A/N: Sorry it's been so long, this chapter was kinda hard to write (mainly because fight scenes aren't so easy for me, but also because I had to decide where this will go from here). I hope this was worth the wait nevertheless. Naturally, I'd love to hear your opinions!
~ Thank you FerretKid for pointing out some typos! I'm always glad when someone does cos a spell check only helps so much (and English isn't my first language either) ~
The pictures were even worse than the bloodthirsty coverage of the boulevard press. Amanda swallowed the giant lump building in her throat. It almost choked her, but she did it anyway. You've seen worse, she reminded herself, only to have that nagging voice inside of her answer with Yeah, but when? During the witch hunts? In World War II? Those were different times!
The images burned themselves into her mind. The body was covered in cuts and there was blood everywhere. In between, sterile kitchen tiles showed through and in one shot, a calendar could be seen in the background, a bloody streak running across a picture of southern France. Amanda tried to look beyond horror to see if there was any sign that this had been Methos' work specifically. While the cuts did look like a sword was the weapon it could just as well have been any other sharp knife or dagger. Amanda knew that if someone knew what they were doing, they could prolong their victim's life by placing the cuts strategically, but it was impossible to tell from the photos, only the coroner's report would be helpful there.
Amanda was trying hard to keep to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty", but memories of the previous night's encounter were popping into her mind making it almost impossible to stay unbiased. The thought of the tattoo on the old man's chest still made her skin crawl. Not to mention the feeling of cold steel against her neck. He definitely wasn't the mild-mannered guy she remembered anymore.
Even through all these doubts, there was one thing Methos had told her she believed without question. He had said he'd just wanted to scare Abby away. Not that he had looked to be feeling anywhere near guilty when Amada had confronted him with the fact that he'd given Abby the shock of her lifetime. But still, Amanda felt that as long as Abby stayed out of Methos' way, she would be fine. And her cop boyfriend, too. What Methos would do if Nick was right and Caitlyn Freudinger indeed had information he needed was different, though.
For Nick's benefit, she cleared her throat nervously. "I don't want anything to do with this," she said, pushing the pictures back towards him.
"Then tell me, how do you know Nichols?"
Amanda was saved from answering by a knock on the door. A uniformed police man stuck his head inside. "Her lawyer is here."
Begrudgingly Nick collected the pictures and stood. When the officer had left he leaned down to Amanda. "We are not done yet," he promised.
Caitlyn took her time with her "breakfast" – it had to be past noon by now. Nichols had left the door ajar, probably to show her she was no prisoner, that she had a choice. And what kind of choice would that be? To help the guy that murdered her husband to get rid of the guy who hired him in the first place or to leave and make one more enemy. Because that is what Nichols will become if I go.
Phil might take me back, she thought for a fleeting moment thinking back to how he had taken her in after her first death. He had been her savior when she was confused. But had he really been that? He had shown her the ropes, yes, but only as far as was in his interest. And besides, even if he did, she could never go back and pretend nothing had happened. Nichols was right when he said Assaro needed to go and his flunkies with him. That much was certain. They had strength in numbers, though, and she only had her wrath.
Caitlyn sighed as she finished off the last crumbs. She had needed the food, she couldn't even remember when she had last eaten. Probably before…. Images of blood all over the kitchen floor flashed through her mind and she shoved them right back down as fast as she could. It wouldn't do to get lost in them now. She had a dilemma to solve after all.
Nichols had said Assaro had hurt someone close to him and she had let it slide because she had a feeling there would be no answer to any prying on her part. But that didn't mean she wasn't curious. "Hurt" was a description that could mean just about anything after all: hurt someone's feelings, beaten someone, tortured someone, murdered someone...
So which was it? Or was it any at all? It's not like I know the guy well enough to see if he's lying. She didn't even know if he could make good on his offer. And where does that leave me? Come to think of it, who was to say that he would just let her go after all was said and done even if he were to get rid of Assaro?
Caitlyn knew then that she needed to get out of there. Maybe she could get a new life for herself somewhere where neither of the two men could find her. Start over. She would think of something, but first, she needed to get away.
She tried the window for starters. Beyond, all she could see was the forest. No matter how she tugged at it, it remained closed. Maybe I can smash it. But even as she was looking around for something to help her with that she dismissed the thought again. Too loud.
Caitlyn pushed the door open a bit further and peered into the hallway. To her right, it opened into the living room. From where she was standing only an old fashioned fire place with a couch in front of it was visible. And on the couch, with his back to her, Nichols.
To the left were two doors. The first opened to a tiny bathroom with an even tinier window set high in the far wall. No chance she'd fit through that even if it could be opened fully. The second door was locked. Great. Through the front door it is then.
