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A Routine Operation

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1

Methos glared at his pick-up as if that would somehow reinflate the two - two! - flat tires. It wasn't that he didn't have a spare. He had a spare. He had two spares. It was simply that it seemed somehow monumentally unfair to have to use both of them at once. In the middle of a very empty stretch of North Carolina road. He pulled out his phone and checked for service.

"Would it be too much to ask for a cell tower nearby?" he muttered to himself, putting off the inevitable tire change as long as possible. When his phone displayed a distinct lack of any sort of signal he sighed and put it away. "Yes. It would be too much to ask. Well. Sooner started, sooner done."

Miraculously, the jack worked fine and the first tire change went smoothly. The second, on the other hand, was a mess of too-tight lug nuts and not enough torque. He'd just managed to get the flat tire off when the hair on the back of his neck prickled and a silent buzz thrummed in his head. Which really was the perfect addition to the day. Next it would start to rain, obviously.

Methos looked around, peering into the woods on either side of the road, then up the road in one direction, then down the road in the other. And there he was. Johannes Faulk. Crashing out of the woods as if he was being hunted. Which was perhaps one of the funnier things Methos had seen in a while. Faulk had always been an arrogant ass who prided himself on being the hunter, not the prey. Methos thought about running himself, but there wasn't anywhere to go but up or down the road or into the woods on the other side. He at least had a gun and his sword and the relative safety of the truck.

"Adams!" Faulk called as he drew near. "A lucky thing, meeting you here! Fate has smiled on me!"

"You have got to be joking," Methos called back, drawing his sword. "Last time I saw you, you poisoned me and dumped my body in a river. Do you know how irritating it is to come back to life underwater?"

"That was just a misunderstanding!" Faulk insisted, stopping a short distance from the truck, then glancing behind himself into the woods. "In all honesty, Adams. It was for your own safety! The people I was dealing with, you really didn't want to be involved, I assure you."

"I didn't want to be involved with you either," Methos pointed out. "Given that you were the only source for morphine at the time and I had patients to care for, I didn't have a choice."

Faulk looked back into the woods again, then tried what was obviously meant to be an ingratiating smile. "Adams, really, that's water under... Ah, poor choice of words. Let me rephrase. That's the past. At this moment, all I would ask is that you let me go. Or perhaps allow me a ride?"

Methos gestured to the flat tire on the ground and the spare he hadn't put on yet. "You seem like you're in too much of a hurry. Run and I might not point the direction you went."

For a moment it seemed like Faulk might argue, but then there came the sensation of yet another Immortal drawing close and he started across the road. Methos kept his sword in hand, in case the newcomer wasn't picky about challenges. A moment later, before Faulk had even made it to the treeline, a shot rang out and he went down, face first, onto the grass at the side of the road. Methos ducked around the truck. Shooting first was something he would do, and he didn't much like facing people who used his own tactics.

"Sorry about that," a man called as he made his way out of the woods. Methos watched him carefully. He looked fairly innocuous, on the surface at least. A balding mid-level bureaucrat, perhaps. Except he'd somehow managed to chase Faulk through the woods while wearing a suit and still look tidy and the way he moved and kept his weapon out said he was probably far more than he seemed. And not in the way most Immortals were.

"No complaints here," Methos called back, keeping an eye on the man from behind his truck. "I promise you we were not friends. Any chance you could let me finish changing my tire before you go taking his head. I'd really rather not lose the truck in the aftermath."

The man paused, then continued over to Faulk. But instead of beheading him, he merely pulled out a few zip ties and bound Faulk's hands and feet. Faulk groaned as he came back, then swore when he found himself trapped. Then the man shot him again.

"Wow, that's annoying," the man commented, walking back to Methos. "I'm Agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. I'm going to need to commandeer this truck to bring this man in for questioning. Let's get that tire changed and you can explain the sword and why I keep having to shoot him and how I came to be alive after being stabbed through the chest by a god."

