Notes: I initially set out to write a story where Jaq was a pre-immortal, but that one just sort of stalled out. But while I was wrestling with it, I wondered what if Daniel gave Jaq so much grief because she reminded him of someone? That set off the idea for this story, and that’s what I ended up writing. And along the way, came up with something of a reason that Dan left Camilla at the altar -- at least in this universe [g] It's set a little more than three weeks before Dan Clifford shows up at Holby City Hospital.
The title is a line from a song called ‘Swans’, which you can listen to here. I first heard it just after starting on this, and it became something of the theme song for the story.
Many thanks to sophiedb for taking a look at it, ninjababe for all the times I said, 'come read it now', and my permanently tenured editor here at Casa de Ith, em_kellesvig. All remaining errors are my own.
Rated PG13 for some adult content and language.
By My Side, You’ll Never Be
Methos walked through the lobby of the elegant London hotel, glancing at his watch before adjusting the cuff of his suit jacket. He’d had a rare afternoon off from the Middlesex and had decided to take advantage of the excellent cigar bar at the King Edward Hotel. A little rest and relaxation was just what the doctor ordered. Considering what lay ahead over the next few days, certainly no one could begrudge him this last bit of indolence. He straightened his tie, and kept walking, even as the presence of another immortal washed over his senses. Glancing casually around, he appeared no different from any of the dozens of other people milling about the busy common area of the London hotel; it was a demeanor perfected over many centuries.
But all pretense fell away when his eyes met hers….
“If you’re going to challenge me, you’ll have to wait till I get this shot. I’ve been waiting for days to get just the right light.” She looked up over her shoulder, giving him a cursory glance, seemingly unconcerned about the presence of an unknown immortal.
His eyes narrowed as she looked back at her camera. This was not what he’d had in mind when he’d decided to take a dawn walk along the Bosphorus. A little peace, a little quiet, that’s all he’d wanted. Was that really too much to ask? And Istanbul had seemed the perfect choice, a place as totally the opposite of Paris as he could find. Somewhere that was far away from MacLeod and his guilt over killing Richie. And a place, if fate was kind, to throw off the last vestiges of ‘Adam Pierson’. Not that there was much of him left – it was time to become someone else. Perhaps he’d find that man here.
But instead of solitude, he’d found her, and it irritated him. It irritated him even more that she didn’t react to his presence at all. Little fool! She just stayed where she was, kneeling on the riverbank, camera in her hand. He could have taken her head without even breaking a sweat. Was he always to have the presence of immortals who should know better inflicted upon him?
Irritation flared into anger as he slid the dagger from its sheath on his wrist. Putting the fear of God into her would be satisfying, not to mention a public service, he thought with grim amusement. If nothing else, it would help pass the time.
“Maybe it’s not your head I’m interested in,” he told her in a cold, silky voice, the one that had been Death’s favourite, sliding the blade, the metal warm from its resting place against his arm, across her throat. “At least not yet.”
Her hand tightened around the camera, but that was her only visible reaction. She was a cool one; that he had to admit. Cool, but still stupid.
The silence stretched, until finally she said, “I wouldn’t think a man like you would have to resort to this just to get a girl." Her voice was very soft, and she didn’t look at him, just stared out across the Istanbul skyline outlined in the soft dawn light. “It’s rather sad really.”
“A man like me?” He pressed the tip of the blade under her chin, exerting just enough pressure to draw her to her feet, pulling her around to face him with his free hand. She was tall for a woman, coming just past his shoulder, her straight red hair, glinting in the rising sun, falling halfway to her waist. Though her blue eyes were slightly too large, they did serve to soften the rather sharp outlines of her face.
“Reasonably good looking,” she answered, running her eyes down his body then back up again, studying his face with an intensity he found slightly unnerving.
“Reasonably?” Methos quirked a brow, delicately tracing the line of her collarbone with the knifepoint. The girl was too thin, though he wasn’t one to talk, he supposed. Still, now he could see all of her, he decided somebody needed to feed her a few hamburgers.
And you’re the man for the job? Oddly enough, he didn’t mind the idea quite as much as he thought he would. She was just diverting enough to pique his interest.