With a calming breath she stepped into the living room, quickly taking in her surroundings. A kitchen area was set up to the left, half vanishing around the corner. To the right was an old fashioned cupboard full of kitsch that complimented the feeling of being in a vacation cabin. And between that and the fireplace - the door.
"It's in the drawer," Nichols' calm voice almost literally made Caitlyn jump. She tried to say something but came up empty. Her look must have been enough though. "Your sword," Nichols prompted nodding towards the cupboard.
Caitlyn wondered only briefly. As she opened the drawer and saw her sword she quickly decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. She took it out, turned around and in one fluid motion fell into a fighting stance.
So far, Nichols had only watched her across the couch's back without moving more than his head. When she leveled the sword at him, he didn't blink. "This is how you want to play it?" he asked, surprising Caitlyn with his almost sad smile. Had he really hoped she would just let bygones be bygones?
"What did you expect?" Caitlyn spat. "You murdered my husband! Now you are going to die!" Caitlyn realized with a start that this was what she wanted the most right now. To hell with all the consequences!
"I thought as much," he replied evenly and dove behind the couch. When he came back up he was holding a sword of his own.
He parried her first blow across the couch and immediately went for a stabbing motion that made Caitlyn jump back. She felt the open drawer at her back but couldn't stop her momentum. The whole cupboard shook and she heard china breaking as she crashed into it.
"Let's take this outside, shall we?" Nichols opened the door and stepped outside vanishing out of sight towards the left.
Caitlyn followed as fast as she could determined not to let him get away. She only slowed around the corner but took up speed again when she saw Nichols standing in the middle of the driveway. As she stepped off the porch she registered her BMW was parked to her right. Sand crunched beneath her feet as she took the few remaining steps toward Nichols.
This time she didn't have time to fall into a ready stance first. As soon as she was within reach, Nichols stepped in with an arching blow. Caitlyn got her sword up just in time to block but the force made her shoulder ring. The next strike came from her left forcing her to take her sword into both hands. Which it wasn't made for but then it wasn't exactly made for small hands either.
You need to get a grip! And not just on the sword, Caitlyn thought as she parried and felt herself being driven backwards across the clearing. Save for the metallic sound of steel on steel and a few birds singing everything was quiet making Caitlyn wonder where they were.
All thoughts of her surroundings were stifled though when Nichols tried to get into her defense again. Each time he tried, she managed to block his advances, but the onslaught was wearing her down. The sword felt heavy in her hands and both her shoulders ached. Nichols on the other hand seemed fine. He, too, was sweating, a look of concentration showing on his face, but Caitlyn had no doubt he would be able to keep this up far longer than herself.
She parried again and there it was. Nichols foot slipped on the dry sand, throwing him off balance for a second. It was all Caitlyn needed. She used the opening to strike at Nichols' side, aiming below the ribs. In one fluid motion, Nichols turned away from her blade, spinning 360 degrees and bringing his own weapon down on her unprotected side.
A sharp pain shot up from where the steel bit into her flesh, her ribs stopping the worst of it. Caitlyn didn't have time to pull herself together again before Nichols pressed his advantage. He twirled his rapier around her broadsword, wrenching it from her all too loose grip. It landed several feet away, clattering. Caitlyn felt as if she were watching herself from outside, unable to do anything as Nichols brought his sword around in an arch aimed at her neck.
The blade stopped inches from her skin.
Despite Nick Cole's promise that they weren't done yet, the cop had to back down pretty much as soon as the lawyer arrived. Not only did the police have nothing to hold either Don nor Amanda on, but also, Don's bandage needed to be changed and they had to release him to get to a hospital. What the police didn't have to do, though, was to do anything quickly. While they didn't dare keep Don longer than necessary – especially not after the lawyer, a greasy sort of guy who had probably been chasing ambulances before the MC took him under their wings, told them they would be in for a lawsuit if Don's leg so much as healed slowly – but they had no qualms about letting Amanda sit in the interrogation room until Don was well on his way to the hospital.
Amanda briefly wondered if she should go back to the hotel to get her secondary sword before going to visit Don at the hospital, but decided against it. She wanted to catch Don alone, before his MC buddies would show up. The sword could stay where it was, she was good at evading anyway and besides, if the police caught her with another sword, it would be hard to talk herself out of that one.
Don was still in the waiting area when she arrived. Amanda let herself fall onto the seat beside him.
"Hi, Don," she greeted him.
"What do you want?" Don asked, eyeing her suspiciously.
"I wanted to see how you were doing –"
"Cut the crap. Now, what do you want?"
"Do you have any way to reach Jude?"
"And if I did?"
"I need to talk to him. A phone number, a place, I'll take whatever."
"Why would I help you?"
"Because I helped you when you were bleeding all over the couch yesterday, while Jude, who shot you in the first place, ran off."
