Disclaimer: Some small parts of the dialogue at Joe's are taken from the original episode and are most definitely not my doing (as in the part where Duncan comes back after meeting up with Culbraith and fake!Methos).
Author's note: As always my words of thanks go out to Jennaya. You're doing a fantastic job beta-ing this story for me. Thank you!
So it was settled. Her fate was sealed. Her days that usually had no routine, now that she lived in Seacouver, had suddenly acquired a couple of fixed points. In the afternoons she would dust off her rusty flamenco skills at Joe's and her mornings were usually spent job and apartment hunting. Methos was yet to become a fixed point in her day. They were still tip-toeing around each other rather carefully. She could tell he was trying to figure out how to behave around her. He seemed to be unsure of how much of his company she would tolerate, signalling his interest but trying not to smothering her with too much attention. His way to go about it was typically him. First he would try to be all sarcastic and nonchalant about it and if that didn't work, he would try honesty. After all those layers of acerbic wit and scheming had been peeled away, he was actually kind of sweet, almost shy. What would always get her at the end of the day was not an attempt of skilful manipulation, but a couple of simple words spoken in all honesty.
One afternoon, she had just been practising her dance routine at Joe's, she could suddenly feel the Buzz. Joe was just standing behind the bar taking stock of the various bottles and threw her a curious look when he heard the regular rhythm of her tapping become disharmonious and shortly after saw her stumble over her own feet quite ungracefully.
"Someone is coming," she announced and quickly hurried in the general direction of her coat under which she had hidden her sword. She had taken to carrying it around now. After the whole ordeal with Helen it seemed like the reasonable thing to do.
However producing her sword turned out to be thoroughly unnecessary because soon Methos strode down the stairs. She stopped holding her breath and relaxed.
"Hey, Joe," he greeted his friend casually as he sat down on a stool next to the bar. His eyes finally settled on her. As always his sudden appearance and the way he looked at her triggered several responses in her. Her heart rate increased, a smile appeared on her face that, quite to her dismay, broadcast to the whole world how smitten she really was with him.
"Hello, Liz," he said. His voice assumed a different quality when he addressed her. It was less teasing and somewhat softer.
"Hello, handsome," she replied, finally having been able to fight down her smile to acceptable dimensions.
He eyed her appreciatively as she approached him, her wide black skirt swinging from side to side with every step, her slender waist accentuated by the black bodice she was wearing.
"Been practising?" he asked with a smirk. She was now leaning against the bar next to him, standing so close to him that her skirt was brushing the legs of his trousers.
"What gave me away? The outfit?" she teased and in order to accentuate her words she gathered up her skirt a bit and tapped her feet twice. Click! Click! was the sharp sound of her shoes on the stone tiles.
She was aware his eyes were still on her, but she ignored him purposefully, now directing her attention on Joe who had followed their little exchange with unmasked curiosity and a knowing smirk on his face. "Be a love and give me a glass of water, Joe!" she smiled at the man behind the bar disarmingly.
"Is that all I get to see?" it came from her right.
Liz didn't have to turn her head to see that Methos was pouting at her. She was tempted to ask him whether that was really his strategy to sway things in his favour, but only tempted because his pout was surprisingly effective, now that she actually had a look at it. Also it made her momentarily forget about the glass of water Joe had just placed in front of her on the bar.
With a diabolical smile she turned and she leaned closer to Methos. She positioned her hands on both his knees to support herself, whispering in his ear conspiratorially. "I thought, you've already seen quite a lot of me. In fact all." Liz drew back, her eyes sparkling at him mischievously as she took in the effect of her words. She wanted to retreat and pull back her hands, but he quickly placed his on top of hers and kept them in place like that.
"Apparently that's not enough," he said and quickly leaned in to close the distance between them. His lips caressed hers in a short but sweet kiss. When it was over she opened her eyes blinking somewhat owlishly. Had she just dreamed this? Quite inevitably that stupid 1,000 watt smile of hers was back full force now, but she thoroughly didn't mind, not when he was looking at her like that.
"Come on, you kids, stop making gooey eyes at each other," Joe admonished them gruffly from behind the bar. "What are you doing here anyway, Old Man?"
Methos answer was somewhat delayed. He eventually broke eye contact with her and turned to look at Joe. "MacLeod called me. He said to come here. Richie has apparently met Methos," he shrugged his shoulders casually at the last sentence as if it was nothing.
"He has met Methos?" Liz echoed somewhat unintelligently from his left.