“I might be inclined to reconsider my assessment under less unpleasant circumstances.” She looked down at the dagger, then back into his eyes.
“Would you indeed?” Oh yes, she had his complete attention now and he wondered just how diverting she would be in his bed.
Barking with laughter, he lowered the weapon. “And just what did you have in mind?”
“I was thinking you could buy me breakfast.”
More than one breakfast, if he had anything to say about it, he thought, inhaling the slightly spicy scent of her perfume. He realized his peace and quiet was about to permanently fly out the window, and didn’t care. But what he said was, “You do know that you’re a very foolish girl, don’t you?”
“If you say so.”
“Oh, I do.” He smirked at the expression of annoyance that flashed across her face. “What exactly made you believe I wouldn’t just kill you?”
“Your eyes,” she said simply, shrugging slightly.
“My eyes?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Not only foolish, but silly as well. I should have run you through, just to teach you a lesson.”
Hands on her hips, she tossed her head. “Are you always this grumpy?”
Methos considered the question. “Actually, yes, I am. Are you always so aggravating?”
Laughing, she replied, “You’re just going to have to wait and find out….”
She said something to her companion, a young blond who looked like he spent most of his free time body building, tilting her head in Methos’ direction. The other man looked at him briefly before nodding and walking towards the bar at the far end of the lobby. Then she turned; heading in the opposite direction to one of the several small seating nooks that peppered the lobby. Briefly, Methos considered just walking away; it would be so much easier than actually dealing with her now, after all these years. But instead, he found himself following her.
Silently, she regarded him as he drew closer, arms tight across her chest. She’d cut her hair, he noted, the once long red mane now nothing more than short gelled spikes atop her head. He felt a little stab of… what? Loss? Regret? Memories flashed across his mind’s eye: her hair wrapped around his fist as they made love, the feel of it cascading across his chest, the look of her with it draped across her naked body lying next to him in bed. Brutally, he pushed back the memories. Those days were long gone.
He eyed her warily, not sure what his reception was going to be, considering everything. “Annabeth,” he greeted her quietly. “It’s been a long time.”
“Yes,” she answered, that one word said sharply. Well, at least she hadn’t hit him – or worse.
She wasn’t as painfully thin as she’d been when they’d first met. There was more flesh on her bones, giving her curves where there’d been practically none before. Curves that were nicely outlined by the slate blue cashmere suit she was wearing, the narrow skirt falling to mid thigh. In the high heeled black patent pumps she wore, her long legs seemed to go on and on.
“You’re looking well.” He stopped himself from letting his eyes wander her body, keeping them firmly on her face.
“What you mean is that you’re not feeling compelled to force feed me this time.” Her voice was cool, but not angry -- at least that was something. She’d never taken well to what she felt was coddling….
“That’s enough for today.” Dropping the sword to his side, he walked over to the buffet against the wall, picking up his water, and taking a long drink.
“Come on, Adam, just a little longer!”
“No.” Placing his sword on the buffet, he turned to where she was still standing in the middle of the practice room floor looking mutinous. “There’s such a thing as overkill, love.”
It hadn’t taken him long to figure out just why Annabeth was so thin. She worked out and practiced obsessively. He hadn’t quite figured out yet what drove her, and it wasn’t a subject she was receptive to discussing. It also hadn’t taken long for him to realize that she’d had a crap teacher. She had the will and the fire, but she’d never had someone who had tapped that potential. She would have blossomed with a teacher like MacLeod, but instead she’d ended up with Alastair Morton; a decent enough man to be sure, but not even competent enough to make it past his second century, let alone take on a student.
“Fine! Leave. I’m staying.”
“Absolutely not! We,” he emphasized, walking back to her, “are going to shower and then I’m taking you out to dinner.” He removed her sword from her hand. “No! This is not a request, Annabeth. If you want me to teach you, then we do it my way, remember?” He kissed the tip of her nose. “And no sulking,” he said firmly. She just glared in reply and he laughed.
“I don’t see why we need to waste so much time! There’s food in the house. You can eat and then we can finish here.”
