Author: I Can't Believe It's Not A Real Tree aka sholio
Written for: jinxed_wood
Characters/Pairings: Joe, Amanda (very background Amanda/Methos and Amanda/Rebecca implied, though it could also be read as gen)
Word Count: 5200
Author's Notes: Many thanks to the betas, especially *** for her many useful suggestions; trust me, without her, this would have been the worst Christmas story ever (or at least the most depressing). Any remaining faults and mistakes are mine alone.
Summary: Stealing a body from the morgue? Just another day in a Watcher's life. Even if it's Christmas Eve.
One thing about being a Watcher: you get familiar with morgues. Joe had been to every morgue in Seacouver, in Paris, and in a number of other cities, and all of them were basically the same damn thing. If you'd seen one morgue, you'd seen them all. This one had something a little different, though: a cheap plastic wreath on its swinging double doors, bristling with fake holly.
"Festive," Joe murmured, though it really wasn't. He pushed open the doors.
His hopes of finding the morgue deserted and empty on Christmas Eve went sideways at the sight of an attendant leaning on the examining table, filling out paperwork. The kid looked about twelve to Joe, which probably meant he was thirty. Getting old, boy. Getting old. Christmas music poured tinnily from the kid's iPod headphones.
Joe cleared his throat. The attendant glanced up from his clipboard and pulled out an earbud. "Hey, Merry Christmas, man."
"Merry Christmas," Joe said. "Nice wreath."
"Yeah? And look, we got these too." The attendant pointed up to a string of dark Christmas lights clinging forlornly to the ceiling.
"They'd show up better if they were lit," Joe pointed out after contemplating them thoughtfully.
"Boss says they're a fire hazard. Can't plug them in. Tried to tell him they're LEDs and won't catch anything on fire, but ..." He shrugged.
The effect was sort of like putting up evergreen branches with all the needles fallen off. Oddly appropriate for a morgue, though. Joe almost asked if they'd set up a dead Christmas tree too, but reined himself in. Morgue workers were, by and large, a group of people who appreciated the blacker side of his sense of humor, and normally he'd indulge himself. But he needed this kid's help, and it'd just figure if he found the only morgue attendant this side of the Rockies who had no sense of humor at all.
"So anyway," the kid said, "can I do somethin' for you?"
Good question, that. Playing next-of-kin wasn't going to be easy when he had no idea what name was currently on his target's ID. But being a Watcher had given him a finely honed ability to bullshit on the fly. The trick was to come up with a story of sufficient audacity that it almost had to be true, then go fast and not give the other person any time to think about it. It helped that he was a little too drunk to think of all the good reasons not to do this.
"Yeah, you can," Joe said. He took out his wallet and flipped it open at the kid, displaying a brief flash of his ID -- hopefully fast enough that it wasn't obvious that it was just a wallet. "Agent Dawson, FBI. I'm here for your DOA." Hopefully there was only one ...
The kid straightened up, trying to look suddenly attentive. "The Jane Doe? I was just processing her in. Haven't gotten to the autopsy yet."
"That's the one," Joe said, sending up a tiny little prayer of thanks. "And yeah, we need to take her across town. Jurisdiction issue. Didn't anyone call ahead?" He tried to look put-upon and annoyed. It wasn't hard.
"No one ever tells me anything," the kid sighed, and they shared a mutual "what can you do?" look before the kid hauled out one of the morgue drawers and tugged down the zipper on the body bag. "Is this the right one?"
Amanda's face was still and waxen, and, thankfully, quite dead; Joe let out a silent breath of relief, and nodded. The kid zipped her up again and transfered her deftly to a gurney.
"Where are her personal effects?" Joe asked.
"I think the police held 'em. Evidence. You want me to call --"
"No," Joe said quickly, "no, they've probably been processed through to my department already. One less thing to worry about." For him, at least. The rest of it was Amanda's problem.
"Hang on and I'll get the paperwork. Do you need a WR-29 for this, or just the usual S-10s?"
A which and a what? The forms kept changing, too. "Better do all of it," Joe decided, and scribbled an illegible signature on half a dozen sheets of paper, keeping an eye on the body bag. Had that been a twitch from inside? Or maybe he was just paranoid.
"Where d'you want her?"