"Yup, the herald of peace, the Dalai Lama of Immortals, the preacher of a message of eternal love and harmony," Methos doled out his explanation sarcastically.
Liz watched him with round eyes for a few moments. Joe's reaction was equally incredulous. Apparently he wasn't talking about himself. He would never in all his life add all those ridiculous titles to his name. But that was probably it. He wasn't talking about himself. As realisation settled upon her and her thoughts had wrapped around the information, she actually started smirking. "An imposter. A bit convenient, isn't it?"
"Not that convenient actually. I might have to tell Richie who I really am now...," Methos informed her with a considerable amount of displeasure in his voice.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because apparently Richie is buying into that whole 'make peace not war' crap."
"Seriously?" groaned Liz, while Joe simultaneously said: "You gotta be kidding me, man!"
Liz pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. "I think I'm spontaneously coming down with a severe migraine. What is he thinking?"
"Give the kid a break," Joe told her. "He's just young."
"Yeah, young and stupid...," Liz supplied, looking between the two men disbelievingly. Joe's face was all serious, while Methos seemed to be oddly cheerful. She rolled her eyes because of Methos' antics. "I can't believe you! You're actually finding this amusing, don't you?"
He just shrugged apologetically which only spurred her on.
"Oh, I can just see what's going on in that head of yours! Stop it! Stop the bloody scheming and open your bloody mouth for once! This is serious!" She kicked him in the shin for good measure which, for some odd reason, seemed to amuse Joe. He was actually snickering to himself quietly.
Methos was less amused, though. "Ouch!" he held his leg dramatically.
"Suits you right!" she told him sternly.
Methos eventually gave up pretence he had been mortally wounded by a kick to shin. A rather smug look had settled on his face instead. "Wait. Does that actually mean you're worried about me?" He grinned at her amusedly. Liz was about to give him her two cents, but she never got any further than opening her mouth. The Buzz announced MacLeod's and Richie's arrival.
"Right. Here they come," she said gruffly and marched off to the next best table, a couple of steps away from the bar, on which she sat down, gracefully crossing her legs. Her facial expression was grim and somewhat disapproving. Methos seemed to entirely miss the point though. Her sulking only increased his amusement.
The talk went about as expected. At least from her perspective. She had kept out of it entirely, just let out sounds of disbelief and annoyance here and there. Luckily it was over really quickly. Richie had quite unsurprisingly been unwilling to see reason which had led to two things: to Duncan wanting to settle a score and Joe scurrying off to do some research on the Methos imposter. Now with every one gone, except for her and the real Methos, she was finally able to speak her mind.
"Well, this imposture surely is trouble spelled with a capital T," she shook her head. "At least to Richie. He's going to get himself killed eventually if he doesn't pull his head out of his arse and pick up a sword again."
"Yeah, well, naivety is the prerogative of youth, I guess. What's the point in being young if you're not allowed to be a little stupid once in a while? No use getting all worked up about it. It's the natural order of things." His understanding attitude in the face of Richie's utter and complete thick-headedness surprised her. Especially after his identity had been revealed to Richie and the young Immortal's reaction had been so utterly inappropriately. Not that she had expected him to be particularly in awe about it. She was just a tiny bit disappointed because of Richie's inability to see the bigger picture.
"He's called you ordinary," she pointed out disapprovingly.
"So? I should be offended not you," he laughed.
"Oh, please! Don't get any ideas! This is not about him calling you ordinary. This is about him not being clever enough to know who he's dealing with in general. It shows that he's lacking the maturity to form a sound judgement about... well anything . Calling you ordinary is like calling a wolf a cuddly little puppy," she said hotly.
He grinned at her remark and got up from his chair, crossing the distance between them. She was still sitting on the table, only now with her upper body bent back, propped up on her arms she had positioned behind it. Her feet were dangling down from the edge of the table, swinging back and forth. He stood in front of her, so she had to stop moving her legs and look up at him. "How about we pay Methos a little visit? Just you and me? A nice romantic little trip to the park. I hear, he's trying his hand at some gardening there." He reached for her right hand and gave it a light tug before he released it again. She smiled at him and sat up straight. They were wordlessly looking into eachother's eyes for a moment. He reached for her hands and took them into his. As always his physical presence slowed down her mental capacities, but eventually her mind caught up with his words.
Had he just said a visit to the park? Suddenly she realised a couple of things. "I don't believe it!" she exclaimed, pulling her hands out of his grasp, only to cross her arms over her chest. "You actually know where to find him and you let MacLeod and Joe go on a wild goose chase?"
