Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, all characters within are from The Sentinel, Highlander: The Series, or Highlander: The Raven, or are historical personages portrayed with Highlander-level historical accuracy.
Author's Notes: Yes, I'm a Ricardian... like Anastasia's escape, it appeals to my Romantic nature. I've only seen one episode of Highlander: The Raven, but I didn't let that stop me. And I apologize to any speakers of Afrikaans; I was winging it with an on-line dictionary.
Thief of Hearts
Lucy Becker opened the penthouse door and smiled pleasantly at the man waiting in the hall. "Whatsamatter, your binoculars broke?" she greeted the stocky man with pale silver hair, leaning on a cane. A quick smile flashed through his close-cropped salt and pepper beard. "Ah-man-dah... the Peeping Tom is here," she called, and stood aside to let Joe Dawson enter.
Reclining on the sofa like an expensive cat, Amanda hurriedly put down her book and her chocolates, swung her legs down and rose to her feet in one smooth motion.
"Joe! It's so good to see you!" She greeted the Watcher with practiced girlish enthusiasm, while reading his body language carefully for any sign of distress. Duncan... The middle-aged mortal would probably feel obligated to inform her personally if the Scot lost his head. "On your way to Paris, or back to Seacouver?" She gestured for him to take a seat, then flopped artlessly on the sofa again.
"I've been in town on Watcher business, and I've hit a snag. Amanda, I, uh, I need your help."
"My help?" She brought a hand to the hollow of her throat. "Then the situation must be dire indeed. Do tell."
Lucy leaned disapprovingly against the fireplace.
Joe took a deep breath, measuring his words, visibly assembling the facts into a clear narrative. "One of our researchers died recently. Natural causes. Unfortunately, a Chronicle he was working with got mixed up with his personal library and sold at auction before it could be retrieved. To an anthropology grad student at Rainier University in Cascade, Washington. If he shows it to anyone, has it authenticated..." Joe broke off, shaking his head mutely at the vision of academic chaos.
Amanda pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Two questions, Joe." She was only teasing, of course she'd steal the book back. "The Chronicles I've seen were only a list of who happened to who where and when, no great detail about the, ah, special effects. So what if he gets it authenticated? And number two, what's in it for me?" She gave him a lazy but brilliant smile.
"A girl's got to eat, you know," Lucy chimed in. "And with that figure, you wouldn't believe how much the girl eats."
"Amanda, the Chronicle is one of yours. It covers the end of the fifteenth century," Joe said quietly.
Amanda sat up slowly. "I'll get it back."
Lucy blinked. "Okay, so what did I miss? What were you up to in the fifteenth century?"
"Nothing much," Amanda said with studied casualness. "I did a favor for a friend and got two boys out of a bad situation and saw them safely adopted by a loving foster family." So long ago, and it seemed like yesterday...
Lucy was still lost. "Two boys?"
"Edward the Fifth and Young Richard." Amanda caught the look on Joe's face. "Dickon may have been a lot of things, but he was no fool. We had to get the princes out of the tower and hidden away with loyalists in the North before Tudor tried something..."
James Ellison lowered his newspaper and gazed mildly across the living room at his loftmate. Blair Sandburg was curled up in the yellow chair with his nose buried in a massive leather-bound tome, a faint gold-stamped symbol gleaming on the battered cover. "You got a comic book hidden in there, Chief?"
"Huh..." Sandburg came up for air, blinking. "No. It's this book, it was in with that shipment of books and papers I bought from that estate auction, the guy collected stuff related to anthropology and Burton, I told you about it. Nothing I can use, but I can resell it, no biggie. But this thing, gotta be a hoax. It claims to be a Victorian copy of an original manuscript, but it reads like, like Xena Warrior Princess in a hennin. This medieval babe running around slaughtering the bad guys with a sword and stealing jewels and purses of coins and stuff."
"And that's funny?" Jim looked at him skeptically.
"To the academic mindset... it's like when you watch a action movie with Rangers in it and pick out all the stuff they got wrong? Count the anachronisms, for one thing women did not move around this freely then, at least ladies didn't..."
Jim picked up the sports page. "Or maybe you're just easily amused."
"Yeah, well, there is that."
The rest of the evening was spent in companionable silence.
