Disclaimer: I don't own anything except for Elizabeth Gilbert. And even she is a character inspired by a historical figure... How inventive of me, right?
"Come on," Amanda cooed, "It's going to be fun."
"Fun?" she asked, her voice rising a pitch out of incredulity. "Fun?! The last time you said that I was chased through the streets of Madrid by the police." She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back against the wall.
"Yeah, but wasn't it a fantastic evening?" Amanda nudged her in the ribs conspiratorially.
The other woman thought back to that fateful night they were talking about. It all came back to her at once: the thrill of the chase, the sound of their running feet on the pavement and the wind in their hair. She smiled fondly at the memory. "Fine. Is that what you want to hear? It was fantastic!" she finally had to admit begrudgingly.
"So? Won't you come in? Just for one hour?"
"I don't know. You sometimes make him sound like a right bore, Amanda..."
"Just when he's being all goody-two shoes..."
"So he's sort of stuck-up...," she concluded.
"No, not really," Amanda sighed impatiently. "You would have to know him, to be the judge of that. Come on, I swear it'll be worth it..." She waited for a response from her friend which sadly didn't come. "Pretty please?" she supplied. Amanda pouted her mouth and inclined her head in a way that made her eyes look bigger than they actually were. On a man that facial expression might have worked wonders, the only effect it had on her, however, was that it made her smile a brief, but amused smile at her friend's grimace. The smile vanished just as quickly as she realised that that was probably precisely the reaction Amanda had wanted to coax out of her being the skilled manipulator she was.
She sighed and rolled her eyes in annoyance. "Alright."
"Aww! And there I thought my happiness didn't matter to you." A considerable amount of irony was clearly audible in Amanda's voice, after all she was laying it on pretty thick. She was half inclined to make a comment on that, but Amanda didn't leave her any time for that, as a matter of fact she was already prattling on. "You're a good friend after all! Albeit one I haven't seen in over 8 years, but I'm willing to look past that if you do me this small favour..." She was batting her eyes at her and tugging at her left arm, urging her to follow her into the bar.
So she was going to meet Amanda's pretty boy. There was no way around that. Once Amanda had set her mind on something, there was no way she could be easily convinced of the contrary. She surrendered herself to her fate, but not without making one more snide remark before she was dragged through the door of the bar. "They'd better have a decent bottle of beer..." Given the fact that the sign over the door clearly stated that it was a wine cavern that was a fairly obnoxious comment to make.
Now it was Amanda's turn to roll her eyes, but the annoyed expression on her face was quickly wiped away by the Buzz that hit them both simultaneously. Weren't they supposed to meet only one Immortal? It felt unusually strong.
"Amanda?" she asked worriedly. "I'm all for having fun, but sometimes the more isn't the merrier. You know that I have this guy following me about..."
"Relax. It's probably just one of Duncan's boring old friends," Amanda tried to reassure her as they stepped through the door. They descended a flight of stairs at the bottom of which was the bar. It was built into some sort of cellar. The ceiling was made out of grey sandy bricks and arched. It was one of those smoky, slightly dingy, but nice places that were bathed in soft light, usually provided by candles. The patrons of the bar were having a good time, talking and laughing whilst emptying a couple of glasses of red wine.
When Amanda grinned and abruptly stopped to wave at a handsome guy with a ponytail sitting over in the corner of the bar, she almost collided with her back, but caught herself just in time. Now that she had successfully avoided tumbling down the steep staircase ungracefully, she was free to have a closer look at her surroundings. Next to the man with the ponytail was a slim man of about thirty with angular features. Not your regular type of handsome, but interesting.
The man, who she supposed to be MacLeod, reciprocated Amanda's gesture with a nod and a warm smile. The other one was less enthusiastic about their arrival and just gave them a brief and rather taxing look. The contrast in the duos behaviour was quite noticeable. While MacLeod seemed to be calm and at ease with the situation, his friend appeared to be rather tense. She could relate. Relinquishing control of a situation was nothing she was too fond of. Although she was less than thrilled with how the evening was developing, she at least tried for a friendly smile, she owed Amanda that much.
Speaking of Amanda... Where was she? The woman in question had somehow managed to sidle over to the two men's table and was currently shamelessly snogging her lover in the middle of the bar. She couldn't help but let out a disgusted snort. There she was again. Alone and in an unpleasant situation Amanda had manoeuvred her into. Well, the summary did sound kind of familiar. She should have known better. "Lovely. Just bloody lovely," she said under her breath in a tone that suggested she found the situation anything other than lovely.