Hmm. Joe hadn't actually thought that far ahead. He'd taken a taxi over here. This could get awkward. "Take her to the back doors. They're sending a van over."
"So," the kid said as he wheeled the gurney through the doors, "the FBI didn't give you any trouble about the -- uh --" He glanced down at Joe's cane.
"Duty-related injury," Joe said. "And hell, it's the 21st century, kid. They're not going to fire me for that. Mostly I'm on desk duty, but we're short-staffed for the holidays; isn't everyone?"
The kid flashed a wry grin, acknowledging this. "The reason I ask, it's my cousin, see; he just came back from Afghanistan, and he was thinking about applying to some federal agencies. But he's got this bad leg now."
"Tell him to go for it." What can it hurt? Joe thought. Could turn out to be a good deed, who knows. "And," he added, holding the door to the outside loading dock, "tell him good job, from one vet to another."
The kid smiled. "Yeah, man. I'll do that."
Small flakes of snow had begun to swirl around the streetlights, and a damp, cold Seacouver wind knifed through Joe's coat. He took out his phone and pretended to check his messages. "Yep, they're on their way. No need for two of us to wait around in this mess."
"You have a good Christmas, Agent," the kid said, and ducked back inside.
"You too," Joe called after him, with a smile. He hoped the kid didn't get in trouble over the night's charade.
"I thought he'd never leave," said the body bag in a muffled, annoyed voice.
"Shhh." Joe waited a few seconds, then cracked open one of the doors and peeked inside to make sure they were truly alone.
"I'm freezing," said the muffled voice. "Where are my clothes?"
"At the police station. Not here."
"Well, what use are you, then?" The body bag began to wriggle, random lumps appearing and vanishing as Amanda thrashed around with no noticeable effect. Joe undid enough of the zipper to reveal Amanda's annoyed face, glowering at him.
"I could've gotten out just fine on my own." She knocked his hands away and started to unzip herself, then moaned, "Ow, it's cold! Where are we?"
"Behind the morgue at Seacouver General."
"And where's your car?"
"At the bar."
"The bar on the other side of town, you mean?"
"Do you always complain this much when people rescue you?" Joe flourished his phone. "Hang on, calling a cab. Shoulda had the other one wait, but I didn't know how long I'd be ..."
Amanda sighed and sat up, pulling the body bag around her like a sleeping bag. "Isn't this going to be a bit tricky to explain to a taxi driver?"
"It's the night before a major holiday. I'm sure they've had stranger fares than an old guy and a naked woman in a body bag at the city morgue." Though probably not many.
He got a busy signal at the cab company, and hung up to try back in a minute. Looking at Amanda, mummified in the body bag with only her face visible, he struggled briefly with his conscience -- she'd gotten herself into this, after all, but he just couldn't leave a pretty woman sitting naked in the middle of a blizzard. "Here. Take my coat."
"I don't want your coat. No, wait!" as he started to put it back on. One pale, goosebumped arm snaked out of the body bag and snatched the coat, pulling it inside. Joe politely turned his back while she put it on, even if nothing was visible under the body bag.
"Er, thank you, by the way," Amanda said, a trifle muffled. "For, um, everything."
"All in a day's work." Sadly, this was true.
By the time he'd finished the call to the taxi company, the spitting flakes had turned into a heavy, soggy snow -- or falling slush, really, melting as it hit the ground. "I hate Seacouver," Amanda complained, huddling into a little ball.
Joe shoved his icy hands into his pockets and wished briefly that he'd kept the coat. "Well, that's good, since you're probably going to have to go somewhere else for a while. On account of getting shot to death on television, and all."
Amanda brightened. "There were TV cameras? I thought I saw cameras, before I was distracted by the dying."
"Do I even want to ask what you were thinking, robbing a bank on Christmas Eve?"
"It's a long story."
"That I don't want to hear," Joe decided firmly.
"Cory is involved."
"Okay, now I really don't want to hear it." Joe glanced back at the morgue. They'd only had the one body ... "I hope for his sake he got away, because I don't plan to spend the entire night on a morgue crawl."
"I'm not sure. I really don't remember much after 'Freeze, or we'll shoot!'"
"Obviously," Joe said dryly, "you didn't freeze."
"No, but I'm about to now. Where's that taxi?"