He laid her sword next to his and bowed his head briefly, praying to whatever gods there might be for patience. Aggravating didn’t even begin to cover it some days. Turning back to her, he crossed his arms, leaning a hip against the buffet. “Because there’s more to life than work, my love. Reading a good book, listening to music, moonlit walks, a good bottle of wine, and romantic dinners by candlelight with your lover. Trust me, you need to take time to just be, or the centuries that pass will be a burden.” Methos held out his hand. He thought she would refuse, but instead, she came to him, taking it in hers.
“You’re too easy on me,” she complained.
“Now that is something I can honestly say no one has ever accused me of before.” He looked at her quizzically, baffled by her accusation. He pushed her hard in their training sessions, and she never complained, took whatever he threw at her, and never seemed to get enough. She was actually a joy to teach, other than she didn’t know when to quit. “Where on earth did you come up with that idea?”
“It’s true, you know it is! Over the last few weeks, you’ve never once hurt me or even cut me! How am I supposed to learn if you hold back?”
It took a moment for him to realize just what she was saying. Shocked, Methos grabbed her other hand, pulling her to him. “Are you telling me that Morton purposely injured you when he was your teacher?” His voice was icy with controlled anger. The pieces were beginning fall into place, so much of what he hadn’t understood before now making sense.
“Of course,” she said, sounding uncertain, not understanding why he was angry, just that he was. “He said it was the only way I’d ever learn anything, that a sword through my heart in practice was better than losing my head in a fight.”
Taking an angry breath, he tried to remind himself that Morton probably had honestly believed that; had been taught that way himself. It wasn’t that there weren’t some occasions when a teacher had to be brutal with a student, but those instances were exceptions. To have that kind of treatment be the norm was abusive and totally uncalled for. Stroking her hair gently, he finally said, “Listen to me, Annabeth, nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, if he weren’t already dead, I’d take his head myself for what he did to you!”
Angrily, she pulled away from him. “That’s not fair! He took me in after my first death! He’s the reason I’m still alive today!”
“No!” He stabbed the air with a finger. “No, the reason you’ve survived the last eighty years is because of you, not because of any warped lessons that Morton may have taught you!” Striding over to her, he pulled her sharply into his arms, kissing her firmly. “New lesson plan,” he informed her. “No more swords for a while. I think it’s time you had a few lessons on living first….”
"No, I don't think that's going to be necessary," he told her, amusement tingeing his voice.
Taking a deep breath, she dropped her arms. “And who are you now? Not ‘Adam’ anymore.” She waved a hand at him. “He would never wear a suit like that, something that cost more than the entire rest of his wardrobe.”
She always had been observant, he thought, looking down at the impeccably tailored lines of his black pinstripe suit and handmade Italian shoes. No, ‘Adam’ would never have worn something like this. A small smile brushed his lips. “It’s Daniel Clifford now.”
“So you did go with him. Doctor?”
“Surgeon, actually. General Surgical Consultant, to be exact.”
“Sounds quite pompous; it suits you,” she said more than a little acidly, absently tapping one foot against the pale marble floor.
His jaw tightened a little. “I guess I don’t have to ask what you’re up to these days, do I?” He looked meaningfully to where her companion sat at the bar. “Husband? Lover? Distraction?” The last said almost with a sneer. He gave himself a mental shake; this was stupid. What they had was over. Why did he care who was keeping her bed warm? But he’d never been entirely rational where Annabeth was concerned. While he’d used the name ‘Adam’ when they’d been together, who he’d been was Methos. And he was a possessive son of a bitch.
“You don’t get to ask those sorts of questions anymore… Daniel.” Her blue eyes flashed with anger. “And you certainly don’t get to have them answered!”
“No, I don’t suppose I do.” He sighed tiredly. “At least tell me this; are you happy?”
“Do you care?” Dropping her eyes, she looked away.
“What do you think?”
“I think you don’t want to, you never wanted to,” she said bitterly. “And you certainly don’t want to now!”