Methos had the cheek to just shrug apologetically. She let out a groan of frustration. Her eyes searched his feature. He had his head slightly inclined to the left. There was that smirk on his face she loved so much. Not gloating, not full on, just a little discrete upward curve of the left corner of his mouth. His behaviour left her no choice. She pulled him closer by his sweater and kissed him. His smug nonchalance was equally annoying and appealing, at least from her point of view.
"You're so bloody frustrating," she whispered softly when his lips briefly left hers. Most of the times she didn't know whether she was supposed to smack him over the head or just snog him senseless. It was part of his charm, she reckoned.
"Admit it. You just love that about me," he teased her about to lean in to kiss her again.
He had expected her to reciprocate, instead she gave him a light slap on the cheek. She had been very careful not to hurt him, as a matter of fact she only touched her hand to his face, but he seemed to be determined to make a big production out of it. "Ouch!" he flinched back, but only a tiny bit. "First a kick in the shin now this? What the hell was that for?"
"Oh, you know...," her black rimmed, bright blue eyes narrowed at him. "Just a little wakeup call really. Did you honestly think I wouldn't notice that you had MacLeod come here for his intervention so you could spy on me? You could just as well have met back at the MacLeod's dojo, you know..."
"Come on, I was just curious to see you dance."
"Curious people can ask whether they are allowed to watch...," she pointed out.
"You would have said no," Methos retorted with knowing smirk, which was also quite smug, because in the meantime he had approached her again and she had allowed it to happen. Currently his hands were resting on her lower back. He was standing between her legs. It was quite a compromising position. It would have been even more compromising with less clothing articles.
"You know me well," she conceded, her voice almost a purr.
"So you're going to come to this little outing I've got planned for us?" his hands wandered a bit lower. She shot him a semi-disapproving look, but the only reaction that coaxed out of him was a particular cheeky grin.
"Apparently not that well," she deadpanned. His smile fell. "Come on, it's not like you need my help to pull off some thinly veiled threats that are supposed get this guy to soil his pants," she said calmly.
"I don't need your help, but I would enjoy myself more with you around," he tried to convince her. He was playing dirty now, rubbing her back like that. She let out a soft sigh when his thumb expertly traced down her spine in a slow sensual line. His touch felt extremely pleasant even through her bodice. Her forehead sank to his chest. She contently breathed in the smell of fabric softener mingled with his scent. But underneath that feeling of bliss and oblivion his presence granted her, her demons reared their ugly heads.
Suddenly she sat upright again. "Don't you think you're overestimate my self-control a little bit?"
"Regarding?" he raised an eyebrow. "This thing here or our little outing?"
"The latter," she told him, pulling him closer again by his sweater. Only this time she wasn't going to kiss him she was going to make a point. His face was now level with hers. It was so close she saw her own face reflected in his dark pupils. "He's dishing out a bunch of rubbish to people who are willing to suck it up. I reckon he thinks himself some kind of prophet. Probably a false one. Self-righteous twit. One's gotta ask oneself, is it about his message or is it about him needing validation?" Her voice had grown more and more aggressive as she voiced her thoughts out loud. She hated charlatans because she could smell them a mile away. They were frauds like she was. It took one to know one. "Either way, it doesn't matter. He's probably dropping bodies. The world doesn't work like that. Our world doesn't work like that. You can't just run around and preach a message of joy, hope and non-violence to people who have lived their whole lives by the sword. Richie's bound to end up dead. I don't appreciate it. I don't appreciate it one bit. This imposter... Well, he's got to be stopped. If you take me along I might just go and show him how non-peace-loving I really am and chop his bloody head off."
"Tut! Tut! How very crude! I thought you had a better reign on your violent tendencies," he replied in a mocking tone of voice that miraculously still managed to convey an undercurrent of seriousness.
"I do, but sometimes I like to let loose on them when a good opportunity presents itself," she told him, letting go of his sweater. He stayed where he was. Did he expect an explanation? "So basically I'm saying that I'd rather stay here before you get to see all my crudeness and violent tendencies. Besides I still want to get some training done today. Need I remind you that the performance is scheduled in for Friday? That's in four days." She held up four fingers in front of his face and waved them around. "Four."
His own fingers closed around hers and he brought her hand to his mouth to kiss the tips of her fingers. She groaned in frustration but also because the feeling of his lips that closed around her finger tips aroused her a tiny bit.
"Stop playing dirty," she finally managed to get out.