Joe backed into the shelter of the building, as far out of the wind as he could get, and refrained from comment.
Amanda was uncharacteristically quiet in the taxi -- Joe figured that contemplating her sins was too much to hope for; probably planning her next heist instead. When the cabbie let them out behind the bar, she finally spoke up to ask, "Aren't we going in the front?"
"No, because a bunch of drunk Watchers are playing poker out there." Joe paid the cabbie while Amanda minced through the filthy snow with the body bag wound mummy-style around her. He caught up to her and unlocked the rarely-used side door. "Lucky for you," he added.
"Why lucky for me?"
"Because your Watcher is one of them, and he was already too toasted to look up and pay attention when the TV interrupted the hockey game for a breaking news update about a shootout at First Bank of Seacouver."
"Oh," Amanda said. She perked up. "So it's a man? Can I peek at him? Just a peek. I haven't managed to get a look yet."
Joe didn't even bother dignifying that with a response. Instead he herded her into his room. The walls were soundproofed to cut down noise from the bar, which ought to work conveniently the other way as well: they didn't have to keep their voices down.
Amanda glanced around, and Joe had to stifle the sudden, instinctive urge to apologize, rising up inside him from Mama Dawson's half-forgotten lessons on the proper way to treat ladies. It wasn't as if the place was a goddawful mess -- he washed his dishes and picked up after himself. It was just a very bachelor-pad kind of place, obviously a room to sleep in and not much else: a bed, a sink, a hot plate, a single chair with his guitar propped on it. His abundant collection of books, records, and sundry Watcher journals were stacked, stuffed and crammed into bookcases that consisted of concrete blocks holding up 2x12s.
Joe forcibly reminded himself that first of all, this was Amanda, and second, a lady wrapped in a body bag who'd been dead half an hour ago was in no position to be picky about her accommodations. "Here," he said, tossing her one of his shirts and a pair of slacks. "I'll head out to do a bit of damage control and shut down for the night. You better be here when I get back."
"Where would I go dressed like that?" Amanda wanted to know. She picked up a half-empty bottle of whiskey off the garage-sale end table that served as a nightstand, tilted it before putting it back down. "You couldn't at least have hung up a sprig of mistletoe or something?"
Joe snorted. "Behave yourself," he said, and slipped out the door, locking it behind him on Amanda's plaintive, "Just one little peek?"
Out in the main room of the bar, the game was winding down and the participants were starting to drift off. No one asked where he'd been. Watchers understood about secret midnight errands. Joe made noises about closing up and getting a little shuteye, turned down an invitation to Christmas dinner from the only married Watcher in the group, and sent them packing into the snow. Larry, the part-time bartender, offered to help him close up, but Joe shrugged off the assistance. "Go home. Or better yet, call up that girl you've been talking about and see if she's free." Larry blushed, and Joe shooed him out, finally breathing a sigh of relief when he turned the key in the door and shut off the neon.
"Was that him?" Amanda asked from the back of the room. Barefoot, with the sleeves of Joe's shirt rolled up to expose slender forearms, she looked barely old enough to be in a bar by herself, let alone eleven hundred years old.
"No, that wasn't your Watcher, and no, I'm not going to show him to you, let alone introduce you." Joe started his nightly closing routine by habit, setting chairs on tables. "You want to make yourself useful?"
Amanda sighed and reached for a broom. "So where's our favorite brown-eyed Boy Scout this holiday season?"
"Duncan's spending it with Rachel's family in Scotland."
"And he didn't invite you? No wonder you're pouting. Not," Amanda added, giving the floor a few desultory swipes, "that lacking an invitation ever stopped any of you Watcher types from showing up anyway."
"No, he did invite me, actually." Joe shrugged. "I said have fun. I'd feel weird about horning in on his family holiday. And I'm not a jingle-jingle holiday kind of guy, anyway."
"I noticed," Amanda said, glancing around at the completely undecorated bar. "Seriously, not even one bit of mistletoe?"
"People go to bars to get away from Christmas."
"I can understand the impulse," Amanda sighed. She began wiping down the bar without needing to be asked. "I feel naked without my sword."
"Assuming you can manage to stay out of trouble until morning, we can get it from the police station then." Somehow.
"Police stations are surprisingly easy to steal from," Amanda said, looking more cheerful.