And of course there was still that stranger who was eyeing her suspiciously. She made a couple of steps in his direction. After all common social etiquette required that now introductions were made. Her feet stopped at a safe distance from him. He looked at her. She held his gaze. They were sizing each other up.
Now that she was able to have a closer look at him she had to reconsider her initial judgement. He was good-looking. But not in a conventional sort of way or because he was especially handsome. There was something about him that intrigued her and made her want to leave a good first impression. It would probably require a lot of work because he was still staring at her taxingly, his piercing eyes watching her every move. She licked her lips somewhat nervously. And although she usually didn't feel nervous or self-conscious, everyone else generally described her behaviour as pretty much forward and somewhat provocative, under his apparently ever scrutinising gaze she couldn't help but blush and fidget a little. It was strange and uncomfortable. She tried to ease the tension by cracking a joke. "I take it you're not MacLeod..." She cleared her throat. The air was really dry in here. "So it's not two friendly kisses on the cheek anymore?" she continued. "Just one big snog? Well, I've only just arrived and I'll probably need some time to adapt, so don't get your hopes up..." She stopped talking and waited for his response. After all her comment had been quite cheeky and up-front, so from that point on the interaction between them could go either way.
Her joke wasn't a huge hit, she was well aware of that, but apparently he wasn't absolutely humourless either for which she was thankful. Her vis-a-vis gave her a half-smirk and held out his hand to her. "Adam Pierson." The name sounded kind of fake coming from his lips. But a lot of Immortals used fake names and if he wanted to do so it was his damn business, so she kept her thoughts to herself and kept her mouth shut for once. She took his hand and shook it. Firm handshake.
Behind herself she could hear Amanda stifle a fake cough, apparently she had decided to focus her attention on something other than MacLeod again. Too late. She didn't need her help any more. If it were up to her, she could now sod off. She ignored her and focussed her attention fully on Adam.
"Elizabeth Gilbert," she introduced herself.
"Irish?" Adam asked, picking up on her accent that for some reason she wasn't able to suppress just this once. Maybe it was the combination of being irritated with Amanda and feeling sort of out of her depth. Or maybe it was the way he looked at her with those almost unsettling piercing eyes of his.
"English?" she replied with a smirk, behind which she masterfully hid the fact that she was annoyed she had already given that much away about herself inadvertently. She really should have known better.
"Maybe," he just said nonchalantly.
"Sometimes," was her answer to his question which she followed up with a teasing smile. She was a natural flirt. A lot of time that trait of character made things easier for her, other times it just caused trouble. Hopefully it wouldn't backfire on her this time.
"I see, you've already acquainted yourself with each other. I wasn't expecting to see you here, Adam," Amanda gave the man in question a sweet-sour smile before she spoke on. "This is Duncan," she introduced the somewhat embarrassed looking man standing next to her.
"Nice to meet you, Elizabeth," MacLeod said politely.
"Oh, please call me Liz! After all it's not like I live in a palace and own a bunch of corgis."
"I'll be sure to remember that."
They shook hands. She liked him. He was looking at her sort of apologetically. The way he behaved made clear that he was trying to make up for the awkward first impression he had made thanks to Amanda. He was polite and extremely attentive. For a while they made friendly small talk and McLeod even ordered a round of red wine for all of them. Poor fellow! He seemed to be too good-natured and too gentle for Amanda, but maybe she was wrong about that. After all she only knew him for what? 5 minutes? Clearly not enough time for a sound judgement of his character.
They eventually sat down and even though especially MacLeod tried to maintain his focus on the two other people around the table, it was clear that he and Amanda hadn't seen each other in quite some time and had some catching up to do.
"So, Liz, you're Amanda's friend...," Adam started after it was clear that Amanda and MacLeod had no inclination whatsoever of including them into their conversation for the next couple of minutes.
"Yes, what of it?"
"How did you two meet? Not in a prison cell I hope," he said quietly and took a sip of his red wine. He wrinkled his nose at the taste, but soon after focused his attention back on her. The look on his face was perfectly innocent.
She smiled. "No, not a prison cell. It was actually at a bar in California. We were both after the same thing." Her words were enigmatic. They were meant to be. Although she neglected to mention any details about her first meeting with Amanda, her mind quite inevitably supplied her with them. Her thoughts drifted back to that very night over a hundred years ago, almost against her own volition. What she had failed to mention to Adam before was the fact that she had initially disliked Amanda. Very much so.