Amanda dropped neatly onto the balcony and removed a leather case containing several thin probes of flexible steel from a pocket and selected one, crouching in front of the balcony doors and gently inserting the probe in the lock. A light went on in the upper loft bedroom. Drat. Light sleeper. She jumped easily onto the wide ledge and pulled herself back up onto the roof.
Jim wasn't sure what had woken him. He got out of bed, padded silently downstairs, and listened to Blair snore with a distracted frown. Late night disturbances were usually caused by the grad student burning the candle at both ends, the scratch of pen on paper, pages turning, the computer keyboard clicking. Not tonight.
Restlessly, he tried all the doors, found the door to the balcony unlocked. He hesitated, and stepped outside. Warm night air. He looked out over the city. His city. It was an oddly calming view. He went back inside, locked the doors, and went back to bed.
On the roof of the adjoining building, Amanda let out a sigh of relief as the roommate of her target went back inside. And a sigh of admiration for his boxer-clad physique. My, my. Nick Wolfe, James Ellison... since when did police academies add a swimsuit competition to the entrance exam? Focus, Amanda, old girl. Scratch Plan A. She slipped away into the night.
From her rented convertible, Amanda watched the two men come out of 852 Prospect. The tall, well built one wearing tan chinos and a brown leather jacket, the one who had almost caught her last night, she'd have to be careful around that one. Detective James Ellison of Cascade's Major Crimes Unit. Ah, well, it added a little spice.
And her target. Blair Sandburg. Anthropology grad student at Rainier. The young man was in his mid to late twenties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. He wore a blue and green plaid flannel shirt open over a white T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Amanda noticed that by some odd coincidence, the plaid was the MacLeod tartan, and wondered idly what Duncan thought of his clan colors becoming a fashion statement. She was sure young Mister Sandburg wore it only because the blue went well with his eyes.
She lowered her binoculars to take a bite of biscotti and a sip of cafe au lait and then returned to her spying. Sandburg was gesturing wildly, swinging a travel-worn leather backpack in one hand while Ellison watched his ranting antics with a fondly amused expression. That was telling. When she first learned the two men lived together, she assumed they were lovers, but after a week of surreptitious observation, following him from the loft to the university to the police station to various crime scenes and back again, their body language just didn't read as lovers. More like, an Immortal and student. Although she wasn't getting a warning vibe from either of them. Thankfully, since that would complicate things nicely.
She didn't realize her own expression was beginning to mirror Ellison's as she watched from afar. Such enthusiasm. Such energy. Whatever Sandburg was raving about, he certainly was passionate about the subject. So young...
Melancholia and becoming jaded was almost as dangerous as a rival Immortal... life had to be worth living or what was the point of playing the Game? Having someone to remind you of that, someone who could make you fall in love with them and with the world again, for however brief a lifetime...
She shook her head slightly and watched as the two men parted, Sandburg in a boxy little Volvo and Ellison in a battered pickup. Then she waited a little longer and then made her way into the building, through the locks, and into apartment 307.
This was the true pleasure of breaking and entering. The delicious thrill of being someplace she wasn't supposed to be, the secret glimpse into the life of a stranger. She liked the loft. An eclectic decor that gave it a funky 'downtown' style yet was quite classy in its own right. Dishes drying in the drainer, a still damp frying pan on the stove. A nice quality sound system, CDs ranging from R and B, a little light jazz, to Santana and new age native music. Folk art textiles hanging on the wall. She wandered up the stairs, looked around the almost empty upper bedroom with mild interest. The bed was neatly made, a black velour bathrobe draped over the foot of the bed.
She went back downstairs to investigate the smaller bedroom walled off from the living area with paneling stained a light oak. Sandburg's room, no doubt. She sensed a kindred spirit here, messy, crowded, too much furniture, too many books, too much life packed into the cramped space. She'd lived in rooms this size. She'd lived in houses this size, with thatched roofs and dirt floors. She began to search.
Books. An abundance of books on a bewildering variety of subjects, Sandburg must be a fascinating conversationalist if he'd actually read all of them. But not the Chronicle, double drat. It hadn't been in his office at the University when she managed to slip in there during class. He must be carrying it around... or he'd given it to someone in the History department.