"I'll keep that in mind." He took the rag from her, wrung it out and emptied the bleach bucket. "You hungry? The kitchen's shut down, but I could fire up the grill, throw together a steak sandwich."
"Make mine medium rare," Amanda said immediately. "I always crave protein after I've been dead."
Joe served the steak sandwiches along with a bottle of Glenlivet 25 that he'd been saving for a special occasion. He'd anticipated drinking it with Duncan or Methos, but what the hell, Amanda was good company. Interesting company, anyway.
"No sign of Cory at the morgue, hmm?" Amanda asked.
"No," Joe said. "Not that I was looking. You gotta stop letting that guy talk you into doing stupid things."
"What makes you think it was his idea?"
He couldn't help but grin at that. "Excuse me for giving you the benefit of the doubt."
"As if Cory Raines could push me around," Amanda said through a large bite of her steak sandwich.
"So whatever possessed you to knock over that bank? Or do I even want to know?" He topped off her glass of Scotch. "Don't tell me you need money that bad. I happen to know you have stashes all over the city. And probably all over a lot of other cities."
"If you really must know, it wasn't about the money at all." She wiped her fingers fastidiously on a paper napkin before picking up the glass of whiskey and taking an indelicate slug. "Well, that's why Cory was involved, of course. Well, no, more accurately, Cory was in it for the thrill of the chase." She smiled a bit wistfully. "Too bad I got shot in the back before I could enjoy that part."
"Twelve times, according to the news."
"Really?" She sounded impressed.
"So if it wasn't about the money or the thrills, what was the reason?"
Rather than answering, Amanda nodded to the bottle. "I think I need more of that."
Half the bottle later, the room had grown pleasantly fuzzy, and Amanda was leaning her elbows on the table with her chin propped in her hands.
"... and then I found out he wasn't a count's son at all, but a butcher from a little village near Marseilles. Although he did a rather convincing Hungarian accent. And the necklace he'd claimed was his mother's had actually been stolen from a French museum."
"What did you do?"
"Ran off with the necklace, of course. What would anyone do?" Amanda laughed and reached to refill her glass. "And that was Christmas 1933. Where were you in the 1930s, Joe?"
"Not born yet."
"Oh." She blinked. "Right. I tend to forget that you're mortal."
"Thanks, I think." He held up his glass and Amanda splashed a generous portion into it.
"So Duncan's in Scotland," Amanda said. "And Methos was in Italy last I heard, though heaven knows where he is now. I suppose he'll turn up eventually, like a cat."
"Immortals," Joe said. "Like herding cats."
For some reason both of them found this hilarious. When they stopped laughing, Joe said, "So, you and Methos --"
"Don't," Amanda said. "Complicated. Even worse than me and Duncan." She looked a trifle woebegone. "You haven't even asked me about the bank heist again."
"I was respecting your privacy."
"But I wanted you to ask."
Like herding cats. Seriously. "So what was the bank heist all about?" Joe asked dutifully.
Amanda twirled her finger in a small patch of spilled something-or-other on the table, drawing patterns. "It was the safe deposit boxes we were after. Well, not Cory -- he was breaking into the vault for the cash. But I wanted something in one of the boxes."
She hesitated again, so Joe prompted, "What were you looking for?"
Amanda's affected pout faded into something much more real, a sincere look of hurt and grief that Joe wasn't even sure she knew she'd displayed. "It belonged to Rebecca," she said quietly. "A cross, actually. Just a simple one, not worth much money in its day, and valuable now only because it was old. She gave it as a gift to a friend of hers, a very long time ago. And I had completely lost track of it until I learned it was in that bank."
"Did you get it?"
"It wasn't there." Her hand twitched and tightened on the glass. "I don't know if my source was mistaken, or if it had been moved at some point ... supposedly it had been locked in one of the bank's deposit boxes for forty years or so. Anyway, there was no sign of it."
She fell silent, lost in unhappy reverie. Joe sought an equal truth of his own to reciprocate. "Lynn invites me for Christmas every year, you know," he said. "My niece. She's married now, to a real nice guy. Got kids. Holiday-picture-perfect family."
Amanda stared into her glass, swirling the contents, then raised her eyes. There was a touch of wry humor in them. "And yet, here you are, getting drunk with me instead."