She ended her performance. Under the cheers and applause of the audience she gracefully stepped down from the stage, slowly descending the little stairs that led up to it. Naturally some gentleman offered a helping hand to her and although it was rough and calloused and its owner was missing a tooth or two she took it without hesitation and even offered a friendly smile. She had learned never to discourage an act of kindness. Even the random ones. Because kindness usually generated generosity. And generosity was exactly what she was aiming at.
She sauntered across the room like she owned the place, her hips confidently swaying with every step she took. Her eyes were fixed on her prize. It was a human-shaped one that came in a posh little three piece suit. Admittedly too posh for a still somewhat uncivilised country like America. They were digging for gold and fighting the native inhabitants of that continent with pistols for heaven's sake. It seemed those Americans were almost constantly firing their pistols. Men and their pistols. A story in itself. Always so obsessed with phallic symbols. Typical. So easy to read and to manipulate.
As she made her way through the crowd which parted before her almost reverently like the Red Sea must have parted before Moses, she became aware of the presence of another woman. She immediately disliked her just as soon as she laid eyes on her. Already after only a few seconds she could name a whole list of things she didn't like about her. Her slim figure, her long dark hair, her melodious laugh and most of all the way men flocked around her like camels around an oasis in the desert. And how dare she stand that close to her Alfred, her benefactor? Did she have any idea how very tedious it had been to make him fall so utterly and completely in love with her? Tedious, indeed. His 'oh' so many bad habits she had had to patiently overlook in order to make him believe that she was actually interested in him! For example his revolting laugh which was loud, obnoxious and on rare occasion turned into a grunt when he was especially delighted. Oh, dear! There he went again grunting like a little piglet. That woman had apparently said something to make him laugh. She was positively fuming now. She accelerated her step. She could not allow her skilfully woven illusion to be destroyed by some random harlot. Had she not just danced her heart out just to please Alfie?
She had almost reached them when an intense wave of skull splitting migraine hit her and let her pause in her tracks momentarily. She had never experienced something like that before. She pressed her hand to her temple. Just in that precise moment the woman turned around and looked at her. Her eyes as such were not unfriendly, merely questioning. They seemed to say something along the lines of "Who are you? And what are you doing here?"
No, how Amanda and her had met was not a story she would tell to any random stranger and especially not to a man like him who she suspected to be anything other than just a random stranger. He had something about him, something she couldn't quite place her finger on. Maybe it was better to be cautious.
"It's just a surprise she has any friends at all...," Adam added. His words were probably meant to bait her into jumping to her friend's defence which turned out to be utterly unnecessary since her friend was quite ready to defend herself.
Of course Amanda immediately picked up on Adam's comment. It always managed to surprise Liz how her friend could apparently pay attention to two conversations at once. She always noticed when her name was mentioned. It was almost like nothing escaped her notice. "Oh, you think, Old Man? It's no surprise at all. At least I know how to live a little, so making friends is no problem for me."
"Old Man?" Liz enquired curiously.
"Just a nickname," Adam quickly waved her off as if she had said something completely ridiculous. His focus was on Amanda for now. Though it was probably not the kind of attention Amanda desired. There was an ironic glint in his eyes as he spoke his next words. "Well, Amanda, making friends is easy, keeping them is what's much harder..."
She could tell Amanda was about to put in her two-cents, but MacLeod apparently felt the need to maintain the peace. To Liz's astonishment all it took was for him to lay his hand on Amanda's knee and give it a light squeeze. "Maybe that's something you should keep in mind as well," she smiled at Adam contritely before focusing her attention on MacLeod once more. That, of course, meant that Adam and her, were left fending on their own again.
"You're quite snarky," she observed with a hint of surprised delight which she kept hidden behind an impassive facial expression.
"So?" He gave her a sharp look.
"Oh, no need to get testy. There's nothing wrong with that," Liz was quick to explain. "A life without irony and sarcasm would actually be quite dull, wouldn't you say so?"
"So double meanings are fun to you?" So in addition to being snarky, he was also quite inquisitive. A dangerous combination. Did that mean he was the sort of person who gathered information about you and then used said information against you? She didn't know whether to be unsettled by the thought or intrigued.
"I wasn't aware it's a crime nowadays," she gave him a charming smile.
