swords. Sometimes to the death. Remember how to do this, Jim. Your life may depend on it. Mine too."
"I hear you, Chief." Jim took a deep breath and forced himself to focus. This was not some exercise to test his reflexes. The Immortals took swordplay seriously and there was at least one of them out there trying to kill him. Worse, trying to kill Blair. The Sentinel grew fierce at the thought of his Guide in danger.
"Are you ready then, my student?" Chin asked as he stood before Jim, taking Amanda's place as his opponent.
Jim glanced at the weapon in his hand, extending his senses until the sword became a part of him. "I am ready, master."
The "battle" went more smoothly this time, their actions fluid, almost beautiful as they danced across the floor. "He's good," Amanda said, truly impressed. "Jim's always been a better magician than me, constantly pulling rabbits out of his hat when I need him to."
"I can relate."
She looked at him sharply. "I bet you have a few rabbits of your own."
Before he could reply, the cell phone in Jim's jacket pocket trilled. "Hello? Jim's busy right now, Simon... What?... Where?... We're on our way."
"What is it?" Amanda asked, annoyed by the interruption.
"Who?" she asked anxiously.
"Don't know yet."
"Guess we're going to find that out," Jim said, as he came over to them. "Saw you on the phone, Chief, and figured it was Simon," he explained for Amanda's benefit. He turned to his old teacher. "Thank you for the refresher course, Master Chin."
"You and your associate are welcome here any time. I look forward to having you as a student, Mr. Sandburg," he added as he bowed toward Blair.
"Me and a long knife? I don't think so," Blair responded hastily.
"You would be surprised to find what one can do to protect the ones he loves," Chin replied with an enigmatic smile. "Go, see which of us has fallen, Amanda. I shall light a candle for his soul."
"Well, light one for Duvall if this isn't him. I'm getting tired of losing friends." Her sword disappeared as she slipped into her jacket.
"This may not be your fight, Amanda. Perhaps it does not belong to any of us and that is why we are failing," Chin warned.
"Are you telling me we should no longer protect--" She stopped herself, then continued. "I thought we all agreed innocents are not fair game."
"Perhaps it is time the innocents gained knowledge."
"Toward what purpose?"
"I'll think about it. But for now, we continue as planned."
"As you wish, Amanda."
Jim waited until she was in the truck between him and Sandburg before questioning her. "What was that all about?"
"That what?" she asked innocently.
"Between Master Chin and you."
She sighed and stared straight ahead. "Trust me, Jim. You don't want to know."
He nodded and figured she was right.