Methos woke with a start, rolled over and sat up, blinking ice off his eyelashes. From the way his neck and head felt, he'd either crushed his skull or broken his neck, possibly both. Well, all better now. Mostly better anyway. His leg still hurt like hell, which he discovered was due to the ski pole sticking through it. He gritted his teeth, yanked it out, and closed his eyes while the surge of pain faded from "agony" through "bearable" to "not much at all, really".
Then he looked around at the wrecked snowfield, a wasteland of jumbled snow and rock and uprooted trees. He was at the extreme edge of it, for which he counted himself lucky. The others, he was pretty sure, weren't. He couldn't feel the presence of either Duncan or Amanda, which could mean they'd been killed in the avalanche and hadn't recovered yet, or just that they'd been separated from Methos when the wall of snow and ice came down on them.
MacLeod and his stupid, stupid vacation ideas. This was the last time he was letting Duncan MacLeod talk him into anything ever again.
His mobile rang. Methos fished irritably in his jacket with fingers that were still slightly numb. It was, speak of the devil, Duncan MacLeod. "Yes," he snapped.
"Are you buried?" was the first thing MacLeod said.
"No. Not really." Methos kicked snow and rocks off his legs, stretched them to make sure that both of them were fully functional and his feet were on the right way, and stood up. One of his skis had been torn off; the other was broken and useless, so he unbuckled it. "You?"
"Yes." MacLeod sounded grouchy. Served him right for taking them skiing in an avalanche zone in the middle of nowhere. "Amanda is too. She just called me."
"Can't be too deep, if you're both getting reception," Methos said without much sympathy. "Hang on, let me get my bearings. Call you back."
As soon as he hung up on MacLeod, his phone rang again. It was Amanda. "You'd better be on top of the snow," was the first thing she said when he answered. "I don't plan on being buried 'til the spring thaw, and I've already lost feeling in my legs."
"Would you lot give me five seconds to get oriented? I've only just woke up."
"I've been awake for hours," Amanda snapped. "Well, all right, minutes. It felt like hours."
"So another couple of minutes won't kill you." He hung up on her.
It was hard to even figure out where he was relative to their campsite. Clearly they had all been carried quite a ways down the mountain. He looked back up the slope, perusing the swathe of wreckage that the avalanche had left in its wake. Huge pine trees had been snapped off; boulders were strewn among giant chunks of ice. The stray thought occurred to him that the avalanche would have been a sight to see, viewed from the outside -- as opposed to the inside, the way he'd seen it. The whole experience had been exciting for a brief instant, before his head had collided with a rock or tree. It was not an experience he cared to repeat anytime soon.
His phone rang again. Methos sighed. "Hello, Amanda."
"If you hang up on me this time, I'm going to kick your ass when you dig me up, Methos!"
"Well, there's an excellent incentive to dig MacLeod up first."
"But I can tell you where I aaa-aam," Amanda sing-songed, though the effect was somewhat less than seductive through the filter of her chattering teeth. "My phone has a GPS app, and if yours is a newish one, it probably does too. Just a sec, I'll text my coordinates to you."
"Amanda dear, you're brilliant. I could kiss you."
"I'll kiss you all you like, if you dig me up first."
She texted him a string of numbers -- newfangled latitude and longitude, so hard to keep on top of those things -- and Methos wrestled with his phone in an attempt to get it to tell him where it thought he was. In the middle of this, MacLeod called him.
"Just checking on how the rescue is coming along," MacLeod said. His teeth were chattering now, too. "At least I assume there's going to be a rescue. Are you digging up Amanda now?"
"No, I'm trying to figure out where you two are, and it would be going a lot faster if you wouldn't call me every ten seconds on the mobile phone that I need for this process."
"You're using your phone for that?" MacLeod sounded surprised.
"It can do GPS," Methos said loftily, trying to sound as if he'd known this more recently than thirty seconds ago. "See if yours can too." He disconnected the call; that ought to keep Duncan busy for a little while.
Unfortunately it didn't keep Amanda busy, because he'd no sooner hung up on MacLeod when she called him again. "Did you get my text?"
"Yes, I got your --"
"Because I don't hear digging noises, Methos, and I think my feet are frozen now."
"Obviously your mouth isn't," Methos muttered.
"I can't believe you're mocking me. I'm under God knows how many tons of ice and rock, freezing to death, and you're mocking me."
"I mock everyone. It's my default setting."
"Some situations are not suitable for mocking," Amanda snapped. "I'm not speaking to you anymore." She hung up on him.
"Good," Methos murmured, and crouched down in the snow to fiddle with his phone. He'd just figured out how to get it to spit out GPS coordinates when MacLeod called him. Methos seriously considered not answering this time, but if it was MacLeod giving him a GPS location, then it was actually important.
Except it wasn't. "What did you say to Amanda?"
"You mean besides telling her to shut up and let me get on with saving her? Advice that applies to you as well, by the way."
Duncan of course ignored him, as usual. "She's really upset, Methos. I think she m-might have trouble with small spaces."
"She's a cat burglar. How can she possibly be claustrophobic?"