He leaned in closer, his elbows on the table. The tenseness from before had obviously disappeared. He now seemed relaxed, probably because he had found out she wasn't a potential threat. Or so he thought. "It isn't. Though I'm not so sure what they say about being an outrageous flirt..."
"Who? Me?" She touched her heart in mock scandal. The black nail polish on her fingernails set off dramatically against the dark red colour of her sweater.
He only raised an eyebrow as if to say 'please'.
"I'm just being sociable that's all. Does it bother you? I could stop." She retrieved her wine glass from the table, swirling around the liquid in it before she took a sip.
"Why should you? It's... a way to pass the time." He made eye contact with her giving the statement more meaning.
"Only a distraction? Nothing more? That's a bit disappointing, actually." He shrugged casually. She held his gaze for a brief moment, before her eyes wandered over to Amanda and MacLeod again who were currently holding hands and were by now in their own little world and therefore oblivious to their presence. "Sheesh! Paris the bloody city of bloody love."
"A bit annoying, isn't it?" he remarked and downed the rest of his glass in one go, grimacing as the wine ran down is throat. For a second she saw a tattoo flash on his arm. She vaguely made it out as some kind of circle with a w-shaped symbol in the middle. The information was filed away for later use. Maybe she would get to ask him about it at some point of the evening. For now she concentrated on a less personal question, namely the fact that he had an apparent distaste for red wine.
"Not your taste?"
"I'm not much of wine drinker."
"Then Paris strikes me as the wrong place for you," she observed. "Do you live here?"
"Currently," he replied placing the wine glass back on the table. "You?"
"Nice town." He nodded in approval. "I hope you didn't base your decision to live there on your drinking preferences."
She smirked. Touché. "No, I work for a publishing house there."
"You're an editor?" She seemed to have piqued his interest. "What sort of books?"
"Mostly crime thrillers. It's a good job. Low profile, good pay, plus I get to do something that I love." She paused trying to make the next question sound as casual as possible to mask the keen interest that hid behind it. "You? What do you do for a living?"
For a while she thought he wasn't going to answer her. "I'm a researcher." The informative value of that admission was comparatively small. She decided to inquire further into the matter.
"Aha," she answered and shot him a pointed look. "That's like me saying that my job has something to do with books... Come on, be nice. Getting to know one another is a tit for tat kind of deal."
"Who says that?" He was trying to get under her skin and by the amused sparkle in his eyes he was enjoying it.
Well, she wasn't going to let him rile her up. "Socially-apt people. That doesn't include sarcastic and rather secretive researchers apparently."
He actually laughed at that. "You're very persistent." From him that sounded rather like a praise than a reproach. In fact, her reply seemed to have scored her some bonus points with him. "My research has something to do with history," he finally relented. The answer still left something to be desired, but it was a start.
"Persistent?" She wrinkled her nose, contemplating the word for a second. "Actually, I just love a good mystery. Sort of comes with the job..."
"So you think I'm some kind of mystery you have to solve..."
"Sort of," she admitted. "Since you don't fill in the blanks voluntarily."
"What blanks? Didn't I give you my name? Haven't I just told you what I do for a living? It's certainly not like I'm withholding any information from you." To any other person his tone of voice would have sounded nonchalant and amused, but she could detect a slight undercurrent of tension in it. Was it dangerous to utter the words that were lying on the tip of her tongue now? She felt a pleasant thrill. She took that as a sign to go on and say what was on her mind without any second thoughts. After all that was what she had done all her life - choose the exciting alternative over the safe one.
"You gave me a name alright, but not your name." She held his gaze challengingly, mostly because she wanted to be able to fathom his reaction. Was that tiny flicker in his eyes surprise? Was it anger? She couldn't tell, so she waited with bated breath.
"What's in a name?" he asked simply, neither denying nor admitting anything.
"Identity." She stopped for a second to think. "And there's a story. Maybe a short one, but still a relevant one..."
"Well, I suppose that leaves you in a bit of a pickle now. Having no name to call me by..." The tension between them was still palpable. Since she had revealed that she thought he had given her a false name his face had become strangely impassive. As if he had detached himself from the conversation. The bonus points she had scored before had undoubtedly be erased. For some reason she felt sort of disappointed about that. He was quite a fascinating man. And this little verbal sparring deal they had going on was possibly the most interesting conversation she had had in a good while. Maybe there was a way to get back into his good graces after all...