"But it's more fun like that." His eyes could have made chocolate melt. At any rate they made her resolve crumble. "How else am I to get what I want?" he added for good measure. Was he aware that quite ironically his words were a pretty good approximation of what could have been his life motto? Moreover, she asked herself whether he was actually aware that his inability to just come out and tell her straight to her head what she wanted, spoke tons about his insecurities.
She reached out her hands and positioned them on both sides of his face, looking deeply into his eyes to emphasise her point. "When it comes to me, you just need to get your shit together and ask nicely most of the time... That is, if you're not asking for stupid and unreasonable things." She let go of his face, letting her arms slowly sink down to the table.
"Is that so?" he asked amusedly. "And who's to define stupid and unreasonable? You?"
She shrugged. "Mostly. But if it pleases you, we can do it together."
He smiled. His eyes swept over her features. Their expression was softer now, somewhat less guarded. Their gaze almost felt like a caress.
"So I only need to ask?" he tried to reassure himself one last time.
She only nodded in response.
"In that case... I'm going to follow your advice. I want to spend more time with you."
Liz was thoroughly unprepared for that admission. She gulped heavily. "Really? I thought you wanted some space. I didn't want to come off as too clingy."
"Well, you thought wrong."
"Oh." Her deep surprise was shining through in that little word. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. Make it up to me," he said and pressed a quick kiss to her mouth before he slowly stepped away from her to leave and pay the imposter a little visit.
She, in turn, stood up from her chair with a sigh and tried to muster the will to start training again. A few taps sounded through the deserted bar. They sounded irregular and off kilter. She sighed and ran her hand through her hair. There was no use. She was in a rather strange mood now anyway.
She walked back over to the bar and sat down on a stool in front of it. Her glass of water from before was still standing there. It was half-empty? Half-full? Wasn't that one of those crucial questions in life? Liz let out a quiet scoff. These days she wasn't able to tell whether it was half-empty or half-full anymore. Only a couple of months ago she had been able to voice her opinion precisely, because back then she had known her mind. Now her world, just like her tapping, was off kilter because she had allowed him in. Letting him in, now that hadn't been such a bad thing, mind you. But it had confused her and left her disorientated.
Before she had known him she had thought that she had a pretty clear image of herself. Nothing could have ever fazed her, she was detached from everything, she had her feelings under control, even her anger that she had struggled with so terrible in younger years. Now all bets were off. Her self-control was waning, the walls she had erected so long ago were crumbling. It felt like she was losing herself.
She didn't recognise herself anymore. He had turned her into someone soft, someone whose heart rate sped up when he entered the room. He had tamed her and turned her into... She had no idea what he had turned her into. She had no idea what to think of this change. Was it good? Bad? She wasn't able to tell.
Who was she? When a woman her age needed to ask herself that sort of question, things were really getting out of hand. She thought of Richie and his odd fascination with fake Methos' message of peace and love and she grew less angry with him. Like her, he was just trying to make sense of this disaster Immortal existence was. Maybe no being was meant to live that long. Maybe they were only a grotesque mutation. She wondered how Methos did it. How did he make sense of all of this? Of this bloody disaster life was?
This constant need to adapt oneself to the circumstances was part of their existence. Sometimes she was struggling with that because time seemed to be rushing by so quickly. Actually it wasn't rushing by. Some days just had less meaning than others. The meaningless ones seemed to fly by just as the happy ones which were not at all meaningless, but had the nasty habit of passing all too soon. In her experience it was difficult to hold on to the good things. They all probably came with an expiration date.
She took a sip of her water, leaving the liquid in her mouth for a while before she swallowed it. Her eyes wandered over the empty chairs of Joe's bar. Chairs that would be occupied by people tonight and the night after that and after that. It might have seemed like an endless succession of nights. But eventually things would end. Everything would come to an end. Even she and her chaotic messy thoughts and what would she have to show for then? A life spent faking it. A life spent playing at different roles, of manipulating people like pawns on a chess-board. It didn't seem right. In fact it sounded downright depressing. That wasn't how she wanted to be remembered.
She had been sitting there for a long time. She didn't need to risk a glance at her watch to know that. For a while longer she sat there just staring ahead. Her mood was foul and it would eventually only grow worse the longer she stayed here. She made a decision and got up with a sigh. Liz had just switched off the lights and was heading up the stairs, when she felt another Immortal's presence. Nevertheless the Buzz was not enough warning in advance this time, or rather the warning came too late, and that was because she was only able to avoid colliding with Methos by a hair. He was rushing down the stairs rather determinately, almost sweeping her off her feet in the process.