"Methos, as the only one of us who's not c-currently buried under a lot of snow with no way out and every likelihood that we're going to experience another death or two in the near future, I don't think you realize that it is just the tiniest bit stressful on our end of things."
Methos was about to tell him that it was no picnic on this end, either, when his phone informed him that he had another call: from Amanda. He'd known that the not-speaking-to-him thing was too good to be true. "Well, since she's on the other line, it appears that I haven't damaged her fragile psyche beyond repair. How upset was she?"
"Very," MacLeod said.
"Excellent. I'll just ignore her, then. Do you have your GPS coordinates yet?"
"No," MacLeod said. "I was w-working on it when she called me to complain about you."
"Gee, sounds like a real pain in the ass," Methos said, dripping sarcasm from every word. "Being interrupted when you're trying to do something important."
"I've always admired your s-subtlety, Methos."
"Call me when you know where you are," Methos said, and hung up on him.
Now that he had both his own location and Amanda's, he was able to pinpoint her position relative to himself: several hundred yards farther down the slope, a little to the west. She'd obviously been carried much farther by the avalanche than Methos had. He began slogging through the snow in that direction. It wasn't easy; he had to pick his way around giant chunks of ice and uprooted trees, and a couple of times was nearly swallowed by pits of soft, loose snow.
After Amanda's third attempt to call him, he decided to take pity and call her back. Maybe she'd gotten most of it out of her system, complaining about him to MacLeod.
"Methos, you wretched, insensitive, backstabbing snake."
"Don't forget, I'm the wretched backstabbing snake who's going to dig you up in a minute."
"You found me?" Her voice shifted into a completely different register. She sounded almost pathetic enough to make him feel guilty for ignoring her calls. Almost.
"I'm nearly on top of you. Ought to have you out before you know it. Hang on, MacLeod is -- texting me?"
"I just walked him through using his phone to find his GPS location," Amanda said. She was getting harder to understand, between the chattering teeth and the slurring. "D-don't tell him I said this, but he's not usually this dense. I think he's more hypothermic than I am, and giving how I feel right now, that's saying something."
Methos managed to stop himself from pointing out that the constant talking was probably keeping her warm. Despite what some people (well, okay, everyone) claimed, he was in fact capable of tact. Sometimes. He squinted at the phone. GPS coordinates, yes, with the additional message: CALL S&R TOO?
"Just a minute, Amanda, I need to talk Mac out of doing something stupid," he said, and hit Duncan's speed-dial. "MacLeod, that's a terrible idea. You can't call Search & Rescue for something like this."
"Something like this is exactly what S-Search & Rescue is for," MacLeod retorted. "Helicopters? Rescue dogs? It's going to t-take you all day to dig us out. Especially at this rate."
"It's a terrible idea because I'll be the one who has to explain to them why the frozen corpses in the back of the helicopter just started sitting up and talking, and I'd really rather not."
"The p-point is to avoid becoming a frozen corpse in the first place."
"Stop being a baby about it. You'd think neither of you had ever died before."
"You know," Duncan said, "that's easy for you to say, b-being that you're the one who's not d-dying at the moment."
"If you two would stop calling me every few seconds, and let me actually get on with this ..."
"Amanda's calling me anyway," MacLeod said, and, mercifully, hung up.
"Let's go skiing this weekend, Methos," Methos muttered as he began to scoop at the snow with his hands. "It'll be fun and relaxing, Methos. Amanda can come too --"
His phone rang. It was Amanda.
"For the love of Christ, Ishtar, Zeus or whatever deity is currently fashionable," Methos said between his teeth, "this better be important."
"I'm s-sorry I was awful to you." She sounded slurred, and on the verge of tears. "Please don't leave me here."
"Amanda," Methos sighed. "Amanda. I'm not going to leave you. I'm digging you out right now."
"You're not just saying that, are you?"
"Nope. Digging. So let me dig."
"Okay," she said, and hung up.
He was making almost no headway on the compacted, icy snow. Methos slipped his sword from under his ski jacket and tried the blade, but as useful as a sword could be for some things, it wasn't much use as a shovel. All it seemed to do was shift the snow around.
His phone rang.
Methos closed his eyes, counted to ten, and checked the caller ID. MacLeod. "Yes," he said flatly.
"D-did you get Amanda out yet?" MacLeod's voice sounded muffled, punctuated with occasional pauses as he stopped to pull his thoughts together.
"Are you seriously going to be requesting regular status reports throughout this entire operation?"
"I'll t-take that as a no," MacLeod said. "It's v-very frustrating to be stuck here, unable to do anything."
"Shockingly, the frustration level is not much less on this side of the snow pile."
"Also, I c-collapsed my breathing hole."
"Say what now?"
"I've been trying to dig myself out," MacLeod said. "When the avalanche hit, I m-managed to keep a space around my head to breathe in."
"Which you just collapsed, thus burying your head."
"Methos, you have n-no idea how frustrating --"
"-- it is to sit there without doing anything, yes. Well, be sure and give me regular updates throughout the asphyxiation process, MacLeod, because I really want to hear about it."
He managed to dig another foot or so before Amanda called him again. "Not to be impatient, Methos ..."