Methos stared at Coulson for exactly ten seconds, then started to laugh. "I cannot believe it's not raining. This day needs some rain to make it truly perfect. Are you honestly telling me you have no idea what's going on?"

Coulson shrugged, holstering his gun and picking up the socket wrench Methos had left on the ground when Faulk had come out of the woods. "That is what I said. Of course, if you don't want to tell me, I'll just shoot you, dump him in the back of the truck and get it out of him when he wakes up. Again. They shot him seven times when they brought him in originally. I'm sure he'll be fine."

Methos tossed his sword into the back seat of the truck, then added the flat tires while Coulson dealt with the spare. Tire replaced, he helped Coulson drag Faulk back to the truck, securing him in the bed and slamming the gate and cap closed before speaking again.

"Still commandeering my truck or am I driving?" he asked as Coulson brushed off his hands.

"You drive," Coulson told him. "I have a feeling I won't want to be multitasking for this."

"Right, well." Methos got into the driver's seat, waited for Coulson to get in, then started off down the road. "As you might have guessed, some people are a little harder to keep dead than others."

"Like our friend in the back," Coulson ventured.

"Indeed," Methos agreed. "And like me, and like yourself now. I take it you were killed recently? You mentioned being stabbed by a god? How did you manage that?"

"Line of duty," was all Coulson said, but he nodded as well, so Methos continued.

"Right, well, welcome to the club. One violent death and now you're Immortal. Unless someone chops your head off, so you might want to avoid that if you can."

"I'll do my best," Coulson assured him.

Methos risked a glance over at his passenger, who seemed to be simply enjoying the ride, not a care in the world. It was as if he'd made nonchalance an art form. An art form Methos appreciated, being not unskilled at it himself. It was the sort of practiced inattentiveness that masked a constant state of readiness for anything.

"You'll have to find a sword. And you should learn how to use it. Somehow I suspect you don't really need a teacher for anything but that. Usually there's this whole student and teacher rigamarole we do and there's training and I try and teach my students how to be sneaky bastards but you don't need lessons in that, do you."

Coulson allowed the barest of smirks to reach his face. "No, not really. I do a guest lecture on just that topic once a year for the new recruits. It's always very popular."

Methos nodded. "Well, normally I'd feel a nagging sense of obligation to not leave a new Immortal defenseless in this big bad world, but you're hardly defenseless, so I do hope you'll excuse me when we're done delivering your quarry."

Coulson gave Methos a nod in return as they pulled up to a railroad crossing. The train was already in sight, approaching slowly but surely. It was a big one, trailing off well into the distance.

"I hope you're not in a hurry."

"Oh, no. I can wait," Coulson said, watching the train go by. Then he sighed. "But I think we're going to need to get moving in the other direction."

Methos groaned as he watched Faulk wave from the back of one of the train cars. "How is this my problem?" he demanded.

"It's your truck," Coulson pointed out. He turned to look into the back, where the cap over the pick-up bed was open.

"He's your prisoner," Methos said in response.

"I have a gun."

"So do I."

"He's an international war criminal."

"Yeah, you meet those when it comes to Immortals."

"Follow the train or you'll be cleaning blood spatter out of your truck when you recover it after waking up on the side of the road."

Methos glared at Coulson, then yanked the steering wheel to the side and sped off down the road alongside the tracks.


2

They caught up with the train without any trouble. It had been going slowly enough for Faulk to catch it, after all. But half of the cars were all but identical. Coulson insisted that it had been the fifteenth car from the engine, but allowed that he could have switched cars. Methos pointed out that being Immortal, Faulk could have just jumped off the train at any point and trusted that he would heal long before anyone found him.

Then Coulson had spotted a diner and nodded towards it.

"Let's stop and get something to eat. I might have to call in backup."

So here they were now, seated in an intentionally kitschy diner booth in the back corner, coffee already poured and lunch on the way. While Coulson stared out the window, silently contemplating who knew what, Methos pulled out his phone. As far as he was concerned, Agent Phil Coulson could handle himself. If he had questions, he'd ask them eventually. Until he said something, Methos was going to hope he had something resembling a cell signal. And what do you know, he did. As well as six missed calls and four voicemail messages waiting. All from Amanda.