She let out a soft yelp and reflexively grabbed the labels of his coat in order to not fall down the row of steep steps behind her. His hand automatically came around her back to steady her and press her to him. "Careful," he told her.
"Careful," she scoffed into his chest. "You'd better be careful." Her eyes sparkled at him angrily.
The position they found themselves in was quite intimate, but for once they hadn't ended up like that intentionally, after all he had only wanted to save her from tumbling down the stairs. His eyes were looking at her questioningly; apparently he was surprised to find her in a rather prickly mood after he had left in comparatively good spirits. He was just about to ask her what was the matter when MacLeod returned. The Scotsman seemed rather nonplussed. So nonplussed in fact that he entirely forgot to tease them about the semi-awkward position they found themselves in. He just rushed down the stairs, past them.
"Wow, whatever got your knickers in a twist?" Liz remarked at MacLeod's retreating back, slowly descending the stairs once again herself. She could hear Methos' footsteps behind her.
In the meantime Joe had also come up from the basement once again, so he too got to hear MacLeod's somewhat morose response. "I went to settle my score with Culbraith and bumped into Methos there."
"Methos?" Liz asked in surprise. "That guy sure gets around."
"Yeah, well we got talking...," MacLeod said. He looked around and sat down on a little table across the bar. He seemed tired as if something was eating away at him. She already had some odd sense of foreboding and decided to brace herself.
"Let me guess, he tried to convince you not to kill Culbraith...," Methos supplied stepping around her. There was something in his voice, a certain tenseness as if he was trying to suppress another emotion that was lying underneath his act of sarcastic nonchalance.
Joe was yet to say something. He was just standing behind the bar, quietly watching the scene unfold before his eyes.
"What if he did?" MacLeod actually dared to ask. At this point all she wanted to do was knock her head against the wall repeatedly. This was going to end badly.
Methos shook his head angrily. By now the irritation he had suppressed before was rolling off of him in waves. "A little pathos, a little pop psychology... the guy is either delusional, or he is a fraud." He stepped closer to MacLeod. His voice had assumed an accusatory quality. "And you are buying it." It was clear by the way he was saying those last words that he had expected more out of MacLeod. Especially out of MacLeod.
"I'm not buying anything," Duncan tried to justify himself, but Methos wasn't having any of it. If anything the Scotsman's words only increased his anger.
"No? One speech from the Wise One, and you forgive Culbraith. I mean, what's next? Friendship rings, the Love Boat?" Liz was actually quite amused by Methos' last remark. Her laughter came out a snort, because she didn't get the chance to suppress it entirely. It earned her a disapproving stare from Methos. His eyes were flashing with anger and only lingered on her for the fraction of a second, because they soon settled on MacLeod again. However, that was long enough to make her feel uncomfortable and out of place. How MacLeod could be so stupid as to unwittingly provoking Methos even further with his next words was beyond her.
"I haven't forgiven anything. He just made me think."
"Oooooooh. I'm just saying, don't think too much, 'cause we can't afford another one on the list," Methos' words were practically dripping with venom now.
"What list?" Duncan asked in genuine surprise.
Apparently the list Methos had been referring to held the name of all the converts Methos had been able to sway in favour of his non-violent lifestyle. As a consequence most of them had found their untimely death, which was not that surprising actually. The three men spent the reminder of the conversation debating what best to do in order to help Richie. Well, actually it was mostly Joe and MacLeod who did the talking, because Methos and his barely suppressed anger had retreated to the bar and were currently nursing a bottle of beer. She limited herself to watching the exchange silently because it was not her place to interfere. She wouldn't dole out any advise unless she was asked to and quite frankly she was happy if nobody asked her for her opinion because either way it would rub somebody the wrong way. Actually she didn't want to get involved into this at all. Ethics really wasn't a subject she was comfortable debating. Come to think of it, it would be best if she just left before anyone could get the crazy idea in his head to actually ask for her input on the matter.
"Well, guys, if you don't mind, I think I'm going to leave," she announced already taking a few retreating backward steps towards the stairs.
"Wait up!" she heard Methos call out and internally cringed. Not that she minded his company. As a matter of fact she highly appreciated it 99,9% of the time. Now, however, it meant that he would inevitably try to coax her opinion on the matter out of her. He certainly would not give up until she had told him everything he wanted to know. She so wasn't looking forward to that.