Late Afternoon, present time
Amanda faced the electronic panel to the right of the gray vault door. With a quick grin at Methos, she tugged her gloves on more securely before inserting the key card.
“Hurry,” he said, checking his tablet and swiping through different settings before peeking around the corner of the narrow hallway. He returned to Amanda’s side. “We’ve got five minutes before the alarm and cameras reset.”
“Patience, patience,” she said. The security panel required a four-digit passcode along with the key card. She took a small bottle from her pocket and sprayed the keypad.
“Hair spray? Really?” asked Methos. “Four minutes, forty seconds.”
The spray revealed the four most worn numbers. Amanda wiggled her fingers, thinking through which sequence to try first. She had only three tries before the system locked her out. “If you must know, it's dry shampoo,” she said, punching in the first sequence. The light remained red. She punched in the second sequence. The light switched to green and she heard the door unlock. She beamed at Methos. “Second try. Not bad, if I do say so myself.”
Methos rolled his eyes. “Yes, you’re the Amazing Amanda. There’s no other thief like you in the world, past or present. You’re incomparable. The best. And the most beautiful as well.”
Amanda grinned, sliding very close against him as she approached the vault door, amused by the faint flush on his cheeks. “Well are you going to help me or not?” she asked, her hands on the door release. It took two to open it.
“Right,” he said, moving to face her. Together they turned the wheel. The metal scraped, then there was a release of air as the door opened.
She entered the vault first, turning in a circle to look at the many different shelves of glittering gold, the stacks of poorly wrapped art canvases, and the statuary standing near shelves of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds.
And at the center, nestled on a green silken pillow encased in glass, lay the Dagger of Carnwennan.
At last, they had it.
Her blood sang. Her skin tingled as she turned to encompass the entire vault. “My God,” she said. “Would you look at this place?”
“We’re here for the dagger, remember,” said Methos, and she could see that Methos's attention was focused on the glass case.
“The dagger. Right,” said Amanda, squeezing his hand.
They stood shoulder to shoulder then got to work, now so accustomed to each other they moved in a kind of dance. Methos disabled the motion sensors while Amanda carefully applied the suction cup and glasscutter, slicing a hole in the case. Carefully, she withdrew the dagger.
It lay heavy in her hand. She caught a whiff of cold, spicy scented metal. A flat, two-edged blade held within a scabbard of wood, and a bone-white hilt carved in the crude figure of a man. She turned, and handed it to Methos.
Methos’s hand curled around the hilt and Amanda watched him as he studied it. Without a word, he placed the dagger in his bag. Before Amanda could ask him what he thought, what he might be feeling, Methos’s timer beeped.
“How much time?” she asked.
He met her eyes, a smile tugging his lips. “Two minutes. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Methos. There was a glint of gold in his dark hazel eyes.
She grinned. “Definitely,” she said, then she removed two additional black bags she’d hidden underneath her black tunic, handing one to Methos. He gave her a questioning look. “Always come prepared,” she said with a little shrug.
“Just what we can carry,” he said, with a significant look at her.
“Yes, yes, all right.” Amanda began dumping the jewels while Methos concentrated on the gold.
His timer beeped again. “One minute,” he called, wrestling with a bunch of rolled up canvases.
The security alarm blared loud, with lights flashing. They abandoned the vault, running down two hallways before guards surrounded them, pointing automatic weapons. Two of the guards removed their bags, also taking Methos’s satchel with the dagger. Methos raised his hands up in the air, nudging Amanda to do the same. They were marched through the hallways and up the stairs until they emerged into an open courtyard. The chateau looked old and rustic in the sunlight, austere against the blue skies. The guards made them stand in front of a pock-marked wall until a police siren blared closer and closer.
“What’s taking so long?” she asked Methos, speaking from the corner of her mouth, eyeing the guards and their machine guns with a wary glance.
“Relax,” he said, but Amanda could see he was beginning to sweat. “Any second now.”
They no longer lived during a time when thievery would have been dealt with by swift execution, but this being Malec’s summer residence, all bets were off. Besides, neither did Amanda relish being detained in prison either. It would seriously conflict with her plans.
The sirens grew louder until a police van drove into the courtyard, parking at an angle. Several officers exited the vehicle, speaking in rapid French and shaking hands with the guards. Two officers opened the rear of the van and the guards shouted at Amanda and Methos, pointing their guns at them, ushering them toward the van.
“Aaaany second now,” repeated Methos, purposely taking small steps. “Really. Any second. I’m waiting.”
They were asked to lower their hands so they could be handcuffed. Methos and Amanda looked warily at each other. Then they both shivered as Immortal presence flooded down their spines, and they turned in unison to the front of the courtyard.
Amanda heard tires squealing. A tiny Smart car crashed through the entrance of the courtyard, sending chunks of stone flying. The car spun in a circle before barreling through the police and guards, sending them scrambling in every direction. The car slid to a stop. “Darling,” she called. “What perfect timing.”
MacLeod stuck his head out of the window. “You waiting for an invitation? Get in!”
“This is your idea of a getaway car?” asked Methos, holding his hands still for Amanda to pick the handcuff lock. The Smart car’s engine whirred, a wisp of smoke rising off the hood.
“I don’t want to hear it,” said MacLeod with thunderous eyebrows.
“But there isn’t room for the three of us, let alone the loot as well,” said Methos, retrieving all three bags from the guards.
“What loot?” asked MacLeod, looking hard at both of them.
A couple of the guards recovered, staggering up to standing, aiming their machine guns. They opened fire and Methos ducked behind the car.
“Can we argue about this later?” asked Amanda, stuffing one of the bags into the space behind the passenger seat before getting in. She waved Methos to follow.
Gunfire sprayed at Methos feet, sending up dust and debris. He leaped through the window of the car, legs flailing, his head and shoulders smashed into both Amanda and Duncan’s laps. “I’m going to kill you,” said Methos, muffled.
“Oh stop your whining,” said Duncan, petting Methos on his head since it was currently nestled partway in MacLeod’s crotch. “Did you at least get the dagger?”