"I took her up on it for a couple of years. Especially after the kids, though ... I started feeling like an intruder. I don't have a thing in common with her, or her life. Can't talk to her about anything I've done. Nothing that's important to me matters to her, or vice versa." He waved a hand helplessly. "I don't want to be crazy old Uncle Joe, with the war stories and the bottle of booze, off in the corner. I have my own life. I don't need a pity invite into someone else's."
"You feel out of place," Amanda murmured.
"Yeah. I guess so."
"Something we Immortals can relate to." She reached for the bottle again. "I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it's only been an eyeblink since Rebecca's death. Fifteen years, give or take. She and I would lose touch for decades at a time anyway, and I guess I'm still not used to the idea that this isn't one of those times, that she'll never walk back into my life. Does that sound stupid, Joe?"
"No," Joe said quietly. "It doesn't."
"It does to me." She laughed, but there wasn't much humor in it. "You wondered why I'd rob a bank, that bank, on Christmas Eve? I think it was an odd kind of tribute to Rebecca. Holidays were always Rebecca's thing. All kinds of holidays. They never really mattered to me -- I don't know if I believe in saints and such, but I never thought it made a difference if you observed their feast days or not. But it made Rebecca happy. The trappings of a holiday change over time, of course, but Rebecca always loved all of it -- the spectacle and the reverence alike."
She rarely went that far back in her history, at least not when talking to Joe. He'd read her Chronicle, of course. But it was different hearing an Immortal talk about their own history. He'd discovered that with Duncan, and later with Methos. And, he had to admit, as a friend it was kinder to wait until someone volunteered information rather than stalking them behind their backs.
"And I have other things of Rebecca's, of course. She left me plenty of things. Things." Her face twisted painfully. "And yet ... every little piece that I can find, it's something, you know? Like touching her again." She brushed her fingers against her cheek lightly, the motion of someone brushing away a tear, except there were no tears that Joe could see. Still, the look on her face was hard to take.
"This is ridiculous," Joe announced. Amanda looked up, startled, as he rose and reached for his cane. "It's Christmas Eve -- well, check that, Christmas," he added, glancing at the clock behind the bar. "I turned down Lynn's invitation and Duncan's because I have too much self-respect to invite myself along to someone else's holiday, but if sitting here wallowing in misery is the alternative -- I might as well go down and stake out a spot under the railroad bridge with the other bums."
"Er -- where are you going?"
Joe smiled over his shoulder. "Can you sing?"
He'd meant to fetch his guitar and come back, but Amanda followed him with the bottle of Scotch, and they ended up deciding that they were too comfortable in the back room to bother leaving. The remains of their dinner could just wait 'til morning for cleanup. Joe slipped off his prosthetic legs -- the thought crossed his mind, somewhat absently, that Amanda had never seen him without them before, and Duncan and Methos only rarely. But, hell, it was his house; he planned to be comfortable. He leaned against the bed's headboard with the guitar in his lap, and Amanda, after trying the chair and the floor, joined him there.
Joe played all the Christmas songs that he knew. Amanda turned out to have a lovely voice and a talent for singing harmony. After they exhausted Joe's Christmas repertoire, Amanda sang some of the songs that she recalled from her earlier years, humming along to the parts that she couldn't remember (which was, quite often, most of the song). Joe knew some of the songs, or at least their melodies, sometimes under different names or as part of different carols. But some he'd never heard before.
These are the things that don't make the history books, he thought, dizzy with more than just the Scotch. Sometimes being a Watcher caught him off guard like this, intoxicated with the powerful sense of his fingertips touching history. No one writes down everything. Each Immortal is an unbroken link to the past, a fountain of songs and slang and old jokes that no one ever bothered to record.
Amanda broke off in the middle of humming the chorus to another song she couldn't quite remember. "What?" she asked, smiling.
"Nothing." He held up his nearly-empty glass. "To you, my dear. For brightening an old man's holiday."
Amanda laughed, and raised her own. "No, to you, for saving me from a most embarrassing fate: sneaking out of the morgue naked, and freezing to death in the snow. I never would have lived it down."
Joe clinked his glass to hers. "Here's to a couple of idiots who don't know when to come in out of the cold."