"Scratch Plan B, on to Plan C." She murmured to herself, idly fingering the sleeve of a shirt so long out of style she barely remembered it. Most of the clothes here looked like resale shop finds, old and worn but in good condition.
Photographs showed the young man in a variety of third-world countries, sometimes with an older redhead, mostly alone. A few cheap souvenirs of his travels. College textbooks related to his chosen field on his desk. A young man just starting out in life, trying to find his place in the world. What challenge was there in stealing from him? It would be like taking candy from a baby. She recognized the uneasiness stirring in her stomach as her conscience. Spending too much time with Boy Scouts, old girl. Before Duncan and Nick, you would have had no qualms about taking the book back... but the boy spent good money on it and it doesn't look like he has much to spare... remember your own lean times? I'll talk to Joe. The Watchers must have a slush fund for these situations, you simply can't run a secret society these days without gobs of money to bribe people with and so on. And after this is all over, I simply must look up Adam Pierson, font of pragmatic cynicism he is, might reverse the damage. So. On to Plan D. As soon as I come up with Plan D.
She retreated to her hotel room to plot. She thought better in a lilac-scented bubble bath with a glass of champagne and some little cheesy things to nibble on; didn't everybody?
She called Joe. He admitted the Watchers did indeed have cash reserves for bribes, unexpected travel expenses, et cetera, and that if Amanda wanted to buy the book back, he could authorize the expenditure. He sounded amused that she wanted to buy the book back. She was rather put out by that, but it did lead to some interesting speculations... stealing from a simple college student might hold no challenge for someone who'd stolen the Mona Lisa four times, but liberating assets from the Watchers, who studied her, knew her MO and were paranoid about security... speaking of Adam, trying to steal the Philosopher's Stone with dear Methos-eleh had been fun.
She made a few other calls, then called Lucy. "This may take a bit longer than I thought."
Her oldest mortal friend sighed. "I still don't understand why this is such a big deal. Even if someone believes it, this is the kind of thing no one can prove one way or the other."
"I know, I know," Amanda sighed back. "I don't think anything would happen but a few hundred more articles would be written for university publishers... but I made a promise. And when I give my word, I keep it. That's why I don't give it often." She brightened. "Lucy, luv, since I'm going to be in this delightful little backwater for who knows how long... would you mind running a few little errands for me?"
"On top of vacuuming the rugs, dusting the furniture, sharpening the swords... sure, what?"
"Oh, just picking up a few things... those evening gowns I ordered should be ready. There's a ticket on the Concorde waiting for you at the airport, House of DuCharme, 38 Rue Palais, Paris..."
"... What you say about the rent-a-cop wannabe types, but I haven't gotten a ticket from the Campus Parking Authority since I got the parking sticker for the station garage." Blair walked into the loft and put the bag of Chinese takeout he carried on the dining table, then went into the kitchen and got out some plates. Jim set his bags down and started tearing them open, setting out the cartons of chicken subgum and fried rice, eggrolls and wonton soup. Blair brought out the plates, silverware, and beer. "I mean, I could probably park on the roof of the library..." He laughed a little. "Hey, April Fool's is coming up, I should remember that one..."
Jim listened to him prattle on, and took a deep breath of anticipation as he opening a carton of pepper steak, stomach growling. Then paused, frowning.
Chinese food and something else... something faint, something sweet... "Shalimar."
Blair blinked at him, spooning chicken-fried rice onto a plate. "Uh, what?"
"Shalimar," he said again, getting up and walking slowly around the living room, inhaling deeply. "You remember, you found that article listing the top ten most popular fragrances and dragged me down to the mall and made me memorize 'em? So I could identify and track female perps in the dark. I smell Shalimar... Whadya do, Chief, ditch class and bring a woman home for a nooner?"
Blair snorted. "Maybe the waitress at Jade Fan's, y'know, she touched the bags? C'mon, man, your food's getting cold."
"Maybe." Jim shrugged and came back to the table.
After dinner, Jim settled down in front of the TV to watch a rerun of JAG, and Blair sat on the other end of couch with his book. Jim glanced over at him. "You still reading that?"
Blair chuckled. "Yeah. It is pretty entertaining, even with all the historical mistakes... the writer didn't pay much attention to the timeline... she's got to be, like sixty now, and she's still described as 'the beauteous maid.'"