Methos glared darkly, albeit with only one eye because he couldn’t turn his head. He wiggled as he shifted in their laps, causing both Amanda and MacLeod to protest and start laughing -- well, she started laughing; MacLeod turned brick red -- so he could pull out the dagger from his satchel. He handed it to MacLeod. MacLeod grinned. The Smart car hurtled out of the courtyard, nearly toppling over on its side as it made a hard turn onto the street.
Plan : Apart
Six months prior
MacLeod fought off seven different men, only barely managing to break free long enough to barrel through the door into the hallway on the other side. Malec Industries was a maze of offices and hallways spread across several floors. He had thought the safe would be in Malec’s private office on the top floor, but had come up empty.
It was difficult to pass himself off as an employee when several guards and officers shouted across several cubicles. “Arretez! Arretez-vous la!”
“Damn,” he muttered, ducking down behind a group of bewildered employees and slipping through another door into a conference room, then through another set of doors into an adjacent hallway, entering the first empty office he found. He lowered the blinds.
Well, he thought, this could have gone better. He searched the office for any clues to another secure location within the building. Having gotten this far, he didn’t plan on leaving until he’d located the safe.
Just then, Immortal presence spread like ice down his back. He turned in a circle, looking around the office as if it were possible that another Immortal could be hiding behind the filing cabinet.
From above his head, he heard indistinct mumbling, and then bumps and bangs from the ceiling. The noise came from the vent. He stood on a chair to get a better look and saw a pair of all too familiar bright eyes peered back at him. “Amanda?” he asked, incredulous. “What are you doing up there?”
“MacLeod,” hissed Amanda, staring down at him through the grating. “Me? What are you doing down there?”
“Will you just… come here,” he said, making an impatient hand gesture.
“All right, all right. Get out of the way,” she said. Amanda popped the grating free, and in one fluid, acrobatic motion, flipped down from the vent to land gracefully on her feet, dressed head to toe in a form fitting all black cat suit.
MacLeod raised his eyebrows appreciatively. She gave him a knowing little smile. Then, as if on cue, they both started speaking at once, talking over each other.
“I can’t believe you followed me,” said Amanda. “How’d you know I was here?”
“I didn’t follow you,” cried MacLeod, defensive. “I didn’t know you were here. You followed me.”
“Darling, I would never stoop so low.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Amanda, what’s this about? You’ve gone straight, remember?”
She poked him in the chest. Hard. He mouthed the word “ow” and rubbed at his shirt. “I can ask the same of you,” she said. “Or are you just here for an afternoon stroll through the cubical farm?”
“Never you mind why I’m here,” he said, stubbornly. “It’s none of your business.”
“Does it have anything to do with that auction last week for the Dagger of Carnwennan, thought by some to be King Arthur’s dagger? The auction in which you were out bid by Kristoph Malec?”
MacLeod felt his ears grow hot. “How did you know about that?”
Amanda waved her hand. “A girl has her ways.” Then she stood up straight and poked him again. “You’re no better than I am.”
“Ow. Stop that. Now see here,” said MacLeod, hands on hips. “Okay, yes, Malec out bid me, but something more is going on. I started digging, and this guy is laundering money through antiquities smuggling or I’m Lady Guinevere. I want to know what he’s using the money for.”
Amanda wrinkled her nose. “You’d make a lovely queen. I should have known it would be some noble reason like that.” She sniffed at him. “If you will excuse me, I have to get back to work.”
“Oh no,” said MacLeod, blocking her. “Why are you here?”
“Well why do you think?” she said, innocently, but she wouldn’t meet MacLeod’s eyes. “The dagger of course. Now really, I have to go. They’re going to find us in here any second.”
He blocked her again, arms folded across his chest, waggled his eyebrows at her.
She stood up straight, lifting her chin. “If you must know, a man came into my club last week. A toad of a man, wearing this obnoxious plaid vest. Spent the entire night boasting about his boss's art collection, and mentioned the dagger. I want to know what else he has. Thought I’d, I don’t know, have a looksee.”
“And?” asked MacLeod.
She rolled her eyes. “And… well I checked with some friends of mine. This Malec person likes to import young girls. You know, from Asia and Eastern Europe. It got me so angry. All right? Satisfied?”
MacLeod’s disgust for Malec was only surpassed by his overwhelming affection for Amanda. He smiled.
“I’m doing this for the dagger. Just so you know,” she said, pointing at him.
“Right,” he said, nodding. “Of course. The dagger.”
“Now, take your big brown eyes and kindly step aside. I’ve got a safe to locate and crack open.” She pushed her way past MacLeod, stepped on the chair and jumped up to dangle from the open vent.
“Wait,” he said. “Tell me where the safe is. I can help!”
She gave him a look. “I don’t think so.”
“What? Oh come on. I’m good at this stuff. There was that time in Kiev? And Moscow? How can you forget Moscow? With the thing, and the other thing? And you and Cory would have been lost without me. Oh, and don’t forget just a few years ago, we stole that cross, remember?”
Amanda paused. “Hm,” she said, pretending to think hard. “No. Maybe next time.”
“Amanda,” he said, reaching for her but then a high-pitched noise like a loudspeaker blared loudly. Both he and Amanda froze.
The phone began to speak. “If the two of you could stop arguing for a second,” said the voice coming from the phone. “You might be interested in knowing that four security guards are less than two minutes from your current location.”
MacLeod continued to stare at the phone. He bent closer, tilting his head to examine it. “Methos?” he asked, as if Methos were somehow hiding inside the phone. “Is that you?”
“No,” said Methos’s voice. “It’s Charlie, from Charlie’s Angels. Yes, of course it’s me, who do you think? You now have one minute, thirty-five seconds. I suggest you both get moving.”
Finding Amanda in the air vent was already too much, but discovering Methos hiding in a phone was really the outside of enough. What else? Would he find Joe in a broom closet? MacLeod peered cautiously under the desk.
Amanda raised her eyes to the ceiling in exasperation. “Him too? This is not my lucky day.”
“Don’t tell me you’re also after the dagger?” asked MacLeod, speaking to the phone.
“Not at all,” said Methos. “I’m here because I like remote accessing criminals and their criminal businesses for fun. Oh, and yes, the dagger. You have one minute ten seconds. I suggest we table any further discussion for later. Three hours, my place.”