Methos sipped his coffee and considered his phone. He could simply erase all the messages and pretend he'd never heard from her. It was probably trouble. No, it was definitely trouble. Amanda didn't call six times in under two hours unless she was well and truly screwed and MacLeod wasn't available. Which he wasn't, seeing as he was in Tokyo for some antique dealer convention. If he didn't call Amanda back she'd probably take it out on him the next time they met.

"Well, six of one," he sighed, dialing her without bothering with the messages.

"Where have you been?" she demanded as soon as she picked up. "I have been calling you all afternoon!"

"No cell service," Methos told her, watching Coulson feign disinterest in the new conversation.

"Well where have you been that you've got no cell service?" she asked. "Somewhere ridiculously uncivilized?"

"North Carolina."

"You're joking."

"Nope. It's very pretty down here. Now what's up?"

"Well, I need some help. And actually you're perfectly placed to give me a hand. Really, it's like it was meant to be."

Methos closed his eyes, tipped his head back and counted to ten in several languages before responding.

"I'm a little busy right now," he told her as calmly as he could. "What, precisely, is it that you need my assistance with?"

"Well, see, there was this guy I got mixed up with..."

"Isn't there always?"

"Methos. As I was saying, this guy. And really, I could have sworn he was out of the picture for good. See, these goons had him all locked up, which was great for me because I kind of double crossed him, but only because he's an asshole and he was going to kill me! I swear! But now he's broken out, even though I really thought they had better security than that because goodness knows I've never been able to break into one of their facilities, and he says he needs a place to hide out and he's coming to me."

Over the course of his life, Methos had taken pains to hone his instincts. Being able to tell when something was about to explode in his face had saved his head several hundred times by his last count. And this right here smelled like gunpowder, right under his nose.

"Please tell me you're not talking about Johannes Faulk, Amanda. Please tell me you did not do business with that odious little twerp."

"I had to! He had the maps I needed and I figured I could get them and then turn him in, which I did! That's why he was locked up."

"You have got to find a better way of dealing with your problems than getting them locked up," Methos pointed out. "It never seems to go as well as you'd like it to."

"Methos, trust me, the folks I turned him in to aren't your typical law enforcement. They're this sort of secret agency that handle the really strange stuff. I figured if anyone could hold one of us indefinitely they were it. They keep trying to recruit me, but I don't work for governments."

Methos set the phone down on the table. He could hear Amanda still talking on the other end. He looked at Coulson, who was now looking at him.

"Amanda Darrieux," he said out loud.

"Cat burglar, in operation for at least seven decades. Four recruitment attempts. We have a file. No connection to Faulk listed though. That's a bit of an oversight." Coulson took out his own phone and started making some notes in it.

Methos nodded and picked up his phone again. "Amanda? Where are you?"

Amanda had been in the middle of some sort of explanation or excuse, but stopped when Methos spoke. "Well, you know I left New York, and just in time given the mess there right now. I have the most adorable little house just outside DC," she started, then stopped. "I heard someone else. Who are you with?"

"New student," Methos told her. "Text me your address. Stay put. We'll be there soon."

Methos hung up his phone and looked at Coulson, who looked back at him. "So," he started, pausing as their waitress deposited their lunches on the table. "Seems I've been a little in the dark about this whole Strategic Defense thing. I don't like being in the dark. And I'm sure you'd like to know a little more about Amanda, Faulk and the whole big wide world you've joined. So how about we exchange questions. Sort of like hostages, but with less geopolitical tension."

Phil had ordered a burger and didn't reply until he was finished adding condiments to it. "Sure. I'll go first. Explain the sword."

"Pretty sure I mentioned chopping our heads off is the one final death. Swords are traditional. Me, I carry a knife and a gun too. It's just common sense. Take someone's head, get their power too. Big lightning shows usually. It's hell on vehicles and cell phones. I try to avoid them whenever I can. Now my turn. Why exactly are you after Faulk?"