Liz smiled. "A pickle you say? Oh, it's no trouble at all... Back where I come from we have no qualms with giving complete strangers pet names. How about 'sweetie' or 'darling'? Which one do you prefer?"
He watched her wordlessly for a couple of seconds, then a playful smile started spreading on his face. It felt like she had passed a test. Had she really managed to win his approval or was he only toying with her? His next words would undoubtedly give it away.
"Did you just call him sweetie?" Duncan had apparently decided to pick that moment to resurface from his conversation with Amanda. She was half tempted to empty her wine glass over his head for his badly timed interruption, but the genuine surprise on his face as well as the disbelieving expression that accompanied it persuaded her to refrain from violence for the time being.
"So you've already started ripping him a new one. Good job, Liz!" Amanda whispered to her and nudged her in the ribs consiprationally, looking from her friend to Adam with an amused smile on her face. Her eyes were shining with mirth. Amanda had always been one for a bit of mischief.
Adam, or whatever his name was, finally spoke. "As a matter of fact she only asked which pet names I'd prefer to be called." The delivery of that line was completely detached and nonchalant. The corners of his mouth, though, briefly twitched as if he was fighting down a smirk.
McLeod only nodded sort of mechanically. The situation was simply too grotesque. The other immortal wasn't usually the sociable type. Was he only teasing Amanda's friend? Was he just tagging her along to teach her a lesson? Or was he actually flirting with her? One never knew with Methos.
"So?" Liz held Adam's gaze coolly. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see Amanda's million-dollar-grin.
"Can I reciprocate?" he asked innocently.
"I don't see any reason why you should." Liz's eyes narrowed disapprovingly. "After all you do know my real name, so why not use it?"
"Because it's less fun than any pet name that I could come up with."
"You know that we wouldn't have to resort to this if you just gave me your real name, right?"
"I'm aware of that, but thanks for pointing it out. Actually I think there might have been a small chance I would have told you my real name at some point of our acquaintance, but since you're so determined to figure me out, this might prove to be a lot more entertaining. I'll let you guess it."
"For which one of us? You?"
"Mostly," he grinned and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms behind his neck in an extremely annoying gesture of self-satisfaction.
Liz sighed. She was about to pinch the bridge of her nose in annoyance, he was being difficult on purpose, even she could tell after only knowing him for less than an hour, but she just wouldn't give him the satisfaction. "Alright then. If that's how you want to play it..."
"Adam, if I were you I would reconsider," Amanda grinned. "You have no idea who you're up against."
"Neither does she," Adam gave to think.
McLeod nodded. "That might be true. Then again she's friends with Amanda."
"Hey!" Amanda called out in indignation. Laughter ensued.
Was that an actual quip? Liz was surprised. Maybe this MacLeod did have what it took to endure Amanda after all.
This evening was altogether not as bad as she had thought it would be. Decent conversation, laughter... A nice distraction. Nevertheless she could feel the weight of the travel in her bones with increasing clarity. She had to yawn. She had only left London this morning and between the hotel and the bar she had barely had the chance to sit down and relax. Being the energetic person Amanda was, she had dragged her off to go shopping and do some sight-seeing straight after getting her from the airport. She hadn't minded back then, but now she was feeling rather sleepy.
Her surroundings were already starting to get blurry thanks to the sleepiness that was taking a hold of her. "I'm sorry, you guys. I'm a bit tired from the flight today. I think I'd better get back to hotel and get some sleep."
In reaction to her announcement there was some meek protest from Amanda and MacLeod which quickly died down when she yawned a second time.
"You go and do that," Amanda petted her hand affectionately. "See you tomorrow, Lizzie?"
Liz nodded and stood up to give Amanda a hug. MacLeod shook her hand with a smile. "It was nice to meet you," he said in that pleasantly deep voice of his. He was starting to grow on her - intelligent, warm, friendly and equilibrated that he was. Maybe he was just what Amanda needed.
And of course there was Adam. He had watched her say good-bye to Amanda and McLeod standing there with his arms crossed over his chest. Now he simply held out his hand to her. They shook hands briefly, looking each other straight in the eye without saying a word. As she let go off his hand she couldn't help but say the next words with a playful smirk on her face: "See you around, sweetie."
He let her have her victory for now and just smiled back.
She left the bar, ascending the stairs. Out in the cool night air she took a deep breath. She had had a good time tonight. Talking to that Adam person had been interesting. The conversation had been strangely oscillating somewhere between the inquisitiveness of police questioning and the flirtiness of a first date.