“Wait,” said MacLeod. “What about the safe? And the dagger?”
“That’ll have to wait,” said Methos. “Someone, and I’m not naming names, caused a lot of raucous with the guards and they’ve doubled security. There’s no way either of you would get close now. Besides, the dagger’s not there.”
“How do you know that?” he asked the phone. “How does he know that?” he asked Amanda.
“Thanks a lot, MacLeod,” said Amanda, flipping neatly up into the air vent, then indicating MacLeod should hand her the grate covering.
“That wasn’t my fault!” cried MacLeod. “Hey, what about me?” He handed her the grating.
“You’d never fit,” she said. She waved her fingers good-bye, then shimmying back through the vent, replaced the grate, and disappearing.
“Thirty seconds,” said Methos. “Good luck.”
“Wait,” said MacLeod, feeling quite abandoned. “How do you know the dagger’s not there?”
“I just do.”
“Don’t leave me,” said MacLeod, not at all ashamed to be pleading.
“You’ll be fine,” said Methos, a shade too consolingly. “Take the first hallway to the left, go down the stairs. That should lead you to the service exit. See you in a few.”
The phone went dead. “Thanks for nothing,” muttered MacLeod, inching the door open just as the four promised security guards closed in on his position. He punched one in the face, then spun the guard hard, tossing him at the other three before sprinting for the first hallway to the left.
It took him just past the three hours to arrive at Methos’s place. Immortal presence bounced around his head as he knocked. Methos shouted, “Enter,” and he pushed open the door, walking into warmth, the radio playing jazz, and the scent of roast beef sizzling in the oven.
“MacLeod,” called Amanda, sipping from a wine glass, all smiles and happiness and looking beautiful in a snug black dress that appeared to be the same cat suit from earlier but modified.
“Finally,” said Methos. “We thought we’d have to go back in and rescue you.”
“Very funny,” said MacLeod, but he gratefully accepted a glass of wine from Methos. “So,” he said after taking a sip. They each looked from one to the other.
Amanda raised her glass. “Imagine the odds of the three of us all targeting the same mark at the same time? What a coincidence.”
“Yes,” said MacLeod. “What are the odds?”
Methos shrugged, looking determinately innocent but MacLeod thought he saw a hint of a smile tugging the corner of his lips. “Well,” Methos said, with a bemused, mathematical expression. “Take the three of us, times the length of time that we’ve known each other, cross referenced against mutual acquaintances along with any intersection of interests and--”
“You know,” interrupted MacLeod. “I know why I was there today. And I have a pretty good idea why Amanda was there.” Amanda wrinkled her nose. “But I don’t know why you were there. Hm?” He looked pointedly at Methos.
Methos’s bemused and innocent expression flattened, becoming like a mask, completely unreadable. The mood in the room changed, as if everyone held their breath.
“What aren’t you telling us?” asked MacLeod.
Methos’s nostrils flared, and it looked like he struggled with what he might say before he gave a tiny nod. “The dagger deserves better.”
MacLeod considered pressing for answers but something in the way Methos held his shoulders made him swallow his questions. For Methos, the dagger was clearly personal.
“He’s one of us, isn’t he?” asked MacLeod. “Malec. He’s an Immortal.”
Methos’s lips twitched. “Bright boy.”
“Merde,” said Amanda.
They fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts as they sipped their wine. Malec being Immortal complicated matters, and it explained why Methos had chosen to infiltrate his company remotely. They were lucky they hadn't run into him. But it wouldn’t deter MacLeod.
“So, what happens next?” MacLeod placed his empty wine glass on the counter.
“What do you mean?” asked Methos.
“We can’t all steal the dagger now, can we?” MacLeod looked from Amanda to Methos. “I mean, there’s only one of it and three of us.”
Amanda sat up straight as an idea came to her. She had that bright, excited gleam in her eyes that MacLeod had come to recognize as resulting in certain aggravation for him, not to mention probably a lot of near death and broken bones. “No,” he said, automatically. “Whatever you’re cooking up in that head of yours, just, no.”
“Yes. Come on, MacLeod. It’ll be fun. You know you love it,” said Amanda, sidling up to him, taking his jacket lapels in her hand as she pulled him closer. “The three of us together. Fighting crime.” Amanda said the last bit like fighting crime was a particularly delicious dessert treat MacLeod would be unable to resist. “Methos is in, right Methos?”
“Uhh,” said Methos, looking alarmed and shaking his hands, attempting to back away. “I don’t…”
“Don’t even pretend like this isn’t something you completely orchestrated,” said Amanda, reaching across and snagging Methos by his collar.
Methos had the good grace to look guilty. “I deny everything,” he said, but didn’t try to free himself.
“Oh brother,” said MacLeod, but he returned her smile. Methos pulled Amanda close against him, tucking her head under his chin.
It went something like this.
Somewhere in Tangier
Methos grabbed hold of MacLeod’s arm before he could fall, unable to stop an ignoble gasp as he nearly slipped on the narrow, crumbling ledge. It was a long way down, and, from what Methos could see, there was nothing soft to land on. The alley between buildings was full of boxes and crates and hard stone.
“Steady,” said MacLeod, anxiously glancing behind them in case Malec’s men suddenly appeared.
They were walking as quickly as they could across the narrow ledge to the opposite building. Methos nearly slipped a second time, and he stopped, his heart hammering in his chest, trying to regulate his breathing before he resumed crossing the ledge. “Remind me again why we’re doing this?” he asked.
“Because,” said MacLeod, reaching the opposite side and turning to hold out a hand for Methos. “Someone, and I’m not naming names,” he said with a side-eye glare at Methos, “Was too smart for our own good.”
“We had to be sure,” said Methos in his best matter-of-fact tone, taking the last few steps off the ledge and hopping down onto the roof of the adjacent building. “All evidence pointed to a location in Morocco. We had to check.”
MacLeod opened his mouth to respond but sudden gunfire made them duck. Methos looked behind and saw several armed men standing in the balcony of the flat opposite. A man in a plaid vest urged the men forward. “Shoot them,” he ordered.