Amanda reached for the bottle and found it empty. "Aww," she said. "You know, I'm not a Scotch drinker in general, but this isn't bad. Is there more?"
"Not of the three-hundred-dollar variety." Joe yawned. "And some of us don't have an Immortal constitution to deal with our hangovers."
"That's the trouble with drinking with mortals," Amanda conceded sleepily. "Well ... I suppose it's still snowing. And I can't afford a hotel until I find Cory and get some of my cash back. Er ... someone's cash anyway."
"I have a bed," Joe said. He patted it. "And it's a decent-sized bed, as you can see."
Amanda raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Joe. Was that a proposition?"
All he could do was laugh. "Lady, I'm so tired and drunk right now that I'm not in a useful state to proposition anybody. It's just an offer of a place to sleep. If I were the chivalrous guy that Ma Dawson thought she raised, I'd offer to take the floor, but I'm too damn drunk and old for that."
"It's been a long time since I shared a bed simply to share a bed," Amanda mused. She smiled. "It was what everyone did at one point, you know. Beds were dear."
"Afraid I don't have any feminine sleepwear in my closet."
Amanda looked down at the oversized shirt, at her bare ankles hanging out of the slacks, and her smile widened. "Why, Joe, how could I complain about such a stylish selection as this? Paris, eat your heart out."
The room's small window had no curtains, but snow had piled up on the sill, filtering the streetlights and filling the room with a soft glow even with the lamps turned off. It had been awhile since Joe had shared a bed with someone else, and he found himself having to get reacquainted with all the little things -- the way the mattress dipped under an unfamiliar weight, the small rustles and noises from the other side of the bed.
There was something he'd been thinking about, and listening to Amanda settling down for the night, he decided to do it. Somehow it was easier when he couldn't see her face. "Hey," he said, hooking two fingers in the chain around his neck. "You want a Christmas present?"
"I'm ... not sure?" Amanda said hesitantly. He heard her roll over, and he slipped the chain off over his head. He'd long since stopped noticing the feel of it against his skin, but he felt its absence, an oddly cold feeling on the nape of his neck.
He felt around in the dark, under the covers, until he found her hand. Amanda jumped, then allowed him to turn over her hand and place the crucifix, still warm from his skin, into her palm. He closed her fingers over it.
"Oh," she said.
"My mother gave me that before I went to 'Nam. She said 'It'll keep you safe, Joseph.'" He snorted a small, half-drunken laugh. "Don't know if that's precisely true, but I've worn it ever since. It doesn't really make up for not being able to find Rebecca's, but ... it's something to hold onto."
"Oh," Amanda said again, quietly. Her voice was small. "Joe ... you know this sort of thing doesn't mean a whole lot to me. You should give it to Duncan, or at least to someone who will appreciate it more than I do."
"I know you don't believe in it," he said. "But I just saw you get shot to death on TV to get back something that used to belong to someone you loved. Even if you don't cherish the meaning behind it as I do, if it matters to you as a memory, then I can think of worse fates for it."
The awareness of his own mortality hung unspoken in the air between them. He'd hoped for a long time to pass the crucifix along to Amy, but he and Amy were still awkward and wary around each other, like two cats in an alley, neither of them willing to turn their back and display weakness to the other. He'd hate to see it end up gathering dust in a drawer because Amy felt nothing for it but a sense of filial responsibility not to throw it away.
"Keep it for tonight," he added. "In the morning, if you want to give it back, I'll take it."
"All right," Amanda said, her tone gentle. "For tonight."
Silence settled on them once again. Eventually, when Joe was half-asleep, Amanda said softly, "Having it back wouldn't be the same as having her back, I know. Sometimes I think about the time we had, and the time we didn't have. All those years ... You know, it's not forever for us Immortals, either. We get more time. But there's never enough time."
"You should call Methos in the morning, you know. Or Duncan. Or both." And I should call Amy. Even if she doesn't want to talk to me. Someone's got to make the first move.
Amanda's laugh whispered in the dark. "I'd be completely surprised if neither of those stubborn men calls you before the day is done."
"Good reason to stick around for breakfast, then. I make a mean omelet."
"It's a date."
She reached a hand across the space between them and laced her fingers through his, with the crucifix pressed between their palms. He fell asleep like that, the pressure of her fingers warm against his own.