They spent a quiet evening, Blair with his literary-historical hoax and Jim trying to avoid anything with self-involved twenty-somethings, trying to find something with some good explosions in it. The first Lethal Weapon movie was playing on a cable channel. Jim decided he could identify with the long-suffering partner of the long haired lunatic with a penchant for dangerously weird situations, and left it on.
Amanda stopped in the open doorway of the... office... she supposed she should call it, even though it was a storage room. Blair Sandburg was seated at a desk, grading papers. She watched as he brushed a stray lock of hair back, tucking it behind an ear, the tip of his tongue peeping briefly from the corner of his mouth, and sighed to herself. He really was quite adorable. She cleared her throat to get his attention. The expensive business suit cut to display her curves without being obvious about it ensured that she kept his attention.
He looked up, and his mouth hung open for an endearing moment before he closed it, blinking rapidly. "Uh, yes, can I help you?"
"Mister Sandburg? Blair Sandburg? I'm..." She hesitated, realizing that if he was reading the Chronicle, then introducing herself as Amanda Anything was Not A Bright Idea. "... Tessa Ryan," she interjected smoothly, sending a silent apology to those departed souls, pointing out that it was all in a good cause. She watched him scurry around to unstack a pile of books and file folders from a wooden chair, then snatch a Kleenex from a box on his desk to dust the chair. She seated herself with an amused smile at his disorganized gentility.
"I understand you purchased an allotment of books and papers from the estate of Edmund Nollinger. I represent a private collector interested in one particular volume, if you're interested in selling... I am assuming you bought the books personally, not as an agent of the University."
Perched on a corner of the desk facing her, he nodded quickly. "Yes, I bought them personally and I am interested in reselling the whole collection. Which book?"
"It's about yea big," she estimated with her hands, "bound in calfskin, slightly foxed as they say in the trade, with a gold embossed symbol on the cover, a stylized trefoil in concentric circles."
His eyes lit with instant recognition. "Oh. That one. It's an interesting piece."
Her heart sank a little. "You've read it?"
He gave a dismissive little wave. "Only part of it. Whoever wrote it must have been parodying Prisoner of Zenda, Ivanhoe, and a half-dozen other works." He gave a self-deprecating little chuckle. "I mean, I'm no expert, but that's how it reads."
She tossed her head slightly. "In any event, I'm authorized to offer you two hundred dollars."
His eyes went wide, an expression not unlike the one he'd worn when she'd first announced her presence. "Two hundred dollars? I didn't think it was that valuable."
"Only to my employer. You know collectors and unique items." She leaned forward, offering him a peek at her cleavage. "Maybe I could buy you lunch, and we could discuss this further?"
"Oh. Um. I'd love to, but I have to go, I have an appointment..."
She fluttered her eyelashes at him in an innocent blink. "I could drive you, I have a car, we could talk on the way..."
"Well, uh, sure. I'm going to Cascade Police Headquarters, I'm writing a paper on social and work relationships inside the police department, the 'partnership' bond, that sort of thing..."
Ah. That explained a few things.
She dropped him just outside the main doors. They'd agreed to meet at her hotel for dinner, which gave her enough time to drive over to Seacouver and get the check from a Watcher dummy corporation and come back. Before she could pull away, she felt it, the hair on the back of her neck standing up, the cold shiver running down her spine from the base of her skull to her tailbone. Another. Unarmed, since her sword was in the trunk, she looked around nervously, relaxed a bit as she recognized the beautifully dressed and darkly handsome man approaching her, walking up to lean into the car.
"Dag skone, geruime tyd." Hello beautiful, long time.
"Over a century, isn't it, Rafe?" She admired both the hand-knit Aran sweater and the leather trenchcoat. Only an Immortal's practiced eye could spot the sheath in the lining. "You look well. But whatever are you doing here?"
"I work here. Whatever are you doing with Blair Sandburg? He's a near-penniless grad student, so it can't be business..." Even in English, he still spoke with a faint trace of an accent.
She widened her eyes and pouted a bit, feeling safe enough since they were out in public in broad daylight, even if he was inclined to be cranky, he couldn't try anything. "They were such little diamonds, darling, I didn't think you'd miss them."