They bolted across the roof, dodging bullets and avoiding chairs and tables, potted plants and clothing lines. “Okay, so in hindsight maybe more due diligence was in order,” yelled Methos as they leapt from one rooftop to another.
There was no time for further talk. Malec’s men began to gain ground, shooting as they chased Methos and MacLeod across the rooftops of Tangier. Out of breath, they skidded to a halt as they came up on a steep cut off overlooking the sea.
“You were right,” gasped out MacLeod, looking behind them to gage how far Malec’s men were.
“I was?” asked Methos, clutching at his sides.
“We had to check,” said MacLeod. MacLeod gripped Methos’s arm, and smiled.
Methos blinked, blinded for a moment. “What do we do now?” he asked.
MacLeod took Methos's hand and pulling him toward the edge. “We jump.”
“What? Are you out of your mind?” cried Methos, peering down to the deep water slapping against the side of the quay. “That’s a fifty-foot drop.” More gunfire whizzed over his head and he automatically ducked. “Then again, when needs must, who am I to complain?”
“You always complain,” said MacLeod but he was grinning, still holding on tight to Methos's hand as they took a few steps back for a running start. “On three. Ready. One, two, three!”
They ran, and leapt, both crying out as they sailed through the air. Methos saw blue skies and clouds, and the glittered, jeweled sea beneath him rushing up terrifyingly fast. He held on to MacLeod for as long as he could before he had to let go, all of his limbs flailing as he smacked hard against the surface of the sea. Darkness, his lungs squeezed, water all around. There was a rushing noise, then a blue silence and the sensation of sinking slowly before he thought he heard a motor and something grabbed him by his shirt.
Tossed on the deck of a boat, he looked up to see MacLeod’s wet, shining face grinning, and Amanda right beside him looking alarmingly beautiful in a pretty white sundress and floppy straw hat.
MacLeod, seeing that Methos was all right, flopped down beside him, exhausted. Amanda leaned down, touched both their faces, and kissed them each on the top of their heads. Methos felt a contrasting heat against his sea-chilled skin.
“It was worth it, just for the kiss,” said MacLeod with a smile at Methos before he lunged at Amanda and she yelped when he kissed her back, laughing.
Methos lay back to let the warm sun shine down on him as the motor started, and they went speeding away.
A café near a very busy intersection, London
Methos adjusted the ear bud. It clicked on. Across from him, Amanda waved at a waiter to place an order, the sun kissing her bare shoulders, her dark hair pulled back with a red headband. The red in her dress made her eyes sparkle.
“Remind me again who we’re spying on,” said Methos, casually glancing around the outdoors café at the other patrons. Cars, taxis and buses inched through the traffic clogging the streets. The café was near Trafalgar Square, and if he leaned slightly to his right he could just make out the tip of Nelson’s Column. He watched Amanda wrinkle her nose when she sipped her coffee. Apparently, it did not meet with her approval.
“The squirrely looking one to the left of you. Mustache, bad toupee,” said MacLeod, sounding like he was speaking from right over Methos’s shoulder. In actuality, Methos knew MacLeod was currently on the second floor in a flat on other side of the street, watching through binoculars. “The email said the meeting was for 2:30. It’s five past that now. Oh wait, I see something. Half way down the block. That same man in the plaid vest, from Tangier.” Then a beat later, he said. “Careful, you two. I don’t like the look of him.”
“Heimrich Stanley,” said Methos.
“What?” asked MacLeod.
“That’s his name. Plaid vest.” There was a beat of silence from both MacLeod and Amanda. “Am I the only one that reads emails anymore?”
Amanda met Methos’s eyes briefly before turning in her seat and waving down the waiter a second time. “I see him,” she said. “He’s approaching on the south side, bee-lining straight for Mr. Handsome.”
Methos watched the man in the plaid vest slip into the seat opposite Mr. Handsome, who glanced nervously around at the other patrons. “Did you bring it?” asked Mr. Handsome.
The man raised an eyebrow, perfectly at ease as he sat back in his chair. “Mr. Malec has raised the price.”
Mr. Handsome paled, his cheeks quivering with anger, or possibly with fear. It looked like his moustache might pop right off his face. “That wasn’t our arrangement,” he hissed.
“Things change,” said the man, his attention caught by Amanda who was handing her drink order back to the waiter.
Methos immediately tensed. As if he had some invisible connection to the others, something greater than just the ear bud in his hear, he sensed MacLeod’s unease and Amanda’s acute awareness of the man’s attention on her.
“Methos,” said MacLeod. “He’s…”
“I know,” answered Methos, smiling at Amanda, reaching for her hand and raising it to his lips. She gave him a coquettish little smile, but the man was still paying her too much attention.
“I warn you,” said Mr. Handsome, his agitation growing. “I won’t stand for this.”
“Not sure you have much of a choice,” said the man with a sneer, his eyes on Amanda, a too eager glint in his eye.
“Damn it, Amanda,” said MacLeod. “You couldn’t have down played it a little? Maybe wear sweats next time. And a hood.”
Despite the situation, Methos was amused watching Amanda’s expression become fixed, her smile a little more forced. “When have you ever known me to wear sweats?” she asked through her teeth.
With his attention on Amanda, the man with the plaid vest said, “Mr. Malec isn’t unreasonable. If you provide certain assurances, certain favors.” He stressed the word. Then he smiled. “Perhaps an arrangement can be made. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Methos,” said MacLeod, voice rising in alarm.
“To hell with it,” said Methos, reaching across and kissing Amanda on the lips. She squeaked in surprise, but then began kissing him back. They both stood, jangling the table between them. Methos cupped her face as he kissed her chin, her nose, her lips again. A part of him was still aware of their targets, of the continuing mission, and of the fact that MacLeod had gone silent on the other end of his ear bud.
“Okay, that’s working,” said MacLeod, sounding strained. “He’s no longer interested.” Pause. “That’s done the trick.” More pausing. “It’s all good now…. You can stop. Any time. Malec’s man looks like he’s getting ready to leave. Should we follow? Methos? Amanda? Oh, why do I bother?”