"I answered that one too. He's an international war criminal. We have records that a man matching his description has been working with a Nazi-affiliated group called Hydra for several decades now, going back to World War II. We thought he had been using some of their technology to keep himself young. Clearly that's not the case."

Methos nodded. It wasn't like he'd ever thought Faulk was an upstanding citizen or decent human being. Working with the Nazis seemed like par for the course.

"My next question is how do you know Amanda Darrieux?" Coulson continued.

"Oh, well. Amanda." The thing here was how much detail and how much truth. "We're old friends. I knew her teacher, now I know her. She's one of the many trouble-magnets I seem to keep getting attached to."

"Sounds exhausting," Coulson commented.

"You have no idea," Methos muttered.

"Oh, no," Coulson said. "I'm certain that I do. It's my job to babysit trouble magnets. Sometimes they're literally magnetic. Latest group's the one that got me stabbed through the chest."

"Let's not start comparing wound counts or we'll be here all week," Methos said, holding up one hand. "Let's just get ourselves to Amanda and I can keep her pretty head attached to her neck and you can deal with Faulk."


3

A few quick searches of train schedules and routes confirmed that the train Faulk had caught was hardly a straight path to Amanda but it was going to get to her eventually. Fortunately, Methos wasn't afraid to speed and the train had a few stops to deal with. By the time they hit the suburbs around DC, Methos figured the train was still a few hours out. He had also put a couple hundred more miles on his truck than he'd planned that morning.

"So, any chance I can submit something to get reimbursed for the gas?" Methos asked Coulson as they pulled up in front of Amanda's house. Or at least it was the address she'd given him, but he couldn't feel her nearby yet.

"As soon as I'm reinstated I'll give you the paperwork. It's ten pages, submit in triplicate. They like to discourage using personal vehicles."

A good half of what Coulson said sounded utterly preposterous and Methos privately wondered if he was simply spinning tales. But then, they were the sorts of tales that were too ridiculous to be lies.

"And commandeered vehicles?"

Coulson cocked his head for a moment, then nodded. "That's a separate form. I'll get you both."

"Great." Methos made sure he had his gun close to hand, then got out of the truck, looking around the neighborhood. It seemed quiet, which didn't strike him as Amanda's style, but it was entirely possible she was attempting to lay low for a while. He was about to go bang on the door of the house they'd stopped at when his phone rang.

"Isn't that house charming?" Amanda asked when he answered. "Though mine is much nicer. Sorry, but I couldn't be certain you didn't have Faulk with you. I'm at the end of the street. The house with the blue shutters."

"My my, we are getting paranoid in our old age," Methos told her, motioning to Coulson to get back in the truck.

"You're one to talk," she told him. "So is the stiff in the suit your new student? He looks familiar."

"Right, about that," Methos said, driving down the street to park in front of the blue-shuttered house. And there was the presence he'd been looking for, so they wouldn't be off on a treasure hunt for Amanda all day. That was nice. "Your government goons? The ones you thought had Faulk neatly tucked away? He's one of them and now he's also one of us. And between him, you and Faulk? This is a mess I want no part of. I'm just playing chauffeur for the day."

They parked and got out and Amanda was at the door before they could knock. "Adam!" she said, smiling and giving him a kiss on the cheek. "It is still Adam, isn't it? Oh! I hope I didn't use the wrong name!" She looked at Coulson. "Did I just give something away? Was that in his file?"

Methos glared at her. "It is still Adam, yes, and I don't have a file. Because I don't get mixed up in this sort of thing."

"You didn't have a file," Coulson told him. "You do now. It's only a few lines long, but I'm sure we'll find things to add."

Amanda gave both of them a dazzling smile, then stepped back. "Just making sure we're all friends here! Please, come in."

The interior of the house was far more Amanda's style than the exterior. On the outside it looked quaint and unremarkable. On the inside it was furnished with tastefully expensive rugs and curtains, with plush couches that looked like they might swallow whoever sat on them. Amanda led them past the couches to a table and sat down at it.