Rafe laughed. "I didn't. But Blair's a good kid, and a friend of mine. I don't know if you're involved in any of the cases he's working on with Ellison..."
"Not business. Pleasure," she said firmly. "He's very cute."
Rafe laughed again, and straightened. "He is, isn't he? Good to see you, Amanda." He started to walk away.
"Keep your head down, Rafe."
She pulled out into traffic and headed for Seacouver.
Rhonda caught up with Rafe at the elevator. He gave her a polite smile and they shared some small talk. She was a little nervous about working with her subject but it did make it easy to keep tabs on him. She didn't dare pull a Dawson but she was itching to know why the infamous Amanda was in town, if he had challenged her, a little worried about him since the Chronicle of Ryf Voorhies didn't report him taking a head since he'd left South Africa in 1914. And she was wildly curious about what Amanda was doing with Blair Sandburg.
She eyed him, perched on a corner of Ellison's desk, as she made her way to her own workstation outside of the captain's office. There was a ten thousand dollar bonus for reporting a First Death. She'd have to go down to Cascade's Watch House, a coffee shop called The Daily Grind, and see if she could pick up some gossip.
"You seem chipper this afternoon."
"Yeah, I've got a date tonight. Date with an angel, man. Tessa Ryan. Tall, body by Mattel, platinum blonde hair cut shorter than yours, Cindy Crawford and Angelina Jolie must be her ugly stepsisters. And she's having dinner with me."
"Lucky guy." Jim squinted at his computer screen. "Do me a favor, get me some coffee?"
"Sure thing." Blair bounced to his feet and headed for the break room.
Jim, knowing Blair's usual luck with the ladies, ran a quick check on Tessa Ryan, but there was no record. With that name.
Blair came out of the bathroom in black jeans, a blue Chambray shirt, and a black leather vest, hair pulled back with a tie decorated with a silver arrowhead, to match the hoop earrings. Jim lowered his Golf Digest and wrinkled his nose at the moving cloud of Nomad surrounding the younger man. Aftershave and cologne.
"Bringing out the big guns, eh, Chief? This woman must be something special."
"I'll be at the restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel."
"And if you don't come home tonight, you'll be in one of the rooms."
"A man can dream. Don't wait up."
They finished the business portion of the evening first, Amanda handed over the check, Blair handed over the book, then they had dinner. He was a charming boy, and as Amanda had expected, a fascinating conversationalist. He'd traveled widely for one so young, read extensively. Amanda realized that she was having fun. Without an ulterior motive. Tres unusual. No Immortals. No chicanery. Just... two people. Just fun.
Fun that ripened into a sudden pitying love. Blair Sandburg was twenty-eight years old. The blink of an eye. Blink again and he would be gone. That youthful vitality. That kaleidoscope curiosity. Gone. All gone. Dead. Dust. Forgotten.
Walking him to the lobby, she found she couldn't bear to let him go yet. So she kissed him. He followed her to the elevator without a word.
He had the body of a dancer, lightly muscled, nicely furred with body hair. Once a mark of virility, he proved that superstition. Amanda mostly avoided becoming involved with mayfly mortals, the, ah, enthusiasm of the truly young... she'd almost forgotten. She tried to match him, to burn this night into her eternal memory, every kiss, every caress. And he was strong, and he was passionate, and in his arms there was no Game, no past, no future, no Immortality, only the fevered Now.
Much, much later, Amanda pulled the daffodil yellow slip dress on over her white lace lingerie, stepped into her pumps and walked over to the bed, impulsively plucking a red rosebud from the flower arrangement on the dresser. She kissed the sleeping youth on the lips, then teasingly drew the rosebud across them. He mumbled incoherently, then shifted, burrowing into the pillow.
She laughed, and kissed his forehead. "You have a good, long life, Blair Sandburg." She dropped the rose on the other pillow, picked up her suitcase and her Chronicle, and walked away.
She'd never see him again. In twenty years, maybe she'd see a curly-haired and laughing girl with blue eyes who took after her father... in two hundred, someone who moved a certain way or said something that reminded her of him, someone who might have a Sandburg somewhere in their family tree.
Such was the gift and curse of Immortality.
~ End ~
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Page last updated 8/15/03.