Methos didn’t stop kissing her until Amanda pulled away. He’d lost all track of the conversation between Mr. Handsome and the man, far too preoccupied with way Amanda was smiling at him. He realized, belatedly, that Mr. Handsome, practically frothing at the mouth, had taken out a gun hidden in his pocket, and was aiming it at the other man. “I said I won’t stand for this!” he yelled.
There was shouting, and cries of alarm from the other café customers. People dove for cover, plates and mugs shattered on the ground. Before Methos could do anything, MacLeod swooped in, disarmed Mr. Handsome, and punched him in the face.
“That’s quite enough of that,” said MacLeod, unloading the gun of its bullets and tossing it on top of Mr. Handsome’s fallen body.
Methos looked from MacLeod to Amanda to the man in the plaid vest who was now staring hard at all three of them with shrewd eyes.
“Whoops,” said MacLeod.
“Not good,” said Methos.
“Merde!” said Amanda.
Together, they turned and ran from the café, disappearing into the streets of London.
A ski lodge, high in the Swiss Alps
It was the playground of the rich and famous, the fit and beautiful. It was rushing wind by day with great heights, danger and adventure on the slopes, then partying all night in a five star luxury hotel. It was, thought Methos, damned cold. He shivered in his perch on the ski lodge rooftop, watching the exclusive gala event on a video feed on his computer.
The different hidden cameras he’d placed earlier gave him access to all corners of the event, although most of his screens were filled with the glittering gowns and black-suited guests twirling around the ballroom to a full orchestra. Waiters wove in and out with trays of hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Methos kept one eye on MacLeod and Amanda -- they both looked stunning, easily the most gorgeous couple on the dance floor. It was difficult to look elsewhere -- and another eye on their target, a red-faced senator surrounded by young women plying him with drinks and food and God only knew what else.
“Senator McGuire doesn’t look like he’s moving any time soon. In case anyone is interested,” said Methos. He blew on his fingers to keep them warm, then continued aggressively shivering, as if his level of shivering could be conveyed somehow through their ear buds.
“What’s that noise?” asked MacLeod, spinning Amanda into a dip.
“Oh, you mean my teeth chattering?” asked Methos, unable to keep resentment out of his voice. “I’m sorry. Is that bothering you? It’s only negative five degrees Celsius up here. Remind me again why I’m the one stuck up here and the two of you get to dress up and dazzle everyone?”
“You think I’m dazzling?” asked Amanda, and Methos could see on his video feed how she perked up.
“Face it,” said MacLeod. “I’m the better dancer.” He spun Amanda out on the dance floor, then wheeled her back in. They sailed smoothly in and around the other couples, drawing a lot of “oohs” and “ahhhs.”
“Well you can just stop that. You’re drawing too much attention. You’ll blow your cover.”
“And you’re an old grouch,” said MacLeod, swaying suggestively with Amanda.
“Boys,” she said. Methos zoomed in on her face, watching how expertly she maneuvered her and MacLeod closer to where the senator was seated. “You’re both beautiful. And Methos is a very good dancer.”
“How would you know?” asked MacLeod. There followed a very weighted beat of silence. On his feed, Methos saw MacLeod stop in the midst of the dance floor, hands on hips, and Amanda lunging for a passing waiter so she could snatch a flute of champagne, raising it hastily to her lips.
“Hm?” she asked, a shade too innocent.
Suddenly, an alarm on Methos’s computer began to flash. He searched for the source, his stomach doing a flip-flop when he saw what it might mean. “Guys,” he said. “We have problem. I’ve detected another frequency. It’s too low to be anything other than a detonation signal. Are we certain the senator is in bed with Malec?”
“Why else have they been meeting? Why else is he here?” asked Amanda.
“You mean to say,” cut in MacLeod. “Malec would set a bomb off in a crowded hotel just to kill one man?”
“He’s never been one for subtly,” said Methos, typing furiously, seeing if he could pin point the location of the bomb. “What’s a little collateral damage anyway? He’ll have back up, though, to make sure the job is done. Watch your backs.”
“Where’s the bomb?” asked MacLeod, shifting straight into action.
“Give me a sec…Found it,” said Methos. “Northwest corner of the ballroom.”
“I’ll notify the hotel,” said Amanda. “They can sound the alarm, start evacuating.”
On his screen, Methos saw MacLeod and Amanda part ways, with MacLeod pushing his way through the crowds to the northwest corner. “Methos,” said MacLeod. “I need you here.”
“On my way,” he answered, unplugging his laptop and stuffing it in his bag before heading toward the access stairs. Over their comms, he could hear Amanda arguing with hotel security.
Thirty seconds later, he was weaving his way through the party to get to MacLeod, who discovered the bomb underneath one of the dinner tables. MacLeod flipped the table on its side, leaning it against the wall. The bomb was fixed to the center. Before he reached MacLeod, a shout rang through the ballroom and then machine gun fire erupted, shooting over the heads of the party guests, sending chunks of wood and plaster flying. Pandemonium set in, screams filled the air as everyone stampeded for an exit.
Methos dropped down beside MacLeod who was examining the wiring for the bomb, removing his tuxedo jacket and rolling up the sleeves of his white dress shirt.
“Guns,” muttered MacLeod. “Why is it always guns?”
“Hm,” said Methos, spotting the senator hightailing it for the side doors, pushing his many girlfriends out of his way. “They’re very effective. Amanda,” he touched his ear, “Stay with the senator. This is a diversion. Malec’s going to try and kill him.”
There was audible hesitation on the other end. “All right,” she said. “Be safe.”
The timer on the bomb was counting down from five minutes. Methos was just going to hope that there wasn’t a secondary trigger. “What do you think?” he asked MacLeod. “The red or the blue?”
“Or the yellow,” answered MacLeod, following the yellow wire to the base of what appeared to be the power source.
Methos took out a Leatherman tool, unfolding the knife. “On three?” he asked. MacLeod nodded. He counted to three and cut the wire. There was a moment when everything became still, where Methos felt his heart beat, and he looked into MacLeod’s eyes and saw reflected back at him the weight of all their combined years, the shape of their friendship. Then, the clock on the bomb sped up faster.
“Oh dear,” he said, staring dumbfounded as the timer counted down at double speed.