"So. This is all very awkward and unpleasant," she said. "I'd offer you something to drink but after Faulk started calling me, I decided shopping wasn't on my daily agenda."

Methos took a seat across from her, leaving Coulson to sit between them.

"And," she continued. "I'd like to know how he found me. This address is a new one, you know. I was hoping to get a few years out of this place."

"He stole a phone," Coulson said. And Methos noted that he managed to sound both aggrieved by that and thoroughly unapologetic. "I locked it out of the system as soon as I could, but we do have a file on you with your most recent alias. Maybe if you kept a lower profile we wouldn't care where you were, but you've got the sort of habit we like to keep an eye on."

"Then it's your fault!" Amanda declared. "All your fault! I've never stolen anything from you."

"So, can I go?" Methos asked. "Since it's not my fault and I'm not responsible and I do have a life that doesn't involve secret government agencies and Johannes Fucking Faulk?"

"No." It came from both Coulson and Amanda, almost simultaneously. Which clearly unnerved them both.

"I'll need the ride back," Coulson told him.

"I thought we were friends!" Amanda added.

Methos slouched down in his seat and sighed. "Cloistered academia really isn't a bad lifestyle," he said to himself. "I could hack it for a decade or two."

"We do have some academic facilities," Coulson said before turning to Amanda. "We should plan what to do when Faulk shows up."

"Oh, I have a plan," Amanda assured him. She smiled and paused to examine a ring on one of her fingers. "I draw him out and one of you two takes care of him. It's a simple plan, really, but a classic."

Coulson shook his head, pulling out his phone to make a few more notes. "If I was him, I'd be prepared for that. Are you telling me he won't assume we're around? We need a contingency plan. And a plan for when that plan doesn't work out. I find four levels of contingency is usually enough for minor operations like this."

Both Amanda and Methos stared at him. Coulson went on making notes as if he had no idea they were looking. Obviously he knew, he just made a good show of not caring.

"Are you sure he's new?" Amanda asked Methos, who nodded. "How charming!"

Engrossed in his planning, Coulson didn't respond, leaving Methos and Amanda to roll their eyes and abandon him at the table. Methos went in search of the kitchen and anything resembling either alcohol or caffeine. Amanda paced the living room until Methos returned with tea. Outside, the sun was starting to set. Faulk's train was due in two hours and unless all three of them were going to skip town - an option Methos was planning on suggesting several times over until someone listened - they had little to do but wait.


4

Fifteen minutes after Coulson had finally put his phone away and helped himself to the last of the tea, Amanda's phone rang. She answered it after a moment's hesitation, her face twisted into a look of utter disdain.

"Can't you just find a motel to slink into?" she demanded, skipping over any pleasantries. "I'd rather not have any men in black showing up at my door, thank you very much." She glanced at Coulson in apology and he waved it off. "Fine, fine. No, that address isn't right. What, you think I give away all my secrets? If they knew everything I'd have been locked up right next to you so don't be ridiculous. You always were terribly melodramatic. And no, I am not telling you my address over the phone. For all I know they're listening in." Amanda smiled in satisfaction as that idea apparently shut Faulk up for a moment. Methos and Coulson listened as Amanda directed Faulk to meet her at a parking lot nearby so she could lead him to the house.

"It's too easy," Coulson commented after Amanda had hung up. "Meeting in an empty parking lot after dark? When he knows you don't want him around?"

Amanda shrugged before going to get her sword out of her hall closet. "He probably thinks it'll either end in a challenge or my bed. Men."

"Why so nervous?" Methos asked Coulson. "You've got contingency plans."

"Oh, I'm not nervous," Coulson said. "I'm gathering details about your practices and weaknesses."

Methos sighed heavily and followed Amanda out of the house. "Can I just leave him with you?" he muttered to her. "Please?"

Amanda shook her head and shoved him away. "Shoo. You two need to stay back so he doesn't know you're here. Just follow, okay? And don't forget to take care of him before he comes at me."