“Don’t start! I never lied to you. I never made any promises! I can’t help it if you lied to yourself!” he told her in a low fierce voice. Her eyes locked with his, huge in her angular face, the short spiky hair accentuating every plane. ‘Kitsune’, that’s what he’d called her, his fox spirit. Now she truly looked the part.
“You told me when we first met that I was foolish. But it wasn’t me who was the fool. Did you think I actually expected you to fight for me? I took care of myself long before we met, and long since you disappeared from my life.”
“You expect me to believe you don’t care that I left you to face Reichard alone?”
Her laughter was hollow. “Oh, Adam, if I were looking for a knight in shining armour, it certainly wouldn’t be you!”
Her words hurt, even if they were true. Methos was no one’s hero. “I’m sorry.” And he was, for so many things.
“So am I. Sorry that you didn’t have enough faith in me to stay. That you had so little respect for my abilities that you assumed Reichard would be the victor. When I came home that night, I thought you’d be there waiting for me. I guess you were right all along, I was a silly girl.” Her voice cracked a little. “I thought, I thought… never mind.” She shook her head sharply. “How it must have surprised you to see me here today, believing I was dead.”
“I knew you weren’t dead.” There, he’d said it. She should know the truth, even if that truth wasn’t going to make it better, would probably make it worse. “I knew you’d taken Reichard’s head.”
“You knew?” Annabeth sank into the armchair behind her, twisting at the cuff of her blazer. “Then why did you leave, without a word, without even a damn note? Didn’t I deserve at least that?” Her cheeks flushed with anger.
“There were things about me, my past, that you didn’t know. Things I had to finish, to deal with, once and for all.” He sat on the ottoman in front of her, hands clasped on his knees. “It was for the best to walk out of your life.”
“For me, or for you?”
“Does it really matter anymore?” Methos was tired. He’d wanted to be Daniel Clifford for at least a little while before his past turned up to haunt him. But things rarely ever worked out the way you hoped.
“Probably not.” Like the brush of a feather, her fingertips skimmed his knuckles. “But I never cared about your past, who you’d been -- I never asked.”
“And you don’t know how irritating that was.” That bit of honesty fell from his lips, much to his surprise. Annabeth didn’t say anything, just waited for him to finish. He looked at her briefly, then down at his hands. “If you’d pried, if you’d wanted more, it would have given me the perfect excuse.”
He looked over at her with hooded eyes. “To leave.”
“I didn’t realize I was such a trial,” she whispered.
“You have no idea. Silly, foolish, aggravating girl.” Unconsciously, he reached out, brushing at her hair.
Startled she drew back, and he began to murmur an apology, but she stopped him, taking his hand. “When I was a little girl,” she began, “I used to imagine I was the heroine in the books I read. By the time I was a teenager, I hated everyone and everything. I hated New Brunswick, and I hated my parents, the farm… I especially hated the cows! I couldn’t wait till I was eighteen and could leave for the big city where I was sure my destiny awaited.”
Suddenly she seemed to realize she was still holding his hand, and abruptly let go. Methos pretended not to notice, waiting for her to continue. “When I was old enough, I packed my carpet bag and I left, without a word, without a goodbye. I convinced myself that my parents were probably thrilled to be rid of me, their troublemaking, hell-raising daughter. I threw myself into my new and exciting life, thinking I had all the time in the world.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t. My time ran out in a hail of bullets in front of a Chicago speakeasy. But I never really regretted what I’d done till that night, when I came home and you were gone. Regretted the sorrow and pain I’d caused my parents. I owed them better than they ever got from me. It took me eighty years to realize what an ungrateful bitch I’d been.”
“You were a child, Annabeth. You can’t blame yourself for what you did then.”
“Yes, I can, and I do. I also know I can’t ever make it right. What you taught me, Adam, was that we owe the people we love at least a goodbye. I know that wasn’t the lesson you had in mind, that morning when you pressed the point of a knife into my throat, but I don’t regret the year we spent together.”
“I don’t either. If things had been different… if I’d been different.”
She shook her head. “You still don’t understand. You didn’t have to be anyone else; you only ever had to be you. It wasn’t me who wanted you to be someone else, it was you.”