“Uh oh,” said MacLeod, but he took hold of the mechanism and wrenched it free from the underside of the stable. Methos knew instinctually that MacLeod intended to run outside with it and get it as far away from the hotel as possible.
“Wait, Mac—” he said, but even as the words left his mouth he sensed Immortal presence slam down hard. He knew, in his bones, the Presence did not come from either MacLeod or Amanda, but from a new, fourth, Immortal.
Kristoph Malec entered the now empty ballroom from a side door, aiming a gun at them. He was a tall, good-looking man, very refined in his tuxedo, with a mane of white hair contrasting with a too young, unlined face. Methos had tried hard to forget that face. “Well, well,” said Malec, facing Methos. “Look what we have here. Addison.”
“Um,” said Methos, taking a step forward, the corner of his eye catching the rapid count down on the bomb’s timer. “Now’s not a good time, actually.”
“So it’s been the two of you I have to thank for the constant harassment these past few months?” asked Malec, pointing his gun first at Methos and then at MacLeod.
Methos saw movement from behind Malec, and he held his breath. Amanda appeared, still in her long evening gown, hair swept elegantly to the side, not a strand out of place.
She tapped Malec on the shoulder. “There’s three of us,” she said, with a tart smile, before she pressed a Taser to his neck. A split second of shock appeared on Malec’s face when he saw her, her buzz masked by their combined Presence, before he dropped like a heavy plank to the ground.
“Mac, go!” yelled Methos.
MacLeod sprinted from the room, the bomb still in his hand. Methos, taking Amanda’s hand, followed at a dead run. Outside, the frigid air slapped him hard in the face. He’d forgotten how cold it was. Snow covered the ground, but MacLeod didn’t slip, running all the way for cliff’s edge, the glowing, mountainous Alps shimmering in the moonlight.
It happened quickly. MacLeod skidded to a halt a foot from the edge. He wound his arm back, intent on throwing the bomb as far as he could. But a gunshot rang out, and Methos saw a dark circle of blood bloom on the white of MacLeod’s shirt. He went slack, and then tumbled over the edge. Five seconds later an explosion rocked the ground, the sound ricocheting and bouncing from mountain to mountain.
At first, Methos thought Malec must have woken up, but then he saw the man in the plaid vest standing just a few feet away, holding a smoking gun.
In a white, hot rage, Methos found himself taking hold of the man’s neck and squeezing. The man’s eyes bulged. Amanda called to him. She touched his arm. “Don’t kill him,” she said, getting his attention with just a hand on his cheek. “We may need him.”
Something gave inside of him, and his rage vanished, but not his anger. He took hold of the man’s gun and hit him hard on the head with the hilt. Methos ran to the cliff’s edge, where MacLeod had fallen, Amanda at his side. In the distance he heard a rumble, and then a moment later he felt it underneath his feet. An avalanche started, a cloud of gray-white snow exploding upwards.
“What if…?” started Amanda, her face creased with worry.
“We’ll find him,” said Methos, turning away and heading for the hotel. They would need a helicopter.
“But what if…” Her hand was like ice in his.
He stopped, and took her face between his two hands. “We’ll find him,” he repeated again.
It took four hours of torturous searching before Methos felt the first flicker of Immortal presence. Wearing a white shirt and black tuxedo pants, MacLeod’s body blended too well with the snow and rock. It was difficult to say that the blurry patch he spotted was MacLeod, difficult for the search and rescue team to believe him. But together, he and Amanda insisted, and twenty minutes later, ice-cold wind whipping at his face, his hands and feet numb, they hauled up MacLeod’s body into the helicopter.
MacLeod was conscious, barely, feebly moving his limbs to help release him from the rescue harness. Methos nodded to the search and rescue officers, tugging MacLeod close against him as they lay in a sort of heap. He waved off the medics. Methos could see the incredulous faces of the rescue team rapidly conversing in French and German, disbelieving that MacLeod could have survived. They’d have a hard time bribing everyone, or otherwise lying about MacLeod’s miraculous survival, but Methos would worry about that later. For now, he held MacLeod against his chest, with Amanda beside him.
“That’s quite enough adventuring for now,” he said, then he pressed his lips against MacLeod’s cold, damp forehead.
MacLeod grinned weakly at him. “It was worth it, just for the kiss,” he said.
Partners and Friends
Joe’s Bar, Seacouver
Joe sat on a chair near the bar, watching Methos, Amanda, and MacLeod do a sort of dance with exaggerated hand gestures and too-eager enthusiasm. He folded his arms across his chest, wondering how long he could keep them guessing.
Amanda, dressed in a flowing outfit, her hair braided to one side, trailed a hand down his arm. “Can I get you anything, Joe? Coffee? Beer?”
“I tell you what,” said MacLeod, snapping his fingers. “I know you’ve been wanting to redo that back office. I’m at your disposal. I’ve got some drywall. Some spackle. Whatever you want, we can make happen.”
“I’ll pay my bar tab,” offered Methos.
“Wow,” said Joe. “You three must really be desperate.”
Joe took in their nodding, hopeful, anxiously waiting expressions. Well, MacLeod looked very intense, bordering on fervid. One might even say he looked gung-ho. By contrast Methos smirked in that knowing way of his that said he knew Joe was only fronting but he played along anyway because it amused him. Bastard. Joe wouldn’t look at Amanda full face. Amanda in full pleading, fluttery-eyelashes mode was more than any human could handle, and he was man enough to admit it.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “The three of you, independent of each other, attempted to steal the Dagger of Carnwennan from Kristoph Malec on the same day? Randomly?”
They each nodded at the same time, but at different rates. Joe suppressed a laugh.
“The same Kristoph Malec who happens to own a multi-billion dollar business conglomerate, is somewhere in the vicinity of 1200 years old, and some say he used to be a druid?” he asked.
This time, Amanda’s and MacLeod’s nodding came across as more hesitant, and they both gave side-glances at Methos. Methos’s face had become like a mask, unmoving, but he stared hard at Joe. Joe definitely filed that away to be examined later.