Amanda took off down the street and Methos and Coulson followed just far enough back that Amanda was out of range. Coulson watched the distance carefully and Methos could practically see him making a mental note about it.

"You know it's not necessarily the same for each of us," Methos pointed out. "And no, I'm not interested in participating in any studies."

"Pity."

Methos shook his head and did his best to pretend the man walking next to him was just another Immortal. Not that this set him at ease, but at least it was preferable to Coulson being a secret agent Immortal. As if he needed potential opponents to be any more deadly.

The parking lot was several blocks from Amanda's house, and not in a straight path. Coulson didn't break the silence while they walked and stopped when Methos did, right at the edge of the lot, out of sight of anyone waiting there, hidden amongst some trees that wouldn't have offered much shelter in daylight, but which threw enough shadows after dark that they were probably safe. At least for a little while. Amanda stood in the middle of the parking lot, hands on her hips. Methos couldn't see it from where he was, but he suspected she was tapping one of her toes in impatience. Faulk had yet to show himself.

"Oh, this is ridiculous!" Amanda said, just loud enough for Methos and Coulson to hear her. "Faulk! If you don't want to sleep on a park bench tonight, you had better get your behind out here. I know you're watching."

A laugh echoed from the side of the lot and Methos spotted Faulk walking towards Amanda. He'd gotten his hands on a gun some time between when he'd been running from Coulson and now. He had it aimed at Amanda, but from the loose grip he had on it, he didn't seem to find her much of a threat. If Methos had dared make any noise, he'd have laughed. It just went to show how foolish Faulk could be. And this after Amanda had already betrayed him and had him locked up once.

"I had to wait and make certain you weren't accompanied," Faulk told her. And then the idiot actually tucked the gun away in his coat pocket. Methos shook his head, watching the two of them closely. So closely, he only realized Coulson had slipped away when the other man's presence faded from his head.

"She was accompanied," Coulson said as he walked up behind Faulk. "She just didn't know it."

Methos had to give him points for bullshit delivery. The man had a good poker face, that was certain.

"And she was probably going to kill you," Coulson continued while Amanda sputtered out a protest. "I can offer you a much better deal."

"Oh?" Faulk asked, turning his attention from Amanda to Coulson. "And what, exactly can you offer me? The accommodations at your facility leave much to be desired."

"That was before. We have better rooms for guests than we do for prisoners. I'm sure we could learn a lot from you, given your history. And besides, I've been told I'm going to need some sort of mentor."

"Do tell me you disposed of the good doctor."

It was at that point that Methos decided enough was enough. He pulled out his own gun, aimed, then fired. Faulk went down with a bullet in his temple. Coulson and Amanda both looked in Methos' direction as he walked over.

"You were boring me to tears. Go ahead and chop his head off so we can all go home," he told Coulson. "Or let Amanda do it. I don't care. Just one of you deal with him before someone calls the police."

Amanda was busy checking her very white trench coat for any blood spatter, but she'd been miraculously spared. Coulson crouched down and inspected Faulk.

"I still need to bring him back," he told them. "Securely, this time. I wasn't lying about how much he can tell us."

"Don't your superiors think you're dead?" Methos pointed out. "Stabbed through the chest?"

"By now there'll be surveillance footage of me getting out of the morgue," Coulson told him, pulling out more zip ties and securing Faulk's hands and feet. "I'll find a way to explain it. Keep them satisfied with our friend here. I've got enough clearance to do damage control. Besides, that's pretty much what we do."

Amanda still didn't look convinced, but she wasn't arguing, so that was a blessing. Methos shrugged and helped Coulson pick up Faulk's body and carry it over to the trees. Coulson got back on his phone as soon as they were relatively hidden.

"He can't be serious about Faulk as a teacher," Amanda muttered to Methos, who shook his head.

"The man doesn't need a teacher. He needs a warning label."

"You two should get going," Coulson said, having come up behind them. "I've got backup coming. I'm sure you don't want to answer their questions." He smiled briefly at Methos. "And I'll get you those forms by the end of the week."