"True enough," Don conceded. "Thing is, I know Jude, but I don't know you, so the least you need to tell me is what you're gonna do once you find him."
Amanda sighed inwardly, If only I knew. "I just need to talk to him. We used to be friends…"
"Used to be?"
"We lost contact," Amanda hesitated, trying to figure out how much she should tell him. Finally, she went with, "look, it's complicated. Just give me his cell number and if he doesn't want to see me, he can tell me himself."
Stockholm Syndrome. That would come in handy just about now, Methos thought. But that takes time and that I don't have. With an inward sigh he turned around and scooped up Caitlyn's sword. It was a fine weapon but too heavy for the slender woman. He had given it back mostly to get this inevitable fight out of the way. Though part of him had hoped she wouldn't immediately start to attack, he couldn't really blame her.
Caitlyn was on her knees breathing heavily and watching him as if he was a cat that liked to toy with a mouse. Maybe a little more talking to begin with would have been the better choice. Would've, should've, could've - it was no use. Caitlyn sure as hell didn't look like she was in the mood for talking now, least of all about the things he needed to know.
Maybe I'll have to kill her and find another way, he mused. The intel she could give him about Assaro and his little minions was valuable, but not irreplaceable. It'll take a bit longer, but I'll get there. And if I deliver her head on the proverbial platter, maybe it'll even speed up the process some.
First the husband now the wife? Is that how you roll these days, old man?
The accusation took him aback. Where had this come from?
Have you become that callous, Methos?
Methos shook his head to clear it, but instead of focusing his vision began to blur. Just the sun reflecting off the steel, he told himself.
Aren't you at least going to try and win her over?
Methos glanced over to Caitlyn who hadn't moved. There's no use in trying. Just look at her. She wants my head and nothing I can say will change that.
How about you try some truth for a change?
Methos nodded slowly. After all, he had nothing to lose but a few hours of his time.
It felt like time had stopped and all Caitlyn could hear was her own ragged breath slowly calming as the wound healed crisscrossed by tiny blue sparks of lightning. Nichols had scooped up her sword and was looking intently at it, as if it would come alive any second. Then he nodded slowly and walked over to the deck. He flopped down onto one of the garden chairs putting both swords on the table beside him.
Caitlyn finally stood up and took a step towards Nichols. The sandy driveway hardly deserved to be called that. The little cottage was standing on the edge of a clearing in the thick woods. The road leading up to it was a graveled path, just wide enough for one car, broadening into the clearing. There was just enough room left for the sun to reach down and touch the porch where Nichols was sitting watching her.
"Look," he said and it sounded almost apologetically, "I'm not gonna pretend I'm one of the good guys. I haven't been in years. But I can help you here, maybe more than you think."
"If I help you first, you mean." Caitlyn watched him wearily. Part of her still wanted him dead, yet she knew that she could never take him in a fight.
"How old do you think I am?" he asked.
Caitlyn raised an eyebrow. He couldn't have been more than 24 when he died, so most likely, he was no older than thirty now, seeing as Phil only took in the young ones. "Thirty-something," she said.
That made Nichols smile. "Way off the mark. Ignore the outfit for a minute."
She looked at him more closely, trying to look past the biker cut, the tattoos and the long hair, but it wasn't working. All she saw was yet another one of Phil's flunkies. On the other hand, the move he had pulled on her was anything but that of a rookie. Maybe a rookie with good training could have pulled it off, though, she wasn't certain, it had all happened so fast.
"Try a few hundred," he said, his smile spreading at her doubtful expression. "It's up to you to believe me there, but fact is, I'm way older than the usual Assaro bait."
Caitlyn felt like a piece of a puzzle had suddenly clicked into place. "So Assaro thinks you're a greenhorn and you hope to turn that against him."
"Yes." Nichols gestured for her to take the seat next to him, but opposite the table with the swords, "he killed a very good friend of mine and I swore I'd have revenge. But I need to get past the immortals that surround him, first."
Caitlyn nodded as she sat down on the edge of the chair. For as long as she'd known him, Assaro had always had a bunch of young and eager to fight immortals around him. He would send them to do his dirty work while he stood by to collect the spoils, which was mostly the heads of older immortals he couldn't have dreamed of defeating had they not been weakened by a quickening first.
"Who was your friend?" she asked, not without trepidation. She had been at Phil's side for more than 25 years after all and chances were she had witnessed the death of his friend.
Nichols seemed to be thinking along the same lines, because he looked her in the eyes when he said, "His name was MacLeod, Duncan MacLeod."
Caitlyn had no doubt that he could see the recognition there. She hoped he wasn't able to see the lump forming in her throat. She remembered Duncan MacLeod alright.