MacLeod, noticing the change in Methos, jumped in. “Malec, he’s not a good guy. He’s into all sorts of illegal activity. Smuggling,” he said, holding up a finger, adding a second, and then a third. “Trafficking. Money laundering. He has a stake in all the major world conflicts as an arms dealer. He’s like a revolving door of crime.”
Joe pursed his lips. “So, you’ve been globe-trotting all over the place for the past few months gathering evidence, amassing information, to bring him down.”
“That’s right,” said MacLeod. “And,” he added. “To locate the dagger. He keeps changing its location.”
“And now, he’s on to you, and you need me to, what? Exactly?” he asked. In return, he received three identical, amused, expressions.
“You know,” said Amanda, her eyes on Joe but she leaned closer to MacLeod. “He’s kind of cute when he gets all serious and focused.”
Joe felt a flush heat up his neck. MacLeod looked between Amanda and Joe, head tilted, a wincing sort of doubt wrinkling between his eyebrows. "Really?" he asked.
“Yes,” said Methos, with a knowing nod, narrowing his eyes, lips twitching. “He gets this boy scout sort of glow all of a sudden.”
Ears definitely burning, he scowled. “Can we keep on target here? I’m still not sure what you need me for?”
“See,” said Amanda, rolling her eyes. “We have this pesky little problem where we can’t get close to Malec without him sensing us. Besides, his toad of a right-hand man knows our faces. So we need you,” and she gave Joe the full force of her smile, “to distract him. Keep him occupied so he doesn’t realize what’s happening until too late.”
“Oh, is that all?”
“Come on, Joe,” said MacLeod, in a robust, you-can-do-it way. “A little danger, a little excitement. The thrill of the chase. A dash of espionage. The battle between--”
“Okay,” cut in Joe. “All right. I get it. You can stop now. He faced the three different pairs of bright eyes watching him closely. Really, he thought, there had never been any question of him helping them. “Wouldn’t you know, what I want most for Christmas happens to be taking down an evil multi-billion dollar business magnate and his nefarious empire, so yes, I guess I’m in.”
Amanda squealed, clapped her hands, and rushed forward to kiss Joe’s cheek. He knew he was blushing, but couldn’t seem to mind too much. He half-heartedly fended her off, then spent a few moments watching her and MacLeod bicker over what their next steps should be, and whether they should relocate to the loft or not.
Joe caught Methos watching him, that same hint of a smile playing on his lips. They both stood up from their seats, taking their time following Amanda and MacLeod, walking at a much slower pace.
“You know,” started Joe, glancing sideways at Methos as he locked up the bar and they crossed to where MacLeod was pulling up his car. “I hope you don’t regret this.”
Methos looked curiously at him. “What do you mean?”
“Just that I’m not really the most nimble,” he said, with a chagrined knock of his cane against his legs. “Sounds like a lot of what the three of you were up to the last few months required someone a bit quicker on their feet. You could have asked someone else to be the distraction.”
Methos fell silent as they walked. Then he stopped and turned to face Joe. “You won’t be in any danger,” he said.
“I know,” replied Joe, quickly. “That’s not what I’m worried about.”
“Still,” insisted Methos. He squeezed Joe’s shoulder. “There’s not many I would trust with this, Joe. Thank you,” he said, then continued walking, heading for the passenger side door.
Watching Methos and MacLeod and Amanda interact with each other -- the joking, the mild ribbing and complaining, the bright smiles from Amanda and MacLeod and the amused smirks from Methos – he wondered if Methos meant he didn’t trust many with the dagger, or with his friends.
Late afternoon, present time
When it happened, it happened quick.
Amanda dropped down onto the roof of Malec’s Parisian estate, a large pile of rough-cut stone resembling a medieval castle, careful not to snag on the turrets. Slightly out of breath from scaling the south wall, she coiled the rope, tucking it away. A second later, Methos dropped down beside her.
Normally, she would have chosen to break into a high security estate under cover of night, but they had a very specific window for this.
“What are you thinking?” asked Methos, also coiling his rope.
She grinned, seeing him silhouetted against the backdrop of the Paris cityscape, the Eiffel tower in the distance, the pale sun fixed in a blue sky. It was an absolutely beautiful day.
“Where else can I find a view like this?”
He returned her grin, and together faced the city, taking in the moment. The sun was only now starting to set, casting a golden glow.
“What if it isn’t here?” she asked.
Methos took in a breath, lips pursed as he studied her. “It will be. I assure you, we have been no less than very precise and gave him no choice. This is the only place it can be.”
“But what if--We won’t have another opportunity like this.”
He placed a finger against her lips, silencing her. “You don’t know that. Besides, the dagger doesn’t matter.” She raised an eyebrow in question. If it didn’t matter, what were they doing here? “It’s a thing, no more than that. An old, very valuable thing, but still just a thing. It isn’t what’s important here.”
She took his hand, and they turned once more to the view. Methos’s timer beeped once, reminding her that she had a job to do. From her pack, she took out her portable processor, moving to the electrical panel next to the access door. She attached the connections, scanning through systems until she was poised to disable the alarm and cameras.
“Ready,” she said to Methos, who was checking his own feeds on his laptop. Once she disabled the alarm and cameras, they would have only ten minutes before the system reset itself.
Methos put a hand up to his ear. “Mac, we’re all set here. How are things?”
There was a pregnant pause before MacLeod answered, and Amanda recognized it as MacLeod moving to where he wouldn’t be overheard. “Joe’s doing his song and dance now,” he said, sounding very amused. “Malec has no idea who he’s up against. You know, I had no idea Joe had this much talent at being a pain in the ass.” Pause. “Okay I take that back. I did know. They’re in the lobby of Malec Industries now. Joe’s not letting him leave. The ETA from Interpol is forty-five seconds.”
“We’re ready. Are you all set with the getaway car? You’ll be able to make it on time, right?” asked Methos.
“I’m insulted you would even ask that question,” said MacLeod.
“Just checking,” said Methos, smiling as he met Amanda’s eyes. He really did love winding MacLeod up, and Amanda loved watching him do it. “All right, Highlander, we await your signal.”
MacLeod huffed over their comms. “On my mark,” he said. “Go.”