“One of your most touching qualities was always your naiveté,” he told her witheringly. “You never really knew me and you would have never accepted who I was had you known the truth!”
The look she gave him was almost pitying. “And just how many times have you used that excuse?” she asked archly.
“It’s not an excuse!” he protested.
“Of course it is! How much easier it is to go through life with a predetermined set of reasons why you can’t let someone into your life! Why you don’t deserve love and companionship. Just how many people who’ve loved you have you driven away?”
Methos exhaled explosively. She was infuriating, and the last ten years had done nothing to temper her most irritating attributes. She was little more than an infant! He wanted to shout at her, to shake her, to take her to his bed and make her beg. That realization shocked him back to the here and now. He looked at her sitting across from him, so close, her scent so familiar, beckoning him. It would be so very easy….
“I’ve missed you,” she said quietly, taking a shaky breath. “So much.”
“Annabeth…” he began, wanting to touch her, to feel her soft skin under his fingertips, her lips on his.
“Daniel!” a female voice exclaimed, bringing them both back to the world around them like a splash of cold water. “What on earth are you doing here?”
Methos closed his eyes, swallowing hard. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. Then he was standing, turning around to greet his fiancée; ‘Daniel Clifford’ falling around his shoulders like a cloak. “Camilla, darling.” He kissed the dark haired woman on the cheek. “I thought I’d surprise you,” he lied glibly. He’d had no idea she’d be here this afternoon. Vaguely he recalled her telling him her plans for the day, but it hadn’t really registered at the time.
“I know I told you I had last minute wedding details to see to but I didn’t think you’d actually paid attention.” Then she turned her attention to Annabeth. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” She took hold of her fiancé’s arm possessively, as if to ward off this strange other woman with whom she’d found him with.
“Of course. Camilla, this is Annabeth --” Methos’ tone indicated nothing more than the social niceties. A chance meeting with someone he knew once upon a time.
Annabeth interrupted him, “Someone he used to know.” Her voice was devoid of emotion. “I used to date an old friend of Daniel’s.”
“Really? I’ve met so few of Daniel’s friends.” Camilla visibly relaxed.
“It was a long time ago,” she told her. “We ran into each other and were just catching up.”
“You’re American. Are you on holiday?”
“Canadian, actually,” Annabeth corrected. “And no, here on business.”
Camilla nodded, before turning her attention back to the man at her side. “But you must invite her to the wedding, darling,” she told him. “You will come, won’t you?” she asked the other woman. “It’s the day after tomorrow.”
“I’m sure Annabeth has other obligations.”
“Thank you, but no, I couldn’t possibly,” she and Methos spoke simultaneously.
There was an awkward silence before Annabeth added, “I’m only in London for a few days. I’m an architect, and my partner Rebecca and I have the contract to design a hotel here. In fact,” she looked at her watch, “I’m late. I should have been at the building site fifteen minutes ago. Rebecca’s husband has been patience itself, waiting for me in the bar while I caught up with Daniel.” She gave Methos a look: not a husband, not a lover not even a distraction.
“It was nice meeting you, Camilla.” She nodded at the woman, then looked at Methos. “Congratulations. I hope you’ll be very happy together. Say hello to Adam for me if you ever run into each other.”
There were so many things he wanted to say to her, but all he could say was, “It was good seeing you again, Annabeth.” The brief moment of possibility they’d shared vanished like mist on a summer morning.
Her eyes searched his face with the same intensity they had that first morning, before being replaced with cool detachment. “And you.”
As Annabeth left, Camilla draped her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. “I can’t wait to be Mrs. Daniel Clifford.” Over her shoulder Methos watched, as this time, Annabeth walked out of his life.
By my side,
you'll never be.
By my side,
you'll never be.
Cos I'm fake at the seams,
I'm lost in my dreams.
I want you to know,
that I can't let you go.
And you're never coming home again,
And you're never coming home again.
By my side,
you'll never be.
By my side,
you'll never be.
I wanted to tell you I'd changed.
I wanted to tell you that things would be different this time.
But I see you, you see me,
I see you, you see me,
You tell me that you love me but you never want to see me again.