"Tell you what," Methos said. "The next time that you two manage to bury yourself in an avalanche -- and knowing both of you, I'm sure there will be a next time -- I'll set up a dedicated Twitter feed just to keep you updated on every last development on the surface."
"Duncan's suffocating," Amanda said.
"It's his own fault."
"I hope you remember this the next time you're buried alive."
"I'm definitely going to remember this the next time MacLeod invites me to what he claims is going to be a pleasant, diverting social activity. -- Hold on a minute." The fingers of his right hand had frozen, due to being used as as a snow scoop. He tucked it inside his coat until the sharp burn of returning circulation indicated that things had thawed, mostly. "Okay, you know what? This isn't working. I'm going back to camp and getting a shovel."
"You can't just leave us here!"
"Oh yes I can," Methos said, slogging away in the general direction of what he hoped was the campsite.
It took him an hour or so -- punctuated by annoyed texts from both MacLeod and Amanda, then just from Amanda, which probably meant MacLeod had either suffocated or frozen to death (finally, thank you) -- but eventually he found the campsite, intact and undamaged by the avalanche. Methos collected a shovel and a tarp for the inevitable dragging of the frozen body (or bodies), then slogged back.
He dug up Amanda first, in the hopes that she could help him dig up MacLeod, but by the time he got down to her, she was already dead.
"Well, great," Methos muttered, rolling her stiff body onto the tarp -- gently, so as not to break anything off. "This is the best vacation ever, MacLeod. Seriously. We have to do this again sometime." He waded through the snow in the general direction of MacLeod's GPS coordinates, then accidentally went to his waist into a hidden pocket of debris under the snow, breaking his leg at the same time. Grimly he waited for the bone to knit. He was going to kill both of them. Again.
Digging up MacLeod took the rest of the afternoon, a long annoying process made longer -- he had to admit to himself, though never to either of them -- by the fact that he now had no one to talk to. Finally he managed to drag one thoroughly frozen Highlander up to the surface, rolling him to rest next to Amanda on the tarp. He'd hoped the sun might thaw her out, but no such luck -- she was still just as dead and stiff as Duncan. And the sun was now setting, the cold becoming more intense.
Methos realized as he rolled the tarp around them that one of his feet was completely frozen, through and through. He couldn't feel anything below the ankle.
"I hate both of you."
He dragged them back to the campsite through the blue twilight. Along the way he contemplated leaving them out there and coming back much later with a helicopter to pick them up, but something just didn't feel right about it. Wolves might eat them, which would be hard to heal from, or at least very traumatizing for the wolves. He would probably feel guilty about that, and he didn't do guilt anymore.
At the campsite, he stuffed their stiff corpses into the tent and then crawled in after them. Both his feet were frozen by now, or at least insensate, and wearily he unrolled all three sleeping bags and made a big cocoon. This was how it worked in the movies, right?
Later, he blamed impending hypothermia (not to mention a long lifetime spent mostly in warm climates) for the fact that he didn't realize what would happen if one tried to warm up two frozen corpses with one's own body heat. It was like snuggling with a couple of cold freezer packs. Really big ones.
In fact, he was getting very sleepy, and lying here was so very comfortable ...
"You guys," Methos slurred, as his head slumped to the floor of the tent, "are so paying for this."
Oddly, he was warm. And comfortable. And ... conscious? Alive? How interesting.
Methos cracked open one eye, to the sight of firelight flickering on the low beams of a wooden ceiling. For a while, he just watched it, before rousing himself enough to feel around and discover that he was lying under a soft, heavy duvet. Two bodies crowded him, close on either side. They were very chilly, but, he was pretty sure, alive. Or at least on the cusp between dead and alive.
"Oh, hey, you're awake," said a familiar, whiskey-roughened voice.
Oh, no. But the alternative was being frozen until spring. Or ... was it spring already? Methos forced himself to open his eyes and squint up at the ceiling ... and Joe, grinning down at him and looking rather smug.
"Where am I?" Methos managed to force his through his still somewhat unresponsive lips.
"A rental cabin in the mountains."
"More to the point," Methos said, wriggling up in the bed a little bit, "why are you here?"
"Oh, I don't know," Joe said, shrugging, and turned to reach behind him for an old-style metal coffeepot. "Maybe because when my friends disappear for weeks without giving any indication of where they've gone, I get a little worried. Coffee?"
"Weeks? Uh, thanks," he added, accepting the chipped cup that was thrust into his hands. He was still chilled through -- also naked, he noticed.
"Far as I can tell based on when you disappeared, you guys were frozen for about three weeks or so before I found you." Joe looked like he was struggling not to laugh, but amusement danced in his eyes.
Well, at least it wasn't spring yet. "I would like to point out," Methos said with as much dignity as he could muster given current circumstances, "that none of this was my idea in the first place. Disaster follows MacLeod wherever he goes. And yet, like the lemmings that we are, we keep following him off that cliff."
Next to him, Amanda sucked in a sudden breath, and started shivering. She wound the duvet more tightly around her body and burrowed into it.
"We're never going to live this down, are we," Methos added.
Joe finally lost his battle to stay serious, and a broad grin slipped out. "Nope."