Fifteen minutes later…
The Smart car hurtled out of the courtyard, nearly toppling over on its side as it made a hard turn onto the street. Methos yelped when he nearly fell from her lap onto the floor of the car, but Amanda and MacLeod both grabbed him and held him steady.
“We did it!” she cried, bouncing in her seat, which, with Methos’s weight was rather difficult. She grabbed both MacLeod and Methos and shook them. She took hold of the dagger, pressed it against her chest. “We did it!”
“Yes we did,” said Methos, as dignified as he could manage, having situated himself to lie more or less comfortably on his back across their laps, his two legs still sticking out the window. He rested with a very satisfied grin on his face.
MacLeod’s smile was as wide as the sky. “You should have seen Malec’s face when the Interpol SWAT team stormed in. I took pictures! As far as I know, the simultaneous arrests on his other holdings went off without a hitch. We really did do it.”
MacLeod took another hard turn, the Smart car balancing on two wheels. He wove the car in and out of traffic -- and Amanda began to see the sense in choosing such a car -- until they arrived at Malec Industries in time to see the fruits of their labor. Between the police barrier and the different Interpol SWAT vehicles, they couldn’t get very close, but they exited the car -- Methos first, and not before they secured the dagger and the loot -- and were able to get close enough to see Malec handcuffed, being led to a van similar to the one Methos and Amanda had almost been forced to enter.
Discordant Immortal presence swelled, and Malec paused, turning to search the crowds until he saw them. Beside her, she felt Methos take a big inhale, and she could have sworn something passed between him and Malec, but when she looked back at Methos his face had returned to its usual sardonic smirk.
She was pleased to see the toady man in the plaid vest forced-marched to a separate van, a sneer on his face as he struggled against his captors.
A moment later, Joe joined them.
“You know,” said MacLeod, speaking to Methos. “He’ll eventually get out.”
Methos was at first unreadable, but then he shrugged. “One day. But not today.”
The end…Or maybe the beginning
Evening, the same day
Joe left as soon as it grew dark. “Some of us have actual jobs we have to do,” he said, with a handshake and hearty back slap for MacLeod and Methos. Amanda kissed him on the cheek, and Methos smiled to see how easily Joe could still blush.
“Go on,” said Joe, ambling for the front door to Methos’s flat with a wave. The door shut behind him, leaving the three of them alone.
His flat had become their unofficial headquarters for the past six months, filled to the brim with Amanda’s many different harnesses and other equipment, MacLeod’s charts and diagrams pinned to every wall, and Methos’s own elaborate computer set up.
Amanda poured them all more champagne. She hadn’t stopped smiling, twirling into MacLeod’s arms as they danced in celebration, his stereo playing softly in the background.
He watched them for a moment, admiring the play of light as they danced together. The glimmer from the kitchen counter caught his eye, gold and jeweled artifacts laid out carefully on soft fabric, the dagger placed in the center. He’d put off looking at it all evening but couldn’t delay anymore, needing to confirm what he had known from the moment he and Amanda had removed it from the glass case in Malec’s vault.
The dagger weighed heavy in his hands, cold hard metal, but the hilt warmed immediately. He passed his fingers over the white bone, examining it close as he pulled the scabbard free.
“Methos,” called Amanda from where she’d made herself at home in MacLeod’s lap, nestled together on the couch. “Come celebrate.”
“In a moment,” he said, letting his fingers do the thinking as he touched all along the blade. He didn’t notice MacLeod and Amanda grow silent as they watched him, but he looked up when MacLeod approached with a stormy expression, his brow creased together.
“What is it?” asked MacLeod.
Methos looked from him to Amanda, and then down at the dagger. “It’s fake,” he said, laying it back down on the counter.
MacLeod and Amanda both inhaled. “You’re certain?” asked MacLeod. Methos gave him a look. “Right. Of course you are.”
“I knew it at once,” said Methos. “But wasn’t certain until now. Didn’t want to say before.”
“But,” said Amanda, confusion on her face. “How can that be?”
Methos shrugged. “Malec, I assume. Or it could have been Stanley.” At their blank faces, he added, “The man in the plaid vest. Heimrich Stanley. It could have been a number of different people.”
They were silent, each lost in thought, staring at the dagger. It should have been a blow, after all their work, but for some reason, Methos wasn’t upset. “It’s a good copy,” he said.
“We still got Malec,” said MacLeod. “That’s something.”
Suddenly, Amanda perked up. “The dagger is still out there,” she said, a slow smile spreading across her face. “You know what that means?”
She picked up the third glass of champagne and handed it to Methos, her eyes sparkling, beaming at MacLeod and him.
“Oh no,” said MacLeod, but he was laughing, rubbing at his face.
“I suppose so,” said Methos, amused, looping his arm through Amanda’s.
“Oh yes,” said Amanda, giddy with happiness. “We’re not done. To the chase!” And they each raised their glasses, clinked them together.
Hours later, Amanda was curled up in Methos’s bed fast asleep, exhausted after a long day. MacLeod and Methos sat on his couch, sharing the last of a bottle of whiskey between them, the lights dimmed low, the music only barely audible over the occasional sound of cars driving through the streets of Paris.
Methos swirled the amber liquid in his glass, holding it in the meager light.
“If we ever do find the dagger, it won’t be the end,” said MacLeod, shifting closer, his eyes glinted as he waving his glass at Methos, then at himself, at Amanda still fast asleep. “This won’t end.”
Methos studied him. “There are worse ways to occupy our time,” he said, amused by the deep blush spreading across MacLeod’s face.
They grinned, knocking their glasses together.
“Tell me,” said MacLeod, almost slurring his words, and Methos wondered if he might be drunk or if it was just the aftermath of all that adrenaline. MacLeod narrowed his eyes. “Did you really set us up that day? Six months ago? Is this all your doing?”
“You really think I’m capable of that?” asked Methos.
“Yes,” said MacLeod, without hesitation, and they both started laughing, trying to keep it quiet and not wake Amanda.
After a moment, they fell silent again. “One day,” said MacLeod, rising from the couch and holding out a hand to Methos. They stood together. “I expect you’ll tell me the real story between you and Malec, and the dagger.”
“One day,” said Methos, and though slightly awkward, he held on to MacLeod’s hand. “But not today.”